A long-running debate over U.S. government-funded research that tweaks risky pathogens in ways that could make them more dangerous to humans is flaring up again. This time, at issue is whether officials should make public the work of a closed-door federal committee that weighs the risks and benefits of experiments proposed for funding by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and in the past 2 years has greenlighted two controversial avian influenza studies.
That panel should make public the names of its members, as well as the reviews it writes, some scientists argued yesterday at a 2-day meeting of an expert panel that advises the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). But doing so could breach NIH’s confidentiality rules for grant reviews, U.S. officials noted.
HHS and NIH officials, however, say they are open to some change to the review process, noting that the current emergence of a new virus in China underscores the importance of a smooth process for approving such studies. “If [the policy] needs to be fixed, we’ll fix it,” said Christian Hassell, senior science adviser to the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response.