Center for Biological Defense receives grant

The U.S. Department of Defense awarded the University of South Florida Center for Biological Defense a $4 million grant to develop a system to recognize and respond to a biological terrorist attack.

The goal of the Center, in conjunction with the state health department is to develop new tests to identify agents that could be used as biological weapons, said Jacqueline Cattani, the director for the USF center of Biological Defense.

Cattani said part of the research is to identify if a biological agent has been released into the environment.

“If you start seeing people getting sick with non-specific ailments, then we train health workers to get samples to find out what they are sick with,” Cattani said.

Cattani said that it could take as long as 72 hours to identify a biological agent released into the environment, but one goal of the Center is to scale down that time to half an hour.

Another aspect of the Center is to educate health care workers and law enforcement officials in the collection process of samples, Cattani said.

While the Center would not directly respond to a biological attack, it will provide the training ground for organizations, such as the FBI and local law enforcement agencies, to implement a response to an attack.

Cattani said different areas require different methodologies of collecting evidence of bio-terrorism, such as in water, soil, food or air.

“We are working in the lab developing protocol to collect the samples,” Cattani said. “For example, whether the sample needs to be kept cold or kept in a vacuum.”

The university will work in conjunction with Florida Atlantic University, the University of Florida and the University of West Florida.

Cattani said while bio-terrorism was an issue before the Sept. 11 attacks, many health care providers are realizing the potential threat of biological attack.

While the multi-million dollar grant is a continuation of the $1.8 million federal contract the university received last year, Cattani said the newest grant is not a result of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, and the university was slated to receive the money prior to the terrorist attacks.

Contact Ann Norsworthyat