Feb. 8, 2002

Technology will be used at 2002 Winter Olympics

The results of the work, by researchers at Livermore and Los Alamos national laboratories, will form part of the security network at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

"The events of Sept. 11 have demonstrated the importance of taking the bio-threat seriously," said Gen. John Gordon, administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration. "While our people have been concerned for years, and we have worked to be prepared, these events have heightened our resolve."

Since 1999, researchers at Livermore and Los Alamos have worked to develop a system capable of detecting airborne biological incidents for special events, such as political conventions, dignitary visits and major sporting events.

The system, called the Biological Aerosol Sentry and Information System, or BASIS, has been developed under the Chemical and Biological National Security Program of the National Nuclear Security Administration by Livermore and Los Alamos scientists.

BASIS consists of a network of sampling units, similar to those used by the Environmental Protection Agency to monitor air quality, to collect and check aerosols. Filters capture aerosols and are then collected several times a day for analysis.

At the heart of BASIS is a transportable field laboratory where collected samples are analyzed using the most reliable and sensitive identification techniques available. The samples are analyzed using DNA-based techniques that have been validated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

BASIS reduces the time for detecting a bio-agent release from days or weeks to less than a day, allowing public health officials to have much more rapid warning, said Livermore project manager Dennis Imbro. "The early notice could mean the difference between life and death for people in any contaminated area," he said.

Public health procedures have traditionally relied on observation and surveillance of symptoms displayed by infected individuals for detecting and tracking outbreaks of disease such as those that might result from a biological attack.

Wiley Davidson, Imbro’s fellow project leader at Los Alamos, emphasized that the BASIS project is a partnership that includes public health and law enforcement agencies.

"A strength of this program is that we work with the people on the ground," Davidson said. "This allows feedback from responders to flow back into the program and guide future research."

BASIS has undergone extensive, real-world testing in urban environments.

While no specific threats have been received for the Salt Lake City Olympic Games, according to law enforcement officials, BASIS has been deployed for use as part of the overall security for the event.

During preparations for the Olympic Games, Livermore and Los Alam,os researchers worked closely with Utah Department of Health officials. "It’s been a very good relationship," Imbro said.

In developing BASIS, Los Alamos scientists developed the system’s aerosol collection units, the system’s command and control software and sample handling procedures for outside the field laboratory.

For their part, Livermore scientists were responsible for the BASIS biodetection equipment and DNA analysis procedures, as well as the system’s communications capability.

About 30 Livermore biomedical researchers, computer scientists and engineers have worked on the BASIS project during the past three years. At Los Alamos, about 10 staffers have been involved in the project. This work builds upon many years of research in the biological sciences at Los Alamos and Livermore, including the well-known work on the Human Genome Project.

BASIS represents one system among a suite of bio-detection technologies under development at LLNL. One instrument, the Handheld Advanced Nucleic Acid Analyzer, or HANAA, is a portable machine that can be used to identify pathogens based on their DNA, with results reported in about 30 minutes. This technology is in the process of being licensed to Baltimore-based Environmental Technologies Group, which expects to have commercial units available this year.

A second instrument, an automated version of BASIS, is under development and has been dubbed the Autonomous Pathogen Detection System. This is a continuous and fully automated monitoring system that functions like a biological smoke detector. It will be able to detect and identify as many as 100 different types of potentially harmful organisms that may be in the air. This systems is now in a prototype stage of development and demonstration.

At Los Alamos, other technologies in development include the National Infrastructure Simulation and Analysis Center, NISAC, a powerful new decision support system for government and industry decision-makers in the areas of crisis response, infrastructure policy, planning and investment. NISAC uses the nation’s largest scientific computational capabilities to discover previously unknown relationships and develop insights about infrastructure vulnerabilities to feasible terrorist threats.

Las Alamos also has developed a new approach for neutralizing deadly toxins released by pathogenic bacteria, such as those that cause anthrax and plague. The researchers have designed and laboratory-tested a decoy molecule, or receptor-mimicking molecule, that stops the spread of the bacteria’s toxin by preferentially binding the toxin, thus keeping it from binding to the immune system’s cells.