-- E.J. Mundell
FRIDAY, April 20 (HealthDay News) -- The U.S. government is
giving the go-ahead for publication of two controversial studies
into the H5N1 avian (bird) flu virus, a top federal health official
The research, led by two scientists -- Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the
University of Wisconsin and Ron Fouchier of Erasmus Medical Center
in Rotterdam, the Netherlands -- involved the manipulation of the
potentially lethal virus until it was transmissible between
ferrets, thought to be a close model for humans. As yet, H5N1 is
not easily transmitted between humans.
In December, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
requested that two leading journals,
Nature, censor some of the data from this research for national security reasons. The concern was that terrorists might use the information to create a biological weapon.
However, on Friday, Dr. Francis Collins, director of the U.S.
National Institutes of Health, announced in a statement that full
publication could go forward. The decision was based on a March
29-30 meeting of the National Science Advisory Board for
Biosecurity (NSABB), an independent panel of experts that advises
the federal government on such matters.
According to Collins, "After careful deliberation, the NSABB
unanimously recommended the revised manuscript by Dr. Yoshihiro
Kawaoka be communicated in full. The NSABB also recommended, in a
12-to-6 decision, that the data, methods, and conclusions presented
in the revised manuscript by Dr. Ron Fouchier be communicated fully
after a number of further scientific clarifications are made in the
Collins added that the research has "direct applicability to
ongoing and future influenza surveillance efforts and does not
appear to enable direct misuse of the research in ways that would
endanger public health or national security."
He said that HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius agreed with the
decision. "The information in the two manuscripts should be
communicated fully and we have conveyed our concurrence to the
journals considering publication of the manuscripts," Collins
Kathy Wren, a spokeswoman for
Science, which is withholding the Fouchier study, said the journal is still waiting for a decision by Dutch regulators next week before deciding when it will publish the research, Bloomberg News reported.
Find out more about H5N1 avian influenza at the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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