INSIDE IOWA STATE
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."
Ames, Iowa 50011, (515) 294-4111
Published by: University Relations,
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