Pandora Report 3.24.2017

Welcome to the start of the weekend and World TB Day! The WHO estimates that just in 2015, 1/3 of people with TB missed out on quality care and 480,000 people developed multidrug-resistant TB.

Public Health Concerns in Trump’s New Budget
President Trump’s newly released proposed budget blueprint makes drastic cuts to many programs, of which, one of the hardest hit is HHS. On top of the cuts to science and public health, there is something buried within the budget that is concerning ex-CDC director, Dr. Tom Frieden. Frieden worries about the proposal to award block grants to states, which would allow them to decide how to respond to public health issues (think Ebola, Zika, etc.). “That proposal is ‘a really bad idea,’ according to Dr. Tom Frieden, who until this past January was director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Currently, the CDC experts work with state and local governments to devise evidence-based plans to respond to public health issues, such as foodborne and infectious disease outbreaks. With a block grant, states can use the federal money to replace their own spending in certain areas or spend the money unwisely, ‘and never have to report what they have done or be held accountable for it,’ Frieden said.” A withdrawal of one fifth of NIH’s budget would mean a deep slash to biomedical and science research funding.  These cuts will also impact foreign aid, which has many worried about the role of public health interventions in foreign countries. Bill Gates recently talked to TIME magazine regarding the safety implications of cutting foreign aid. “I understand why some Americans watch their tax dollars going overseas and wonder why we’re not spending them at home. Here’s my answer: These projects keep Americans safe. And by promoting health, security and economic opportunity, they stabilize vulnerable parts of the world.” Gates points to the role of overseas public health work like polio eradication, Ebola outbreak response, and America’s global HIV/AIDS effort (PEPFAR), which points to the stabilizing role that strengthening public health can have in a country.

Summer Workshop on Pandemics, Bioterrorism, and Global Health Security
From Anthrax to Zika, we’ve got the place to be in July for all things biodefense. This three-day workshop will provide you with not only seminars from experts in the field, but also discussions with others interested in biodefense. You can check out the flyer and register for the event here. The best part is that we’re doing an early-bird registration discount of 10% if you sign up before May 1st. A returning participant, GMU student/alumni, or have a group of three or more? You’re eligible for an additional discount! Check out the website to get the scoop on all our expert instructors and the range of topics the workshop will be covering.

Unseen Enemy Documentary 
Mark your calendars for this upcoming infectious documentary on the lurking pandemics that worry experts. Airing on April 7th, Unseen Enemy will follow researchers looking for the early warning signs of diseases that could cause the next pandemic. The National Academy of Medicine will be hosting a special D.C. premiere of the film on April 2nd, that you can even attend.

Expert Views on Biological Threat Characterization for the U.S. Government: A Delphi Study 
Biological threat characterization (BTC) is mixed bag of risk and reward. The laboratory research involving deadly pathogens as a means for biodefense can translate to better risk assessments but also the potential for biosafety failures. To better address this issue, researchers performed a Delphi study to gather opinions from experts around the country. “Delphi participants were asked to give their opinions about the need for BTC research by the U.S. government (USG); risks of conducting this research; rules or guidelines that should be in place to ensure that the work is safe and accurate; components of an effective review and prioritization process; rules for when characterization of a pathogen can be discontinued; and recommendations about who in the USG should be responsible for BTC prioritization decisions.” Following their assessment, the researchers found that experts agree that BTC research is necessary, but there is also a need for continued oversight and review of the research to reduce as much risk as possible. “It also demonstrates the need for further discussion of what would constitute a ‘red line’ for biothreat characterization research—research that should not be performed for safety, ethical, or practical reasons—and guidelines for when there is sufficient research in a given topic area so that the research can be considered completed.”

GMU Schar School PhD Info Session
If you love global health security and have been wanting to further your education, come check out our PhD info session next Wednesday, March 29th at 7pm in Arlington. You can come learn about our biodefense PhD program from the director, Dr. Koblentz, and hear from several students about their experiences. The info session is a great way to find out what a GMU Schar PhD entails, the application process, and what current students think!

What Biosecurity and Cybersecurity Research Have In Common
Kendall Hoyt is looking at the similarities between these two research fields and how work into the unknown can often expose and create vulnerabilities. Did I mention Kendall is one of the instructors at our biodefense Summer Workshop? Hoyt provides two examples to really hone in on this point – to defend against a dangerous pathogen, we have to isolate and grow it to try and develop treatment or a vaccine and to defend against a cyberattack, we need to know how to break into the computer system. That whole dual-use dilemma creates a lot of risk-versus-reward scenarios for biosecurity and cybersecurity researchers. While the research is highly relevant and necessary, government efforts to control or maintain oversight have been challenging. Do we pull back the reigns on innovation or run the risk of a security breach or a big “whoops” moment? “Intellectual property and cybersecurity legislation—namely the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act—has similarly stifled legitimate scientific and commercial activities and delayed defensive applications. In one well-known example, fear of prosecution under DMCA deterred a Princeton graduate student from reporting a problem that he discovered: Unbeknownst to users, Sony BMG music CDs were installing spyware on their laptops.” Hoyt also points out the biosecurity efforts that have begun looking not just at the pathogens and publications, but the laboratory techniques that are used for such research. Certain experiments (like gain of function work) have the capacity to increase transmissibility or host range. “For all of their similarities, key differences between biosecurity and cybersecurity risks and timelines will dictate varied regulatory strategies. For example, zero-day exploits—that is, holes in a system unknown to the software creator—can be patched in a matter of months, whereas new drugs and vaccines can take decades to develop. Digital vulnerabilities have a shorter half-life than biological threats. Measures to promote disclosures and crowd-sourced problem-solving will therefore have a larger immediate impact on cybersecurity. Still, both fields face the same basic problem: There are no true ‘choke points’ in either field. The U.S. government is not the only source of research funds and, thanks in large part to the internet itself, it is increasingly difficult to restrict sensitive information.” In the end, Hoyt notes that both fields and their regulations will need to relax the governance process and be a bit more flexible and mobile with how they control items. Both fields are constantly evolving, which means regulators need to be just as fluid.

How To Prepare For A Pandemic
NPR decided to create a “Pandemic Preparedness Kit” based off the continuous questions related to the ongoing news of increasing infectious disease threats but little info in terms of practical things people can do. While these aren’t things you can go out and buy for your home, the list hits close to home in terms of things we should be focusing our efforts and funding on. Firstly, vaccines. This is a no brainer and yet, we’ve become the habitual users of the theme “create it when we’re struggling to contain an outbreak”. Secondly, virus knowledge. “One of your best weapons during a disease outbreak is knowledge, says Dr. Jonathan Temte of the University of Wisconsin. ‘Keep up with the news and try to understand what threats might be out there,’ he says. For example, new types of influenza are one of the biggest threats right now — in terms of pandemic potential, Temte says. But if you know how to protect yourself from one type of influenza, you can protect yourself from all of them.” Lastly, and my personal favorite, is very clean hands. While every disease is different, one of the most basic and fundamental truths for infection prevention and control is hand hygiene. These three are solid ways to better prepare for future outbreaks, pandemics, emerging infectious diseases, and just about anything infectious that makes you a bit worried.

CARB-X MissionWhen I first read the name of this group, I thought it was some kind of fitness fuel, but I was pleasantly surprised to see this initiative is working to fight antibiotic resistance. CARB-X is a collaboration between NIAID and BARDA to help accelerate the development of antibacterials over the next 25 years. The goal is to help combat antimicrobial resistance through a diverse portfolio and partnership. Make sure not to miss their March 30th meeting from 11am-noon on antibiotic resistance. “CARB-X (Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria Accelerator) was launched in August 2016 to accelerate pre-clinical product development in the area of antibiotic-resistant infections, one of the world’s greatest health threats. CARB-X was established by BARDA and NIAID of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services along with Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation dedicated to improving health. This partnership has committed $450 million in new funds over the next five years to increase the number of antibacterial products in the drug-development pipeline.” While CARB-X may not be the latest workout supplement, it’s definitely a boost to performance in the fight against antimicrobial resistance.

New Roles and Missions Commission on DHS Is Urgently Needed
GMU biodefense PhD alum, Daniel Gerstein, is looking at DHS and pointing to the need for a Roles and Missions Commission. It’s been almost 15 years since DHS was created under rapid and urgent circumstances, which means that it’s time to look introspectively. “More generally, a roles and missions review could also examine whether the department is properly resourced for all its missions. For example, a joint requirement council was recently established for the department composed of less than 10 government civilians. Is this adequate for supporting requirements development activities for a department of over 240,000 personnel?” Gerstein looks at some of the big issues that require a comprehensive review, like centralization versus decentralization, management of R&D and engineering, and critical infrastructure issues related to national security and safety. Another component needing review is the human factors issue that impacts homeland security. How are the relationships between departments, with state and local authorities, or with the public? “The effort should not necessarily be viewed as a requirement for change, but rather an opportunity to reexamine DHS and its relations with the rest of government, the nation and its citizens, and even with our international partners across the globe. Finally, a homeland security roles and mission commission would be an ideal lead-in to a much needed update to the original 2002 authorizing legislation.”

Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs
Don’t miss this event on Thursday, March 30th, hosted by New America with speakers Michael T. Osterholm and Mark Olshaker. “In today’s world, it is easier than ever for people and material to move around the planet, but at the same time it is easier than ever for diseases to move as well. Outbreaks of Ebola, MERS, yellow fever, and Zika have laid bare the world’s unpreparedness to deal with the threat from infectious diseases. In Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs Dr. Michael Osterholm and Mark Olshaker marshal the latest medical science, case studies, and policy research to examine this critical challenge.”

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • The Feds Are Spending Millions to Help You Survive Nuclear War – North Korea’s recent firing of four ballistic missiles from Pyongyang into the ocean off Japan’s coast has brought back worries of nuclear attacks. While the days of stocking a bomb shelter are in the past, the U.S. government isn’t slowing down efforts to protect Americans. “Over the last ten years the US has poured millions of dollars into technologies and treatments it hopes to never have to use, but could, in the event of a nuclear catastrophe. From assays that measure radiation exposure to cell therapies that restore dwindling blood cells to liquid spray skin grafts, government officials are now far better equipped to deal with diagnosing and treating people if the unthinkable were to happen. And the next generation of treatments are being funded right now.” DHHS projects like BARDA and Project BioShield are just some of the sources for ongoing research to strengthen protection, whether it be a nuclear blast or reactor melt-down.
  • Disinfection and the Rise of the Superbug – GMU biodefense PhD student Saskia Popescu is addressing the growing disinfection needs as we teeter on the edge of the antibiotic abyss. Disinfection is already a challenge in healthcare however, the rise of more resistant germs means that efforts often need to be ramped up. The recent influx of Candida auris infections that we talked about last week really brings this issue to point in that this emerging infection is difficult to get rid of via traditional disinfection routes. “As new organisms are identified and existing ones become resistant to antimicrobials, the availability of strong disinfecting products has become even more pivotal.”
  • China and EU Cut Brazilian Meat Imports Amid Scandal– If you’re a fan of importing Brazilian meat, you may have to hold off for a while. A recent police anti-corruption probe is accusing inspectors of taking bribes to allow the sale of rotten and salmonella-contaminated meats from the largest exporter of beef and poultry. As the news unfolds, the Brazilian government is criticizing gate police as alarmist. “As the scandal deepened, Brazil’s Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi said the government had suspended exports from 21 meat processing units.”
  • Study on Interferon for Treatment of Ebola Infection – The common hepatitis treatment is now being tested out on Ebola patients to help alleviate their symptoms. The pilot study was performed from March-June of 2015 and  had some interesting results. “When compared to patients who received supportive treatment only, 67 per cent of the interferon-treated patients were still alive at 21 days in contrast to 19 per cent of the former patients. Additionally, the viral blood clearance was faster in those patients treated with Interferon ß-1a. Many clinical symptoms such as abdominal pain, vomiting, nausea and diarrhea were also relieved earlier in the interferon-treated patients. A further 17 patients in other Guinean treatment centres who matched the interferon-treated patients based on age and the amount of Ebola virus in their blood were included in the analysis. These added patients, who did not receive interferon, more than doubled their risk of dying as a result of not being treated with the drug.”

Pandora Report 3.17.2017

Happy Friday! In honor of  John Snow‘s birthday (the father of epidemiology), our featured image is the Broad Street pump map he used to combat cholera in the 19th century. Don’t miss out on the early registration discount for our biodefense summer workshop!

NAS Calls for Increased Federal Regulatory Agency Preparation for Growing Biotechnology Products 
The National Academies of Science (NAS) recent press release is emphasizing the need for federal regulatory agencies to prepare for greater quantities and ranges of biotechnology products. As the biotech world constantly evolves, regulatory agencies have struggled to keep up and this latest report states that in the next five to ten years, the pace will outmatch the U.S. regulatory system. According to the report, biotechnology, like CRISPR, has a rapidly growing scale and scope, which already stresses existing staff, expertise, and resources available at agencies like the EPA, FDA, and USDA. “To respond to the expected increase and diversity of products, the agencies should develop risk-analysis approaches tailored to the familiarity of products and the complexity of their uses, the report says. For biotechnology products that are similar to products already in use, established risk-analysis methods can be applied or modified, and a more expedited process could be used. For products that have less-familiar characteristics or more complex risk pathways, new risk-analysis methods may need to be developed.  Regulatory agencies should build their capacity to rapidly determine the type of risk-analysis approaches most appropriate for new products entering the regulatory system.” Within the report, NAS notes that the federal government needs to develop a strategy to combat the current issues and strengthen their ability to scan for future biotechnology products to better prioritize.

GMU Schar School Master’s Open House 
Have you ever wanted to study topics like CRISPR, bioterrorism, global health security, and pathogens of biological weapons? Good news – we’ve got just the program for you! Come check out GMU’s biodefense MS program at our Open House on Wednesday, March 22nd at our Arlington Campus, Founders Hall (Room 126) at 6:30pm. You can talk to some of our biodefense faculty and learn about our program. Whether you’re looking to take classes in person or earn a degree online, the biodefense MS is the best for the intersection of science and policy.

DARPA Works Towards “Soldier Cell” To Fight Bioweapons 
A bio-control system to fight off invading pathogens? Sounds like something out of a science fiction movie! Well, researchers at Johns Hopkins University just received funding from DARPA to develop the capacity to “deploy single-cell fighters” that would target and eliminate the lethality of certain pathogens. “‘Once you set up this bio-control system inside a cell, it has to do its job autonomously, sort of like a self-driving car,’ said Pablo A. Iglesias, principal investigator on the project. Iglesias, a professor of electrical and computer engineering in the Whiting School, shifted his research focus from man-made to biological control systems about 15 years ago. ‘Think about how the cruise control in your car senses your speed and accelerates or slows down to stay at the pace you’ve requested,’ Iglesias said. ‘In a similar way, the bio-control systems we’re developing must be able to sense where the pathogens are, move their cells toward the bacterial targets, and then engulf them to prevent infections among people who might otherwise be exposed to the harmful microbes’.” This angle, which is being focused on bacteria outside of the body, is just one potential tool in the biodefense arsenal.

Yellow Fever Outbreak in Brazil 
Since December of 2016, Brazilian health officials have reported an ongoing outbreak of yellow fever. The CDC has moved the alert to a  Level 2 – Practice Enhanced Precautions. A report recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine looks at the outbreak and the potential for cases in U.S. territories. In Brazil, there were 234 cases and 80 deaths reported between December and February. “Although it is highly unlikely that we will see yellow fever outbreaks in the continental United States, where mosquito density is low and risk of exposure is limited, it is possible that travel-related cases of yellow fever could occur, with brief periods of local transmission in warmer regions such as the Gulf Coast states, where A. aegypti mosquitoes are prevalent.”

GMU Biodefense Represented At Biothreats Conference
If you missed out on our coverage of ASM’s 2017 Biothreats conference, here’s a spotlight on GMU biodefense students attending this captivating three-day event. GMU’s biodefense program sent four graduate students to experience and report on the conference, which addressed biothreat research, policy, and response. “The program was exciting, according to the George Mason students in attendance. Mercer and Goble recall that the conference engaged topics of specific interest to them, their degree, and their futures. ‘I attended a panel that was very closely related to disease forecasting, my graduate thesis topic,’ Mercer said. ‘I was able to hear some of the cutting-edge research in that field, which was really helpful’. ‘I didn’t really have a part I didn’t like,’ Goble said. ‘I enjoyed the niche topics that were presented in both panel discussions and poster  sessions, from emergency operations to the FDA. All of these specific topics were extremely interesting to hear about and to know they are being researched’.”

Just How Well Did the 2009 Pandemic Flu Vaccine Strategy Work?
Researchers from the University of Nottingham recently looked at the success of vaccines in terms of preventing pandemic flu and reducing hospitalizations. Their work looked at the 2009 WHO-declared pandemic of the novel A(H1N1) virus, which infected around 61 million people around the world. Vaccines against the virus were rolled out globally between September and December of 2009, with the majority being inactivated A(H1N1)pdm09 influenza virus. Their work involved reviewing 38 studies between June 2011 and April 2016 regarding the effectiveness of the inactivated vaccine, which covered around 7.6 million people. “We found that the vaccines produced against the swine flu pandemic in 2009 were very effective in both preventing influenza infection and reducing the chances of hospital admission due to flu. This is all very encouraging in case we encounter a future pandemic, perhaps one that is more severe,” noted Professor Van Tam said. “Of course, we recognize that it took five to six months for pandemic vaccines to be ready in large quantities; this was a separate problem. However, if we can speed up vaccine production times, we would have a very effective strategy to reduce the impact of a future flu pandemic.” The 2009 pandemic A(H1N1) vaccine was 73% effective against laboratory confirmed cases and 61% against preventing hospitalizations. Interestingly, when looking at the vaccines’ effectiveness in different age groups, “they were shown to be less effective in adults over 18 years than in children, and effectiveness was lowest in adults over 50 years of age. Adjuvanted vaccines were found to be particularly more effective in children than in adults against laboratory confirmed illness (88 per cent in children versus 40 per cent in adults) and hospitalization (86 per cent in children versus 48 per cent in adults).”

Deadly Fungal Infection Arrives in U.S. 
While many are asking if surveillance methods for tracking the deadly CRE bacteria are adequate, a new issue is emerging in U.S. hospitals. Despite WHO’s recent plea for increased R&D surrounding certain resistant pathogens, it seems that more and more organisms of concern are springing up in U.S. hospitals. Since last summer, roughly three dozen people have been diagnosed with a highly resistant Candida auris infection. The fungal infection has caused worry ever since it was identified in 2009 due to its capacity as an emerging and resistant organism. Candida yeast infections are pretty common and known to cause urinary tract infections however, this strain is especially concerning because it easily causes bloodstream infections, has a stronger capacity for transmission between people, and is much more hardy in terms of living on skin and environmental surfaces. “Of the first seven cases that were reported to the CDC last fall, four patients had bloodstream infections and died during the weeks to months after the pathogen was identified. Officials said they couldn’t be sure whether the deaths were caused by the infection because all the individuals had other serious medical conditions. Five patients had the fungus initially isolated from blood, one from urine, and one from the ear.”

CDC Director Warns Loss of DHHS Funds Could Weaken Infectious Disease Prevention
Acting CDC director, Anne Schuchat, recently testified before Congress to make the case for for increased funding for several programs (one being the DHHS’s Prevention and Public Health Fund). Among other things, the Prevention and Public Health Fund is responsible for 12% of the CDC’s budget. Dr. Schucat’s testimony emphasized the previous usage of these funds in terms of vaccine delivery, disease surveillance, monitoring of water supplies, and tracking hospital-acquired infections. The growth of antibiotic resistance made her testimony and plea to Congress that much more relevant and urgent. “The CDC and other government agencies have in recent years cited the numerous public health threats posed by infectious diseases in general, and have lobbied officials for increased funding for research and development of novel vaccines and treatments as well as programs to effectively distribute interventions as needed. In 2016, for example, the CDC, DHHS, and National Institutes of Health requested federal funding to combat Zika, a request that was not approved until late in the year.”

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • Science on Screen – Don’t miss this great event hosted by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory! On March 18th, you can watch the second installment of the Science on Screen series, featuring “Lawrence Livermore scientists Monica Borucki and Jonathan Allen, who will present ‘Reconstructing a Rabies Epidemic: Byte by Byte.’ This informative and entertaining lecture will explain how biologists and computer scientists used cutting-edge, ultra-deep sequencing technology to study the dynamics of a 2009 rabies outbreak. This case study, based on a dramatic increase (more than 350 percent) in the gray fox population infected with a rabies variant for which striped skunks serve as the reservoir hosts, will be used to help illustrate the changes in the viral genome during cross-species viral transmission. This lecture is appropriately paired with the feature-length film, “Contagion” (PG-13).”
  • Clorox Gets Spot on EPA A-Team – Clorox just earned its varsity spot on the team against hospitality-acquired infections. The EPA approved two of the company’s products in killing clostridium difficile spores. C-diff is a constant battle in healthcare facilities, so having the new tool in the infection prevention and environmental disinfection toolkit, is a huge advantage for many. “In addition, the cleaners and wipes recently become EPA-registered to disinfect against other bacterial infections, such as those caused by Staphylococcus epidermidis, Candida glabrata, and Enterococcus hirae. Moreover, the products are also effective against several viral pathogens, such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), measles, and Influenza A and B, among others.”

 

Pandora Report 2.24.2017

Happy Friday and welcome to your weekly dose of all things biodefense! A preliminary report from the Malaysian police has found that VX nerve agent was most likely used to murder Kim Jong-nam.

Summer Workshop on Pandemics, Bioterrorism, and Global Health Security: From Anthrax to Zika 
Want to dabble in the world of global health security? Don’t miss out on the GMU Biodefense three-day, non-credit summer workshop on July 17-19, 2017! Participants will look at the challenges facing the world at the intersection of national security, public health, and the life sciences. Instructors for the workshop range from FBI special agents to biodefense professors and USAMRIID commanders. The workshop will look at the spectrum of biological threats – including naturally occurring disease outbreaks such as SARS, Zika, and Ebola, lapses in biosafety, dual-use research of concern, and the threat of bioterrorism. From now until May 1st, you can take advantage of the early bird registration discount!

Progress Report on BARDA & Project Bioshield 
A 10-year report card was recently published for these two efforts to defend the U.S. against biological threats. The report found 80 candidate countermeasures, 21 stockpiled countermeasures, and 6 FDA approvals supported by BARDA and Project Bioshield. “Over a decade has passed since the anthrax attacks of 2001; preparedness has increased substantially since that time, and defense against CBRN threats has become melded into national security. Both BARDA and Project Bioshield are essential elements of national security, and, especially in light of a change in presidential administration, it is important to emphasize the critical role these agencies have had in fortifying the nation against intentional CBRN threats. Larsen and Disbrow note, however, that despite the reauthorization of Project Bioshield in 2013 with annual funding at $2.8 billion (from 2014-2018), that funding is subject to annual congressional appropriations; as such, only a fraction of that funding has been appropriated.”

BWC Newsletter 
If you’re looking to keep tabs on the Biological Weapons Convention, we’ve got just the place for you. The BWC Implementation Support Unit has prepared a newsletter to better support communication among States Parties and encourage involvement in BWC-related issues and events. The first issue discusses the recent Eighth Review Conference and news like the launch of EU projects to support BWC universalization and a Confidence-Building Measures reminder letter (deadline for submission is April 15th!).

screen-shot-2017-02-21-at-2-11-26-pmCDC Lab Closure Due to Safety Concerns
The CDC has temporarily closed down its Biosafety Level-4 laboratories following the finding that their air supply hoses to researchers in protective suits were not approved for use. “‘We have no evidence that anybody has suffered ill health effects from breathing air that came through these hoses,’ Stephan Monroe, associate director for laboratory science and safety at the CDC, told Reuters. Monroe said he was confident scientists were not exposed to pathogens because the air they breathed passed through HEPA filters. The suits they wear also use positive air pressure to prevent pathogens from entering the suit.” Safety tests are currently being performed while employees are being notified and monitored. Interestingly, Monroe’s position is a newly minted one, having been established in 2015 to combat the continuous findings of major lab safety failures involving anthrax, avian influenza, and Ebola in CDC labs.

Why Bill Gates Worries About Biological Threats
Bill Gates recently spoke to Business Insider following his speech for the Munich Security Conference, in which he highlighted his real concerns for global health security. He noted that conflict areas and regions that are struggling to find stability are perhaps the most challenging in terms of outbreak containment. Gates emphasized the vulnerability for genome editing of a virus to make it more contagious, and also the advances in biotechnology that may help prevent the spread of an epidemic. “The point is, we ignore the link between health security and international security at our peril. Whether it occurs by a quirk of nature or at the hand of a terrorist, epidemiologists say a fast-moving airborne pathogen could kill more than 30 million people in less than a year. And they say there is a reasonable probability the world will experience such an outbreak in the next 10-15 years.” Perhaps the most important thing on our “to-do” list is to invest in vaccines, drugs, and diagnostics. We have a tendency to put these priorities lower on the totem pole until a major public health crises occurs however, Gates highlights their relevance. The launch of the new Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) is one step closer to bridging this gap. “The really big breakthrough potential is in emerging technology platforms that leverage recent advances in genomics to dramatically reduce the time needed to develop vaccines. Basically, they create a delivery vehicle for synthetic genetic material that instructs your cells to make a vaccine inside your own body.” Gates also emphasized the importance of strengthening basic public health systems, especially in vulnerable countries – adding to that age old saying, “an outbreak anywhere is an outbreak everywhere”.

screen-shot-2017-02-23-at-7-48-50-amFinancing Pandemic Preparedness At the National Level = First Line of Defense
Pandemic preparedness funding is one of those common sense investments…right? Unfortunately, many don’t always make it a priority. Ebola alone cost billions, including a $2.27 billion allocation for response by the U.S. government. Dozens of after-action reports and papers on lessons learned have been published since the outbreak. Peter Sands noted that “all these reviews – including the one I chaired  for the US National Academy of Medicine – agreed on three key priorities: strengthening preparedness at a national level; improving coordination and capabilities at a regional and global level; and accelerating R&D in this arena.  Over the last twelve months progress has been made in implementing many of these recommendations, but big gaps and weaknesses remain. As a recent paper in the British Medical Journal put it, there has been ‘ample analysis, inadequate action’.” The highest priority though is preparedness at a national level. The International Working Group on Financing Pandemic Preparedness was created in 2016 as a means to propose ways in which national governments and partners can work to establish sustainable financing to strengthen their pandemic preparedness. Their focus “includes domestic resource mobilization, development assistance and private sector engagement. For many countries, financing preparedness through the domestic public sector budget is the best way to ensure sustained funding and seamless integration with the rest of the health system. This requires ensuring sufficient priority is attached to investing in pandemic preparedness in budget allocations. In some countries, there may also be scope to increase the fiscal envelope through improvements in tax design and collection or even hypothecated taxes.”

Insider Threats 
Get ready to add this new book to your reading list. Matthew Bunn and Scott D Sagan are looking at insider threats like nuclear material theft and Edward Snowden. “Insider Threats offers detailed case studies of insider disasters across a range of different types of institutions, from biological research laboratories, to nuclear power plants, to  the U.S. Army.” Don’t miss the chapter from Jessica Stern and Ronald Schouten, “Lessons Learned from the Anthrax Letters”. Stern and Schouten look at the investigation of the Amerithrax attacks and provide a portrait of Ivins and his troubling behavior. They also address “the combination of regulatory changes, red flags missed by Ivins’s colleagues, and the organizational and cognitive biases that contributed to the failure to identify Ivins as a potential insider”, and the current environment and new regulations.

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • Former Secretary of Defense Outlines the Future of Warfare – “Two years ago, Barack Obama appointed a new Secretary of Defense, Ashton Carter—a technocrat physicist, an arms control veteran, and a professor at Stanford—to help close this divide.” Carter recently sat down with WIRED magazine and discussed the challenges facing the White House. When asked about the impact of autonomy on warfare, Carter notes that it will change it in a fundamental way, but also points biotechnology. “I think if there is going to be something ever that rivals nuclear weapons in terms of the pure fearsomeness of their destructiveness it’s more likely to come from biotechnology than any other technology. Looking back decades from now, I do think the biological revelation could rival the atomic revolution for the fearsomeness of the potential. I think that’s one reason we need to invest in it. And although biotechnology has not been a traditional area for Defense, the new bridges that they build shold not only be to the IT tech community but also to the biotech communities in the Valley.”
  • Did Salmonella Take Down the Aztecs?– History and infectious disease? That’s surely the best way to start a weekend! Researchers recently looked at the DNA of a 500-year-old bacteria to study one of the worst epidemics in history. “In one study, researchers say they have recovered DNA of the stomach bacterium from burials in Mexico linked to a 1540s epidemic that killed up to 80% of the country’s native inhabitants. The team reports its findings in a preprint posted on the bioRxiv server on 8 February. In 1519, when forces led by Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortés arrived in Mexico, the native population was estimated at about 25 million. A century later, after a Spanish victory and a series of epidemics, numbers had plunged to around 1 million.” After extracting and sequencing the DNA from the teeth of 29 buried people buried in the highlands of southern Mexico, all but five were found to be linked to cocoliztli. “Further sequencing of short, damaged DNA fragments from the remains allowed the team to reconstruct two genomes of a Salmonella enterica strain known as Paratyphi C. Today, this bacterium causes enteric fever, a typhus-like illness, that occurs mostly in developing countries. If left untreated, it kills 10–15% of infected people.”

Pandora Report 4.1.2016

Happy Friday! We’re excited to give you some great updates on the world of global health security. Firstly, a recent cluster of what some are calling “rabies” has claimed the lives of 12 individuals. Officials are concerned as transmission seems to be spread through biting and the affected individuals do not appear to be experiencing pain or concern over decaying skin. Just kidding – April Fools’ Day! The zombie apocalypse hasn’t started (that I know of….), but the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has issued a warning about Yellow Fever in Angola. The ECDC is stressing the role of vaccination in travelers as a means to prevent the disease from traveling to susceptible populations. Researchers from the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre recently published their analysis regarding the barriers and facilitators for pathogens to jump species. They reviewed 203 human viruses to look at biological factors that may give us predictors as to which viruses are likely to emerge in human populations.

Mapping the Global Health Security Agenda
Raad Fadaak discusses the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) and its set of 11 Action Packages, working to better “prevent, detect, and respond to both human and animal infectious diseases threats.” Fighting an uphill war with organizational and political challenges, the GHSA has won some battles in the fight against global health security threats. In the midst of their MERS outbreak last year, South Korea looked to GHSA “to invest both diplomatic commitment as well as approximately $10 billion US dollars—in addition to graciously hosting the annual GHSA Ministerial High-Level Meeting.” Perhaps a challenging component to getting the GHSA and its Action Packages running smoothly is the vast array of partnerships and projects. Raad uses several wonderful spatial graphics to show timelines, participating countries, commitments, and much more in his analysis of GHSA. “Speaking more generally, it is important to not take the ‘global’ in ‘global health security’ for granted. These maps are a first step in helping to identify and isolate the unique scope and reach of US Governmental activity under GHSA programs – and the production of a specific kind of scalar policy through the GHSA.” In the midst of the Zika outbreak, now will be a telling time to see how the US will meet its commitments to the GHSA through the CDC and USAID.

Medical Rant & Response
Medical experiences tend to be low on the totem pole for “things I’d like to do with my day”. No one enjoys sitting in a busy emergency department waiting area, dealing with miscommunications, or waiting on lab results. Dallas, TX experienced first-hand the serious ramifications of medical frustrations when they had an Ebola patient stroll into their ED and then get discharged a few hours later. What happens when your symptoms are stumping physicians or the delivery of care is delayed? Researchers discuss an experience by a U.S. patient and “responses offered by several experts from various perspectives of the healthcare system.” As you read this article, consider your own healthcare experiences. Take it a step further and consider the global health security implications regarding some of these experiences…

How to (Make Chemical Weapons) Disappear Completely
GMU Biodefense MS student, Greg Mercer, is at it again! In this week’s commentary he’s discussing how chemical weapons are actually destroyed. Incineration and neutralization are the two most common practices employed by the US and Greg is breaking each technique down. Unfortunately, these methods aren’t aways perfect and can easily result in human and environmental damage. “Chemical weapons weren’t always disposed of so carefully, though. The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) cites at least 74 instances of the U.S. dumping chemical weapons at sea from 1918 to 1970.”

Ebola: We May have Won the Battle, But We Haven’t Won the War
It’s been two years since the first Ebola cases were identified in Guinea. Since then, you’ve surely read articles upon articles about the outbreak, how it spiraled out of control, and how we should’ve seen it coming. Why read more? History. Plain and simple – if we fail to study this outbreak and learn from all our mistakes, we’re doomed to repeat them. Ranging from infection and prevention control measures (music to my ears) to addressing the needs of Ebola survivors and social mobilization, there’s host of things we can learn. “And even when international partners responded, they often arrived too late. It took about three months from the time the United States announced in September 2014 it would send troops to Liberia to build Ebola treatment units (ETUs) to the time those were built. By then, the epidemic was already waning, and nine out of the eleven centers built never saw a patient.” What about fear? Fear became an issue not just on the ground in West Africa, but also in the U.S. after we started treating imported cases and the initial Dallas, TX case. “But I think we did most poorly when we let fear dictate the quality of the clinical care we provided to patients. ‘What if,’ Dr. Paul Farmer provokingly asked, ‘the fatality rate isn’t the virulence of the disease but the mediocrity of the medical delivery?’ Of course lack of staff, supplies and space, combined with an overwhelming patient load didn’t help.” Coordination, communication, and engagement. You may see these repeated several times whenever you read an after action report about this outbreak, and yet I’m not quite sure we’ve really let it sink in. Zika? Let’s just hope we can learn from the lessons of public health history before another outbreak sneaks up on us again. Update: two more cases have been identified in the now nine person cluster in Guinea. A young woman has died of Ebola in Liberia today, marking their first case in months.

Where Are We With Zika?

Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 11.11.34 AM US knowledge gaps are the name of the game this week. 1/3 of Americans polled in a recent survey believed that Zika virus can be transmitted from coughing and sneezing. This same survey, conducted by a team from the Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health and the National Public Health Information Coalition (NPHIC), found that people in households not affected by pregnancy issues held the most misconceptions about the virus. 39% thought that a non-pregnant woman’s illness could pose a threat to future birth defects. Brazil’s Health Ministry reported that the number of confirmed and suspected cases of microcephaly associated with Zika virus in the country have grown to 5,235 cases. The ministry also reported 19 infant deaths related to the virus. Revised estimates and a map released by the CDC now show that a larger percentage of the US population could be exposed to the virus as the mosquito season approaches . The University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston (UTMB) has developed the first Zika animal model since the recent outbreak. “Several research institutions and companies have vaccine and drug candidates nearly ready to test, but until now a mouse model – a critical stage in preclinical testing – has not been available. The study, published this week in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (AJTMH), removes a major bottleneck that was delaying treatment screening.” There is also concern regarding the ability for ultrasounds to fully detect brain damage and microcephaly in pregnant women with or exposed to Zika virus. If you’re looking to get your Zika on, attend the Zika Innovation Hack-a-thon April 2-3, 2016! As of March 30, 2016, there were 312 travel-associated Zika cases in the US.

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • Ancient Malaria Roots – researchers from Oregon State University are suggesting that the origins of malaria may have actually begun 100 million years ago. The protozoa genus, Plasmodium, has ancestral forms that may have used different insects during its evolution. “Scientists have argued and disagreed for a long time about how malaria evolved and how old it is,” Poinar said. “I think the fossil evidence shows that modern malaria vectored by mosquitoes is at least 20 million years old, and earlier forms of the disease, carried by biting midges, are at least 100 million years old and probably much older.”
  • Ebola Is No Longer A Public Health Emergency of International Concern – On Tuesday, March 29th, 2016, the WHO Emergency Committee met, noting that since its last meeting, all three countries met criteria for interruption of original transmission chains. The WHO Direct General, Margaret Chan, stated that any trade and travel restrictions initiated during the outbreak should be lifted.
  • Ethiopia Drought Emergency – Ethiopia is currently experiencing the worst drought it’s had in 50 years, causing water and food security issues. As of March 2016, over 10.2 million people need food assistance. Food security issues and poor access to water are severely impacting the agricultural industry as well as human health.

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Pandora Report: 3.18.2016

Spring is upon us! Whether you’re suffering from allergies or enjoying the bloom of the cherry blossoms, we’ve got you covered from the biodefense side. Don’t forget to add our GMU SPGIA Master’s Open House to your calendar next week (Wednesday, March 23rd at 6:30pm at our Arlington Campus). We’ll also be hosting a biodefense breakout session at 7pm with Dr. Koblentz (bonus: you can attend virtually! Extra bonus: our MS program is offered online, so you can learn to be a biodefense guru from anywhere in the world!). Bioarchaeologists are at it again in their quest to determine the fall of ancient Rome (hint: Yersinia pestis may have played a larger role than you’d think). Here’s hoping that with the announcement of the new Indiana Jones movie we’ll see Indy doing some bioarchaeology on ancient biowarfare!

The Real Lessons of Ebola and Zika 
Emerging infectious diseases are not a new concept for global public health, so why did Zika and Ebola catch us so off guard? Where was prevention – the backbone of public health- in this fight? After the pledging of billions of dollars and deployment of countless health professionals, the reality of reaction versus proactive prevention was never more apparent than during the Ebola outbreak. As the old saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. Now, as we trudge our way through the Zika virus outbreak, many wonder why the Aedes mosquitoes are continuing to cause devastation when their role in outbreaks is so well known. “Controlling this mosquito would by itself ameliorate all these disease threats. Ironically, in South America, control of Aedes aegypti was largely successful earlier in the 20th century (with great expenditure of effort), only to be abandoned once the immediate threat receded.” So again, we must ask ourselves, why public health prevention measures are so frequently ignored. Inexpensive in comparison to the cost of an outbreak, these tools (surveillance, diagnostics, worldwide communication, etc.) are increasingly becoming stronger and more available. Zika and Ebola have proven the efficacy of these strategies and the damage of failing to use them, so what more will it take to get global public health measures a seat at the cool kids’ table? A recent study addressed the biosocial approaches to the Ebola outbreak, concluding that “biomedical and culturalist claims of causality have helped obscure the role of human rights failings (colonial legacies, structural adjustment, exploitative mining companies, enabled civil war, rural poverty, and the near absence of quality health care to name but a few) in the genesis of the 2013-16 pandemic.” Globally, we’re still struggling to recover from the outbreak – whether you’re on the the ground in the affected countries or in the public health agencies that attempted to help. In many ways, the lessons from this pandemic will continue to be identified and understood for years to come. The CDC has also just released an article regarding the perspectives on the outbreak here, where they discuss the factors that delayed disease detection, the role of civil instability, and the impact of historically limited ebola experience.

GMU Biodefense Alumni Career Services
Are you a GMU Biodefense alum? Don’t forget to sign up for the SPGIA CareersNow so you can get updates on job postings that are right up your alley! GMU has close ties within the biodefense industry and we love joining students with employers, so please make sure to sign up and utilize this great resource!

ISIS Chemical Weapons Attack
Officials are reporting on that on Saturday, terrorists linked to ISIS fired rockets into a residential part of Taza, a northern Iraqi town. These rockets are reported to have contained unspecified chemical substances that caused numerous deaths and injuries related to burns, dehydration, and suffocation. An American special forces team previously captured the lead ISIS chemical weapons engineer, however, “his capture has not stopped alleged chemical attacks by ISIS or other terrorists associated with the Islamist militant group. Earlier this week, for instance, officials in Iraq’s Kirkuk province claimed that around 100 people were injured in suspected chemical attack, also in Taza.” The attacks are recently reported to have injured 600 people and killed a 3-year-old girl. Many are now asking, where is ISIS getting their chemical weapons from?

Preventing “A Virological Hiroshima”: Cold War Press Coverage of Biological Weapons Disarmament
Since we’re in the middle of an election year, it has become even more apparent the massive role media plays in not just politics, but also security. A recent analysis was published utilizing written pieces from the US New York Times, UK Times, and the Guardian, during the period of the Biological Weapons Convention negotiation in 1972. Representations of biological weapons during this time not only reflect the societal ideologies, but the the high-stakes environment that the journalists were experiencing. “We argue that a conventional discourse can be found wherein biological weapons are portrayed as morally offensive, yet highly effective and militarily attractive. Interwoven with this discourse, however, is a secondary register which depicts biological weapons as ineffective, unpredictable and of questionable value for the military.” Interestingly, at the time of these news reports, journalists only knew of WMD’s via nuclear and chemical weapons. According to the authors, no biological attacks had been documented and the state sponsored programs were still buried in the depths of secrecy. Biological weapons could only be considered in terms of historical pandemics like the Black Death and the 1918 Influenza pandemic. The authors note that “this negative portrayal of biological weapons as unpredictable and ineffective was certainly flagged in the context of downplaying the significance or value of the BWC. But where it was put to more nuanced use, exemplified in the interview with Matthew Meselson in the wake of the Nixon decision to abandon the US offensive programme, biological weapons were indeed portrayed as useless, not because they were innocuous but because they were redundant: the USA already had access to the horrific, indiscriminate means to annihilate entire cities.”

A Little Bit of Zika Goes A Long Way
Recent CDC data reports 258 travel-associated cases within the US. Laura Beil with the New York Times describes the worry that pregnant women are now facing after they traveled to affected regions and later were found to have Zika. You can also find a timeline and map of the outbreak here. Here’s a spot of good news though – the European Commission announced on Tuesday that the European Union released $11.1 million for Zika virus research. Rob Stein from NPR discusses the unique cry of babies with Zika-associated birth defects and the stories from the pediatricians and health professionals that are working to help the affected families. “It’s not just that they cry more easily, and longer — which they do. There’s also something strange — harsher and more pained — about the cries of many of these babies.Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 1.02.48 PM The realization that they even cry differently than normal babies drove home how many mysteries the world is facing because of the Zika virus.” Not surprisingly, ticket sales for the 2016 Summer Olympics have dropped since the announcement of the outbreak. Olympic-related event ticket revenues dropped 56.4% since mid-January. A new research article was just published regarding the seasonal occurrence and abundance of the Aedes mosquito and it’s role in potential Zika transmission within the US – specifically in regards to local transmission. Here’s a great map regarding the estimated risk of transmission within the US. 

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • Use of Microbial Forensics in the Middle East/North Africa Region – The Federation of American Scientists (FSA) prepared a report for the Department of State Bureau of Arms Control and Verification regarding the use of microbial forensics as a means of combating biosecurity challenges. Whether naturally occurring or man-made, biological threats can pose a major challenge. Source recognition is “the key pre-condition that determines how a country will respond to a biological event, or take action in order to interrupt a potential emerging threat, ultimately centers around the ability to properly attribute the culpable sources (pathogens); in other words, governments need to determine the return address of the culpable microbe(s), be they from countries, individuals, or nature itself.”
  • Rice Krispies Food Safety Attack? An employee was recorded urinating on the production line for the cereal manufacturing company in 2014. Kellogg is now under investigation regarding the criminal activity and potential impact of the employee’s actions. I wonder, would you consider this a small-time biological attack?
  • Determinants and Drivers of Infectious Disease Threat Events in Europe – Researchers identified 17 drivers of infectious diseases threat events (IDTEs), categorizing them into 3 groups: globalization and environment, sociodemographic, and public health systems. They found that a combination of two or more drivers was responsible for most of the IDTEs and the driver “category of globalization and environment contributed to 61% of individual IDTEs, and the top 5 individual drivers of of all IDTEs were travel and tourism, food and water quality, natural environment, global trade, and climate.”

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Pandora Report 3.11.2016

TGIF! We’ve got loads of global health security updates to keep you busy why you enjoy the warm spring weather. American special forces recently captured the chief ISIS chemical weapons engineer and you may want to avoid Wonderful Co. pistachios for a bit as they’re being linked to a salmonella outbreak.

The Smallpox Battlegrounds – Laboratories and Virtual RealityScreen Shot 2016-03-07 at 10.49.30 AM
Video game fans will be excited to hear about the new Tom Clancy game, The Division, released on March 8th. This isn’t your normal action-packed video game, but rather it has something more sinister about its premiseThe Division focusses on a biochem attack involving a take over by a group called the Strategic Homeland Division aka “The Division”. The Division is compromised of sleeper agents that “act independently in the interest of restoring order after a mass event”. Now here’s where it gets spooky, the game’s premise involves a scenario that may give deja vu to many in the biodefense world- Operation Dark Winter. Operation Dark Winter was a June 2001 exercise/senior-level war game put on by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Johns Hopkins Center for Civilian Biodefense Studies, the ANSER Institute for Homeland Security, and the Oklahoma City National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism. The scenario focussed on the impact and response of a smallpox outbreak coupled with tensions in the Taiwan Straits and additional crises. In a nutshell, the scenario found that “current organizational structures and capabilities are not well suited for the management of a BW attack”, media management would be challenging for the government, containment and infection prevention would present several issues, and we’d pretty much be in a whirlwind of trouble. If you’re more of a purest and The Division doesn’t appeal to you, there’s also The Collapse, which is an internet-based game that lets you simulate a smallpox outbreak. Unlike other games where the player designs the outbreak, this one is from the viewpoint of the patient. You’re patient zero with a weaponized strain of smallpox and your decisions carry with them a world of outcomes involving the spread of the disease and rate of infection. I spent some time playing The Collapse (starting at GMU for sheer irony) and found it to be very detail oriented and enjoyed the decision making components like which pharmacy I would go to, my travel destination, etc. If you’re not much of a gamer, here’s the recent WHO report on the deliberations regarding the destruction of variola virus stocks. To destroy smallpox or not to destroy smallpox, that is the question.

GMU Course Sampler & Open Houses
Looking to study and work with people that share your love of biodefense? Come check out our March 23rd GMU SPGIA Open House at 6:30pm, in Founders Hall, room 126 at our Arlington Campus! Not only will you be able to chat biodefense, but we’ll have an informational session afterward (7pm) with Dr. Koblentz (you can check out the 2/25 one here). Each session allows us to discuss global health security and answer questions related to our program and the growing field of biodefense. Can’t attend in person? Enjoy our 3/23 biodefense breakout session virtually! If you happened to miss our biodefense course sampler from 3/2, check out the recording from Dr. Koblentz’s talk on Biosecurity as a Wicked Problem.

Chinese Admission of False Korean War Allegations Involving US BW Use
Biodefense expert, Milton Leitenberg, discusses the allegations by North Korea, China, and the Soviet Union, that the US used bioweapons during the Korean War. While the Soviet Central Committee declared the allegations fraudulent in 1998, China and North Korea continued to maintain that bioweapons were used. The recent publication by Wu Zhili (previously the director of the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army Health Division during the Korean War) refutes these claims. Published posthumously, Wu’s testimonial is critical in dismantling the claims as he was “critically involved in the Chinese government’s manipulations that produced the Korean War BW allegations.” The initial allegations claimed that the US was testing bioweapons (specifically plague) on native Inuit peoples of Alaska and then was spreading smallpox in North Korea between December 1950- January 1951. The major allegation campaign began on February 22, 1952 though, as “the North Korean Foreign Minister again issued an official statement addressed to the United Nations Secretariat, charging that in January and February the US had made multiple air drops over North Korea, littering the earth with insects infected with the microorganisms that caused plague, cholera, and other diseases.” Leitenberg discusses these allegations and the Soviet admission of being “misled” and their claims that “the accusations against the Americans were fictitious…Soviet workers responsible for participation in the fabrication of the so-called ‘proof’ of the use of bacteriological weapons will receive severe punishment.” He goes on to discuss Wu’s publication and explanation of the tasks that were carried out to further the belief in US bioweapon applications.

Gain of Function Research
Researchers, Dr. Lipsitch, Dr. Relman, and Dr. Ingelsby, have joined together to discuss the realistic future for research that seeks to alter pathogens. Pointing to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) meeting, they note that it “marks a turning point in a year-and-a-half-long policy process to consider the risks, benefits, oversight, and regulation of experiments that are designed to create influenza and other viruses that are simultaneously highly virulent and readily transmissible by respiratory droplets between mammals.” Focus has traditionally been on the pros and cons of gain-of-function (GOF) projects however, as time passes, a narrowing of concern seems to be focussed on experiments that seek to build chimeric viruses that are highly dangerous and transmissible. They recommend the following policy approach: lift the moratorium on GOFoc, seek international consensus, secure national and international agreement to restrict the performance of GOFoc studies, design a board, establish clear red lines for GOFoc research, and require the purchase by research institutions of specific liability insurance policies. You can also read the interview with the researchers regarding the implications of such research censorships. Dr. Filippa also discusses engineering a super flu here, noting that “the debate is really about risk assessment of this gain of function work and about who should be making those assessments. Should it just be scientists, should it be their institutions, should it be funders, should it be publishers or, much more broadly, should it be regulators, vaccine manufacturers, ethicists? ”

Zika Updates
CDC and NIAID officials are becoming frustrated as they feel Congress is blocking key efforts to fight the outbreak. A recently published report on research priorities to inform public health and medical practice for domestic Zika virus can be found here. The report emphasizes the growing spread of infection and subsequent need for additional research related to transmission, infection during pregnancy, and disease characteristics . The recent WHO stakeholders meeting provided updates on the most urgently needed tools to fight the growing pandemic. The roadmap includes diagnostic tests, inactivated vaccines targeted to childbearing-aged women, and new vector control mechanisms.  As of March 9th, there were 193 confirmed travel-associated Zika cases in the U.S.  A recent study found that 42% of questioned Americans believe the virus has high mortality rates. Aedes mosquitoes are also developing resistance to the go-to insecticide.

7 Sources for Understanding Epidemics
Feeling like all this Zika news has you needing to catch up on your outbreak cliff notes? The Washington Post has put together a nice list of seven books and movies you can enjoy to help ramp up your knowledge regarding the world of pandemics. This list is a great way to understand the different viewpoints of outbreaks and pandemics from social, medical, political, and scientific viewpoints. If you find yourself wanting more, here are some additional recommendations I’m throwing in: Spillover by David Quammen, Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond by Sonia Shah, and The Coming Plague by Laurie Garrett. Feeling like something a little bit more dramatic? Check out Richard Preston’s The Hot Zone or Demon in the Freezer, or the movies Outbreak or World War Z. With the success of Contagion, I’m still hoping Hollywood will continue to back scientifically grounded films about pandemics (between ebola and Zika virus, they’ve got enough material!).

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • Why Are Mosquitoes Just So Good At Spreading Disease? Mosquitoes have been causing outbreaks since the days of ancient Rome and yet we’re still battling them in the fight against Zika, dengue, chikungunya, and more. “According to Janet McAllister, an entomologist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), not all mosquitoes are good at transmitting disease, but the ones that are have evolved to live closer to humans.”
  • Global Health Security Agenda– GHSA was launched in 2014 as a multilateral approach to help protect the world from infectious disease threats. Endorsed by the G7, this agenda facilitates a “partnership of nearly 50 nations, international organizations, and non-governmental stakeholders, GHSA is facilitating collaborative, capacity-building efforts to achieve specific and measurable targets around biological threats, while accelerating achievement of the core capacities required by the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) International Health Regulations (IHR), the World Organization of Animal Health’s (OIE) Performance of Veterinary Services Pathway, and other relevant global health security frameworks.”
  • Fumbling Ebola– The San Francisco-based epidemiology company, Metabiota, is being charged with making several mistakes according to the Associated Press (AP). Recovered communication reveals that the company fueled an already chaotic situation via misdiagnoses, adding to confusion, and poor sample tracking.
  • Guidelines for Ebola Survivor Care– The WHO has published guidelines on the management and care of patients who were previously infected with Ebola. Since there are roughly 10,000 ebola survivors and several have required hospitalization for complications, these recommendations are extremely prudent. The report includes counseling, considerations for special patient populations, and common sequelae and management recommendations.

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Pandora Report 9.11.15

Miss us? Good news – the Pandora Report weekly update is back! With a new school year comes new faces and some organizational change-up. Dr. Gregory Koblentz is now the Senior Editor of Pandora Report and Saskia Popescu (yours truly) will be taking over from Julia Homstad as the Managing Editor. I come from the world of epidemiology, public health, and infection control. Having just started in the GMU Biodefense PhD program, I look forward to venturing down the rabbit hole that is the Pandora Report!

There’s been some pretty fascinating news over the past few weeks, so let’s try and catch up…

Lab Safety Concerns Grow 

Our very own Dr. Gregory Koblentz, director of the GMU Biodefense program, was interviewed by USA Today regarding the lab security issues that now involve mislabeled samples of plague. “Since there are now concerns about the biosafety practices at multiple DoD labs there needs to be an independent review of the military’s biosafety policies and practices,” Koblentz said Thursday. He said the Critical Reagents Program is an important biodefense resource. “It’s crucial that all problems with handling and shipping inactivated samples be resolved quickly so the program can resume its important role in strengthening U.S. biopreparedness.”

Reviving a 30,000-Year-Old Virus…Isn’t This How the Zombie Apocalypse Starts?

You may recall last year that French scientists stumbled across a 30,000-year-old virus frozen in the Siberian permafrost. Considered to be a “giant virus” (doesn’t that give you a warm, fuzzy feeling inside?), this is actually the fourth ancient, giant viral discovery since 2003. The new plan is to try to revive the virus in order to better study it.

Dr. Claverie told Agency France-Presse, “If we are not careful, and we industrialise these areas without putting safeguards in place, we run the risk of one day waking up viruses such as smallpox that we though were eradicated.” Given the recent concerns over biosafety lab specimen transport, we’re all curious to see how this new organism, coined “Frankenvirus”, turns out!

Cucumbers and A Multi-State Salmonella Outbreak

CDC updates regarding the Salmonella Poona outbreak reveal the brevity of the potentially contaminated product. As of September 9th, there have been two deaths, 70 hospitalizations, and 341 confirmed cases across 30 states. Perhaps the most worrisome is that 53% of affected individuals are children under the age of 18. While the produce company, Andrew & Williamson, issued a voluntary recall of their “slicer” or “American cucumber on September 4th, there have been 56 additional cases reported since then. Isolated samples from cucumbers in question were found in Arizona, California, Montana, and Nevada. The California Department of Public Health issued a warning and pictures of the affected cucumbers. 

Stories You May Have Missed:

CDC’s Cyclospora update

As we’re sure most of you know, the parasite Cyclospora cayetanensis, a protozoan currently causing gastrointestinal symptoms in 397 people in 16 states and New York City. The source of the outbreak is thought to be pre-packaged salad mix in Iowa.

Via the CDC: “Nebraska and Iowa have performed investigations within their states and have shared the results of those investigations with CDC. Based on their analysis, Cyclospora infections in their states are linked to a salad mix. CDC will continue to work with federal, state, and local partners in the investigation to determine whether this conclusion applies to the increase in cases of cyclosporiasis in other states. It is not yet clear whether the cases from all of the states are part of the same outbreak.”

For more information, see here.