Pandora Report: 11.1.2019

We hope you had a spooky Halloween – zombie flies, anyone? The Pandora Report will be off next week but rest assured, we’ll be back the week of November 15th!

Haphazard Success Against Ebola and the Future of Predict
More Ebola virus disease cases have been reported in the DRC and despite over 240,000 vaccinations, there have been 3,260 cases and 2,177 deaths. In 2014, the U.S. worked to combat the largest outbreak in history and in the process, learned critical lessons both abroad and at home. Unlike last time, in which the presence of the U.S. military was seen as a hopeful arrival, the existing violence in the DRC and the delicate nature of response means that no US resources will be deployed to assist. “The outbreak today offers a better look at global pandemics to come — ones that begin in regions where international public health workers are unable to move freely to contain the spread of a virus, where the U.S. Army would not be welcomed with open arms.” Moreover, this outbreak has been a particularly painful reminder that despite intentions, trust can not be bought with hundreds of scientists/troops or shiny new equipment – core institutional mistrust can make or break a country’s acceptance of foreign support. Sure, we were able to swoop in during the 2014 outbreak, but that simply isn’t the case in the current one and our preparedness and response efforts must account for this critical aspect of assisting foreign outbreaks. In the midst of this complex situation, a research program that worked to identify zoonotic spillover as a predictive tool, has been defunded. Predict is a program that was launched in the last decade and cost just over $200 million, but worked to learn from the H5N1 scare and the increasing threat of zoonotic diseases and their spillover into humans. By collecting biological samples, it identified over 1,000 news viruses and trained thousands of people across 30 countries to help strengthen medical research at an international level. “Dennis Carroll, the former director of USAID’s emerging threats division who helped design Predict, oversaw it for a decade and retired when it was shut down. The surveillance project is closing because of ‘the ascension of risk-averse bureaucrats,’ he said. Because USAID’s chief mission is economic aid, he added, some federal officials felt uncomfortable funding cutting-edge science like tracking exotic pathogens.” In many ways, this is seen as a devastating blow to global health security, while others have questioned the true utility of the program. There are two things we can take away from the defunding of Predict though – public health and health security efforts do struggle to maintain funding, and perhaps we need to have more conversations regarding the efficacy of predictive approaches. For many, this has been a reminder that investment in critical response efforts are more beneficial, rather than those who seek to predict what the next biothreat will be.

Tracc Event: Sanctions and Illicit Flows
The Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center (Tracc) will be hosting an event on November 13th from noon-2pm at GMU’s Van Metre Hall. The event will present “a multi-organizational perspective on sanctions and why they are instituted, and how they are evaded.  The diverse analytical presentations on the Middle East will focus on the networks that are behind this deceptive behavior and the means used to counter this harmful activity. Panelists (including GMU biodefense professor and graduate program director Dr. Gregory Koblentz) will describe how the United States and other countries have used sanctions to prevent the proliferation of chemical weapons to Syria, deter the use of these weapons during that country’s civil war, and hold perpetrators of chemical attacks accountable. Additionally, we will discuss the means by which risk actors evade sanctions and how data can protect government and corporate entities from risk exposure related to sanctions evasions networks.” Lunch will be provided and RSVP is required, so make sure to click here or email traccc@gmu.edu

Upcoming Vaccines and Medications for Infectious Diseases
The US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) announced that a new smallpox vaccine, which it tested, just received FDA approval. Smallpox is an infectious viral disease in which patients experience flu-like symptoms and a widespread rash; it has no cure. The vaccine, developed by biotechnology company Bavarian Nordic, will enter the market under the name JYNNEOS. BlueWillow Biologics just received FDA clearance for trials on an investigational new drug (IND) that, if approved, will be the company’s upcoming next-generation anthrax vaccine. This vaccine, currently called BW-1010, is administered intranasally. Anthrax is an infectious disease with four types of infection: cutaneous, inhalation, gastrointestinal, and injection. All four types of anthrax can lead to serious illness or death if left untreated. Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious bacterial disease characterized by lung damage, and it has become resistant to a slew of antibiotics. According to the WHO, there were 10 million cases of tuberculosis and 1.4 million disease-related deaths in 2018. This experimental vaccine has been tested on 3,500 adults in the TB-endemic areas of South Africa, Kenya and Zambia. Also, the vaccine study showed partial efficacy of 50% in preventing a dormant infection from advancing to a disease state. Though 50% efficacy would normally be considered low for a vaccine, this would still be a huge improvement for millions of TB-affected people around the world each year. A phase II trial is underway for a novel antifungal drug called Olorofim, which is showing promise as a treatment against Lomentospora prolificans infections. Lomentospora prolificans is a rare mold that is resistant against current antifungal treatments.  Additionally, a 2018 study showed that Olorofim was also effective against Aspergillus species.

Schar School Biodefense Open Houses
From anthrax to Zika, Schar School is the place to be for all things biodefense. Next week you can attend the last PhD Open House of the year – on Thursday, November 7th at 7pm at our Fairfax campus. This is a great opportunity to meet current students, chat with faculty, and find out more about our biodefense doctoral program. If you’re looking to do a MS in biodefense (online or in person), the Master’s Open House is November 13th at 6:30pm at the Arlington campus.

The Gut Microbiome and Pathogens
If you peruse through your local grocery market, you will likely find fermented drinks like kombucha and kefir, which are just a couple of the popular items praised for providing probiotics for microbiome health. The human microbiome is the collection of genetic material of all the microbes (bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and viruses) living on and in the body and it aids in efficient digestion as well as protection against disease-causing invaders, like bacterial pathogens. According to Baumler and Sperandio, “pathogenic bacteria exploit microbiota-derived sources of carbon and nitrogen as nutrients and regulatory signals to promote their own growth and virulence.” Additionally, microbiota can operate as either fighters or promoters of viral infections. Research discovered and continues to explore connections between the health of the gut microbiome and a range of conditions and ailments such neurodegenerative and systemic autoimmune diseases, cancer, and depression. Ongoing research at universities, laboratories, and institutes will surely reveal more insights into the relationships and interactions between the body’s flora and pathogenic activity. As further breakthroughs regarding the nexus of the microbiome and pathogens occur, the Pandora Report will feature those discoveries and findings.

Bringing On the Big Guns Against African Swine Fever
In what sounds like a video game, South Korea is employing drones and snipers along the demilitarized zone to prevent wild boars from spreading African swine fever (ASF) throughout the country. Cases have sprung up in South Korea near the North Korean border only last month, resulting in the culling of over 150,000 pigs. Snipers, civilian hunter teams, and drones with thermal vision are now being utilized to track the boars that might be carrying the devastating disease. South Korea isn’t the only country on the offense to avoid an outbreak – the United States has been working to avoid cases that could devastate the porcine industry. Unfortunately, many researchers have noted that we could have worked towards a vaccine that would’ve avoided so much of this situation. Despite 15 years of research on a vaccine at the U.S. Agriculture Department, the program and team was disbanded due to budgetary moves and limited resources in 2004 and it wasn’t until 2010 that efforts resumed. ASF is a prime example of not only One Health, but how we often prove to be our own worst enemy when it comes to disease prevention.

People, Pigs, Plants, and Planetary Pandemic Possibilities Event
Don’t miss out on next week’s GMU One Health Day Panel Discussion hosted by GMU Next Gen Global Health Security Network and the GMU Biodefense Discussion Group. From 4:30-6:30pm in Van Metre Hall at the Arlington campus, you can grab a slice of pizza and engage in discussions with panel members from health security, emerging infectious diseases, and more. This panel will discuss the One Health approach through the various lens of their real world experiences. Discussions and interactions with the audience will address insightful views of innovation and emerging technology developments for biosafety and biosecurity. So, come join the Next Gen Network as we investigate what it means to utilize the One Health approach in the biodefense realm! Space is limited, so make sure to RSVP to reserve your spot.

News of the Weird
Is your stomach a brewery? Well you’re not alone. A North Carolina man was experiencing a bizarre occurrence – he kept getting drunk without a drop of alcohol. Seven years after a DWI and years of arguing that he truly hadn’t consumed any alcohol, he was diagnosed with a rare disorder – “auto-brewery syndrome”. That’s right, his body was creating a plethora of alcohol-fermenting yeasts and would go into overdrive whenever he had a heavy carbohydrate meal. In this case, he was treated with antifungals but relapsed when he snuck some of the forbidden foods – pizza and soda.

Stories You May Have Missed

  • How is the EU Battling Drug-Resistant Gonorrhea? In the United States, there is a national surveillance program, which was established in 1986, and tracks antimicrobial susceptibility of Neisseria gonorrhoeae strains throughout STD clinics. A new report in 2017 found considerable trends in gonorrhea incidence, noting that it is the second most reported STD with roughly 820,000 cases each year. Abroad, multi- and extensively drug-resistant gonorrhea (MDR and XDR NG) poses a considerable problem. The European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) has recently created a 2019 response plan to control and manage these varying levels of resistant gonorrhea throughout Europe.
  • TED Talk – Vaccinating Vampire Bats and Pandemic Lessons – Could we anticipate the next big disease outbreak, stopping a virus like Ebola before it ever strikes? In this talk about frontline scientific research, ecologist Daniel Streicker takes us to the Amazon rainforest in Peru where he tracks the movement of vampire bats in order to forecast and prevent rabies outbreaks. By studying these disease patterns, Streicker shows how we could learn to cut off the next pandemic at its source.

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