The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has awarded a $1.8 million grant to a consortium led by the University of New Mexico to research contagious and deadly bio-agents as part of a five year grant being made to UNM, Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute in Albuquerque and Duke University in Durham, N.C.

A total award of $1,872,186 will be made available to UNM for the first year through the Allergy, Immunology, and Transplantation Research division of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which focuses on the immune system and malfunctions during the production of disease.  The value of the award over five years could approach $15 million.

"This is an opportunity for UNM to demonstrate New Mexico's ability to contribute to national security," said U.S. Senator Pete Domenici in announcing the award. "I applaud the university for its initiative and determination to remain on the forefront of biochemical research."

 "If we can understand respiratory infections at this level, what we learn will be applicable to many common diseases," said Dr. C. Rick Lyons, associate professor of medicine at the University of New Mexico and principal investigator for the project.

The grant project will focus on pulmonary responses to bio-weapon category A pathogens.  Diseases such as anthrax, small pox, and ebola are considered category A pathogens by the NIAID.  Category A pathogens are rare in the U.S., yet pose a risk to national security because they are easily transmitted and result in high mortality rates.

While the National Institutes of Health grant is directed at studying anthrax, tularemia and pox viruses, discoveries could lead to treatments for a range of infectious diseases.

Researchers have already mapped the genes of the three germs in the project, Lyons said.  Now, they will be able to test various forms of the germs in which different genes have been removed. The genes targeted will be those that scientists already know cause some of the most toxic effects.

Mice then will be infected with the genetically altered germs. Researchers will watch how the disease progresses, examining the lungs to see exactly how they were affected and how they responded. Ultimately, they hope to be able to determine which germ actions are most crucial in invading the body and causing illness.  

UNM was also awarded $266,625 from the National Cancer Institute to support the Protection of Genomic Integrity by BCCIP project that investigates cancer causes and preventative research.  BCCIP is a gene found in the human genome, which in certain circumstances may inhibit the growth of tumors.


Contact: Cindy Foster, 272-3322