The controversy revives. Via The Independent: Experts condemn plans to lift ban on research into deadly H5N1 birdflu virus. Excerpt:
Plans to lift a voluntary ban on research into the deadly H5N1 birdflu virus have been denounced by leading scientists who are appalled that the work has already led to flu strains that are potentially infectious between humans.
Flu researchers announced the moratorium last January after growing concerns about two experiments funded by the US Government where scientists deliberately mutated H5N1 birdflu to see whether it could be transmitted between ferrets, a standard animal substitute for flu in humans.
The moratorium on deliberately creating highly infectious strains of H5N1 was supposed to last 60 days but has continued for six months.
This weekend, influenza scientists will meet in New York in the hope of lifting the ban and allowing the work to continue.
However, leading experts contacted by The Independent said that lifting the moratorium would be wrong given that a highly-transmissible form of H5N1 birdflu - which is known to be extremely lethal to humans - could escape from a research laboratory to cause a deadly flu pandemic.
“The moratorium should be continued until a broader, dispassionate, international discussion can be held to carefully consider the risks and benefits,” said David Relman, professor of infectious diseases at Stanford University in California.
“The consequences of misuse or accidental release are potentially catastrophic on the global human and animal populations. Scientists have a deep moral and ethical responsibility to back off...it should not be decided by a group of flu researchers,” said Dr Relman, who also sits on the US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity.
The meeting in New York is being organised by the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases whose director, Tony Fauci, has gone on record as saying that he would like to “expedite as quickly as possible the lifting of the moratorium”.
The institute is part of the huge US National Institutes of Health (NIH) which funded the two research projects into highly transmissible H5N1 virus. One was led by Ron Fouchier of the Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam, the other by Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Richard Roberts, a Nobel prize-winning molecular biologist and expert in genetic engineering, said the moratorium should continue and that many experts are privately appalled that there are plans to lift it but are afraid of speaking out over fears that it might affect their funding from the NIH.
“It’s a big mistake at this point. The flu community is behaving as if they are the only show in town. I think for them to be allowed to create the most dangerous virus around is sheer lunacy,” said Dr Roberts, who although born in Britain works for a biotech company in New England.
“I’m not so much worried about terrorism but I am worried about an accidental escape from a laboratory. If it’s as dangerous as they believe, it could kill half the world’s population,” he said.