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Risks Of Modifying Flu Strains To Become Highly Transmissible In Humans Outweigh Benefits

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.”

“[T]he Center for Biosecurity of UPMC has publicly argued for the importance of [research in high-containment labs using dangerous pathogens, including H5N1,] to develop diagnostics, medicines and vaccines for the most threatening infectious diseases,” but “research and development for those purposes does not require engineering lethal viruses to make them more transmissible between humans,” they continue. “We need new approaches for the rapid development of large quantities of medicines or vaccines to protect us against new emerging viruses. But engineering highly transmissible strains of avian flu is not the way to get us there,” they conclude (1/14).