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NSABB Calls For Global Guidelines For Conducting, Communicating Research Involving Dangerous Pathogens

NewScientist reports on the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity’s (NSABB) recommendation that revised versions of two controversial studies on H5N1 avian flu be published in scientific journals, reversing its previous recommendation that the studies only be published if certain details were withheld. According to the news service, dissent among the board members over the issue has prompted the committee to “propos[e] talks to draft global guidelines for doing and communicating work involving dangerous pathogens.”

White House Science Adviser Responds To Inquiry Regarding Handling Of H5N1 Research Controversy

“White House science adviser John Holdren has replied [.pdf] to questions asked last month by Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) about how the Obama Administration has handled the controversy surrounding two studies that showed how to make the H5N1 avian influenza virus transmissible between mammals,” ScienceInsider reports. On March 1, “Sensenbrenner — a former head of the House of Representatives committees on science and the judiciary, and currently vice chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, sent a ‘fact-finding letter’ [.pdf] to Holdren” asking a “number of questions about how the government reviews potential ‘dual-use research of concern’ (DURC) that might be used for good or evil,” the news service writes.

U.S. Halts North Korean Food Aid After Country Launches Long-Range Missile

“The U.S. will halt planned shipments of thousands of tons in food aid to North Korea after the reclusive Asian nation’s launch of a long-range rocket, two Obama administration officials said,” Bloomberg News reports (Talev, 4/13). “Under a recent food deal with the United States, North Korea agreed to refrain from long range missile launches and nuclear tests,” CNN’s “1600 Report” writes (Yellin, 4/12). “North Korea’s rocket launch was a failed effort that nonetheless violated international law and jeopardized regional security, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said,” according to Bloomberg (4/13).

Financial Times Analysis Examines Efforts To Address Dual Risk Research

A Financial Times analysis examines how the international community is working “to ensure scientific work can proceed without falling prey to accidental leaks or malevolent intent,” following controversy surrounding two studies on the H5N1 bird flu virus. The article states that “while much discussion has focused on the ‘virtual’ leakage of such studies through the very fact of publication, allowing the unscrupulous to read and replicate the work, another important risk has received far less attention: the accidental ‘physical’ leakage from the growing number of laboratories en­gaged in such work around the world.” The article describes several accidental leaks and how governments and international bodies are working to balance risk and regulation (Jack, 4/10).

Development Gains In Afghanistan Must Be Made Sustainable

Alex Thier, assistant to the administrator and director in the USAID Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs, writes about the agency’s new report, titled “USAID in Afghanistan: Partnership, Progress, Perseverance,” in this IMPACTblog post. “Afghanistan’s literacy, life expectancy, infant mortality statistics, as well as access to communications, electricity, and paved roads, were dismal” in 2002, but a decade later, “Afghanistan has shown incredible gains in health care, education, and economic growth,” Thier writes. The report “outlines these impacts in a transparent and frank accounting of the roughly $12 billion in civilian assistance that USAID has implemented in Afghanistan to date,” he notes. “But these gains are fragile,” he writes, adding, “We must cement the gains from this incredible investment, and make them sustainable” (4/4).

Humanosphere Blog Reports On ‘Diseases Without Borders’ Forum

KPLU 88.5’s “Humanosphere” blog reports on a “Diseases without Borders” forum held in Seattle on Tuesday at which Nils Daulaire, director of the Office of Global Affairs for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, stressed that global health is a domestic issue. “‘Our only chance to keep Americans safe is if the systems for preventing, detecting and containing disease … also stretch across the globe,’ Daulaire said,” according to the blog, which notes, “Daulaire spent a significant amount of time explaining the policy interests of the Office of Global Affairs” (Stiffler, 4/4).

2-Day Meeting Examining Issues Of Censorship Of Scientific Studies Leaves Questions Unanswered

A two-day Royal Society meeting held this week in London — which examined “whether scientific journals should occasionally publish censored versions of papers because the full ones might prove useful to terrorists” — “brought scientists no closer to resolving the question of whether there are any kinds of experiments whose results should be kept from the public,” the Washington Post reports. “The audience of about 200 scientists and ethicists considered numerous questions,” the newspaper writes, noting, “There was general agreement that some experiments are off limits, such as attempting to make the AIDS virus transmissible by air,” but “[t]here was less agreement about the experiments at hand, which changed the characteristics of H5N1 bird flu.”

Discussion Of NSABB Recommendation To Publish Controversial Bird Flu Studies To Continue In London Meeting

The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity’s (NSABB) “reversal on publishing two controversial H5N1 studies is poised to shift discussions on the topic that continue in London this week, as more participants in the debate weigh in following the March 30 announcement,” CIDRAP News reports (Schnirring, 4/2). But Paul Keim of Northern Arizona University, who is the acting chair of the panel, stressed on Monday that the “recommendation that two controversial papers on bird flu be published in full is not a reversal of the stand it took last year out of concerns over terrorism,” Reuters writes. “‘We had new information, confidential information, about benefits of this research, and we also had confidential information about the risks involved,'” Keim said, according to the news service (Kelland/Begley, 4/2).

NSABB Recommends Full Publication Of Controversial Bird Flu Studies

The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) on Friday recommended that revised versions of two controversial studies on H5N1 avian flu be published in scientific journals, reversing its previous recommendation that the studies only be published if certain details were withheld, the New York Times reports. The studies are the work of two research teams that created genetically altered viral strains that were airborne and therefore easily transmissible, the newspaper notes (Grady, 3/30). “In a statement [.pdf] released [Friday], the NSABB said it unanimously recommended that the revised manuscript by the University of Wisconsin group, headed by Yoshihiro Kawaoka, DVM, PhD, be published in full, and members voted 12 to six that the data, methods, and conclusions in the revised paper by the Erasmus group, headed by Ron Fouchier, PhD, be published,” CIDRAP News writes (Schnirring, 3/30).

U.S. Releases Policy Requiring Dual-Use Biological Research Reviews Amid Bird Flu Debate

“The U.S. government [on Thursday] released a new policy [.pdf] that will require federal agencies to systematically review the potential risks associated with federally funded studies involving 15 ‘high consequence’ pathogens and toxins, including the H5N1 avian influenza virus,” Science Insider reports. “The reviews are designed to reduce the risks associated with ‘dual use research of concern’ (DURC) that could be used for good or evil,” the news service writes (Malakoff, 3/29).

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