“An international debate over whether to censor new research on bird flu may soon prove academic, as other laboratories close in on similar findings showing how one of the most deadly viruses could mutate to be transmitted from one person to another,” Reuters reports. Last year, two teams of researchers reported study results “that showed how the H5N1 [bird flu] virus can be transmitted through airborne droplets between ferrets, a model for studying influenza in humans,” and the findings prompted the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) in December to advise “two leading journals, Nature and Science, to withhold details of the research for fear it could be used by bioterrorists,” the news service writes.
“Artemisinin, a crucial drug in the global fight against malaria, could soon become cheaper and easier to make, thanks to researchers who have found a better way to synthesize the compound,” Science NOW reports, providing an overview of the research published in Angewandte Chemie on Monday. “‘The impact of this is hard to overestimate,’ says Jack Newman, an industrial chemist at Amyris Biotechnologies in Emeryville, California, who was not involved in the work,” the news service writes. Newman added that “the supply chain to make artemisinin has been a huge problem,” the news service notes.
The New York Times examines the history of the Chinese drug artemisinin, “hailed as one of the greatest advances in fighting malaria … since the discovery of quinine centuries ago,” noting the drug “is being talked about as a candidate for a Nobel Prize in Medicine.” However, “few people realize that in one of the paradoxes of history, the drug was discovered thanks to Mao Zedong, who was acting to help the North Vietnamese in their jungle war against the Americans. Or that it languished for 30 years thanks to China’s isolation and the indifference of Western donors, health agencies and drug companies,” the newspaper writes.
In this Journal Sentinel Online opinion piece, Thomas Inglesby, chief executive officer and director of the Center for Biosecurity of UPMC in Baltimore; Anita Cicero, chief operating officer and deputy director of the center; and D.A. Henderson, a distinguished scholar at the center, comment on a recent announcement by scientists that they have genetically modified a strain of H5N1 bird flu that is “capable of spreading through the air between ferrets that were physically separated from each other,” indicating “it would be readily transmissible by air between humans.” They write, “We believe the benefits of [purposefully engineer(ing) avian flu strains to become highly transmissible in humans] do not outweigh the risks.”
“The World Health Organization says it will take a role in helping sort through an international scientific controversy over two bird flu studies that the U.S. government deemed too dangerous to publish in full,” the Canadian Press/Winnipeg Free Press reports. Keiji Fukuda, the WHO’s assistant director-general for health security and environment, on Sunday in an interview with the Canadian Press “said the agency will pull together international talks aimed at fleshing out the issues that need to be addressed and then work to resolve them.” On the advice of the National Science Advisory Board on Biosecurity (NSABB), the journals Science and Nature “have grudgingly agreed to abbreviate the papers, leaving out the details of how the work was done,” according to the news service.
Al Jazeera reports on the candidate malaria vaccine known as RTS,S, which “has been heralded as one of the Top 10 Scientific Breakthroughs of 2011 by Time and Science magazines, Doctors Without Borders and the Lancet.” The news service recaps the history of the vaccine’s development, outlines a number of existing prevention strategies and details ongoing efforts in the global fight against malaria (Dalal, 1/11).
NIH Official Discusses Reaction To Bird Flu Studies, Development Of Publishing Mechanism In Nature Interview
Nature interviews Amy Patterson, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Science Policy, which administers the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), about the board’s decision in December to advise against full publication of “two papers on avian flu (H5N1) [that] could pose a biosecurity risk if published in their entirety.” Patterson discusses the efforts of the board and the “international flu community” to “develop a mechanism by which important details from the papers could be withheld from the general public while remaining accessible to public health officials and researchers studying the virus,” Nature writes (Ledford, 1/11).
“Findings that a one-time oral treatment to cure yaws, a neglected tropical disease, is as effective as the currently recommended penicillin injection have prompted the World Health Organization (WHO) to convene a meeting on how the disease may be wiped out,” IRIN reports. “‘We may be closer now than we have been in decades,’ Kingsley Asiedu, a yaws expert with WHO’s Department of Neglected Tropical Disease Control, told IRIN, calling the study on the bacterial skin disease, which leads to chronic disfiguration and disability in 10 percent of untreated cases, the most significant in half a century,” the news service writes.
HHS To Spend Nearly $1.8M To Review Research Volunteer Rules, Fight STDs In Guatemala; DOJ Asks Related Lawsuit To Be Dismissed
“Responding to U.S. experiments that infected Guatemalans with syphilis and gonorrhea in the 1940s, the Obama administration announced Tuesday that it will spend $1 million to study new rules for protecting medical research volunteers,” and “[a]n additional $775,000 will go to fighting sexually transmitted diseases in Guatemala,” the Washington Post reports (Vastag 1,10). “President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius all have apologized for the research, hidden for decades until a Wellesley College medical historian uncovered the records in 2009,” the Associated Press/Boston Globe notes (Pickler, 1/10).
Federal officials have asked the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) “to review the state of the science looking at human transmission of deadly bird flu, says panel chief Paul Keim of Northern Arizona University,” USA Today reports. “In December, the NSABB asked the journals, Science and Nature, to withhold details of studies that showed how to make the flu strain transmissible between ferrets, the closest mammal model for human-to-human transmission of the bug,” the newspaper notes. “‘We are now involved in a broader review,’ Keim says. … ‘This research is valuable, but saying this is just “basic” research ignores that influenza is a very special pathogen,’ Keim adds,” according to the newspaper (Vergano, 1/10).