- The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has decreed that certain studies involving mutant forms of SARS, MERS, and influenza be halted until a thorough review of risks and benefits is conducted.
- Scientists have been conducting "gain-of-function" studies to see how these viruses work by altering them in ways that could make them more deadly and contagious.
- The government decided to halt the experiments after two of the studies of the H5N1 bird flu virus created mutant forms that could easily spread outside of the lab.
The underlying concern that is driving the government's cautious stance is fear of an unintentional bioterrorism-like outbreak of a highly contagious, deadly virus that cannot be easily contained. On October 22, the National Research Council will meet with other agencies and experts involved in this year's National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity. The potential threat is real and scientists involved in this research have been very accommodating and compliant.
While the risk of a lab-based pandemic outbreak seems remote, it's likely that the current scourge of the Ebola virus and fear of an outbreak occurring in the U.S. has made policy makers more conservative.