#3: Synthesizing Biological Threats—A Small Leap From Horsepox to Smallpox
Earlier this summer, it was announced that a team of Canadian researchers led by virologist David Evans, PhD, had successfully synthesized the horsepox virus. This de novo synthesis was performed within the span of 6 months, utilizing mail-order DNA, $100,000, and “little-specialized knowledge.” What is concerning about this experiment is that it highlights not only the possibility of synthesizing DNA with limited resources in a short window of time but that it involved an orthopoxvirus, horsepox, a close relative of smallpox. This experiment has brought attention not just to the capacity and capabilities for people to do such experiments but also that there were little oversight and safeguards in place to ensure biosecurity and biosafety measures were followed. I will not go into the implications of publishing such methods.
Gregory Koblentz, PhD, MPP, director of George Mason University’s Biodefense graduate program, recently highlighted this experiment as a possible opening of Pandora’s box in terms of such risky research and what it means for the reemergence of smallpox.
Read more here
#2: Two New Zika Virus Studies You Need to Know
More information continues to be revealed about the Zika virus as research on a vaccine continues to advance as well. To this end, Penn Medicine investigators recently announced that they have engineered a synthetic DNA-based Zika vaccine able to safely and effectively induce an immune response against the virus, as investigators from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine have discovered that surveillance for adverse pregnancy outcomes after a Zika outbreak may need to be longer than initially thought.
In the case of the Zika vaccine, investigators from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, in partnership with investigators from the Wistar Institute, Inovio Pharmaceuticals, and GeneOne Life Science, Inc, recently conducted a phase 1 clinical trial that showed “for the first time that humans who received up to 3 doses of a vaccine candidate produced an immune response against Zika with minimal adverse effects, opening the door to further clinical trials for this important vaccine candidate,” according to an official press release on the project.
Read more about the recent Zika studies, here