Researchers: Don’t Destroy Smallpox Virus Yet

Scientists urge the World Health Organization to delay destroying the last remaining laboratory stocks of live variola virus because there’s more research to be done.

By Bob Grant | May 2, 2014

VariolaCENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTIONAlthough smallpox was declared eradicated from the human population in 1980, some researchers have implored the World Health Assembly (WHA), the World Health Organization (WHO)’s governing body, to hold off on destroying the last known live strains of the variola virus, which causes the disease. A trio of scientists, led by Inger Damon of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, argued in a PLOS Pathogens opinion published yesterday (May 1) that because synthetic biology makes it possible to recreate the virus, more research on vaccines is necessary.

“Certainly the current capabilities of synthetic biology and the availability of multiple variola virus genome sequences in the published literature make these scenarios more worrisome in the 21st century and also make the feasibility of ultimate final destruction of variola virus, itself, problematic,” Damon and her coauthors wrote.

Jimmy Kolker, Health and Human Services assistant secretary for global affairs, agreed. “The synthetic biology adds a new wrinkle to it,” he told the Associated Press. “We now aren’t as sure that our countermeasures are going to be as effective as we’d thought even five years ago.”

Two high-security labs, one in the U.S. and one in Russia, still maintain live variola virus.

Some officials—including D.A. Henderson, the researcher who led the WHO’s global smallpox eradication campaign—argued that it’s time to get rid of the remaining stocks of live variola virus and other potential bioterrorism agents, such as anthrax. “Let’s destroy the virus and be done with it,” he told the Associated Press. “We would be better off spending our money in better ways.”

The WHA is set to decide whether or not to destroy the variola stocks sometime this month. The assembly has repeatedly delayed the decision in the past.

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Avatar of: Rumbold


Posts: 2

May 4, 2014

The notion that smallpox stocks should be kept, when an opportunity has arisen to destroy them, would have caught the eye of the late Frank Fenner, who led the WHO campaign to eradicate the virus, and who consistently opposed its storage.   High security laboratories have a consistently poor record in containing viruses, but if you don’t have it, then it cannot get out.  The reasons given by the virus promoters, all poxvirologists, to keep the stocks are nonsense.  The only experiments that would REQUIRE the live virus are those also involving live hosts, for example tests of whether or not a particular treatment makes people more or less susceptible to the virus.  This involves the use of live human beings or populations of them!  ALL other experiments may not reproduce natural conditions, and can be done equally well or better using surrogates.  It should be realized anyway that if smallpox did re-emerge from an unknown host reservoir, or a smallpox-like virus re-evolved from populations of its closest relatives (camelpox virus and taterapox virus), then it would probably be different anyway from the isolates of smallpox virus currently stored, as these were collected during past pandemics, and viruses evolve.  Therefore live experiments with current stocks of virus are probably irrelevant.

  Adrian Gibbs - virologist


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