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Creating monsters for the greater good of humanity: Conflicting interests of science and homeland security

Patrick P. Rose, PhD, Clark J. Lee, JD, Sarah E. Sasor, MEng, Earl Stoddard III, PhD, MPH


Society’s rising expectations for improved treatments and better health outcomes continuously push the boundaries of discovery in biomedical research. One focus of such research is to develop the newest drugs to address humanity’s increasing exposure to emerging infectious diseases. This has led both privately and publicly funded researchers to take on the task of studying highly infectious diseases in laboratory settings. Illustrating this phenomenon is the recent work of two research laboratories at universities that have demonstrated how easily the avian flu virus (influenza A H5N1) could be manipulated into a highly infectious and deadly form for humans. These studies, which were funded by the United States Government through the National Institutes of Health of the US Department of Health and Human Services, have sparked a fierce debate as to their risks and benefits to humankind. Lacking in the current debate, however, is any significant attempt to describe in basic terms the risks and benefits of such research or the basic safeguards already built into the biomedical research enterprise that serves to protect the public’s welfare.
In this article, the authors will attempt to frame the ongoing debate for those outside the scientific research community by discussing a number of competing public policy issues that the recent H5N1 controversy raises about research on dangerous pathogens or biological agents and the concerns that emergency planners and managers nation-wide face when such research is conducted in their communities.


H5N1, avian influenza, NSABB, dual-use research, biomedical research, preparedness, response, biosecurity

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