(CNN) — A science journal is poised to publish a study that someexperts believe could give a recipe to bioterrorists. The study is from an experiment by a Dutch scientist who engineeredthe avian flu virus to make it more deadly to mammals by making itspread through the air. That experiment was funded by the U.S. government, and it hassparked a passionate debate among scientists.
Part of that debateis over where this research could lead, and whether it is worth it. The National Institutes of Health and some scientists say it is worth it. They say it couldultimately protect mankind by trying to anticipate how the viruscould mutate to one that causes a pandemic — like the one in thefilm “Contagion.” Dr. Anthony Fauci heads the NIH agency that funds infectiousdiseases research. It funded the controversial Dutch experiment.
“We need as scientists and health officials to stay one step aheadof the virus as it mutates and changes its capability,” Fauci toldCNN Radio recently. “To anticipate that would be important todetermine whether the countermeasures we have available, such asantivirals and vaccines, would actually be effective against such avirus that changed in such a way.” But a number of scientists are stepping forward to say it is notworth it — and that this research could actually bring us closerto that nightmare. CNN Radio’s Libby Lewis reports on the controversial research How? By making a lethal virus that spreads like seasonal flu. “We are playing with fire,” says Dr. Fiberglass Water Slides
Thomas Inglesby and hiscolleagues at the Center for Biosecurity at the University ofPittsburgh Medical Center. If this engineered virus were to escape the laboratory, by accidentor by evil, “it could endanger the lives of hundreds of millions ofpersons,” Inglesby says. The journal Science is now reviewing the manuscript by Dutchscientist Ron Fouchier , a virologist at the Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands. In December, the National Scientific Advisory Board for Biosecurity warned against publishing Fouchier’s study and a similar study from Wisconsin. China Water Park Equipments
The Wisconsin study was basedon a similar experiment but used a less lethal strain of the virus. In March, that same advisory board looked at revised versions andsaid the Wisconsin study was safe to publish. But some on the panel broke ranks on publishing Fouchier’s work. Twelve said yes; six said no. Michael Osterholm, an infectious diseases expert at the Universityof Minnesota, was one of the six “no” votes on the board. Water Playground Equipment
In aletter to NIH after the vote, Osterholm described the studies as”nearly a complete cookbook” for those who would do harm. The journal Nature just published the Wisconsin study. The journalScience is expected to publish Ron Fouchier’s study within weeks. NIH: OK to publish controversial bird flu studies Here’s what you need to know about the avian flu research: Is the engineered avian flu virus as easily spread between people,as well as animals? It’s not certain. But evidence shows it’s likely to spread the sameway between people as it does between the ferrets that Fouchierused in his experiment.
Why did the government fund this research if it’s so risky? They wanted to know why avian flu spreads so fast among birds butnot among people. People only catch bird flu if in they’re in closecontact with infected birds. Here, the government funded two studies, one led by Fouchier andthe other by Wisconsin flu researcher Yoshi Kawaoka. Both usedgenetic engineering to explore which mutations might turn an avianflu into one that could spread easily between people. The NIH says these experiments show that it’s possible for the birdflu virus to evolve to a highly transmissible killer virus like theone in “Contagion.” “These studies raised the red flag,” said Robert Webster, avirologist and flu researcher at St.
Jude Children’s ResearchHospital. “The cat’s out of the bag.” Well, now what? These experiments lay a path to a whole new area of geneticengineering in flu research. The government and supporters of the controversial experiments saymore research will lead to a better understanding of the geneticmutations that could lead to a viral pandemic. But other scientists say this is the wrong road to take.
Sir Richard Roberts, a molecular biologist who’s won the NobelPrize, spoke out at a recent National Academies workshop on thebird flu experiments. “Someone is trying to make the most dangerous virus we can thinkof,” Roberts said. “I don’t understand how one can justify that,unless there is no other way of getting the data that you’reinterested in. “And the way you get data is surveillance, and to see what is goingon in nature, and to respond to it accordingly.
And you go out ofyour way to find a universal vaccine. I would much sooner see moneyspent on that than on creating the most dangerous virus imaginable.I find it indefensible.” Roger Brent, a biologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer ResearchCenter in Seattle, said he believes these experiments create moredanger than benefit. Brent told CNN that in order to be valuable — that is, to reliablyshow the ways that bird flu could evolve to infect humans — theseexperiments would require more experiments that could generaterecipes for more, and different, man-made viruses — all of themdangerous. “Scientists must ask: Do we really want to do these experiments?”Brent said. “If we’re generating knowledge that we feel dodgyabout, do we really want to generate 20 or 100 additional(engineered viruses) that create something that most people wouldbelieve to be bad?” Is the government going to fund more of this research? Possibly.
The controversy over the Fouchier experiment led to atemporary “voluntary moratorium” by flu researchers on geneticengineering. It also prompted the U.S. government to begin crafting a policy onhow to deal with “dual use” research like this that can lead toharm, as well as good. At a recent hearing on the bird flu virus research, Sen.
JoeLierberman, I-Connecticut, asked Fauci whether he thought therewere any experiments that should not be done. Yes, Fauci replied, but he said he thought that would be rare. Supporters of the Fouchier experiment say the results make the casefor more support and funding. At the National Academies workshop, one journalist said he hadtalked to a number of scientists who questioned the value of theseexperiments and where they could lead.
Flu researcher Robert Webster replied by saying the experimentsbrought bird flu back into the research conversation. “Concern for bird flu had dropped. Really, H5N1 had disappearedfrom the radar screen. This shows it can occur. So we have tomaintain pandemic preparedness.”.