Given the auspicious nature of Friday, the 13th, how about we start the Easy-Bake Oven version of bioreactors? (insert evil genius laugh). Our report this week is rich in biosafety, GMU Open Houses, and updates on global outbreaks. Fun History Fact Friday – this week in 1989, the Berlin Wall came down! Before we venture down the rabbit hole, don’t forget to get your flu shot before the 2015/2016 influenza season hits too hard!
If you’re in search of the perfect holiday gift for your favorite biodefense/bioengineer, you can thank the creators of Amino (personally, I think calling it the Easy-Bake Oven Bioreactor is just so much more fun). The kit starts at $700 and comes with all the essentials for your “recipe” (main bacterial culture, DNA, pipettes, incubators, agar plates and various sensors for monitoring microbial growth). Did I mention it comes in a nice color-coded, pleasing-to-the-eye plywood dashboard? MIT graduate, Julie Legault, is the master genius behind Amino, and uses the “apps” (step-by-step guides) to help make even the most science adverse individual capable of making DNA products. Liz Stinson points out that “they walk users through how to insert the DNA into untransformed bacteria cells, and how to incubate, grow, and maintain the altered microorganisms”. Just make sure your new gift comes with some information on dual-use research of concern and avoids any select agents…
Master’s Open House
Make sure to swing by our GMU Master’s Open House on Wednesday, November 18th at 6:30pm to learn about all our different programs! Good news – you can virtually attend via this link and even ask questions live! We’ll be talking biodefense and all the ways you can use our MS degree (online or in person!). Whether its fighting food safety issues, pandemic influenza, or zombies, we’re passionately trying to make the world of global health security stronger and more diverse!
Biological Research: Rethink Biosafety
“Biology must move forward on safety and security. Let’s not reinvent the wheel, but learn from those doing safety better.” Tim Trevan’s comments echo the sentiments of many within the biosecurity field. The anthrax mishaps at Dugway and the CDC BSL-3 lab in Atlanta compound a growing concern over the handling of select agents and the lab safety practices and processes that seem to be failing. Trevan poses the question, “what are the prospects for managing the more intractable risks globally if measures to ensure the safe handling of dangerous pathogens are failing at the best-equipped facilities in the country with the most advanced biotechnology in the world?” In his words, Trevan has hit the nail on the head and summarized the realities of lab safety culture. So what’s to be done? Trevan makes the unexpected recommendation of using nuclear security experts to advise on biosafety and biosecurity. This strategy utilizes a practice that is also common in healthcare – a culture of safety. By focussing on the prevention of failure, instead of maximizing output, safety becomes an engrained practice in all levels of an organization, transforming it into a “high-reliability organization” (HRO). By using examples within industries like offshore oil drilling, airlines, etc., Trevan points to the growing biotech capabilities that make biosecurity that much more imperative. In healthcare, I’ve seen organizations truly transform their practices by moving to a culture of safety (and utilizing “just culture” when it comes to patient safety) and while it’s not a wholly easy process, the foundations are already present in the existing teachings of patient care. Labs have the training and knowledge for safety, but as Trevan points out, it’s time to bring in those with the expertise to help move towards a culture of safety.
Dengue Fever Outbreak in Hawaii
If you’re considering a winter retreat to Hawaii, make sure to grab some bug spray. Hawaii Island is currently experiencing a Dengue outbreak that has just reached 33 cases. Dengue is not endemic to Hawaii and while travelers have imported cases from time to time, this is marks the first big cluster of locally-acquired cases since 2011. The Hawaii Department of Health (HDOH) continues investigations and reports (as of 11/11) 25 Hawaii Island residents and 8 visitors have been laboratory confirmed with dengue fever. The HDOH has provided maps related to exposure areas to help people avoid high-risk locations or at least use preventative measures. If you’re traveling to Hawaii Island or an area where dengue is endemic, make sure to take steps to reduce the risk of mosquito bites and the potential for transmission!
Guinea has reported no new cases in the last week. While they’re still on high alert after the cases surrounding a family, they are hopeful. Liberia and Sierra Leone have hit their 90-day enhanced surveillance period, meaning they have no new cases and are now working towards the WHO’s second objective (managing and responding to residual risks). Pauline Cafferkey has made a full recovery after her hospitalizations due to post-Ebola recovery complications. Researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health used a new statistical model to map the outbreak. Results will be published in the Journal of Royal Society Interface, which shows the development of the outbreak and role early detection and response plays.
- Joint Services Mask Leakage Tester (JSMLT) Contract – the DoD has announced that Air Techniques International, Inc. has been awarded a contract regarding the maintenance of the JSMLT. The JSMLT does quality control and ensures proper fitting (portably) on CBRN protective masks.
- H7N9 Cases in China Rise– China has confirmed two more cases that occurred in October, bringing the total case count to four. Many in public health are noting that these cases bring about a fourth wave of infections (starting in October). The two new cases were a a 62-year-old woman from Shengzhou and a 51-year-old farmer from Hangzhou.
- Boosting Biosecurity in Nigeria & Kenya– The Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland have announced two grants to help build biosecurity in Nigeria and Kenya. The first grant of $13 million will go to strengthen laboratory infrastructure in Kenya, and the second of $10 million will help those in Nigeria quickly detect and respond to emerging infectious diseases.
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