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On The Verge Of A Breakthrough

On The Verge Of A BreakthroughA collaborative team at Tufts is close to uncovering a defense against E. coli bacteria, which is responsible for outbreaks that make millions of people sick every year.

No. Grafton, Mass. [12.07.01] Swift and far-reaching, E. coli outbreaks often send public health officials scrambling to react as hundreds and sometimes thousands of people quickly become sick from the dangerous bacteria. But a team of Tufts scientists is on the verge of uncovering a defense against E. coli -- giving public health officials a new tool to help address and even prevent future outbreaks.

"We're trying to bring a new level of preparedness," Dr. Philip Kosch -- dean of Tufts' School of Veterinary Medicine -- told the Worcester Telegram and Gazette. "This is a public service. We are working, putting our strengths together."

While Kosch didn't provide too many details, he told the newspaper that a collaborative team of 35 researchers -- led by infectious disease expert Dr. Saul Tzipori -- has been developing a system to detect contaminants in water supplies. E. coli is spread via contaminated food and water.

The Tufts team has a reputation of success in this area, reported the Telegram and Gazette. "[They have] made real headway in combating E. coli and other diseases that harm animals, as well as humans," reported the newspaper.

Clinical trials of the Tufts research are currently underway.

According to the Telegram and Gazette, "Tufts University is collaborating its efforts, researching ways to be prepared in case of any outbreak -- accidental or intentional."

With threats of biological and agricultural terrorism on the rise, the findings could help public health organizations provide an important defense mechanism.

"Kosch said response plans are a lot more comprehensive with involvement from every sector," reported the newspaper. "The main goal is to protect people, animals and resources. Threats leveled at the pipelines, water and food sources are the currency of the day."

The research could also have a major impact in other parts of the world -- like the Middle East and Africa -- where water supplies are commonly contaminated with disease.

"It's very common there," Kosch told the Telegram and Gazette. "We had staff out in Africa and there was a cattle disease that was very serious. Our staff has worked all over the world."

For state health officials, the Tufts research is extremely important.

Dr. David Sherman -- the chief veterinarian in Massachusetts and head of the Bureau of Animal Health -- told the newspaper that the state doesn't have the resources to take on these types of projects.

"We look to the academic institutions and biomedical corporations to address issues of rapid fire diagnoses and preventative agents," he said. "We don't have the in-house capacity."

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