Do Texas Tech Research Labs Have a Security Problem? - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

1/15/03

Do Texas Tech Research Labs Have a Security Problem?

How could plague bacteria samples become missing from the Texas Tech Health and Science Center? Several questions were raised in Wednesday's news conference as to the security of the center and why the TTUHSC would even have this bacteria.

Before word was out that the bacteria was accounted for, officials with the Health Sciences Center and the City were confident the public threat of this bacteria was minimal. The bacteria in the test tubes or vials is the culture of an organism that can cause Bubonic Plague.

The tubes were stored in a secured area of the Health Sciences Center, with only certain faculty members and housekeeping having access.

"The research that was being conducted were to identify modern antibiotics to see if this germ was susceptible to modern antibiotics so an investigation like this is performed at many different academic centers throughout the country identifying new info to characterize the bacteria more carefully. There are reports that other countries may have weaponized forms of this, this was not weaponized," said Dr. Richard Homan, Dean, School of Medicine.

If a test tube containing the samples were to be broken or shattered there wouldn't be any risk of spread of anything like that. The bacteria was not in a form that could be used as a weapon immediately, the concern is that they could be taken and processed somewhere else and developed into a form then used as a bio weapon," said Dr David Waagner, Infectious Disease Specialist.

Experts say that if the bacteria had gotten into someone's hands, it would take a great deal of knowledge and expertise in order to turn this culture into a biological weapon. While this bacteria is common among medical research centers, Texas tech says they've been researching with the culture since the biological threat came about following the September 11th terrorist attacks.

Arrest Made in Missing Bacteria Case

Federal agents have made an arrest in the case of the missing vials containing the deadly bubonic bacteria from the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center.

At 7:50pm, Wednesday evening, the F.B.I. took Dr. Thomas C. Butler into federal custody. Dr. Butler is a researcher who has been working on new methods on treating bubonic plague.

Wednesday night, he is charged with making a false statement to a federal agent, specifically that "thirty viles under his control were missing January 11th."Sources close to NewsChannel 11 have also revealed that federal agents and Lubbock police searched his private residence overnight.

Now for some background information on Dr. Butler. He completed his education at Johns Hopkins University, and Vanderbilt University. He has been involved in plague research for more than 25 years and is internationally recognized in his field.

Currently, Dr. Butler serves as Professor of Internal Medicine and Chief of Infectious Diseases Division in the School of Medicine's Department of Internal Medicine.

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