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CNS Issue Brief: The Dual-Use Dilemma

May 4, 2012

Scientists continue studying the H5N1 virus Scientists continue studying the H5N1 virus
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H5N1's high mortality rate and the possibility that it might mutate to become easily transmissible from human-to-human make it a high priority research topic for public health preparedness and pandemic prevention efforts. However, these same factors mean research involving the virus poses public health and biosecurity risks, evoking a debate about the dual-use nature of this research.

Recently, researchers in the Netherlands and the United States identified genetic mutations that could also enable H5N1 to become easily transmissible from one human to another. In the United States and abroad, controversy has emerged about whether the details of these two particularly sensitive H5N1 studies should be openly published to aid global pandemic preparedness or withheld in the interests of national security.

Michael Tu explores the uncertainties around H5N1, federal strategies for managing dual-use research of concern and other issues around this unresolved controversy. The stakes are high.  As Tu notes, "The importance of finding a workable solution and continuing to gain knowledge on H5N1 cannot be overstated. By some estimates, a pandemic form of the virus could kill up to 1 billion people globally."

Read the full issue brief.