Thursday, March 6, 2014

3D Vaccine Printing: Countering Furutre Terrorist Weapons





In 2000, when Craig Venter, among other notable scientists made impressive breakthroughs in synthetic biology, it took some time before the non-proliferation community expressed any public concern. In fact it wasn't until The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, a panel tasked with advising on science policy and the publication of what could be considered dual-use or sensitive research, was instituted that such advances were reviewed. Steven Block from Stanford Block Lab, warned early on about the potential for synthetic biology to be used for 'black' biology, noting in an article by Marc Schwarz: 


"If anthrax, smallpox and other 'conventional' biological agents aren't frightening enough, Block also raises the specter of 'black biology' a shadowy science in which microorganisms are genetically engineered for the sole purpose of creating novel weapons of terror. The idea that anybody can brew this stuff in their garage vastly overstates the case," he said, "but any technology that can be used to insert genes into DNA can be used for either good or bad." Block points out that genetic maps of deadly viruses, bacteria and other microorganisms are widely available in the public domain. Any scientist bent on destruction could use this information to attempt to clone extremely virulent strains of bacteria and viruses, Block contends. He notes that there are plenty of underpaid microbiologists in the world who might be eager to work for unscrupulous clients to produce incurable 'designer diseases, such as penicillin resistant anthrax or 'stealth viruses' that infect the host but remain silent until activated by some external trigger. Anthrax spores are easy to produce and can remain viable for more than 100 years if kept dry and out of direct sunlight. Their long shelf life makes them 'well suited to weaponization in a device that can deliver a widespread aerosol," Block notes. See: http://news.stanford.edu/news/2001/january17/bioterror-117.html



With concern over advances in the life sciences including synthetic biology, came attempts by NSABB to formulate Codes of Conduct. Unfortunately, terrorists and scientists working in state WMD programs which sponsor terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, do not tend to adhere to Codes of Conduct defined by Western institutions or even international UN arms control treaties such as the Biological and Toxin Weapon Convention (BTWC). While synthetic biology and advances made by Craig Venter's team offers us incredible opportunities, the potential for mis-use, remains an issue. National Security sectors struggle to keep pace with bio-defence research to counter rapid advances in the life sciences. See: http://www.opbw.org  


While breakthroughs in synthetic biology offer impressive advancements and opportunities in the life sciences there remains concern that this technology could outstrip our ability to counter nefarious applications. The traditional, one bug one drug approach to countering the threat of biological weapons is no longer a viable model for bio-defence. This approach lags substantially behind current biological weapon development, which terrorist states may select to develop, using synthetic applications. In the future the Pentagon's Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Blue Angle Program, launched in 2009, which has sought to manufacture vaccines in an accelerated time frame, previously not imagined. DARPA has worked to develop methods for rapidly producing vaccines. Until recently it took about ten years and up to one billion USD to produce one bio-defence drug. In July 2012 DARPA announded they had successfully manufactured 10 million doses of influenza vaccine in one month. See:http://www.darpa.mil/Our_Work/DSO/Programs/H1N1_Acsceleration_(BLUE_ANGEL).aspx. http://rt.com/usa/future-vaccine-darpa-research-255/   More promising is Venter's assertion that we will be able to 3D bio-print vaccines. This cutting edge research will likely revolutionize how was counter both naturally occurring and potentially deliberate disease.
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