U.S. lifts ban on laboratory-made lethal viruses

December 19, 2017

(HealthDay)—U.S. officials said on Tuesday they've lifted a moratorium enacted three years ago on funding lab experiments that would create lethal viruses.

This type of research can now occur if a scientific panel finds the potential benefits outweigh any risks, said Dr. Francis Collins, head of the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

The research in question would involve tweaking viruses to make them more lethal.

Proponents of this type of science say it could give answers to urgent questions, such as how bird flu might mutate to infect humans more easily, or insights into vaccine development.

But opponents worry that scientists might inadvertently create a highly lethal germ that could escape the lab and infect humans worldwide.

Speaking to The New York Times, Collins said the new policy seeks to further science—but only when it's justified, and only in a high-security lab.

"We see this as a rigorous policy, we want to be sure we're doing this right," he said.

The new rules require that researchers show their studies are sound, and that any germ that might be modified in the lab would bring about knowledge that would benefit people—advances such as a vaccine, for example.

Scientists must also prove that there is no safer means of achieving that scientific end.

In October 2014, federal funding was stopped for lab research that would have altered three viruses to make them more lethal: the influenza ; the virus behind Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and the virus behind severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

The new regulations would allow such work, as well as other research, Collins said. According to the Times, that could theoretically include any request to create an Ebola virus that might be transmittable through the air.

Collins said the 2014 moratorium has halted 21 research projects, although 10 were later continued after being given exceptions to the rule.

Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist and bioweapons expert at Rutgers University in New Jersey, has long been a critic of this type of research. He told the Times that while he supports the use of review panels in greenlighting this research, he would prefer they be independent panels, not governmental boards.

Marc Lipsitch, who directs the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at the Harvard School of Public Health, was similarly cautious.

He said the implementation of the review process was "a small step forward." But he told the Times that lab work that has enhanced germs, "have given us some modest scientific knowledge and done almost nothing to improve our preparedness for pandemics, and yet risked creating an accidental pandemic."

Explore further: Researchers combine MERS and rabies viruses to create innovative 2-for-1 vaccine

More information: Find out more about pandemic viruses at the World Health Organization.

Related Stories

Researchers combine MERS and rabies viruses to create innovative 2-for-1 vaccine

December 7, 2016
In a new study, researchers have modified a rabies virus, so that it has a protein from the MERS virus; this altered virus works as a 2-for-1 vaccine that protects mice against both Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) ...

New experimental vaccine produces immune response against MERS virus

April 30, 2014
The University of Maryland School of Medicine (UM SOM) and Novavax, Inc. today announced that an investigational vaccine candidate developed by Novavax against the recently emerged Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus ...

What exactly is coronavirus?

January 30, 2015
The conflicts in Syria and Iraq are straining public health systems and public health efforts meant to prevent and detect the spread of infectious diseases. This is generating a "perfect storm" of conditions for outbreaks. ...

Studies showing how bird flu viruses could adapt to humans offer surveillance and vaccine strategies

June 6, 2013
Bird flu viruses are potentially highly lethal and pose a global threat, but relatively little is known about why certain strains spread more easily to humans than others. Two studies published today in the journal Cell identify ...

Scientists identify two mutations critical for MERS transmission from bats to humans

June 11, 2015
Researchers have identified two critical mutations allowing the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus to transmit from bats to humans. The findings were published in the most recent edition of the Journal of ...

Saudi Arabia: Deaths from MERS virus reach 348

November 26, 2014
Saudi Arabia's Health Ministry says that a total of 348 people have died in the kingdom after contracting Middle East Respiratory Syndrome or MERS.

Recommended for you

Anxious women may want to keep an eye on their bone health

May 18, 2018
(HealthDay)—As if older women didn't already worry enough about their bone health, new research suggests that anxiety may up their risk for fractures.

New strategy to cure chronic hepatitis B infection

May 18, 2018
Scientists from Karolinska Institutet and Hannover Medical School have published two studies that provide insights into how the immune system responds and helps to clear a hepatitis B infection after treatment interruption. ...

Blood type affects severity of diarrhea caused by E. coli

May 17, 2018
A new study shows that a kind of E. coli most associated with "travelers' diarrhea" and children in underdeveloped areas of the world causes more severe disease in people with blood type A.

Resistance to antifungal drugs could lead to disease and global food shortages

May 17, 2018
Growing levels of resistance to antifungal treatments could lead to increased disease outbreaks and affect food security around the world.

Pig immunology comes of age: Killer T cell responses to influenza

May 17, 2018
Researchers from The Pirbright Institute, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and University of Oxford have generated tools that allow scientists to understand a vital area of the pig immune system which was previously ...

How intestinal worms hinder tuberculosis vaccination

May 17, 2018
New research in mice suggests that chronic infection with intestinal worms indirectly reduces the number of cells in lymph nodes near the skin, inhibiting the immune system's response to the Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.