Mar. 11, 2003 A University of Ulster researcher has pioneered new analytical techniques that could save thousands of lives in the event of a bioterrorist attack.
Dr Colm Lowery, from the School of Biological and Environmental Sciences, has developed a revolutionary method of detecting the killer bugs that could wipe out entire populations if terrorists strike. Current methods of tracing potential bio-terrorist agents such as Cryptosporidium or Clostridium botulinum can take up to five day, but Dr Lowry's new DNA Finger Printing technique takes only 15 minutes, saving a vital diagnostic time in the event of a biological warfarea attack.
The importance of Dr Lowery's work has ben rexognised by the award of a prestigious Winston Churchill Fellowship. He has also been invited to the Centers for Disease Control Prevention, Atlanta, USA, to work alongside the world's leading scientists in the fight against bioterrorism.
"If terrorists were to strike, a likely method of attack would be to contaminate our water system with some of the more commonly found human pathogens such as E. coli or Cryptospordium," said Dr Lowery.
Current scientific practices take several days to establish whether or not there has actually been an outbreak. These new cutting-edge techniques will act as an early warning system for detecting these killer bugs in our water supplies. The method can equally be applied to routine monitoring of food and drinking water quality for the natural occurrence of these deadly pathogens.
Because the DNA finger printing technology is so fast, it will be invaluable in the event of a biological attack, allowing the quick detection of the source and type of agent that has been used. Subsequently, it will be easier to treat victims and prevent more outbreaks. The bottom line is that the introduction of these new technologies will help save lives.
"I will be involved in evaluating the US military's present bio-detection hardware which is currently used in their Biowarfare Programme and I hope to make a valuable contribution by testing my DNA finger printing system against Category 1 and Category 2 bioterrorist agents."
The techniques can also be transferred to other vital areas of medical research.
"The whole area of molecular diagnostics is an exciting and rapidly evolving area, not only in infectious diseases but also in haematological malignancies, diabetes and cancer, which has attracted much interest from the NHS," said Dr Lowery.
"Such an area of mutual interest holds great potential for future interaction between academics and the NHS - which I am keen to nurture and develop".
Dr Lowery will also travel to the Tokyo University of Fisheries in Japan to focus on the development of real-time detection systems for pathogens transmitted in food.
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