Pandora Report 11.30.2018

Next week is your chance to attend two amazing biodefense events – one hosted by GMU Biodefense featuring Dr. Kadlec of ASPR and the second on biosecurity in the age of genome editing. You can find all the details below!

Preventing Pandemics and Bioterrorism: Past, Present, and Future
Are you attending our event on the evening of Tuesday, December 4th? Special guest Dr. Robert Kadlec, Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) of the Department of Health and Human Services, will be discussing lessons learned for pandemic preparedness since the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic, plans for implementing the new National Biodefense Strategy, and the importance of education for the future of biodefense. Following his speech and Q&A session, you are invited to an informal reception for academic and professional members of the biodefense community to socialize and network. Hors d’oeurves and drinks will be provided. Seats are limited, so make sure you save your spot and RSVP.

Biosecurity in the Age of Genome Editing
Claims of CRISPR use in babies brought forth a flurry of discussion surrounding the ethics and uses of genome editing. This technology promises major beneficial contributions, yet it has the potential to radically alter the security landscape. Next week, on Monday, December 3rd, New America will be hosting an event on the biosecurity implications of genome editing. “In a new report Editing Biosecurity: Needs and Strategies for Governing Genome Editing based on two years of study by researchers from George Mason University, Stanford University, and New America examines the issue and provides concrete and actionable options for policy makers.” This is a great opportunity to learn from and chat with experts in the field on the potential for genome editing technologies to be misused for nefarious purposes and the implications for biosecurity.

Reflections on the 5th Ministerial Meeting of the Global Health Security Agenda
We’re excited to provide you with a full recap of the 5th Ministerial Meeting of the GHSA. Within this summary, you’ll find reflections from NextGen Health Security Network’s Coordinator Jamechia Hoyle, GMU Global Health Security Ambassadors Annette Prieto and Saskia Popescu, and several other attendees. This is a great review of the international meeting in Bali, Indonesia, and the topics that were just as diverse as the biological threats we seek to prevent. From antimicrobial resistance to financing preparedness at the national level, and even strengthening hospital response, we hope you find the review of this exciting meeting as captivating as it was for us to attend!

DRC Ebola Outbreak Updates
Ebola continues to spread within the DRC. On November 26th, 33 more cases were reported, and then on Thursday, it was reported that the total cases have reached 426, 379 of which are confirmed, and a total of 245 deaths. This outbreak is now the second largest ever. Health centers have been a source for transmission, as nosocomial transmission tends to be a theme in Ebola outbreaks. Additional efforts have been directed to infection prevention and control measures, as well as training and disinfection products. Unfortunately, cases have also been seen in babies – on November 20th, 7 newborn babies and 6 children 2-17 years of age were identified as cases. Approval was given to test experimental treatment as well. “The health ministry said in a Nov 24 announcement that an ethics committee at the University of Kinshasa has approved a protocol for testing four experimental Ebola treatments, which are currently being used on an emergency basis in Ebola treatment centers. They are mAb114, Zmapp, remdesivir, and Regeneron’s REGN-EB3 antibody. The authorization for emergency or compassionate use, however, doesn’t provide for the standardized collection of data on the efficacy and safety of each treatment the health ministry said. The ministry statement indicates that the clinical trial started last week on three of the four treatments (Zmapp, mAb114, and remdesivir) at Beni’s Ebola treatment center. Future trials could be extended to other sites and include REGN-EB3. However, for now, the other Ebola treatment centers will continue to administer the drugs on a compassionate basis.”

The Red Box- A New Healthcare Approach to Infection Control?
GMU Biodefense doctoral student and infection preventionist Saskia Popescu discusses a new approach to improving patient interactions without decreasing isolation precautions during hospitalization of infectious patients. “Although these methods are pivotal to patient and staff safety, donning and doffing PPE is time-consuming, and therefore, often a barrier for health care workers to make frequent visits to a patient’s room. This can often leave patients feeling isolated and create a negative association with isolation precautions for both the staff and patients during their hospitalization. It can also negatively impact medical care. To circumvent these issues, investigators on a new study tested a strategy for supporting isolation precautions while encouraging more health care worker-patient interaction through the use of a ‘red box’. Just like a red line in the operating room and peri-op areas, the red box was a visual reminder. It was a designated area on the floor of a patient’s room created using red duct tape that extended 3 feet beyond the door of the room, but stopped more than 6 feet from the patient. The use of PPE was required outside of the red box; however, while inside, the health care workers could communicate with the patient without the use of PPE, while still maintaining a safe distance from the patient and contact with the environment.”

Unseen Interactions Play An Important Role in Disease Transmission
Sometimes, all it takes is a small moment in time for a disease to spread. A recent study looked to these tiny, often ignored moments in bat populations to see how disease may be transmitted by unseen interactions. “A new study by investigators at the University of California–Santa Cruz set out to find out more about this moment by evaluating disease transmission in bats frequently impacted by the fungal infection, white-nose syndrome. This infection can devastate bat populations and the investigators were hoping to understand the under-the-radar (pun intended) connections between bats that might facilitate the spread of the disease. For the study, the investigators dusted bats with a fluorescent powder that glowed under ultraviolet light to track ‘cryptic connections.’ They evaluated 8 bat hibernation sites in the upper Midwest (fun fact: abandoned mine tunnels are prime bat spots!) in which they found up to 4 different bat species. Prior to ‘dusting’ the bats with the powder, the team observed the bats’ social networks and measured direct physical contacts between bats that were hibernating together in groups, as well as contact between those bats that moved between groups.”

Foundation of Evidence Base for Health Security Implementation – Special Supplement of Healthy Security
In the latest supplement of Health Security, joint efforts with CDC and partners are described. “The foundation of this work is detailed in a series of articles and commentaries in a special supplement to Health Security, “Building the Evidence Base for Global Health Security Implementation,” published Nov. 27 and produced in collaboration with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. In the articles, CDC and global health security partners describe outcomes and lessons learned from multiple countries throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America that are implementing activities to enhance public health capacities in disease prevention, detection, and response. CDC and partners have gathered and are sharing these lessons on specific approaches and interventions that are most effective in enhancing a country’s capacity for health security. The world has, in recent years, seen a series of alarming public health emergencies that have resulted in thousands of lives lost and billions of dollars in economic losses.”

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • AFM Task Force Created – “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced yesterday the creation of the Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM) Task Force, which will search for the cause of the mysterious polio-like condition. ‘I want to reaffirm to parents, patients, and our Nation CDC’s commitment to this serious medical condition,’ said CDC Director Robert Redfield, MD, in a press release. ‘This Task Force will ensure that the full capacity of the scientific community is engaged and working together to provide important answers and solutions to actively detect, more effectively treat, and ultimately prevent AFM and its consequences’.”
  • GMU Biodefense PhD Student Spotlight – Curious about our array of biodefense doctoral students? Check out this spotlight on Saskia Popescu. “It was her strong interest in both the medical side of the field and the policy side that drew her to Mason’s Biodefense Program. ‘The program brings it all together to understand the complexities of health security,’ she says. ‘We have experts from both fields coming to the classroom who can speak to all aspects, which is huge’.”



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