Lipkin, other experts enter H5N1 debate

Experts in public health and virology published their views on H5N1 dual-use research of concern on Saturday in mBio to discuss global biocontainment standards and recommend who should decide on regulations governing DURC.

W. Ian Lipkin, the director of the Center for Infection & Immunity at the Mailman School of Public Health, suggested that officials consider the risk-to-benefit analysis of conducting DURC research at a BSL-3 laboratory versus a BSL-4 laboratory. While research is cheaper and more efficient at BSL-3 labs, BSL-4 labs include daily facility inspection, monitoring of personnel for symptoms of disease, and logs of dates and times for equipment, supplies, personnel and samples, Health Canal reports.

Lipkin said that because high-threat pathogens have pandemic potential, it is important that the World Health Organization come up with strict criteria for the biocontainment of DURC materials. The guidelines are important both for economically developed countries and the developing world.

DURC became a hot-button issue last year when two independent groups created new H5N1 influenza strains with enhanced mammal transmissibility. Biosafety concerns were raised over the potential release of the H5N1 strains and the scientific community instituted a six month moratorium on H5N1 research related to gain of function.

Other commentators in the mBio issue included officials from the American Society of Microbiology, public health professors from Harvard, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the original authors and proponents of the controversial research, Health Canal reports.