UW professor says bird flu research is safe

The professor who oversees the University of Wisconsin-Madison's biosafety for its controversial bird flu research responded on Monday to the growing criticism about the necessity and safety of the research.

William Mellon is the associate dean for research policy at UW, a professor of pharmacy and the overseer of UW's program for toxins and pathogens that require special oversight. The research completed in that program is highly regulated by the government, the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel reports.

"(The research is) society's best defense against a pathogen that has shown time and time again that, in nature, it can adapt to human hosts with dire consequences for global public health," Mellon said, according to the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.

The statement arrived a day after an editorial in the New York Times criticized research in the Netherlands and at the university, stating that the consequences of making a more contagious virus are too devastating to risk it escaping or becoming a terrorist weapon. Mellon said that the research is approved by the government and that it is done in a state-of-the-art facility.

"(The university is) confident in its ability to work safely and securely with agents like H5N1," Mellon said, according to the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel. "Such work is never undertaken lightly and is done with the express goal of advancing our understanding of influenza and how to exploit that knowledge in the interest of protecting global human health."

The research, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health, led to a request last month by a federal advisory board on biosecurity to omit details that could lead to terrorists re-creating the virus.

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