Scientists for Science

28 July 2014

Scientists for Science are confident that biomedical research on potentially dangerous pathogens can be performed safely and is essential for a comprehensive understanding of microbial disease pathogenesis, prevention and treatment. The results of such research are often unanticipated and accrue over time; therefore, risk-benefit analyses are difficult to assess accurately.

If we expect to continue to improve our understanding of how microorganisms cause disease we cannot avoid working with potentially dangerous pathogens. In recognition of this need, significant resources have been invested globally to build and operate BSL-3 and BSL-4 facilities, and to mitigate risk in a variety of ways, involving regulatory requirements, facility engineering and training. Ensuring that these facilities operate safely and are staffed effectively so that risk is minimized is our most important line of defense, as opposed to limiting the types of experiments that are done.

In contrast to recombinant DNA research at the time of Asilomar in 1975, studies on dangerous pathogens are already subject to extensive regulations. In addition to regulations associated with Select Agent research, experimental plans on other pathogens are peer reviewed by scientists and funding agencies, and the associated risk assessments are considered by biosafety experts and safety committees. Risk mitigation plans are proposed and then considered and either approved or improved by safety committees.

If there is going to be further discussion about these issues, we must have input from outside experts with the background and skills to conduct actual risk assessments based on specific experiments and existing laboratories. Such conversations are best facilitated under the auspices of a neutral party, such as the International Union of Microbiological Societies or the American Society for Microbiology, or national academies, such as the National Academy of Sciences, USA. We suggest they should organize a meeting to discuss these issues.

Scientists for Science have a range of opinions on how risk is best assessed. However, maintaining dogmatic positions serves no good purpose; only by engaging in open constructive debate can we learn from one another’s experience. Most importantly, we are united as experts committed to ensuring public health is not compromised and the reputation of science in general, and microbiology in particular, is defended.

Please visit the Scientists for Science website to view the supporters of this initiative.

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  • gsgs

    with this signature-gathering …
    it would be interesting to filter these people, supporters and opponents,
    by how much they benefit personally by this disputed research, how much they
    are involved in it themselves.
    I get the impression that this is mainly guided by the fight for fundings and the “arguments”
    are being adapted to that goal.
    For both sides : FVR doesn’t reply to emails, their webpage is still not functional,
    their motives unclear.

    And in that discussion, the main problem – what they are trying to prevent – a devastating pandemic
    and its consequences, mitigation is just not being talked about.

    Also, currently only a few labs have the capability to do this research but in some years
    and decades it will be many – so why are we only talking about the current safety
    and not, how it can be achieved in the future ?

  • CRS_DrPH

    Good points! This is a very interesting and important read about regulation (or lack thereof) of BSL3 and BSL4 lab facilities in the USA. I support research on dangerous pathogens, but have serious doubts about the value of gain of function experiments.

  • gsgs

    discussed (“born”) here:
    at 31:30 – 1:00:30


    31:30 , GoF
    vrr disagrees with Cambridge working group
    “twice a week” – misrepresentation
    not straightforward, wrong

    (just the presentation or the issue itself ?)

    we have NSABB [IMO not very good]
    vrr’s point 36:00 (no quantification)

    Dickson: is for the Asilomar-type conference
    Alan agrees

    39:00 … [and programmers and mathematicians to estimate the panflu-solution
    density in the flu-genetic searchspace]

    40:20 Vincent is happy with the existing control
    40:30 Alan thinks risk-benefit-analysis isn’t possible
    42:00 collateral damage by Lipsich

    43:00 Vincent thinks the conference would not be balanced,
    dominated by the Cambridge people
    44:00 Vincent has an idea : scientists for science

    46:00 Rich? [I cannot distinguish Rich and Dick] compares it with nuclear reactors
    50:30 Alan
    52:30 Vincent is ok with the conference but not these people running it
    no,no national academie of science , institute of Madison

    55:00 NSABB membership, rotated off who were there the longest
    58:00 H5N1 –> NSABB , [forgets Taubenberger and 1918-flu]
    many of the replaced people ended up in the Cambridge group

    1:00:30 HIV

  • Mike

    I sold and purchased used lab research instruments for 12 years. Too often equipment was left in empty buildings, or was moved without decontamination certs. Furthermore, I have been in hundreds of labs over the years and have seen radioactive materials with a control number left behind, used vials from centrifuges and freezers, arsenic containers on open racks, and more. As more small star up companies do contract research, the likelihood of accidental contamination in the community expands, whether viral or chemical.