Fort Detrick scientist nominated for Heyman award for anthrax research

Art Friedlander has been nominated for the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal for his work developing a better anthrax vaccine, as well as for a more effective vaccine against the plague.

Friedlander is a 72-year-old microbiologist and a senior scientist at Fort Detrick, where he works with the military's biological defense program designing experiments to better understand how to handle anthrax exposures and bubonic plague outbreaks, the Washington Post reports.

"The operating rules of the game are, essentially, to understand the interaction between the bad guys and us," Friedlander said, according to the Washington Post. "Figuring that out - that's the interesting part of it."

After September 11, 2001, security and surveillance at Fort Detrick increased as a response to anthrax spores turning up in mailboxes on the East Coast. Five people died from anthrax poisoning and 17 others were hospitalized, prompting the government to put money into biological and chemical defense research at Fort Detrick.

"Art was one of the very few experts the U.S. government could turn to for information about anthrax in the fall of 2001, and his work turned out to be exceptionally important," Richard Danzig, the secretary of the Navy under President Bill Clinton and is now chairman of the Center for a New American Security, a national security think-tank, said, the Washington Post reports. "We suddenly needed information, and we needed it very urgently."

The Pentagon called on Friedlander and his team in the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases to improve upon an early anthrax vaccine first rendered in the 1950s that helps produce antibodies to neutralize the anthrax toxin, enabling white blood cells to fight the anthrax bacteria.

Friedlander's team created a highly purified version of the vaccine that is based on a protein the toxin produces. The vaccine was successfully shown to work in primates and clinical human trials when taken with antibiotics for two months, a relatively speedy recovery from anthrax infection, according to the Washington Post.

It is for this work that Friedlander received the nomination for the award, which is given by the non-profit group Partnership for Public Service. He is one of 33 finalists in nine categories.

"He is one of USAMRIID's unsung heroes," Col. Andrea Stahl, a deputy commander at Fort Detrick who nominated Friedlander for the award, said, according to the Washington Post. "And we have some of the world's experts in biological agents here."