Army launches biotech institute

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.—The Army will soon award contracts worth up to $37 million to three universities to establish an Institute for Collaborative Biotechnology.

The pending five-year awards will be made later this year to one lead university and two supporting institutions that will work with industry on two prime focus areas: electronics, sensors and computative capabilities, and modeling and simulations, said A. Michael Andrews II, the Army's deputy assistant secretary for research and technology and the service's chief scientist.

Biotechnologies can be used for myriad applications, including using biomaterials for camouflage, battlefield wound healing, polymers for protective clothing and sleeping bags, innovative drug delivery systems, and DNA diagnostic and detection technologies for rapid assessment of whether a biological attack has occurred. The technology may also help lighten the 21st-century soldier's burden, said Gen. Paul Kern, commander of the Army Materiel Command.

Andrews, speaking Feb. 26 at the Association of the U.S. Army's winter symposium in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said the new institute will follow the model established last year with the award to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as the university-affiliated research center for the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies. The new contract will have three awardees in an effort keep up with the rapid development of biotechnologies by taking advantage of a collaborative environment, he said.

Nanotechnology is a science that works at the atomic and molecular level to create any type of structure or device with improved molecular organization. It can be used to build anything—not just computers.

Kern said nano- and biotechnologies will help the Army maintain its position as the best, most well-equipped fighting force in the world and will help save soldiers' lives by creating better protective vests and other products.

The Institute for Collaborative Biotechnology will be the third such center created in the past three years, following the nanotechnologies center and the creation in 2001 of the Institute for Creative Technologies, a collaborative effort among the Army, the University of Southern California and the entertainment industry to develop realistic simulation and virtual reality tools.

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