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Bio defense, emotion detection research shown at DHS science conference


Research that may lead to a breakthrough treatment for biological attack and a way to automatically read emotions through body motion and facial expressions were among the scientific presentations at the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Science Conference and University Network Summit.

The meeting, held in Washington D.C. March 30-April 1, brought researchers, security industry officials, academics, first responders, and private infrastructure owners together in a collaborative environment to talk about new ways of approaching homeland security.

Approximately a dozen academic research presentations were made at the event. Researchers at the University of Illinois presented research aimed at binding possibly harmful cell toxins, and possibly using the same binding mechanisms to provide therapeutic benefits.

Michael Brothers, a graduate student in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, told Government Security News in an interview, the university’s project could lead to therapeutic treatments for a number of bacteria, including the Anthrax bacterium. Their research targeted Pasturella multocida, a bacterium that can cross from pets and livestock to infect humans via the respiratory system or through bites. The bacterium can produce a toxin that can cause tissue degeneration in humans.

Pasturella multocida toxin is a model for a host of other infectious toxin-producing bacteria, including Bordatella and Anthrax, according to Brothers. The University of Illinois researchers are working on a way to understand how the Pasturella toxin enters cells and possibly harness that process to attach therapeutic agents that can treat the disease.

In short, said Brothers, the end product of the research could be something like an inhalant treatment for Anthrax or other bio-terror agents. That’s years off, however, as the basic research has to be completed, he said, but the basic research on the Pasturella toxin could be key.

Another researcher from the City College of New York’s department of electrical engineering told Government Security News that his college is developing a way for a computer to scan facial and body movements and automatically detect a person’s emotional state.

The ability to automatically recognize emotional states with a machine could aid in applications like lie detection, personal identification, pain assessment and video indexing, said Shizi Chen, one of the City College researchers working on the project. The system uses two cameras and a database that follows 7,000 points in an image frame of a subject’s face and body to gauge their emotions. The software has been trained to recognize and identify emotions like fear, joy, surprise, sadness and anger in subjects. All of the emotions can register pretty uniformly regardless of where a person is from, said Chen.


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