Pandora Report: 7.5.2019

Welcome back to your source for all things biodefense – we hope you had a lovely holiday week! Thankfully, the test results at Facebook headquarters ruled out the initial concern of sarin in envelopes – phew!

U.S. Army Makes Synbio A Priority 
What role will synthetic biology play in the modern military? The U.S. Army is working to find out by investing resources into the world of synbio. “Dimitra Stratis-Cullum, who is overseeing the research in synthetic biology for the U.S. Army Research Laboratory’s Combat Capabilities Development Command, detailed the effort on Thursday at the fourth annual Defense OneTech Summit. U.S Army labs have long had a mandate to study biology, but in April, the lab quietly elevated the study of synthetic biology to one of its top ten priorities. ‘Synthetic biology is one of the Lab’s top ten research priorities. That means we are working across the laboratory and with other regional partners to double the effort that was previously being executed under the Living Materials program,’ said Army spokesperson T’Jae Gibson Ellis. The Army did not provide specific numbers on the size of the Living Materials program. The research is being overseen by Gen. Mike Murray, the head of the U.S. Army’s newly established Futures Command.” From cloaking to forecasting what adversaries might be doing this with novel tech, “It’s one of the things we look at,” Status-Cullum said. “We try to also look at what is the common barrier, level of control, to what extent that could be implemented in situ [meaning in nature, as opposed to in a lab] in military environments… [we are] trying to really understand that and then use that to forecast.”

Opioid Epidemic Drives Infectious Disease Spike
Combatting the overwhelming problem of addiction we’re experiencing the United States is no easy task and researchers are now seeing implications of this opioid epidemic. “Now, public-health officials are worried about a surge in bacterial and viral infections linked to opioid misuse that threatens to compound the crisis. This surge includes an unprecedented rise in bacterial infections — including those caused by Staphylococcus aureus, a bacterium that’s frequently resistant to antibiotics — and a spike in new cases of HIV and hepatitis associated with injecting opioids that risks undoing decades of progress in corralling these diseases. Research groups around the country are working to understand, identify and treat these outbreaks. But the lack of solid data on the number of new cases, and where they’ll crop up next, as well as stigma associated with drug use that can prevent people with infections from seeking early treatment, is hindering efforts.” From drug-resistant organisms to hepatitis A, these unique patient populations carry an inherent risk and even after treatment, they are easily lost to follow-up. “The social component to predicting these outbreak patterns is crucial, Bobashev says. People who used drugs during the height of the HIV epidemic in the 1990s learnt safe injection practices, he says, but newer users are more likely to use riskier methods, such as sharing needles. “They don’t have good practices and they don’t have good connections with people who have been injecting drugs for a long time,” Bobashev says. In an unpublished analysis, his group’s model predicted that HIV outbreaks related to opioids would be concentrated within small geographic pockets, rather than spread over a wider area, as researchers would expect with non-drug-related outbreaks.”

GMU Biodefense Alum Announced As Deputy Director of EPA’s National Enforcement Investigations Center
We’re so happy to announce that Francisco Cruz, a GMU biodefense alum, is now the Deputy Director of NEIC at the EPA! “As Laboratory Branch Chief, Francisco oversaw the implementation of ELMS in laboratory operations, resulting in significant decreases in overall turnaround time for NEIC analytical products. Prior to his position at NEIC, Francisco was a Biologist with EPA’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Consequence Management Advisory Division (CBRN CMAD). In that role, Francisco provided operational guidance to federal, state, and local responders in the areas of biological decontamination and emergency response. Additionally, Francisco collaborated with EPA researchers on novel decontamination approaches focusing on practical, field-deployable methods. During his time in EPA Region 3, Francisco served as a Federal On-Scene Coordinator leading federal responses to releases of hazardous substances and oil spills. Francisco responded to several large environmental disasters, including Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Irene. In addition to emergency response, Francisco provided training, exercise development, and preparedness planning to 33 counties throughout Virginia and West Virginia. Francisco began his career in EPA Region 3 as a Community Involvement Coordinator, serving as a Public Information Officer for several Superfund sites and emergency responses, including the Deepwater Horizon Gulf Oil Spill. Francisco holds a B.A. in Biological Sciences from the University of Delaware, a Graduate Certificate in Critical Analysis and Strategic Responses to Terrorism from George Mason University, and a M.S. in Biodefense from George Mason University. Additionally, Francisco was Fellow in the Emerging Leaders in Biosecurity Initiative through The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.” Congrats Francisco!

 The U.S. Department of Defense’s Role in Health Security
The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has just released their report on the current capabilities and recommendations for the DoD’s health security efforts. “The DOD contributes to overall U.S. health security through programs specifically aimed at countering biological threats from all sources—through public health activities coordinated with civilian counterparts at home and abroad and through research and development of medical countermeasures aimed at protecting U.S. Forces against health risks throughout the world. Additionally, military forces are available for disaster response anywhere in the world when necessary to augment civilian capabilities, as seen in the 2014–15 West African Ebola crisis.” “A solid and consistent U.S. policy framework has steadily evolved over the past few decades that identifies health as a national security issue and calls for a broad-based, inclusive national response to addressing the issue of health security. Most recently, the National Biodefense Strategy (NBS) released in October 2018 and the subsequent implementation plan provide structure for an ongoing national deliberation coordinated by a secretarial-level steering committee providing input to the national security adviser. Now is the time to more fully integrate DOD’s unique expertise and capabilities in a more cohesive and efficient manner. This paper provides a broad overview of DOD health security activities and capabilities and also offers select concrete recommendations for strengthening the coherence and integration of DOD activities, with a special emphasis on leadership, novel diseases and new dangerous forms of resistance, surveillance, building host country capacities, and expanded exercises.”

Celebrating the Rollout of CBRNResponder Network and 10 Years of CBRN Office Partnerships
Just a few more weeks until the “FEMA CBRN 10th Anniversary event on Wed, July 17, 2019, 12:00 PM – 5:00 PM at the United States Navy Memorial, 701 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20004. Our keynote speaker is Mr. James F. McDonnell, Assistant Secretary Department of Homeland Security, Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office. Please join us to celebrate 10 years of the CBRN Office’s work with federal, state, and local partners strengthening our nation’s readiness to respond. The program features a look ahead at how FEMA and the nation are building a new 21st-century resilience paradigm, followed by federal, state, and local partners discussing how they are using CBRN tools and technology to make a difference. Highlighting the afternoon is the rollout of the CBRN Responder Network, the CBRN Office initiative that is building a national standard to help responders and emergency operations decisionmakers get the real-time information they need.”

A Manhattan Project for Biodefense: Taking Biological Threats Off the Table 
Don’t miss out on this July 11th event hosted by the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense. They’ll be holding “a meeting to discuss A Manhattan Project for Biodefense – a national, public-private research and development undertaking to defend the Nation against biological threats. Representatives from local, federal, academia, and the private sector will speak to the Panel about the biological threat (which includes biological terrorism, warfare, accidental releases, and naturally occurring diseases like pandemic influenza), innovative and leading biodefense R&D efforts, resource shortfalls, and catastrophic biological risk.”

Ebola Outbreak Updates
Now at 2,369 cases since 15 were just reported, this outbreak is reaching the year mark. The latest situation report from the WHO notes that case-fatality rates are 67%, meaning that 2/3 of patients with the disease are dying. “Yesterday USAID (United States Agency for International Development) announced it would give the DRC $98 million to help fight the outbreak. ‘With this funding, USAID is providing lifesaving assistance, including infection prevention and control activities, training for health care workers, community engagement interventions, promotion of safe and dignified burials, and food assistance for people and communities affected by Ebola. This assistance is also bolstering preparedness efforts in Goma city for communities at risk of Ebola,’ the agency said in a press release. No American personnel have been on the ground in DRC since last September, when they were removed because of threats of violence.” For those of you working stateside and looking to prepared your facility, here’s a helpful PPE matrix that will help determine which PPE is needed to avoid occupational exposure.

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • African Swine Fever Back in Bulgaria– “On Wednesday Bulgaria’s Food Safety Agency said in a statement on its website that, a second outbreak of African swine fever in domestic pigs was confirmed in Bulgaria. The statement also said that 14 pigs were fattened in a small farm in the village of Zhernov near Danube River, some 210 km northeast of Sofia and that’s where the disease has been found. All actions have been taken to eliminate the outbreak and stop its spreading such as setting up a safety zone and an observation area around the outbreak, the statement said that there were no industrial pig farms in the observation area.”

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