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Scientists aim to thwart use of flu as bioweapon

Flu is already a big killer, responsible for more than 35,000 deaths in the United States alone each year. And wild birds infected with the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu are gradually broadening the scope of that disease. This week in Rochester, scientists are discussing ways to better understand the flu and also how to prevent the possibility that terrorists could somehow modify flu as a bioweapon to make it even more lethal than it is already.

Among the highlights of this week's two-day symposium, hosted by the University of Rochester Center for Biodefense Immune Modeling, is a lecture by Nobel Prize winner Peter Doherty, Ph.D., an expert on how flu spurs the immune system to defend itself against the infection. Doherty's technical talk on the roles of specific types of T-cells in influenza will be at 1:30 p.m. Friday, June 23, at the Rochester Marriott Airport Hotel on West Ridge Road. The lecture is free and open to the public.

During the symposium Thursday and Friday, University of Rochester experts in mathematics, statistics, immunology, and infectious diseases will join with colleagues from around the nation to discuss exactly how flu invades the body, how the body responds, and how mathematicians, statisticians, and computer scientists are working to help understand the pathogenesis of flu infection. The group will also talk about the potential of flu to be intentionally modified for use as a lethal weapon more deadly than bird flu, and ways to prevent that from happening.

"Flu viruses are deadly ?witness the 1918 Spanish flu which killed millions of people ?and with modification, they can be made even more deadly," said Hulin Wu, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Biostatistics and Computational Biology and director of the modeling center. Wu's colleague, Martin Zand, M.D., Ph.D., co-director of the center, added that "We don't know whether flu will be weaponized; it's crucial to ask the question and to be prepared."

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Source:University of Rochester Medical Center


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