Biological Samples Found in Infectious Disease Expert's Luggage Destroyed

Undeclared biological samples were discovered in luggage at Detroit Metropolitan Airport last month.

The materials belonged to a Polish infectious and systemic disease professor, who failed to declare them to the authorities when he landed on November 14.

The passenger was questioned by agriculture specialists from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, who found out he was a well-published professor.

The unidentified vials were packed in dry ice in the traveler's luggage and were later found to be non-hazardous, non-infectious genetically modified neutrophils, a type of white blood cell.

The academic said he had intended to use the material for his research but did not have the documents to prove his claims, so they were destroyed safely.

"CBP plays a critical role in protecting public health, as well as mitigating the effects of prohibited biological items," Area Port Director Robert Larkin said in a press release.

"I'm proud of the work our officers and agriculture specialists do every day to prohibit the unauthorized entry of biological materials into the United States."

Federal, international and state laws strictly regulate shipping, transport, and import of biological materials. Import of biological materials must be clearly marked, labeled, packaged or placarded in accordance with the requirements of all international, federal and state agencies.

Vials biological material
The unidentified vials were packaged in dry ice in the traveler’s luggage VINCENZO PINTO/AFP via Getty Images

Under proper circumstances, biological samples are permitted and regulated according to a variety of factors determined by various federal agencies.

U.S. Customs said in a statement: "On November 14, a traveler arriving from Poland via Amsterdam failed to declare any research related materials and was referred for a secondary inspection after CBP Officers determined additional checks were necessary.

"In secondary, the passenger was questioned by agriculture specialists who ascertained the traveler to be a well published professor on infectious and systemic diseases. Subsequent checks of the traveler's baggage identified unknown vials of biological materials packaged in dry ice."

It continued: "The contents of the vials were later identified as non-hazardous, non-infectious genetically modified neutrophils and were ultimately destroyed under proper sterilization protocols."

Earlier this year, U.S. Customs intercepted two vials of undeclared biological material at an airport in Texas.

According to the 31-year-old traveler, a citizen of India, the vials contained liquid cell growth medium for cell culture and was headed for Galveston. The traveler did not declare the vials and only declared apples.

"There are strict guidelines for importing biological materials," said Houston CBP Port Director Shawn Polley. "This interception is an example of our commitment to seeking out illegal goods at our port of entry."