Pandora Report 10.16.2015

What a busy week in the world of biodefense! First, let’s give a round of applause for Global Handwashing Day (and now, go wash your hands!). This week we saw a nurse from the UK experience Ebola-associated complications months after her recovery. The CDC released a report stating that 17 states exceeded their recommendations for Ebola screening/monitoring and a recent study discussed vaccination rates and herd immunity. Let’s not forget that we’ve got another segment on 2016 Presidential candidate chatter on nonproliferation, a call for papers, and an open house on GMU’s Master’s program. Grab your morning coffee/tea and let’s explore this week’s biodefense news!

Global Handwashing Day 
Global Handwashing Day was Thursday, October 15th, but really we should be celebrating it every day! It may seem like a simple thing but the truth is that hand hygiene is one of the most important things you can do to prevent the spread of infection. Whether it’s a hospital-acquired infection or avoiding illness in the workplace, hand hygiene is the first line of defense. The WHO estimates that hand hygiene, just in healthcare, saved millions of lives in the last years. The CDC even calls it the “do-it-yourself” vaccine – five simple steps (wet, lather, scrub, rinse, dry) to help prevent the spread of infections. Many people think it’s a small or “easy” thing, but coming from an infection preventionist, it’s the small things that make the biggest difference. You’d be surprised how many organisms we carry around on our hands and on fomites, so using alcohol-based hand sanitizer or washing with soap and water is the only way to get rid of those. University of Arizona professor, Dr. Gerba, (we lovingly referred to him as Dr. Germ – funny enough, he even gave one of his children the middle name of Escherichia!) has focussed much of his research on the household and public objects we may not realize are covered in germs. Perhaps the most important take-away from Global Handwashing Day isn’t just its importance in healthcare, but its role as an important part of disease prevention everywhere. In the U.S.  we’re fortunate to have access to the resources that allow us to have phenomenal hand hygiene practices however, it’s the behavior we tend to fall short on. From today forward, I encourage you to make a personal decision to be vigilant in hand hygiene.

Last Call for Papers – Women’s Health in Global Perspective!
Papers sought for a special issue and workshop of World Medical & Health Policy on “Women’s Health in Global Perspective,” to contribute to understanding and improve policy related to women’s health and wellbeing.  Forces ranging from the economic to the climactic have human repercussions whose genesis and solutions demand consideration of their global context.  A wealth of recent research and inquiry has considered the particular plight of women, who often suffer disproportionately from lack of education, compromised nutrition, poverty, violence and lack of job opportunities and personal freedom.  The Workshop on Women’s Health in Global Perspective will consider the broad ranging social determinants of health on a global scale that importantly influence health outcomes for women everywhere, which in turn has implications for economic, political and social development.
Abstract submission deadline (250 words): October 16, 2015 Contact: Bonnie Stabile, Deputy Editor,
Notification of selected abstracts: November 13, 2015

Presidential Candidates on Nonproliferation Part II
GMU’s Greg Mercer has put together a wonderful second part to his series on one of our favorite topics (nonproliferation) and what the 2016 presidential candidates are saying about it. Check out Greg’s review of these candidates’ stance so we can track how they might change over the course of the election.

Source: CDC

Updates and Mapping Ebola
BBC recently published a nice overview of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Since the first case 18 months ago, it has been a whirlwind, in more ways than one, for those of us in the public health/global health security world. Cheerfully, the outbreak region has officially gone two weeks without a new case! Unfortunately, Pauline Cafferkey, the Scottish nurse who was treated and recovered from Ebola in December of 2014, is in critical condition due to a late Ebola-related complication. It was just released that her complications are neurological, including severe central nervous system (CNS) disorder and that the virus was detected in her spinal fluid. Scottish public health officials did identify 58 close contacts and offered them the SV-EBOV vaccine.

Master’s Open House
Learn more about the GMU School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs Masters’ programs on Wednesday, October 21, 2015 at 6:30pm at our Arlington Campus, Founders Hall, Room 126. This informational sessional will discuss our Master’s programs ranging from Public Administration, Biodefense, Political Science, Health and Medical Policy, etc.

Imported Measles and Need for Vaccination –This past week at the IDWeek 2015 meeting, scientists reported on a study reviewing measles vaccination rates in the US and susceptible children in relation to the number of measles cases that have occurred. They noted, “this analysis highlights the need for high measles vaccination coverage to support population-level immunity and prevent reestablishment of indigenous measles transmission in the United States.” The Daily Beast also incorporated this into an article on diminishing herd immunity and anti-vaxxers.

Avian Influenza Vaccine Added to National Veterinary Stockpile
APHIS (United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services) awarded contracts to two companies to ensure manufacturing of the vaccine for avian influenza. The goal is to strengthen the Agency National Veterinary Stockpile. “This action is being taken to develop the Agency’s National Veterinary Stockpile., and does not signal a decision to vaccinate for highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI). While APHIS has not approved the use of vaccine to respond to HPAI, the Agency is preparing to ensure that vaccine is available should the decision be made to use it during a future outbreak.”

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • International Infection Prevention Week is next week! October 18-24, 2015 will celebrate the importance of infection prevention and control in healthcare. Let’s celebrate by not just washing our hands, but also considering all the small ways we can prevent the spread of germs in our homes and workplaces!
  • Salmonella Cucumber Outbreak – The CDC has released new data on the Salmonella Poona outbreak related to imported Mexican cucumbers. As of October 14th, there have been 757 people infected across 36 states and 4 deaths related to the outbreak.
  • DHS Wants to Revive Terrorism Alert System – In wake of the attacks in Chattanooga, President Obama’s security officials are initiating a review of the nation’s terrorism alert system to support what many consider a growing threat of domestic attacks. DHS wishes to revise and restart the National Terrorism Alert System to better respond to these evolving attacks.

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.

Mark Your Calendars: October 2014 Biodefense Policy Seminar

Title: The Future of Weapons of Mass Destruction in 2030
Speakers: John P. Caves, Jr. and Dr. W. Seth Carus
Date: Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Time: 7:30 – 9:00pm; food will be served at 7:00pm
Location: Merten Hall 1202, George Mason University, Fairfax Campus

Nuclear weapons are likely to play a more significant role in an increasingly multipolar global system, and technological advances will enable new forms of chemical and biological weapons. The proliferation and use of these weapons could be harder to prevent. To discuss the impact of technological change and the evolving geopolitical environment on the future of weapons of mass destruction, this Biodefense Policy seminar will feature John P. Caves, Jr., and Dr. W. Seth Carus of the Center for the Study of Weapons of Mass Destruction at National Defense University.

October BPS CavesJohn P. Caves, Jr., is the Deputy Director of the Center for the Study of Weapons of Mass Destruction and a Distinguished Research Fellow at the National Defense University. He joined the Center in 2003, where nuclear and chemical weapons matters have been the principal focus of his work. Prior to joining the Center, Mr. Caves served as the Deputy Director for Counterproliferation Policy in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). From 1997 to 1999, he was the Country Director for Turkey, Spain, and Cyprus in the Office of European Policy, OSD. From 1986 to 1997, he served in a variety of positions within the Defense Security Assistance Agency and in the Office of the Defense Adviser, U.S. Mission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

October BPS CarusDr. W. Seth Carus is a Distinguished Research Fellow in the Center for the Study of Weapons of Mass Destruction at NDU. His research focuses on issues related to biological warfare, including threat assessment, biodefense, and the role of the Department of Defense in responding to biological agent use. From 2001 to 2003, Dr. Carus was detailed to the Office of the Vice President, where he was the Senior Advisor to the Vice President for Biodefense. Before assuming that position, he was on the staff of the National Preparedness Review commissioned to recommend changes in homeland security organization and support the Office of Homeland Security while it was being established. Prior to joining NDU, Dr. Carus was a research analyst at the Center for Naval Analyses, a member of the Policy Planning Staff in OSD Policy, and a research fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

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.

Dr. Gregory Koblentz on Background Briefing with Ian Masters

KoblentzLast week, Dr. Gregory Koblentz, Deputy Directory of the GMU Biodefense Program was interviewed on Background Briefing with Ian Masters to discuss the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa. He covers the role of the Pentagon in combating the disease in Liberia and the virulence of Ebola that was weaponized as a biological weapon in the former Soviet Union.

You can listen to the interview here.

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.

Mason Researchers Looking for Fresh Answers in a Medieval Disease

George Mason University’s National Center for Biodefense and Infectious Diseases has been researching the causative agent of plague–Yersinia pestis.

George Mason University professor Ramin M. Hakami is searching for new ways to treat modern ailments by studying bacterial and viral biodefense agents, including the medieval disease notoriously known as the Black Death.

Along the way, he’s also coaching the next generation of researchers. The two endeavors are equally critical, says Hakami, who knows firsthand how crucial mentoring can be to young researchers from when he himself was a student earning his doctorate in biochemistry in the laboratory of the Nobel Laureate Professor Har Gobind Khorana at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Read the full article here.


Image credit: George Mason University

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.” …

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 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: . 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.

Congrats to GMU Biodefense 2014 Graduates!!

If the words CBRN, Deterrence, Terrorism, Tacit Knowledge, Anthrax, Vaccination, Public Health, International Security, The Rajneesh’s Cult, Aum Shinrikyo, Iraqi WMD, Biopreparat, The Pandora Report, Bruce Ivans, Small Pox, Intelligence, Arms Control, Measles, The Biological Weapons Convention, Biosurveillance, BioSense, BioWatch, and Zombie have any meaning to you, you might just FINALLY be one of George Mason University’s few and proud Biodefense graduates.

This year our program is very proud to have graduated 3 Doctoral Candidates and 20 Masters Candidates well equipped to fight the good fight against the Zombie Apocalypse!

CONGRATULATIONS to GMU’s Biodefense Doctoral and Masters Class of 2014!!

Doctoral Candidates
Jenna Frost
Brian M. Mazanec
William E. Sumner

Master’s Candidates
Amy Armitage
Kellie Bolling
Ashley Eilers-Lupton
Courtney Gavitt
Deborah Harden
Christopher Healey
Michael Herman
Alena James
Blain Johnson
Quyen Kim
David Kimble
Annabel Lang
Katherine Montwill
Nicole Morgan Starks
Ashley Negrin
Cathleen Nguyen
Erika Olsen
Laura Sears
Saranga Senaratna
Brian Wilber

Deborah Harden Receives GMU Biodefense Departmental Award

By Alena M. James

HardenJust a few years ago, Deborah Harden made the decision to continue her education.  After earning her undergraduate degree in engineering and serving in the U.S. Air Force as an Aerospace engineer, Harden began working at Battelle, a nonprofit that plays a major role in managing the world’s leading national laboratories. The company offers expertise and resources helping government agencies and multi-national corporations in several projects. In her employment at Battelle, Harden very quickly recognized that an understanding of biodefense would help her acquire financial resources to fund projects for the company.  In order to gain this knowledge, she enrolled in GMU’s Biodefense Program. “When I began working at Battelle, I needed to understand biodefense so I could better articulate what our scientists were researching so I could find funding for them,” Harden said.

This year Harden completed her Master’s Project on a very interesting topic examining what happens to bioengagagment programs once donor funds stop being made available. “I studied sustainability of U.S. bioengagement programs.  After the fall of the Soviet Union, several agencies in the U.S. worked with the newly independent states to secure pathogen collections, institute disease surveillance systems, and work with former weapons scientists to learn to conduct peaceful research programs.  Money from donor countries like the U.S. won’t continue forever, so what happens to these biologists and programs after the donors leave?  I found some great literature about sustainment and found that we’re mostly on the right track, but more can be done,” explained Harden.  Dr. Gregory Koblentz served as Harden’s advisor and provided her with numerous resources and feedback to help her with the project.

Harden’s project coincided nicely with her current profession. As a program manager for Battelle, she developed and worked on bioengagment programs in Iraq and Afghanistan. “My job is to determine the state of biological research, safety, and security in these countries, and find ways to improve them so they meet WHO and international standards.  I also lead some tasks in the Republic of Georgia trying to make their BSL-3 public health laboratory sustainable,” she explained.

Not only has Deborah completed her project and continues to evaluate programs overseas, but she was also selected as this year’s Departmental Award Recipient of the Master’s Program for her work and scholarly achievements.

Harden’s experience in the Biodefense program has been pretty great for her. She explains that she learned just as much from her smart fellow-students as she did from the courses she was taking. “It was an eye-opener for me because I expected to go to GMU to learn and found that contributing was just as important. That wasn’t my experience as an undergrad.” The retired Aerospace Engineer enjoyed taking several classes in the program that helped her to gain a better understanding of her own field in bioengagment. She also really enjoyed her classes on policy and treaties, arms control, disease surveillance, and the Examining Terrorist Groups course.

With her Master’s Project now behind her, Harden is already contemplating how to spend her time.  “I’m thinking of re-learning French or maybe beginning Russian. Or I might reapply for a PhD in Biodefense. There is a lot more I could do with the research I began.”

“People always ask me if it’s frightening studying something like bioterrorism.  I tell them that the most comforting thing I learned was how hard it is to actually make a bioweapon that is capable of killing a large number of people.  And that Mother Nature is probably the scariest bioterrorist.”

Harden also had a few words of advice for the future graduates and prospective students of GMU’s Biodefense Program.

“Keep an open mind about things you read.  Academia and the ‘real world’ are often two different animals.  Also, please read at least half of what you are supposed to read before a class!”


(Banner Image Credit: George Mason University)