Transmissible H5N1 studies expected to resume

The lead researcher of a controversial study that created a form of H5N1 avian flu that is transmissible in humans recently announced that he hopes scientists can resume their work in the coming weeks.

Dutch researcher Dr. Ron Fouchier of Erasmus University in Rotterdam said that the studies could resume in as little as two weeks. He noted that the voluntary 60-day moratorium on lab-modified forms of H5N1 expired March 30, according to CIDRAP News.

Fouchier added that the scientists are awaiting a series of biosecurity assessments to be released by national governments. The assessments are part of a plan conceived in February by a group of technical experts from the World Health Organization.

The Erasmus researchers and a team led by Dr. Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin are at the center of a controversy stemming from the results of their research. The teams independently engineered an H5N1 virus and an H1N1-H5N1 hybrid, respectively, that are believed to be transmissible in humans in the form of airborne droplets.

The journals Science and Nature agreed to publish the experiments in December, but a U.S. government biosecurity committee asked that portions of the studies be omitted due to security concerns.

Fouchier was asked about the status of the assessments and responded that the Dutch government has maintained its recommendation that the experiments be conducted in an enhanced biosafety level 3 environment. He said U.S. officials are still working through details, but will likely recommend similar procedures, CIDRAP News reports.

Feedback is still pending from two other groups, including the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, which originally recommended redacting portions of the original studies. The other group consists of experts taking part in an international meeting on H5N1 research issues to be held in London in early April.

Although Fouchier and the other researchers are waiting for the different organizations to reach their conclusions, he insisted that the research teams and the scientific journals will have the final say on when and how the information will be published.