NSABB Asks Influenza Researchers to Withhold Technical Information


Home / NSABB Asks Influenza Researchers to Withhold Technical Information

Avian influenza A H5N1 viruses: Image courtesy of CDC. Photo credit: Cynthia Goldsmith

Updated: December 27, 2011. This past September, researchers from the Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands announced to colleagues at the European Scientific Working Group on Influenza (ESWI) conference in Malta that they had reconfigured a deadly bird influenza virus into a version which could easily pass from one mammal to another.

By genetically manipulating H5N1, commonly known as “bird flu,” into a strain that could attach to mammalian respiratory-tract cells and then passing the infecting material from one ferret to another, Ron A.M. Fouchier and colleagues discovered that H5N1 became increasingly transmittable. Scientists and public health officials have long worried that H5N1, which has devastated bird populations, could naturally evolve into a form that can be passed from human-to-human as readily as a seasonal influenza virus – this experiment indicates that it can.

Although the public health benefits of such research are important for global preparedness, some of the methods involved in the study could be misused, said the U. S. government. Thus, the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) an independent expert committee that advises the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and other Federal agencies on matters of Biosecurity, was asked to step in and review Fouchier’s unpublished manuscript as well as another by virologist Yoshihiro Kawaoka and collaborators at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

Details of Genetic Changes Needed to Create a Deadly Lab-Bred Bird Flu Virus Could Fall Into the Wrong Hands

Fouchier’s article had already been submitted to the journal Science and Kawaoka’s to Nature when the review was requested. Results of these two studies indicate that the bird flu virus can achieve the ability to become contagious among mammals, perhaps even humans, more readily than was previously believed, and the researchers describe some of the genetic changes that appear to correlate with this potential in their manuscripts.

“Due to the importance of the findings to the public health and research communities, the NSABB recommended that the general conclusions highlighting the novel outcome be published, but that the manuscripts not include the methodological and other details that could enable replication of the experiments by those who would seek to do harm,” according to a press release issued by HHS on 20 December 2011.
Click to Read Page Two: Journal Editors Cautiously Agree to Comply

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