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NIH plans labs to study deadly germs

Posted by Carlos on December 26, 2014

Saturday, December 14, 2002

NIH plans labs to study deadly germs
Some scientists say the facilities will increase the odds for bioterrorism.

Cox News Service

WASHINGTON – The National Institutes of Health is moving ahead with plans to build three large laboratories for research on the deadliest known microbes, despite warnings from some scientists that the facilities will increase the odds that a disease like Ebola could escape – or be deliberately released – into the general population.

One or two of the facilities, which are known as biosafety level 4 laboratories, or BSL-4s, would be operated by private interests, such as a university-based consortium, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, or NIAID, which is providing funds for construction and research. Two more would be operated by the government.

In addition, the government plans to fund construction of up to six less-secure BSL-3 laboratories.

“This is a recipe for disaster,” Eileen Choffnes, a program manager at the National Academy of Sciences Committee for International Security and Arms Control, declared last month in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Choffnes, whose article bore a notation that it represented her views only and not those of the academy, is one of several scientists to warn that building additional facilities will spread the availability and access that would-be terrorists might have to deadly pathogens.

“These laboratories might become a pathogen-modification training academy or a biowarfare agent ‘superstore,'” Choffnes wrote. “The physical tools and technology of bioterror are relatively cheap. It’s the knowledge and experience of working with pathogens that’s priceless.”

NIAID officials said the need to better understand potential biological weapons and to develop vaccines and therapeutics for them comes at a time when existing BSL-4 labs are being used.

“The new experiments that need to be done in order to find new vaccines and new anti-virals or new antibiotics for the agents that are associated with those diseases require work done under BSL-4 facilities,” said Carole Heilman, director of the NIAID division of microbiology and infectious diseases, which will oversee the laboratories.


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