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Author Topic: Scientists Brace for Media Storm Around Controversial Flu Studies  (Read 4762 times)

Bud

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Seriously, right after lawyers are sent to the wall, we need to line up all the scientists:

http://news.sciencemag.org/scienceinsider/2011/11/scientists-brace-for-media-storm.html

"ROTTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS—Locked up in the bowels of the medical faculty building here and accessible to only a handful of scientists lies a man-made flu virus that could change world history if it were ever set free.

The virus is an H5N1 avian influenza strain that has been genetically altered and is now easily transmissible between ferrets, the animals that most closely mimic the human response to flu. Scientists believe it's likely that the pathogen, if it emerged in nature or were released, would trigger an influenza pandemic, quite possibly with many millions of deaths.

In a 17th floor office in the same building, virologist Ron Fouchier of Erasmus Medical Center calmly explains why his team created what he says is "probably one of the most dangerous viruses you can make"—and why he wants to publish a paper describing how they did it. Fouchier is also bracing for a media storm. After he talked to ScienceInsider yesterday, he had an appointment with an institutional press officer to chart a communication strategy.

Fouchier's paper is one of two studies that have triggered an intense debate about the limits of scientific freedom and that could portend changes in the way U.S. researchers handle so-called dual-use research: studies that have a potential public health benefit but could also be useful for nefarious purposes like biowarfare or bioterrorism.

The other study—also on H5N1, and with comparable results—was done by a team led by virologist Yoshihiro Kawaoka at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the University of Tokyo, several scientists told ScienceInsider. (Kawaoka did not respond to interview requests.) Both studies have been submitted for publication, and both are currently under review by the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), which on a few previous occasions has been asked by scientists or journals to review papers that caused worries.

NSABB chair Paul Keim, a microbial geneticist, says he cannot discuss specific studies but confirms that the board has "worked very hard and very intensely for several weeks on studies about H5N1 transmissibility in mammals." The group plans to issue a public statement soon, says Keim, and is likely to issue additional recommendations about this type of research. "We'll have a lot to say," he says.

"I can't think of another pathogenic organism that is as scary as this one," adds Keim, who has worked on anthrax for many years. "I don't think anthrax is scary at all compared to this."

Some scientists say that's reason enough not to do such research. The virus could escape from the lab, or bioterrorists or rogue nations could use the published results to fashion a bioweapon with the potential for mass destruction, they say. "This work should never have been done," says Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute who has a strong interest in biosecurity issues.

The research by the Kawaoka and Fouchier teams set out to answer a question that has long puzzled scientists: Does H5N1, which rarely causes human disease, have the potential to trigger a pandemic? The virus has decimated poultry flocks on three continents but has caused fewer than 600 known cases of flu in humans since it emerged in Asia in 1997, although those rare human cases are often fatal. Because the virus spreads very inefficiently between humans it has been unable to set off a chain reaction and circle the globe.

Some scientists think the virus is probably unable to trigger a pandemic, because adapting to a human host would likely make it unable to reproduce. Some also believe the virus would need to reshuffle its genes with a human strain, a process called reassortment, that some believe is most likely to occur in pigs, which host both human and avian strains. Based on past experience, some scientists have also argued that flu pandemics can only be caused by H1, H2, and H3 viruses, which have been replaced by each other in the human population every so many decades—but not by H5.

Fouchier says his study shows all of that to be wrong.

Although he declined to discuss details of the research because the paper is still under review, Fouchier confirmed the details given in news stories in New Scientist and Scientific American about a September meeting in Malta where he first presented the study. Those stories describe how Fouchier initially tried to make the virus more transmissible by making specific changes to its genome, using a process called reverse genetics; when that failed, he passed the virus from one ferret to another multiple times, a low-tech and time-honored method of making a pathogen adapt to a new host.

After 10 generations, the virus had become "airborne": Healthy ferrets became infected simply by being housed in a cage next to a sick one. The airborne strain had five mutations in two genes, each of which have already been found in nature, Fouchier says; just never all at once in the same strain.

Ferrets aren't humans, but in studies to date, any influenza strain that has been able to pass among ferrets has also been transmissible among humans, and vice versa, says Fouchier: "That could be different this time, but I wouldn't bet any money on it."

The specter of an H5N1 pandemic keeps flu scientists up at night because of the virus's power to kill. Of the known cases so far, more than half were fatal. The real case-fatality rate is probably lower because an unknown number of milder cases are never diagnosed and reported, but scientists agree that the virus is vicious. Based on Fouchier's talk in Malta, New Scientist reported that the strain created by the Rotterdam team is just as lethal to ferrets as the original one.

"These studies are very important," says biodefense and flu expert Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. The researchers "have the full support of the influenza community," Osterholm says, because there are potential benefits for public health. For instance, the results show that those downplaying the risks of an H5N1 pandemic should think again, he says.

Knowing the exact mutations that make the virus transmissible also enables scientists to look for them in the field and take more aggressive control measures when one or more show up, adds Fouchier. The study also enables researchers to test whether H5N1 vaccines and antiviral drugs would work against the new strain.

Fouchier says he consulted widely within the Netherlands before submitting his manuscript for publication. The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), which funded the work, has agreed to the publication, says Fouchier, including officials at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. (NIH declined to answer questions for this story.) Now, Fouchier is eagerly waiting for NSABB's judgment.

Osterholm says he can't discuss details of the papers because he's an NSABB member. But he says it should be possible to omit certain key details from controversial papers and make them available to people who really need to know. "We don't want to give bad guys a road map on how to make bad bugs really bad," he says.

But some scientists say the board's debate comes far too late, because the studies have been done and the papers are written. "This is a good example of the need for a robust and independent system of PRIOR review and approval of potentially dangerous experiments," retired arms control researcher Mark Wheelis of the University of California, Davis, wrote to ScienceInsider in an e-mail. "Blocking publication may provide some small increment of safety, but it will be very modest compared to the benefits of not doing the work in the first place."

Scientists have long discussed whether to have mandatory reviews of dual-use studies before they begin, and given the global risks, some have even argued for some international risk assessment system for pandemic viruses. For instance, a proposal by four researchers from the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland would have classified Fouchier's work as an "activity of extreme concern" that would have required international pre-approval.

But NSABB advised against such mandatory systems in 2007, and most countries don't have formal mechanisms in place to review studies before they start. (In the United States, it's "recommended" that researchers ask an institutional review board for advice if they think a study raises concerns.) Fouchier's study was greenlighted in advance by the Dutch Commission on Genetic Modification (COGEM), but that only means the panel is satisfied with safety procedures at Fouchier's lab, explains chair Bastiaan Zoeteman; it's not COGEM's job to decide whether a study is desirable. NIH didn't give the funding proposal a special review either, says Fouchier.

"The creation of a pandemic virus has been the classical example of dual-use research of concern the past decade," says Ebright. "It's remarkable that the NSABB is discussing it in 2011."

Keim agrees about the need for reviews up front. "The process of identifying dual use of concern is something that should start at the very first glimmer of an experiment," he says. "You shouldn't wait until you have submitted a paper before you decide it's dangerous. Scientists and institutions and funding agencies should be looking at this. The journals and the journals' reviewers should be the last resort."

NSABB does not have the power to prevent the publication of papers, but it could ask journals not to publish. Even Ebright, however, says he's against efforts to ban the publication of the studies now that they have been done. "You cannot post hoc suppress work that was done and completed in a nonclassified context," he says. "The scientific community would not stand for that."
MissouriBud
Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death! Patrick Henry

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    onesmack4u

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    Re: Scientists Brace for Media Storm Around Controversial Flu Studies
    « Reply #1 on: November 26, 2011, 09:02:58 pm »
    I think I remember this from the beginning of "The Stand". If I recall, it ended up being a bad idea.
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    booksmart

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    Re: Scientists Brace for Media Storm Around Controversial Flu Studies
    « Reply #2 on: November 26, 2011, 10:15:12 pm »
    Because, yes, right after killing everyone who knows how it was done, the next step is obviously to kill everyone who can figure out how to stop it.   ::)

    onesmack4u

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    Re: Scientists Brace for Media Storm Around Controversial Flu Studies
    « Reply #3 on: November 26, 2011, 11:29:30 pm »
    Any modern nation would know that using such a virus as a weapon would eventually cause the infection to reach their own shores. The only ones that would use it are the 7th century savages that we are currently fighting. They would never figure something like this out. The only ones that would use it are not advanced enough to develop it, but they might be smart enough to steal it.

    Just because we can develop something like this does not mean that we should.
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    mwcoleburn

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    Re: Scientists Brace for Media Storm Around Controversial Flu Studies
    « Reply #4 on: November 26, 2011, 11:36:46 pm »
    Forget all that Pandemic crap, they were testing on FERRETS how dare they. I love me some ferrets



    They should die for that alone.
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    scarville

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    Re: Scientists Brace for Media Storm Around Controversial Flu Studies
    « Reply #5 on: November 27, 2011, 01:19:14 am »
    Because, yes, right after killing everyone who knows how it was done, the next step is obviously to kill everyone who can figure out how to stop it.   ::)
    Those who know how it can be made are probably the best qualified to figure out how to stop it.  In reality, just knowing that H5N1 is adaptable enough to cause a pandemic will, hopefully, cause resources to be allocated to minimizing the pandemic.
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    ZeroTA

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    Re: Scientists Brace for Media Storm Around Controversial Flu Studies
    « Reply #6 on: November 27, 2011, 01:25:56 am »
    There's worse things than this sealed away, I'll wager. I got better things to worry about.

    Still though, can you imagine being a scientist who works on this? I'd be all paranoid and jumpy.
    I'm not saying you should use an M1A for home defense, but I'm also not saying you shouldn't.

    Doug Wojtowicz

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    Re: Scientists Brace for Media Storm Around Controversial Flu Studies
    « Reply #7 on: November 27, 2011, 11:45:52 am »
    "Line up all the scientists."

    And people wondered why I said that "Republicans are anti-science."

    This is a known virus, locked in the bowels of deep security with only a few people who know how to make it, and it's not weaponized yet.

    Those scientists put up against the wall are figuring out how to stop a natural occurance of such diseases by figuring out how they come to pass.

    That said, screw anyone killin' ferrets.  Don't we have some death row inmates?
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    Bud

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    Re: Scientists Brace for Media Storm Around Controversial Flu Studies
    « Reply #8 on: November 27, 2011, 12:38:51 pm »
    My point was, why would a scientist decide that he wanted to figure out how to transmit H5N1 to humans?  Don't try and convince me it is so they can know how to cure it when it occurs, that won't wash.  It hasn't occurred but now it has.

    We cannot protect a single secret in our society. The Russians copied our weapon systems just as the Chinese do. How are these nimrods going to protect their research notes? oh, wait, they want to publish how they did it so the whole world can learn how to do it..

    If you'll notice in the asrticle, there are two separate groups of unrelated scientific teams doing this just so thjey can publish a paper. get their name noticed, earn some momentary recognition. They are racingg to see who can be the first to find a method to transmit a deadly disease grom human to human.

    You're right, why would I see something wrong with that?
    MissouriBud
    Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death! Patrick Henry

    Mamba1-0

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    Re: Scientists Brace for Media Storm Around Controversial Flu Studies
    « Reply #9 on: November 27, 2011, 01:15:52 pm »
    And people wondered why I said that "Republicans are anti-science."
    ****************************************

    Nah. It's a known fact that democRATs all yammer the same talking points; as though constant repetition of a lie will, somehow, render it true.
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    seanp

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    Re: Scientists Brace for Media Storm Around Controversial Flu Studies
    « Reply #10 on: November 27, 2011, 01:21:00 pm »
    What bothers me about this is not the value of the research, but the shear fluffing ego that seems evident.

    Quote

    In a 17th floor office in the same building, virologist Ron Fouchier of Erasmus Medical Center calmly explains why his team created what he says is "probably one of the most dangerous viruses you can make"—and why he wants to publish a paper describing how they did it. Fouchier is also bracing for a media storm. After he talked to ScienceInsider yesterday, he had an appointment with an institutional press officer to chart a communication strategy.


    What hubris.

    What a lack of humility and personal resonsibility.

    Yes, these "learned people" should be put up against the wall.  Humanity has gotten along fine for tens of thousands of years without population decimating diseases created in labs, why do we need them around to fix problems that they create?
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    Doug Wojtowicz

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    Re: Scientists Brace for Media Storm Around Controversial Flu Studies
    « Reply #11 on: November 27, 2011, 01:31:31 pm »
    Yes.  Far be it from me to point out you don't mind a genocide of ALL scientists, as opposed to simply the dicks actually making the death virus.

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    Daylight

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    Re: Scientists Brace for Media Storm Around Controversial Flu Studies
    « Reply #12 on: November 27, 2011, 01:39:51 pm »
    There is a human impulse to do things just because we can.  It becomes a redneck punchline ("hold my beer and watch this") or an M.C. Escher drawing or one of Nightcrawler's home movies involving The Suit or an chemists making an organic molecule shaped like a window.  (I confess years ago to answering "can you make a stun gun out of disposable camera?" in the affirmative... then doing it in under an hour.)  When people with virology labs get curious, they do the best things, or sometimes the most serious facepalm one could imagine.

    I am not worried about mud hut Jihadists getting the details of the research, but such warm and friendly centers of academic research like Iran and Pakistan may also read peer reviewed journals.  What I suspect is the biggest risk is poor lab procedure ("Who told the summer intern to clean the infected ferret cages?"), or poor operational security ("High level encryption on my laptop?  Why would I need that?  I just work on a virology lab, and like to review research while sitting in a coffee shop with wifi.")  Terrorists figured out how to learn just enough to weaponize airliners.  I accept they could figure out how to leverage something like this. 

    The process of science demands experimentation and communication.  Overall, I am pleased with the results.  Security requires control & limited access.  Reconciling the two is a non-trivial problem.

    I hope to see more discussion about the actual virus/ experimentation/ dissemination of information/ R&D meme, less on genocide or Republicans & Democrats are bad/good.
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    seanp

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    Re: Scientists Brace for Media Storm Around Controversial Flu Studies
    « Reply #13 on: November 27, 2011, 01:45:25 pm »
    Yes.  Far be it from me to point out you don't mind a genocide of ALL scientists, as opposed to simply the dicks actually making the death virus.



    Good of you to put in that qualifier Doug.  Because killing all scientists isn't what I am suggesting.  Just "these learned people".  You know, the ones that I quoted.

    I thought that you were a writer.  Maybe you can find someone to teach you how to read.
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    JackCrow

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    Re: Scientists Brace for Media Storm Around Controversial Flu Studies
    « Reply #14 on: November 27, 2011, 02:25:22 pm »
    "But your scientisits were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they never stopped to think about whether they should" - Ian Malcolm, Jurrassic Park

    I always knew that something like this or worse would come along because many of the highly educated have a level of arrogance that completely impairs their reasoning and common sense. We will eventually all come to grief for it.
    « Last Edit: November 27, 2011, 02:40:14 pm by JackCrow »
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    Daylight

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    Re: Scientists Brace for Media Storm Around Controversial Flu Studies
    « Reply #15 on: November 27, 2011, 03:15:41 pm »
    "But your scientisits were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they never stopped to think about whether they should" - Ian Malcolm, Jurrassic Park

    I always knew that something like this or worse would come along because many of the highly educated have a level of arrogance that completely impairs their reasoning and common sense. We will eventually all come to grief for it.

    Arrogance and impaired reasoning is in no way limited to people with a high degree of education.  The more powerful the things we control, the more spectacular our lapses of judgement become.  Figure the average 22 year old has to work harder to spread disease, and it can usually be cured with antibiotics or treated with a cream. 
    Washington"In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice.  But, in practice, there is. "
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    sarge712

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    Re: Scientists Brace for Media Storm Around Controversial Flu Studies
    « Reply #16 on: November 27, 2011, 04:18:28 pm »
    There's worse things than this sealed away, I'll wager. I got better things to worry about.

    My thoughts exactly. meh.
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    Re: Scientists Brace for Media Storm Around Controversial Flu Studies
    « Reply #17 on: November 27, 2011, 04:25:54 pm »
    Good of you to put in that qualifier Doug.  Because killing all scientists isn't what I am suggesting.  Just "these learned people".  You know, the ones that I quoted.

    I thought that you were a writer.  Maybe you can find someone to teach you how to read.

    Hey Sean, I had quoted Bud in his original post.

    Maybe you're the one who should return for remedial reading comprehension?

    Nah.  You're absolutely perfect and never made a single mistake in your life.
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    SJW is not a synonym of "leftists" or "liberals". Left-wing and right-wing positions are based on economics. SJWs are left-authoritarians which means that they are not liberals. Don't paint all leftists or liberals with the same (misguided) brush.

    JesseL

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    Re: Scientists Brace for Media Storm Around Controversial Flu Studies
    « Reply #18 on: November 27, 2011, 05:16:57 pm »
    :bash

    Chill out folks.
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    scarville

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    Re: Scientists Brace for Media Storm Around Controversial Flu Studies
    « Reply #19 on: November 27, 2011, 07:29:29 pm »
    :bash

    Chill out folks.
    Why?

    Up until 1991 I was a engineer working in Aerospace.  Among the WMD's I helped design, test and make work were the re-entry aeroshells for several of the MIRV ICBM's -- including so-called "Peacekeeper" missile.  It's a good bet translations of some of that research is in Iran now.  When ignorant dolts start talking about killing scientists I start checking my ammo stockpile.

    Seriously, right after lawyers are sent to the wall, we need to line up all the scientists:
    Quoted for posterity.
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    Re: Scientists Brace for Media Storm Around Controversial Flu Studies
    « Reply #20 on: November 27, 2011, 07:44:50 pm »
    There's worse things than this sealed away, I'll wager. I got better things to worry about.
    Maybe.  It would have to be pretty nasty, though.  H5N1 really is pretty close to a perfect disease agent versus current medical knowledge.  The damned thing actually subverts the immune system and conventional flu treatment regimens may make it worse.  Tamiflu, Relenza and Ribaviran can actually create an acute pro-inflammatory cytokine storm.

    For the record, I am not a medical doctor, nor do I play one on TV.
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    Re: Scientists Brace for Media Storm Around Controversial Flu Studies
    « Reply #21 on: November 27, 2011, 07:51:47 pm »
    Why?

    #1 Because I said so. Jackassery won't be tolerated.

    If you (or anyone else in here) can't participate in the discussion without resorting to personal attacks or without allowing other poster's comments getting you bent out of shape, move on to another topic.
    Arizona

    seanp

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    Re: Scientists Brace for Media Storm Around Controversial Flu Studies
    « Reply #22 on: November 27, 2011, 08:49:25 pm »
    Hey Sean, I had quoted Bud in his original post

    Maybe you're the one who should return for remedial reading comprehension?

    Nah.  You're absolutely perfect and never made a single mistake in your life.

    You got that right.  Don`t ever forget it.
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