BPDF researchers part of team working on cyberbiosecurity issues for Defense Dept.

BPDF researchers part of team working on cyberbiosecurity issues for Defense Dept.

Calendar Icon Feb 09, 2017          RSS Feed RSS

Wallace Buchholz, BPDF director and research professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering (KETV)
Wallace Buchholz, BPDF director and research professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering (KETV)

The National Strategic Research Institute (NSRI) at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln recently received a contract from the Department of Defense (DoD) to further research in cyberbiosecurity, an emerging field in biomanufacturing.

The NSRI is one of 13 established University Affiliated Research Centers (UARCs) across the US, delivering relevant and timely research solutions that directly impact DoD operations and national security.

A team of research scientists from UNL, Colorado State University and Virginia Tech, overseen by the U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), will focus on vulnerabilities to and security of critical life science information.

"A pathway is being produced with protective and preventive solutions for mitigating vulnerabilities in our nation's critical infrastructure," said NSRI Executive Director and retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Robert Hinson.

"Our project will establish and develop the foundations of cyberbiosecurity as a new specialty at the interface between biosecurity and cybersecurity," said project principal investigator Randall Murch, research lead, National Capital Region and professor of practice at Virginia Tech. "Our work could gain the attention and involvement from a broad community of interest to design and implement technical and non-technical measures to protect and secure critical life science information that could be misappropriated or misused."

Nebraska Engineering's Biological Process Development Facility (BPDF) will serve as the centerpiece facility for the project. The BPDF offers biopharmaceutical process development designed for successful technology transfer from the bench to large-scale manufacturing. Bioproduction relies on chemical engineering infrastructure to design, test and produce biopharmaceuticals of critical value to human and animal health. Since its inception in 1998, processes for over 50 products including vaccines, other biotherapeutics, chemokines, and agricultural/industrial enzymes have been developed at UNL's BPDF.

Wally Buchholz, director of the BPDF and research professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, said this project will "identify all critical information that is essential to a bioproduction facility's successful operation and outcome. The results will help us to understand the tolerances and vulnerabilities that can be exploited for various nefarious purposes and the specific methods that could be used.

"The biosecurity and biodefense fields are continually evolving. The security of biological data that is being produced to improve public health and medicine against emerging, re-emerging infectious and/or chronic diseases is often at the heart of discussions in the life sciences field."

The same knowledge can be used for bioterrorism purposes, such as mutating or altering biological agents to cause disease, making them resistant to current medicines or increasing their ability to be spread into the environment. Critical data can be stolen and exploited by other parties for their own gain such as theft of intellectual property for financial benefit or competitive advantage to include industrial espionage and sabotage.

"Our aim is to provide specific recommendations to the DoD for advancing security in biodefense and biosecurity," said Buchholz.

Founded in 2012, the National Strategic Research Institute (NSRI) at the University of Nebraska is the only University Affiliated Research Center (UARC) in the country dedicated to delivering solutions for Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD) to U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) and across other federal agencies. NSRI provides research and development for the U.S. Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, and other governmental agencies in multiple mission-critical competency areas — including development of medical countermeasures to WMD; nuclear detection and forensics; consequence management; chemical and biological weapons detection; and space, cyber, and telecom law. Learn more at nsri.nebraska.edu

Colorado State (CSU) is also an integral part of the national biodefense system. BioMARC, the university's high-containment biomanufacturing unit develops, manufactures and tests vaccines for the DoD and other government agencies. 

Virginia Tech brings extensive expertise from both the National Capital Region and Blacksburg campus in complex systems analysis, biosecurity, forensics, operational context and U.S. Government requirements and cyber-physical systems.