Week in DC: Events 10.24-10.28.2016

Monday, October 24th, 2016
The U.S. Military And Commercial Space Industry– Center for Strategic and International Studies
Time: 2-3:30pm
Location: Center for Strategic and International Studies1616 Rhode Island Ave NW, Washington, DC 20036 (map)
Please join us for the inaugural event of the CSIS Aerospace Security Project. This panel discussion will explore how the U.S. military can better leverage commercial space capabilities and what policy measures can be taken to support a thriving U.S. commercial space industry.
The event will also include a brief introduction of the Aerospace Security Project. The purpose of this project is to examine the technological, budgetary, and policy issues affecting the air and space domains. The project’s focus will be in three areas: space security, air dominance and long range strike, and commercial and civil space.

Tuesday, October 25th, 2016
War And Tweets: Terrorism In America In The Digital Age– New America Foundation
Time: 3-5pm
Location: New America740 15th St NW #900 Washington, D.C. 20005 (map)

“Here in Orlando, we are reminded not only of our obligations as a country to be resolute against terrorists,” President Obama said in the wake of the Pulse nightclub shooting, “we’re also reminded…that what unites us is far stronger than the hate and the terror of those who target us.”
In the past year, terrorists have struck not only in Orlando, but in cities all over the world, from Beirut to Brussels, seeking to generate fear and anger. But what really determines public reaction? Is it, indeed, possible to be resolute in the face of terrorism?
Join us on October 25th at New America as we examine these questions and launch a new report as part of the “Building Civic Resilience to Terrorism” project, a partnership between New America and the charitable organization Democracy Fund Voice.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer will join the Hon. Sharon Burke, Director of the Resource Security program at New America, Juliette Kayyem, CNN National Security Analyst, and Dr. Peter Singer, Senior Fellow of the International Security Program at New America to discuss how political rhetoric, news media, and social media shape the public reaction to terrorism. The panel will also look at how to use strategic communications to build community resilience in the aftermath of an attack.
Wednesday, October 26th, 2016  Continue reading “Week in DC: Events 10.24-10.28.2016”


Pandora Report 10.21.2016

TGIF! It looks like biodefense and genetic engineering are the new hot topics in Hollywood. Inferno will be opening in theaters next week, but it was also reported that Jennifer Lopez will be starring in a new bioterror TV drama, “C.R.I.S.P.R.“, that takes on topics like genetic assassination. That’s right, JLo will be a CDC scientist exploring “the next generation of terror”. You can get an epidemiological update on the cholera situation in the Americas here. A new Ebola vaccine will be tested by researchers in Canada next month.

Biological Threats in the 21st Century Book Launchimg_0359
Last Friday we celebrated the book launch of Biological Threats in the 21st Century. For those who attended, thank you and we hope you enjoyed it as much as we did! For those unable to attend, don’t fret – we’ll have the recording up ASAP, but in the meant time, here’s a brief recap… We were fortunate to have Dr. Koblentz MC’ing the event, with Andrew C. Weber discussing the threats we face in the 21st century and that the topic is really the orphan of the bunch as nuclear weapons tend to get all the bandwidth. Weber noted that we learned the wrong lesson from Amerithrax and need to remember that one person did it all by himself and despite a very primitive delivery mechanism, it took us eight years to find him. He emphasized the lessons learned from 9/11 and the use of imagination in regards to potential attacks, specifically that we should all challenge ourselves to think about these things and be imaginative. Filippa Lentzos, the editor of the book, took us through her journey to bring together the politics, people, and science of biological warfare. Her goal was to create a one-stop shop for issues regarding bioweapons and socio-politics. Incorporating narratives from people that are both advocates and negotiators of biological disarmament, she highlighted the importance of scientists in building the agenda and biological risk management. Perhaps one of the highlights of the event was the expert panel comprised of Jo Husbands, GMU’s Sonia Ben Ougrham-Gormley, GiGi Gronvall, and Nancy Connell. The panel took questions from the audience and each expert discussed a range of topics – the role of scientists in DURC, GoF experiments and governance efforts, talking to US and Soviet bioweapons specialists from the days of offensive programs, and the efforts to engage scientists and make them part of the solution. Overall, the event was a wonderful mixture of experts, students, and industry people who are all passionate about the world of biodefense.

How Do You Know Your Flu Shot is Working?
GMU Biodefense MS student Greg Mercer is tackling the topic of flu shot performance. Despite the challenges of antigenic drift and forecasting, there has to be a way to check how well the vaccine is performing..right? “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers a guide to how they assess flu vaccine effectiveness and efficacy in the United States. These are two slightly different measurements. Efficacy is measured with randomized controlled trials. This is a classic, high rigorous scientific setup designed to eliminate research biases. Effectiveness is measured with observational studies. These are more reflective of real world conditions, since they rely on self-identifying subjects seeking care.”

On Patrol with a Bioterror Cop
For biodefense students, Edward You is pretty much our crime-fighting role model. Supervisory special agent in the WMD directorate in the FBI’s DC headquarters, You monitors the growth of lab tech to help prevent bioterrorism. Trying to find the gaps within the detection chain is no easy feat, but You helps to improve FBI and interagency efforts to identify, assess, and respond to biological threats. What makes his approach so unique is that prior to the FBI, he worked for six years in graduate research focusing on retrovirology and human gene therapy at USC. Simply put, You knows the science, tech, and culture that make biocrimes and emerging biotechnologies worrisome. You’s background and perspective has helped shift FBI credibility within the science community after incidents like the detainment of Buffalo bio-artist, Steve Kurtz. The FBI is now helping to sponsor events like the International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition, and is helping build a network where scientists share concerns. “You is often the first to hear about scientists’ darkest worries. Lately some of these have been connected to the gene-editing method CRISPR, which can be used to create self-spreading gene alterations in insects or DNA-slashing viruses.” You notes that “a threat implies intent, and we haven’t seen that yet,” he says. “But as things become more widely available, more widely distributed, the bar gets lower, and the possibility of an incident gets higher.”

Infection Prevention & Control Week  screen-shot-2016-10-18-at-10-32-54-am
Hand hygiene, PPE, and vaccines, oh my! Infection prevention doesn’t take breaks, so this week we’re celebrating the importance of reducing the spread of infections, specifically in healthcare. The Ebola outbreak lifted back the curtain as to just how impacting minor breaches in infection control can be, but as the threat of antibiotic resistance grows, we need to invest more into this field. Here are a few things you can do to help fight the battle of the bug in healthcare – need to wear PPE? Make sure you’re donning and doffing correctly. Wash your hands! Know about infection preventionists, follow rules of isolation if visiting a sick friend (or you’re sick!), get your annual flu shot and stay up to date on vaccines, make sure to follow directions and finish antibiotics appropriately if you’re taking them, and keep your work environment clean.

Public Health: Biosecurity and the GHSA Distance Learning Opportunity 
Don’t miss out on this great opportunity for a 2-hour webinar session on Wednesday, December 7th, 2016 at 11am CST. The U.S. has taken the lead on a global campaign to fortify both public health and international security. The Public Health: Biosecurity and the Global Health Security Agenda webinar will review the nexus between public health and biosecurity, through the context of the developing Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA). We will learn how modern threat management concepts can be efficiently employed by the GHSA to augment both public health response and preparedness in the event of a natural outbreak, or from the perspective of an intentional attack. The webinar will be presented by Ryan N. Burnette, PhD, Director, International Biosecurity & Biosafety Programs, At Risk International. Upon completion of this webinar, participants will be able to:

  • Define the methods and goals of the GHSA
  • Paraphrase how threat management techniques can be applied at a macro level to augment global security in the context of epidemics and bioterrorism
  • Describe how biosecurity plays a vital role in public and global health

Gene Drives – the Good, the Bad, and the Hype
GMU Biodefense professor, Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley, and Kathleen Vogel are discussing the advances in life sciences and what these new gene-editing techniques could mean for biodefense. “The absence of clear safety guidelines, coupled with ambiguous government regulations, has nurtured fears of an accidental or voluntary release of a gene drive in nature that could cause irreparable damage. On the security front, the presumed simplicity and accessibility of Crispr raise the possibility that states, terrorists, or rogue scientists might use the technology to modify genomes to develop malicious gene drives and create novel bioweapons that could spread more quickly, cheaply, and globally than traditional bioweapons agents.” Caution is always a good strategy, but Ouagrham-Gormley and Vogel emphasize the importance of approaching these new technologies with a realistic approach grounded in empirical findings, rather than the hype of a shiny new toy. Understanding gene drive and the capabilities of CRISPR are necessary to not only proceed with advancements, but also fully assess the risks versus rewards. Gene drive does have some potential benefits, especially in terms of vectors and pest-control, in trying to impact the population of disease-transmitting mosquitoes and invasive mouse species that wreak agricultural havoc. There is also potential for gene drives to aid in endangered species and environmental conservation work as “gene-drive rodent control on islands can mitigate the environmental impact of invasive species, which disrupt island ecosystems by bringing in invasive plants, or eating plants and insects essential for other species’ survival.” Like anything, there is a potential for mis-use or neglect. In the wake of any new exciting innovation, the spread of CRISPR and gene drive technology has amplified concerns over lab safety and establishing a fundamentally better understanding of the technology before such rapid innovative leaps. Concerns over adverse effects on target species and damage to non-target species is crucial and regulators are racing to keep up with this constantly evolving technology. “These two cases show that Crispr-induced alterations have outpaced and continue to defy current regulations, leaving governments around the world to play catch-up. In this context, fears that an altered organism might escape the laboratory to potentially eradicate a whole species, or unexpectedly jump into another population and cause unpredictable economic and environmental damage, do not seem far-fetched.” Lastly, from the viewpoint of a bioweapons threat, the authors note that the perceived low cost, easy availability, and self-propagating nature of gene drives make it appealing to would-be bioterrorists. There are significant technical challenges that do form substantial roadblocks, not to mention that gene drives only work with organisms that produce sexually (in other words, they’re unable to alter a virus or bacteria). “However, to accurately evaluate their potential misuse, one needs to rigorously assess the state of the technology and consider its limitations. Current fears (and hopes) related to gene drives are based on projections of what gene drives could in theory do if they spread in nature. At the moment, these are still anecdotal, speculative claims and are not based on in-depth empirical research and analysis. One needs to keep in mind that the techniques under debate are still in their infancy, and in spite of their apparent progress, they may not prove to be as dangerous or promising as expected.” In the end, it is important to identify the risks when it comes to a lack of Cas enzyme control, capabilities of potentially a state-level gene-editing technology based bioweapons program, and slow regulatory catch-up. Threat estimates are speculative and the authors point to problematic historical security assessments of emerging biotech. Overall, it’s important to have a better understating of the complex and unique factors that push state and non-state actors to develop biological weapons and in the wake of this uncertainty, the authors “are engaged in a project that aims to understand the social and technical factors for how Crispr scientists around the world actually work in the lab.”

A Threat to the U.S. Food System
Food safety is often a forgotten component of biodefense when Anthrax and Ebola tend to steal the spotlight. Sadly, this is America’s soft underbelly as a threat to U.S. food production and security could have devastating economic ramifications. While the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense report in 2015 did mention the vulnerability of the agriculture system, it’s easy to forget just how damaging such an event could be. “The agriculture sector in the U.S. is a $1 trillion business and employs approximately 9.2 percent of American workers. In 2012, domestic animal agriculture – livestock and poultry production – generated approximately 1.8 million jobs, $346 billion in total economic output and $60 billion in household income.” Consider even a disease that impacts crops – wheat and rice account for 39% of the world’s total calorie consumption. It’s important to consider the devastation that crop or livestock attacks could have on not only the U.S. system, but also on an international level.

Zika Virus Weekly Updates
Venezuela is struggling to respond to and support cases of Zika-related microcephaly as the government refuses to acknowledge a single case. “Some doctors accuse Venezuela’s unpopular government of hiding the Zika problem amid a deep recession that has everything from flour and rice to antibiotics and chemotherapy medicines running short and spurred fierce criticism of Maduro. They also say government inaction means kids are missing out on targeted state-sponsored therapy programs that would help to stimulate them”. HHS recently announced how the Zika funds will be allocated among players.  “According to Caitlyn Miller, director of the division of discretionary programs for HHS, $394 million will go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), $152 million to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and $387 million toward the public health and social services emergency fund. Within that $387 million, $75 million will be used to reimburse healthcare providers who treat uninsured Zika patients, $40 million will be used to expand Zika resources in US territories, and $20 million will go to regional and national projects, such as creating microcephaly registries.” Public health officials have created a color-coded map of Zika zones in Florida. As of October 19th, the CDC has reported 5,016 cases of Zika in the U.S.

Stories You May Have Missed

  • EU Reports Animal Antibiotic Use Is Up– Despite a drop in overall sales, a recent report from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has revealed the worrisome reality that there has been an increase in the use of medically important antibiotics. While there was a 2.4% drop from 2011-2014 in sales of veterinary antibiotics, there was a sharp increase in “critically important” antibiotic usage. The usage of “fluoroquinolones, macrolides, and polymyxins sold for use in food-producing animals rose significantly—14%, 13%, and 19%, respectively.” The report does note that responsible-use campaigns in some countries could be effective in countering antibiotic resistance, however the increase in usage is raising many red flags.
  • Global Civil Society Coalition for the Biological Weapons Convention – last week Kathryn Millet, on behalf of the Global Civil Society Coalition for Biological Weapons, delivered a statement to the UN General Assembly First Committee. The statement points to the importance of the BWC but also the challenges and necessity of avoiding complacency. The coalition statement emphasizes the importance of recognizing the evolving threat posed by malign use of the life sciences since the last Review Conference and the need for more systematic advice for BWC State Parties on S&T. Further recommendations include the need for States to ensure that the interval between Review Conferences is used more effectively, reexamination and improvement on dealing with compliance with the BWC, and the application of more resources to support work that is necessary to fulfill the BWC’s objectives.

Pandora Report 10.14.2016

The Biological Threats in the 21st Century book launch is hours away and we’ll be live tweeting the event, so make sure to follow us on Twitter @PandoraReport. The event will also be recorded and we’ll let you know when you can watch in case you aren’t able to attend. Check out how virus hunters are using epigenetics and big data to map epidemics and trace the origins of viral outbreaks.  You can also read the WHO’s Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Framework for the sharing of influenza viruses and access to vaccines here. The global CRISPR-Cas9 Market Outlook 2022 is now available here.

Biotechnology: An Era of Hopes and Fears
GMU Biodefense PhD alum, Douglas R. Lewis, writes for Strategic Studies Quarterly on the increasing pace of biotechnology capabilities. Lewis notes that while this isn’t a good or bad thing, it’s crucial to acknowledge that as capability and knowledge grows, so does the potential for bioweapons development. “Every new treatment represents a potential new weapon”. Advances like the manipulation of viral genetics allow researchers to create chimeric viruses that often bring out fears like those following the publication of The Cobra Event. While there was substantial effort during the height of the bioweapons development renaissance, it is unknown if programs, like the Soviets, succeeded. It’s important to remember that “while viral chimeras are a routine tool in laboratory practice, they are becoming common in therapeutic roles, for instance in vaccine production. A live, nonattenuated vaccine constructed from Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) virus and Sindbis virus has demonstrated the ability to protect primates from EEE.” Despite these advances, we often create at a faster rate than we learn or question. Understanding the genetic components of diseases allows researchers to mimic miRNA’s behavior and to make rapid advances in CRISPR-Cas9, but many are pointing to the slow rate of cautionary learning. Every advancement allows us to understand the world of genetics and medicine that much better, and the deeper we go, the more we’re able to develop extremely specific treatments. “Effective weaponization and large-scale employment of these new capabilities as a weapon would require a dedicated effort by a state sponsor. It is one thing for a medical provider to inject an experimental therapy into a patient but a much more difficult matter to deliver that substance simultaneously to thousands of people in a diverse environment.” Lewis emphasizes that the goal of his work is to inform the biodefense community of the evolving nature of biotechnology, emphasizing the need for continued support within the U.S. biodefense program. Keeping up with the biotechnology revolution is no easy task, however biodefense efforts must be as nimble as the science they seek to monitor.

Mighty Taco Outbreak logo-mighty-taco
Not the tacos! Sadly, at least 160 people have been sickened after eating at Mighty Taco locations in New York. The culprit? Refried beans. Public health officials are working with the state’s health and agriculture departments to identify the organism causing the illnesses. We’ll keep you updated as more information becomes available, but if you live in the New York area and frequent this taco establishment, rest assured they have thrown away the specific lot numbers of refrained beans.

GMU Biodefense MS Program Open HouseBiodefense_133x400
Don’t miss the next biodefense MS open house on October 19th! We invite you to attend an open house to learn more about the Schar School of Policy and Government. The session will provide an overview of our master’s degree programs, an introduction to our world-class faculty and research, and highlights of the many ways we position our students for success in the classroom and beyond. Our admissions and student services staff will be on hand to answer your questions. Check out the next MS info program on Wednesday, October 19: 6:30pm-8:30pm- Arlington Campus, Founders Hall, Room 126


Mayaro – Why Scientists Are Keeping An Eye on A Little-Known Virus 
Since the Ebola and Zika outbreaks, the concept of emerging infectious diseases is becoming much more well known and discussed. Mayaro disease may just be the next hot topic. Similar to chikungunya and spread by a tree-dwelling species of mosquito that is typically found in South America, this virus just popped up in a young boy in rural Haiti. While this may be an isolated case, it’s important to learn the lessons of past emerging infectious disease outbreaks and just how quickly things can spiral out of control. Moreover, since Mayaro is so similar to chikungunya and dengue, it may be under diagnosed. “The newly detected case of Mayaro in Haiti needs to be seen as a pattern of waves of viruses moving across continents, merging, changing and evolving,’ Morris says. ‘It reinforces the idea that there is a constant battle between humans and the microorganisms that infect humans.’ Diseases frequently emerge and re-emerge, says Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institute of Health. And one case doesn’t necessarily indicate an imminent epidemic. But Mayaro is worth keeping an eye on.” Researchers are now keeping an eye on at several mosquito and tick-borne viruses  – Mayaro, Rift Valley Fever, Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever, and Usutu.

International Infection Prevention Week
screen-shot-2016-09-17-at-6-13-12-pmHelp stop the chain of infection by celebrating Infection Prevention week from October 16-22! Believe it or not, you don’t have to be a healthcare worker to stop the spread of germs. On antibiotics? Take them as recommended and finish your dose! Visiting the hospital or being admitted? Ensure you and your visitors wash their hands and avoid visiting ill patients if you’re sick. There’s a lot we can do to prevent the spread of infection and fight the battle of the bug, so make sure to check out how you can get involved!

Weekly Zika Updates
Houston-based Legacy Community Health Services is frustrated over lab delays in Zika testing. The Legacy CMO has stated that pregnant women have had to wait as long as a month to know if their pregnancies are at risk as the turnaround time from the state public health department is so long. Public health departments in Zika-hit places are struggling to meet the testing demands, which is causing more of a delay in surveillance and diagnosis. The Florida Department of Health has released their Zika updates. Despite aiding the fight against the virus, the FDA won’t be getting any of the designated Zika funds. A new study is shedding light on the evolution and spread of Zika – “Their analysis revealed two distinct genotypes of the virus, African and Asiatic, and two separate clades (biological groupings that include a common ancestor and all the descendants of that ancestor). Clade I represented African gene sequences and Clade II, sequences of Asiatic and Brazilian origin. The Brazilian sequences were found to be closely related to a sequence from French Polynesia. This lends support to the hypothesis that the virus might have been introduced to Brazil during the Va’a World Sprint Canoeing Championship in Rio de Janeiro in 2014, which included a team from French Polynesia, rather than the World Cup in which no teams from Pacific countries participated.” Many are speaking about the experience of having a child with Zika-related microcephaly and the complications associated with the infection.  The CDC has reported 3,9836 cases of Zika in the U.S. as of October 12th.

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • Human H5N1 Cases in Egypt– Egypt has reported 356 cases of avian influenza A (H5N1) since early 2006, including 121 deaths, however they’ve already seen 10 cases in 2016. Unfortunately, four of these patients have died. The cases are concerning many international public health officials as the MOH has been largely silent, which may point to limited surveillance and testing, but also minimal reporting of cases on an international level.
  • The Case of the Traveling Surgical Scrub– We’ve all seen medical professionals in scrubs ordering a coffee or smoking a cigarette outside the facility. Sadly, this common practice is pretty gross from an infection control standpoint. While scrubs aren’t considered PPE, it’s still good to avoid taking them outside of the operating room. Fomites love to travel on clothing, which has led many physicians to avoid wearing ties and re-think the white coat habit. New guileless from the American College of Surgeons are pushing for scrubs to be changed once a day for this very reason – let’s  keep the OR as sterile as possible!
  • Modeling the Economic Burden of Adult Vaccine-Preventable Diseases in the U.S. – It’s easy to forget the importance of vaccination and boosters in adults however, a recent study revealed just how costly vaccine-preventable diseases in adult are. The researchers “estimated the total remaining economic burden at approximately $9 billion (plausibility range: $4.7–$15.2 billion) in a single year, 2015, from vaccine-preventable diseases related to ten vaccines recommended for adults ages nineteen and older. Unvaccinated individuals are responsible for almost 80 percent, or $7.1 billion, of the financial burden.”

Week in DC: Events 10.10-10.14.2016

Monday, October 10th, 2016
Columbus Day 

Tuesday, October 11th, 2016
Conflict Prevention And Resolution Forum: Fragile States And Conflict Prevention Challenges– Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies
Time: 9:30-11am
Location: Johns Hopkins SAIS – Rome Building1619 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. (map) Room: Rome Auditorium
Approximately 1 billion individuals live in “fragile and conflict-affected countries” across the world. A fragile state is considered one in which a lack of governmental capacity leaves citizens vulnerable to a range of shocks, amongst which violence prevails. With a lack of funding for conflict prevention in fragile states, these countries are left without recourse. It is important to examine the lifesaving role conflict prevention can provide these countries as they move towards sustaining long term peace and social cohesion. Join us on October 11th for an in depth discussion with two leading experts: Nancy Lindborg, President, United States Institute of Peace. Ozong Agborsangaya-Fiteu, Senior Operations Officer, World Bank FCV. The discussion will be moderated by:Daniel Serwer, Director of the Conflict Management Program, SAIS.

Wednesday, October 12th, 2016
GMU Biodefense PhD Open House – October 12th! Screen Shot 2016-03-04 at 11.00.29 AM
Don’t forget to mark your calendars for an upcoming PhD information session at our Fairfax Campus (Johnson Center, Room 334) on Wednesday, October 12th, from 7-8:30pm. We’ll be  discussing the nuts and bolts of the program, classes offered, and student perspectives on their PhD in biodefense! Continue reading “Week in DC: Events 10.10-10.14.2016”


Pandora Report 10.7.2016

TGIF and cheers to another week of biodefense news! Check out the GAO multimedia video on the risks of incomplete inactivation of pathogens. A whistleblowing former Pasteur Institute official in South Korea is reporting that a scientist for the South Korean branch took MERS-CoV samples on a commercial flight from Seoul to Paris without proper clearance and violated UN rules and French laws. The CDC is reporting a spike in the number of acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) reported. This rare polio-like illness can cause paralysis and was linked to outbreaks of enterovirus D68 in 2014. Ever wondered about opportunities to finance pandemic preparedness? Bill Nye has a new video on the “science illiteracy” of U.S. leaders, pointing to Ebola and climate change response as indicators of mistrust of science within the U.S.

Don’t Miss the Biological Threats in the 21st Century Book Launch!
Make sure to RSVP by Sunday for the upcoming (October 14th)  book launch of Biological Threats in the 21st Century! Biological Threats in the 21st Century introduces readers to the politics, people, science and historical roots of contemporary biological threats through rigorous and accessible chapters written by leading scholars and supplemented by expert point-of-view contributions and interviews. The book launch will feature a panel discussion on the threat of biological weapons and the role of scientists in bioweapons non-proliferation and disarmament. The event is free and open to the public. Lunch will be available, first come, first serve, beginning at 11:45 AM so please RSVP. Attendants will also be able to pick up the book at a 15% discount.

GMU Biodefense Graduate Program Open Houses Biodefense_133x400
We invite you to attend an open house to learn more about the Schar School of Policy and Government. The session will provide an overview of our master’s degree programs, an introduction to our world-class faculty and research, and highlights of the many ways we position our students for success in the classroom and beyond. Our admissions and student services staff will be on hand to answer your questions. Check out the next MS info program on Wednesday, October 19: 6:30pm-8:30pm- Arlington Campus, Founders Hall, Room 126

Drawing on world-class original research and high-level practical experience, our faculty prepare students to be creative and effective participants in policy-making and political discourse.  By working closely with these faculty to conduct research that influences decisions at the local, national and international levels, our PhD graduates emerge prepared for high-powered careers in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. The next PhD info session will be on Wednesday, October 12, 2016: 7:00pm-8:30pm – Fairfax Campus, Johnson Center, Room 334

The State of Vaccine Skepticism in Maps
Typically, we look at graphs of vaccine exemptions, but you can now explore vaccination confidence throughout the world via interactive maps. A recent study looked at public confidence in vaccines, asking 66,000 people in 67 countries their thoughts and beliefs in vaccines. Researchers found that France was the least confident in vaccine safety and that “one peculiar conflict emerges from Southeast Asia, where the public seemingly has little doubt as to the safety, importance, or effectiveness of vaccines, yet may eschew them on religious grounds.” Attitude and confidence in vaccines is strongly correlated with vaccine exemptions or refusal. As we saw with California and the Disneyland-associated measles outbreak in 2015, vaccine-preventable disease are becoming a growing issue, not just within the U.S., but on a global level. Since we’re on the topic – make sure to get your annual flu shot as the CDC is recommending people get their flu vaccines before the end of October. You can find more on the 2016/2017 flu season here.

Las Alamos is Now Tracking Global Disease Outbreaks
Biosurveillance is a mixed bag of tricks – some prefer focusing on symptoms, others on vectors, but overall, there’s been a steady dispute regarding how best to pursue it. Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico is working to break through the fog and establish a new method “describing disease that is designed to bring this disparate field together and gain international traction. Their new system of classification is called the Anthology of Biosurveillance Diseases, and they have set up an online database to support it.” The new system takes into account many important parts of the epidemiology and biosurveillance practices for disease tracking. Detailed description of vectors, search capabilities by symptoms, and a wide range of synonyms for diseases are all components to this new system. This is no easy task and the system designers know that as new diseases are found or knowledge expands for existing ones, there will be no rest for the wicked. Biosurveillance has so many moving parts and this database is the first step in trying to get them all into one area to better strengthen the surveillance system and thus the capacity for response by public health. While they work to make the updating process automated,  the database has been made available online here.

ISSF Roundtable on Barriers to Bioweapons
If you haven’t read GMU Biodefense Associate Professor Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley‘s Barriers to Bioweapons: The Challenges of Expertise and Weapons Development, get the scoop from this latest review. Dr. Ouagrham-Gormley’s book breaks down the realities behind bioweapons development and that weaponization of biological agents is much more difficult than many realize. Not only is this one of my favorite books, depicting the realities of tacit knowledge as a major roadblock for non-state bioweapons development, but this review gives great insight from multiple subject matter experts from several academic institutions. “The reviewers place Ben Ouagrham-Gormley’s work in the context of the literature on nuclear power and nuclear weapons, and note that she impressively draws from multiple literature, including business school case studies, anthropology, and organizations and management. To these strengths, I would like to add three others: first, Barriers to Bioweapons is well organized and very well written—a model of rich empirics and theoretical sophistication. Second, Ben-Ouagrham-Gormley successfully tackles a large and hard problem: showing how state structures and processes shape specific technical and scientific outcomes. Third, in addition to her excellent discussion of tacit knowledge, Ben Ouagrham-Gormley writes with great insight about knowledge reservoirs, knowledge transfer, and knowledge loss in and across organizations.”

Enhancing International Nuclear Nonproliferation in an Increasingly Dangerous World
GMU Biodefense PhD alum, Daniel M. Gerstein points to the vulnerability of international nuclear nonproliferation and how this U.S. national security strategy is “teetinger on a dangerous precipice.” What can the U.S. do? Between North Korea’s recent nuclear and missile tests and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s halting of the bilateral Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement with the U.S., the stakes are progressively getting higher. Gerstein notes that new national programs tend to focus on deterrence against regional adversaries and terrorist interest in acquisition of nuclear capabilities hasn’t waned, but rather the interest has grown as proliferation challenges become chronic. He notes several key steps to help reverse these trends – “First and foremost, the United States should reassure allies about the viability of U.S. nuclear security guarantees and the stockpile. The next administration will need to conduct a Nuclear Posture Review to set the country’s nuclear policy for a five- to 10-year period. Second, the United States should emphasize its absolute support for the goals of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT – nonproliferation, disarmament and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Third, the two most immediate state nuclear proliferation issues must be addressed: Iran and North Korea. On Iran, the United States should build support for the JCPOA, both domestically and across the globe.” International strategies must account for the unpredictable nature and capabilities of North Korea and push for China to increasingly pressure them to abandon their nuclear program.

All Things Zika
After reporting an additional 2,391 cases of locally acquired Zika virus in the first week of September, Puerto Rico is continuing to battle the disease as their case counts top 20,000. Texas is currently enhancing Zika surveillance in the Rio Grande Valley. Brazilian researchers are reporting a constellation of brain injuries from their work with 11 babies whose congenital Zika infections were detected before birth. “Though brain damage varied among the babies, the most common findings were brain atrophy and changes related to disturbances in neuronal migration. Defects ranged from mild brain atrophy and calcifications to severe malformations including absence of the thalamus and lissencephaly. Other findings included hypoplasia of the cerebellum, cerebellar vermis, and corpus callous.” As the outbreak rages on, U.S. public health officials are bracing for the first wave/generation of babies born with Zika-related birth defects. This Generation Zika is expected to be an extraordinary demand on special-needs care. “Data on newborns in Colombia suggests that Zika-infected women who are asymptomatic may give birth to children with Zika-related abnormalities. With that in mind, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended testing for Zika during routine obstetric care for pregnant women who may have been exposed to the virus.” As of October 5th, the CDC has reported 3,818 cases of Zika in the U.S. Hurricane Matthew will be hitting Florida soon and as the state braces for impact, there are growing concerns about the increase of mosquito populations following flooding.

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • Legionnaires’ Outbreak Grows – The Minnesota Department of Health is reporting another spike in Legionnaires’ cases in the midst of an ongoing outbreak. They recently reported 23 new cases, all of which are people who live, work, or spend time in the Minneapolis suburb, Hopkins. “Seven locations with cooling towers have been identified as possible sources. Samples have been collected from those towers. But officials point out that cooling towers are not regulated in Minnesota, so there is no registry or master list of towers.”
  • The Biology of Anthrax Conference- Make sure to check out the upcoming November 15-18 conference in Tampa, Florida. While primarily a sporadic pathogen of herbivores, its use as a bio-terror agent has highlighted its ability to infect humans. This conference aims to bring together investigators active in this area with a view to sharing observations and ideas and fostering new collaborations and synergies. Participants at previous conferences in Cardiff in 2009 and 2014 included representatives from academia, industry, policy makers and government.

Pandora Report 9.30.2016

Welcome to the last day of September! Brazil has reported 46,446 new cases of Chikungunya in the 5 weeks since it last reported cases to PAHO, which brings its total to 216,102 cases. Love photography and biodefense? Check out the Air Force patient decontamination exercise as told through photography. Japan is seeing a surge of measles with 100 cases reported in the past five weeks. On the other hand, the region of the Americas has been declared measles free.  Amnesty International has accused Sudan’s government of carrying out over 30 chemical weapons attacks in the Darfur area since January.

GMU Biodefense PhD Open House – October 12th! Screen Shot 2016-03-04 at 11.00.29 AM
Don’t forget to mark your calendars for an upcoming PhD information session at our Fairfax Campus (Johnson Center, Room 334) on Wednesday, October 12th, from 7-8:30pm. We’ll be  discussing the nuts and bolts of the program, classes offered, and student perspectives on their PhD in biodefense!

GAO Recommendations on Select Agent Program Improvements  screen-shot-2016-09-29-at-4-28-00-pm
A recent GAO report reviewed practices within HHS and USDA to improve the Select Agent Program’s oversight regarding inactivation of agents. The report draws attention to the uncertain number of incidents involving incomplete agent inactivation that occurred from 2003-2015. “One key reason is that the Select Agent Program—operated by the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Agriculture (USDA) to oversee certain dangerous pathogens, known as select agents—does not require laboratories to identify such incidents on reporting forms. According to the program, 10 incidents occurred from 2003 through 2015. However, GAO identified an additional 11 incidents that the program did not initially identify. Because the program cannot easily identify incidents involving incomplete inactivation, it does not know the frequency or reason they occur, making it difficult to develop guidance to help mitigate future incidents.” Many are pointing to limited federal guidance for researchers and validation of the inactivation protocols. GAO recommendations focused on revising reporting forms and practices, guidance for protocols, and establishing a more consistent process for incidents. Specific recommendations included: “HHS should direct the CDC and NIH to develop clear definitions of inactivation for use within their respective guidance documents that are consistent across the Select Agent Program, NIH’s oversight of recombinant pathogens, and the Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories manual. USDA should direct APHIS to revise reporting forms to help identify when incidents involving incomplete inactivation occur and analyze the information reported to help identify the causes of incomplete inactivation to mitigate the risk of future incidents.”

GMU Biodefense Student Awarded Center for Global Security Research Internship
We’re very proud to announce that GMU Biodefense PhD student and Presidential Scholar, Yong-Bee Lim, will be starting a six-month internship with the Center for Global Security Research (CGSR) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. CGSR  focuses on the nexus of science and technology (S&T) and policy to provide fresh insights for understanding and addressing important national security issues. They work to identify whether and how technically-based approaches can address new challenges to national and international security. Congrats Yong-Bee!

Global Health Security Threats: Are We Prepared?
Catch this Abt Associates hosted event on Thursday, October 27th, from 9am-noon at the Newseum! Speakers will discuss the causes and consequences of infectious disease pandemics. There will be two panels of experts – Panel 1: Causes, will include Peter Hotez, John Brownstein, and Irene Koek, and Panel 2: Consequences, will include Thomas Inglesby, Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins, and Jose Cordero.

The Post-Amerithrax World of Biodefense 17097_lores
How much did we really learn from Amerithrax and has our biodefense game gotten any stronger? Matt Davenport looks into what biodefense was like during the harrowing days of the Amerithrax attacks and how American efforts have evolved (or not…). He first points to the “biodetection divide” noting that there is a marked contrast between not only the tools and training but more importantly, the oversight and scrutiny that first responders and public health labs are subject to. “Biotechnology used by public health labs and first responders has evolved tremendously since 2001. PCR assays are faster. Immunoassay performance has improved thanks to nanotechnology. High-throughput genetic sequencing now exists. But no single technology is perfect. The rates of false negatives and false positives can still be reduced. Analysis time can be driven down. Sensitivity can be ramped up. And so the biotechnology that can aid in biodefense continues to evolve.” Many in the field will tell you that there’s no end zone in global health security – biodefense and biodetection will always have an evolving horizon that requires the technology, training, oversight, and funding to match. The microarray and technologies (PCR and immunoassays) require a targeted approach, however many like Livermore Lab’s Tom Slezak point out that the practice of thinking agent specific is limiting and our potential lists just get longer. Aside from the challenges of agent identification (which are improving thanks to next-generation sequencing), many first responders and public health professionals are pushing for national standards for the equipment that’s used on site during a suspected bioattack. Unfortunately, standards take the commitment of time, money, and legislation, which means that we need to really dedicate ourselves to strengthening US biodefense efforts.

Zika Virus – What’s New This Week?
Thailand health officials are investigating reports of four microcephaly cases associated with Zika infections. Sanofi was recently awarded $43 million in funding by the DHHS to help push vaccine development. The CDC has issued a travel warning for St. Kitts and Nevis, so you may want to reconsider travel plans if you’re concerned for local transmission in the Caribbean. The flip-flopping regarding the competency of Culex mosquitoes to transmit Zika is still ongoing, but a recent study predicts that 35 species may be able to transmit the disease (7 of which are found in the U.S.). The speculation of Culex capabilities points to a growing need to better understand the vectors of Zika and potentially expand control measures. Finally, after hotly debating for the better part of seven months, Congress has agreed to allocate $1.1 billion to help fight Zika. A CDC whistleblower claims that the agency is using the wrong Zika test. “Robert Lanciotti is chief of the CDC lab responsible for developing tests to diagnose viral diseases such as Zika that are transmitted by mosquitoes, ticks and fleas. Lanciotti was demoted in May after he raised concerns inside and outside the agency about the CDC’s decision in the spring to recommend a new test for Zika. That test is substantially less effective than another established test, he said, and misses nearly 40 percent of Zika infections. He also said the agency withheld information about testing differences from state and local public health laboratories.” The CDC has reported 3,625 cases of Zika in the U.S. as of September 28, 2016.

Latest Analysis of Anthrax From the Era of Soviet Bioweapons
Sverdlovsk is a notorious event in bioweapons history – over sixty people were killed when wind blew deadly anthrax south through the town in 1979. “A Soviet industrial production facility in Sverdlovsk, USSR, proved deficient in 1979 when a plume of spores was accidentally released and resulted in one of the largest known human anthrax outbreaks.” In their analysis, researchers performed genomic sequencing on the autopsy specimens from the event as many have speculated that aside from mass production of the spores, Soviet bioweapon researchers were also manipulating the genes. The good news is that this recent report shows no genetic manipulation. This new analysis is a result of samples (lung and other tissues) brought back from a research investigation in 1992. The genetic analysis revealed that the strain responsible for the deaths in Sverdlovsk is genetically identical to a wild strain found in farms earlier that year. While this brings a sigh of relief, it also supports the reality that anthrax is deadly enough in its natural state and will most likely be the biological weapon of choice among terrorists.

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • Handshake Stewardship and Battling Microbial Resistance – A recent study published in the Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal described the implementation of an antimicrobial stewardship program at Children’s Hospital Colorado. The program initiated a “rounding-based strategy, handshake stewardship. Handshake stewardship is distinguished by: (1) lack of restriction and preauthorization, (2) review of all prescribed antimicrobials and (3) a rounding-based, in-person approach to feedback by a pharmacist–physician team.” They found that overall antimicrobial use decreased by 10.9% during the 4 years of analysis, which also included a 25.7% decrease in the use of vancomycin. Decreased usage of antimicrobials was seen in both the hospital-wide analysis as well as individual units.
  • Legionnaires’ Disease Hits Seattle and Memphis – the waterborne disease is popping up in a Seattle hospital and Memphis hotel. The UW Medical Center has diagnosed five patients with Legionnaires’ disease, two of whom died. Six cases of a respiratory disease were recently investigated in Memphis, with the local health department confirming that the first of the cases have been confirmed as Legionnaires’ disease. The Memphis cases are linked to a La Quinta Inn, which has been closed upon public health order.
  • International Conference for Post Ebola Capacity Building for the Mano River Union – Check out the October 6, 2016 conference from 9am-3pm in Silver Spring, Maryland! The conference will look at healthcare infrastructure and capacity, environmental management and disaster/emergency management, maritime and ports, agriculture, and much more! “The International Conference for the Post Ebola Capacity Building Initiatives (ICPECBI) was borne out of an assessment conducted by the State of Maryland and Liberia Sister State Committee (MLSS) and Africa Environmental Watch (AEW) experts’ team. The team carried out an assessment within some immediate environs and the outskirts of Monrovia, Liberia, in November through December of 2015. The goal was to examine and understand the current state of post Ebola conditions from lessons learned throughout the entire ordeal, and how residents and communities were coping.”



Pandora Report 9.23.2016

Welcome to the first few days of Fall 2016! We need to really ramp up our investment in vaccines – an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Doctors in Saskatchewan are imploring the province to declare a medical state of emergency over a surge of HIV/AIDS cases. Johns Hopkins University is currently working on a study to assess why healthcare workers catch the flu – what’re your thoughts? Poor PPE use, isolation precautions, and/or hand hygiene is my guess. New research from the World Bank shows that antibiotic resistance is likely to increase poverty and by 2050, could cause global economic damage on par with the 2008 financial crisis. The Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense has received a $1.3 million grant to continue work on assessing American biodefense systems, informing policymakers, etc. Before we start with the latest in global health security, you can now access (for free!) the Global Health Impacts of Vector-Borne Diseases workshop summary here.

The Uncertain Future of Plum Island 
Established in 1945, Plum Island Animal Disease Center (PIADC) (Orient Point, NY), “has served as the nation’s premier defense against accidental or intentional introduction of transboundary animal diseases (a.k.a. foreign animal diseases) including foot-and-mouth disease (FMD). PIADC is the only laboratory in the nation that can work on live FMD virus (FMDV). The lab and its staff of nearly 400 employees provide a host of high-impact, indispensable preparedness and response capabilities, including vaccine R&D, diagnostics, training, and bioforensics among others.” Not immune to controversy or a theme in horror movies, Plum Island is a research facility that hosts BSL-2, BSL-3 Enhanced, and Animal Biosafety Level 3 and Biosafety Level 3 Agriculture laboratories and animal research facilities that maintain highly restricted access and trained security professionals. The nostalgia of Plum Island is fast approaching as the research center is set to be closed within the next decade. The research campus will move to Kansas and the 840-acre island is up for sale. “Located 100 miles east of New York City, with sweeping water views, the island has already drawn unsurprising interest from local real estate agents and developers, including, yes, Donald J. Trump. Many people in the area, however, want the island preserved as a nature sanctuary or perhaps a park. In July, a coalition of environmental groups and activists filed a federal lawsuit to stop the sale, and there is a similar legislative push in Congress.” Since its inception and through its new ownership in 2003, (when DHS took it over) the biggest concern of Plum Island has always been containment as the infectious livestock samples and animals could introduce diseases, like food-and-mouth disease, to a susceptible population. The facility takes great care to mitigate any risk through “stringent security clearances and background checks, the boiling of all water discarded from the lab and the requirement that anyone who works within the biocontainment lab must shower twice before leaving. As for the cattle, pigs and other animals used for vaccine and other kinds of testing, they are kept in indoor, secured living quarters, said Dr. Luis L. Rodriguez, who leads research at the center’s laboratories.” In the event a deer should swim onto the island, it’s killed and immolated. Aside from the “Island of Dr. Moreau” vibe that is often felt when discussing the island, it has water views and sandy beaches that are met with a green terrain. While the future of the island is up in the air, the zoning stipulates that it must be reconstructed for similar use (i.e. research). Any takers?

Don’t Miss the Biological Threats in the 21st Century Book Launch!
On October 14th, join us in celebrating the book launch of Biological Threats in the 21st Century! Biological Threats in the 21st Century introduces readers to the politics, people, science and historical roots of contemporary biological threats through rigorous and accessible chapters written by leading scholars and supplemented by expert point-of-view contributions and interviews. The book launch will feature a panel discussion on the threat of biological weapons and the role of scientists in bioweapons non-proliferation and disarmament. The event is free and open to the public. Lunch will be available beginning at 11:45 AM so please RSVP. Attendants will also be able to pick up the book at a 15% discount.

Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 1.28.57 PMGMU Biodefense Graduate Program Informational Videos
Curious about a graduate degree in biodefense but unable to attend an information session? We’re happy to show off our new informational videos on both our MS and PhD biodefense programs at GMU. Check out what students are saying about our MS programs (we have both an online and an in-person tract) and our PhD program. You’ll also get to hear from biodefense guru and graduate program director, Dr. Koblentz, throughout the videos!

Bioresearch Labs and Inactivation of Dangerous Pathogens Hearing                                   

The Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will be holding a hearing today at 9am regarding bioresearch labs and the inactivation of dangerous pathogens. While witnesses are by invitation only, the hearing webcast will be available here – don’t miss it! You can also read a recent GAO report on high-containment laboratories: improved oversight of dangerous pathogens needed to mitigate risk. 

The Global Implications of Antibiotic Resistance
I love a good zombie movie like the next person, but where are the horror movies about antibiotic resistance? Show me a film that depicts the global threat of losing all effective antibiotics – that is a real horror movie. The UN General Assembly held a high level meeting on Wednesday about the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Despite increasing surveillance and high-level attention to the rise of the resistant bugs, it will take more than the efforts of a few countries. We’ve passed the golden age of antibiotic development and the “pipeline of new antibiotics has been running dry”. Colistin-resistant bacteria continue to sporadically pop up, highlighting that once again, germs know no borders and are skilled in the art of travel. Hopefully, with the recent UN General Assembly meeting, it will send a clear message that the threat of antibiotic resistance is being taken seriously and for more world leaders to really hone in their efforts for surveillance and prevention through the GHSA. Sadly, a recent study found that antibiotic usage hasn’t changed in hospitals, despite the growing threat of AMR. Researchers looked at patient discharge records in over 300 US hospitals between 2006 and 2012 and “found that 55.1% of patients discharged received at least one antibiotic during their stay, with little change in that proportion between 2006 and 2012. The overall rate of antibiotic use for all study years was 755 days of therapy per 1,000 patient-days, a rate that also saw little change over the period of the study. But the study also showed significant increases in the use of carbapenem antibiotics, third- and fourth-generation cephalosporins, beta-lactam/beta-lactamase inhibitor combination antibiotics, tetracyclines, and vancomycin.”

Next Generation Global Health Security Network Webinar – Our Antimicrobial Anthropocene: UNiting against Pan-Epidemic AMR
As you know, a key component of responding to (and preparing for) outbreaks is the ability to treat them. But how can we make sure that the drugs we have to treat diseases will work? How can we combat the growing trend of antimicrobial resistance? In line with the recent high-level meetings by the Presidential Advisory Committee (see here) and the UN, the Next Generation Global Health Security Network is pleased to present the first of an ongoing series of webinars, this one focused on Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR). These webinars are intended to provide unique learning opportunities for global health security professionals through educational sessions about important GHS topics and situate emerging issues for a global health audience.  Please join the event on Tuesday, September 27 from 6:00-7:00pm EST as the Next Generation Global Health Security Leaders Network and CRDF Global host a webinar by Dr. Dan Lucey titled “Our Antimicrobial Anthropocene: UNiting against Pan-Epidemic AMR”.  There will also be limited in-person space for those in the DC metro area who wish to attend.  If you wish to attend in person, please RSVP by email (nextgenghsa@gmail.com)

Your Weekly Dose of Zika News
The Zika virus outbreak has pointed out several international challenges when it comes to infectious disease outbreaks – funding, vector control, long-term health effects, and international events. Sandro Galea points to the poet John Keats as a potential role model for how we should approach such events. Trained as a surgeon, Keats had a solid background in the scientific method, however the quality he “emphasized was not the scientist’s finely tuned analytic instrument, but the ability to exist comfortably amidst uncertainty and doubt.” Galea notes that the Zika outbreak is a prime example of how scientists should start thinking more like poets, living in the space of inevitable ambiguity and the new norm of the grey area. Here is the ECDC’s epidemiological update on Zika. The CDC is ramping up testing support in Florida to aid in rapid diagnostics. A recent study published in the Lancet points to a low risk of sexual transmission and questions the sustainability of Zika transmission without the presence of a vector. The CDC is reporting 3,358 cases of Zika virus in the US as of September 21st. Of these cases, 43 are locally acquired related to mosquitoes.

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • Are We Prepared For Another Ebola Outbreak? In response to last week’s Ebola and Zika: Cautionary Tales article, John LaMattina is digging into the realities of R&D. “Actually, a check of clinicaltrials.gov lists 71 studies ongoing in Ebola, the majority of which involve studying novel vaccines or drugs in humans. Furthest along appears to be Merck with planned regulatory filings for its vaccine in 2017.” He notes that while Ebola may not be making headlines, that shouldn’t be translated into a total lack of preparedness for another outbreak. You can also read the latest article in NaturePublic Health: Beating Ebola.
  • Glory in the Guts- If you’re a fan of Mary Roach’s books (Stiff, Spook, etc.), you’ll love hearing what GMU Biodefense MS student, Greg Mercer, thinks of her latest book, Grunt. Roach’s latest book looks at the life of soldiers and how the military keeps them alive. “The only gun that interests her is the one that fires chicken carcasses at military aircraft to test their birdstrike resilience. Roach isn’t squeamish, though. She participated in a training simulation as a victim of smoke inhalation burns, experienced a live-fire demonstration of the importance of hearing protection, and endured a treadmill trip in the 104-degree “cook box” to witness just how easy it is to become dehydrated while lugging 80 pounds of gear.”
  • Global Capacity for EID Detection – In the most recent CDC Emerging Infectious Disease online report, researchers are evaluating the global improvements of disease detection and communication during 1996-2014. “Improvement since 1996 was greatest in the Eastern Mediterranean and Western Pacific regions and in countries in the middle HDI quartiles. However, little progress has occurred since 2010. Further improvements in surveillance will likely require additional international collaboration with a focus on regions of low or unstable HDI.”

Week in DC: Events 9.19-9.23.2016

Monday, September 19th, 2016
Nuclear Security Summit & Workshop 2016– Georgetown University
Time: 8:55am-6pm
Location: Georgetown University37 St NW and O St NW, Washington, DC (map)
The Georgetown University School of Medicine and Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service ‘s Science, Technology & International Affairs (STIA) are proud to invite you to the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit. This event will take place over two days (September 19th and 20th, 2016) at Georgetown. The summit focuses on four topics: (1) Nuclear policy & international collaborations; (2) Nuclear security (weapons control); (3) Nuclear security (nuclear power plant safeties); (4) Tools to assess ionizing radiation and its impacts. Ambassador Robert Gallucci, who served as the Dean of the School of Foreign Service for 13 years until 2009, kindly agreed to present a keynote address for this year’s summit.

Reception For Ebola Through The Lens– Open Society Foundations
Time: 6-8pm
Location: Open Society Foundations 224 W 57th St, New York, NY 10019, USA (map)
Join us at the Open Society Foundations office for a reception for the photography exhibit Ebola Through the Lens in advance of its New York debut at Photoville. The exhibition was originally conceived and installed at the Open Society Initiative for West Africa regional headquarters in Dakar, Senegal, and is currently on view at its satellite office in Conakry, Guinea. The reception will feature short presentations from three contributing photojournalists—Jane Hahn, Jonathan Bundu, and Morgana Wingard—and the screening of a short documentary film.

Tuesday, September 20th, 2016
Weapons Of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality And Threatens Democracy– Politics and Prose
Time: 6:30pm
Location: Politics & Prose1025 5th St NW, Washington, DC 20001, USA (map)
O’Neil, the author of Doing Data Science and a regular commentator on the Slate Money podcast, specializes in demystifying Big Data. Following an average person from college to retirement, she homes in on decisive moments—winning a scholarship, landing a job, getting a loan—when algorithms can determine the outcome. Based on statistics, algorithms seem to level the playing field, holding everyone to the same rules. In fact, O’Neil shows, these models often reinforce bias and discrimination. They’re complicated, hard to argue with, and, most seriously, unregulated. O’Neil will be in conversation with Jen Golbeck, a computer scientist and professor at the University of Maryland.

Continue reading “Week in DC: Events 9.19-9.23.2016”


Pandora Report 9.16.2016

Is it time to outsource key tasks out of the WHO and into more capable agencies? On Monday, the U.S. carried out a massive airstrike on a suspected ISIS chemical weapons facility in Mosul, Iraq. Sri Lanka has made history by being declared malaria-free after three years since its last case. Sri Lanka had previously tried to eradicate malaria over fifty years ago, but the effort was met with failure and is frequently cited by malaria experts. Do you subscribe to the “five-second rule” when it comes to your food? You may want to give it a second thought as Rutgers researchers have recently disproven the notion – sadly, cross-contamination can’t be avoided in most cases. The CDC has added Bacillus cereus Biovar anthraces to the list of Tier 1 Select Agents.

GMU Biodefense Graduate Info Sessions
In case you missed last night’s MS Open House in Arlington, we’ve got plenty more graduate program information sessions. GMU will be hosting several more events this Fall, so make sure not to miss one! The next MS information session (for both in-person and online programs) is on Wednesday October 19th, 6:30pm in Founders Hall, room 126. If you’re looking at a PhD in biodefense, come to our information session on Wednesday, October 12th, from 7-8:30pm, at the Johnson Center in the Fairfax Campus, room 334. From Anthrax to Zika, we cover all the biodefense topics and applications in our information sessions.

Biological Threats in the 21st Century Book Launch!  
On October 14th, join us in celebrating the book launch of Biological Threats in the 21st Century! Biological Threats in the 21st Century introduces readers to the politics, people, science and historical roots of contemporary biological threats through rigorous and accessible chapters written by leading scholars and supplemented by expert point-of-view contributions and interviews. The book launch will feature a panel discussion on the threat of biological weapons and the role of scientists in bioweapons non-proliferation and disarmament. The event is free and open to the public. Lunch will be available beginning at 11:45 AM so please RSVP. Attendants will also be able to pick up the book at a 15% discount.

Identifying Future Disease Hot Spots
Check out the latest RAND report in which researchers are asking which countries might be particularly vulnerable to infectious disease outbreaks and how the U.S. can help support these countries to better prepare and respond to public health events. Pulling from a wide variety of literature and data, “authors created an index for identifying potentially vulnerable countries and then ranked countries by overall vulnerability score.” Researchers looked at the 25 most-vulnerable countries, which include the “disease belt” in the Sahel region of Africa. Of the 25 noted countries, 22 are in Africa, and the remaining are Afghanistan, Yemen, and Haiti. “Conflict or recent conflict is present among more-vulnerable countries. Seven of the ten most-vulnerable countries are current conflict zones. Of the 30 most-vulnerable countries, 24 form a solid, near-contiguous belt from the edge of West Africa to the Horn of Africa in Somalia — a disease hot spot belt. Were a communicable disease to emerge within this chain of countries, it could easily spread across borders in all directions.” The 25 least-vulnerable countries were found to be in Europe, North America, and Asia-Pacific. The least-vulnerable countries were found to have larger medical systems and expenditures, better health indicators, less corrupt and more stable governments, better human rights, and often technological sophistication.

Presidential Advisory Council on Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria (PACCARB) 
You can join (in listen-only) this teleconference and webcast on Monday, September 19th, to gain further insight into the battle of microbial stewardship. “With participation of Member States, non-governmental organizations, civil society, the private sector and academic institutions, the primary objective of this pubic meeting is to summon and maintain strong national, regional and international political commitment in addressing antimicrobial resistance comprehensively and multi-sectorally, and to increase and improve awareness of antimicrobial resistance.”

Ebola & Zika: Cautionary Tales 20988_lores
In the latest issue of Science, Michael T. Osterholm discusses the challenges of combating infectious disease outbreaks and the struggles to respond with vaccine development. Osterholm points to the need to drive development and funding mechanisms in coordination with surveillance of emerging infectious diseases (EID). Upon the indication that an EID is bubbling up, it would be prudent to have vaccines (even if they’re not licensed yet), ready for large trials. Moreover, the looming threat of EID’s should be the best motivator for developing candidate vaccines. “The handwriting is on the wall regarding the current Zika outbreak in the Americas. High human infection rates in the major impact regions, caused by virus-carrying mosquitoes and human sexual transmission, will continue for several more years. Eventually, the number of cases will drop as more of the community develops immunity. Zika vaccine trials in the Americas may be too late to be tested on the current high number of cases.” Pointing to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), he emphasizes the need to fill the vaccine preparedness hole. Current practices are slow and on an “as-needed” basis, but the truth is that we already have the incentives and EID presence to make the push towards correcting the insufficient process.

Weapons of Mass Destruction: A Dialogue with Students
The UN Security Council 1540 Committee and the UN Office of Disarmament Affairs collaborated with the Stimson Center to create an international essay contest for students. On September 30th, from 10:30am-4pm, they will be hosting an on-the-record discussion regarding the proliferation of WMD’s and honoring the winners of the essay contest.  The winners will be announced and some will even be presenting their ideas at this event. “The goals of the competition were to involve the younger generation in understanding and addressing the important issue of proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs), i.e., chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, and to solicit innovative student approaches to implementing U.N. Security Council Resolution 1540 (2004) to support the Council’s Comprehensive Review of the resolution this year.” Panel discussions will include speakers such as Dana Perkins (Senior Science Advisor, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, former 1540 Expert), Will Tobey (Senior Fellow, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University), Craig Finkelstein (Coordinator for the Working Group of the 1540 Committee on Transparency and Outreach), and more! The event will be at Harvard University’s Tubman Building in Cambridge, MA. You can RSVP for all or part of the event here.

Latest Zika News
As more outbreaks occur, the question is quickly becoming – should government officials “allocate resources to support the advancement of traditional drugs and vaccines or emerging broad-spectrum therapies?” If you’re a Miami Beach resident, free Zika testing is now being offered at the Miami Beach Police Department. Utah is keeping public health investigators on their toes with a mystery Zika case.  CDC officials are investigating a man who contracted Zika but was not exposed via a mosquito or sexual contact. Recently published in the CDC’s MMWR, “Patient A was known to have had close contact (i.e., kissing and hugging) with the index patient while the index patient’s viral load was found to be very high,” CDC researchers said in the report. “Although it is not certain that these types of close contact were the source of transmission, family contacts should be aware that blood and body fluids of severely ill patients might be infectious.” If you need a laugh, the Daily Show’s Trevor Noah addressed Zika in a recent episode. Singapore is quickly becoming a Zika hot spot, leaving many researchers stumped about the strain. Experts are suspecting a significant mutation that ramped up the virus’s capability to spread. “What is most intriguing is the question as to whether some mutation has occurred in the Zika virus to make it more transmissible by the Aedes albopictus mosquito—this would be analogous to what happened with chikungunya,” said Paul Anantharajah Tambyah, the secretary-general of the Asia Pacific Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infection. The CDC has reported, as of September 14th, 3,176 cases of Zika virus in the U.S.

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • Biodefense in the Age of Synthetic Biology – the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has a new contract with the U.S. DoD’s Office of the Deputy Assistant Security of Defense, Chemical, and Biological Defense (NCB/CBD) to assess the nature of biothreats given the innovations within synthetic biology. “NAS will appoint an ad hoc committee to study the manipulation of biological functions, systems, or microorganisms resulting in the production of a disease-causing agents or toxins. The study will start with development of a strategic framework to guide an assessment of the potential security vulnerabilities related to advances in biology and biotechnology, with a particular emphasis on synthetic biology.”
  • Evidence of Airborne H5N2 Found in Distant Barns – a recent study found H5N2 highly pathogenic avian influenza in air samples collected “inside, immediately outside, and up to 70 meters from affected barns during the 2015 outbreak in the Midwest”. The researchers also found H5N2 RNA in air samples collected 1 kilometer from the infected barns. “A total of 26 of 37 (67%) sampling events collected inside and 18 of 40 (45%) collected at 5 meters were positive for H5N2. Sampling at distances from 70 meters to 1 kilometer resulted in about 2% positives and 58% suspected findings. The researchers found HPAI H5N2 viruses in particles up to 2.1 micrometer in diameter.”
  • History of the War on Superbugs – The war on antibiotic resistance may seem new, but it’s actually been waging on for over 60 years. Even Alexander Flemming knew the potential for antibiotic misuse and resistance, noting that “There is the danger that the ignorant man may easily undergoes himself and by exposing his microbes to non-lethal quantities of the drug make them resistant.” Sadly, even the identification of penicillin-resistant germs didn’t scare people, simply because it was a time of antibiotic renaissance – developments were happening all around us and that calmed the fear that should have been brewing.

Biological Threats in the 21st Century Book Launch

Join us in celebrating the book launch of Biological Threats in the 21st Century! 

Biological Threats in the 21st Century introduces readers to the politics, people, science and historical roots of contemporary biological threats through rigorous and accessible chapters written by leading scholars and supplemented by expert point-of-view contributions and interviews. The book launch will feature a panel discussion on the threat of biological weapons and the role of scientists in bioweapons non-proliferation and disarmament. The event is free and open to the public. Lunch will be available beginning at 11:45 AM so please RSVP.


11:45am-Lunch available

12pm- Welcome by Gregory Koblentz, Director, Biodefense Graduate Program, Schar School of Policy and Government

12:05pm – Keynote Address by Andrew C. Weber, former Deputy Coordinator for Ebola Response at the U.S. Department of State and former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Defense Programs

12:20pm – Introduction by Filippa Lentzos, book editor and Senior Research Fellow, Department of Global Health and Social Medicine, King’s College London,

12:30pm – Book Author Panel Discussion

  • Jo Husbands, a Senior Project Director with the Board on Life Sciences of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences
  • Sonia Ben Oaugrham-Gormley, Associate Professor, Schar School
  • Gigi Kwik Gronvall, Senior Associate at the UPMC Center for Health Security
  • David R. Franz, former Commander, United States Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID)
  • Nancy Connell, Professor and Vice-Chair for Research in the Division of Infectious Disease in the Department of Medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School

1:30pm – Q&A

2pm- Close

WHEN: Friday, October 14, 2016 from 12:00 PM to 2:00 PM (EDT) – Add to Calendar

WHERE: Founders Hall – 3351 N Fairfax Drive Room 113, Arlington, VA 22201 – View Map