During the course of the past century, humankind has witnessed tremendous advances in scientific knowledge regarding the etiology, prevention, and control of infectious diseases, followed by a brief interlude of optimism and complacency, and the relaxation and interruption of public health surveillance and control programs. In 1967, the US Surgeon General boldly pronounced that "it is time to close the book on infectious diseases."
The misconception that the modern, developed world was no longer vulnerable to widespread infectious diseases was shattered with the emergence of pandemic HIV/AIDS and other new life-threatening infectious diseases, and the vigorous resurgence of infectious diseases prematurely dismissed as historical artifacts.
Today, a mere four decades later, infectious diseases remain the major cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Although the immediate burden of tropical infectious diseases falls most heavily on the people of developing countries, citizens of industrialized countries are increasingly experiencing their effects, especially as international travel increases contact with the causative organisms. Moreover, the emergence and rapid spread of new infectious diseases, most dramatically pandemic HIV/AIDS, SARS, West Nile encephalitis, chikungunya fever, and viral hemorrhagic fevers has been accompanied by the resurgence of "old" and "reemerging" diseases such as cholera, tuberculosis, rabies, dengue, Venezuelan equine encephalitis, and yellow fever. The emergence of some of these in more virulent and drug-resistant forms has further underscored our global vulnerability to infectious diseases.
The UTMB Center for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases (CBEID) was created in 2002, and is a consolidation of the Center for Tropical Diseases and the Center for Biodefense. The main goal of the CBEID is to support the mission of the Institute for Human Infections and Immunity (IHII) by coordinating activities and research involving infectious agents, particularly emerging infectious diseases and agents of bioterrorism. The CBEID has two main objectives: 1) to reduce the vulnerability of the US and other nations to the use of biological weapons for warfare and terrorism, and 2) to alleviate suffering from emerging and tropical infectious diseases through application of basic, translational, and field research, and through education. The strategic research philosophy that has guided the CBEID's development is to enable the best available intellectual and physical resources to be integrated and focused on defense against biological weapons, as well as emerging and tropical infectious agents of major global importance.
The Center has attracted an exceptionally talented and multidisciplinary team of research scientists with broad expertise in many biodefense and emerging infectious disease agents. Research programs have been developed in all major areas targeted by the NIAID in its biodefense program, including the basic biology of bacterial and viral biological warfare and terrorist pathogens, as well as emerging diseases. Immunology and host response to infection, with emphasis on pathogenesis, vaccine development, antimicrobial drug development, and diagnostics have also been pursued. Combined with the unique containment and other specialized research resources in place and under development, the UTMB environment for biodefense research is outstanding.
The culminating achievement of the CBEID is its selection in 2003 and again in 2009 to lead a Regional Center of Excellence for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases Research (RCE), which is now known at the Western RCE. In collaboration with over forty institutions in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana, the WRCE program is a response to the need for strong infrastructure and multifaceted research, training and development activities applying the best basic, translational and clinical science to the generation of new diagnostic and vaccine countermeasures for NIAID Category A, B, and C pathogens and emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases.