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Controversial avian flu studies can be published

Two papers on H5N1 transmission can be published in Nature and Science

Ingrid Torjesen

Tuesday, 03 April 2012

A panel of experts advising the United States government has given the go-ahead to the publication of two studies demonstrating how the H5N1 avian influenza virus can be transmitted through an aerosol potentially enabling human-to-human transmission.

Last year the US National Security Advisory Board for Biotechnology (NSABB) recommended blocking publication of the two studies, which were due to be appear in Nature and Science, because of concerns that the information they contained could be used for the development of biological weapon by terrorists.

The two US government-funded studies developed strains of avian flu that could be spread between ferrets as an aerosol. The aim of the papers was to demonstrate how easily H5N1 could mutate into a form that could spread quickly among people and become the next pandemic.

The manuscripts have been revised by the authors to clarify how their research contributes to improving public health. NSABB decided that the revised manuscripts “do not appear to provide information that would immediately enable misuse of the research in ways that would endanger public health or national security”.

The Board’s decision also took into account the newly released US government ‘Policy for Oversight of Life Sciences Dual Use Research of Concern’ which will ensure that ongoing and future federally-funded life sciences research is evaluated where there is concern that the results or methodology could be used for the detriment of public health if they fell into the wrong hands.

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