“Egregious safety failures at Army lab led to anthrax mistakes” (USA Today)

An investigation into the Army labs at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, responsible for chemical and biological defensive testing, was launched last year after it was discovered to be accidentally shipping live anthrax virus to laboratories across the country for over a decade. The report reveals gaps that go far beyond that of poor leadership, and include a dozen personnel that are being held accountable and could face disciplinary action as a result. To read more about the findings of the Army investigation report, visit USA Todayhttp://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2016/01/15/military-bioterrorism-lab-safety/78752876/

“Biosecurity board grapples with how to rein in risky flu studies” (Science)

The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity met last week to discuss Gain of Function (GOF) studies. A topic of debate for the past several years, GOF studies involving  H5N1 avian influenza and accidents at federal high containment laboratories caused the U.S. government to declare a moratorium in 2014. To find out more about the meeting, including the concerns and recommendations of opponents and researchers, read the article published in Science: http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/01/biosecurity-board-grapples-how-rein-risky-flu-studies

Dual Use Research: Is it Possible to Protect the Public Without Encroaching Rights?

For decades, scientists have had reasonable freedom and control over their research and experiments and able to publish and share their work without much inconvenience. The freedom of creativity in the field of science is much like that of an artist – often fueled by an inspiration from other sources, a passion for a unique realm of art (in this case, science), and a natural curiosity. Within reasonable limits, artists and scientists had the world at their fingertips; as long as they weren’t causing a societal disruption or engaging in illegal activity, their work was unregulated and not subject to state interference. With the continued growth of scientific knowledge and technological development, awareness of the risks associated with the misuse of scientific knowledge and new technology has continued to increase significantly – especially in microbiological research.

Microbiological research threats emerged on the public radar when anthrax strains used in the 2001 mailings to several United States government officials and citizens were found to have originated from the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) in Fort Detrick, Maryland. While senior biodefense researcher Dr. Bruce Ivins was the primary suspect for the anthrax mailings (mainly due to his unauthorized decontamination of several areas of USAMRIID), his involvement is still unresolved today. Since then, scientists have been scrutinized for working on certain research topics and published research literature labeled as “sensitive.” Ron Fouchier, a scientist at Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, Netherlands, completed research and wrote a research paper in 2011 on laboratory-created strains of H5N1 avian influenza.1)Herfst, S., Schrauwen, E. J., Linster, M., Chutinimitkul, S., de Wit, E., Munster, V. J., & Fouchier, R. A. (2012). “Airborne transmission of influenza A/H5N1 virus between ferrets.” Science336(6088), 1534-1541.During the course of his research he faced pressure from the Dutch government over the content of the paper that contained potentially dangerous information that might essentially teach someone how to create synthetic H5N1. In 2012 the U.S. magazine Science was to publish the paper until the U.S. government stepped in to block the paper from being published. Eventually Fouchier and the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), an advisory committee for the United States government, came to a compromise about the publication –it could only be published if sensitive information were removed from the article. After that decision came proposals to create a system only accessible to “responsible scientists” where the removed sensitive information could be viewed. But who is responsible for deciding which scientists are responsible? And what makes one scientist more responsible than another? Which qualities would one use to measure how reliable a scientist is: Credentials? Previous research? Educational background?  Possession of a criminal record? While it is an interesting point to consider, society can’t make these decisions based on arbitrary methods of identification. There is no way to know if the Harvard educated, award-winning, highly skilled professor with a spotless criminal and driving record is going to be more trustworthy than the man who hasn’t published any major papers, committed a misdemeanor in his freshman year of college, and has not yet been able to contribute anything to the scientific community. In a radio interview for Science Friday, Dr. D.A. Henderson, a distinguished scientist and epidemiologist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Center for Biosecurity, pondered what this would mean for the scientific community.2)Anand, N.S. (Producer). (2012, January 06). Debate persists over publishing bird flu studies [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from http://www.sciencefriday.com/segment/01/06/2012/debate-persists-over-publishing-bird-flu-studies.html Scientists might be turned down for grants or jobs arbitrarily, which would prove to be disruptive to the fundamental tenets of scientific inquiry as well as to the basic rights of those individuals who would not understand why they weren’t chosen for access to the exclusive system.

Upon realization of the possible dangers on publishing certain components of scientific research, the United States government assembled the NSABB, a panel of voting members with expertise in medicine, life sciences, national security, and other related fields. The NSABB previously assisted in addressing issues related to biosecurity and dual use research in 2004. Decisions made by the NSABB have no legal authority and their findings are strictly advisory. As the majority of scientific work in the United States is funded by a government entity, refusal to comply with NSABB’s advice could result in the reduction or loss of funding. An NSABB decision, while in the best interest of national security and the safety of our citizens, could have a chilling effect on research and advancement. Knowing that one’s research may be abridged to omit sensitive details, or blocked from publication, could discourage scientists from publishing – or even attempting – certain types of research. History has shown that general open access to scientific research publication contributes to many advancements and scientific breakthroughs. Science is a field in which breakthroughs are built upon past innovations and discoveries. Restricting the publication of research could negatively impact such scientific progress in the long run.

There is no question that sensitive scientific information needs to be watched closely, but there does not seem to be a plausible solution to the problem at this time. The new restrictions and regulations on scientific research are meant for national security, but at what point does national security encroach on the right of free speech? At what point do we allow national security concerns to impede the scientific process upon which so many societal advancements are based? This debate not only has technical implications, but is an ethical quandary as well.

As is the case with many ethical debates, there is no perfect solution. A sound strategy begins with the heavy involvement of the scientific community in the discussion; fortunately members of the community are engaging on this topic. A 2007 study analyzed literature centered around the ethics of biodefense and dual-use research of concern from the Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System (MEDLINE) database, which holds bibliographical information for academic science journals. Ten articles met their inclusion criteria, and the study concluded that self-regulation within the scientific community, international cooperation, and increased security were the top three suggestions for minimizing the risks presented by dual-use research.3)Dolgitser, M. (2007). “Minimization of the Risks Posed by Dual-Use Research: A Structured Literature Review.” Journal of the American Biological Safety Association12(3), 175. Retrieved from http://www.absa.org/abj/abj/071203dolgitser.pdf Conscientious self-regulation would allow scientists to oversee their own research and associated literature without concerns of compromising the quality of their publications. Additionally, international cooperation would unify a larger group of scientists who may possess similar concerns against the problem. Finally, better cooperation establishes stronger safety and security measures through focused peer review. Combined, these three measures can increase security and make the misuse of sensitive scientific information more difficult for people with access to it, and with increased safety education and clarity of dual use definitions, could further decrease the risks from misusing science.

 

Tosin Fadeyi is currently a graduate student at the University of Maryland University College, pursuing a Master of Science in Biotechnology and specializing in Biosecurity and Biodefense. She is a biosecurity intern at the Federation of American Scientists, overseeing the Virtual Biosecurity Center (VBC). She is also a peer review associate handling clinical trials and medical science journals for PLoS One, a peer-reviewed science publication.

 

Notes   [ + ]

1. Herfst, S., Schrauwen, E. J., Linster, M., Chutinimitkul, S., de Wit, E., Munster, V. J., & Fouchier, R. A. (2012). “Airborne transmission of influenza A/H5N1 virus between ferrets.” Science336(6088), 1534-1541.
2. Anand, N.S. (Producer). (2012, January 06). Debate persists over publishing bird flu studies [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from http://www.sciencefriday.com/segment/01/06/2012/debate-persists-over-publishing-bird-flu-studies.html
3. Dolgitser, M. (2007). “Minimization of the Risks Posed by Dual-Use Research: A Structured Literature Review.” Journal of the American Biological Safety Association12(3), 175. Retrieved from http://www.absa.org/abj/abj/071203dolgitser.pdf

Misconceptions and the Spread of Infectious Disease

New and improved medical treatments for infectious diseases are vital to improving global health security; however, public education is equally important. Myths and misperceptions regarding infectious diseases have detrimental effects on global health when a disease outbreak occurs. While it may seem that this problem is isolated to remote regions of the developing world, neither infectious diseases nor misconceptions regarding them are explicitly confined to certain areas.

Outbreaks can be highly disruptive to the movement of people and goods, often leading to increased regulations and restrictions on travel and trade to reduce the potential for further spread of disease.1)Eco Health  Alliance. “7 Common Myths About Pandemics and New Diseases.” Last modified June 27, 2013. Accessed on March 19, 2014. http://www.ecohealthalliance.org/blog/99-7_common_myths_about_pandemics_and_new_diseases The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic in 20032)U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).” Last Modified Jan. 28, 2013. Accessed March 20, 2014. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0004460/ was but one of the numerous examples in which international travel was disrupted. The disease quickly infected thousands of people around the world and disrupted national economies.3)Ibid. Due to the rapid transmissibility of SARS, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a travel advisory in effort to reduce the international public threat.4)Ibid. In 2001, the United Kingdom experienced a detrimental hit to the agricultural sector as foot-and-mouth disease spread throughout livestock.5)BBC. “Foot-and-Mouth Crisis Remembered.” Last modified February 17, 2011. Accessed on May 13, 2014. http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-12483017 Because of the highly transmissible nature of the disease (which affected cattle, pigs, sheep, and goats), the government banned all exports of live animals, meat, and dairy products in an effort to mitigate the spread of the disease and on February 24, mass slaughtering of pigs and cattle began.6)Ibid. Later that same year, the tourist industry estimated that businesses lost nearly £250 million ($421 million U.S. dollars).7)Ibid.

In the developing world, pneumonia, diarrhea, malaria, measles, and HIV/AIDS8)UNICEF. “Immunization: Why Children Are Dying.” Accessed on March 19, 2014. http://www.unicef.org/immunization/index_why.html are some of the primary causes of death, especially among children. This is in part attributable to socioeconomic factors that prevent people from having access to routine health services and immunizations. Poor nutrition and unsanitary living conditions also place people at-risk. In Africa, the death rate among children from measles, a viral respiratory disease, has reached an average rate of one per minute.9)Ibid.  Measles weakens the child’s immune system, rendering them susceptible to further fatal complications such as diarrhea, pneumonia, and malnutrition.10)Ibid. Yet, in the developed regions of the world, measles is commonly treated through immunizations.

Tetanus, an infection caused by the bacteria Clostridium tetani (which is ubiquitous in the soil),11)Medical News Today. “What is Tetanus? What Causes Tetanus?” Last modified Sept. 4, 2009. Accessed on March 19, 2014. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/163063.php  is common in developing areas that continue to practice unsanitary medical techniques during procedures such as child birth, circumcision, and use of contaminated medical bandages during such procedures.12)UNICEF. “Immunization: Why Children Are Dying.” Accessed on March 19, 2014. http://www.unicef.org/immunization/index_why.html 13) Medical News Today. “What is Tetanus? What Causes Tetanus?” Last modified Sept. 4, 2009. Accessed on March 19, 2014. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/163063.php While proper sanitary resources are scarce in these regions, it is evident that the lack of supplies is not the only cause of disease transmission as proper sanitation techniques could have mitigated transmission. Due to the lack of education and misinformation regarding public health, sanitation, and the mechanisms of disease transmission, the spread of infectious diseases like tetanus continues.

Developed countries are also susceptible to infectious disease outbreaks despite modern medical advances and technology. Disease outbreaks in developed regions have been due in part to the misconceptions of vaccines and anti-bacterial drugs that have been used to deter the spread of infectious diseases. While some individuals have the perception that antibiotics are a “cure-all” drug, their effectiveness is only on infections caused by bacteria, not viruses. When improperly used (for example- taking when they are not needed, ingesting the wrong type of antibiotic or one that is not of the proper dose), the bacterial cells that survive can result in reinfection or the emergence of an antibiotic-resistant strain of the bacteria.14)Mayo Clinic. “Antibiotics: Misuse Puts You and Others at Greater Risk.” Last  Modified 2014. Accessed March 20, 2014. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/consumer-health/in-depth/antibiotics/art-20045720 15)Koo, Ingrid. About.com, “The Truth About Antibiotics.” 6 Nov. 2008. 6 Apr. 2014. http://infectiousdiseases.about.com/od/treatment/a/antibiotic_myth.htm This was evident in the recent reemergence of pertussis, also known as “Whooping Cough,” in the mid-1970s when Great Britain, Sweden and Japan reduced their usage of the pertussis vaccine as there was a common fear of vaccinations. The effect was immediate and drastic- there were over 100,000 cases and 36 deaths in Great Britain, 13,000 cases and 41 deaths in Japan, and 3,200 cases in Sweden.16)Center for Disease Control. “Some Common Misconceptions About Vaccination and How to Respond to Them.” Last modified Feb. 18, 2011. Accessed on March 19, 2014. http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vac-gen/6mishome.htm The United States witnessed a similar outbreak in the northwest region of the country in 2012, when over 17,000 cases emerged shortly after an increased rate of vaccine refusals for pertussis.17)Forbes. “Anti-Vaccine Movement Causes The Worst Whooping Cough Epidemic in 70 Years.” Last Modified July 23, 2012. Accessed on March 19, 2014. http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevensalzberg/2012/07/23/anti-vaccine-movement-causes-the-worst-whooping-cough-epidemic-in-70-years/ While no vaccine is 100% effective, it is evident that popular misconceptions regarding infectious diseases and their spread can have detrimental repercussions on the populace and need to be addressed head-on.

Education, early detection, and access to are all essential in containing and preventing the spread of disease in a globalized society. Myths and misconceptions have hindered the effectiveness of vaccinations, as individuals have become skeptical of their effectiveness. However, vaccinations can drastically reduce the chances of contracting many diseases.18)Mayo Clinic. “Infectious Diseases.” Last modified    Jan. 23, 2013. Accessed on May 23, 2014. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/infectious-diseases/basics/prevention/con-20033534 Additionally, developing and utilizing programs that educate the public regarding the implications of infectious diseases and treatments pertaining to them, the spread of disease is likely to be significantly reduced.

Infectious disease outbreaks are a significant threat to global health security and thus have the potential to impact nearly every facet of daily life. Even in an era of medical advancements, increased sanitary practices, and knowledge of microbes, infectious diseases are still prevalent throughout the world. While having better medical practices and medicines available is beneficial in combating the transmission of infectious diseases, there is no substitute for better public health education.

 

Brittany Linkous is a graduate of King University with a double major in Cellular and Molecular Biology and Political Science and History, and a minor in Security and Intelligence Studies. While at King, she served as Executive Officer of the King Security and Intelligence Studies Group and Executive Editor of the Security and Intelligence Studies Journal. She also interned in Washington, DC, at the William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies at the National Defense University, and the Federation of American Scientists. In the fall of 2014, Brittany will be entering the Biodefense Program at George Mason University.

 

Notes   [ + ]

1. Eco Health  Alliance. “7 Common Myths About Pandemics and New Diseases.” Last modified June 27, 2013. Accessed on March 19, 2014. http://www.ecohealthalliance.org/blog/99-7_common_myths_about_pandemics_and_new_diseases
2. U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).” Last Modified Jan. 28, 2013. Accessed March 20, 2014. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0004460/
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.
5. BBC. “Foot-and-Mouth Crisis Remembered.” Last modified February 17, 2011. Accessed on May 13, 2014. http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-12483017
6. Ibid.
7. Ibid.
8. UNICEF. “Immunization: Why Children Are Dying.” Accessed on March 19, 2014. http://www.unicef.org/immunization/index_why.html
9. Ibid.
10. Ibid.
11. Medical News Today. “What is Tetanus? What Causes Tetanus?” Last modified Sept. 4, 2009. Accessed on March 19, 2014. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/163063.php
12. UNICEF. “Immunization: Why Children Are Dying.” Accessed on March 19, 2014. http://www.unicef.org/immunization/index_why.html
13.  Medical News Today. “What is Tetanus? What Causes Tetanus?” Last modified Sept. 4, 2009. Accessed on March 19, 2014. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/163063.php
14. Mayo Clinic. “Antibiotics: Misuse Puts You and Others at Greater Risk.” Last  Modified 2014. Accessed March 20, 2014. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/consumer-health/in-depth/antibiotics/art-20045720
15. Koo, Ingrid. About.com, “The Truth About Antibiotics.” 6 Nov. 2008. 6 Apr. 2014. http://infectiousdiseases.about.com/od/treatment/a/antibiotic_myth.htm
16. Center for Disease Control. “Some Common Misconceptions About Vaccination and How to Respond to Them.” Last modified Feb. 18, 2011. Accessed on March 19, 2014. http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vac-gen/6mishome.htm
17. Forbes. “Anti-Vaccine Movement Causes The Worst Whooping Cough Epidemic in 70 Years.” Last Modified July 23, 2012. Accessed on March 19, 2014. http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevensalzberg/2012/07/23/anti-vaccine-movement-causes-the-worst-whooping-cough-epidemic-in-70-years/
18. Mayo Clinic. “Infectious Diseases.” Last modified    Jan. 23, 2013. Accessed on May 23, 2014. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/infectious-diseases/basics/prevention/con-20033534

Examining Global Biosecurity Engagement Programs

Global biosecurity engagement programs are designed to prevent the harmful use of biological agents and pathogens. It is difficult to measure the effectiveness of these programs in improving biosecurity given that there have been relatively few attempts to misuse the life sciences. Metrics that focus on outputs (what was done) as opposed to outcomes (the impact of what was done) have not been helpful in determining how these efforts might be improved in the future. As a result, the goals of the programs have traditionally been more quantitative in nature – for example, increasing the number of agents secured and number of scientists engaged. Broadening the scope of biosecurity engagement metrics can help align program goals with a more qualitative approach that prioritizes the international partners’ global health security.

To understand how biosecurity engagement is conducted and evaluated, Michelle Rozo, Ph.D. candidate at Johns Hopkins University, interviewed more than 35 individuals in the United States and abroad (including government officials and their non-governmental partners) regarding current and future programs that can be used to create a cohesive, global health system approach to biosecurity. The results from the interviews are complied in an issue brief which also provides a strategy for policymakers to focus more on qualitative public health outcomes instead of quantitative security outputs. With this strategy, programs will cost less and be more effective in reducing global threats.

View Full Brief

The History and New Directions of Biodefense

Dr. Matthew Meselson, a Harvard biologist and longtime advocate for biological disarmament, (and a  member of FAS’s Board of Sponsors) spoke Tuesday, June 26th  at a briefing hosted by FAS in Washington, D.C. on the recent history of biodefense and the need for oversight on biodefense efforts.

“Infective agents don’t stop at frontiers. They don’t have passports,” Meselson said. A biological attack against any nation, or a virulent disease outbreak can threaten the entire world.

Though President Richard Nixon renounced biological weapons on November 25, 1969, the decision had begun several years earlier, notably in 1963 when Secretary of State Dean Rusk began asking about  the potential for banning biological weapons.

In 1968, the Department of Defense looked deeper into the nation’s biodefense and BW programs and at first proposed a stronger BW and chemical weapon programs. At the time, the U.S.’s BCW programs were too small to be viable.

“Why would you want something that was small and not very good? The likely thing is that you would want something that is good,” Meselson said.

At about the same time, DoD officials in the Office of Systems Analysis investigated the strategic use of biological weapons and the threat of proliferation. They found there were no potential applications of lethal biological weapons that were preferred to the use of nuclear weapons. And the scenario for non-lethal biological weapons was so unlikely that non-lethal biological weapons were not worth it.

Continue reading

First International VBC Conference: Video Available

Please click on the image above to view the VBC conference video

The First Virtual Biosecurity Center international conference, 1 September 2011, can be accessed here. This conference explored the role of web-based networks in promoting global biosecurity, and provided an opportunity for experts from around the world to identify best practices and partnerships, and determine the feasibility of linking existing networks for global communication. For more information please visit the Virtual Biosecurity Center home page and the Video.

Norway’s Anders Breivik: Biological Weapons

Oslo, Norway
Oslo, Norway
Please visit the full report for further analysis of the treatise and the CBRN weapons discussed within.

Overview

Along with other CBRN, Breivik calls for the use of biological weapons (BW) and toxins against the “cultural Marxist/multiculturalist elites,” stressing that “Efforts must be made to obtain [them].”36
Continue reading

BIO 2011 Biosecurity Conference

Coverage of some of the key sessions from the Biosecurity Conference at the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) 2011, which occurred in Washington DC on June 29-30, can be found in the FAS Biosecurity Blog.

A View from the Hill: A Conversation on Global Biodefense and Biosecurity

Jim Greenwood, the President of BIO, opened the first biosecurity discussion, which focused on congressional views on domestic biodefense initiatives, international efforts to improve biosecurity, and the implementation of policies to respond to these challenges.

Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), emphasized the need for better cooperation between the private sector and the U.S. Government in view of the recent threat from H1N1 avian influenza. He called for better knowledge and definition of the threat and stated that the challenge is to nurture better cooperation between both sides. Continue reading

The Monthly Roundup: June 2011

Popular headlines in biosecurity news

The Monthly Roundup is a new article featuring the top news stories from the Virtual Biosecurity Center (VBC). The VBC is a global resource for daily biosecurity news and current topics. Every month, a collection of the VBC’s most popular headlines will be summarized with a brief analysis to keep you updated on the latest in biosecurity.

1. Smallpox Destruction Gets Deferred

On May 24th, 2011, after much anticipation and debate, the World Health Assembly agreed to postpone the destruction of the last known stockpiles of the smallpox virus until 2014. The consensus was reached after two days of deliberation at the 64th World Health Assembly (WHA), the 193 state-comprised forum of the World Health Organization (WHO), which took place from May 16-24, 2011 in Geneva.

Smallpox, a deadly infectious disease caused by the Variola major and Variola minor viruses, was declared globally eradicated over 30 years ago. Live samples of the virus have since been securely held at two WHO repositories in the U.S. and Russia for research purposes. The decision to destroy the remaining stocks was first put forth in 1996 and has since been repeatedly postponed. Continue reading