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USAFSAM to study potential transfer of novel viruses via bed bugs

  • Published
  • By Mindy Cooper
  • Air Force Research Laboratory

The U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine recently signed a limited-purpose Material Transfer Agreement Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (MTA-CRADA) with the University Hospitals of Cleveland, Ohio.

This unique agreement does not include a financial contribution, but rather the hospital is providing USAFSAM with frozen bed bugs collected from patients with symptomatic illness for testing and evaluation. In return, USAFSAM will share the test data with the hospital.

Bedbug infestation has become a national problem. Although traditional testing has shown that the insects do not transfer known viruses to humans, further testing needs to be done to detect the possible transfer of novel [not seen before] viruses.

As part of the Air Force Research Laboratory, 711th Human Performance Wing, USAFSAM strives to continually work toward detecting new and emerging pathogens. With the material from the hospital, the lab plans to utilize next generation sequence testing (Illumina miSeq and the Pacbio) to investigate sequences that aren’t in current databases.


“ER doctors report seeing many patients with bed bug bites that have symptoms of infections,” said Dr. Clarise Starr, deputy of USAFSAM Applied Technology and Genomics Center. “But testing for the known viruses comes up negative. At USAFAM, we have the capability to do virus hunting in a way that can benefit both the military and civilian populations. This testing is one such instance.”


The goal of the initial round of testing is to identify unusual sequences that may exist and compile data that may support further studies.


“Material transfer agreements are one type of limited-purpose CRADAs that allow for quick collaboration with the Air Force,” said John Schutte, 711th HPW Technology Transfer specialist. A CRADA is a legal agreement between a federal laboratory and one or more nonfederal parties such as private industry and academia. CRADAs offer both parties the opportunity to leverage each other's resources when conducting research and development that is mutually beneficial.

“It is our goal to expand our bio-surveillance capabilities so that we will get to a point where we can screen for all organisms in any environment in which our Airmen work,” Starr said. “We want the ability to identify any risks before people are symptomatic.”