Debating the transparency surrounding risky pathogen research

Experts are trying to figure out how much the public should know about experiments that could make pathogens, such as viruses, more transmissible or more deadly.

Scientists conduct this type of research in order to better understand how viruses, like avian flu or the current coronavirus, “jump” from birds or other animals to humans and why some viruses are more dangerous than others. On January 23 and 24, researchers gathered at a meeting of the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, an independent panel that advises the Department of Health and Human Services, to discuss how much to disclose about such work.

One of the researchers in attendance was Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. In a January 27, 2020 article in Nature, Lipsitch argued for more transparency about research into potential pandemic pathogens, and said that certain “gain-of-function” studies should not be funded by the government.

“It seems to me that the review process should be very much weighted toward making sure that as many people as possible are satisfied that that risk is justified by some very large benefit to health and welfare of people,” he said in a January 22, 2020 NPR article.

Read the Nature article: US officials revisit rules for disclosing risky disease experiments

Read the NPR article: How Much Should The Public Be Told About Research Into Risky Viruses?