Global Policy Talks Needed on Risks, Benefits of Modifying Viruses for Research

MRSA Virus
Monday, October 5, 2015

An article in Nature describes efforts by the US government to determine whether it should continue to ban federal funding for studies that could make some viruses more dangerous. Writer Sara Reardon notes, such research "can help scientists to answer important questions about how a microbe evolved or how to kill it. But it is tricky to determine when the risk of accidentally releasing such a pathogen outweighs the benefits of this 'gain-of-function' research." Consortium Chair Susan M. Wolf, JD, is a member of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), which will issue final recommendations on the conduct of this type of research in early 2016. Prof. Wolf notes that these guidelines, while important, cannot be the final word. “Are some risks simply unacceptable, even if there are countervailing benefits?” she asks. Since infectious diseases don't respect national boundaries and NSABB’s recommendations will only affect the United States, Wolf would like to see a global policy discussion.