The scope of public health efforts in a university setting have always been extensive, but in the last decade, bioterrorism has become an additional area of research.
James L. Regens, Ph.D., director of the Center for Biosecurity Research at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, gave the opening address Thursday for the fall Public Health Grand Rounds at OUHSC.
The Center for Biosecurity Research receives an average of $1.3 million a year, mostly from the Department of Defense, for scientific research to enhance U.S. military force protection and homeland security.
Since the terrorist attacks of 2001 and the anthrax letter scare later that fall, bioterrorism has secured a place in the public health consciousness. Regens addressed the types of biological agents, from botulism to typhus fever to hantavirus, and their public health implications.
"It's important to know what would make the ideal bioterrorism agent because if one approaches it from the standpoint of one's adversary, that allows for an informed approach to prevention, preparedness and response," Regens said. "These are, in fact, individuals who exhibit both persistence and rationality, contrary to what is often said - that they're just crazy people. It takes a certain amount of planning and dedication to pull these things off."
Since OUHSC's Center for Biosecurity Research began in 2004, it has received more than $8 million in federal funding from entities like the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, the Air Force Research Laboratory, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Regens said. Staff members at the Center for Biosecurity Research have conducted many studies, including disease transmission dynamics, physiological and psychological responses, bio-aerosol dispersion and deposition and others.
Advancements in bioscience have raised public fears that legitimate science could be used for malevolent means, Regens said.
"That's what gives this a dual-use phenomenon," he said. "The question is, if dual use is a reality ... how long will the technical grasp exceed the terrorist grasp?"
That's why it's important to distinguish between biological warfare and bioterrorism, Regens said. Biological warfare isn't being actively pursued by militaries in the modern era because of the availability of countermeasures for protection and retaliation. But bioterrorism is something different.
"If you're seeking to cause panic and injure unprotected civilian populations, bioterrorism may have a future, unfortunately," he said. …