U.S. military medical researchers have focused on how to defend against the threat of biological and chemical warfare since World War I. With recent conflicts and terrorist attacks, the threat of bioterrorism has quickly risen to the consciousness of the general public. The threatened deliberate use of biological agents as weapons in the future may require infectious diseases to be classified as battlefield related and will be extremely serious to the unprepared.
For nearly 15 years, the Biological Defense Research Directorate (BDRD) at NMRC has researched ways to protect military personnel in the event of a biological attack. They have become a leader in the field of detection, including hand-held assays, molecular diagnostics, and confirmatory analysis. More recently, NMRC researchers have made great strides in developing a new DNA-based vaccine to protect against anthrax.
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BDRD serves as a national resource providing testing and analysis for the presence of anthrax and other potential biological hazards. Its portable laboratory, the only one of its kind devoted to detecting biological agents, was deployed to conduct tests at the Pentagon following the crash of American Airlines flight 77 on 11 September 2001 and deployed to New York City to assist with biodetection.
After the subsequent anthrax attacks in October 2001, BDRD analyzed more than 16,000 samples from the Capitol. They detected the presence of anthrax at Hart Senate Office Building, the Supreme Court, and several area mail processing facilities. The laboratory was also present at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002, available to analyze samples to ensure safety at the games.