Kansas State University is the ‘Silicon Valley for biodefense,’ according to Blue Ribbon Study Panel
MANHATTAN, KANSAS — What Silicon Valley is to technology, Kansas State University is to biodefense.
When former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and the bipartisan Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense visited the Manhattan campus on Thursday, Jan. 26, for a series of agrodefense discussions, the university cemented its status as a national leader in animal health, biosciences and food safety research.
"K-State has really become the Silicon Valley for biodefense," Daschle said. "Its Biosecurity Research Institute, links to the Kansas Intelligence Fusion Center and the National Bio and Agro-defense Facility are all illustrative of the extraordinary effort that is now underway in Manhattan. It's an amazing demonstration of innovation, of collaboration and of engagement."
Daschle and legislators, scientists, academic leaders and industry representatives visited the university for a series of discussions, titled "Agrodefense: Challenges and Solutions." Daschle and other panel members and staff attended to learn about better ways to protect the country's food supply and fight bioterrorism.
The Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense — chaired by former Sen. Joe Lieberman and former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, a former governor of Pennsylvania — recommends changes to U.S. national policy and law to strengthen biodefense. The panel intends to produce a report to share with the country's new administration, Congress and the public by the end of the year.
"One of the centerpieces of our report is the recommendation to try and coordinate information-sharing efforts among the different and often disparate parts of state and local governments that address biothreats," said the Honorable Kenneth Wainstein, panel member and former Homeland Security adviser to President George W. Bush. "Nowhere is that as important, and the need as marked, as in the agriculture area."
During the panel, Kansas State University researchers discussed their work on emerging diseases — Zika virus, West Nile virus, avian influenza and porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, known as PEDv — as well as efforts to fight biological terrorism, such as the anthrax events of 2001, which affected Daschle. They also discussed pursuing biodefense through partnerships with government, industry and other universities.
"We want to be a good partner in the effort to protect our nation's food supply, both plant and animal," said Kansas State University President Richard Myers, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. "We have expertise and facilities here that enable us to do this."
Learn more about biodefense expertise and facilities at Kansas State University.
Below are additional remarks from some of the meeting participants.
Thomas Daschle, former Senate majority leader and panel member:
"Collaboration requires a convener. Collaboration requires leadership. I believe that K-State is in a very good position to be that convener, to be that leader and to create opportunities for better dialogue and engagement with others as we consider the national challenges we face. That's going to take a real effort and I think K-State is well-positioned to do just that."
"As agriculture is elevated in terms of recognition and importance, it will be important for K-State to play a key role in giving us the kind of direction and public policy approach that is necessary to get the job done right."
Roger Marshall, congressman and physician:
"Kansas is agriculture; agriculture is Kansas. Kansans have proven themselves in leading and preventing potential outbreaks."
"Zoonotic diseases are going to require physicians, veterinarians and researchers to work together. I see that my role is to push these people together. I see incredible opportunity with NBAF to work with those people and further the collaboration."
Stephen Higgs, Kansas State University associate vice president for research and director of the Biosecurity Research Institute:
"Preventing an attack is going to be knowledge-based. We need to know everything possible about the pathogens and the potential perpetrators. Know the agent. Know the agencies that are involved. The type of research, education and training conducted at the Biosecurity Research Institute is critical to gain that sort of knowledge."
Tammy Beckham, dean of Kansas State University's College of Veterinary Medicine:
"We cannot simply discuss One Health anymore, but we must embrace it. We need surveillance systems that can share information from the animal sector to the human health sector. We need surveillance systems that are not agent or disease based, but are more broadly syndromic based so that we have early detection for these emerging diseases."