Wahlberg is the health and medicine reporter for the Wisconsin State
Kawaoka, the UW-Madison scientist whose bird flu research sparked
international controversy and a moratorium two years ago, has created
another potentially deadly flu virus in his lab at University Research
used genes from several bird flu viruses to construct a virus similar
to the 1918 pandemic flu virus that killed up to 50 million people
tweaked the new virus so it spread efficiently in ferrets, an animal
model for human flu.
over such work continues. Harvard and Yale researchers criticized such
studies last month, saying the viruses could escape from labs and
spread disease. Safer approaches could be more effective, they said.
who reports on his new work Wednesday in the journal Cell Host and
Microbe, said his research helps efforts to identify problematic
viruses and develop drugs and vaccines against them.
work we do provides scientific data so there can be an informed risk
assessment of viruses circulating in nature," he said in an
email. "The more we learn, the better prepared we will be for the
previous creation of an altered H5N1 bird flu virus, along with
similar H5N1 work by Dutch researcher Ron Fouchier, prompted a
year-long moratorium on the projects in 2012 and months of delay
before the results were allowed to be published.
scientists said the viruses might not only be accidentally released
from the labs but potentially replicated by terrorists.
moratorium ended last year. Kawaoka said he resumed his H5N1 research
this May, after approval by federal officials.
research on the 1918-like virus was done during the moratorium, which
covered only the altered H5N1 virus work, Kawaoka said. UW-Madison
approved the 1918-like virus research, and the National Institutes of
Health reviewed the new report on the findings, university officials
projects were carried out at UW-Madison's Institute for Influenza
Virus Research at University Research Park on Madison's West Side.
lab is classified as Biosafety Level 3-Agriculture, the highest
biosafety level at the university and half a notch below the top level
anywhere of BSL4.
the new research, Kawaoka and his colleagues searched public databases
of information on various flu viruses isolated from wild birds from
1990 to 2011.
researchers identified eight genes nearly identical to the genes that
made up the 1918 pandemic flu virus.
that information, they created a virus that differed from the 1918
virus by only 3 percent of the amino acids that make virus proteins.
virus was more pathogenic in mice and ferrets than regular bird flu
viruses, but it wasn't as harmful as the 1918 virus and didn't spread
made various substitutions to the virus and found that just seven
mutations enabled it to spread among ferrets as efficiently as the
1918 virus. The new virus didn't kill the ferrets, however, Kawaoka
viruses could evolve in nature and pose a risk to humans," he
said. "In a sense, it demonstrates that influenza viruses that
don't normally arouse alarm should be monitored."
Lipsitch, an epidemiologist at Harvard University, and Alison Galvani,
an epidemiologist at Yale University, said in a paper in PLOS Medicine
last month that such experiments pose "a significant risk to
public health, arguably the highest level of risk posed by any
10 labs did such bird flu experiments for a decade, with similar
precautions, there would be a 20 percent chance of a lab-acquired
infection, which would have a 10 percent chance of spreading widely to
others, they said.
studies using lab dishes, computer analysis, virus components or
seasonal flu viruses would be safer and "more scientifically
informative and more straightforward to translate into improved public
health," Lipsitch and Galvani wrote.
said potential pandemic viruses replicate quickly and act differently
than seasonal flu, so relying on lab dishes and seasonal flu strains
"can be highly misleading and, in fact, can be harmful."
work he and Fouchier did on the altered H5N1 flu virus helped
authorities realize they need to keep stockpiling H5N1 vaccines, he
human populations have already benefitted from the H5N1 ferret
transmission experiments," Kawaoka said.
Kawaoka, professor of pathobiological sciences in the School of
Veterinary Medicine, talks with a group of media representatives
during a tour of the Influenza Research Institute (IRI) at the
University of Wisconsin-Madison on Feb. 2, 2015.
high-security research facility was closed down for annual
decontamination, cleaning and maintenance.