Dual Use Research of Concern: Avian H5N1 influenza adaption to a mammalian host

Monday, March 12, 2012
12:00 PM - 1:30 PM
CISAC Conference Room

The life sciences have many examples of where research results and technologies can be used for good, but also for bad purposes. Because such scenarios are so common, it is critical to identify that research which is particularly bad and would be classified as dual use research of concern (DURC). Attributes that might result in a DURC designation include how immediate a threat it represents, the magnitude of the threat, the availability of safeguards to defend against its nefarious use and its relative risk to benefits ratio. Several policy forums have studied this problem and the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) is currently the official U.S. government advisory group for DURC policy. Recently, NSABB was asked to review two manuscripts that reported adaptation of the high-path avian influenza virus H5N1 to transmission in a mammalian model. This virus rarely infects humans but when it does, it has catastrophic consequences with ~60% mortality. The board weighed the risks and the benefits of the work and recommended that the papers not be published as written, but only in a highly redacted form that would prevent the rapid and direct replication of the work. NSABB also argued for a communication pause so that the consequences of these papers and this research focus be evaluated by a broad cross section of science, public health and society. The US government accepted these recommendations and the two journals (Science and Nature) have thus far not published the papers. Multiple additional forums are planned to discuss the issues and recommendations. The future for policy development in the area of pathogen research and DURC will be shaped by these recommendations and subsequent activities.

About the speakers:

Dr. Paul Keim holds the E. Raymond and Ruth Cowden Endowed Chair in Microbiology at Northern Arizona University (NAU), where he is also a Regents Professor of Biology. In addition, he directs the Pathogen Genomics Division at The Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen). Both institutions are based in Flagstaff, Arizona. His biological interests span many types of organisms and microbes, but revolve around genetic diversity and its organization in populations and species. This necessarily has involved systematic and phylogenetic analyses to understand how observable genetic diversity is based upon past evolutionary processes. Biodefense programs have capitalized upon his approach of using genomic analysis to understand bacterial pathogen populations for microbial forensics and molecular epidemiological analyses. His laboratory was heavily involved in analysis of evidentiary material from the 2001 anthrax-letter attacks. He has published extensively on the evolution and population genetics of Bacillus anthracis, Yersinia pestis, Francisella tularensis, Burkholderia pseudomallei, Burkholderia mallei, Brucella spp., and Coxiella burnetii. Recently, these same principles have been applied to other public health-related and clinically important pathogens such as S. aureus and E. coli. In all, he has published over 230 scientific or policy papers. Dr. Keim received his B.S. in Biology and Chemistry from Northern Arizona University in 1977 and his Ph.D. in Botany in 1981 from the University of Kansas. Dr. Keim has previously served on the editorial boards of Crop Science and Molecular Breeding; he currently serves on the editorial boards of Infection Genetics and Evolution, Investigative Genetics, and Biotechniques.

Dr. David Relman is a professor of medicine – infectious diseases, and of microbiology and immunology at Stanford. He joined CISAC as an affiliated faculty member in November 2011. He is also chief, Infectious Diseases Section, at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System. Among his other activities, Dr. Relman currently serves as Vice-President of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, Chair of the U.S. National Academies of Science Institute of Medicine's Forum on Microbial Threats, and member of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity. He received a S.B. in biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1977) and an M.D. from Harvard Medical School Medicine (1982).