Washington Plans Global Meeting on Weapon-Sensitive Biological Studies

A scanning electron microscope image of the avian flu virus. A senior U.S. government biodefense official last week reaffirmed support for a moratorium on research into factors necessary to render avian influenza communicable between mammals (PRNewsFoto/Zygote Media Group).
A scanning electron microscope image of the avian flu virus. A senior U.S. government biodefense official last week reaffirmed support for a moratorium on research into factors necessary to render avian influenza communicable between mammals (PRNewsFoto/Zygote Media Group).

The United States intends before January to convene a global gathering aimed at addressing questions over biological research with potential for misuse, the head of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases wrote in a commentary published last week by mBio.

The planned conference would seek to establish a justification for such studies as well as their associated dangers, NIAID Director Anthony Fauci wrote in remarks reported by the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. He provided no specifics on the event's timing or location.

Separately, Fauci reaffirmed and elaborated on his endorsement of a voluntary abstention from researching how the avian flu virus can be made transmissible among mammals.

Bioterrorism concerns prompted the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity last year to recommend keeping some information out of research articles produced from U.S.-funded work at the Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands and the University of Wisconsin (Madison) that increased the transmissibility of the flu virus. Circulation of the unredacted studies ultimately took place with support from the federal panel, which backed the move in March following the submission of new data from the two scientific teams.

Restrictions remain in effect for further related studies, though they were originally intended to expire after 60 days.

The potential gains from the avian flu studies appear greater than associated dangers, but it is possible for scientists to more thoroughly explain their motivation for the studies in advance of their execution, Fauci contended.

The official said flu experts should be open to exchanges over potential dangers from such experimentation. "We must also not rule out the possibility that in the course of these discussions, a broad consensus might be reached that certain experiments actually should not be conducted or reported," he added.

The pause in the avian flu studies "is providing us the time and space we all need to work together and get this right, and it should be continued until we do so," Fauci wrote.

Oct. 15, 2012
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The United States intends before January to convene a global gathering aimed at addressing questions over biological research with potential for misuse, the head of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases wrote in a commentary published last week by mBio.

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