Early in May 2016, staff members from the Institute for Infectious Animal Diseases (IIAD), a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) Center of Excellence, held a knowledge exchange workshop for the new Multi-Laboratory International Collaboration Environment (MICE) project with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia’s federal government agency for scientific research. The workshop was split across several consecutive days at three different CSIRO locations: Sydney, Canberra and Geelong. The workshop was also attended by researchers from the Texas Center for Applied Technology (TCAT).
Funded by the S&T Chemical and Biological Defense Division, the two-year project aims to investigate, implement, pilot and evaluate a virtual collaborative environment that will support bringing together animal health diagnostic and research biocontainment laboratories. .
“Rapid, collaborative communication is a key element to containing or controlling the outbreak of high-consequence livestock diseases,” said Dr. Michelle Colby, Chief of S&T’s Agriculture Defense Branch. “This project is designed to enhance collaboration and coordination among international experts, researchers and responders in support of day-to-day operations as well as during an emerging outbreak.” The project will enable and improve the abilities to facilitate meetings, research discussions, data analyses, training events and formal briefings between researchers and responders.
Ultimately, the program will assess different commercial and non-commercial solutions for virtual collaboration and develop and execute an implementation strategy for integrating this technology with other functionality within AgConnect®. The critical final phases of the project will include fielding the system to several diagnostic and biocontainment laboratories in the U.S. for evaluation.
The workshop’s first day was in Marsfield, New South Wales – a CSIRO location that focuses on astronomy and information technology research. Here, the group met with the CSIRO team and reviewed the CSIRO Collaboration Platform (CCP) prototype, IIAD’s AgConnect® suite of tools, the MICE program and TCAT’s DREAMS and mLife medical platforms. The group then traveled to the Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) in Geelong, Victoria for the second day’s workshop, where IIAD and TCAT staff members were able to see the CCP in action, learn more about its capabilities, strengths, weaknesses, modes of use and the challenges encountered during development, deployment and use. An initial discussion also identified some of the international operational requirements and uses for the system. The third day’s workshop was in Canberra, Australian Capital Territory with CSIRO’s Information Management and Technology group. The workshop discussed some of the security requirements to assure future interoperability with CSIRO facilities. The last day’s workshop was held again at Marsfield to plan and discuss the next steps of the project.
“The MICE program has a great potential to make a lasting impact in the high containment and diagnostic laboratory community,” said Gerald Parker, DVM, Ph.D., IIAD director. “The opportunity to visit CSIRO, see their technology and explore collaborative ways to work together has kicked off this project on a great foot – we’re excited to see where this new partnership and program leads the Institute.”
Attending the meeting from IIAD and TCAT were: Melissa Berquist, Ph.D., IIAD associate director; Matthew Cochran, DVM, MIA, IIAD program director; Jim Wall, Ph.D., TCAT executive director; Keith Biggers, Ph.D., TCAT director of computing information and technology; and Christopher Kocmoud, TCAT senior engineer.
Headquartered in College Station, Texas, IIAD was founded in 2004 as a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Center of Excellence. The Institute focuses on research, education and outreach to prevent, detect, mitigate and recover from transboundary, emerging and/or zoonotic diseases, which may be introduced intentionally or through natural processes. In 2014, IIAD was recognized by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) as a Collaborating Centre in the specialty of biological threat reduction. IIAD is the only centre of this kind in OIE’s America’s region and the only OIE Collaborating Centre within the Texas A&M University System. For more information, visit iiad.tamu.edu.
IIAD and TCAT staff members traveled to Australia to visit multiple CSIRO sites for the MICE project kickoff meeting. Left to right: Keith Biggers, Ph.D., TCAT director of computing information and technology; Melissa Berquist, Ph.D., IIAD associate director; Jim Wall, Ph.D., TCAT executive director; Matthew Cochran, DVM, MIA, IIAD program director; Christopher Kocmoud, TCAT senior engineer; Nerolie Oakes, Data 61 senior engineer; John Zic, Ph.D, Data 61 research group leader.
CSIRO staff showcase how the CCP allows real-time group-to-group interaction across the containment barrier while also allowing a collaborative workspace and live interaction with laboratory devices and information systems.