Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies Program on Energy and Sustainable Development Stanford University


Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Defense


Biosecurity and Global Health

CISAC Platform
Ongoing

Biosecurity and global health issues will heavily impact global security in the coming decades and pose important challenges for international cooperation. The relationship between bioengineering and international security is attracting increased interest among scholars and policymakers alike. CISAC's co-director, Dr. David Relman, is a Stanford microbiologist and professor of infectious diseases and has advised the U.S. government on pathogen diversity, dual-use technology and biosecurity. He is the current president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

Megan Palmer, a bioengineer and a William J. Perry Fellow at CISAC, is researching the complex governance challenges accompanying the rapid increase in global access to biotechnology. David Lazarus, a policy adviser to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), is the inaugural food and international security fellow at CISAC and its partner, the Center for Food Security and the Environment. 

Humanity is undergoing a revolution in the life sciences and their associated technologies, with expanding capabilities and insights, rapidly diminishing costs and easier access to technology. Yet, along with these potential benefits come risks, such as the accidental or deliberate release of biological agents that arise from natural and man-made origins. Scenarios that seemed unimaginable only 10 years ago are now based in reality and could potentially harm millions of people. 

Some of the cutting-edge research being conducted in this area includes:

  • The impact of emerging infectious diseases on society and governments;

  • The risk of misusing the emerging life sciences;

  • The social and political factors that have promoted drug-resistant antibiotics, leading to an impoverished pipeline of new drugs;

  • Examining the ethical responsibilities of life scientists and how these should be defined and potentially regulated;

  • And the challenges of anticipating and pre-empting the misuse of biotechnology by those who wish to do harm.

Other experts working on these issues include Chris Chyba, a former CISAC co-director, who has done seminal work on bioterrorism and biosecurity and how deterrence theory might be applicable to defense against bioweapons. Herbert Abrams, an emeritus professor of radiology and a CISAC faculty member, focuses on the biological effects of low-level radiation.

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