Pandora Report: 12.18.2015

Hungry, hungry anthrax hippos? If there’s one thing we love about the science community, it’s when a gem pops up in your inbox like this (thanks ProMed!). In Ebola news, public health officials are exploring the possibility that survivors may be a potential source of case surges. Fun history fact Friday: On December 18, 1620, the Mayflower docked at Plymouth Harbor and passengers began settlement and on December 14, 1980, the CIA issued a warning about Soviet arms sales to Third World nations. Take a break from holiday preparations with this week’s Pandora Report – we’re discussing everything from zombies to Bob Dylan lyrics!

Epidemiology of a Zombie Outbreak
Tara C Smith and the writers of The BMJ certainly know how to hook a biodefense nerd – epidemiology of zombie infections? Don’t mind if we do! Using historical tales and movie outbreaks, Smith takes us through several hypothetical zombie outbreaks we’ve experienced as viewers or readers for the past few decades. Tracing the origins of certain outbreaks and the transmission patterns via bite, this scientific approach to one of our favorite topics is fascinating.  Potential etiological considerations included weaponized Yersinia pestis, a mutation of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or a genetically modified form of the Ebola virus that was tested on chimpanzees (that later escaped!). Last but not least, we can’t forget to consider the ethical implications of such an outbreak. How do we handle resource depletion or quarantine? All things to consider before the zombie apocalypse!

Risk & Benefit Analysis of Gain of Function Research 
With the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) meeting fast approaching (January 7-8, 2016!), we’re recapping the role of gain-of-function (GoF) research in biodefense. Earlier this year, Gryphon Scientific was awarded a NIH contract related to assessment of GoF research and the risk-versus-benefits that may impact future federal funding. With the intent to make future recommendations, the assessment had three major tasks: a risk analysis (RA) of accidents and natural disasters, a biosecurity RA, and a benefit assessment. Extensive review and analysis of data from the intelligence and law enforcement community reviewed potential gaps within security practices. “The biosecurity RA is delivered in two parts because risks posed by malicious acts targeting laboratories that conduct GoF required a different analytical approach than the assessment of the risk generated by the misuse of published GoF research.” GMU Biodefense alum and previous Pandora Report editor, Julia Homstad, is also the lead author on Chapter 11 (Risk of Loss of Trust in Science). Perhaps one of my favorite points from the report was that “this assessment requires the identification of scientific and non-scientific barriers to the realization of these benefits.” You can also find Michael Selgelid’s White Paper regarding the ethical implications of GoF research. While the 1,001 pages may seem a daunting task, this is not only a highly relevant report, but approaches GoF concerns and risks in an engaging and holistic manner.

Bob Dylan Lyrics in Medical Literature?
Have you ever read a scientific article and felt a complete unknown, like a rolling stone? Scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden have been sneaking Bob Dylan song lyrics into their papers as part of a long-standing bet since 1997. “It all started in 1997 with a review in Nature Medicine entitled ‘Nitric oxide and inflammation: the answer is blowing in the wind.'” Carl Gornitzki and colleagues from The BMJ decided to do some additional digging in Medline and found that 213 of 727 found references were unequivocally citing Bob Dylan. Starting a few years after his musical debut, research papers included a variety of biomedical topics, like those of Hermanson et al., who managed to work “like a rolling stone” into their paper on epigenetics. The variety of lyrics found throughout the literature is certainly more than a simple twist of fate.

Outbreak Preparedness 2015 Report
Ever wonder how your state ranks in terms of emerging infectious disease preparedness? Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recently published their 2015 report regarding state capabilities to protect against new infectious disease threats (MERS-CoV, multi-drug resistant organisms, etc.) and “resurging illnesses like whooping cough, tuberculosis, and gonorrhea.” The report found that over half of US states ranked at five or lower on a scale of ten. The five all-star states (scoring eight) were Delaware, Kentucky, Main, New York, and Virginia (go Virigina!). The report findings noted that “the nation must redouble efforts to protect Americans” and included points on healthcare-associated infections, flu vaccination rates, food safety, and superbugs. Check out the report to find where your state ranked!

Fighting Antibiotic Resistance in the United States18170_lores
On Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee presented the 2016 Omnibus Appropriations bill, which revealed discretionary funding plans for the federal government. Buried in new legislation, the FDA and NIH will receive part of this discretionary funding to help fight antibiotic resistant bacteria and “advance prevision medicine initiatives”. The FDA is set to receive $2.7 billion, which was over a $10 million increase from FY2015. Within the bill, there is “funding for the Combating Antibiotic Resistance Bacteria (CARB) initiative ($8,732,000), the precision medicine initiative ($2,392,000), and the Orphan Product Development Grants Program ($2,500,000). The NIH will receive an extra $2 billion for FY2016, which supported projects specially for Alzheimer’s diseases research, brain research, antibiotic resistance, the Precision Medicine Initiative, etc. Given last week’s report on the phantom menace CRE and growing cases of multi-drug resistant organisms, it’s extremely important antibiotic resistance be given more attention.

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • CDC Establishing Flu Vaccine Efficacy Lab Network – The CDC has provided funding for a network of US institutions to collect and analyze information related to annual flu vaccine effectiveness. “Participating institutions will coordinate enrollment of patients with acute respiratory illness, confirm influenza infection using a standardized reverse-transcription PCR (RT-PCR) assay, and estimate vaccine effectiveness.” The 30 million dollar funded project will run from July 2016-2021.
  • Avian Influenza in France – France has reported 30 outbreaks of avian influenza, specifically one of the highly pathogenic influenza. Unfortunately the strain in the most recent cases hasn’t been identified, but these outbreaks been attributed to one of the H5 strains.
  • Hawaiian Dengue Outbreak Update – Cases of dengue virus on Hawaii Island have now reached 157. There are 7 individuals considered still infectious and the Hawaii Department of Health (HDOH) continues their efforts to identify cases and reduce transmission. 140 of the cases are Hawaii Island residents, and 34 of the overall cases have been children under the age of 18.

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