‘The Bioterror Threat’: Expert Panel to Discuss ‘Dual-Use’ Biomedical Research; 2007 Wistar Institute Journalism Award to Be Presented

‘The Bioterror Threat’: Expert Panel to Discuss ‘Dual-Use’ Biomedical Research; 2007 Wistar Institute Journalism Award to Be Presented

October 3, 2007

(PHILADELPHIA – October 4, 2007) – An expert panel of scientists and journalists will discuss the issue of “dual-use” biomedical research at The Wistar Institute at 7 p.m. on Thursday, November 1. The question to be addressed is this: How should society regulate research intended to combat disease but which also could be misused by bioterrorists?

The 2007 Wistar Institute Science Journalism Award will be presented prior to the panel discussion to a journalist who wrote about this topic and will serve on the panel. Peter Aldhous, San Francisco bureau chief for New Scientist magazine, won this year’s prize for a set of articles including an investigation of dual-use biomedical/bioterror research that used public databases to reveal little-known projects that pose potential risks to the public at large.

In his winning article, Aldhous outlined the problem: “Tweaking the anthrax toxin to render experimental drugs ineffective. Turning a harmless rodent virus into a deadly pathogen. Enhancing the potency of botulinum toxins – already the most lethal poisons known. Transferring genes that help viruses evade the human immune system from one pathogen to another. These projects may sound like the clandestine activities of a hostile bioweapons program. But in fact, all are in progress or being planned in U.S. academic laboratories.” *

The title of the panel is “The Bioterror Threat: Preventing the Misuse of Biomedical Research.” The expert panelists are:

  • Peter Aldhous: Winner, 2007 Wistar Institute Science Journalism Award; San Francisco bureau chief, New Scientist magazine
  • Joe Palca: Senior Science Correspondent, National Public Radio; Co-chair, Wistar Institute Science Journalism Award Judging Committee
  • Stanley Plotkin, M.D.: Professor Emeritus, The Wistar Institute; Chair, Wistar Institute Vaccine Center Scientific Advisory Board; developer of vaccines against rubella and rotavirus; former advisor to the federal government on anthrax transmission
  • Harvey Rubin, M.D., Ph.D.: Director, Institute for Strategic Threat Analysis and Response, University of Pennsylvania; Member, National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity

The Wistar Institute Science Journalism Award honors annually the most insightful and enterprising reporting on the basic biomedical sciences in print or broadcast journalism during the award year. The six members of the 2007 judging committee were: Deborah Blum (co-chair), professor of journalism, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a 1992 Pulitzer Prize winner; Joe Palca (co-chair), senior science correspondent for National Public Radio; Sue Goetinck Ambrose, science writer for The Dallas Morning News and a 2004 winner of the award; Robin Marantz Henig, freelance journalist and contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine; Jon Palfreman, independent documentary film producer; and Nancy Shute, senior writer for U.S. News & World Report.

With previous stints at Nature and Science magazines, Aldhous primarily covers the biological and social sciences, from genetics and stem cells to the psychology of addiction and crime. His articles have won awards from the Association of British Science Writers, the UK Guild of Health Writers, and the Association of Health Care Journalists.

The Wistar Institute is an international leader in biomedical research with special expertise in cancer research and vaccine development. Founded in 1892 as the first independent nonprofit biomedical research institute in the country, Wistar has long held the prestigious Cancer Center designation from the National Cancer Institute. Discoveries at Wistar led to the creation of the rubella vaccine that eradicated the disease in the United States, human rabies vaccines used worldwide, and a new rotavirus vaccine approved in 2006. Today, Wistar is home to preeminent research programs studying skin cancer, lung cancer, and brain tumors. Wistar Institute Vaccine Center scientists are creating new vaccines against pandemic influenza, HIV, and other diseases threatening global health. The Institute works actively to transfer its inventions to the commercial sector to ensure that research advances move from the laboratory to the clinic as quickly as possible. The Wistar Institute: Today’s Discoveries – Tomorrow’s Cures. On the web at www.wistar.org.

* “Friend or Foe?” by Peter Aldhous, October 14, 2006, New Scientist. Available on the web at http://www.newscientist.com/channel/opinion/ mg19225735.500-bioterror-special-friend-or-foe.html.