Midwest biodefense research center anchored at University

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently announced that the School of Medicine will anchor a multi-institutional Midwest Regional Center for Excellence in Bio-defense and Emerging Infectious Diseases Research (MRCE).

The center will be funded by a five-year, $35 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

Samuel Stanley
Samuel Stanley

“We see the MRCE as a tremendous opportunity for the region to take the lead in this field and hope it will provide a framework to facilitate collaborative research in biodefense and emerging infectious diseases between academia and industry,” said Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D., director of the MRCE and professor of medicine. “We hope to have a tangible impact on security in this region.”

The MRCE’s mission is to support basic and translational research in critical areas of biodefense and emerging infectious diseases throughout the Midwest.

The founding members of the MRCE are Saint Louis University School of Medicine, Case Western Reserve University, the University of Missouri, Columbia and the Midwest Research Institute of Kansas City.

The center will concentrate on expanding current research efforts in biodefense, identifying new areas of need in the field and expanding facilities to support biodefense research. The center also hopes to attract present and future investigators into the field.

For example, the team’s initial research effort will focus on poxvirus infections, which include diseases such as smallpox. The ultimate goals are to improve the safety of vaccines and to develop new antiviral therapies.

The MRCE also is supporting work on the West Nile Virus, the plague and the control of aerosolized bioweapons.

In addition to supporting scientific research, the group plans to develop resources needed in the event of a bioterrorism attack. For example, the group hopes to improve the area’s disaster preparedness by establishing links between communities, academic medical centers and state and local health authorities.

Developing and expanding collaborations among other institutions and industries in the region will also enhance research efforts.

“This award will allow us to continue exciting research in the development of safe and effective vaccines to assist in the national biodefense effort,” said Robert Belshe, M.D., associate director of the MRCE and director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Saint Louis University School of Medicine.

“It is a recognition of the significant accomplishments of these institutions in basic and clinical research — research that could play a major part in protecting Americans against the bioterrorism threat.”

James Kazura, M.D., professor of international health and director of the Center for Global Health and Disease at Case Western Reserve University, and Virginia L. Miller, Ph.D., professor of molecular microbiology at Washington University School of Medicine, also are associate directors.

With grants totaling approximately $350 million, the NIAID, one of the National Institutes of Health, is funding seven other regional centers as part of its strategic plan for biodefense research.