Scientists behind the Armageddon flu virus suspend their research because it can & # 39; endanger the world through a catastrophic pandemic & # 39;
Suspension: Ron Fouchier is one of a team of scientists who have discontinued their controversial bird flu studies
Researchers studying a potentially deadly airborne version of bird flu have suspended their studies because of concerns that the mutant virus they create can be used as a devastating form of bioterrorism or accidentally escaped from the laboratory.
In a letter published in the journals Nature and Science on Friday, 39 scientists defended the research as crucial to public health efforts.
But they are bowing to fear that has become widespread since media reports discussed the studies and their possible consequences in December.
It was feared that the constructed viruses could escape from the laboratories – not unlike the terrifying scenario in the science fiction film The Andromeda Strain from 1971 – or possibly be used to make a bioterror weapon.
Among the scientists who signed the letter were the leaders of the two teams who led the study at Erasmus Medical College in the Netherlands and the University of Wisconsin, Madison, as well as influenza experts at institutions ranging from the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at the University of Hong Kong.
For the full letter, see below or click HERE.
Anxiety: concerns that bird flu can escape from laboratories and cause a pandemic or are used in bioterrorism have led to a stop in research
The decision to suspend the study for 60 days "was completely voluntary," said virologist Ron Fouchier of Erasmus to Reuters.
The pause in them is intended to enable global health authorities and governments to assess the benefits of the research and to agree on ways to minimize the risk.
& # 39; Given the controversies in the US, it's the right thing to do, & # 39; said Fouchier.
Terror: if it escaped, the mutant virus created by scientists could cause disaster on a global scale
The US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity in December had asked Science and Nature to censor details of the research by the Erasmus and Wisconsin teams that had been submitted for publication.
Biosecurity experts fear that a form of virus that can be transmitted through airborne droplets – created independently by the Erasmus and Wisconsin teams – may aggravate a pandemic worse than the outbreak of Spanish flu in 1918-19 who killed 40 million people.
& # 39; There is clearly a controversy here about the right balance between risk and benefit & # 39 ;, said virologist Daniel Perez of the University of Maryland, who signed the letter to support the moratorium.
& # 39; I am convinced that this research should continue, but that does not mean that you cannot time out. & # 39;
The fully open letter
Below the completely open letter from Ron A. M. Fouchier, Adolfo García-Sastre, Yoshihiro Kawaoka and 36 co-authors published in the journals Nature and Science on Friday.
& # 39; The constant threat of an influenza pandemic is one of the greatest public health challenges. Influenza pandemics are known to be caused by viruses evolving from animal reservoirs, such as birds and pigs, and can acquire genetic changes that increase their ability to transmit in humans. Pandemic preparedness plans have been implemented worldwide to mitigate the effects of influenza pandemics.
An important obstacle to preventing influenza pandemics is that little is known about what makes an influenza virus transmissible in humans. As a result, the potential pandemic risk associated with the many different influenza viruses of animals cannot be assessed with certainty.
Recent breakthroughs in research identified specific determinants of transfer of H5N1 influenza viruses to ferrets. Responsible research into influenza virus transmission using different animal models is conducted by several laboratories in the world using the highest international standards for biosafety and biosafety that effectively prevent the introduction of transmissible viruses from the laboratory. These standards are regulated and closely monitored by the relevant authorities. This statement is made by the principal investigators of these laboratories.
In two independent studies conducted at two leading influenza laboratories at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Erasmus MC in Rotterdam, researchers have proven that viruses with a haemagglutinin (HA) protein from highly pathogenic avian H5N1 influenza viruses can be transmitted to ferrets. .
This is essential information that promotes our understanding of influenza transmission. However, more research is needed to determine how influenza viruses in nature become human pandemic threats, so that they can be embedded before they have the ability to transmit from person to person, or that appropriate countermeasures can be deployed when adaptation to people .
Despite the positive public health benefits that these studies attempted to offer, a perceived fear that ferret-transmissible H5 HA viruses could escape from the laboratories led to an intense public debate in the media about the benefits and potential harm of this. type of research. We want to assure the public that these experiments have been conducted with appropriate regulatory oversight of safe containment facilities by highly trained and responsible personnel to minimize any risk of accidental disposal. Whether the ferret-adapted influenza viruses have the ability to transmit from person to person cannot be tested.
We recognize that we and the rest of the scientific community must clearly explain the benefits of this important research and the measures taken to minimize potential risks. We propose to do this in an international forum where the scientific community comes together to discuss and discuss these issues. We realize that organizations and governments around the world need time to find the best solutions to opportunities and challenges arising from work.
To free up time for these discussions, we agreed on a 60-day voluntary pause on each trial of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 viruses that lead to the generation of viruses that are more transmissible in mammals. In addition, no experiments with live H5N1 or H5 HA reassortant viruses that are already transferable in ferrets will be conducted during this period. We will continue to assess the transferability of H5N1 influenza viruses that occur in nature and are a constant threat to human health. & # 39;
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