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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Grad students creating terrorist weapon vaccines

Texas A&M graduates are creating methods of making vaccinations to protect against the effects of biological weapons, said Mike Woods, Class of 2002 and a doctoral candidate in experimental pathology.
“We are working on ultra-sensitive methods,” Woods said. “(Texas A&M graduates) also working on vaccine development … identifying targets for vaccines and also in understanding the immune response to bioterrorism agents in order to develop better vaccines.”
Woods is one A&M University graduate working at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston (UTMB). The students’ work will be used to better understand bioterrorist weapons.
David Niesel, vice dean of the graduate school of biomedical sciences and a chair of microbiology and immunology said A&M graduates have done well in similar programs.
“We’re very enthusiastic about A&M students joining our research programs and contributing to our national need in the biodefense area,” Niesel said.
Graduates of A&M came to UTMB with high interests in infectious diseases and how to cure and treat them, Woods said.
Woods said that there are funding opportunities at UTMB called training grants, some specifically in the field of biodefense. He said graduates are selected for these competitive grants, based on the quality of their research proposal and interest in biodefense.
The research compiled by the A&M graduates will help develop better vaccines and treatments to protect citizens from bioterrorism weapons, Woods said.
“The research we’re doing is a very small piece of the puzzle and it’ll provide a foundation for future research and hopefully the long term,” Woods said. “Hopefully it will leave us better (able) to respond to a bioterrorist attack and it may allow us to vaccinate against potential weapons.”
University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston is different from other schools in the country because it contains one of only two BSL level four labs that are designed to deal with deadly agents, such as the Ebola virus, said Cary Cooper, dean of the graduate school of biomedical sciences at UTMB. The only other city in the nation that has a BSL level four lab is in Boston.
“It is a very highly contained lab,” Cooper said. “And it is highly contained to protect the workers because the select agents are highly contagious. The BSL we have is a very state of the art lab. There are a number of places in the country who applied to have a national lab, because it is very prestigious and a lot of people wanted it.”
Cooper outlined two main reasons why Galveston was chosen as the spot for one of these coveted BSL labs.
“One, we have a collection of research scientists who work in infectious diseases and biodefense and are perhaps one of the best research groups in the world in that area,” Cooper said. “The second reason (is) the Galveston community supported the application for the lab.”
Niesel said UTMB has also received a $110 million contract from the National Institutes of Health to construct a larger lab to continue studying these microbes.
“We got a grant from the National Institutes of Health to construct a national bio-containment laboratory,” Niesel said. “It’s going to house research on these microbes that could be used in terrorist threats. We’ll have faculty members and students working on these microbes. And the focus is to understand their pathogenesis, their ability to cause disease, and they (then can) come up with new diagnostics, new therapeutics and new vaccines to protect citizens from this type of threat.”

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