Campus News - January 16, 2001

School of Medicine gets grant to fight new diseases

The UNM School of Medicine (SOM) has been awarded a $921,000 federal grant to rapidly identify possible victims of harmful new diseases, said Congresswoman Heather Wilson.

The money, to be available in FY 2001, will fund an Emerging Infectious Diseases Center (EIDC) at the SOM. The new center will increase the SOM’s collaboration with Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratories and the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute in the field of emerging diseases.

The new EIDC will combine advanced genetic technology with the power of supercomputers to produce diagnostic techniques so powerful that doctors could detect the presence of a disease before a patient develops the first symptoms. The federal grant recognizes the unique, interdisciplinary approach adopted by UNM and its collaborators, which proved so effective in identifying the previously unknown Sin Nombre hantavirus strain in 1993. UNM’s team, which includes members of the departments of Pathology, Biology, Internal Medicine, Molecular Genetics and Microbiology and the Office of the Medical Investigator, currently receives federal research grants totalling about $8 million per year from the National Institutes of Health, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and the Indian Health Service.

For many years before the hantavirus outbreak, UNM faculty, staff and students had been conducting a variety of research, patient care and public service activities that positioned UNM to respond rapidly when the disease struck. Virtually no other organization in the country could have responded so quickly and effectively to the challenges posed by the sudden outbreak.
UNM scientists now provide the same kind of quick analysis to patients and physicians around the world as they discover new varieties of hantavirus. Since the mid-1990’s, UNM has provided invaluable consultation and assistance to several foreign countries encountering hantavirus epidemics for the first time.

The capability to do more in this area, through basic and applied research, detection, intervention and prevention, is the core reason for the Emerging Infectious Disease Center. The $921,000 grant represents over 90 percent funding of UNM’s $1 million request.

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