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Consortium Awarded Grant for Bioweapon Defense

Marburg virus (NIH.gov)

Marburg virus (NIH.gov)

A collaboration of universities, private company, and national lab have received a $2.4 million grant from National Institutes of Health to develop tools that detect and protect against biological weapon attacks. The grant, from NIH’s Partnerships for Biodefense Program, will fund work by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, University of Texas Medical Branch, University of California at San Francisco, and NanoString Technologies Corp. in Seattle, Washington.

The funding will support development of assays to detect 35 deadly viral pathogens, which include Ebola, Marburg, Dengue, Chikungunya and other viruses. Nanostring’s nCounter technology is expected to be the basis of a commercial product to be deployed by 2014 in the event of an attack.

The nCounter quickly detects and analyzes the RNA in large sets of target molecules, and identifies protein biomarkers of infection. The platform can test up to 100 blood samples per day — just 100 microliters of blood are needed per sample — with only five minutes of patient contact each, and can return results within 24 hours.

Because of the similarity in early symptoms, this high speed and accuracy are important to tell the difference between routine colds or flu and more lethal viruses. In the case of bioweapon attack, hospital emergency rooms are likely to see many cases of people with the disease as well as people without the disease, but with similar symptoms.

Livermore biomedical researcher Pejman Naraghi-Arani who leads the project says, “This product will help prevent one of the main things a terrorist group would want, which is to overwhelm emergency response,” one of the biggest problems anticipated in a real biological attack.

Read more: New Technology Found to Treat Broad Range of Viruses

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