H5N1 Moratorium Extended

The head of a US infectious disease funding body urges researchers to continue the voluntary cessation of research on avian influenza.

By | August 2, 2012

image: H5N1 Moratorium Extended Flickr Creative Commons, SMcGarnigle

Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), this week (July 31)  called for researchers to continue a moratorium on avian influenza research, until researchers could win the opinion of the public.

"You will unquestionably lose the battle for public support for your research if you ignore this issue," Fauci said at the annual meeting of the NIAID’s influenza research centers of excellence, according to ScienceInsider.

Some researchers have argued that there are sufficient regulations in place to secure and monitor potentially dangerous agents like genetically altered H5N1 virus. (Read more on what scientists are saying about avian influenza research in our April feature “Deliberating Over Danger.”) But the major concern, said Fauci, is not about researchers in the United States, but rather unregulated laboratories that might accidentally release an altered virus into the public. Fauci said that the influenza research community should try to address these concerns before the moratorium is lifted.

In addition, researchers should discuss the tradeoffs of various research approaches--such as the so called gain of function experiments that initiated the first call for a moratorium--with the public. “The game has changed for pandemic flu scientists and the agencies that support them," he said at the agency-organized meeting.

However, some scientists at the meeting asked for more clarity. "There needs to be a better explanation of what kinds of work on H5N1 can continue under the moratorium and what can't," virologist Nancy Cox of the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta told ScienceInsider. Fauci said that the US government is preparing more detailed guidelines for the use of potentially risky pathogens that should be available “reasonably soon,” he added.

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