Pandora Report: 7.27.2018

Happy Friday! While everyone is celebrating the last few weeks of summer, your favorite source for all things biodefense isn’t slowing down. Make sure to read Laurie Garrett’s comments on why we’re in the next HIV pandemic and how the global strategy is seriously flawed.

 NASEM Report: Biodefense in the Age of Synthetic Biology
GMU Biodefense student and Research Fellow for Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy, Sarah W. Denton, recently attended the NASEM public briefing on their new report – Biodefense in the Age of Synthetic Biology. Denton notes that “While the framework draws on previous works (e.g., Tucker 2012and the 2004 Fink report), what makes this report unique is its use of the Design-Build-Test (DBT) process as the foundation for its capability-assessment. DBT is the ‘iterative process of designing a prototype, building a physical instantiation, testing the functionality of the design, learning from its flaws, and feeding that information back into the creation of a new, improved design’.” Check out her detailed recap of the event and the report, including the noticeable absence of “the potential benefits and safety concerns related to developments in synthetic biology”.


DARPA’s Prepare Program 
Filippa Lentzos and Jez Littlewood are asking – what exactly does DARPA’s Prepare program actually prepare for? “Called ‘Prepare’ (short for ‘Pre-emptive Expression of Protective Alleles and Response Elements’), the program aims to develop programmable modulators that temporarily boost protective genes, either before or after exposure, to biological, chemical, or radiological health threats. Inadvertently, however, the project may contribute to rising international tensions in the biological field. The program might push the limits of what is allowable under international security treaties, particularly the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC).” Underscoring the importance of the US being a role model for BTWC compliance, they note that programs like Prepare further the gray zone of biodefense that makes communication of intent that much more important. “The Prepare program continues to expand US biodefense gray-zone activities—and states keeping a close eye on the US biodefense enterprise may well question the program’s intent. Some might feel threatened by it. A small number—concerned about new threats highlighted by US activities, or in preparation for a sudden change in the US attitude toward the absolute prohibition of biological weapons—might even take reciprocal action, initiating additional gray-zone biodefense activities of their own. The result could be a downward security spiral in which greater offensive know-how on all sides leads to increased danger of biological attack against more states.” Lentzos and Littlewood note that programs of this nature must work to proactively disclose information regarding intent through compliance reports and encourage the peer review of national biodefense programs as a confidence-building measure.

DRC Declares Ebola Outbreak Over
The DRC has officially declared the end of the outbreak after it was initially identified in early May. This outbreak marks the 9th that the DRC has seen and involved 54 cases and 33 deaths. “Though the country is experienced in managing Ebola outbreaks, health minister Oly Ilunga Kalenga, MD, said in a statement today that officials noted early warning signs that the outbreak had the potential to evolve into a major crisis. Illnesses emerged in two remote, heavily forested health zones at the same time and health workers were infected, a factor known to intensify the spread of the virus.” This news comes as scientists announced that women may be able to transmit the disease well over a year after infection. The trigger for this realization was a female patient in Liberia at the end of the outbreak in 2015. The woman fell ill after giving birth, which has raised questions regarding the immune suppression that occurs during pregnancy and how that may trigger Ebola relapses. This finding has raised considerable concern for not only the spread of the disease, but also stigma for survivors.

The Hot Zone Turns Into A TV Show
We’ve all read, or at least heard of, the infamous Ebola book, The Hot Zone, by Richard Preston. While the theatrics of its more dramatic moments can be laughed at, for many, it inspired us to get into the field of biodefense or infectious diseases. National Geographic is now working to bring it to the small screen with a scripted miniseries. It’s been a disappointing road for those of us yearning for a decent infectious disease show, but I’m cautiously optimistic based off National Geographic’s recent efforts to bring truth to TV in their Genius series. Production begins this fall in Toronto and South Africa.

 The Frustrating Predicament of PPE Compliance
GMU Biodefense doctoral student and infection preventionist Saskia Popescu is shedding light on some painful truths about healthcare worker PPE compliance. “I’ve heard lectures on Clostridium difficile where the presenters commented on how prevalent isolation failures are when caring for C diff patients, noting that it’s often best to just accept this reality and instead emphasize environmental cleaning and good hand hygiene to combat the spread. The truth is that health care workers, especially nurses, are moving a million miles a minute and running in and out of patient rooms, which makes the burden of PPE understandable. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean lax isolation precautions should be accepted or encouraged.” Popescu points to a recent study that evaluated PPE failures and that “a total of 280 failures were observed, including 102 violations (deviations from practice), such as entering an isolation room without PPE or not wearing the PPE correctly, etc.”

Blue Ribbon Study Panel – The Cost of Resilience: Impact of Large-Scale Biological Events on Business, Finance, and the Economy
Don’t miss this event next week regarding biothreats and economic impacts. “Despite recognition of the important role of industry and other private sector elements in defending the nation against biological threats, the United States has yet to adequately plan for and support private sector engagement in preparing for biological incidents. To examine private sector roles and responsibilities before, during, and after the response to large-scale biological events, the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense will hold a public special focus meeting on July 31, 2018 to address The Cost of Resilience: Impact of Large-Scale Biological Events on Business, Finance, and the Economy.”

Low Antibiotic Levels in the Environment Encourage Resistance 
It doesn’t get more One Health than antimicrobial resistance. AMR is the perfect example to reveal how the environment, animal, and human health are all tied together and a new study is highlighting this through the role of environmental antibiotic levels and their role in resistance. “In a study published in the journal mBio, researchers with the University of Exeter Medical School, the University of Hong Kong, and drug-maker AstraZeneca report that even when bacterial communities in wastewater are exposed to small amounts of the antibiotic cefotaxime, selection pressure for clinically important antibiotic-resistant genes occurs. Moreover, they also found that the selection pressure for resistance may be just as strong as when exposed to high concentrations of the drug. The findings are important because they suggest that environments that are commonly found to have trace amounts of antibiotics, such as hospital effluent and rivers and streams that receive wastewater, could be an important, and overlooked, breeding ground for antibiotic-resistant bacteria”. You can read the study here.

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • 23andMe Teams Up With Glaxo – If you’ve used 23andMe, your DNA is likely to be used for the development of new drugs due to a new partnership (with consent of course.). “Home DNA test results from the 5 million customers of 23andMe will now be used by drug giant GlaxoSmithKline to design new drugs, the two companies announced Wednesday. It’s the biggest partnership yet aimed at leveraging the increasingly popular home genetic testing market, in which customers pay for mail-in saliva tests that are analyzed by various companies.”

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