Fri, May 02, 2003 - Page 2 News List

SARS research project launched

By Chiu Yu-tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER

In order to better understand the complexities of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), the National Science Council (NSC) has launched a one-year research project it hopes will help fight the disease and lead to the development of vaccines.

The NT$ 38 million project -- to be carried out by nine leading groups from research centers and universities -- aims to clarify clinical symptoms, seek methods of diagnosis and treatment, develop fast detection technology and discover vaccines and medicines.

The project has been incorporated into the existing National Research Program for Genomic Medicine conducted by NSC.

"Everyday, scientists in many countries bring up new but uncertain information about newly discovered disease. For Taiwan, which is hard hit by SARS, it's extraordinarily important to study the infection that hits home," said Chen Ding-shinn (陳定信), dean of the medical college at National Taiwan University (NTU). The NTU is a co-convener of the project.

Scientists at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other laboratories have detected a previously unknown strain of coronavirus in patients with SARS.

This new coronavirus is the leading suspect in the search for the cause of SARS.

According to Chen Pei-jer (陳培哲), director of National Taiwan University Hospital's Hepatitis Research Center, part of the budget of the new program would be spent building P3-level labs, which are for researching very dangerous viruses, such as the HIV and SARS viruses.

Core facilities, Chen said, would be available at the hospital, where the first probable SARS patient was treated last month.

Currently, Chen said, scientists at the lab are still trying to cultivate the SARS virus.

"Working on SARS-related research is worthwhile. Animal viruses are always there. We need to know how humans can handle such viruses," said Sunney Chan (陳長謙) vice president of Academia Sinica, who is also a convener of the project.

Although Taiwan is not a member of the World Health Organization, Chan said, accessing up-to-date SARS research information through international connections remains possible.

Chan said that improved understanding about SARS through scientific research was key preventing people from becoming hysterical over the spread of the disease.

Council officials said that international cooperation on the development of a vaccine would be promoted in the future.

"We plan to spend NT$ 1.17 billion [out of the Cabinet's NT$50 billion budget for SARS control] developing a vaccine," said Wei Yau-huei (魏耀揮), director general of the council's Department of Life Sciences.

Noting that numerous veteran researchers in Taiwan are shying away from working with the SARS virus, Wei urged young, ambitious scientists to make their contributions to SARS research.

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