Huntsville-based center to have global scope
Researchers at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology will soon be working with fellow scientists from around the country and the world in developing technologies and products to improve public health and food safety. The recently established Genomic Technology Center for Public Health and Food Safety at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology will bring together food and biotech industries, government agencies and academic scientists to apply advanced genomic technologies in developing effective solutions for detecting and monitoring foodborne pathogens and other public threats such as tuberculosis and encephalitis.
“Current methods used for studying foodborne pathogens are severely limited,” noted Dr. Jian Han, the HudsonAlpha investigator who has championed the formation of the center. “They are not fast enough and are lacking in sensitivity, inclusiveness and ease of use. Current methods are also limited because the procedures are not easily automated,” he added.
Han has worked with scientists at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over the past two years toward developing a foodborne pathogen detection tool that is quick, easy to use and can check for multiple disease-causing microorganisms. “We have technologies in development that address these issues, plus they can be automated to handle large numbers of samples at relatively low costs,” said Han.
Han has extensive experience developing technologies and products for public health applications. During the SARS outbreak of 2003, Dr. Han’s company, Genaco, developed and deployed the world’s first molecular differential diagnostic test that detected the SARS virus, as well as 10 other pathogens commonly associated with respiratory infections. Before joining HudsonAlpha, he led a team of Genaco scientists in developing close to a dozen products for the diagnosis of different infectious syndromes.
According to Jim Hudson, president of the HudsonAlpha Institute, the Genomic Technology Center for Public Health and Food Safety will need to have a “rapid response force” that can develop tests quickly for emerging infections. “Because food often travels great distances before it reaches consumers’ tables and diseases do not respect national borders, the center will have a global scope.
We will work closely with disease control officials such as those with the World Health Organization, international centers for disease control and homeland security agencies, to target new public threats,” he said.
Microorganism contamination of food is a major cause of human illness. According to estimates by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, foodborne diseases cause approximately 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year. Foodborne diseases also threaten national security due to the high volume of worldwide food import/export activities.
Holly Ralston McClain
The HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology in Huntsville, Alabama, is the cornerstone of the Cummings Research Park Biotechnology Campus. The campus hosts a synergistic cluster of biotechnology talent – science and business professionals – that promises collaborative innovation too turn knowledge and ideas into commercial products and services for improving human health and strengthening Alabama’s progressively diverse economy. The non-profit institute is housed in a state-of-the-art, 270,000 square-ft. facility strategically located in the nation’s second largest research park. HudsonAlpha has a three-fold mission of genomic research, economic development and educational outreach.