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NASA technology may help bioterror fight

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Staff Writers
Los Angeles (UPI) Dec 15, 2009
Technology developed at NASA to guard against Earth-bound infections during space exploration may be used in finding ways to counter bioterrorism, new research indicated.

Los Angeles-based Universal Detection Technology is acting upon a Department of Homeland Security request for a research proposal aimed at detecting and containing harmful bioagents, such as anthrax, that can be used as bioterrorism weapons, the company announced.

Universal Detection Technology is a developer of early-warning monitoring technologies to protect people from bioterrorism and other infectious health threats. It provides counter-terrorism consulting and training services related to dealing with risks and threats in that area.

The Broad Agency Announcement from the Department of Homeland Security is seeking research and development proposals in different areas of bacterial biothreat antigen detection and identification.

UDT said it plans to adapt technology licensed from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as part of its research.

As in NASA, UDT will use a non-immunological method of identifying bacterial biothreat agents, a process employed when dealing with potential problems encountered from outer space, with or without involving craft after re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere.

The threat of terrorist or criminal use of pathogenic organisms and their toxins remains of great concern in the United States, UDT said. According to analysts, despite the concerns, questions are frequently raised about the nation's preparedness for threats involving pathogens or other agents targeted at the community.

UDT cited "capability gaps" in the field and said its work would aim to support surveillance and detection as part of the National Biomonitoring Architecture.

However, UDT said, "rapid and specific detection methods are needed to provide reliable analysis on a variety of bacterial biothreat agents."

In particular it mentioned the role of public health laboratories and how important it would be, in an emergency, to have rapid response from the labs.

The Department of Homeland Security has asked for research aimed at recovering, extracting and preserving the antigenic signature of the bioagents.

UDT's technology uses dipicolinic acid, a molecule unique to bacterial spores, which combines with terbium ions.

Exciting the combined terbium ion and DPA generates a luminescent characteristic. This is achieved by radiating the complex with ultraviolet light. The method will allow for the detection of bacterial spores using a non-immunological method.

The Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction and Terrorism, headed up by former Sens. Bob Graham and Jim Talent, recently released an intelligence assessment that said "a 1-to-2 kilogram release of anthrax spores from a crop duster plane could kill more Americans than died in World War II" (more than 400,000).

As a follow-up to this sobering news, they reported that "cleanup and other economic costs could exceed $1.8 trillion."

UDT CEO Jacques Tizabi said the company would work with government agencies to find products and technologies to combat the threat.

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