The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) has reversed course and now supports publication of controversial research studies showing how scientists in the Netherlands and Wisconsin created new, easy-to-spread forms of bird flu in the lab.
The move comes as researchers partially revise their research to exclude details that could be used by bioterrorists to potentially create a pandemic. The NSABB had originally said publishing full details of the research would be too risky.
University of Minnesota professor Michael Osterholm, Ph.D., serves on the NSABB and had been directly involved with the original recommendation for redaction.
According to Osterholm, the H5N1 strains that were created in the lab could lead to research that improves pandemic preparedness, but he and others were concerned that releasing details of the research created a very real risk of a human pandemic -- by accident or intentional release of the virus.
"These papers really represent a seminal moment in life sciences," Osterholm said before a Feb. 2 New York Academy of Sciences debate about the issue. Osterholm is director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy and at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. "We now have really been confronted with examples of where the science itself -- which is very important in moving forward for the public's health -- also poses potential risk for nefarious actions or even situations where this virus might escape from the laboratory."