A few blogs back we wrote about the experiments that were going on with the bird flu (H5N1) virus wherein researchers were creating deadlier strains in the laboratory for the sake of “research.” All experiments were halted until experts could meet and have a global debate over the efficacy of this experimentation vs. the dangers. In an update, the experiments will resume again in some laboratories, over the next few weeks.
In an article today published in The New York Times, the report reveals that back in 2011, the research had sparked an explosive debate on the dangers when it was revealed that two groups in the Netherlands and in the United States, had genetically altered a deadly strain of the bird flu virus to make it more contagious in mammals. Scientists warned that this could result in a deadly pandemic if the mutant virus leaked out of the lab accidentally or maliciously.
So in an unprecedented safety move, the scientists agreed to a voluntary moratorium last year to give space and thought to the safest way to proceed.
The moratorium is now over—should we be worried? In a letter authored by forty scientists and published in the International Journal of Science and Nature, it states that it is time for the work to begin again in countries which are willing to allow the research to go forward.
The United States, which incidentally funds much of the flu research both here and abroad, isn’t moving so quickly. They have released as of yet, no lift on the moratorium so for now United States based scientists won’t start again with experiments, nor will those in other countries who depend on U.S. grant money.
During a telephone news conference on Wednesday, Dr. Ron Fouchier, said the scientists were lifting the moratorium without waiting for guidelines from the United States.
Dr. Ron Fouchier, a virologist who was part of the experimentation at Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands said, “How long do you want us to wait?” If this was the Netherlands, would the U.S. wait? Should all countries really wait for the U.S., and why?”
Isn’t this a question of safety rather than one that fulfills the selfish fervor of a researcher?
According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, it’s only a matter of weeks. Can these scientists who have waited a year not wait another few weeks when it concerns the flu possibly getting into the hands of bio-terrorists just from published journal articles alone? Should they not exercise extreme caution in case of a possible leaked pandemic which could end up in the wrong hands?
Dr. Fauci said the Department of Health and Human Services was reviewing new guidelines, and that he expected them to be approved in weeks..
As quoted in the Times, Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Minnesota Center of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance at the University of Minnesota and a member of a United States bio-security board, said that he thought the research should continue, but that details should not be published for fear others would try to replicate it without safety precautions. Therein lies support for the terrorist argument.
“The work they’re doing is really important,” he said, “but I don’t see it as work I want in the hands of every potential gene jockey out there.”
Stop and think people: should you not exercise extreme caution at the risk of some research when weighed against the risk of a pandemic? You would think that scientists who are essentially doing research to help find cures and prossibly the sources for deadly bird flu viruses– in an effort to help nations–would exercise extreme caution in a similar effort to avoid wiping out an entire nation of innocent people due to over-zealous impatience.