A US research centre set up four years ago by the University of California – Irvine (UCI) to counter threats from potential bioterrorism agents and emerging infectious diseases has secured a further US$45 million in funding from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

The Pacific-Southwest Regional Center of Excellence for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases Research was set up by UCI in May 2005 with a four-year, US$40 million grant from the NIAID, part of the US National Institutes of Health. The grant, the largest ever in the University’s history, went to Dr Alan Barbour, an infectious disease expert at UCI who is the Center’s director.

The renewal grant of US$45 million was awarded to Barbour and the Center, which is one of only 11 federally funded research sites in the US dedicated to warding off threats from bioterrorism agents and emerging infections. Pacific-Southwest researchers are based at UCI and 19 other universities and institutes in California, Arizona, Nevada and Hawaii.

Their common goal, Barbour said, is to prevent and cure illnesses caused by some of the most serious pathogens faced by populations in the US, Latin America and Pacific Rim countries.

Specifically, the renewal grant will enable researchers at the Center to continue work and start new efforts on:

- Improved protection from, and treatment of, dengue fever, the viral disease transmitted by mosquitos.
- Improved detection and treatment of the potential bioterrorism agent botulism toxin.
- Improved understanding of, and vaccine development for, bacterial and viral diseases carried by animals and acquired by humans through either direct contact or an insect/tick. These diseases include tularemia (also known as rabbit fever), Lyme disease, West Nile encephalitis and Lassa fever.
- Improved detection of, and vaccine development for, coccidioidomycosis (valley fever), a fungal disease that occurs in California, other parts of the southwestern US and northern Mexico, primarily affecting the lungs.