BSL-4 Lab Worker - Photo Credit –USAMRIID
While the media furor has died down, the debate over the wisdom and safety of conducting Gain of Function (GOF) experiments on highly pathogenic avian influenza strains has not gone away.
These experiments involve laboratory manipulation of the virus’s genetics in order to enhance its transmissibility, virulence, or host range.
Proponents argue that these experiments can help us discover what strains have the most pandemic potential, and could help in the early development of a vaccine. Opponents argue that these potential benefits are overstated, and the risks of an accidental release from the lab are too great.
Over the summer we’ve revisited this issue several times, including Proposed MicroRNA-based Strategy to Mitigate Risks Of GOF Influenza Studies, H7N9: Reigniting The `Gain Of Function’ Research Debate, and Nature: H5N1 viral-engineering dangers will not go away.
This past week, Cape Town, South Africa hosted Options for the Control of Influenza VIII – which every three years convenes the largest international scientific conference devoted soley to influenza. The topic of GOF research was, as you might expect, a hot topic.
During this conference Dr. Marc Lipsitch - Professor of Epidemiology and Director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at the Harvard School of Public Health, gave a 30 minute presentation on why he feels the risks of this type of work exceed the benefits.
Links to access the video, and his slides, are provided on the CCDD website below:
September 10, 2013
CCDD Director Marc Lipsitch participated in a panel discussion at Options for the Control of Influenza VIII on September 9, 2013, on the risks and benefits of "gain of function" research to make avian influenza viruses transmissible by mammals via an airborne route. His talk was entitled "Transmissibility Gain-of-Function Experiments with High-Pathogenicity Avian Influenza: Interesting Science, but Not Worth the Risk of An Accidental Pandemic."
Not that I expect this video to settle anything, but at least it puts into perspective the concerns that Dr. Lipsitch (and many others) hold in regards to these types of genetic experiments.