Congressman 'Dissatisfied' With Handling Of Controversial H5N1 Papers Calls For Cohesive Policy For Handling 'Risky' Research

“[D]issatisfied with the government’s handling of two research papers on mutant forms of avian influenza,” Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) on Wednesday “said that the lack of a cohesive policy for handling risky research funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other federal agencies could necessitate new laws, a situation that researchers have been trying to avoid,” the Nature News Blog reports. “The second of the controversial papers showing that H5N1, or ‘bird flu,’ can spread through the air between mammals was published last week, providing some closure to the months-long debate about the work and whether its publication would result in the proliferation of dangerous viruses and increased risk of an accidental or intentional release,” the blog writes, adding, “Sensenbrenner says not enough work has been done to ensure that such controversies don’t arise again.”

“Sensenbrenner, who is the vice-chairman of the Congressional committee on science and technology and sits on a subcommittee on terrorism and homeland security, had requested details on the provenance of a new government policy on reporting and overseeing ‘dual-use research of concern’ (DURC), research that could conceivably be put to nefarious ends,” the blog writes, noting NIH Director Francis Collins responded to Sensenbrenner’s questions on June 21. However, Sensenbrenner tells Nature that “he hopes the science community can quickly devise an approach to DURC,” the blog states. It notes “a more detailed plan — the United States Government Policy for Local Institutional Oversight of Dual Use Research of Concern — will likely be available for public comment within the coming weeks” (6/27).

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