ISSUES RAISED, LESSONS LEARNED, AND PATHS FORWARD FOR DUAL-USE RESEARCH IN THE LIFE SCIENCES: THE H5N1 CONTROVERSY; A WORKSHOP
When, in late 2011, it became public knowledge that two research groups had submitted for publication manuscripts that reported on their work on mammalian transmissibility of a lethal H5N1 avian influenza strain, the information caused an international debate about the appropriateness and communication of the researchers’ work, the risks associated with the work, partial or complete censorship of scientific publications, and dual-use research of concern in general.
Recognizing that the H5N1 research is only the most recent scientific activity subject to widespread attention due to safety and security concerns, on May 1, 2012, the National Research Council’s Committee on Science, Technology and Law, in conjunction with the Board on Life Sciences and the Institute of Medicine’s Forum on Microbial Threats, convened a one-day public workshop for the purposes of 1) discussing the H5N1 controversy; 2) considering responses by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which had funded this research, the World Health Organization, the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), scientific publishers, and members of the international research community; and 3) providing a forum wherein the concerns and interests of the broader community of stakeholders, including policy makers, biosafety and biosecurity experts, non-governmental organizations, international organizations, and the general public might be articulated.
In December 2011 it was announced that two research groups, one in the US and the other in the Netherlands, both supported by NIH funding, had submitted for publication papers describing research whereby variants of H5N1 influenza viruses produced in the laboratory by well-established techniques had become readily transmitted among ferrets. It also was announced that the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), after consideration of the benefits and risks of publishing these papers, had recommended that details of these studies be redacted from the manuscripts prior to publication, and that the U.S. Government had endorsed this recommendation. These announcements precipitated a vigorous and far-reaching international discussion about the appropriateness and the risk assessment of this work and of dual use research, in general. As a result, the two research groups and other influenza researchers called for a temporary moratorium on research involving H5N1 influenza viruses that might lead to the creation of highly pathogenic, highly transmissible strains.
An ad hoc committee organized a one-day public workshop for the purposes of 1) discussing the H5N1 controversy; 2) considering responses by the National Insitute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which had funded this research, the World Health Organization (WHO), the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), scientific publishers, and members of the international research community; and 3) providing a forum wherein the concerns and interests of the broader community of stakeholders, including policy makers, biosafety and biosecurity experts, non-governmental organizations, international organizations, and the general public may be articulated.
This website contains unedited verbatim presentations made by meeting participants and is not an official report of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Opinions and statements included in this material are solely those of the individual authors. They have not been verified as accurate, nor do they necessarily represent the views of other participants, the committee, or the National Academies.
May 1, 2012
View video of the workshop here.
*David Relman: "Introduction"
*Roger Brent: "Development of Biological Technology: Where the H5N1 Flu Story Fits and Thoughts for After"
*Lawrence D. Kerr: "Security in the Ongoing Evolution in the Life Sciences"
*Jeffrey K. Taubenberger: "1918 'Spanish' Influenza: Lessons from the Past"
*Robert G. Webster: "Case Study: H5N1 Avian Influenza"
The Committee on the H5N1 Avian Flu Virus: Has the Paradigm Changed? released its report, Perspectives on Research with H5N1 Avian Influenza: Scientific Inquiry, Communication, Controversy: Summary of a Workshop, on April 8, 2013.
David Korn (Co-chair)
Consultant in Pathology, Massachusetts General Hospital; Professor of Pathology, Harvard Medical School
David Relman (Co-chair)
Thomas C. and Joan M. Merigan Professor, Departments of Medicine, and of Microbiology and Immunology, Stanford University; Chief, Infectious Disease Section, VA Palo Alto Health Care System
Rollins Professor and Director Center for Public Health Preparedness and Research, Rollins School of Public Health
Visiting Professor, Department of Global Health and Social Medicine
Harvard Medical School
Robert W. and Vivian K. Cahill Professor Emeritus of Microbiology and Immunology and Medicine
Department of Microbiology and Immunology
James L. Calamaras Professor of Law, Maurer School of Law
Richard J. Roberts
Chief Scientific Officer
New England Biolabs
This project was sponsored by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.