DEC 28, 2017 8:14 AM PST

Research Ban on Dangerous Viruses is Lifted

When scientists study how viruses mutate and spread, it involves working with very dangerous strains of bacteria. Three years ago the funding to the National Institutes of Health to do this research was suspended.

That ban has been lifted, and research will now continue, but projects that were paused in October 2014 are now uncertain. The NIH in Bethesda, MD will have new guidelines in place for working with these strains of diseases, and hopefully, the continuation of the research will yield new information.

Two studies, one on influenza and one on Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, which were left idle when the research ban was enacted, may have to be begun again. The design of the studies and goals might now be out of date, and officials want to make sure that the work, once resumed, will be beneficial.

The specific studies that the NIH was concerned about are called "gain-of-function" (GOF) studies. In this kind of research, experts make the pathogens that cause diseases to be more dangerous and more easily spread. Manipulating these germs can be extremely dangerous. In one such study, in 2011, researchers in the Netherlands were able to change the H5N1 bird flu virus so that it could be passed between ferrets. Another study in Wisconsin on avian flu was also ongoing. While this is good for research because it allows scientists to study how the virus behaves to find ways to eradicate it, it's risky. If the pathogens were to escape the security of the labs, a pandemic could be the result. Accidents that happened in a few biocontainment labs, along with the strength of the viruses were enough to cause officials to pause any further studies.

In the meantime, officials began to design new policies for GOF studies. While changing the germs into more dangerous forms is necessary, the methods and security surrounding the research had to be modified. The new policies are in place, and research can now begin again, but it will take a while to get the work back to where it was before the pause. NIH Director Francis Collins explained that the new protocol, "will help to facilitate the safe, secure, and responsible conduct of this type of research." Eighteen studies that involved souping up the pathogens that cause influenza and MERS will likely be resumed.

While it's good for science to research these viruses, many are still nervous about how the program will work. The new protocol requires that any study proposal that meets the definition of an "enhanced potential pandemic pathogens" (PPP) and has been peer-reviewed will then have to go before a board of Health and Human Services personnel. The committee is made up of biosafety professionals, ethicists and legal experts who can approve or deny the projects as well as suggest modifications.

There is much to be gained from ramping up these pathogens, but security must be dealt with as well. The video below explains more about what the research will look like going forward.

Sources: Science Magazine, NPR, Nature 

About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
You May Also Like
MAY 04, 2020
Cancer
MAY 04, 2020
A Retroactive Study Finds an Immunotherapy Effective as a Third-Line Therapy
Cancer is a particularly persistent disease. Many therapies are composed of one or more different treatments. These trea ...
MAY 07, 2020
Health & Medicine
MAY 07, 2020
Mosquito Feeding Time Shift Impacts Malaria Prevention Methods
Thanks to the success of insecticide-treated bed nets, mosquitos seem to have shifted their feeding times away from the ...
MAY 12, 2020
Cardiology
MAY 12, 2020
Beverages Sweetened with High-fructose Corn Syrup Linked to Reduced Renal Blood Flow
It is well-accepted that beverages with high sugar concentrations—such as high-fructose containing soda- —ar ...
MAY 15, 2020
Cardiology
MAY 15, 2020
Cardiovascular Disease Mortality is Greater in Rural Areas
A wide variation in cardiovascular disease mortality rates has been noted among counties in the United States. Residents ...
MAY 20, 2020
Cardiology
MAY 20, 2020
Metabolite Responsible for Poor Metabolic Response to Exercise Identified
For some, working out just doesn’t pay off. A recent study published in Cardiovascular Research by the H ...
MAY 25, 2020
Drug Discovery & Development
MAY 25, 2020
Potential Targets for Alcohol Induced Liver Disease
Alcohol-related liver disease (ALD) is a fatal condition targeting more than 150 million people. Part of what makes it d ...
Loading Comments...