Pandora Report 4.21.2017

If you missed the Infectious Disease Mapping Challenge webinar last week, you can catch the recording here! Ongoing reports are highlighting that the Trump administration is unprepared for a global pandemic.

How Prepared Is The U.S. For Disease Threats?
Scientific American sat down with former CDC director Tom Frieden to discuss his experiences and what he worries may be on the horizon for public health threats. When asked about immediate health issues facing the current administration, Frieden highlights the ongoing Zika outbreak, antibiotic resistance, emerging infections, and the ever-present risk of influenza. In terms of CDC preparedness, Frieden says that, “It’s a big problem that when there is an emerging threat, we are not able to surge or work as rapidly as we should, as a result of a lack of additional funding and legislative authority. When there is an earthquake, the Federal Emergency Management Agency doesn’t have to go to Congress and say, ‘Will you give us money for this?’ But the CDC does. We have made a really good start working with 70 countries to strengthen lab systems, rapid-response and field-monitoring systems, but it is going to take a while before countries around the world are adequately prepared. A blind spot anywhere puts any of us at risk.”

Bill Gates Warns of Increased Bioterrorism Threat
The entrepreneur and philanthropist has been drawing increasing attention to the threat of infectious diseases, especially in regards to bioterrorism. Speaking at the Royal United Services Institute in London (RUSI), Gates stated that, “bioterrorism is a much larger risk than a pandemic.” “All these advances in biology have made it far easier for a terrorist to recreate smallpox, which is a highly fatal pathogen, where there is essentially no immunity remaining at this point.” He goes further to point out the unique aspects of infectious disease threats that make them more deadly than nuclear bombs. “When you are thinking about things that could cause in excess of 10 million deaths, even something tragic like a nuclear weapons incident wouldn’t get to that level. So the greatest risk is from a natural epidemic or an intentionally caused infection bioterrorism events. Whether the next epidemic is unleashed by a quirk of nature or the hand of terrorist, scientists say a fast-moving airborne pathogen could kill more than 30 million people in less than a year. So the world does need to think about this.” Gates pointed to the insufficient public health response in countries that are likely to experience emerging infections and the importance of foreign aid. Moreover, he highlights two major advancements since the 1918 pandemic – globalization and genetic editing. The DIY biohacker and potential for a single infectious person to travel around the globe in a day are all making the threat of a pandemic that much more real. Lastly, Gates emphasizes that the stability of a country and that of its health systems are vital in that an outbreak is more likely to become an epidemic in a country where both qualities are poor.

Biopreparedness – Developing Vaccines For An Eradicated Disease
Speaking of smallpox and the risk of bioterrorism…Filippa Lentzos is pointing to the smallpox vial discovery at the NIH and that despite the eradication of the disease, a biotech company, Bavarian Nordic, is still working to develop a vaccine. She notes that “possible avenues for the re-emergence of smallpox, including the impact of developments in synthetic biology, and it gives an inside view on the biodefence industry and its unusual business model.” Lentzos is an expert in the field of biodefense and focuses her work on the governance of emerging technologies like synthetic biology.

A Scope, A Resistant Germ, and Missing Data Walk into a Bar
GMU Biodefense PhD student Saskia Popescu is looking into the rise of the resistant bug and how medical equipment can pose increased risks for such infections. In 2015 several outbreaks occurred in patients following a procedure with a type of duodenoscopes made by Olympus. These scopes are “flexible medical devices that look like thin tubes and are inserted through the mouth, throat, and stomach into the small intestine—are reusable $40,000 medical devices that contain many working parts, including a camera, and are used for more than half a million procedures a year. The successful dynamics of the device also make it challenging to clean and disinfect. Just over two years ago, cases of drug-resistant infections started popping up in patients who had recently had the procedure that commonly uses duodenoscopes (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography or ERCP).” Following an outbreak of the highly resistant carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) at UCLA Medical Center, the scopes were recalled and interim cleaning guidance was provided by the CDC. Unfortunately, there is growing concern that the issues with the scope weren’t fully remedied. “In fact, Sen. Murray highlighted a recent outbreak in Europe (location not disclosed within the US Food and Drug Administration report) tied to the modified scopes. Although, modifications made by Olympus were done in response to the previous outbreaks and meant to reduce the risk of bacteria getting into the device’s channels and preventing proper cleaning and disinfection, Sen. Murray is now questioning Olympus regarding the devices and the role they played in this most recent outbreak. The senator is specifically asking for data proving that the repaired scopes could be properly disinfected between patient use.” As the threat of antibiotic resistance rises, the role of medical devices and manufacturer accountability will become increasingly relevant.

CRISPR Breakthrough Gives Hope for Disease Diagnostics 
CRISPR technology news often comes with a bit of controversy, but research recently published in Science is pointing to exciting new diagnostic capabilities. Feng Zhang and eighteen colleagues “turned this system into an inexpensive, reliable diagnostic tool for detecting nucleic acids — molecules present in an organism’s genetic code — from disease-causing pathogens. The new tool could be widely applied to detect not only viral and bacterial diseases but also potentially for finding cancer-causing mutations.” If you’re a fan of 221b Baker Street, you’ll be pleased to hear that the new tool is named SHERLOCK – Specific High Sensitivity Enzymatic Reporter UnLOCKing. The SHERLOCK tool utilizes the viral-recognition within CRISPR to detect genetic pathogen markers in some one’s urine, blood, saliva, or other body fluids. “They report that their technique is highly portable and could cost as little as 61 cents per test in the field. Such a process would be extremely useful in remote places without reliable electricity or easy access to a modern diagnostic laboratory.” This new finding has amazing potential for public health and rapid disease detection in rural areas to improve time to treatment, isolation, and prevention efforts.

National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity May 2017 Meeting
Don’t miss this May 11th meeting (2-4:30pm EST)! Items include presentations and discussions regarding: (1) the Blue Ribbon Panel draft report on the 2014 variola virus incident on the NIH Bethesda campus; (2) stakeholder engagement on implementation of the U.S. Government Policy for Institutional Oversight of Life Sciences Dual Use Research of Concern (DURC); and (3) other business of the Board.  A detailed agenda and other meeting material will be posted on this website as they become available. This meeting will be a conference call only; there will be no in-person meeting. To join the call as a member of the public, please use the dial-in information below. The toll-free teleconference line will be open to the public at1:30 P.M. to allow time for operator-assisted check-in.  Members of the public planning to participate in the teleconference may also pre-register online via the link provided below or by calling Palladian Partners, Inc. (Contact: Carly Sullivan at 301-318-0841).  Pre-registration will close at 12:00 p.m. Eastern on May 8, 2017. Make sure to check the website for the public conference line and passcode.

Synthetic Bioterrorism – US Developing Medical Response 
Preparedness efforts against biological threats are now expanding to include synthetic biological threats. “Dr. Arthur T. Hopkins, acting assistant secretary for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Programs at the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), testified that…’emerging infectious diseases, synthetic biology and engineered diseases…[is] an area where we are focusing and we have to continue to focus.’ To counter such current and emerging threats, DOD’s Chemical and Biological Defense Program is developing new strategies to more rapidly respond, especially in the area of medical countermeasures, Hopkins said.” He noted that the DoD has commissioned the National Academy of Science to lead a study on the potential for such an event and its impact on national security.

Chemical Reaction: North Korea’s Chemical Weapons Are A Big Threat- And China Needs to Help Deal With Them
GMU Biodefense PhD alum Daniel M. Gerstein is looking at the “role that China could play with respect to North Korea, in particular dissuading the use of chemical weapons. While tensions are high, the use of chemical weapons could be the “spark that could bring the region to war.” Gerstein notes that while the focus in Syria is internal, if Kim Jong Un used chemical weapons it would most likely be external- against South Korea or Japan (or even the U.S.). It is vital that there be a clear-cut response to the use of chemical weapons and action from China may just be the clear message that’s needed. “To prevent the unthinkable from occurring, the North Koreans must be dissuaded from using chemical weapons. They must be convinced that the use of chemical weapons is a red line that cannot be crossed. China should consider being the messenger for this message. China also should consider taking an active, forward-looking approach to prevent the use of chemical weapons by North Korea. When Syria deployed chemical weapons, there was speculation that Russia may have been complicit or at least aware of plans to conduct the attack.” Or perhaps some friendly games of volleyball are in order?

Wildlife Disease Biologists – An Unstoppable Force 
Neither rain nor sleet could keep APHIS wildlife disease biologists out of the field collecting samples. Animal diseases are a major source for infections coming down the pipeline for humans (i.e. spillover events) and these researchers are on the front lines trying to make sure we have a heads up. APHIS’ Wildlife Services (WS) program includes 36 wildlife disease biologists who work diligently to collect samples from wild birds for avian influenza testing (among other things). “‘By monitoring the avian influenza strains circulating in wild birds, WS and its partners are able to provide an early warning system to America’s poultry producers,’ states Dr. Tom DeLiberto, Assistant Director of WS’ National Wildlife Research Center. ‘Our experts focus their sampling on waterfowl species and locations where we are most likely to detect avian influenza. This ensures our efforts are as efficient and informative as possible’.” I think we can all appreciate the brave few who venture into frigid waters to help trap and test wild birds to help detect the spread of infectious diseases.

Stories You May Have Missed: 

  • Trends in Apocalyptic and Post-Apocalyptic Fiction – Writers frequently use an apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic backdrop for fictional stories. The Doomsday Clock is a visual representation of the general mood and often represents the fear and unease in the environment. Whether it be an environmental event or a killer virus, the end of humanity has been a frequent topic for many writers. “Often it is a fear of a naturally-evolving virus, as in Max Brooks’s World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War (2006) or Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven (2014). Yet, with the advent of new biotechnologies, authors also considered the impact a malignant engineered virus would have on humanity, as seen in Margaret Atwood’s Maddadam trilogy (2003 onwards) and Justin Cronin’s The Passage trilogy (2010 onwards).”
  • Ebola Theme Issue – The Royal Society – Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B is focusing their latest biological sciences journal on the 2013-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. In this edition, you can find opinion pieces discussing the contribution of engineering and social sciences, old lessons on new epidemics, and a wealth of information on outbreak evaluation and notes from the field.

Pandora Report 10.2

All this rain and grey weather (at least in DC) makes us want to curl up with a good book and luckily, we’ve got just the reading list! This week we’re sharing some top-notch work by our phenomenal faculty and alumni for you to enjoy. Earlier this week, straight out of a James Bond movie, Elon Musk presented Tesla’s Model X and its Bioweapon Defense Mode. Google had its 2015 Science Fair and a pretty amazing high school student took home top honors for her work on Ebola. Did I mention Kansas is prepping for the zombie apocalypse? Needless to say, there was a lot going on this week in the world of biodefense, so let’s venture down the rabbit hole….

 Zombie Preparedness Month Starts for Kansas 
I’m thinking we may need to take a class trip to Kansas since Governor, Sam Brownback, will be signing a proclamation to officially designate October as “Zombie Preparedness Month”! Brownback’s rationale is to emphasize preparedness in any form, stating, “If you’re prepared for zombies, you’re prepared for anything. Although an actual zombie apocalypse will never happen, the preparation for such an event is the same as for any disaster: make a disaster kit, have a plan, and practice it.” During Zombie Preparedness Month, state emergency management services will have activities and information for residents to help get their preparedness on. They’ll also be using social media to engage people people on these topics. The one thing we’ve learned in biodefense, Gov. Brownback, is to never say never!

Connecticut Teen Wins Google Science Award By Developing Affordable Ebola Test
High school junior, Olivia Hallisey, just took home the Google Science Fair top prize for developing an affordable and easy Ebola test in her project, “Ebola Assay Card”, which quickly (we’re talking 30 minutes quick!) detects the virus and doesn’t require refrigeration. Each test only costs $25 and picks up antigens on photo paper. Hallisey summarizes, “In this new device, that is stable and stored at room temperature, 30µl drops of water were used to dissolve silk-embedded reagents, initiating a timed-flow towards a center detection zone, where a positive (colored) result confirmed the presence of 500pg/ml Ebola(+)control antigens in 30min, at a cost of $25,” Hallisey hopes this project will encourage other girls to pursue their passions in science. Hallisey is truly an inspiration and we tip our hats to her passion for solving world problems while encouraging her peers!

Let’s Talk Dual-Use!
Come listen and chat with Dr. David R. Franz, former commander of USAMRIID, about balancing research and regulations when it comes to dual-use!
Date & Time: Monday, October 5, 2015, 4:30-6pm
Location: Hanover Hall, L-003 George Mason University, Fairfax, VA, see map

​Dr. Franz was the Chief Inspector on three United Nations Special Commission biological warfare inspection missions to Iraq and served as technical advisor on long-term monitoring.  He also served as a member of the first two US-UK teams that visited Russia in support of the Trilateral Joint Statement on Biological Weapons and as a member of the Trilateral Experts’ Committee for biological weapons negotiations.  He previously served as member of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB). Dr. Franz currently serves on several committees including the National Academy of Sciences Committee on International Security and Arms Control and the National Research Council Board on Life Sciences. Dr. Franz is a leader in the areas of cooperative threat reduction and health security and an expert in the development of U.S. regulations for biological threat reduction and biological security.  Dr. Franz will discuss the history and current debates related to U.S. and international regulations for select agents, dual use research of concern, and gain-of-function experiments.

1977 H1N1 Influenza Reemergence Reveals Gain-of-Function Hazards
Dr. Martin Furmanski discusses the gain-of-function (GoF) research hazards in relation to the 1977 H1N1 strain and it’s laboratory origins. Highlighting a previous article on the GoF debate, Dr. Furmanski notes that “separating the risks of vaccine development from those of basic GoF research is inappropriate, because GoF research seeks to discover antigenic and genomic changes that facilitate human-to-human transmission and/or augment virulence, with the aim of preemptively producing vaccines.” He also notes that while the 1977 H1N1 epidemic originated in a lab and it’s release was unintentional, the culprit laboratory matters little in the GoF debate.

Define Acceptable Cyberspace Behavior
GMU Biodefense alum, Dr. Daniel M. Gerstein, discusses the US-China cybersecurity agreement and the Friday announcement between Chinese Premier Xi Jinping and President Barack Obama. The agreement highlights the mutual desire to prevent cybertheft of business secrets. Dr. Gerstein emphasizes that while this agreement is a step in the right direction, it points to larger preparedness and response capability gaps. He notes, “So while a U.S.-China agreement is a welcome step, it also underscores the greater issues facing the United States, and indeed the international community, in this largely ungoverned space.” Dr. Gerstein highlights the necessity to define cyberspace boundaries, especially as there are delays in DHS security system deployments while US vulnerabilities continue to develop.

Implementation for the US Government Policy for Institutional Oversight of Life Sciences Dual Use Research of Concern
As of September 24, 2015, all institutions and USG funded agencies are now required to comply with the policies. Agencies now must have “a mechanisms in place to evaluate research that is potentially Dual Use Research of Concern (DURC).” Institutions must also organize an Institutional Review Entity (IRE) to review and manage compliance with these requirements.

Dr. Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley’s  new book, Barriers to Bioweapons, received glowing reviews in the latest issue of Perspective on Politics. Her work, which is a staple for biodefense courses, and particularly this text, focusses on the perception of risk and lethality of bioweapons while addressing the realities of these assumptions. Ouagrham-Gormley discusses the key role of tacit versus explicit knowledge in the development and dissemination barriers for bioweapons. “The author identifies important factors internal to a weapons-development program- talented individuals and cohesive groups, corporate culture, communities of practice, organization structure- as critical nodes or ‘reservoirs’ of knowledge that must be configured to optimize the sharing of ideas and information.” The case studies of Iraqi and South African programs, as well as Aum Shinrikyo, lay the foundation for her points on the role of internal and external variables that can hinder or help a bioweapons program. Whether you’re reading  it for class (GMU Biodefense folks, I’m looking at you!) or you’re looking to brush up on nonproliferation, this book is a well-written and captivating necessity to understand bioweapon development. Did I mention how awesome the cover is?
Our very own GMU Biodefense PhD alum, Dr. Denise N. Baken, has a wonderful new book being released – let’s check it out! Al Qaeda : The Transformation of Terrorism in the Middle East and North Africa examines violence and the way it is marketed by the global terrorism industry.  Authors Denise Baken and Ioannis Mantzikos frame the violence discussion through the prism of its use by Al Qaeda, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).Baken and Mantzikos look at the business parameters of violence –its cost, return on investment, efficiency, and effectiveness; They propose a new approach to that violence. One that looks at violence as a controlled commodity that evolved from Al Qaeda’s initial presentation of future possibilities, AQAP exploited those possibilities and ISIS pushed the boundaries of usability.
Stories You May Have Missed:

April 2015 Biodefense Policy Seminar

The Biodefense Policy Seminars are monthly talks focused on biodefense and biosecurity broadly conceived. Free and open to the public, they feature leading figures within the academic, security, industry, and policy fields.

Seminar: Unconventional Methods for Assessing Unconventional Threats
Speaker: Dr. Gary Ackerman, Director, Unconventional Weapons and Technology Division, National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START)
Speaker: Date: Thursday, April 16, 2015
Time: 6:00 – 7:30pm; complimentary food will be served at 5:30pm
Location: Merten Hall 1202, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA

AckermanDr. Gary Ackerman is the Director of the Unconventional Weapons and Technology Division at the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START). Prior to taking up his current position, he was Research Director and Special Projects Director at START and before that the Director of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism Research Program at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, California.

His research encompasses various areas relating to terrorism and counterterrorism, including terrorist threat assessment, radicalization, terrorist technologies and motivations for using chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) weapons, and the modeling and simulation of terrorist behavior. He is the co-editor of Jihadists and Weapons of Mass Destruction (CRC Press, 2009), author of several articles on CBRN terrorism and has testified on terrorist motivations for using nuclear weapons before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security.

Dr. Ackerman received an M.A. in International Relations from Yale University and a Ph.D. in War Studies from King’s College London.

March 2015 Biodefense Policy Seminar–New Location

The Biodefense Policy Seminars are monthly talks focused on biodefense and biosecurity broadly conceived. Free and open to the public, they feature leading figures within the academic, security, industry, and policy fields.

March 2015 Biodefense Policy Seminar

Seminar: Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction – An Integrated Layered Approach
Speaker: Dr. David Christian Hassell, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Chemical and Biological Defense, Department of Defense
Date: Thursday, March 26, 2015
Time: 6:00 – 7:30pm; complimentary food will be served at 5:30pm
Location: The Hub Meeting Room 5, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA

Dr. David Christian “Chris” Hassell was appointed DHasselleputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Chemical and Biological Defense in the Department of Defense in 2014. From 2008 until 2014, he served as an Assistant Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Director of the FBI Laboratory. During his tenure, he led major efforts to expand the Laboratory’s role in national security and intelligence, including the Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center (TEDAC) and other technical areas related to weapons of mass destruction. In addition, he strengthened and streamlined FBI programs in traditional forensics, particularly in such rapidly evolving areas as DNA, chemistry and the use of instrumentation to augment pattern-based forensic techniques (e.g., fingerprints, firearms, and documents). He also led many engagements with international counterparts, with focus on enhancing counterterrorism interactions with “Five-Eyes” partners, as well as new technical collaborations in Asia, Latin America and with such key multilateral groups as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and INTERPOL.

Dr. Hassell joined the Bureau from the Oklahoma State University Multispectral Laboratories, where he led Research, Development, Testing and Evaluation. He previously served as Assistant Vice President for Science and Technology at Applied Marine Technologies Incorporated. Prior to that position, Dr. Hassell led programs in analytical chemistry, instrumentation development, and nuclear weapons forensics at Los Alamos National Laboratory. During this time, he also served as a subject matter expert for chemical and biological weapons with the Iraq Survey Group in Baghdad. Earlier in his career, Dr. Hassell was a Senior Research Chemist at DuPont, developing online analytical instrumentation for chemical and bioprocess facilities for both research and manufacturing.

Dr. Hassell received his PhD in analytical chemistry from the University of Texas at Austin. He is a Fellow of the Society for Applied Spectroscopy and a member of the American Chemical Society and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Spring 2015 Biodefense Policy Seminar Line Up

The Biodefense Policy Seminars are monthly talks focused on biodefense and biosecurity broadly conceived. Free and open to the public, they feature leading figures within the academic, security, industry, and policy fields. Launched in the Spring of this year, the Seminars have been a tremendous success. Our Fall lineup features leaders from across the government and academic sectors, including Mahdi al-Jewari of the Iraq National Monitoring Authority, Dr. David Christian Hassell of the Department of Defense, and Dr. Gary Ackerman of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START).

Spring 2015 Biodefense Policy Seminars

February Seminar: Global Biorisk Management: The View from Iraq
Speaker: Mahdi al-Jewari, Head, Biology Department, Iraq National Monitoring Authority, Iraq Ministry of Science and Technology
Date: Thursday, February 19, 2015
Time: 6:00 – 7:30pm; complimentary food will be served at 5:30pm
Location: Merten Hall 1204, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA

Mr. al-Jewari currently serves as a Visiting Research Fellow in the Biodefense Program at George Mason University where he is conducting research on biorisk management policy and practice. He is on leave from the Iraqi National Monitoring Authority in the Ministry of Science and Technology where he is head of the Biological Department. The Iraqi National Monitoring Authority is responsible for overseeing Iraq’s implementation of its obligations under the Biological Weapons Convention and UN Security Council Resolution 1540. Mr. al-Jewari has served as the head of the Iraqi delegation to several BWC meetings. Mr. al-Jewari is the Ministry of Science and Technology’s representative to the National Biorisk Management Committee, an interagency effort to develop a comprehensive biosafety and biosecurity system for Iraq. Mr. Al-Jewari also serves as an expert for the UN Secretary-General’s mechanism for the investigation of alleged uses of chemical and biological weapons.

March Seminar: Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction – An Integrated Layered Approach
Speaker: Dr. David Christian Hassell, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Chemical and Biological Defense, Department of Defense
Date: Thursday, March 26, 2015
Time: 6:00 – 7:30pm; complimentary food will be served at 5:30pm
Location: The Hub Meeting Room 5, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA

HassellDr. David Christian “Chris” Hassell was appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Chemical and Biological Defense in the Department of Defense in 2014. From 2008 until 2014, he served as an Assistant Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Director of the FBI Laboratory. During his tenure, he led major efforts to expand the Laboratory’s role in national security and intelligence, including the Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center (TEDAC) and other technical areas related to weapons of mass destruction. In addition, he strengthened and streamlined FBI programs in traditional forensics, particularly in such rapidly evolving areas as DNA, chemistry and the use of instrumentation to augment pattern-based forensic techniques (e.g., fingerprints, firearms, and documents). He also led many engagements with international counterparts, with focus on enhancing counterterrorism interactions with “Five-Eyes” partners, as well as new technical collaborations in Asia, Latin America and with such key multilateral groups as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and INTERPOL.

Dr. Hassell joined the Bureau from the Oklahoma State University Multispectral Laboratories, where he led Research, Development, Testing and Evaluation. He previously served as Assistant Vice President for Science and Technology at Applied Marine Technologies Incorporated. Prior to that position, Dr. Hassell led programs in analytical chemistry, instrumentation development, and nuclear weapons forensics at Los Alamos National Laboratory. During this time, he also served as a subject matter expert for chemical and biological weapons with the Iraq Survey Group in Baghdad. Earlier in his career, Dr. Hassell was a Senior Research Chemist at DuPont, developing online analytical instrumentation for chemical and bioprocess facilities for both research and manufacturing.

Dr. Hassell received his PhD in analytical chemistry from the University of Texas at Austin. He is a Fellow of the Society for Applied Spectroscopy and a member of the American Chemical Society and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

April Seminar: Unconventional Methods for Assessing Unconventional Threats
Speaker: Dr. Gary Ackerman, Director, Unconventional Weapons and Technology Division, National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START)
Speaker: Date: Thursday, April 16, 2014
Time: 6:00 – 7:30pm; complimentary food will be served at 5:30pm
Location: Merten Hall 1202, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA

AckermanDr. Gary Ackerman is the Director of the Unconventional Weapons and Technology Division at the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START). Prior to taking up his current position, he was Research Director and Special Projects Director at START and before that the Director of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism Research Program at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, California.  His research encompasses various areas relating to terrorism and counterterrorism, including terrorist threat assessment, radicalization, terrorist technologies and motivations for using chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) weapons, and the modeling and simulation of terrorist behavior. He is the co-editor of Jihadists and Weapons of Mass Destruction (CRC Press, 2009), author of several articles on CBRN terrorism and has testified on terrorist motivations for using nuclear weapons before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security. Dr. Ackerman received an M.A. in International Relations from Yale University and a Ph.D. in War Studies from King’s College London.

Biodefense Policy Seminar Wrap Up: Part 1

All Biodefense Policy Seminar events for Fall 2014 have concluded. Please enjoy a summary of the October 2014 event and join us for our Spring 2015 series. 

Carus and Caves

On Wednesday, October 22, Dr. W. Seth Carus and John P. Caves, both of the National Defense University, were speakers at the George Mason University Biodefense Policy Seminar on the topic of “The Future of Weapon of Mass Destruction in 2030.” Based on their 2014 paper of the same name, Carus and Caves investigate the possible nature and roles that WMD may play sixteen years from now.

In 2030, Carus and Caves argue, nuclear weapons may play an even larger role than they currently do. They anticipate that more states—for example, Japan and South Korea—could develop a nuclear arsenal in order to safeguard their own security. Proliferation isn’t the only threat that nuclear weapon pose, however. Carus and Caves also highlighted the potential for governments to lose physical control over existing weapons.

Furthermore, they said that the absence of current WMD terrorism is caused more by a lack of intent rather than lack of ability. Regarding chemical and biological weapons, Carus and Caves argue that these weapons could be more attractive in 2030 if the weapons have perceived military value, though they offer very little deterrent value.

In terms of U.S. policy, the speakers said that the United States should respond strongly to violations of WMD norms to deter proliferation. They also warned that if U.S. allies doubt the security guarantees of the United States, they may see developing their own weapons as the only surefire way to protect themselves in a multipolar world. Therefore, the United States needs to reinforce the strength of its security guarantees to prevent weapons proliferation among its allies.

So, should we be worried? Carus and Caves said that there will be a greater scope for WMD terrorism in 2030 thanks to new dual-use technologies that could make it easier to assemble, acquire, and deploy chemical or biological weapons. Moreover, the definition of WMD could change by 2030, beyond the traditional CBRN group, to include nanotechnology or cyber warfare. Overall, the speakers said that WMD in 2030 is likely to present a high consequence, low probability threat, but the danger of wider proliferation and increased use is still very real.

THIS WEDNESDAY: November Biodefense Policy Seminar

Title: Pathway to Civilian Medical Countermeasure (MCM) Requirement Setting and Utilization
Speaker: Richard I. Jaffe, M.S., Ph.D., MT(ASCP), Director, Medical Countermeasures, Strategy, & Requirements , Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response , U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
Date: Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Time: 7:30 – 9:00pm; food will be served at 7:00pm
Location: Research Hall 163, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA
Dr. Richard Jaffe is an internationally recognized subject matter expert in the field of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense issues with almost 30 years of technical and operational experience in government, academia, military, and industry.

Dr. Jaffe was the scientific lead for the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s AMERITHRAX case in 2001-2003 while working at Commonwealth Biotechnologies, Inc. in Richmond VA. There he led a scientific team that developed the molecular assays that provided the FBI the crucial scientific evidence to proceed in their investigation. From 2006-2012, as the Senior Medical Advisor to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear and Chemical and Biological Defense/Chemical and Biological Defense Programs at the Pentagon, he helped lead, guide, and integrate the Department of Defense’s (DoD) policies in areas such as medical countermeasures (MCM), diagnostics, public health, and biosurveillance.

Dr. Jaffe is currently the Director of the Division of Medical Countermeasures, Strategy, and Requirements in the Office for Policy and Planning, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response at HHS. The Division leads the efforts to develop policy initiatives, planning and analysis, activities for storage, dispensing, administration, etc., and requirements for MCM that help protect the U.S. civilian population during public health emergencies.

Dr. Jaffe received a Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology from Medical College of Virginia, a M.S. in Human Genetics from George Washington University, and a B.S. in Microbiology from the University of Maryland. He is a board certified Medical Technologist and served honorably in the United States Air Force before separating at the rank of Major.

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/.

September 2014 Biodefense Policy Seminar

Title: Biosurveillance and the Atypical Epidemic: The 2014 West African Ebola Epidemic
Speaker: Dr. Michael Smith, Director of the Critical Reagents Program (CRP) within the Medical Countermeasure Systems Joint Project Management Office, Department of Defense
Date: Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Time: 7:30 – 9:00pm; food will be served at 7:00pm
Location: George Mason University, Fairfax Campus, Research Hall 163

September BPSDr. Michael Smith is the Director of the Critical Reagents Program (CRP) within the Medical Countermeasure Systems Joint Project Management Office (MCS JPMO) headquartered at Fort Detrick, Maryland. In this role, he manages the characterization, production, and distribution of reagents and consumables employed on deployed platforms and those under development by other programs.

Previously, he served in the United States Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment. He has also held several positions at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), including senior science and technology manager and most recently, acting division chief, Diagnostic and Disease Surveillance Division of the Joint Science and Technology Office. In December 2011, Dr. Smith became the director of the CRP within the Chemical Biological Medical Systems (CBMS) JPMO where he continued to serve through the transition of CBMS into the MCS JPMO. Mr. Smith assumed his current role as Director of the CRP in June 2013.

Dr. Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in Microbiology from the Pennsylvania State University. He continued his education and attained both a master’s degree and a doctor of philosophy degree in Molecular Microbiology from Yale University.