With great difficulty virologists in China have curbed the spread of new bird flu ‘H7N9. Now other researchers want to test increase the aggressiveness of the pathogen. Critics are appalled.div
researchers want to increase the aggressiveness of the deadly H7N9 bird flu virus artificially for experiments. To better understand the pathogen are called “gain-of-function” studies are needed, argued the virologist Ron Fouchier and Yoshihiro Kawaoka in an open letter in the journal “Nature”.
In such experiments, a gene acquires a new function or a higher activity. Of the pathogen are to July according to the World Health Organization 43 people died. Although the outbreak is currently banned, but in winter the virus could re-emerge, the researchers write.However
Such experiments are highly controversial. The chief epidemiologist of China’s Centre for Disease Control, Zeng Guang, such research is negligence: “Artificial changes of the virus are very dangerous.” The change in the nature of a pathogen could take many years. In the laboratory, however, a converted virus will immediately generated.
“This really is not based on scientific research,” he criticized in an interview with the news agency dpa in Beijing. Finally, there is no guarantee that the virus would change in reality exactly as the mutations artificially produced in the laboratory.
fear of biological weapons
From the perspective of security of all humanity, such experiments are not portable, Guang argued further. The’ve shown the story. In the past, such experiments have been conducted to develop biological weapons.
Ron Fouchier from the Medical Center in Rotterdam, and Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, however, lead to a great scientific value. Thanks to the experiments to better vaccines could be developed to study the dangers of a new outbreak artificially better and analyze the risks associated with new transmission.
“More research is needed, including experiments to” “include investigations” gain-of-function, it said in the open letter to the researchers.
In March, the new form of H7N9 bird flu was first detected in humans. In most cases, the authorities assumed that the people had been infected in poultry. Thousands of animals were slaughtered and live poultry markets closed. Thereafter the number of new infections was almost completely back.
human-to-human transmission possible
However, the WHO suggested in April that could have a direct transmission of the virus between humans in some cases. A research team led by scientists Bao Chang-jun by the Center for Disease Control in the southern Chinese city of Nanjing this week warned and admonished in the “British Medical Journal” from the risks of human-to-human transmission, “The threat of H7N9 is by no fall over. “
The propagated by researchers Fouchier and Kawaoka experiments would not be the first such studies. Fouchier had already experimented with the H5N1 bird flu virus, according to the WHO since 2003, more than 300 people died. But after massive criticism he had to pause.
Fouchier argued even then that they could test possible mutations in the laboratory and that the health authorities are better prepared for an emergency. Critics thought was already countered that the risks were too great and biological weapons would be created in the lab that could be stolen and used against people.