Last Updated:
October 27, 2020
November 21, 5020 U













In December 2017, a scientific journal published a short News Brief that the University of Wisconsin in Madison was given a grant by the US government to make a naturally occurring virus into a more deadly form of virus for warfare.


Year: 2018

  This was followed up by an article in January 2018.

  During that time, I made a copy and gave it to healthcare workers in Hawaii where I resided at the time, because I believed that it was morally wrong, and, thus, healthcare workers needed to be prepared to care for citizens in advance of the military use of designer viruses for warfare that was approaching in the horizon.


The following is the January 2018 article in the scientific journal, Nature, that I copied and gave to healthcare workers in Hawaii in 2018 so that they could be prepared for a highly certain occurrence of a pandemic.


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Ban on pathogen studies lifted

United States allows work to make viruses more dangerous.


The US government has lifted its controversial ban on funding experiments that make certain pathogens more deadly or transmissible. On 19 December, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced that scientists can once again use federal money to conduct ‘gain-of-function’ research on pathogens such as influenza viruses. But the agency also said that researchers’ grant applications will undergo greater scrutiny than in the past.

The goal is to standardize “a rigorous process that we really want to be sure we’re doing right”, says NIH director Francis Collins.

The NIH announcement ends a moratorium on gain-of-function research that began in October 2014. Back then, some researchers argued that the agency’s ban — which singled out research on the viruses that cause flu, severe acute respiratory syndrome and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) — was too broad. The 21 projects halted by the policy included studies of seasonal flu and efforts to develop vaccines. The NIH eventually allowed ten of these studies to proceed, but three projects using the MERS virus and eight dealing with flu remained ineligible for US government grants — until now.

While the ban was in effect, the NIH and other government agencies examined the costs and benefits of allowing such research. In 2016, the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity — an independent panel that advises the NIH’s parent agency, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) — concluded that very few government-funded gain-of-function experiments posed a significant threat to public health.

The new policy outlines a framework that the HHS will use to assess proposed research that would create pathogens with pandemic potential. Such work might involve modifying a virus to infect more species, or recreating a pathogen that has been eradicated in the wild, such as smallpox. There are some exceptions, however: vaccine development and epidemiological surveillance do not automatically trigger the HHS review.

The plan includes a list of suggested factors for the HHS to consider, including an assessment of a project’s risks and benefits, and a determination of whether the investigator and institution are capable of conducting the work safely. It also says that an experiment should proceed only if there is no safer alternative method of achieving the same results.

At the end of the assessment process, the HHS can recommend that the work go ahead, ask the researchers to modify their plan or suggest that the NIH refuse funding. The NIH will also judge the proposal’s scientific merit before deciding whether to award grant funding.

Scientists have long debated the merits of gain-of-function research and the new decision could reopen that discussion.

Yoshihiro Kawaoka, a virologist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, whose work was affected by the moratorium, says the new framework is “an important accomplish­ment”. Kawaoka, who studies how molecular changes in the avian flu virus could make it easier for birds to pass the infection to humans, now plans to apply for federal funding to experiment with live versions of the virus.

But Marc Lipsitch, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts, says that gain-of-function studies “have done almost nothing to improve our preparedness for pandemics — yet they risked creating an accidental pandemic”.

Lipsitch argues that such experiments should not happen at all. But if the government is going to fund them, he says, it is good that there will be an extra level of review. ■ 


Influenza viruses can be modified in the lab. T U R E | 1 1

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