International Collaborations to Defend against Biological Weapons: The UK/US Experience

By Zach Goble

The second day of the ASM Biothreats 2017 conference focused on a range of topics from synthetic biology to host immune response. Perhaps one of the most interesting was the session on international collaborations to defend against biological weapons. Immediately the conversation began with talk of recognizing foreign organizations for their help in aiding research endeavors or providing resources to further science. Stuart Perkins, from the Defense Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) in the United Kingdom, highlighted the importance of shared resources and capabilities when responding to emerging infectious diseases. One organization doesn’t hold all the information, and nor should they, because while one strives for consistency in research methods, it is helpful to have differences to cast a wider net against the many research topics out there.

Lloyd Hough, from the United States Department of Homeland Security, talked about how DSTL helped provided support to their department during the most recent Ebola epidemic. Prior to the Ebola outbreak, DSTL in the United Kingdom had conducted research on how Ebola virus thrived on various surfaces and this inspired new ways forward for the U.S. to aid the countries affected in 2015. When worldly public health events occur it is often unified efforts that bring about successful outcomes.

Andrii Pavlenko, from the State of Service in Ukraine, showed how support from the United States Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) helped provide equipment and laboratory upgrades to several Ukrainian facilities working with biological pathogens. Not only did these upgrades prevent unauthorized access to potentially dangerous pathogens, but also helped to prevent the spread of emerging infectious diseases. African Swine Flu (ASF), a virus with high mortality rates in pigs and prevalent in Eastern Europe region, was on the rise in Ukraine, but the equipped laboratories helped bolster biosecurity detection and thus prevented the spread of the disease.

The message was very clear that alone, organizations could not effectively deal with biological threats that have no borders and target unremittingly. Thankfully, the gears are already in motion towards international collaboration with the organizations in attendance, among others that exist around the world. The panel left the audience with a strong message in which trust of fellow organizations is needed for it is not always action that is needed, sometimes it is the non-action in letting your partner do the work, so you can tackle another issue. While replication is important, redundancy should be left at the wayside to make room for more knowledge as there is no shortage of scientific questions out there.

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