Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Army Scientist Uses Diagnostic Tools to Track Viruses

By Cheryl Pellerin
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

FORT DETRICK, Md., Dec. 17, 2014 – An Army virologist using diagnostic tools found traces of Ebola virus in patient samples in West Africa -- a region thought to be untouched by the disease -- seven years before the largest, deadliest Ebola outbreak took the world by surprise in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The traces he found were antibodies, made by the body's immune system and very specific to each invader, like Ebola virus, that enters the bloodstream, blood plasma, blood serum and other body fluids.

Dr. Randal J. Schoepp is chief of the Applied Diagnostics Department in the Diagnostic Systems Division at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, or USAMRIID, here.

He recently returned from Liberia and Sierra Leone, where he spent twelve weeks helping to set up an Ebola testing lab and training local personnel to run Ebola diagnostic tests on clinical samples. Schoepp is part of a USAMRIID team that has been in West Africa since March.

Building Host-country Capacity

“My interest has always been arthropod-borne diseases -- in other words, mosquito-borne and tick-borne viruses, and hemorrhagic fever viruses,” Schoepp said during a recent DoD News interview at USAMRIID.

In 2006, Schoepp was working in Sierra Leone at the Kenema Government Hospital in Eastern Province, helping a collaboration of USAMRIID and Tulane University scientists who were there to develop and refine Lassa fever diagnostic tests and build host-country diagnostic capacity.

Lassa is a hemorrhagic fever illness that occurs in West Africa and is hyperendemic in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, meaning its incidence is high and continuing. The number of West African Lassa virus infections is 100,000 to 300,000 a year with about 5,000 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“One reason I was interested in Sierra Leone is because, for those of us who work with hemorrhagic fevers … this is the only place you can study them because you know they’re going to show up and you know where they’re going to be,” the virologist said.

At the Sierra Leone study site, Schoepp and his colleagues were testing their diagnostics and working to build diagnostic capacity for the country.

Detecting the Virus

The scientists were testing samples of blood plasma and blood serum using immunodiagnostics, or diagnostic tests that “use antibodies to detect the actual virus or virus products, or antibodies that result from infections with those viruses,” Schoepp explained.

On the other side of the diagnostics house, the virologist said, is testing by polymerase chain reaction technology to look for genomic material.

“PCR is exquisitely sensitive, very specific. That's a really good thing when you know what's there. When you don't know what's there it can be misleading, because if what's in the area doesn't match exactly, you'll get a false negative,” he said.

“Immunodiagnostics are not nearly as sensitive as PCR, but they have a broad specificity, so you pick up all kinds of genetic variants and related viruses,” Schoepp said, adding that using both kinds of diagnostics at the same time is a perfect system “if you go into an area and you don’t know what’s going on.”

He added, “In this time of molecular, hurry up, fast, fast, fast, immunodiagnostics has fallen out of favor because it's time consuming, laborious and the reagents are difficult to make. But they're very useful, and in certain situations they're vital.”

Diagnosing Lassa in Sierra Leone

As the work continued in Sierra Leone, the scientists found that, of the 500 to 700 samples a year submitted to the Kenema Government Hospital Lassa Diagnostic Lab from Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, only 30 percent to 40 percent were actually Lassa. Schoepp said he got interested in the 60 percent to 70 percent that weren’t Lassa.

The aim of his study, he explained, was to find out which other viruses caused serious illnesses in the region and to help medical and technical personnel there learn how to detect the illnesses.

The samples Schoepp looked at already had been screened for Lassa and malaria, and he and his colleagues ended up with about 400 samples, taken from 2006 to 2008, that represented 253 patients, he said.

In these samples he looked for other arthropod-borne viruses -- “dengue, Rift Valley fever, West Nile virus, yellow fever virus, all the ones you would expect to see in Africa,” he said -- as well as hemorrhagic fever viruses such as Crimean Congo hemorrhagic fever, Marburg, Ebola and others.

Looking For Lassa, Finding Ebola

Out of all that, he said, the most significant finding “was that 8.6 percent of the samples had the earliest antibodies to Ebola,” called immunoglobulin M, or IgM, antibodies.

IgM is the first antibody to be made by the body to fight a new infection, Schoepp said, “so if you find IgM antibodies it tells you that you're very close to the original infection.”

Looking further into the Ebola antibodies with the plaque reduction neutralization test, which many scientists consider the "gold standard" for detecting and measuring antibodies that can neutralize many disease-causing viruses, Schoepp saw that most of the Ebola antibodies were against the Zaire strain.

Ebola Zaire is the most virulent of the virus’s five strains, Schoepp said, and the one that is now causing the West African outbreak.

In a region supposedly untouched by Ebola except for a single case of the Tai Forest strain reported in Cote d’Ivoire in 1994, Schoepp said, this was big news that at the time could have been unwelcome in the three countries.

Medical Diplomacy

“I spent over a year going back to Sierra Leone, talking to the regional medical officers, talking to the ministry, making them understand that this is what we found,” in a careful process of medical diplomacy, Schoepp said.

Afterward, in August 2013, he submitted a scientific paper about the West African Ebola finding to CDC’s Emerging Infectious Diseases journal. After nearly a year and reviews by two sets of scientists, the final reviewer told Schoepp, “I don’t believe there is Ebola virus in West Africa.”

A week later, Schoepp said, the West African Ebola outbreak was announced to the world and, after an email from Schoepp to the journal editor, “Undiagnosed Acute Viral Febrile Illnesses, Sierra Leone,” was published in July 2014.

“To me, it means that there is more Ebola out in the world than you would know by past outbreaks or by other evidence,” Schoepp said, discussing the paper’s results. “If you look for it, you have a very good chance of finding it.”

Diagnostics, he added, is the basis of everything.

“We set the stage for others to come in and do their therapeutics, their antivirals, their vaccines,” Schoepp said. “Knowing what's there is one thing, and being able to do something about what's there is another thing. So diagnostics gives the epidemiologists, immunologists and the therapeutic people something to do.”

In a time when globalization spreads diseases farther and faster than ever, Schoepp said, it’s a good time to be a virologist.

“Every time you think everything has happened, [severe acute respiratory syndrome] pops up or [Middle East respiratory syndrome-corona virus] pops up or Ebola pops up,” he said, adding that he often describes a virologist as being like a fireman.

“Somebody says ‘fire’ and a fireman runs toward it,” Schoepp said. “Somebody says ‘disease’ and a virologist runs toward it.”

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Reserve supports NASA's Orion for future human deep space missions

by 920th Rescue Wing Public Affairs

12/15/2014 - PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- The U.S. Air Force Reserve's 920th Rescue Wing provided Eastern Range support for NASA's successful launch of their Exploration Flight Test-1 mission as a United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket ignited into space with the Orion spacecraft atop it from Launch Complex 37 at 7:05 a.m. Dec. 5.

Rescue Airmen from throughout the 920th RQW provided vital support for the successful launch to include security and safety while patrolling the Eastern Range in two HH-60G .

According to NASA, the Orion spacecraft, built by Lockheed Martin, is designed to take humans farther than they've ever gone before. Orion will serve as the exploration vehicle that will carry the crew to space, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during the space travel, and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities.

The Orion Flight Test will evaluate launch and high speed re-entry systems such as avionics, attitude control, parachutes and the heat shield.

In the future, Orion will launch on NASA's new heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System.

More powerful than any rocket ever built, SLS will be capable of sending humans to deep space destinations such as an asteroid and eventually Mars. Exploration Mission-1 will be the first mission to integrate Orion and the Space Launch System.

"What a thrill and tremendous opportunity for all members of Team Patrick-Cape to play a very active -- and vitally important role -- in this historic mission," said Brig. Gen. Nina Armagno, 45th Space Wing commander.

"The 45th Space Wing is proud to participate with NASA and our mission partners on a successful mission from our storied Cape Canaveral Air Force Station," she said. "Here at the 45th Space Wing, we assure access to space, and this mission is a testament to all the hard work and teamwork that culminated in a safe, successful launch. Congratulations to all on a job well done."

This Delta IV Heavy mission will take the Orion spacecraft to the highest orbit for a spacecraft designed for humans since the Apollo Program, then deliver it to a re-entry location for splashdown and recovery off the California Coast, where members of Detachment 3, Human Space Flight Support Directorate, located at Patrick Air Force Base, will help with the recovery of the Orion capsule.

Among the missions, Detachment 3 is responsible for (now and in the future) are astronaut rescue and recovery, landing site support, payload security, medical, airlift/sealift, and other support services as required.

"There are probably a lot of people who aren't aware the Air Force is involved in the capsule recovery process, but that's been one of our unit's major missions for years, especially during the Apollo years," said Lt. Col. Mike McClure, HSFS Detachment 3 commander.

"We will have members of our team in the Human Space Flight Support Operations Center here at Patrick, and also have our people on the ship -- the USS ANCHORAGE -- that is conducting the recovery of the Orion Crew Module. We are very much engaged in the recovery process and have been training for this mission for the past 18 months."

The Commander of U.S. Strategic Command (CDRUSSTRATCOM) is the DOD Manager for Human Space Flight Support (HSFS) Operations and has responsibilities and authorities to validate operational support resources requested by NASA. As the DOD Manager's primary staff, Detachment 3 is the principle DOD interface for NASA's HSFS programs.

But, for McClure, there is something personal about leading his team members and being a part of such a historic mission.

"I think at some point every kid looks to the sky and dreams about being an astronaut, or being involved in the space program. That's what we are doing here, and I could not be more proud of our team or their ability to do this mission," he said. "We're living the dream."

Editor's note: Information for this article provided by a 45th Space Wing News Release.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Atlas launch successful

30th Space Wing Public Affairs

12/15/2014 - VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Team Vandenberg successfully launched the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying a National Reconnaissance Office payload from Space Launch Complex-3 here Friday, Dec. 12, at 7:19 p.m. PDT.

Col. Keith Balts, 30th Space Wing commander, was the launch decision authority.

"This launch was an incredible achievement for Team Vandenberg, ULA, NRO and our other fellow launch partners," said Balts. "This Atlas V launch marked the last of the year and I am very proud of the teamwork that led to the success of not only today's launch, but those that preceded. The hard work and dedication of everyone involved continues to ensure our nation's access to space. This was especially evident by our base electricians who worked tirelessly through last night's extreme weather to ensure power was available for launch."

This is the most powerful Atlas V rocket launched from Vandenberg because it has four solid rocket boosters, producing approximately 250,000 pounds of thrust per solid rocket. These four solids along with the main engine of the Atlas V produced a total thrust around 2 million pounds at liftoff!

"This has been an exciting mission" said 1st Lt. Adam Rich, Lead Atlas V Engineer for the 4th Space Launch Squadron.  "Not only is it the first use of four solid rocket boosters on an Atlas here at Vandenberg, but it is also the first launch a new second stage engine design."

The 4th SLS has been working alongside ULA since September to make sure this launch goes off successfully. The Atlas V first stage booster landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base aboard the Antanov AV-124. After all the rocket components arrive here at Vandenberg, they go through a receipt inspection and are then transported to the pad for stacking in an operation known as Launch Vehicle on Stand. Since LVOS, engineers and technicians have been working around the clock to complete all the installations, system checkouts, and tests necessary for launch.

Friday, December 12, 2014

AMC chief scientist receives Harold Brown Award

by Master Sgt. Lesley Waters
Air Force Public Affairs Agency, Operating Location - P

12/12/2014 - WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James presented Dr. Donald Erbschloe, the Air Mobility Command chief scientist, with the 2014 Harold Brown Award during a ceremony at the Pentagon, Dec. 9.

The Harold Brown Award, established in December of 1968 as a tribute to Dr. Harold Brown, the eighth secretary of the Air Force and 14th secretary of defense, is the highest award given by the Air Force to a scientist or engineer who applies scientific research to solve a problem critical to the needs of the Air Force.

"Each year we do this to recognize significant achievement in research and development by a single person who has demonstrated promise and substantial improvement in the operational effectiveness of the Air Force," James said. "Don really epitomizes the spirit of this award. He has translated research and development into increased operational capability."

During her remarks, James highlighted four of Erbschloe's accomplishments. The first was precision airdrop. Erbschloe developed the high speed container delivery system which allows air drop bundles to land in a very small area and a wireless gate release system which helps improve performance by decreasing variability in the air drop release sequence.

She said these two field-proven innovations were used during the recent humanitarian efforts for those trapped at Mount Sinjar in Iraq.

"The ability to put a package exactly where it needs to be, when it needs to be there, is a very important capability for the Air Force," James said.

The second accomplishment was the ability to defeat biological agents. Erbschloe developed the Joint Biological Agent Defeat System. He used a mixture of hot and humid air to decontaminate aircraft against the most robust of biological agents.

James said, "This is important if, in the future we have to enter and then exit a contaminated area, in either peacetime or wartime."

The chief scientist's third accomplishment revolved around the wind turbines and their effects on the air traffic control radars at Travis Air Force Base, California. The radars use Doppler technology, which relies on motion to identify aircraft. The large wind turbines in the local area were impacting air traffic operations, because they reflected radar energy back to the controllers which caused increased clutter and the loss of identifying real targets and aircraft in the area.

Erbschloe led a review and established a mutually beneficial research agreement between Travis AFB and the local wind farm developers, which will help research and evaluate technical solutions to overcome radar target degradation.

"This will lead us to improved air traffic control ability and a better relationship between Travis (AFB) and the surrounding community," James said. "He took what was a major tension and made it a win-win for all parties."

The fourth and final accomplishment is called Surfing Aircraft Vortices for Energy ($AVE). James compared $AVE to cyclists competing in the annual Tour de France. Cyclists work together as teams in drafting off each other, which is a strategy to reduce wind resistance and help cyclists conserve energy throughout the course. Erbschloe applied the same principle to two aircraft flying in formation and at an optimal distance, reducing wind resistance and providing a five to six percent fuel savings without any significant disruption to passenger comfort.

James said five or six percent might not make a big difference, but when compared to a return on a savings account or less cost the Air Force will have to pay for aviation fuel in the future, the numbers get really big, really fast.

"This not only shows the creative intersection between technology and our operational needs, but Gen. Spencer (Air Force vice chief of staff) and I have this initiative called Make Every Dollar Count, where we are looking for efficiency - this is a really good one," James said.

Erbschloe acknowledged the SecAF's remarks and thanked her and everyone else present during the ceremony, to include AMC commander Gen. Darren McDew, who watched the ceremony from Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, via video transmission.

"I didn't do this by myself," Erbschloe said. "This award represents the hard work of dozens, if not scores, of individuals throughout organizations."

Erbschloe concluded the ceremony as it began, by recognizing the award's namesake, from a reference made by Dr. Robert H. Cannon Jr., who was the chief scientist for Brown. He said when Brown was the SecAF, the general officers on the air staff really appreciated his leadership. They liked him because he was smart, he would champion their projects and he got things done.

"What a role model," Erbschloe said. "It is in that spirit and on behalf of a lot of other people; I am privileged to accept this award."

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Romanian Man Sentenced to Prison for Role in International Fraud Scheme Involving Online Marketplace Websites

A Romanian man was sentenced today to serve 63 months in prison for his role in receiving and sending overseas approximately $690,000 in proceeds from an international fraud scheme involving online marketplace websites, as well as for the use of a fraudulent passport.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney David Rivera of the Middle District of Tennessee and U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer of the Southern District of Florida made the announcement.  U.S. District Judge Darrin P. Gayles of the Southern District of Florida imposed the sentence.

Razvan Caprarescu, 39, originally of Bucharest, Romania, was indicted in the Middle District of Tennessee in March 2014 for conspiracy to commit bank and wire fraud in connection with his participation in the online marketplace scheme.  In June 2014, the case was transferred to the Southern District of Florida, where Caprarescu had already been indicted in March 2013 for use and attempted use of a false, forged, and counterfeit Belgian passport.  Caprarescu pleaded guilty to both charges in August 2014.  In addition to his prison term, Caprarescu was ordered to pay $658,441 in restitution.

In connection with his guilty plea, Caprarescu admitted that his co-conspirators fraudulently listed vehicles for sale at online marketplaces such as eBay.  When victims expressed interest in purchasing the vehicles, the co-conspirators responded with emails directing the victims to wire payments to specified bank accounts.  These bank accounts were opened by Caprarescu and another co-conspirator using false identities and fraudulent documents, including counterfeit passports.  Eighteen victims sent approximately $367,036 to accounts opened by Caprarescu between October 2011 and June 2012.  Another 17 victims sent approximately $321,389 to accounts opened by Caprarescu’s co-conspirator.  Caprarescu and his co-conspirator subsequently sent the bulk of the money to co-conspirators located overseas.  Caprarescu also admitted that he used a false Belgian passport bearing an alias to rent a mailbox at a U.S. Pak-n-Ship store located in Broward County, Florida.

The cases were investigated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, the FBI, and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.  The cases were prosecuted by Senior Counsel Mysti Degani of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section, Assistant U.S. Attorney Byron M. Jones of the Middle District of Tennessee and Assistant U.S. Attorney Alicia Shick of the Southern District of Florida.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Face of Defense: Officer Competes for Mars Arctic 365 Program

By Walter T. Ham IV
20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives Command

MARS DESERT RESEARCH STATION, Utah, Dec. 10, 2014 – An Army officer is competing to spend a year on a Canadian island with the Mars Arctic 365 program.

First Lt. Heidi Beemer is taking part in a Mars simulation here this month.

Beemer is a decontamination platoon leader from the 63rd Chemical Company, 83rd Chemical Battalion, 48th Chemical Brigade, 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives Command, the Defense Department's only formation that combats CBRNE threats around the world.

Three Teams Competing

The Virginia Military Institute graduate said three teams are competing to be the first crew to spend a year in an analog Martian simulation at the Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station on Devon Island in Baffin Bay, the second-largest of the Queen Elizabeth Islands in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.

The program is run by the Mars Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to human Martian exploration research.

A Chemical Corps officer from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, Beemer not only is striving to take part in the Mars Arctic 365 program, but also is in the running for a one-way ticket to Mars as a part of the Mars One selection process. That process, run by a different nonprofit organization, has more than 705 applicants from 99 countries competing to colonize Mars.

Beemer said the Mars One competition will narrow the field of applicants down to the final 24 Martian colonists. The journey to Mars will take about seven months, and the colonists will travel in groups of four, with new groups arriving every two years. Once on Mars, they will occupy living pods.

Robots will build the living pods and produce the oxygen and water necessary for the first colonists. Each additional group will bring more supplies. Beemer said the selectees for both programs should be announced next year.

At the Mars Desert Research Station, Beemer is training with an international crew that has members from the United States, Finland, Japan, the United Kingdom and Brazil.

Located in the San Rafel Swell in Hanksville, Utah, the Mars Desert Research Station is two and a half hours west of Grand Junction, Colorado.

Near-perfect Site

"It is a near-perfect analog site for Mars and looks a lot like it should," said Beemer, a native of Virginia Beach, Virginia. "It's amazing to wake up to these views out the window every morning."

Army Brig. Gen. JB Burton, 20th CBRNE commander, said Beemer personifies the pioneer spirit.

"Lieutenant Beemer seeks to boldly go where no one has gone before," said Burton, who has a Beemer2Mars sticker on his jeep. "We are proud that she is a part of this command."