UW-Madison increases biological research oversight

While the University of Wisconsin-Madison has increased its once lacking biological research oversight, the university may face additional rules recommended nationally for dual-use experiments.

The university made headlines when a bird flu study by Yoshihiro Kawaoka, a professor at the university, triggered an international debate over bioterrorism and biosafety. Campus officials have already started to guard information about biological research more closely, the Wisconsin State Journal reports.

"There is a much more heightened sense of awareness," Bill Mellon, the associate dean for research policy at UW-Madison's graduate school, said, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

Four years ago, the university released the names of the 14 scientists who were working in biosafety level three labs, the highest level on campus. This month, officials would only say that 17 researchers work in the labs without releasing their names.

Kawaoka's study became the subject of a national controversy because of its potential ability to help health officials prepare for a severe outbreak of flu globally while also potentially being replicable by terrorists or accidentally released from the lab. Experts on influenza discussed the issue last Thursday and Friday at a World Health Organization summit.

Three years ago, the university heightened its biological research oversight when workers in one lab broke federal rules by creating a drug-resistant, unauthorized strain of brucella. Two workers in the lab were infected and both recovered. At the time, a new biosafety officer was hired and the budget and staff of the office doubled.