Bioterror experts split on recommendations for 'dual use' research

Abstract

Last year when the grant administrator at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) first read the research proposal on the virus that causes dengue fever, he was troubled. An investigator at Duke University in North Carolina was seeking to engineer the mosquito-borne virus to grow in fruit flies. This approach could make the virus easier to study—but the NIH administrator also wondered whether enabling the deadly pathogen to infect a new type of insect could pose a danger to public health. This is the type of concern that plagues ‘dual-use’ research, known as such because it involves experiments that could potentially turn deadly—through, for instance, co-option by bioterrorists. Biologists, biosecurity experts and university administrators voiced their concerns about the tricky process of identifying and regulating dual-use research on 15 July at the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland. The meeting served as a forum for experts to comment on a framework to oversee such research—which is currently largely unregulated—proposed in June 2007 by the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, which advises federal agencies, including the NIH. The apparent suicide of vaccine researcher Bruce Ivins and his identification as a suspect in the federal investigation into the fatal anthrax mailings that occurred in the US in 2001 should add impetus to efforts to hone bioterrorism countermeasures in the US—such as legislation, introduced this summer, to update rules on the handling of dangerous materials known as ‘select agents’, such as anthrax bacteria (Science 320, 1573; 2008). But although the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other agencies currently regulate select agents, it could be years, say meeting attendees, before the federal government issues rules based on the proposed framework on handling less obviously dangerous experiments that fall under the broader umbrella of dual-use research. Part of the challenge is figuring out how to regulate the dissemination of ideas generated by experiments—such as how to create a more lethal virus strain. “That is fiendishly difficult to do,” says Gerald Epstein, a senior fellow at the Bioterror experts split on recommendations for ‘dual use’ research

DOI: 10.1038/nm0908-893

Cite this paper

@article{Schubert2008BioterrorES, title={Bioterror experts split on recommendations for 'dual use' research}, author={Charlotte Schubert}, journal={Nature Medicine}, year={2008}, volume={14}, pages={893-893} }