Elizabeth R. Griffin Program

Biosafety and Biosecurity Subject Matter Expert Interviews

In honor of Biosafety and Biosecurity Month, the Elizabeth R. Griffin Biosafety and Biosecurity Fellows, Ryan Houser and Hannah Locke, had the opportunity to interview four subject matter experts in the fields of biosafety, biosecurity, and occupational health. These subject matter experts, Dr. Rebecca Mortiz, Dr. Matthew Sharkey, Mr. Joshua Kurjan, and Dr. Joseph Kozlovac, provided insights on the current state of their fields, as well as guidance to a new generation of biosafety and biosecurity professionals and policymakers. We would like to thank each of them for their time, the insights, and their continued contributions in the field. Links to the interviews are provided below.

Interview with Dr. Rebecca Mortiz: https://georgetown.box.com/s/tx0gepdmbi0zxjy6xy0uaiommzmd4w13

Interview with Dr. Matthew Sharkey: https://georgetown.box.com/s/a6ca44wmzkjtumnmhx4q35uweu8772hq

Interview with Mr. Joshua Kurjan: https://georgetown.box.com/s/emfmlitzjlyfc1fmi18f51ap7lguia7y

Interview with Dr. Joeseph Kozlovac: https://georgetown.box.com/s/mxqu2vwo35hwjvvro94venjbu2g27nw5

About the Elizabeth R. Griffin Foundation

The Elizabeth R. Griffin Program at Georgetown University

In 2018, the Elizabeth R. Griffin Research Foundation selected Georgetown University to advance its research and education missions, launching a new era as the Elizabeth R. Griffin Program (ERG). ERG at Georgetown builds on the 20-year legacy of the Foundation’s work and the Georgetown University Medical Center’s mission of excellence in research, education, and the improvement of human health and well-being. The ERG Program works to enhance and sustain leadership in the expanding field of global health science and security. Through collaborative research, training, and education, ERG at Georgetown promotes evidence-based biosafety and biosecurity practices to protect the health and safety of researchers as well as the workers on the front lines of disease detection around the world.

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About Beth

The late Elizabeth R Griffin smiles while wearing a graduation robe

Beth Griffin was an artistic, intelligent and compassionate young woman who met a tragic and premature death after contracting B virus (Cercopithecine Herpesvirus 1), a disease carried by macaque monkeys, as a result of a preventable ocular exposure and subsequent delayed diagnosis and treatment.

Beth is survived by her older sister, Kimberly Griffin Hicks, a pediatrician in Knoxville, Tennessee, and by her mother, Caryl Griffin Russell, of Knoxville, Tennessee, a registered nurse who owned a health care consulting business prior to Beth’s death and is now an ordained United Methodist minister. Beth’s father, William C. Griffin, was a practicing dermatologist at the time of her death and is since deceased.

Beth’s charismatic personality brightened the lives of those around her. Her talents and interests ranged from academics with an emphasis in advanced biological as well as psychological studies to dance to volunteer community-building activities. Beth attended public schools in Kingsport, graduating from Dobyns-Bennett High School, class of 1993. While in junior high and high school, Beth distinguished herself as a student, a cheerleader, and a member of National Championship dance teams and high school Show Choir.

After graduation, Beth moved to Atlanta, Georgia, to attend prestigious Agnes Scott College. She completed a double major in biology and psychology, was a member of the Modern Dance Team, and was a paid researcher in the biology department. Beth graduated with honors with a Bachelor of Science degree in May 1997.

While at Agnes Scott College, Beth was a member of the Studio Dance Theater, Outdoors Club, Circle K International, and volunteered for Habitat for Humanity. She served as an intern at Zoo Atlanta, a volunteer research assistant at White River National Refuge, a volunteer research assistant at Yerkes Primate Center, and was a National Science Foundation Undergraduate Research Fellow. The Elizabeth R. Griffin Research Internship was established by the ERG Foundation as a tribute to the important role Agnes Scott College played in Beth’s life.

Beth’s strong academic background was underscored by her research, which is credited through the co-authorship of several scientific publications. These include “Maternal Cradling and Infant Nipple Preference in Rhesus Macaques,” “Sexual Dimorphism in the Terminal Abdominal Ganglion of Schistorcerca Americana,” “Nesting and Migrating Patterns of Prothonetary Warbler and Acadian Flycatcher,” “Sex Differences in Infant Rhesus Macaques’ Tantrum Vocalizations: The Relationship to the Pre-Natal Hormone Environment,” and “Effects of Prenatal Testosterone on Later Infant Directed Behavior.”

At the time of her death, Beth was a research assistant at Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. At Yerkes, Beth was engaged in behavioral research on hormonal influences in Rhesus macaques, and was in the process of applying to graduate schools to continue her pursuit of studies and research in the biological/psychological sciences.

Beth’s unfortunate and needless death not only robbed her family and friends of her vibrant presence, but deprived the larger world of medicine of her untold potential in the field of animal research. Beth’s incident and death exposed vulnerable areas in institutional policies and practices which potentially sabotage biosafety, biosecurity, and effective emergency response to biological exposures. As a result, Beth’s family established The Elizabeth R. Griffin Research Foundation – now the Elizabeth R. Griffin Program at Georgetown University’s Center for Global Health Science and Security – with the fervent desire that the scientific community and the general public could continue to learn the larger lessons and insights her case can provide from a life that had so much to offer the world.

News & Photos

On November 5, 2020, Erin Sorrell (new window) had the pleasure of introducing the Griffin Lecture Award Presentation at the 63rd Annual Biosafety and Biosecurity Conference presented by ABSA International. This year’s recipient, Dr. Nisreen AL-Hmoud, Director of Biosafety and Biosecurity Centre at the Royal Scientific Society of Jordan, presented her lecture “Impact of Capacity Building Activities in MENA Region on Enhancing Laboratory Biosafety and Biosecurity: Insights from Regional Scientists”. Dr. AL-Hmoud gave an overview about capacity-building initiatives and programs in biosafety and biosecurity that have taken place in the MENA region during the last decade. An assessment of the impact of these initiatives on scientists at local and regional levels was discussed, where the gaps in training activities that require further development were highlighted and sustainable methods to build cooperative regional biosafety and biosecurity opportunities were deliberated. The Griffin Program is proud to support leaders like Dr. AL Hmoud and look forward to her continued contributions to the field.

Mr. Ed You spoke at the Center’s Global Health Security Seminar Series on 23 October for
Biosafety and Biosecurity Month. His talk, Safeguarding the Bioeconomy: Biosecurity Needs a
Security Patch…Badly highlighted the need to radically redefine what we consider a biological
threat. Biological threats have historically focused on addressing emerging infectious diseases or
the possibility of engineering a virus that could start the zombie apocalypse. Today, as biology
continues to converge with the cyber realm, new security challenges will arise. In the area of
health care, there is a general failure to recognize biological data as a potential economic driver
and therefore a national security concern.

Erin Sorrell, Claire Standley and Julie Fischer recently conducted a two-day pre-conference
training on Biorisk Communications: Tailoring Information for Diverse Institutional
Stakeholders. The online training was held 14 and 15 October. The 63 rd Annual Biosafety and
Biosecurity Conference is being held virtually 4-6 November.

On 1 October, Erin Sorrell represented the Program at the Front Range Biological Safety
Symposium where she spoke to members about the importance and role of biosafety and
biosecurity in the Global Health Security Agenda.

Rev. Caryl Griffin Russell presented a special lecturer at the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS) Annual National Meeting on 29 October, sharing Beth’s story and how it impacted laboratory animal science and biosafety/biosecurity policies and practices. The session was co-sponsored by the Georgetown University Center for Global Health Science and Security and the Association of Primate Veterinarians.

Rev. Caryl Griffin Russell described the “marriage” between the Elizabeth R. Griffin Foundation and the Center for Global Health Sciences and Security as an introduction to the Griffin Lecture Award by Dr. Julie Fischer on “All Appropriate Measures: Biosafety and Biosecurity in an Era of Global Health Threats,” on 16 October at ABSA-International’s 61st Annual Biological Safety Conference.

Julie Fischer facilitated a side event on The AMR Challenge: Building Momentum for Local Action, co-sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the United Kingdom Department of Health and Social Care, at the 5th Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) Ministerial meeting in Bali, Indonesia, on 6 November 2018. The side event aimed to build momentum for addressing antimicrobial resistance with a One Health approach, both locally and globally, by encouraging public and private stakeholders to make concrete commitments to join the GHSA AMR Action Package, the “Call to Action 2”, and to adopt the AMR Challenge nationally.

Jim Welch is pictured at the A-PBA Biorisk Conference with Dr. Diah Iskandriati, Biosafety Officer at the Primate Research Center, Bogor Agricultural University in Bogor, Indonesia.

Jim Welch, Affiliate of Elizabeth R Griffin Program (and the former Executive Director of the Elizabeth R. Griffin Foundation) presented the keynote address at the 13th Asia-Pacific Biosafety Association Biorisk Conference, held 28-31 August in Beijing, China. Jim is pictured here at the A-PBA Biorisk Conference with Dr. Diah Iskandriati, Biosafety Officer at the Primate Research Center, Bogor Agricultural University in Bogor, Indonesia, who was named a 2018 Biosafety Hero by the International Federation of Biosafety Associations (IFBA). Jim kicked off the conference session on “Global partnerships for Biosafety and Biosecurity in Global Health Security” with his address on “Working Safely and Securely: A Scientists’ Obligation to Society.

Legacy: The Elizabeth R. Griffin Foundation

Elizabeth R. Griffin died in 1997 as a result of an ocular exposure to a macaque (monkey) virus that occurred while she was a primate research worker at the Yerkes Primate Research Center. Following Beth’s death, her family explored ways that they could prevent similar events from occurring while still demonstrating strong support for safe and responsible research.

The Griffin family created a non-profit foundation in Beth’s name to fulfill this mission. In its early years, the ERG Foundation developed relationships with the Association of Primate Veterinarians (APV), the American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine (ACLAM), the American Association of Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS), and the Institute for Laboratory Animal Research (ILAR). These collaborations helped the ERG Foundation develop and deliver professional education programs for researchers on non-human primates, to create Medical Alert Information Cards that are used throughout the world by people who work with macaques, to support research to understand and reduce risks of zoonotic diseases amongst people working with animals, and to encourage and support essential biosafety training.

Following the Amerithrax incident and the 2003 SARS outbreak, the ERG Foundation became a leading advocate for biosafety awareness and training, adding the American Biological Safety Association (ABSA) as a key partner and collaborating with numerous science-based organizations to focus on prevention through high-quality biosafety training, research on biological exposures, and support for occupational health awareness and improvement around the world.

In 2018, the ERG Foundation selected the Center for Global Health Science and Security at Georgetown University to advance its research and education missions, launching a new era as the Elizabeth R Griffin Program (ERGP-CGHSS).

ERGP-CGHSS builds on the 20-year legacy of the Foundation’s work and the Georgetown University Medical Center’s mission of excellence in research, education, and the improvement of human health and well-being.  ERGP-CGHSS is committed to:

  • Conducting collaborative research to identify best practices for prevention;
  • Promoting safe work practices, biosafety, and biosecurity in research and clinical laboratories worldwide through training and advocacy; and
  • Strengthening global health security networks and leadership to achieve to make the world safe and secure from infectious disease threats.

Contact Us

Contact Information

Telephone: (202) 687-9359
Email: ergp@georgetown.edu

Mailing Address

3900 Reservoir Road, NW
Medical-Dental Building
SE 318
Washington, DC 20007

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