WHO enters weaponized H5N1 fight

The World Health Organization recently announced its intention to hold an international forum to discuss whether scientific research should be published if some nations fear doing so could help terrorists acquire biological weapons.

The meeting is considered to be in direct response to recent requests by a U.S. government biodefense panel that two journals not publish portions of independent studies that involved the creation of a strain of H5N1 bird flu that is easily transmissible to humans, according to NTI.org.

WHO Assistant Director General Keiji Fukuda said that the goal of the forum would be to bring together the views of science and technology, as well as those of politics and public health.

Reaction to the panel's requests has been mixed within the scientific community. Neither study has been published so far.

Some scientists have argued that a determined individual would be able to duplicate the studies regardless of whether they appeared in the journals, while legitimate public-interest in the field would be discouraged.

Other experts have supported the decision based on the interests of national security.

"It would at least buy some time to find and stockpile the appropriate [medicine]," Kwok-Yung Yuen, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Hong Kong, said, NTI.org reports.

Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University, said that stronger rules and preauthorization were needed before scientists conducted research that could boost the virulence or transmissibility of H5N1.