Scientists develop NIH policy to review H5N1 influenza research

Government officials in the United States recently came to a consensus on a policy to review research requests for studies on H5N1 avian influenza.

The policy, developed during a two-day meeting held in Bethesda, Maryland, was created in response to a debate that arose when two research groups independently developed a form of H5N1 transmissible in mammals, according to

The U.S. National Institutes of Health intends to lift its year-long ban on funding H5N1 research beginning in January. H5N1 scientists who volunteered to enact a moratorium on all avian flu research are expected to discuss lifting their ban soon.

"I suspect that we will be seeing a lifting of the moratorium on the part of people who are not NIH-funded," Anthony Fauci, the head of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said, reports. NIAID operates as part of the NIH. I would not be surprised if they [now say]: 'OK, we've heard it all.' Some are going to go ahead with their experiments if their country and funder allow it."

Approximately 200 people attended the debate held at the NIH campus, including many of the world's H5N1 experts, to discuss draft review guidelines for avian flu projects. The new rules are supposed to aid NIH reviewers decide what types of research the agency should fund.

The rules stipulate that NIH-funded research must have a high degree of significance to public health and there must be no feasible alternatives to conducting it. Additionally, scientists will have to provide evidence that any created H5N1 strains could be produced through a natural evolutionary process in the foreseeable future. If a proposed project fails to meet those criteria it must be submitted to a more intensive review by NIH's parent agency, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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