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Future Treatment: Immune Modulation

Instead of strictly offensive measures (e.g. antivirals, antibiotics, and siRNA treatments), scientists are developing ways to improve our own natural defense against pathogens, our immune system.  This can be done both by enhancing immune function and preventing immune overreactions. Enhancing the Immune System A study released last month found a way to protect mice from […]

Future Treatment: siRNA

During 1940s, penicillin, the first commercially available antibiotic, was hailed as a “wonder drug.”  Penicillin helped make WWII the first American war where infection was not the major cause of death.  But by the 1950s, antibiotic resistance became widespread.  Scientists were engaged in a veritable arms race, constantly modifying and developing new classes of antibiotics […]

Cassava Roots (Credit: Wikimedia)

Emerging Disease Threatens Cassava Crop

The New York Times reported today on the emergence of Cassava Brown Streak Virus in regions of Africa where the tuber is a key food crop. Emphasizing the food’s importance, the Times notes:

“After rice and wheat, cassava is the world’s third-largest source of calories. Under many names, including manioc, tapioca and yuca, it is eaten by 800 million people in Africa, South America and Asia.”

The new virus, a recently characterized emerging variant in East Africa, renders the crop inedible. The estimated $50 million in research funding aimed at deterring the disease is a small fraction of the amounts spent on diseases that infect humans in the developing world.

Cape Town, South Africa

“Dr. Death”–Head of South Africa’s Biological & Chemical Weapons Program

The South African chemical and biological warfare program, called “Project Coast,” was established in 1981 under the apartheid regime, violating the Biological Toxins and Weapons Convention of 1972.  The project’s researchers studied Bacillus anthracis (anthrax), Vibrio colerae (cholera), salmonella and Botulinum toxin, in addition to a variety of chemical agents, such as MDMA (ecstasy), PCP, […]

Craig Venter’s Synthetic Genome: A Future Biosecurity Concern?

J. Craig Venter of the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) in Rockville, MD announced last week that his team was able to successfully create a bacterial cell controlled by a chemically assembled, man-made genome. This breakthrough discovery in the emerging field of synthetic genomics raises some concern in the biosecurity community and prompted President Obama to […]

Brucella sp

Unauthorized Brucellosis Experiments, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Professor of pathobiological sciences, Gary Splitter, DVM, PhD, was suspended from laboratory work above BSL-1 until 2013 because unauthorized work was conducted with an antibiotic-resistant strain of Brucella, a select agent, by his graduate student in 2007. The University was also fined $40,000 because this work broke federal regulations. Brucella bacteria can cause the disease Brucellosis, which presents as a prolonged non-specific febrile illness in humans accompanied by chills, sweats, headache, fatigue, myalgias (muscle pain), arthralgias (joint pain), and anorexia. The Wisconsin State Journal reports that Dr. Splitter, a member of UW-Madison’s Biosafety Committee, denies knowledge of his graduate student’s experiments – but email records indicate otherwise.

The Rise of a New Smallpox Vaccine

Reuters is reporting that the US Strategic National Stockpile will begin acquisition of a new smallpox vaccine. The new product, Imvamune, promises reduced side-effects and potentially improved protection for patients who are treated after exposure to the virus. These traits could make the vaccine much more effective as a countermeasure against a biological attack using smallpox.

Though the story of Imvamune ultimately demonstrates that improved countermeasures to biological threats can be developed, the story also illustrates some of the challenges involved in the process.

BIO 2010 Biosecurity Conference Wrap-up

Our complete coverage of the BIO 2010 Biosecurity Conference in Chicago can be found in the FAS Biosecurity Blog archives at: http://fas.org/blog/bio/tag/bio2010

Several recurring themes emerged in the presentations by the world’s experts in fields like public health, national security, food defense, biological weapons, and new advances in research. Here is our analysis of some of the themes observed at the conference.

Personnel Reliability and Infrastructure Security

Personnel reliability refers to programs intended to reduce the “insider threat”; the prospect that researchers who are permitted to work on hazardous biological agents might misuse that access. This has been a major topic in biosecurity since the 2001 Anthrax attacks, which have been attributed to a researcher at Fort Detrick. They were also the focus of a 2008 NSABB report, which did not recommend that a formal personnel reliability program be instituted for research. This panel sought to evaluate whether these measures are sufficient.