Experts consider biosafety issues related to H5N1 moratorium

Experts on issues related to the H5N1 avian influenza moratorium, which has lasted eight months without an end in sight, published commentaries on Tuesday to offer suggestions for possible next steps in the process.

The scientists discussed whether or not research should resume and raised concerns about biosafety in separate commentaries published on Tuesday in mBio.

In one commentary, Ian Lipkin, the director of Columbia University's Center for Infection and Immunity, brought up issues related to biocontainment and biosafety, CIDRAP News reports.

Lipkin said that the BSL-3 laboratories that handle the H5N1 transmission studies may not be as equipped or as well experienced as BSL-4 labs. Instead of shifting the work on the viruses to the higher security labs, however, Lipkin suggested that the viruses could be moved to enhanced BSL-3 labs that house agents with pandemic potential. The guidelines for such labs could be devised by international groups like the World Health Organization.

"Given the implications for humankind, whatever course we pursue must be developed with global consultation and oversight," Lipkin said, according to CIDRAP News.

Marc Lipsitch and Barry Bloom, two infectious disease experts from Harvard University's School of Public Health, said that biosafety practices must be improved before funding additional work on mammalian-transmissible H5N1. The researchers also suggested explicit risk-benefit analyses, more stringent criteria for working with the agents and revising safety guidelines, CIDRAP News reports.