News Release: Research

Dec. 22,  2008

SECEBT Funds Research on Emerging Biologic Threats in Southeast

The Southeastern Center for Emerging Biologic Threats (SECEBT) has awarded grants to five research teams for projects that will focus on insect-borne and zoonotic diseases that threaten humans and animals.

Zoonotic diseases are infectious diseases that can be transmitted between animals and humans. The research will help scientists and public health experts prevent and respond to biologic threats of particular regional concern.

SECEBT is a partnership launched in 2002 by Emory University, with support from the Woodruff Foundation and sponsored by cooperative agreements through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The organization includes southeastern universities, public health agencies, affiliates and foundations dedicated to combating biologic threats--either natural or caused by humans--with increasing potential for harm.

"A key goal of SECEBT is to fund pilot projects that have the potential to make a significant contribution to the regional struggle against biologic threats," says Executive Director James M. Hughes, MD, professor of medicine and public health at Emory University. "We select research projects that help build regional partnerships through a peer review process and that leverage academic and public health expertise and unique research facilities."

SECEBT projects are designed to promote new means of detecting, treating and preventing biologic threats, to use medical and community education in enhancing awareness, and to improve the regional communications system for rapidly responding to biologic threats. 

Following are the awards for 2008-2009:

  • A sophisticated blood test for early-stage arbovirus infections, including Dengue, West Nile and St. Louis encephalitis, would allow scientists and physicians to detect the specific viral agent causing an infection and identify cases at risk for severe disease. A long-term goal of Azliyati Azizan, PhD, from the College of Public Health, University of South Florida, and partners at the Florida Department of Health (Lillian M. Stark, PhD, MPH), is to develop the test and conduct a comprehensive global study with international collaborators.
  • By understanding the movement of tick-borne diseases in livestock and wild animals through the Southeast, scientists can better prepare for and protect against the potential introduction of tick-borne diseases from other countries into livestock and wild animals, either naturally or through acts of bioterrorism. Andrea Varela-Stokes, DVM, PhD, of the Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine will work with partners at the Mississippi State Department of Health (Dr. Jerome Goddard) to monitor the spread of Rickettsi parkeri, a tick-borne agent recently recognized as a cause of human disease, as a model to predict the spread of other potential tick-borne diseases.
  • Studies have found a relationship between large numbers of mosquitoes breeding in man-made environments, such as Combined Sewer Systems (CSS) and constructed wetlands, and arboviruses, including St. Louis encephalitis virus, Western equine encephalitis virus and West Nile virus. Daniel G. Mead, MPH, PhD, of the University of Georgia, along with UGA entomologist Ray Noblet, PhD, will work with colleagues from the Georgia Department of Human Resources (Rosemarie Kelly, MPH, PhD) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Thomas Burkot, PhD) to study the dispersal patterns of mosquitoes from urban into residential settings using stable isotope analysis.
  • U.S. public health experts have shown an increasing national interest in Chagas disease, a tropical parasitic disease found primarily in South America and rarely in the southeastern United States. In order to document transmission of Chagas in Tennessee, researchers will study the disease and its risk to humans and animals, especially raccoons and canines. Abelardo Moncayo, PhD, state medical epidemiologist in the Tennessee Department of Health, along with Tim F. Jones, MD, and Tennessee public health veterinarian John Dunn, DVD, PhD, will work with partners at the University of Georgia (Michael Yabsley, PhD) to study Chagas disease transmission in the Southeast.
  • Baylisascaris procyonis, a roundworm infection of raccoons, is a zoonotic disease (one that can be transmitted between animals and humans) that has been found in Georgia but is believed to be absent in the remainder of the Southeast.  Michael Yabsley, PhD, of the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Georgia, along with partners at the CDC, the Georgia Division of Public Health and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, will monitor the spread of the disease and the factors that limit or promote spread of the infection between animals and humans and ways to decontaminate infested areas.

For more information about SECEBT, visit http://www.secebt.org.

The CDC cooperative agreements are U38 TP423095 and H75 CH00002.

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The Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center of Emory University is an academic health science and service center focused on missions of teaching, research, health care and public service.

Learn more about Emory’s health sciences:
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Twitter: @emoryhealthsci
Web: http://emoryhealthsciences.org

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