Abstract: Against a backdrop of emerging and reemerging infectious diseases of natural origin, fueled by changes in land use and global climate, there is an ongoing revolution in the life sciences with growing empowerment of the individual to decipher, genetically alter, and manufacture living things. In addition to widely-touted potential benefits, these events and developments pose challenges and risks of profound harm to humans and the rest of the planet. Yet, the United States and most other nations have failed to respond with a strategic plan, sustained resources, coherent leadership, critical self-assessment, and accountability. Why is this? A selected history of recent naturally-occurring disease outbreaks and advances in the life sciences that create new risks of potential misuse will be offered, differing perspectives from the science and policy communities described, and some of the efforts to address these challenges summarized. Forward-looking proposals for efforts to mitigate risk in the life sciences will be discussed.
Speaker Bio: David A. Relman, M.D., is the Thomas C. and Joan M. Merigan Professor in Medicine, and Microbiology & Immunology at Stanford University, and Chief of Infectious Diseases at the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System. He is also Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI), and served as science co-director at the Center for International Security and Cooperation from 2013-2017. He is currently director of a new Biosecurity Initiative at FSI.
Relman identified several historically important and novel microbial disease agents, and was an early pioneer in the modern study of the human indigenous microbiota (microbiome). His lab group currently examines human microbial community assembly, and community stability and resilience.
Among policy-relevant activities, Relman is currently a member of the Intelligence Community Studies Board at the National Academies of Science (NAS), served as vice-chair of the NAS Committee that reviewed the science performed for the FBI 2001 Anthrax Letters investigation, and was a member of the National Science Advisory Board on Biosecurity. He was elected to the National Academy of Medicine in 2011.