Executive Order signed to assist bioagent regulatory hurdles

A White House Executive Order signed on July 2 references the findings of a biodefense by Vickie Sutton, a professor at Texas Tech, study about anxiety, researchers and the regulations that govern them.

The nationwide study by the director of the Texas Tech Center for Biodefense, Law and Public Policy, which was published in March 2009, assessed the effectiveness of select agent regulations, which govern the security and handling of biological toxins, in achieving their stated goals of protecting public health and national security.

"Since the anthrax attacks, we've really recognized that we needed more laboratory capacity to create countermeasures, produce vaccines, to be able to verify what kind of agents might be used either accidentally, emerging infectious diseases or intentionally," Prof. Sutton told MyFoxLubbock.com. "So we have a lot of laboratories and you want to make sure you really have effective regulations. Reviewing this program, it really gives the public assurance that there's a real effort to try to make sure that we're doing the very best job possible."

In the study, researchers were tasked with completing a survey that centered on the anxiety they felt over inadvertently violating regulations that were designed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Of the 198 surveys completed by the selected researchers, 93.4 percent responded that select agents needed to be regulated. Additionally, 41 percent of responders indicated that they preferred clear regulatory guidance as opposed to the guidance provided by the Biosafety Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories. The majority of responders also felt that more “specificity” was needed to complete training requirements as opposed to doing what was simply considered “appropriate.”

There was a relatively high level of concern among the scientists about violating regulations. Approximately 64 percent responded that they were worried about the regulations to at least some degree, while comparatively few - 26 percent - were concerned about being injured or dying as a result of working with dangerous substances.

To Sutton, this reflected a troubling policy dilemma where scientists working with the deadliest substances on earth are feeling confidant in performing their duties, but feeling an inappropriate amount of anxiety in dealing with existing regulations.

The Executive Order, signed by President Obama, intends assist in reducing the regulatory hurdles faced by scientists and help to increase national security against the danger posed by deadly microbes.