The Advancing Threat Agnostic Biodefense Webinar Series brings together like-minded science and policy members of the biodefense community to discuss relevant research activities as well as barriers and enablers of a threat agnostic approach.
Threat-agnostic biodefense: Actions that are applicable to counter biological threats, reduce risks, and prepare for, respond to, and recover from biological incidents—whether the pathogens or toxins involved are known in advance or not.
Assessing the Zoonotic Risk of Pre-emergent Viruses
Tony Goldberg, PhD, Professor, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Exploration of the "virosphere" is in its golden age. The sheer number of new viruses discovered daily, and the fact that most of them cannot be cultured, creates enormous uncertainty about where to allocate attention and resources. It is not an intractable problem, however, to distinguish the few viruses that are likely to emerge as zoonoses from the many others that are not. This talk describes two diametric approaches to addressing this problem. The first approach involves a field-to-lab investigative methodology that, when combined with biologically informed predictive computational models, can assess the zoonotic risk of viruses that have not yet been identified in humans. The second approach relies on the power of modern methods in anthropology and ethnography to identify zoonotic transmission pathways, even before the identification of any pathogens that might traverse those pathways. A unifying example is simian hemorrhagic fever virus and its relatives in the family Arteriviridge, which cause important animal diseases but have never been documented to infect humans. Both approaches identify these viruses as high-risk pre-emergent zoonoses.
Advances in Functional-Based Assays for Detection of Novel Pathogens
July 25, 2023
Zach Stromberg, PhD, Biomedical Scientist, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Functional assays exploit host-pathogen interactions as the basis of pathogen detection and often rely on detecting host responses during infection. Common pathogenic traits assessed may be produced by the pathogen itself (e.g., toxin production) and by the interaction of the pathogen with the host (e.g., cell death). Unlike conventional detection methods that target specific microbial sequences, functional assays are based on pathogen strategies used during the infection process. Platforms for high-throughput functional characterization have been elusive due to the challenge of creating an integrated system for pathogen extraction, interrogation, and assessment. Here, the development of an end-to-end pipeline for discovery of pathogenic features and detection of pathogens in real-world environmental samples will be discussed. Click here to view the presentation.
Intelligent Immunity - Drawing from Innate Immune Mechanisms to Design Pathogen-agnostic Diagnostics for Emerging Threats
June 15, 2023
Harshini Mukundan, PhD, Program Manager, Office of National Homeland Security (ONHS)
Harshini Mukundan is a program manager for chemical and biological technologies at ONHS, and also a scientist in the biosciences area. Harshini will cover the human innate immune system as a classical example of a pathogen agnostic diagnostic and therapeutic system. Mimicking innate immunity in the laboratory can allow for the universal identification of emerging threats, increasing our preparedness against future pandemics and biowarfare events. We have been working on understanding core principles guiding host-pathogen interactions and adapting them to design tailored assays for the direct detection of pathogen signatures in complex clinical samples. A snapshot of design to deployment of this approach - including preliminary clinical studies in blinded cohorts will be presented. Finally, we will touch on current work intended to expand the scale of this understanding to achieve a machine learning model of innate immunity that is truly agnostic.
Technologies Accelerating Infectious Disease Research: Highlights from the NIAID Systems Biology Program and Perspectives on Pathogen Detection Technologies
May 3, 2023
Reed Shabman, PhD, Program Officer, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
Dr. Reed Shabman is a Program Officer in the Office of Genomics and Advanced Technologies at the NIAID and currently serves as the Program officer for the Systems Biology for Infectious Diseases. The systems biology program consists of a community that integrates experimental biology, computational tools and modeling across temporal and spatial scales to develop strategies that predict and alleviate disease severity across multiple human pathogens. Reed will describe the program history and notable accomplishments leveraging "multi-omics" infectious disease data. He will also highlight additional NIAID programs and provide perspectives on potential future applications for "omics" technology in the infectious disease space. Click here to view the presentation.
The Role of the Host in Pathogen Origins, Surveillance, and Outcome Predication
April 5, 2023
Angela Rasmussen, PhD, Virologist, Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO)
Dr. Angela (Angie) Rasmussen, PhD is a virologist at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization at the University of Saskatchewan. Her research focuses on the role of the host response in viral pathogenesis, with a particular interest in emerging viruses that are, or have the potential to be major threats to global health, such as avian influenza, dengue virus, Ebola virus, MERS-CoV, and SARS-CoV-2. Her work combines classical experimental virology and animal models with systems biology approaches to study the global response to infection and how that contributes to pathogenesis or protection from emerging pathogens. Click here to view the presentation.
Evolution on Thoughts for Host-based Therapeutic Approaches to Current and Future Threats
February 16, 2023
George Korch, PhD, President, GeoBIO LLC
The recent, ongoing pandemic of SARS CoV-2 coronavirus is just an added example of how novel pathogens continue to emerge and how we have typically responded with heroic efforts to quickly develop and produce new vaccines, diagnostics and treatments. All medical countermeasures take time to become ready for population use and distribution, even in the most urgent and highly resourced efforts. What if we more seriously considered looking at host-based therapeutics to augment our pathogen-focused efforts, and what if there are major patterns in the interaction of hosts and pathogens across diverse taxa that could yield multiple new therapeutics?