Avian flu studies are fit to print, says U.S. biosecurity board


National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity recommends publishing revised studies on mutated H5N1 virus.

After careful examination, the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) has recommended publishing two controversial studies of the mutated H5N1 virus.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently asked the NSABB to evaluate two independent studies: One conducted by Dr. Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine and another by Dr. Ron Fouchier in the Netherlands. In its evaluation, the NSABB considered the risks and benefits associated with publishing information that could lead to potential bioterrorism threats. (Click here to read more about the controversy.)

After a two-day deliberation on March 29-30, the NSABB unanimously recommended that Dr. Kawaoka’s revised study should be published in full. The board also recommended (in a 12-to-six decision) publishing the data, methods, and conclusions revealed in the research.

The NSABB says it strongly supports the unrestricted communication of research information unless that information could be misused to pose a risk to public health and safety. Publishing the revised studies still presents dual use concerns, however, so why did the board vote in favor of spreading the word? Here are the NSABB’s stated reasons:

1. The data in the revised studies don’t appear to provide information that would immediately enable misuse of the research in ways that would endanger public health or national security.

2. New evidence has emerged that underscores the fact that understanding specific mutations may improve international surveillance and public health and safety. Global cooperation, critical for pandemic influenza preparedness efforts, is predicated upon the free sharing of information and was a fundamental principle in evaluating these manuscripts.

The NSABB’s recommendations were informed by the newly released U.S. Government Policy for Oversight of Life Sciences Dual Use Research of Concern. This policy applies to federally funded life sciences research and will ensure that dual use concerns are addressed during evaluation of ongoing and future research on H5N1 influenza virus.

As a part of these deliberations, the board emphasized a need for developing processes for responsible communication of research of concern. The NSABB says improving public health and safety will require a sustained global approach to addressing dual use concerns presented by life sciences research while encouraging a robust research enterprise.

The NSABB recommendations will be forwarded to the U.S. government for review and consideration.

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