The temporary moratorium on research on lab-modified bird flu (H5N1) viruses is to be extended, and the publication of the studies' "entire manuscript" is to be delayed. This was the conclusion of a small group of experts who met to discuss the two issues - the meeting, which took place in Geneva, Switzerland, involved 21 experts, including the leaders of the two research centers, one in the Netherlands and the other in the USA, the research funders, bioethicists and several WHO directors who specialize in influenza. In a written communiquÃ, WHO (World Health Organization) informed that the experts believe research on other H5N1 influenza viruses - the naturally-occurring ones - should continue "in order to protect public health". Dr. Keiji Fukuda, Assistant Director-General of Health Security and Environment, WHO, said: "Given the high death rate associated with this virus -- 60% of all humans who have been infected have died -- all participants at the meeting emphasized the high level of concern with this flu virus in the scientific community and the need to understand it better with additional research.
The debate about the potential severity of an outbreak of airborne H5N1 influenza in humans needs to move on from speculation and focus instead on how we can safely continue H5N1 research and share the results among researchers, according to a commentary published in mBio® , the online open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology.. H5N1 influenza has been at the center of heated discussions in science and policy circles since the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) asked the authors of two recent H5N1 investigations and the scientific journals that planned to publish the studies to withhold crucial details of the research in the interest of biosecurity. In the mBio® commentary, Michael Osterholm* and Nicholas Kelley, of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, present their case that H5N1 is a very dangerous virus, based on their analysis of published studies of the seroepidemiology of H5N1 in humans.
Researchers at the University of Southampton, University of Oxford and Retroscreeen Virology Ltd have discovered a series of peptides, found on the internal structures of influenza viruses that could lead to the development of a universal vaccine for influenza, one that gives people immunity against all strains of the disease, including seasonal, avian, and swine flu. Influenza, an acute viral infection, affects hundreds of thousands of people a year and puts an enormous strain on healthcare providers globally. The last pandemic flu outbreak in the UK - swine flu - was in 2009 when it claimed 457 lives. While previous pandemics have been more serious, there is a heightened risk of more severe pandemics in the future. The scientific collaboration used a research method known as "Human Viral Challenge Studies", where healthy volunteers are infected with influenza virus, and their immune responses closely monitored in an isolation unit.
In response to recent actions of the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), which recommended that two scientific journals withhold crucial details in upcoming reports about experiments with a novel strain of the bird flu virus, H5N1, the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) will publish a special series of commentaries by prominent scientists, including the acting chair of the NSABB, weighing in on whether the recommendations were necessary and what role biosecurity considerations should play in the dissemination of research findings. The commentaries will be published in the Society's online, open-access journal, mBio ® , on January 31. The commentaries are accompanied by an editorial from Editor-in-Chief Arturo Casadevall and ASM Publications Board Chair Thomas Shenk who introduce the problem as the H5N1 manuscript redaction controversy.
Researchers at Michigan State University (MSU) have demonstrated how a new virus evolves, shedding light on how easy it can be for diseases to gain dangerous mutations. The findings appear in the journal Science. The scientists showed for the first time how the virus called "Lambda" evolved to find a new way to attack host cells, an innovation that took four mutations to accomplish. This virus infects bacteria, in particular the common E. col i bacterium. Lambda isn't dangerous to humans, but this research demonstrated how viruses evolve complex and potentially deadly new traits, noted Justin Meyer, MSU graduate student, who co-authored the paper with Richard Lenski, MSU Hannah Distinguished Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics. "We were surprised at first to see Lambda evolve this new function, this ability to attack and enter the cell through a new receptor- - and it happened so fast, " Meyer said.