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New Research Center Targets Infectious Disease

The case of a traveler with XDR tuberculosis recently served as a reminder of the urgent need for better diagnosis, management and treatment for infectious disease. A newly formed research center at Ohio State University brings together biologists, doctors, veterinarians and medical researchers from all over campus to move faster in medical research.

Last month a traveler infected with extensively drug resistant tuberculosis, XDR TB, boarded two transatlantic flights. At the time, he may not have known that he carried a strain of TB that is extremely difficult to treat.

Larry Schlesinger, director of the new OSU Center for Microbial Interface Biology, says that public health threats like XDR-TB emphasize the urgent work that scientists have to do. Faster diagnosis or more effective treatment could have prevented the alarm.

"We have a problem. In fact we have a crisis," Schlesinger said. "There are number of infections occurring in the United States and globally that we're losing control over for a number of reasons, most significantly the increasing rate of resistance among these isolates."

He says the solutions to infectious disease problems will come from more communication among researchers and clinicians, biologists and medical researchers.

"There is a more pressing need than ever to develop a very multidimensional program so that we can in a more efficient and effective manner handle this growing crisis of infections and develop new cures," Schlesinger said.

The Center for Microbial Interface Biology, or CMIB, fosters such a multidimensional approach. All its members study some aspect of the interaction between disease organisms and the human body.

The group received official university recognition and support in late 2006. Its first research retreat brought together more than 100 scientists and students to share and discuss their work. According to CMIB associate director John Gunn, the exchange connects researchers who are tackling similar problems from different perspectives.

"What we really have to offer is developing collaborations between researchers and generating new information that can be passed between one another that can springboard new efforts that will lead to greater therapies for humans," Gunn said.

In forming this interdisciplinary research group, OSU is in line with national and global research trends. Bill Parker, a physics professor and former vice chancellor for research at the University of California at Irvine, has watched collaborative research become ever more important in addressing complex science.

"Institutes combining skills from different disciplines are springing up all over the country because it is recognized as the way to solve major problems," he said.