Iowa State University nameplate

Inside Iowa State
Gold bar
December 14, 2001

Web project will help combat bioterrorism

by Kerry Gibson
Ames Lab Public Affairs
A rural veterinarian gets a call from a local farmer who says several of his cattle have died and others appear sick. At the farm, the vet finds that the symptoms exhibited don't match anything he has seen before. At the farmer's computer, the vet logs onto a Web site and in minutes, gets information that helps him narrow the diagnosis, tells him what tissue samples are needed to confirm the disease, how to handle the samples and where to send them.

In light of the recent anthrax attacks, ag bioterrorism represents a clear danger. But thanks to scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory, the nation's veterinarians soon will have access to Web-based information like the scenario described above.

The concept for the Web site came from discussions about potential collaborative projects between Ames Laboratory and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The project has been funded for the past two years by the DOE's Office of Nonproliferation and National Security.

The project uses expertise at Iowa State's Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory for an online database on the most deadly animal diseases that could damage or wipe out the livestock industry and, as in the case of anthrax, infect the human population. The database also includes lists of recognized experts and diagnostic testing facilities.

"It provides an invaluable resource to those on the front lines in defending against a bioterrorist threat," said Ames Lab associate scientist Gary Osweiler. "It will help veterinarians more quickly diagnose potentially deadly diseases, which may help stop their spread."

Osweiler, director of the diagnostic laboratory, is co-directing the project with ISU veterinary medicine professor Walter Hyde.

So far, the database contains information on 14 of the most dangerous zoonotic diseases, those that pose a risk to both animals and humans. While most of the basic information comes from published veterinary medicine journals, it also contains practical information gathered through a survey circulated by the project team.

Diagnostic labs around the country provided input on the diseases, and staff at a number of the labs currently are helping test the database. That advisory group will meet in Ames Dec. 20 to review the testing and discuss how to proceed, particularly how the project will be managed and funded to keep the information as current as possible.

The database is accessible through a secure government Web site, but won't be made widely available until after the December meeting.

Participating laboratories and diagnosticians also will be able to update information online, making it easier to keep. According to Osweiler, the data can be easily segmented so that potentially sensitive information could have restricted access.

"General information could be available to the general public," he said. "With various security levels, certain information could be shared only between federal agencies."

... Becoming the Best
Ames, Iowa 50011, (515) 294-4111
Published by: University Relations,
Copyright © 1995-2001, Iowa State University. All rights reserved.