Texas A&M given contract to fight bioagents

Officials with Texas A&M Institute for Genomic Medicine announced this week they have been selected by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency to develop new drug targets for toxins, viruses and bacterial pathogens that will ultimately help to defend against bio-terrorist threats.

Dr. James Sacchettini, principal investigator for the project and a prominent infectious disease researcher, said that by discovering and eliminating the ways toxins and microbes hijack cells, scientists can hopefully find ways to counteract even the most dangerous biothreats.

The funds will be used to create screening procedures for mouse stem cells involving state-of-the-art robotics. Researchers will screen over 3,500 different genes to identify those that enable toxins and microbes to injure cells and tissues, according to Sacchettini. 

Once these types of genes are pinpointed, he explained, researchers will find therapies to be tested on the tissues and in pre-clinical models.

“This approach is completely novel and has the potential to exponentially advance the state of human resistance to infectious threats, and the method will be amenable to a broad range of applications,” Sacchettini said.

Dr. Deeann Wallis, a molecular geneticist and the project manager for the team, said the research will use different ES cell clones, each with a single gene defect. This, Wallis explained, will enable researchers to predict gene function in complex multi-tissue systems.

“It is a genuinely unique way to utilize our genetic library; no one else in the world can do this,” Wallis said.