• BioterrorismNew gene therapy approach offers better treatment of botulism exposure, other illnesses

    The current method to treat acute toxin poisoning is to inject antibodies, commonly produced in animals, to neutralize the toxin. This method, however, has challenges ranging from safety to difficulties in developing, producing and maintaining the anti-serums in large quantities. New research shows that gene therapy may offer significant advantages in prevention and treatment of botulism exposure over current methods, and may have applicability to other illnesses.

  • BioterrorismRicin toxin vaccine shows promise in a non-human primate study

    Ricin toxin is a plant toxin thought to be a bioterror threat because of its stability and high potency as well as the large worldwide reservoir created as a by-product of castor oil production. As a poison, ricin is so potent that the U.S Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates the lethal dose in humans is about the size of a grain of salt. There are currently no effective means to prevent the effects of ricin poisoning. Soligenix, Inc., a clinical stage biopharmaceutical company developing several biodefense vaccines and therapeutics, announced last week promising preliminary results from a preclinical study with its ricin toxin vaccine RiVax, in a non-human primate (NHP) lethal aerosol exposure model.

  • University of Florida Clinical Toxicology Online Graduate Course. Chemical Weapons of Mass Destruction. Arm yourself with knowledge.
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  • BioterrorismCaptured documents reveal IS’s interest in acquiring bioterror weapons

    Terrorist organizations have been trying to acquire or build biological weapons of mass destruction, and now, with the growing threat of the Islamic State (IS), analysts are concerned that the Islamist group may gain access to bio-labs in Syria or Iraq. A laptop belonging to a Tunisian who joined ISIS was recently found in Syria, contained documents about how to build and use biological weapons.

  • EbolaEbola outbreak could inspire African terrorist groups to weaponize the virus: Experts

    Recent discussions about Ebola have mainly focused on the disease as a public health hazard, but counterterrorism officials are concerned that the new outbreak could inspire terror groups, specifically those based in West Africa, to weaponize the virus. The fear of weaponized Ebola dates back decades to when the Soviet Union’s VECTOR program, aimed at researching biotechnology and virology, was thought to have researched the creation of Ebola for warfare. In 1992 a Japanese cult group called Aum Shinrikyo tried, but failed, to collect samples of the Ebola virus in Zaire.

  • "Gain-of-function" (GOF) researchScientists support research which increases microbes’ virulence, transmissibility, or host range

    Amid new concerns about lab safety lapses and in a counterpoint to recent calls for restrictions on research that may render pathogens more dangerous, thirty-six scientists from several countries have issued a formal statement asserting that research on potentially dangerous pathogens can be done safely, and is necessary for a full understanding of infectious diseases. The statement rejects calls for limiting “gain-of-function” (GOF) research, that is, experiments which involve increasing the virulence, transmissibility, or host range of microbes.

  • BiothreatsCDC resumes pathogen shipments

    Last Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) announced it would reopen its clinical tuberculosis lab to resume transfer of inactivated tuberculosis bacteria to lower-level CDC labs for genetic analysis. CDC head Tom Frieden imposed a ban on transfers involving high-level pathogens following a series of incidents and mishandling of such pathogens at CDC labs.

  • BiolabsThe number of labs handling deadly germs grows, and so do calls for regulating lab safety

    The number of labs handling dangerous pathogens continues to grow, and so does the number of accidents involving dangerous pathogens. The number of reported accidents involving dangerous microbes grew rapidly from just sixteen in 2004 to 128 in 2008, and 269 in 2010, the last year reported.Experts note that currently there is no single federal agency responsible for assessing overall laboratory needs — instead, departments and agencies only assess the needs for labs relative to their respective missions.

  • BiolabsConcerns grow about CDC’s tracking, securing dangerous pathogens under its supervision

    Last week, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) officials reported that the same federal scientist who found vials of smallpox in a Food and Drug Administration(FDA) cold storage room at the National Institutes of Healthfacility in Bethesda, Maryland, also found a collection of 327 vials which could contain pathogens like dengue, influenza, and rickettsia. The new revelation adds to growing concerns about the government’s ability to track and secure dangerous pathogens under its supervision.”It is ironic that the institution that sets U.S. standards for safety and security of work with human pathogens fails to meet its own standards,” says a security expert. “It is clear that the CDC cannot be relied upon to police its own select-agent labs.”

  • BiosecurityHead of biosecurity advisory panel: Board is stalling as a result of slow fed policy work

    The head of a federal biosecurity advisory committee says delays in the development of a national policy on institutional oversight of risky life-sciences research are the main reason the committee has been inactive for close to two years. The dormancy of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) was pushed into the spotlight this week with the revelation that the eleven remaining original members of the 23-member board are being replaced. The board was set up in 2005 to advise the government on biosecurity and dual-use research, meaning research that can be exploited for harm as well as good.

  • BioterrorismFollowing accidents, CDC shuts down anthrax, flu labs

    Federal officials announced on Friday that they had temporarily closed the flu and anthrax laboratories at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta and halted shipments of all infectious agents from the agency’s highest-security labs. The announcement followed revelations about two recent accidents involving deadly agents at the CDC campus in Atlanta. Critics said the accidents highlighted an even greater danger – the efforts at some labs to create superstrains of deadly viruses (what is called “gain of function” research). “You can have all the safety procedures in the world, but you can’t provide for human error,” a critic of gain-of-function research said.

  • SmallpoxSmallpox vials found unguarded at NIH campus in Bethesda, Md.

    Earlier this month workers clearing out a Food and Drug Administration(FDA) branch office at the National Institutes of Health(NIH) campus in Bethesda, Maryland, discovered vials containing smallpox, an eradicated agent feared for its bioweapons potential. The last smallpox samples in existence were thought to be held at tightly guarded facilities in Atlanta and the State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnologyin Novosibirsk, Russia. The vials appear to date from the 1950s.

  • Designer toxinsConvergence of chemistry and biology raises concerns about designer toxins

    The convergence of chemistry and biology is providing major benefits to humankind, particularly in health care, alternative energy sources, and in environmental control – and when combined with other advances, particularly in nanotechnology, it is also being exploited in developing improved defensive countermeasures against chemical and biological warfare agents. This convergence, however, has also raised concerns that biotechnology could be applied to the production of new toxic chemicals, bioregulators, and toxins. A new report from OPCW says that the potential for scaling up biological processes for large scale production of chemicals of concern is still limited, but biomediated processes might still be effective for producing weaponizable quantities of toxins which are lethal to humans in microgram or lower dosage.

  • BioterrorismCDC says anthrax infection “highly unlikely,” but reassigns bioterror lab chief

    The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) has advised some of its employees to stop taking antibiotics meant to fight a possible anthrax infection after preliminary tests suggest that it is “highly unlikely” those employees were exposed to live anthrax following an incident in June. Michael Farrell, head of the CDC bioterror lab, has been reassigned.

  • Bubonic plagueJohn Tull, whose 2002 bubonic plague illness raised bioterrorism fears, dies

    In November 2002, John Tull, a New Mexico lawyer, was visiting New York when he was found to have bubonic plague. The discovery occurred a year after the fall 2001 anthrax attacks – which, at the time, were still unresolved – raising fears that Tull was a victim of bioterrorism. Those concerns were alleviated when it was determined that Tull’s case was linked to fleas in northern New Mexico, where Tull and his wife had a five-acre property outside Santa Fe. Tull, 65, died last week of cancer not related to the 2002 illness.

  • BioterrorismCongress debates BioShield funding while medical schools debate bioterrorism training

    Just as researchers urge medical schools across the United States to include bioterrorism preparedness courses in their curricula, Congress is debating whether to continue spending on Project Bioshield, an initiative launched in 2004 to incentivize otherwise unprofitable research on treatments for rare outbreaks or bioterror agents such as anthrax and botulinum toxin.