Contact: Patricia M. Hansen
or Ken Branson
732-932-7084 ext. 633
$19 Million to Support Center for the Development
of Medicines to Treat a Chemical Terror Attack
-Five-year Funding for UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson
Medical School and Rutgers University-
New Brunswick — The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded a five-year, $19.2 million grant to UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey to support the creation of a Center of Excellence focused on the development of new and improved medical countermeasures against chemical threats.
The new Center will be directed by Jeffrey Laskin, PhD, of UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and will include faculty from the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy at Rutgers University and Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA.
"We are proud of the receipt of this award," says Deborah Cory-Slechta, PhD, director of the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute, a major research institute of UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and Rutgers University, established to improve our understanding of the environment and its impact on individual and societal health. "It adds strength to both Robert Wood Johnson Medical School’s and Rutger’s ongoing commitment to research in the area of security, which is so important to our nation and particularly to the citizens of our state."
The Center is funded under a special program known as CounterACT from the NIH. Funded as a national security priority by the federal government’s Project Bioshield to expedite research on the most promising scientific discoveries, investigators in the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School/Rutgers University CounterACT Research Center of Excellence will focus on the development of drugs to treat individuals exposed to sulfur mustard. This is a chemical warfare agent used as early as World War I and more recently in the Iran-Iraq war during the 1980s. Sulfur mustard, which causes skin, eyes and lungs to burn and blister, is easy to make and transport, and therefore thought to present a likely terror threat.
"This is a massive effort designed to coordinate many different research groups” said Dr. Laskin. "We will develop drugs that can be used against actual chemicals that could be used in a terror attack.”
The researchers will be working to identify targets of sulfur mustard in the human body that can be exploited for therapeutic drug development. The team will also be evaluating drugs that are currently available in pharmacies for use to treat poisoning in case of an attack. “We have excellent leads and we are quite hopeful that drugs will be available in the foreseeable future” said Jeffrey Laskin.
The principal investigators include Dr. Laskin as the overall director of the Center; Dr. Donald Gerecke at Rutgers as co-director of the Center, Drs. Marion Gordon, Joshua Gray, Diane Heck, Debra Laskin, and Patrick Sinko, also at Rutgers and Dr. Ned Heindel at Lehigh University. Investigators at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and Rutgers are members of the Environmental Occupational and Health Sciences Institute.