Pandora Report: 10.22.2021

Mary Sproull, a PhD student in the Biodefense Program, recently co-authored a fascinating on article on radioactive mice from Fukushima. Dr. Rebecca Katz recently wrote a piece about the changes needed to the US 1948 resolution that authorized US participation in the World Health Organization. Prolonged and strict pandemic measures in North Korea are spurring a growing food crisis, leaving children and the elderly at risk of starvation.

Dennis M. Gormley: An Extraordinary Career, A Kind and Generous Man

Dr. Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley wrote a heartfelt memorial on her late husband, Dennis M. Gormley:

“Dennis Gormley passed away on October 15, 2020, and I still can’t find the words to capture the sense of loss that I’ve been feeling ever since. Dennis was my husband and my best friend. For the past 17 years we were, as he liked to say, “joined at the hip,” working, traveling, laughing, and enjoying life with friends and family, always together. His passing created a big void in my life, but the outpouring of letters from former students, friends, colleagues, and perfect strangers reminded me that my sadness was shared by many and that his life and work will have a lasting impact on the security field and on the lives of those who crossed his path.

For many, Dennis is known as the world’s leading expert in cruise missile proliferation; sometimes he was introduced as the “king of cruise missiles.” His natural modesty made him wince at these grandiose titles but they were well deserved, and I particularly liked the second one, because if he was king, that made me queen of something. Dennis was indeed a forward thinker, often ahead of the curve as far as identifying security challenges. His book Missile Contagion, published in 2008, elevated the threat of land-attack cruise missiles to the level of collective consciousness, influencing how the United States and other countries think about this threat. His authority on cruise missiles was such that, at a conference overseas where he was invited as a speaker, a foreign government official asked him if he would authorize the sale of American cruise missiles to his country! In reflecting on why Missile Contagion has had such a profound impact on understanding the cruise missile threat and why so many researchers, including myself, continue to reread the book to remind themselves of specific details or technical information, I realized that Missile Contagion was in fact a microcosm of Dennis’s extraordinary career.”

Read the full memorial here.

Leidos Awarded DARPA Contract to Develop Advanced Protective Equipment for US Military

Leidos was just awarded a prime contract by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for its Personalized Protective Biosystem (PPB) program. The contract is for $19.3 million and five years. Leidos will “develop technology that reduces the need for burdensome protective equipment while increasing defense against both existing and future chemical and biological (CB) threats.” DARPA’s PPB program “addresses the national need for lightweight and adaptive personal protection equipment for military and healthcare personnel.” As part of this contract, Leidos will be launching the Smart Protective Integrated Dynamic Ensemble for Reactive, Multifaceted Agent Neutralization – SPIDERMAN – platform. The technology serves as both lightweight protection and “tissue-protective countermeasures.” The goal of SPIDERMAN is to “create new and improved ways to address different, emerging and uncharacterized threats through advanced technology.”

New Book – Perilous Medicine: The Struggle to Protect Healthcare from the Violence of War

Pervasive violence against hospitals, patients, doctors, and other health workers has become a horrifically common feature of modern war. These relentless attacks destroy lives and the capacity of health systems to tend to those in need. Inaction to stop this violence undermines long-standing values and laws designed to ensure that sick and wounded people receive care.

Leonard Rubenstein—a human rights lawyer who has investigated atrocities against health workers around the world—offers a gripping and powerful account of the dangers health workers face during conflict and the legal, political, and moral struggle to protect them. In a dozen case studies, he shares the stories of people who have been attacked while seeking to serve patients under dire circumstances including health workers hiding from soldiers in the forests of eastern Myanmar as they seek to serve oppressed ethnic communities, surgeons in Syria operating as their hospitals are bombed, and Afghan hospital staff attacked by the Taliban as well as government and foreign forces. Rubenstein reveals how political and military leaders evade their legal obligations to protect health care in war, punish doctors and nurses for adhering to their responsibilities to provide care to all in need, and fail to hold perpetrators to account.

Bringing together extensive research, firsthand experience, and compelling personal stories, Perilous Medicine also offers a path forward, detailing the lessons the international community needs to learn to protect people already suffering in war and those on the front lines of health care in conflict-ridden places around the world.

Get your copy here.

Proteomic Biomarker Analysis of Serum from Japanese Field Mice (Apodemus Speciosus) Collected within the Fukushima Difficult-to-return Zone

Mary Sproull, a PhD student in the Biodefense Program, recently co-authored a fascinating on article on radioactive mice from Fukushima. The environmental impact of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident is a source of ongoing concern as there is uncertainty regarding the effects of chronic radiation exposure on local plant and animal life from Fukushima-derived radionuclides. In the current study, changes in proteomic biomarker expression due to chronic environmentally-derived radiation exposures were examined in wild field mice. Serum from 10 wild field mice (Apodemus speciosus) native to the Fukushima difficult-to-return zone and from eight wild field mice native to the Soma area (control) were collected. External dose estimations were completed using measurements of ambient radiation levels and calculating 137Cs concentrations in soil. Internal dose was estimated by counting whole mice using an HPGe detector. Age of the mice was estimated using molar wear. Serum was screened using the aptamer-based SOMAscan proteomic assay technology for changes in expression of 1,310 protein analytes. A subset panel of protein biomarkers that demonstrated significant changes in expression between control and exposed mice was determined and analyzed using Ingenuity Pathway Analysis (IPA). Control animals had a calculated lifetime dose range from 0.001 to 0.007 Gy, and exposed animals had a calculated lifetime dose range from 0.01 to 0.64 Gy. No discernable effect of dose rate was seen as relative dose rate correlated with dose for all samples. Detectable values were obtained for all 1,310 proteins included in the SOMAscan assay. Subset panels of proteins demonstrating significant (p < 0.05) changes in expression with either an upregulated or downregulated 1.5-fold change over control were identified for both the sample cohort inclusive of all exposed samples and the sample cohort restricted to samples from animals receiving “low” dose exposures. These panels of proteins from exposed animals were analyzed using IPA, which highlighted changes in key biological pathways related to injury, respiratory, renal, urological, and gastrointestinal disease, and cancer. Significant changes in expression of proteomic biomarkers were seen in the serum of wild field mice that received environmental exposure to Fukushima-derived radionuclides. Findings demonstrate novel biomarkers of radiation exposure in wildlife within the Fukushima difficult-to-return zone. Read the article here.

It’s Time to Rethink Who Represents the US at the WHO

Dr. Rebecca Katz, a Professor and Director of the Center for Global Health Science and Security, recently wrote a piece about the changes needed to the US 1948 resolution that authorized US participation in the World Health Organization. According to Katz, the US 1948 resolution interpreted the WHO’s requirement that a country’s representative to the executive board must be technically trained in health as a “mandate that whomever represents the United States be a graduate of a recognized medical school and have no less than three years of experience practicing medicine or surgery.” But, in the last 70 years, much has changed, and medical doctors are not the only global health professionals. In fact, the current Director-General of the WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, is not a physician, but has a PhD in community health. Leadership in the US government includes not only medical doctors but also public health experts, epidemiologists, life science researchers, diplomats, crisis management experts, lawyers and journalists. Katz urges that it is “time to finally get rid of the rule that limits the representative to only those that are medically qualified and include the range of experts who are technically qualified in the field of health.”


From CRISPR Babies to Super Soldiers: Challenges and Security Threats Posed by CRISPR

Dr. Sonia Ben Ouaghram-Gormley, an Associate Professor at the Schar School, recently published an article on the security threats posed by CRISPR in The Nonproliferation Review. The gene-editing technique CRISPR—clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats—is often depicted as a security threat because it could theoretically allow scientists or amateurs to edit the genome of a variety of organisms and potentially cause harm to humans, plants, and animals. The recent use of CRISPR by Chinese scientist He Jiankui to edit the genome of viable embryos, which resulted in the birth of twin girls, has exacerbated those fears. This article reviews the timeline of the CRISPR-babies experiment, highlights the challenges that contributed to the experiment’s failure, and evaluates the risks of CRISPR’s use for malevolent purposes. It concludes that although the potential for abuse is great, the technical obstacles are still too significant to allow successful modification that would threaten security. Read Ouaghram-Gormley’s article here.

Laboratory Exposure to Human Pathogens and Toxins, Canada 2020

A new study examined reported laboratory incidents in Canada in 2020. The Laboratory Incident Notification Canada surveillance system monitors laboratory incidents reported under the Human Pathogens and Toxins Act and the Human Pathogens and Toxins Regulations. The objective of this report is to describe laboratory exposures that were reported in Canada in 2020 and the individuals who were affected. Laboratory incident exposures occurring in licensed Canadian laboratories in 2020 were analyzed. The exposure incident rate was calculated and the descriptive statistics were performed. Exposure incidents were analyzed by sector, activity type, occurrence type, root cause and pathogen/toxin. Affected persons were analyzed by education, route of exposure sector, role and laboratory experience. The time between the incident and the reporting date was also analyzed. The annual incident exposure rate was 4.2 incidents per 100 active licenses. Most exposure incidents occurred during microbiology activities (n=22, 52.4%) and/or were reported by the hospital sector (n=19, 45.2%). Procedural issues (n=16, 27.1%) and sharps-related incidents (n=13, 22.0%) were the most common occurrences. Most affected individuals were exposed via inhalation (n=28, 49.1%) and worked as technicians or technologists (n=36, 63.2%). The rate of laboratory incidents was lower in 2020 than 2019, although the ongoing pandemic may have contributed to this decrease because of the closure of non-essential workplaces, including laboratories, for a portion of the year. The most common occurrence type was procedural while issues with not complying to standard operating procedures and human interactions as the most cited root causes. Read the study here.

A Guide to Training and Information Resources on the Culture of Biosafety, Biosecurity, and Responsible Conduct in the Life Sciences

The International Working Group on Strengthening the Culture of Biosafety, Biosecurity, and Responsible Conduct in the Life Sciences (coordinated by HHS/ASPR and USDA/APHIS) developed A Guide to Training and Information Resources on the Culture of Biosafety, Biosecurity, and Responsible Conduct in the Life Sciences, as an update to the 2019 Guide previously published. The International Working Group on Strengthening the Culture of Biosafety, Biosecurity, and Responsible Conduct in the Life Sciences (IWG, for short) is a platform for collaboration and community of practice comprised of representatives of governments, academia, industry, professional and international organizations, and other organizations from across the globe, using crowdsourcing to develop guiding principles and educational/training resources to support and promote a culture of global biosafety, biosecurity, ethical, and responsible conduct in the life sciences, based on the culture model and assessment methodology developed by IAEA for the nuclear safety and security culture. The group is convened by the US Department of Health and Human Services and the US Department of Agriculture. Download the guide here.


In Aftermath of Navalny Poisoning, Chemical-Weapons Group Tiptoes Toward Unprecedented Step

Thirteen months ago, a German military laboratory found that Aleksei Navalny, a Russian anti-corruption leader, had been poisoned with a powerful nerve agent, Novichok. Russia used the nerve agent despite being a member of the Chemical Weapons Convention. For the first time in the treaty’s history, suspicions and accusations may be investigated by a challenge inspection. Forty-five nations are calling on Russia to “provide a full explanation of the circumstances behind Navalny’s illness,” which almost killed him. In a 235-page document, Russia has pushed back at the accusations. The challenge inspection remains uncertain as the treaty was designed to “address the mass-scale production of chemical weapons, for which a country would have large factories or storage facilities to produce and stockpile the materials.” The production of Novichok would likely be a small-scale setup that is easy to hide and difficult to trace.

The Navalny Poisoning: Moscow Evades Accountability and Mocks the Chemical Weapons Convention

In related news, Russia “recently rejected a Western proposal to use the Chemical Weapons Convention’s (CWC) consultation and clarification procedures to resolve allegations that it is responsible for the poisoning of Alexei Navalny.” Moscow has essentially “slammed shut the door to the least confrontational solution to the dispute.” Despite this, several nations have made it clear that they are unwilling to let their “demands for accountability for Novichok use go unanswered.” Any CWC state party has the option to trigger the treaty’s compliance mechanism and the Article IX (3) – (7) procedure in which Russia would be required to provide clarification. Another option is to initiate a challenge inspection to clarify the allegations that Russia deployed the nerve agent. Instead of embracing the diplomatic options, Russia continues to mock the CWC’s multilateral mechanisms.


Public Health Under Siege

Public health in the US is under siege as the entire system struggles with understaffing and underfunding. The pummeled public health system is struggling to maintain services and care. A joint investigation between KHN and AP found that public health departments throughout the nation were understaffed and ill-equipped to handle the pandemic. An analysis revealed that at least 38,000 state and local public health jobs had disappeared since 2008, and spending for local public health departments plummeted by 18% per capita since 2010. A new study in PLOS one found that the “provision of many essential public health functions and tasks have been limited or eliminated while the US public health workforce responds to the COVID-19 pandemic.” The study showed healthcare workers are putting in more hours as critical services are scaled back, suspended, or eliminated. This “unsustainable burden” has overwhelmed public health, and the “public health disruptions caused by the pandemic will continue to affect the provision of services for years to come.” But, “action can be taken now to mitigate these effects and prepare the workforce for the future.”

Out of Luck with Vaccine Lotteries

In efforts to boost vaccinations against COVID-19, several states offered sizable cash lotteries for those who got the shots. Unfortunately, a study on the efficacy of these lotteries found that “no statistically significant association was detected between a cash-drawing announcement and the number of vaccinations before or after the announcement date.” The lotteries did not create a significant boost in vaccinations. Although the findings were disheartening, the authors hope that the study will “lead to a shift in focus away from ineffective and expensive lotteries, and on to further study of other programs that may more successfully increase vaccine uptake.”

What Can Masks Do? Part 1: The Science Behind COVID-19 Protection

This article is Part 1 of a commentary that explains the “differences in cloth face coverings and surgical masks, the science of respiratory protection, and the hierarchy of disease controls.” The authors state that they are “in favor of wearing the most protective facepiece for the setting—such as a non-fit tested respirator when spending more than a few minutes in a crowded indoor space—and in combination with other interventions.” The data related to cloth face coverings and surgical masks show that they offer “very limited source control (protection of others from pathogens by limiting emissions from an infected person).” This is because masks limit the number of larger respiratory particles in a space, but they do not prevent the emission of most small particles – aerosols – exhaled during respiratory actions like breathing or talking. Face coverings are not a replacement for vaccination and good ventilation, however. The authors “strongly support people wearing more effective facepieces, including respirators.”

Brazil Senators Drop Call for COVID-19 Homicide Charge Against Bolsonaro

In Brazil, an investigation into the government’s handling of COVID-19 led to evidence that President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration committed “crimes against life.” A report formally represented by a Brazilian senator called for Bolsonaro to be indicted on criminal charges for the bungled response. Indeed, an early draft of this report recommended that the president be indicted for homicide and genocide. This week, however, the senators once calling for his indictment dropped the call to indict the president for genocide and homicide, and are now condemning him for “crimes against humanity.” It is highly unlikely that charges or a trial will ever arise, but this does not bode well for Bolsonaro’s bid in the upcoming election. Unsurprisingly, his “popularity has suffered from a weak economy, rising inflation and his handling of the outbreak.”

SARS-CoV-2 Dose, Infection, and Disease Outcomes for COVID-19 – A Review

The relationship between SARS-CoV-2 dose, infection, and COVID-19 outcomes remains poorly understood. This review summarizes the existing literature regarding this issue, identifies gaps in current knowledge, and suggests opportunities for future research. In humans, host characteristics including age, sex, comorbidities, smoking, and pregnancy are associated with severe COVID-19. Similarly in animals, host factors are strong determinants of disease severity although most animal infection models manifest clinically with mild to moderate respiratory disease. The influence of variants of concern as it relates to minimal infectious dose, consequence of overall pathogenicity, and disease outcome in dose-response remain unknown. Epidemiologic data suggest a dose-response relationship for infection contrasting with limited and inconsistent surrogate-based evidence between dose and disease severity. Recommendations include the design of future infection studies in animal models to investigate inoculating dose on outcomes and the use of better proxies for dose in human epidemiology studies. Dr. Saskia Popescu, an assistant professor in the Biodefense Graduate Program as well as an alumna, is a co-author on this article, which can be found here.

UN Investigator: North Korea Kids and Elderly Risk Starving

Prolonged and strict pandemic measures in North Korea are spurring a growing food crisis, leaving children and the elderly at risk of starvation. A report to the UN General Assembly shows that North Korea’s agricultural sector is facing many challenges due to “a drop in imports of fertilizer and other agricultural items from neighboring China, the impact of UN and international sanctions stemming from its nuclear program, and an outbreak of African swine fever.” Protracted pandemic measures over the last nearly two yeas have caused “severe economic hardship and increased vulnerability to human rights violations among the general population.” Many factories and mines have shut down, and the numbers of homeless people and street children are rising. The report also says that “the government has reportedly mobilized urban residents, those recently discharged from the military, orphaned children and married women to bolster agricultural production and work on farms.”


Schar School Open House

The Schar School will be hosting a virtual open house for the Master’s and Certificate Programs! These sessions will take place on 16 November at 6:30 PM EST. This online session will provide an overview of our master’s degree programs – such as the Biodefense Program – and our Graduate Admissions team will be available to answer questions about admissions requirements, application deadlines, and materials to prepare. By working closely with faculty who draw on world-class research and practical experience, the Schar School prepares students for a high-powered career in the public, private, and non-profit sectors. Register here.

Biorisk Management Perspective: Then and Now Webinar

In partnership with the American Biological Safety Association’s (ABSA) Biosafety and Biosecurity Month, APHL is proud to provide this free webinar! This program will provide attendees with an overview of biorisk management innovation throughout the years. Participants will hear from three biosafety professionals on their perspectives of biosafety and biosecurity practices and discuss the potential role of biosafety professionals into the future. This program is intended for anyone who works in or supervises a public health, clinical and academic/research laboratory. These can include clinical and public health laboratory staff, microbiology students, veterinary microbiology laboratory workers, veterinarians, medical doctors, biosafety professionals, academia or biotech industry laboratory workers and research scientists. Register here.

Preparing for the Next Pandemic

The term “post-pandemic world” has become ubiquitous ever since COVID vaccines were made widely available to the developed world. Yet, the bio-policy implications of a world coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic are rarely evaluated critically and holistically. COVID-19 pandemic points to the reality that a multifaceted approach is necessary to prevent future pandemics or, should the need arise again, how to stop them in their tracks. A webinar offered by CDRF Global brings together experts from different corners of the biosafety and biosecurity space to discuss lessons learned from the world’s response to COVID-19 and analyze policy pathways moving forward. Register here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s