Virginia Tech faculty members in the biological sciences represent the largest concentration of non-medical biology emphasis in the state. Our researchers are consulted at state, federal, and international levels for expertise on plant, animal, and microbial genomics; and biotechnology applications.
Special research centers include:
The Biocomplexity Institute of Virginia Tech's research focus is understanding host-pathogen-environmental interactions. Researchers are working on many human, crop, and animal diseases. Funded by the Department of Defense, BI has developed a web-accessible informatics infrastructure, called ToolBus/PathPort, which combines distributed pathogen data with powerful analysis and visualization tools to build upon what is known and aid in discovery. BI is one of eight national Bioinformatics Resource Centers developing information to respond to high-priority pathogens. The institute provides the genomics and bioinformatics research core for the 15-university Middle Atlantic Regional Center of Excellence for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases, and the central proteomics biodefense database for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases' seven new proteomics research centers. And BI is one of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences' new research groups responsible for national efforts in infectious disease modeling. BI is the only organization to be directly involved in all four of these crucial new biodefense-related networks funded by NIH.
The Virginia Tech-Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering & Sciences integrates engineering, life sciences, and medicine. For example, Kimberly Forsten Williams of chemical engineering is studying endothelial cells — which line blood vessels and separate blood flow from underlying tissue — to find ways to transport therapeutic agents to hard-to-reach areas, such as parts of the brain. Research sponsors include the National Institutes of Health, US Army, Proctor and Gamble Company, Arthritis National Research Foundation, and Honda of America.
The Fralin Life Science Institute was created to enhance the quality and quantity of research in biomedical and public health sciences at Virginia Tech and develop cross-disciplinary research efforts in areas that foster the development of new knowledge. The Institute is currently focusing on two areas that build on current Virginia Tech strengths. The first is "Food, Nutrition, and Health," primarily prevention and treatment of obesity with a comprehensive approach from development and evaluation of new foods through behavior change by the consumer. The second focus is "Infectious Disease," in particular, reducing and managing emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases.
Other centers related to the biological sciences are:
Also see a list of faculty members doing infectious disease research and a book of abstracts at the web site for the Deans' Forum on Infectious Disease
Problem: Brucellosis is an infectious disease affecting animals and humans
Solution: Develop a vaccine
Vaccine RB51, a cattle vaccine against brucellosis developed by Gerhardt Schurig, Virginia Tech professor of biomedical sciences and pathobiology, has eradicated brucellosis from the U.S. cattle population. Improvements by Stephen M. Boyle, Schurig, Nanmalwar Sriranganathan, and their post docs and students in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine improved RB51 so it protects against tuberculosis and paratuberculosis.
Next, the Center for Molecular Medicine and Infectious Diseases scientists used RB51 as a platform for a multivalent vaccine to protect humans from both brucellosis and anthrax -- now in trials at Walter Reed Army Institute of Medical Research in monkeys as a prelude to testing in humans. The group is also developing vaccines based on the RB51 platform against Rift Valley Fever virus and many potential bioterrorism agents.