Biology and global health will heavily influence security in the coming decades, posing critical challenges for humanity and international cooperation across borders.

Biological threats include naturally emerging infectious diseases due to laboratory accidents, unintended consequences of advances in science and technology, and the deliberate misuse of biology and their associated technologies.  Key social, political and environmental factors affect these risks and our ability to reduce them. Our research seeks to understand and solve these challenges, while promoting the beneficial uses of science that protect societies.

At the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC), we are focused on analyzing the advances in science and technology that are changing the international security landscape. Much is happening now, as rapid advances in the biological sciences and technology continue to expand our insights and tools to better confront these threats.

These advances offer both benefits and risks. For example, while access to new technologies may enable the engineering of new biological threats, they may also generate new countermeasures to manage disease outbreaks. At the same time, the misuse of these technologies could have devastating impacts on large numbers of people and ecosystems.

As a result, a growing need exists to understand, anticipate and reduce such biological threats. Our CISAC faculty, partners and students are working to illuminate problems and identify practical solutions in biosecurity and global health. Topics of interest include:

  • Understanding the trends, sources and nature of the risks in life sciences research and development;
  • Creating risk-reducing strategies for researchers and practitioners;
  • Establishing norms and practices in the life sciences communities;
  • Developing and testing governance models and approaches across different settings.

CISAC is a core partner in the new Biosecurity Initiative at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (website forthcoming). This initiative will focus work in biosecurity at Stanford, deepening connections among diverse experts and disciplines, including biology, engineering, medicine, law and the social sciences. Our ultimate goal is to protect humanity while advancing the science of biology and global health in positive, constructive ways.


CISAC Core Researchers

David A. Relman (Medicine; Microbiology & Immunology) researches the human indigenous microbiota (microbiome), the nature and mechanisms of variation in patterns of microbial diversity and function in humans, and previously-uncharacterized pathogens. He has served as an advisor to the U.S. Government on matters pertaining to host-microbe interactions, emerging infectious diseases, future biological threats, and biosecurity (including NSABB). He has also served as science co-director at CISAC.

Megan Palmer researches the complex governance challenges that accompany rapidly increasing global access to biotechnology. Her research has focused on strategies for governing dual use research, international diffusion of ethical and safety norms and practices, and security implications of alternative technology design decisions.  She also has created and led many programs aimed at promoting responsible leadership in biotechnology.


Affiliated Faculty

Mildred Cho (Medicine) studies ethical and social issues in genetic research, stem cell research, bioweapons and microbial genome research.

Drew Endy (Bioengineering) is a pioneer of synthetic biology who co-founded the International Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) Competition and co-leads the Stanford Joint Initiative for Metrology in Biology (JIMB). He serves on the World Health Organization Smallpox Committee and previously served on National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB).

Francis Fukuyama researches democracy, international political economy, and strategic and security issues, including the impact of disruptive technologies.

Hank Greely (Law) specializes in the ethical, legal, and social implications of new biomedical technologies, particularly those related to neuroscience, genetics, and stem cell research.

Herb Lin (Hoover Institution) researches the policy-related dimensions of cybersecurity and cyberspace. He has studied the intersection of cyber and biotechnology and its implications for national security.

Doug Owens (Medicine) researches topics including technology assessment and methods for clinical decision making and guideline development.

Tim Stearns (Biology) is a researcher in human biology and genetics. He is also member of JASON, an independent group of scientists which advises the United States government on matters of science and technology.

Lawrence M. Wein (Management Science) is a researcher in management sciences who has studied emergency responses to bioterrorism and mathematical models in operations management, medicine and biology.

Paul Wise (Pediatrics) studies child health and health policy. He leads a multidisciplinary initiative directed at integrating expertise in political science, security, and health services in areas of civil conflict and unstable governance.

releasing genetically-modified mosquitoes
Biosecurity & Global Health