GW Research Spring 2014 Edition

A Faster Fight Against Terror Agents

Dr. Vertes
Akos Vertes and his team will use a variety of scientific disciplines— including transcriptomics, proteomics, metabolomics, and bioinformatics—to analyze the effects of toxic agents on genes, proteins, and cellular functions. (Photo: William Atkins.)

DARPA award seeks to reduce years-long process down to one month

May 01, 2014

Knowing one’s enemy is a tenet of war, but in the fight against chemical and biological weapons it can be exceedingly arduous and time-consuming. Now a team led by a George Washington University researcher is working to vastly improve the process under a grant that will provide up to $14.6 million over five years.

The grant, from the military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, tasks the researchers with reducing to 30 days a process that can sometimes take years or even decades.

“Clearly, this is a very large challenge, and it’s easy to understand why it’s important to overcome,” says lead researcher Akos Vertes, a GW chemistry professor who will be collaborating with GE Global Research, Protea Biosciences Inc., and SRI International.

“Discovering the cause behind a biological or chemical threat can provide information that not only counteracts the threat,” Dr. Vertes says, “but also provides important information for pharmaceutical companies developing drugs that may be unrelated to the threat.”

Biological threats, like anthrax, derive from bacteria, viruses, toxins, or fungi. Chemical threats include substances that work to interfere with the nervous system or cause asphyxiation. Both have the potential to cause rapid and widespread injury or death.

To determine how a biological or chemical threat disrupts the functions of life, researchers have to take a holistic view of the threat and the system in which it operates. Dr. Vertes and his team will use a variety of scientific disciplines— including transcriptomics, proteomics, metabolomics, and bioinformatics—to analyze the effects of toxic agents on genes, proteins, and cellular functions. By combining the data, the researchers believe the effects of a biological or chemical threat can be more easily determined.