A new $2.9 million grant will help University of North Dakota researchers use goose eggs to find ways to fight the mosquito-borne West Nile virus

The three-member Congressional delegation from North Dakota announced Thursday that the competitive grant, coming from the U.S. Department of Energy, will partner UND's Research Foundation with the Mayo Clinic and Avianax, a relatively new firm formed linking UND researchers with other scientists and goose farmers near Tolna, N.D.

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David Bradley, associate professor of microbiology and immunology, is on the cutting edge of using goose antibodies developed to fight the goose version of West Nile virus and drawn from eggs in therapies to help humans infected with the West Nile virus.

Other diseases, including avian flu, also are the target of the research.

Since it first was discovered in North Dakota in 2002, the West Nile virus has infected more than 1,300 people in the state, authorities said last summer, when only a handful of cases were reported.

It can cause death, usually in patients with other medical conditions that weaken them, but also debilitating illness such as forms of encephalitis and meningitis.

The Northern Plains is a great home, for some reason, for the mosquito that spreads the virus, scientists say.

South Dakota has led the nation in per-capita infections, and North Dakota has been in fourth-place in cases of the sometimes fatal disease, for which there is no human vaccine.

A certain species of mosquito picks up the virus from birds and spreads it to humans. Concern over the virus has led to much more spraying for mosquitoes in cities and towns in North Dakota.

The new grant will buttress research already funded by UND's Center of Excellence for Passive Therapeutics.

The new research will not only create jobs and attract more federal spending in the state, but likely break new trails in medical research into viruses and immunology, said the Congressional delegation, Sens. Kent Conrad and John Hoeven and Rep. Rick Berg, in a joint news release Thursday.

Steven J. Lee is a reporter at the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.