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Two Stage Rapid Biological Surveillance and Alarm System for Airborne Pathogenic Threats

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Fast, accurate bioterrorism alarm system developed

Airborne bacteria, viruses and other pathogens in the form of aerosols can pose a significant threat to public health when not detected early. Such aerosols are often behind pandemics and can be used as an insidious form of bioterrorism.

Digital Economy icon Digital Economy
Security icon Security
Health icon Health

Bioterrorism is likely to target public places where many people gather, such as subways and airports. As bioaerosols can quickly spread, rapid and accurate detection and identification are critical to saving lives. The EU-funded project TWOBIAS (Two stage rapid biological surveillance and alarm system for airborne pathogenic threats) was established to reduce security gaps and improve preparedness for and response to an attack using a bioaerosols. Because the high sensitivity required for early detection of bioaerosols can also lead to false positives, a significant effort was made to reduce the rate of false alarms. Hence, TWOBIAS worked to develop a biological detection unit (BDU) that acts as a first alarm (detect-to-warn) and a biological identification unit (BIU) with an automated microfluidic platform for action (detect-to-treat). In order to develop a more specific BDU with a low rate of false positives, three operative biological detection systems were used and run in parallel. Project partners also developed alarm algorithms that utilised signals from all three BDUs before the first alarm (detect-to-warn) signalled the BIU to begin identification of a sample collected by an air sampler. First responders will therefore have accurate information about the time and place of the event as well as the concentrations of the agent, thereby providing valuable data regarding exposure. Such knowledge is critical to first and effective actions regarding evacuation and isolation/treatment. The final tests and demonstration of the TWOBIAS system were conducted at the Muzeum interchange Metro station in Prague, during the night for five consecutive nights. A harmless biological simulant was dispersed as the trains were running at rush-hour frequency to create a realistic airflow and background environment. TWOBIAS results have increased understanding of the natural background in transport interchange areas. They have also improved the effectiveness of first responders by reducing the time needed to take protective action and medical and other countermeasures in order to reduce casualties. In addition, the project has made an important technological contribution to national and international security with a significantly improved BDU validated through a public site test. It has also increased understanding among scientists, engineers and end users of biological surveillance systems. Finally, the technology developed by TWOBIAS can be easily transferred to detect accidental aerosol releases and naturally occurring diseases, with major benefits for the public health of citizens around the world.

Keywords

Bioterrorism, bioaerosols, TWOBIAS, biological surveillance, first responders

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