The premise of many horror movies is ridiculous. The themes have been used numerous times, and the movies often come across as illogical. When it gets really scary is when it happens in real life. The United States government has made an announcement the three-year ban placed on federal funding for viruses has been lifted. The ban prevented federal funds from being used to make viruses deadlier with alterations.
The research done by scientists to make pathogens stronger or easier to transmit was to prevent outbreaks by better understanding the virus. The scientists work in a controlled environment to figure out how a flu virus can kill millions by mutating. The goal is the creation of medicines and vaccines.
The Obama administration banned research projects in 2014 concerning severe acute respiratory syndrome, Middle East respiratory syndrome, and the influenza virus. The new rules can be applied to any pathogen, and this has the potential to start a pandemic. The announcement included the criteria necessary for the funding to resume. The terms stated the projects will only receive approval if a practical solution can result from the work such as an antiviral treatment. The risks must be significantly outweighed by the benefits, and the researchers must have proof there is no safer methodology available. The researchers must additionally prove their facilities are capable of ensuring the work is completed securely and safely, and respond immediately if any protocol lapses, accidents or security breaches should occur.
According to Francis S. Collins, the director of the NIH, they are taking their responsibility to ensure any research regarding infectious agents is responsibly conducted. They have also taken all potential risks concerning biosecurity and biosafety into serious consideration. He has confidence the review process will ensure all research is conducted responsibly, safely and securely. He believe this type of research will be a benefit to the health of the public.
Even with these reassurances, the critics are still highly concerned there may be mishaps. There is a precedent because CNN reported in 2014 there was an anthrax exposure to numerous CDC workers due to the virus being mishandled. The staff underwent prolonged monitoring, but they had not been infected with anthrax. There were 395 cases between 2003 and 2009 that had the potential for toxic exposure. This only resulted in seven infections.
As an epidemiologist from Harvard, Marc Lipsitch stated approving small teams is taking a step forward. He also cautioned that although these types of experiments provide a little bit of scientific knowledge, they have not improved the potential preparation necessary for a real pandemic. He also said they risk causing an accidental pandemic. According to Samuel Stanley, a biomedical researcher, the prohibition concerning the funding means it may be too late for the research. He is afraid vital research has been delayed for too long, and this may effect the field. He strongly believes the ultimate bioterrorist is nature, and it is critical the community finds a way to stay a step ahead.