The US government yesterday (March 29) announced a new policy to go into effect immediately regarding the regulation of dual-use research, or studies involving any of 15 "high consequence" pathogens and toxins that could be used by bioterrorists to inflict harm, including the H5N1 bird flu that has been the subject of much debate over the past several months, ScienceInsider reported. The policy, currently referred to as the "dual use research of concern" (DURC) policy, will require federal agencies to review all federally funded studies—both proposed projects and ongoing research—on these agents for the potential risks involved.
Such reviews already exist at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for intramural studies. The DURC policy will extend these same review practices to extramural projects conducted at other government agencies and universities. Government agencies will now have to report to the White House within 60 days the total number of studies they are funding or have applied for funding that involve the potentially dangerous agents. Within 90 days, the agencies must report on the results of their reviews of these projects.
If a review identifies sufficient risk, the funding agency must collaborate with the institutions and the lead scientist to determine the best way to mitigate the risk. This may include strategies such as modifying methodologies or security requirements and coordinating the safest way to communicate the results, including possible redaction of the studies’ details from final publication, something the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) recommended late last year for the two H5N1 papers submitted to Science and Nature.
To read more about the debate over whether or not to publish this research, whether or not to do it in the first place, and how to regulate it, see Deliberating Over Danger in The Scientist’s April issue, where scientists and policy experts on both sides of the divide discuss their opinions.