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U.S. biodefense campus set for Fort Detrick

3 agencies gain `synergy,' security

critics see waste

February 11, 2004|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,SUN STAFF

But only after the 2001 attacks did the funding spigots open. Dozens of universities have rushed to create bioterrorism research centers to compete for the new money. A variety of federal agencies have also taken a new interest in germs.

The Detrick campus plan, as described by federal officials, will include:

Army: A replacement for the aging Army biodefense unit at Fort Detrick, known as USAMRIID, estimated to cost $850 million to $1 billion. A congressional report has acknowledged that a new facility is needed, but the project has not yet been funded. USAMRIID's mission is to study diseases that threaten U.S. troops, including those resulting from deliberate attack.

National Institutes of Health: The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease will break ground this year on a $105 million Integrated Research Facility, where animals will be used to study the exotic diseases likely to be used for biological attack.

Dr. Mary E. Wright, chief of the clinical biodefense research branch at NIAID, said the lab will take "a medical approach," using animals to develop standards for diagnosis and treatment. "There was no research on these microorganisms for many, many years," Wright said.

Department of Homeland Security: The $120 million National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasure Center will work chiefly on "threat characterization" - understanding what organisms, in natural or bioengineered form, pose a terrorist threat.

In addition, a bioforensics unit will study how scientists can use genetic or chemical analysis to trace germs to their source, as FBI scientists are trying to do with the mailed anthrax of 2001. The new lab will create databases and other computer tools to be consulted in case of an attack.

Department of Agriculture: USDA and the Department of Defense are studying a possible lab to research zoonotic diseases, which pass from animals to humans. Although Fort Detrick officials have assigned space on the campus, no final decision on construction has been made, said Caird Rexroad, acting associate administrator of the Agricultural Research Service.

National Cancer Institute: NCI's existing facility at Fort Detrick would be considered part of the campus, sharing its expertise on cancer and HIV with researchers working directly on bioterrorism, said Col. Ball.

Gateway Center: A separate building housing a library, cafeteria, security offices and other shared facilities. The cost has not been estimated, Ball said.

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