Wed, May 14, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Research center vows to aid fight against SARS

By Lin Chieh-yu  /  STAFF REPORTER WITH CNA

The military's top medical research center yesterday complained that it has long been mistakenly labeled as Taiwan's stronghold for biological weapons research.

"That's a misconception, I can guarantee that Taiwan has never developed biological weapons over the past two decades," said Liu Hung-wen (劉鴻文), director of the military-run Institute of Preventive Medical Research.

Liu made the remark to reporters after President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) inspected the institute yesterday.

The institute also vowed to lead the government's SARS countermeasures, saying that it has made some concrete progress in its efforts to create a vaccine for the virus.

Chen inspected the institute accompanied by Academic Sinica president Lee Yuan-Tseh (李遠哲) and Minister of National Defense Tang Yao-ming (湯曜明),

The president listened to the briefing about the institute's progress in developing a vaccine and indicated the institute should shoulder the duty of leading the war against SARS.

"The next step of the government's counter epidemic measures is to plunge into the research and development of a vaccine and medicine to treat the disease," Chen said. "We believe that Taiwan has the best research staff as well as an environment which will lead to a cure for the disease, prevent its spread and establish an effective vaccine."

Responding to the president's appeal, Liu said that the institute is racing against the clock to analyze the characteristics of the virus that causes SARS.

"To develop a vaccine for SARS is a goal, but finding a way to diagnose the presence of the virus that causes SARS in only a few minutes is the institute's immediate concern," Liu said.

Liu also commented on the institute's performance and purpose, and addressed the issue about whether Taiwan had joined the field of developing biological weapons.

The institute's P4 laboratory, according to Liu, refers to polymers, properties and polymerization processes. The laboratory specializes in chemical engineering and chemical technology.

"The institute has focused on the research and development of methods to detect microbes that can be used as biological weapons agents, such as bacteria, viruses and other toxic substances," he said.

He also said that the institute has made outstanding contributions to the US in developing a biochemical test after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001.

"The institute has developed reagents to identify whether any suspicious powders contain lethal anthrax spores in five to 15 minutes," he said. "Both the accuracy and the sensitivity rates of our reagents exceed 99 percent."

Liu said the institute will try to transfer technical know-how for quick virus detection used in the military to civilian manufacturers for commercial production of reagents to diagnose enterovirus and dengue fever infections.

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