Biosecurity

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1960s photo of public health workers examining little girl's smallpox vaccine scar

Smallpox Cousin Synthesized in Lab, Raising Bioterrorism Concerns

July 17, 2017

The Washington Post reports that scientists in Alberta have "used commercially available genetic material to piece together the extinct horsepox virus, a cousin of the smallpox virus that killed as many as a billion human beings before being eradicated." While the lead researcher's efforts are "aimed at developing vaccines and cancer treatments," his achievement led the former head of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Tom Frieden, to assert "the need to monitor more closely 'dual-use' experiments — research that could be used either for protective purposes or, in theory, to create a deadly pathogen." Consortium collaborator Alta Charo, who currently serves on the National Working Group for the LawSeq project, says "we are still struggling with how to manage the dual-use dilemma. How do we get the benefit of the research without the risk of it being turned against us?" Meanwhile, other researchers emphasize the greater threat of naturally evolving pathogens such as Zika and Ebola. Michael Osterholm, director of Consortium member the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), notes another aspect of the horsepox synthesis: “How many other people have done it[?] We never thought or expected it to come from a place like Alberta. It's not one of the leading universities in the world for microbiology and synthetic biology. If it came out of there, how many other places like this are also doing the same work right now?” Osterholm continues, "This has been the storm coming for years. We’ve known about it, but unfortunately, we’re not ready."

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Turkey

The Looming Threat of Avian Flu

April 13, 2016

An article in this week's New York Times Magazine outlines the challenges of protecting the U.S. agricultural system from devastating diseases. Last year's avian flu outbreak was particularly destructive, with more than 21 states reporting cases of the H5 virus and more than 50 million birds killed. The article outlines some reasons for the growing seriousness of these outbreaks, despite a post-9/11 presidential directive to better protect "the agriculture and food system against terrorist attacks, major disasters and other emergencies." Prevailing wisdom at that time "was that farms, deep in thinly populated rural areas, would not be a danger to one another." University of Minnesota professor of avian health Carol Cardona, DVM, explains: "The food system responded to 9/11 with changes further up the food chain.” she notes, leading to the establishment of organizations like Consortium member the Food Protection and Defense InstituteNow, the USDA is working directly with farmers and trade organizations to better protect farms from the flu and one another. The most thorough, up-to-date resource for information on avian flu and other epidemics can be found at the website of Consortium member the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP). 

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MRSA Virus

Global Policy Talks Needed on Risks, Benefits of Modifying Viruses for Research

October 5, 2015

An article in Nature describes efforts by the US government to determine whether it should continue to ban federal funding for studies that could make some viruses more dangerous. Writer Sara Reardon notes, such research "can help scientists to answer important questions about how a microbe evolved or how to kill it. But it is tricky to determine when the risk of accidentally releasing such a pathogen outweighs the benefits of this 'gain-of-function' research." Consortium Chair Susan M. Wolf, JD, is a member of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), which will issue final recommendations on the conduct of this type of research in early 2016. Prof. Wolf notes that these guidelines, while important, cannot be the final word. “Are some risks simply unacceptable, even if there are countervailing benefits?” she asks. Since infectious diseases don't respect national boundaries and NSABB’s recommendations will only affect the United States, Wolf would like to see a global policy discussion. 

Consortium Faculty

Consortium Faculty

Philip Pardey
Philip G. Pardey , PhD
Director, International Science & Technology Practice & Policy
Professor, Department of Applied Economics
Director of Global Research Strategy for the College of Food Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences and the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station

Consortium Faculty

Mike Osterholm
Michael T. Osterholm , PhD, MPH
Director, Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP)
Regents Professor
McKnight Presidential Endowed Chair in Public Health
Distinguished Teaching Professor, Environmental Health Sciences
Professor, Technological Leadership Institute
Adjunct Professor, Medical School

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Dr. Amy Kircher

Leading the Way in Food Safety

July 6, 2015

An article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune profiles the work of Consortium member the National Center for Food Protection and Defense, led by Prof. Amy Kircher, DrPH. The Center is affiliated with the Department of Homeland Security, and is working with public health officials and industry to improve our ability to track our food supply from farm to fork. This process, called "food traceability," is an important tool to ensure products are safe to eat, contain outbreaks from tainted food, and strengthen the global food economy. 

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Michael T. Osterholm

Osterholm Receives University's Highest Honor

June 18, 2015

The University of Minnesota Board of Regents has named Michael T. Osterholm a Regents Professor, the highest recognition given to faculty by the University. Osterholm is director of Consortium member Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), and is considered one of the leading public health experts in the country. In addition to his academic and policy activities, Osterholm is the author of a New York Times best-selling book, Living Terrors: What America Needs to Survive the Coming Bioterrorist Catastrophe, which became a blueprint for the U.S. government’s response to the post-9/11 anthrax attacks. To learn more about this honor, click here

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Turkey

Biosecurity Concerns Raised by Bird Flu

June 1, 2015

An article in USA Today quotes Michael T. Osterholm of Consortium member Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) about the biosecurity weaknesses expose by the most recent avian flu outbreaks in Iowa and Minnesota. More than 45 million chickens, turkeys and ducks have been destroyed as a result of the virus, which has led Ohio and Michigan to join Indiana in banning all bird shows in an effort to avoid outbreaks there. "Obviously, the biosecurity systems we have are not adequate," says Osterholm. 

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