Military boosts USF bio-terrorism research

While many education departments are struggling with budget cuts, the USF Center for Biological Defense has found itself a beneficiary of the war on terrorism, receiving a $2.7 million increase in funds from its contract with the U.S. Department of Defense.

The contract will give USF $9 million, compared with this year’s budget of $6.3 million. The funding will be used to expand the center’s statewide research and education initiatives to combat bio-terrorism. The increment comes at a time when the attacks of Sept. 11 and the ensuing anthrax scares have heightened awareness of the possibility of bio-terrorism being perpetrated against the United States.

Jacqueline Cattani, director for the USF Center for Biological Defense, said the increase was a major endorsement of the center’s research.

“Other universities’ requests for increased appropriations were cut, but ours were not,” Cattani said. “It shows that we have developed an effective and credible bio-defense program.” Cattani said the increase in funding received support from C.W. Bill Young, U.S. republican and chairman for the approbation committee.

“He has always argued for federal approbation to go to bio-defense,” Cattani said. “He has been supportive of us from the very beginning.”

Cattani said priorities for the center include the development of tests to rapidly detect biological agents from field samples, the derivation of new methods to treat infections and neutralize toxins from biologically produced agents. In addition the center will educate frontline public health workers to deal with biological threats and develop means and methods of protecting food and water supplies.

“The increase in funding will expand the work we’ve already begun at USF and five other universities in the state,” Cattani said.Cattani said a portion of the money would be allocated to other education departments that contribute to the research. She said the distribution of the award acted as compensation to those departments affected by budget cuts.

“(Some of the funding) goes to biology, to engineering. I see this as making up for some of the cuts affecting the education departments,” Cattani said.

The USF Center for Biological Defense is a joint initiative between the USF College of Public Health and the Florida Department of Health and is the first of its kind within the Florida university system. The center oversees bio-terrorism related research projects at USF, Florida Atlantic University, the University of Florida, the University of West Florida, the University of Central Florida and the University of North Florida.

Cattani said the increase represents more than just a reaction to the threat of bio-terrorism.

“This shouldn’t be seen as a response to bio-terrorism, although that may be its initial impetus,” she said. “(The research) is working towards the prevention of any epidemic.”

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