Researchers seek countermeasures against mystery infections

A team of scientists at the University of Washington is seeking rapid, broad countermeasures that can be effective against several different viruses and pathogens, the university said on Tuesday.

The university is one of seven institutions chosen as part of the Center for Research in Diagnostic and Discovery program. The program brings together experts from across the country in various fields to devise new methods to prevent, detect, track, diagnose and treat infectious diseases and bioterrorism agents.

"Emerging viruses are a major threat to global public health, especially because few antivirals are available to treat patients," Michael Katze, the head of the university's contributions to the center, said. "There is a significant need for methods to rapidly identify newly emergent pathogens, but also to guide medical treatments and to quickly contain outbreaks."

The university will receive approximately $5 million from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to extend Katze's research into potential clinical applications against viral pathogens like Ebola, Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, avian influenza and others.

The NIAID is seeking to find flexible, broad spectrum treatments against multiple pathogens at once. Katze's lab will use computer modeling, gene transcription profiles and other measures of genome-wide activity to discover ways to measure the severity of disease. By finding distinctive signatures in how a host reacts to infection, the researchers may be able to predict disease outcome, diagnose illness and find new ways to modulate the host's response.

The team will also search drug databases to find existing therapies to repurpose as countermeasures.