DOD improves biosurveillance with national strategy

After issuing the first U.S. National Strategy for Biosurveillance in July, the Department of Defense is working toward protecting the country from terrorist attacks as well as infectious diseases.

Biosurveillance is a process in which researchers gather, analyze and interpret data related to disease activity and threats to human and animal health. The biosurveillance strategy allows the DOD to expand its capability to detect and forecast outbreaks of infectious diseases.

"The vision much like we do with the weather, is to have a global (disease)-detection and information-sharing system that will allow us to know when a storm is forming before it forms, and when it's coming toward the border," Andrew C. Weber, the assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs, said. "Just like with (information technology), what used to be a computer capability that took up an entire building is now in your (smartphone). Diagnostic technologies also are evolving from what used to take an entire laboratory complex at the national level to what we call point-of-care or point-of-need diagnostics."

Physicians and eventually individuals will be able to use the devices to identify illnesses and emerging biological threats.

In October 2009, Weber signed a memorandum to the secretaries of the military departments to announce that emerging infectious diseases would be a part of the biological and chemical defense mission.

"That put us into the space of emerging infectious diseases rather than just looking at traditional bio-warfare agents," Nancy Nurthen, a science and technology manager with the DOD, said. "Traditional diagnostics provide information too late to make any actionable decisions. People need quicker lab results. What we're looking to do specifically is highlight a list of diseases and target the point-of-need diagnostics to be a yes/no (indicator) for those specific diseases, maybe multiplex for up to three different diseases on the diagnostic. Because (the diagnostics) are simple to use and very low cost, we could deploy them to get an early potential confirmation of what's happening and have earlier warning, earlier confirmation, and an ability to make better decisions faster."

Nurthen and her colleagues are currently working on a global system called the Biosurveillance Ecosystem that will employ commercial cloud technologies to improve international surveillance systems. The system and the portable diagnostics are scheduled to begin testing in mid-October.