Bioethics Should researchers share their bird flu research?

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Bioethics Should researchers share their bird flu research?

Postby mtbturtle on March 14th, 2006, 1:53 am 

We've all heard about the coming pandemic of bird flu. Should researchers release their findings? with everybody or only a select group of peers or keep it for themselves to advance their own careers? ... =News/News

Labs shouldn't hoard flu data: Researcher
Mar. 12, 2006. 08:35 PM

A leading scientist in the field of genetic sequencing is calling on publicly funded U.S. researchers and research organizations to throw open their collections of H5N1 avian flu viruses to allow others to work toward lessening the pandemic threat the virus poses.

Steven Salzberg wants the U.S. Centers for Disease Control as well as researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health to place their virus sequence data in open-access databanks on an as-processed basis. He hopes such a move would entice scientists elsewhere, as well as governments in H5N1-afflicted countries, to end a pattern of virus hoarding many believe is undermining the world's ability to battle H5N1.

"I think what ought to happen is that the U.S., starting with people funded by NIH and the CDC itself ought to start releasing all of their data and all of their samples — and lead by example," says Salzberg, director of the Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology at the University of Maryland.

"Because one complaint I've heard from other scientists in other countries is: `Hey, the CDC in the U.S. doesn't release all their data. So why should we?' And that's a very legitimate complaint."

Infectious disease expert Dr. Michael Osterholm sees the logic in Salzberg's appeal.

"I think that's fair. I think they should," says Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

"If we don't have timely and comprehensive laboratory analysis and reporting of isolates, then we're in trouble."

Salzberg was involved in the historic human genome sequencing effort as well as the teams which sequenced the first plant genome, Arabidopsis (mustard weed) and the parasite that causes malaria. Most recently, he has been working on an NIH-funded project that is sequencing vast numbers of human flu viruses.

He is adding his voice to a campaign started by Dr. Ilaria Capua. An Italian influenza researcher, Capua is challenging the current system which gives a small network of prominent flu labs preferential access to data by virtue of the fact they do testing and surveillance for the World Health Organization.

These labs register their findings in a secure database so that they and the WHO can track changes in H5N1 viruses. But those virus sequences are slow to trickle out to the rest of the research world. (Typically, scientists only post data publicly when they publish findings in a journal, a process that can take months or more.)

Capua was offered a chance to join the 15 labs with access to the WHO's secure database after she sequenced H5N1 bird viruses from Nigeria and Italy, according to a recent article in the journal Science. She turned down the offer, choosing instead to place her sequence data in the open access database Genbank.

Limiting who can work on the WHO data isn't just hindering science's ability to crack the mysteries of H5N1's incredible virulence, critics say. It also hampers efforts by countries outside the WHO network to keep their H5N1 diagnostic tests up to date.

Canada's National Microbiology Laboratory has no access to the database, notes Scientific Director Dr. Frank Plummer. So if it wanted to update the test it uses to look for H5N1 in Canada, using viruses from the recent human cases in Turkey or Iraq as a model, it could not do so.

While Turkey and Iraq allowed human specimens to be sent to a WHO collaborating lab for confirmatory testing, neither country has yet agreed to let WHO release the sequence data for their human cases to scientists outside the secure database.

"It limits our ability to make sure we've got the right diagnostic tests. It inhibits research," says Plummer, who is no fan of the system.

"I think there needs to be as much openness as possible. This is information that's to the global public-health good. And it certainly should not be hoarded."

Some countries refuse to export viruses or share very few, concerned that foreign scientists will scoop up the publishing glory for studying their problem. Or they may justly fear that foreign drug companies will use their viruses to make a pandemic flu vaccine their citizens won't be able to purchase.

China in particular has been slow to share, blocking exports of poultry viruses for more than a year and only recently providing two human isolates to the WHO network.

Salzberg insists that's unlikely to change until Western scientists start sharing, too.

"I don't think we're going to get the Chinese to start releasing samples and data until U.S. scientists can do it themselves — before publication, with no restrictions," he says.

The WHO is hearing the growing chorus of complaints. But to some degree its hands are tied.

The viruses belong to the countries where they were collected. WHO cannot force them to share. And it doesn't own — or pay — its collaborating labs, which are doing huge amounts of science for the global good.

"We can't open that database without having permission from the other collaborating centres and member states. That permission hasn't been provided," says WHO spokesperson Maria Cheng.

"There are some members of the lab network that balk at sharing data. We can't speak for them and speculate why," adds Cheng, who would not identify the holdouts.

"We have to recognize that these collaborating centres are not financed by WHO. So we don't have any authority over them. But they are providing a very valuable public-health service and they're not getting paid explicitly for that."

While that is undeniable, others argue that scientists in these centres are being more than compensated by first — and often exclusive — crack at data in a research field now so white hot that a paper about an interesting change in one virus would be virtually guaranteed publication in a top-flight journal.

A spokesperson for the CDC said that agency — one of the world's pre-eminent centres for influenza research — wants to work toward a solution that would allow more open and rapid sharing of data.

"We're committed to trying to continue to work on this very issue. We totally understand the importance of quickly sharing this information, especially when it could benefit public health," Tom Skinner says.

"We also appreciate the complexity of the issues involved in coming up with a system that takes into account the balances of posting as quickly as possible, working with the host nations where these isolates come from, taking into consideration the importance of scientists being able to publish in peer review journals.

"There are a lot of issues that have to be worked through to come up with a system that is best for everyone involved."

Earl Brown, a University of Ottawa virologist who specializes in influenza evolution, understands the complexity of striking a balance. On the one hand, he believes labs paid by governments to do surveillance and sequencing should not be able to sit on data.

"CDC and places like that — once they get a sequence in and once they've checked their errors, it should go out by virtue that they're providing a service to the country," he says.

But as a researcher governed by the "publish or perish" rules of academia, Brown can understand the temptation to protect data from bigger labs until publication is secured.

"It's a very competitive enterprise," he says ruefully.

"Science is a great ideal but it's done by humans who are driven by the standard things. Like glory. Women. The rest of it."
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Postby flautist on September 9th, 2006, 8:37 pm 

Well, I may be biased as I lean socialist and am totally in support of the open source software movement, BUT...

I do not agree with closing off information in anyway when it comes to science, ESPECIALLY in the case of prescription drugs, and even MORE especially in the case of the bird flu vaccine.

First of all, patenting and keeping prescription drugs secret is playing with people's lives and making money off them. This is not right.

As for the bird flu vaccine, everyone and their dog should be keeping an eye on that research. A bill was recently passed through congress as a rider on a defense appropriations bill that releases the makers of the bird flu vaccine from any responsibility if it ends up killing people. So, they can make that vaccine and not warn about the risk of death from getting the vaccine, and if people die they cannot be sued.

Postby John Galt on September 9th, 2006, 9:53 pm 

ANother example of 'Corporatism' corrupting human life and holding us back. From what I understood, they do not want to share there findings because they want to figure out the answers before everyone else so they can collect the glory and the money? If I understood right, this is so absolutely disgusting that it makes me sick to my stomach. Letting people suffer and die so that you can have a few extra months to solve a particular vaccine problem to collect fame & money when if you had released the information someone else could have done it sooner? Sick.
John Galt

Postby Jaqaliah on September 10th, 2006, 2:39 pm 

It seems they will treat this the same way we did HIV (And the Band Played On/

There are mixed feelings. As a species we have over stepped our bounds and untreated/untreatable disease may assist in righting that balance, or even prevent us from ever being a problem again. The alternative is international cooperation by select appointees and groups. In general I favor national medicine policies under a military model. Simply draft all medical personal and place medical decisions/operations under a military model aimed at national defense. But then, I am not a capitalist. I am a nationalist.


Bioethics Should researchers share their bird flu research?

Postby yadayada on December 28th, 2011, 6:14 am 

And 5-6 years later, ... ... -progress/
Dr. D.A. Henderson, who led the campaign that eradicated smallpox, thinks flu researchers have good reason to worry. "I can see where they'd be concerned about it," Henderson said. "I think we ought to be concerned about working with H5N1."

Henderson, a distinguished scholar at the Center for Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, believes the studies that drew the biosecurity board's concern should not have been done, that the risks of the work outweighed any potential benefit. ...

"This research should not have been done," Dr. Richard H. Ebright, a chemistry professor and bioweapons expert at Rutgers University, told the New York Times. "It will inevitably escape, and within a decade."

But some flu researchers disagree and say these studies had to be done to help humans one day.

"If someone makes a virus, specifically only for making it more pathogenic without learning any biology and in such a way that cannot occur in nature but can only be man-made, then I would be concerned because there is no purpose for this experiment," says Adolfo Garcia-Sastre, an influenza researcher at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan.

But Garcia-Sastre insists the viruses made in the two studies that triggered this debate could occur in nature.

Re: Bioethics Should researchers share their bird flu resear

Postby CanadysPeak on December 28th, 2011, 9:21 am 

This is yet another of a class of somewhat intractable dilemmas that we have faced in the past and will, no doubt, face at an ever increasing rate: Shall we attempt to restrict the development of deadly technology or shall we control it? The same question arose when nuclear weapons were developed. Earlier, it had been chemical weapons. Now we have a potential biological weapon.

I think history has shown us several things:

1. The developers of such weapons always feel some urge to use them.

2. Mutual deterrence is effective if scary.

3. Others always obtain the knowledge, almost always more quickly than thought possible.

The logical conclusion is that the information should be shared. It would be nice if all the countries involved agreed to a treaty permitting UN inspection of their labs, but I'll not hold my breath.

Bioethics Should researchers share their bird flu research?

Postby yadayada on December 28th, 2011, 10:53 pm 

January 22, 1999, National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C.
[bulk of speech omitted...]
... What we are seeing here, as any military person in the audience can tell you, is nothing more than a repetition of weapons systems that goes back to the beginning of time. An offensive weapons system is developed, and it takes time to develop the defense. And then another offensive weapon is developed that overcomes that defense, and then another defense is built up -- as surely as castles and moats held off people with spears and bows and arrows and riding horses, and the catapult was developed to overcome the castle and the moat.

But because of the speed with which change is occurring in our society -- in computing technology, and particularly in the biological sciences -- we have got to do everything we can to make sure that we close the gap between offense and defense to nothing, if possible. That is the challenge here. We are doing everything we can, in ways that I can and in ways that cannot discuss, to try to stop people who would misuse chemical and biological capacity from getting that capacity. This is not a cause for panic -- it is a cause for serious, deliberate, disciplined, long-term concern. And I am absolutely convinced that if we maintain our clear purpose and our strength of will, we will prevail here. And thanks to so many of you in this audience, and your colleagues throughout the United States, and like-minded people throughout the world, we have better than a good chance of success. But we must be deliberate, and we must be aggressive.

While recognizing the urgency of preventive measures, this speech explains political fears that limit research to a couple of labs. There are great risks either way.

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