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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


    Expert Responds to US Conerns on Bioterrorism

    ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ The11th lecture of the Provost Lecture Series featured Ronald M. Atlas,Stony Brook alumnus and current professor of biology at the University ofLouisville, who presented a lecture entitled ‘?Responding to the Threat ofBioterrorism.’

    Atlas, who serves as the Presidentof the American Society for Microbiology, called the topic of bioterrorism’?as timely as it is important.’

    ‘?The greatest risks are placed on agents of massdestruction,’ said Atlas, who advises the United States government onpolicy issues regarding the deterrence of bioterrorism and biowarfare.’?The world is vulnerable to the asymmetric possibility that terroristscan use biowarfare as weapons of mass destruction.’

    He cited the major sources ofconcern, including threats from tularemia, plague, botulism toxin, anthrax andsmallpox, among others.

    Atlas said that the US hasbolstered its response to recent war and terrorism concerns by increasingfunding for biodefense research as well as by taking defensive measures againstthe spread of dangerous biological agents and infectious diseases. In addition,the government has increased funding for public health at the state level.

    Atlas discussed thegovernment’s plans to learn more about the various threats in order tofind vaccines. He revealed that the research efforts in progress are currentlyfocused on helping individuals to develop innate immunity, rather than treatingsymptoms.

    The National Institute of Health(NIH) is currently working to develop novel therapeutic strategies for blockingeffects of botulism toxins. In order to educate healthcare workers, thegovernment has also used interactive programs to simulate lifelike anthraxsymptoms that will provide a basis for teaching and research. But, Atlas said,’?[the US] clearly needs more research to prepare againstbioterrorism.’

    While research has been vital in thefight against these threats, it has also lead to greater dangers. If 10,000kilograms of anthrax were unleashed upon a city, it would be as devastating asa nuclear bomb, said Ames. And exactly that amount of anthrax has been createdin Ames, Idaho at a microbiology laboratory.

    For this reason, the government hasstrict regulations on material control, including measures like the Patriot Act.Atlas summed up the legislation: ‘?All foreigners leave the United Statesif you’re thinking of working in a bio laboratory.’

    The Patriot Act restricts aliensfrom designated countries?those believed by the US government to supportterrorism–from possessing select agents within the United States. TheBiopreparedness Act requires the registration of those agents and a clearancefrom the Department of Justice. Violating such laws is a criminal act, and anindividual can be incarcerated for up to 20 years.

    Atlas said he feels that theseregulations have placed excessive restrictions on the research community andcast scientists a suspicious light. ‘?It is a very strange time to be ascientist, particularly in microbiology,’ Atlas said. ‘?We aresuspects; we used to be saviors.’

    Even Stony Brook studentsconducting scientific research are affected by these restrictions. ‘?Someof the requirements are just irritating,’ said Andrea Johnson, a studentresearcher at the Health Science Center. ‘?We work with dangerousmaterials and have to sign a lot of registration documents and forms.’

    Atlas explained that the governmenthas also worked to increase biocontainment and security plans, including theinspections of packages upon entrance and exit of the US and the maintenance ofthe physical security and separation of areas in which select agents arelocated.

    The Center for Disease Control(CDC) has also created a Smallpox Response Plan, which includes an optionalvaccination of a ‘?Smallpox Response Team’ within each healthcarefacility to respond to an outbreak, and mandatory vaccination of Department ofDefense and State Department personnel. The CDC has prepared several stockpilesof vaccine across the country in case of an attack, although the federalgovernment does not recommend that members of the general public be vaccinatedat this point.

    Atlas closed by insisting thatinfectious diseases and bioterrorism present a major threat to national andglobal security. ‘?We need to support increased investment, researchefforts and public health preparedness to eliminate bioterrorism,’ he said.’?And the scientific community must act responsibly.’

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