view counter

BiothreatsSandia’s international peer mentorship program improves management of biorisks

Published 2 November 2017

The world is becoming increasingly interconnected. While this has definite advantages, it also makes it easier to spread disease. Many diseases don’t produce symptoms for days or weeks, far longer than international flight times. For example, Ebola has an incubation period of two to twenty-one days. Improving biosafety practices around the world to prevent the spread of diseases to health care workers and biomedical researchers is an important part of halting or minimizing the next pandemic, said Eric Cook, a Sandia National Laboratories biorisk management expert.

The world is becoming increasingly interconnected. While this has definite advantages, it also makes it easier to spread disease. Many diseases don’t produce symptoms for days or weeks, far longer than international flight times. For example, Ebola has an incubation period of two to twenty-one days.

Improving biosafety practices around the world to prevent the spread of diseases to health care workers and biomedical researchers is an important part of halting or minimizing the next pandemic, said Eric Cook, a Sandia National Laboratories biorisk management expert.

Two weeks ago, during the American Biological Safety Association annual conference, Cook gave a plenary talk on Sandia’s biosafety peer mentorship program.

Sandia Lab says that this mentoring program, called the Biosafety Twinning program, pairs experienced biosafety professionals from developed countries with their counterparts in the developing world. The twins work together over six months on self-selected projects to improve the biosafety and biosecurity of the Middle East and North Africa regional twin’s home institution or country. Posters on five of the twinning projects also were presented at the annual conference.

Experts from Sandia’s International Biological and Chemical Threat Reduction group have been working for more than fifteen years to enhance global biosafety and biosecurity through this innovative mentoring program, other training programs and biorisk manuals.

Six-month projects with substantial impacts
The Biosafety Twinning projects are planned to achieve results in six months but often grow to impact whole countries, said Cook.

Bassel Mamdouh, from Egypt’s Central Public Health Lab and a member of the second Twinning class, planned to develop a biorisk management structure for some of Egypt’s Ministry of Health labs. His project expanded to include assigning biosafety coordinators for each of the twenty-seven regional public health laboratories, getting ministry leadership approval, determining roles and responsibilities for biosafety coordinators and officers, and ensuring they were properly trained. In addition to laying down the biorisk management infrastructure for the whole country, this project also helped identify future twins, said Will Pinard, a Sandia biorisk management expert also involved in the program.