Lab-created bird flu virus accident shows lax oversight of risky 'gain of function' research
Key Excerpts from Article on Website of USA Today
Posted: May 8th, 2023
Inside the high-security Influenza Research Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, two experienced scientists were pulling ferrets out of their HEPA-filtered cages on a Monday in December 2019. Another researcher, still in training, was also in the room to watch and learn. This particular experiment involved exposing the animals to a highly controversial lab-engineered strain of H5N1 avian influenza virus. Scientists had taken an avian influenza virus that was mostly dangerous to birds and manipulated it in ways that potentially increased its threat to humans. The research was supported [by] Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. On that December day, two experienced researchers from Kawaoka’s team were helping train a colleague as they collected samples from ferrets. One of their most important pieces of personal protective equipment was the air-purifying respirator that each wore. As one of the senior researchers prepared to start collecting samples from the next round of ferrets, the trainee realized there was a problem with their respirator. The powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR) hose had somehow disconnected from the unit. The detached hose dangled loose in the lab’s potentially contaminated air. In the end, the trainee apparently didn’t become infected. But how the university and the lab oversight system handled the incident should be cause for concern.
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