Computers To Be Used For Assessing Bioterrorism

October 27, 2000

NEWS BRIEFS

Pittsburgh, PA. — Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh are establishing a Biomedical Security Institute (BMSI) that will monitor public health threats and alert emergency management agencies nationwide to attacks of bioterrorism.

The Biomedical Security Institute will provide a far-reaching preparedness, detection and response capability network that can be used to rapidly and accurately respond to acts of bioterrorism.

BMSI addresses a national need for greater preparedness in the event of biological terrorist attacks. It also will provide a means to monitor naturally occurring biological catastrophes such as outbreaks of West Nile virus and other related incidents, as well as attacks with biological agents.

BMSI has received funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

BMSI and the Centers for Disease Control have just entered into a long-term cooperative agreement to address bioterrorism issues, including developing a wide range of laboratory and information technologies. A grant of more than $900,000 to start the Biomedical Security Institute was part of $177 million in the current federal budget going to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to address bioterrorism. BMSI also received more than $1 million from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality to investigate the use of technology to improve clinical preparedness in hospitals and other public health organizations to respond to acts of bioterrorism. The CDC and AHRQ are part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

According to U.S. Senator Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the Biomedical Security Institute presents both universities with various opportunities to participate in and shape the national agenda for research in the areas of public health surveillance and bioterrorism.

“I am pleased that the Biomedical Security Institute, a collaboration of Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh, has received these grants. BMSI draws upon the full resources of the information technology, medical, public health and policy capabilities of two great universities. Their collaboration will focus on an area key to our national well-being and security: detecting attacks using biological agents and weapons by using computers and information technology,” Specter said.

Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh, with the support of the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, are the founding partners of the Institute.

Victor Weedn, M.D., J.D., head of Carnegie Mellon’s Biotechnology and Health Initiatives and an internationally known expert in forensic DNA typing, and Samuel J. Watson, M.A.I.A., director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Public Health and Bioterrorism Response Program in Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health, will co-direct the institute.

Biomedical Security Institute experts will be the first to assemble “end to end” capabilities to respond to acts of bioterrorism. Watson and Weedn said the unique combination of skills of the neighboring universities enabled the creation of BMSI.

“Pittsburgh is a new home to national resources against bioterrorism. This is another example of the excellence and scientific capability found here and our emphasis in building collaborative teams of researchers from both universities,” Watson said.

“We combine Carnegie Mellon’s leadership in information technology with Pitt’s excellence in medicine, medical technology, bioinformatics and public health research,” said Weedn.

Specifically, the Biomedical Security Institute will develop a prototype computer-based surveillance, analysis and communication system that will conduct ongoing real-time mining and analysis of data from public health and health care reporting sources. That data will be evaluated to alert agencies to various kinds of threats to the public health whether they are naturally occurring or potential attacks.

Initially, at the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Biomedical Informatics, BMSI is focusing on the development of this computer-based surveillance system, which will use advances in information technology, especially data mining, artificial intelligence and biomedical informatics as central features.

Eventually through the Carnegie Mellon Research Institute, BMSI will develop various new online training technologies for a preparedness training system that will link federal, state and local agencies.

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