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Flu researchers pause for thought

January 20, 2012

Here is a news release issued today, Friday, Jan. 20, by the journal Nature regarding influenza research:

The authors of two H5N1-related papers, to be published in Nature and Science respectively, today announce in those journals their decision to call a voluntary 60-day pause on research involving highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 viruses leading to the generation of viruses that are more transmissible in mammals.

The statement by Yoshihiro Kawaoka, Ron Fouchier and their colleagues, and co-signed by influenza researchers from around the world, outlines how experiments with live H5N1 or H5 HA reassortant viruses — already shown to be transmissible in ferrets — will halt during this time.

This decision has been made in acknowledgment of the fact that the benefits of this research need to be clearly explained, and organizations and governments around the world need time to discuss the best solutions for opportunities and challenges that arise from this work.

The scientists recognize that despite the positive public-health benefits that the currently unpublished work seeks to provide, a perceived fear that the ferret-transmissible H5 HA viruses may escape from the laboratories has generated intense debate in the media on the benefits and potential harm of this research.

The researchers wish to reassure the public that these experiments have been conducted in such a way that minimizes any risk of accidental release, and they say that whether ferret-adapted influenza viruses can be transmitted from human to human cannot be tested.

Elsewhere, in a Nature News story, Declan Butler explores the implications of today’s announcement.
A copy of the full original statement from scientists can be viewed on the Nature press site.  Declan Butler’s article is available here.
For more information, please contact:
Yoshihiro Kawaoka (University of Tokyo, Japan; and University of Wisconsin–Madison, WI, USA)
Please note Yoshihiro Kawaoka is traveling and email is the best contact for him.
Alternative contact;
Ruth Francis, Rachel Twinn or Neda Afsarmanesh in the Nature Press Office: