Dr. Michael Smith at the September BPS Talk

WP_20140917_004On Wednesday, September 17, Dr. Michael Smith, Director of the Department of Defense’s Critical Reagents Program (CRP) was the first speaker in the GMU Biodefense Program’s Biodefense Policy Seminars for Fall 2014. Dr. Smith’s spoke on the “Ebola Virus Epidemic 2014: Where the Rubber Met the Roadmap.”

Dr. Smith discussed the role of the Critical Reagents Program (CRP) in DoD’s biodefense program and its role in the West African Ebola outbreak. CRP is responsible for the characterization, production, and distribution of reagents and consumables employed on deployed diagnostic and detection platforms and those under development by other programs. The CRP provides standardized assays which can detect the presence of certain biological agents such as bacteria or viruses to the U.S. Government, companies with U.S. government contracts, and foreign governments. The CRP also maintains a large collection of microbial cultures, antibodies, and antigens for research and development purposes.

During the 2012 Ebola outbreak in Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo, Dr. Smith and his team learned that the assay they had developed to test for the Ebola virus did not detect that specific strain of virus effectively. Learning this enabled the CRP to re-work their testing, which has been of great benefit during this 2014 outbreak. When Ebola virus emerged in Guinea—the first time the disease had appeared in West Africa—CRP was able to provide the new tests—free of charge—to neighboring Sierra Leone before the first case emerged in that country.

Given Sierra Leone’s almost complete lack of public health laboratory capacity, diagnosis and treatment had been based solely on clinical judgment. Since the initial stages of Ebola virus disease are similar to the early signs of other diseases such as malaria, basing diagnosis on clinical presentation is unreliable. The pre-positioning of advanced diagnostic systems in Sierra Leone enabled the country to identify patients much more quickly than during previous Ebola outbreaks.

While the use of the new assays has enabled real time confirmation of virus, Dr. Smith discussed other obstacles to getting the outbreak under control. The medical system in Sierra Leone relies on family members providing patients with food and supplies at hospitals that have no electricity or air conditioning. In situations like this, many patients may stay home rather than going to a clinic or isolation unit. Because of this, it is very possible that the numbers of infections and deaths could be significantly higher than estimated. According to reports cited by Dr. Smith, an estimated 1 in 3 individuals infected with Ebola are not seeking medical attention. In densely populated cities in West Africa, this provides an opportunity for the unchecked spread of the disease.

Despite these obstacles, however, the relationships that CRP has forged on the ground in Sierra Leone to improve laboratory capacity and the accuracy and timeliness of diagnostic tests has allowed CRP to expand its fight against Ebola. CRP has been granted access to clinical data and samples from patients who have survived the disease. CRP and its interagency partners hope that the blood and sera of those patients can be used to create new therapeutics or a vaccine for the Ebola virus.

 

The GMU Biodefense Policy Seminars are monthly talks that are free and open to the public and feature leading figures from the academic, security, industry and policy fields discussing critical issues in biodefense. For more information, please visit https://pandorareport.org/events/biodefense-policy-seminar-series/.

Dr. Gregory Koblentz discusses Ebola on CTV News

In case you haven’t watched the news today (or looked at a newspaper, or been on the internet), yesterday, President Obama pledged he would send 3,000 American military personnel to West Africa in order to help with the Ebola outbreak which is continues to ravage that region.

George Mason University Biodefense Deputy Director, Dr. Gregory Koblentz was on CTV News this morning to discuss the continuing outbreak and reaction to the President’s decision.

Watch Dr. Koblentz’s interview here

If you’re interested in learning more about the West African Ebola outbreak, join us tonight at 7:00 for the September Biodefense Policy Seminar featuring Dr. Michael Smith, of the Department of Defense, who will discuss, “Biosurveillance and the Atypical Epidemic: The 2014 West African Ebola Epidemic”. The talk will be held at the GMU Fairfax Campus in Research Hall room 163.

Dual-use research as a wicked problem

Biodefense Professor Dr. Gregory Koblentz, of the George Mason School of Policy, Government and International Affairs, has published an article which appears in a special edition of Frontiers in Public Health. An excerpt of the article is available below with a link to the full article.

The challenge of dual-use research in the life sciences emerged vividly in 2011 as scientists and policy-makers debated what to do about article manuscripts that described how to modify the H5N1 avian influenza virus so that it could spread between mammals (1, 2). Since H5N1 emerged in Southeast Asia in 2003, it has sickened 667 people and caused 393 human deaths, as well as the deaths of millions of domestic and wild birds (3). The virus has not, however, demonstrated the ability to engage in sustained human-to-human transmission. If a new strain of H5N1 emerged with that capability, and it retained a high level of virulence, it could cause a global pandemic. The experiments by Yoshihiro Kawaoka from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Ron Fouchier from Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands not only demonstrated that mammalian transmission of the virus was possible but also provided information on how to construct such a virus.

Read the entire article here.

Looking Clearly at Right-Wing Terrorism

Charles P. Blair is a Washington, D.C.-based university instructor, researcher, writer, and thinker specializing in terrorism and the history, technical underpinnings, and potential futures of Weapons of Mass Destruction. He is the director for two courses in the Summer Program in International Security: 21st Century Terrorism: Emerging Trends and Evolving Tactics which runs July 14-16 and Terrorism Analysis: Quantitative and Qualitative Research Methodologies and Tools which runs July 17-18.

Register before June 15 and save $200-$300 on course registration for the GMU Summer Program in International Security!


By Charles P. Blair

Five years ago the US Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Environment Threat Analysis Division released an assessment of US far-right extremism. Initially intended for law enforcement and intelligence agencies only, the report—“Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment”—was almost immediately leaked. The report warned that small cells practicing “leaderless resistance” and “white supremacist lone wolves [posed] the most significant domestic terrorist threat.” Significantly, it highlighted the likelihood of expanded attempts by far-right extremists “to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to boost their violent capabilities.” Overall, the report warned of trends similar to “the 1990s when rightwing extremism experienced a resurgence.” That far-right extremist rally reached a violent crescendo with the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995.

Reflecting on the past five years, a leading far-right extremism expert I recently interviewed described the homeland security report as “prophetic.” Mark Pitcavage, the Anti-Defamation League’s director of investigative research, explained that most of the warnings in the 2009 report have become realities. Yet at the time of its release, the document was derided by many inside and outside of government as “ridiculous [and] deeply offensive,” an “inconceivable” assault on US veterans, and, in general, “a piece of crap.” …

Meet Your 2014 Summer Program Faculty: Charles Blair

In preparation for the GMU Summer Program in International Security, this week we will highlight the course directors. EARLY BIRD REGISTRATION HAS BEEN EXTENDED TO JUNE 15! Register by June 15 to save $300 on a three-day course and $200 on a two-day course. Use the links below for more details including registration.  Questions? Comment to this post or email spis@gmu.edu.


 

Headshot_BlairCharles P. Blair is a Washington, D.C.-based university instructor, researcher, writer, and thinker specializing in terrorism and the history, technical underpinnings, and potential futures of Weapons of Mass Destruction. He is the director for two courses in the Summer Program in International Security: 21st Century Terrorism: Emerging Trends and Evolving Tactics which runs July 14-16 and Terrorism Analysis: Quantitative and Qualitative Research Methodologies and Tools which runs July 17-18.

Since visiting Moscow as a student in 1985, Blair has worked on issues relating to globalization and the diffusion and diversification of WMD in the context of the rise of mass casualty terrorism incidents. He teaches graduate-level classes on terrorism and the technology of WMD at Johns Hopkins University and George Mason University and is a columnist for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Recent works include: “Terrorist Nuclear Command and Control,” which was completed under the auspices of the Department of Homeland Security; a two-year DHS-backed study which investigated the U.S. extreme right-wing and radiological and nuclear terrorism; “Target Sochi: The threat from the Caucasus Emirate,”; and  “Barely Lethal: Terrorists and Ricin.”

Mr. Blair is a Senior Fellow on State and Non-State Threats at the Federation of American Scientists. Before joining FAS, he has worked at the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, the National Nuclear Security Administration, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies.

Click here to register for 21st Century Terrorism: Emerging Trends and Evolving Tactics.

Click here to register for Terrorism Analysis: Quantitative and Qualitative Research Methodologies and Tools

Meet Your 2014 Summer Program Faculty: Gregory Koblentz

In preparation for the GMU Summer Program in International Security, this week we will highlight the course directors. EARLY BIRD REGISTRATION HAS BEEN EXTENDED TO JUNE 15! Register by June 15 to save $300 on a three-day course and $200 on a two-day course. Use the links below for more details including registration.  Questions? Comment to this post or email spis@gmu.edu.


Koblentz

Dr. Greg Koblentz, Associate Professor of Government and International Affairs and Deputy Director of the Biodefense Program at George Mason University, is the course director for this summer’s short course: Pandemics, Bioterrorism, and International Security. The course will run July 21-23.

Dr. Koblentz’s research and teaching focus on international security, biosecurity, and weapons of mass destruction. His recent publications include “Biosecurity reconsidered: Calibrating biological threats and responses.” and “The threat of pandemic influenza: why today is not 1918.” His book, Living Weapons: Biological Warfare and International Security, remains one of the most influential publications in the field of biodefense since its publication in 2009. In fact, we often tell prospective students to read his book for a “one book version” of our Biodefense Master’s program. He is at work now on a book on nuclear proliferation.

Dr. Koblentz is also a Research Affiliate with the Security Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a member of the Scientist Working Group on Chemical and Biological Weapons at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington, DC. He received his PhD in political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, his Master in Public Policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and his Bachelor of Arts from Brown University.

Click here to register for Pandemics, Bioterrorism, and International Security.

Meet Your 2014 Summer Program Faculty: Sonia ben Ouagrham-Gormley

In preparation for the GMU Summer Program in International Security, this week we will highlight the course directors. EARLY BIRD REGISTRATION HAS BEEN EXTENDED TO JUNE 15! Register by June 15 to save $300 on a three-day course and $200 on a two-day course.. Use the links below for more details including registration.  Questions? Comment to this post or email spis@gmu.edu.


 

GormleyDr. Sonia ben Ouagrham-Gormley, Associate Professor of Government and International Affairs and member of the Biodefense faculty at George Mason University, is the director for this summer’s WMD Export Controls course in the Summer Program in International Security. This course will run July 10-11 and aims to increase participants’ awareness and understanding of WMD proliferation, export controls and trafficking of related materials.

Dr. Ouagrham-Gormley’s research and teaching focuses on WMD and proliferation issues. Her recent publications include “The social context shaping bioweapons (non) proliferation,” “An Unrealized Nexus? WMD-Related Trafficking, Terrorism and Organized Crime in the Former Soviet Union,” and “Banking on Nonproliferation: Improving the Implementation of Financial Sanctions.”  Her forthcoming book from Cornell University Press, Barriers to Bioweapons, extends on her article by the same name and provides the most detailed examination to date of how and why biological weapons programs succeed or fail.

Prior to joining George Mason, Dr. Ouagrham-Gormley served 10 years as a Senior Research Associate at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS), and Editor-in-Chief of the International Export Control Observer, a monthly newsletter devoted to the analysis of WMD export control issues in the world. Dr. Ouagrham-Gormley was also an adjunct professor at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Johns Hopkins University, where she taught a course on WMD in the former Soviet Union (FSU). She received her Ph.D. in Economics of Development at the Advanced School of Social Sciences in Paris, France.

Click here to register for WMD Export Controls.

Meet Your 2014 Summer Program Faculty: Alexander Garza

In preparation for the GMU Summer Program in International Security, this week we will highlight the course directors. EARLY BIRD REGISTRATION HAS BEEN EXTENDED TO JUNE 15! Register by June 15 to save $300 on a three-day course and $200 on a two-day course. Use the links below for more details including registration.  Questions? Comment to this post or email spis@gmu.edu.


Alexander Garza, MD, MPH, FACEP

Dr. Alexander Garza, Associate Dean for Public Health Practice and Associate Professor of Epidemiology at St. Louis University in the College for Public Health and Social Justice, is the director for this summer’s Biosurveillance: National and International Levels course in the Summer Program in International Security. This course will run July 24-25.

Dr. Garza is a fellow in the American College of Emergency Physicians and a member of the American Public Health Association. He is a Senior Editor for the Oxford Handbook in Disaster Medicine and has authored numerous chapters in medical texts and published multiple articles and peer-reviewed publications.

Dr. Garza served as Assistant Secretary for Health Affairs and the Chief Medical Officer of the Department of Homeland Security from 2009-2013 and prior to that was a practicing physician and medical educator—serving as the Director of Military Programs at the ER One Institue at Washington Hospital Center, the Associate Medical Director of Emergency Medical Services for the State of New Mexico, and the Director of Emergency Medical Services The Kansas City, MO Health Department. He has served as a professor at Georgetown University, the University of New Mexico and the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Dr. Garza served in the U.S. Army Reserve and was a battalion surgeon and public health team chief during Operation Flintlock in Dakar, Senegal. He also served as a public health team chief during Operation Iraqi Freedom and as a special investigator and medical expert for Major General Raymond Odierno. He holds a medical degree from the University of Missouri – Columbia School of Medicine, a Master of Public Health from the Saint Louis University School of Public Health and a Bachelor of Science in biology from the University of Missouri – Kansas City.

Click here to register for Biosurveillance: National and International Levels.

Meet Your 2014 Summer Program Faculty: Charles Ferguson

In preparation for the GMU Summer Program in International Security, this week we will highlight the course directors. EARLY BIRD REGISTRATION HAS BEEN EXTENDED TO JUNE 15! Register by June 15 to save $300 on a three-day course and $200 on a two-day course. Use the links below for more details including registration.  Questions? Comment to this post or email spis@gmu.edu.


ferguson

Dr. Charles D. Ferguson, President of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), is the course director for this summer’s CBRN Weapons: Science & Policy in the Summer Program in International Security. This course will run July 7-9.

With more than twenty years’ experience in policy and national security, Dr. Ferguson has researched and written extensively on energy policy, nuclear nonproliferation, missile defense, and prevention of nuclear and radiological terrorism. His publications include 2011’s Nuclear Energy: What Everyone Needs to Know, The Four Faces of Nuclear Terrorism (with William Potter) in 2005, and the report Commercial Radioactive Sources: Surveying the Security Risks, which was the first in-depth, post-9/11 study of the “dirty bomb” threat. This report won the 2003 Robert S. Landauer Lecture Award from the Health Physics Society.

Dr. Ferguson has worked as the Philip D. Reed senior fellow for science and technology at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), consulted with Sandia National Laboratories and the National Nuclear Security Administration on improving the security of radioactive sources, and as a physical scientist in the Office of the Senior Coordinator for Nuclear Safety at the U.S. Department of State. He graduated with distinction from the United States Naval Academy, served in the U.S. Navy as a nuclear engineering officer, and earned a PhD in physics from Boston University. He has previously taught as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and the Johns Hopkins University.

Click here to register for CBRN Weapons: Science & Policy.

Introducing: Keith Ward

I’m delighted to introduce new Affiliate Faculty Member of the Departments of Molecular and Microbiology and Bioinformatics and Computational Biology at George Mason University, Keith B. Ward, Ph.D.

Keith will be contributing to the Pandora Report, so check here for his articles!


Keith

Keith retired as Senior Science Advisor, FBI Laboratory, in 2011. There he coordinated basic and applied Science and Technology (S&T) efforts between the FBI and other government agencies and provided technical expertise to the Head of the FBI Laboratory and the Director of the FBI S&T Branch.

Prior to joining the FBI, Keith was Chief of the Research and Development Branch and Science Advisor to the Director, Chemical and Biological Division, of the DHS S&T Directorate. This Branch develops novel basic and applied technology to counter chemical and biological threats within the US. He represented S&T on several Homeland Security Council Inter-agency Policy Coordination work groups.

After receiving a BS in physics (Texas A&M) and a PhD in biophysics (Johns Hopkins), Dr. Ward became a professor of chemistry at the University of Wisconsin. In 1984 he joined the Naval Research Laboratory, as team leader of the macromolecular crystallography and molecular modeling group. His research focused on understanding the structure and function of proteins involved with marine bioluminescence, chemical agent-degrading enzymes, and phospholipase A2 snake venom toxins. In 1993, he became a NASA flight principal investigator, and his group developed remote-controlled protein crystallization systems for both Space Shuttle and Space Station experiments.

In 1995 Dr. Ward joined the Office of Naval Research and served as chair of the Biomolecular and Biosystems group within the Cognitive, Neural, and Biomolecular Science and Technology Division. He served as the Navy’s representative to the Joint Services Technical Panel for Decontamination and to the Joint Warfighting Science and Technology Plan Chapter on Combating Terrorism.

He received the Navy Meritorious Civilian Service Award in 2003 and the Presidential Rank Award of Meritorious Senior Professional in 2008. Keith was inducted into the Academy of Distinguished Former Students by the College of Science, Texas A&M University in 2013.

Since retiring, Keith serves on the Steering Group of the AAAS STEM Volunteers supporting Fairfax County Public Schools:  http://www.seniorscientist.org . He serves as pro-bono technical advisor on chemical warfare to both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. To pursue a new avocation, Keith became a docent in the Hall of Human Origins at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in 2013.