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In the Media

article imageControversial bird flu research to resume

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By Tim Sandle
Jan 26, 2013 in Science
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The international group of influenza researchers, whose research into bird flu was suspended due to potential human risks, are to resume their research.
Last year the Digital Journal reported that a team of science researchers, who controversially created a form of bird flu that was easily transmissible by air, agreed to stop the research due to the risks to people if the virus was ever to escape from the laboratory.
The reason given for stopping was a officially a 'voluntary moratorium' on the part of the scientists. However, given that concerns were expressed by several governments and the research was government funded (in the U.S. the the research was co-funded by the National Institutes of Health) it is likely that some political processes were also involved). The suspension followed a period of intense debate, as the Scientist reported.
The main issues related to containment risks and also whether it was right for the researchers to publish a paper in which it set out how to engineer the virus, which usually infects birds, so that it could pass between mammals through the air. The concern was that terrorists could follow the process and create something launch on a civilian population.
The scientists argue that understanding how the virus may mutate is the only may to ensure that the global population is protected.
Bird flu, or highly pathogenic avian influenza", has been hitting the headlines over the past few years due to the potential for the virus to cross between species (which includes presenting a risk to people). Most human contractions of the avian flu are a result from contact with infected fluids, or from handling dead birds.
These arguments aside, after a year of inactivity, the research is to resume. This was announced in a letter
published this week (January 23) in the journals Science and Nature.
In the letter, signed by forty researchers, it was stated that: “the aims of the voluntary moratorium have been met in some countries and are close to being met in others,” therefore the researchers “have a public-health responsibility to resume this important work.”
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