Clearer guidance needed for risky pathogen experiments

May 18, 2022 – The U.S. government should implement stricter regulations for ‘gain-of-function’ lab experiments that modify pathogens to be more transmissible or dangerous, according to experts.

Scientists quoted in a May 3, 2022 article in Nature expressed concern that the enhanced pathogens could potentially escape the lab and cause disease. “Pandemics are on people’s minds,” said Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “It’s no longer abstract to think about the destruction that the spread of a new virus can cause.”

Meanwhile, other researchers argue that the experiments could help scientists better understand pathogens and make vaccines and treatments.

The federal government recently began a months-long review of its policies on gain-of-function experiments—including a policy that in 2017 created an independent advisory panel to review funding requests for these experiments, based on whether the benefits outweigh the risks. Lipsitch is pushing for more transparency regarding the advisory panel, for example by making public the names of the panelists and their comments.

Read the Nature article: Risky ‘gain-of-function’ studies need stricter guidance, say US researchers