05.21.10

A Tally of Curious and Unpleasant Bioterror Defense Industry Facts

Posted in Bioterrorism at 10:23 am by George Smith

From the Associated Press, earlier this week:

A University of Wisconsin-Madison researcher anctioned for unauthorized experiments was a member of the school’s biosafety committee.

Minutes of Institutional Biosafety Committee meetings show Professor Gary Splitter played a key role reviewing safety protocols for research involving the 1918 flu strain, chronic wasting disease, other viruses. He served on the panel between 2003 and 2006.

UW-Madison has revoked Splitter’s laboratory privileges for allowing experiments in which antibiotic-resistant genes of brucella were studied in his lab by graduate students.

One research watchdog, Edward Hammond, says the university should suspend projects in which Splitter was a key reviewer.

But university research official Bill Mellon says other committee members wouldn’t have approved projects if safety measures were inadequate.

Edward Hammond ran the Sunshine-Project, a noble effort to shine a light into the nooks and crannies of the academic biodefense research industry which burgeoned in the wake of 9/11.

The Sunshine Project ceased operation in 2008. And it was Hammond who first discovered unreported accidental acquisition of brucellosis disease in a university bioterrorism defense researcher. In the first case, at Texas A&M in 2007.

This week’s news concerns the disgracing of a University of Wisconsin at Madison researcher due to malfeasance and brucellosis disease in a graduate researcher.

Reported DVM Magazine:

A 32-year veteran of high-risk research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine has been suspended from working on any projects above Level 1 biosecurity clearance after unauthorized experiments on an antibiotic-resistant strain of brucellosis were discovered.

The suspension of laboratory privileges for Dr. Gary Splitter, DVM, PhD, followed a $40,000 fine against the university for not properly training faculty, staff and students on new federal regulations governing research.

Dr. Bill Mellon, PhD, UW-Madison’s associate dean for research policy and the school’s responsible officer for its select agent program, says Splitter claimed to not know the research in question was being conducted in his lab — despite evidence of the contrary contained in e-mails to a graduate student conducting the experiments. But not knowing about the experiments also would have been unacceptable, Mellon says — especially at that level of biosecurity clearance.

“Even if he didn’t know what a graduate student was doing, that was his responsibility to make sure … they knew what their responsibilities were,” Mellon says.

The $40,000 fine levied against the university was a result of the school’s failure to host training programs, not the experiments being conducted in the lab.

The decision to suspend Splitter’s laboratory privileges was an agreement reached by the doctor and the university. Splitter remains on staff at the school as a professor.

From a Madison newspaper:

[Splitter] lost his lab privileges for five years because two of his graduate students and a post-doctoral researcher inserted drug-resistant brucella germs into mice without permission from local or federal authorities. Someone in the lab later contracted brucellosis, which is an infectious disease that can cause fevers, joint pain and fatigue. He or she recovered.

The State Journal obtained documents this week related to UW-Madison’s investigation after filing a request under the state’s open records law.

However, the unauthorized experimentation with drug resistant Brucella was not, according to the CDC, the source of an infection in the lab. The latter was the result of some sort of other unspecified poor business.

The unauthorized antibiotic resistant strains of Brucella were destroyed in 2008, according to the university. It is potentially vary bad news because it implicates US academic researchers in conduct that would seem to be expressly forbidden by biological arms control convention.

That is, we’re not supposed to be engaged in research which creates new drug resistant diseases or even dances around the periphery of such conduct.

“There was no connection between this infection that occurred in the lab and the other issue with Splitter,” a science dean at UW-Madison told the newspaper.

Since the beginning of the war on terror, the only incidents of bioterrorism, or related to bioterrorism, have all been the product of American science. And they have all come from the bioterrorism defense research industry.

The most obvious case is Amerithrax and Bruce Ivins.

Another case involved the manfacture of botulism toxin by a research lab in the US select agent program and its misuse by peddlers of anti-wrinkle treatments and cosmetic surgery.

This was only discovered when four adults treated with the toxin contracted botulism and had to be put on ventilators. If they had not been sustained in this manner the incident would have certainly resulted in four deaths, only one less than the number killed by the anthrax made at Fort Detrick.

In a subsequent investigation, the FBI raided List Biological Labs in Campbell, CA, the company which had made the botox and sold it to unscrupulous parties. By definition, List Biological Laboratories was part of the US government’s select agent control program.

And oversight failed, big time.

List’s business has been ruined, its people — although still anonymous — disgraced. The company was irresponsible and dangerous. The FBI investigation was tough on it although little news was generated. Now List Biological Laboratories is in bankruptcy. It would probably be a very good thing if it were put out of business permanently, not sold or revived under another name because there is great profit in botox production.

And then we have this week’s UW-Wisconsin thing.

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