A voluntary moratorium on potentially dangerous experiments aimed at understanding highly virulent strains of the H5N1 influenza virus should continue for the time being, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director Anthony Fauci told a meeting of flu scientists here. But, he added, scientists should redouble their efforts to engage with the larger public to gain support for the vital but risky work.
“The flu scientific community can no longer be the only player in the discussion about this research,” Fauci said. “You will unquestionably lose the battle for public support for your research if you ignore this issue.” Fauci remarks, delivered at the annual meeting of the NIAID’s influenza research centers of excellence, also echoed a call for openness and transparency he made in June in the pages of Science, published by AAAS, which also publishes ScienceInsider.
The moratorium, announced by 39 scientists this past January, came amidst controversy over publishing two studies that described how researchers made H5N1 more transmissible between mammals—possibly setting the stage for a flu pandemic. After a lengthy review, the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) ultimately recommended that the U.S. government allow full publication of both studies. One, by a team led by Yoshihiro Kawaoka—who has a joint appointment at the University of Tokyo and the University of Wisconsin, Madison—was published by Nature. The other, from a team led by Ron Fouchier of Erasmus MC in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, was published by Science.