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Thursday, 09 November 2017 09:00

Biopreparedness and biosecurity with Gigi Kwik Gronvall - MTM 69

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Gigi Kwik Gronvall talks to MTM about the importance of biopreparedness. Gronvall discusses her work in creating policies around potential natural, accidental, and man-made pandemics. She describes her experiences running pandemic thought exercises that help researchers, public health workers, and governmental officials apply preparedness ideas to real-world simulations.

Host: Julie Wolf Gigi photo

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Julie's biggest takeaways:

  • Thought exercises and scenarios work well for people to understand how technology, communications, human behaviors can affect the spread of infectious disease.

  • Many after-action reports after major biosecurity breaches, such as the Dugway contamination event, where inactivated Bacillus anthracis was accidentally shipped without being inactivated. These involve reports on what went wrong, who made mistakes, and how to prevent repeats of these errors going forward.

  • International groups such as the Global Health Security Alliance work with governments and institutions around the world to run dialogs and talk about biosecurity issues, safety issues, pathogen management issues. Comparing notes across countries helps to harmonize policies and find gaps that need addressing.

  • Bringing scientists into the policy-making meetings is the best way to write regulations in a way to protect the public, the scientists, and the research itself. Crafting good recommendations for governance prevents writing regulations that can be hard to remove.


Featured Quotes (in order of appearance):

“There’s a public health infrastructure that’s needed to detect epidemics and respond to them appropriately. If you are lacking that infrastructure, it’s like not having a fire department anywhere close when there’s a fire. The fire gets bigger and bigger, it becomes much more difficult to be able to put out the fire, and a lot of lives are lost.”

The thinking behind the GHSA is to boost public health infrastructure in different parts of the world that need it and to focus donor attention on some of those areas so that the weakest links are made stronger."

It’s going to shock no one, but it’s not always the case that the best scientific information is brought to bear on a policy issue."

You have to do what you can to make things a little bit harder, a little bit more challenging but still allow real, legitimate, important science to continue. Everybody sees that balance a little bit differently."

It’s important to me that we have someone advocating for the science and making it so it’s not onerous to be a scientist."

Synthetic biology changes the way we think about what biology can do. Biology has a bigger potential to be involved in industrial processes than it used to have."

The problem with a lot of these pathogens is that they exist in can’t take care of all options, unfortunately."

"You can’t ever be fully prepared, but you can be in the right mindset to be surprised."

Links for this episode


Join the conversation on biological threat reduction and preparedness policy at ASM Biothreats! The next meeting is February 12-14, 2018 in Baltimore, MD. Click here to register today!


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Last modified on Thursday, 21 December 2017 14:02
Julie Wolf

Julie Wolf is the ASM Science Communications Specialist. She contributes to the ASM social media and blog network and hosts the Meet the Microbiologist podcast. She also runs workshops at ASM conferences to help scientists improve their own communication skills. Follow Julie on Twitter for more ASM and microbiology highlights at @JulieMarieWolf.

Julie earned her Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota, focusing on medical mycology and infectious disease. Outside of her work at ASM, she maintains a strong commitment to scientific education and teaches molecular biology at the community biolab, Genspace. She lives in beautiful New York City.