10 May 2012 | EN | 中文
Failure to publish the results may have hindered subsequent research
Flickr/US Army Africa
All those working in biological research — including both researchers and publishers — have valuable lessons to learn from recent debates over the publication of a controversial paper on bird flu research, says an editorial in Nature.
The paper reports on research by a team led by Yoshihiro Kawaoka at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, United States, and had raised concerns because of the sensitive nature of the results, which demonstrate how in principle the H5N1 virus responsible for bird flu could be modified in way that allowed it to be transmitted between humans through the air.
Its publication was proceeded by months of public debate and two meetings; one held by the WHO and the other by the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), which had initially proposed that some of the findings should be edited before publication.
But Nature argues that this would have hindered subsequent research and peer review.
"We cannot imagine any mechanism or criterion by which to sensibly judge who should or should not be allowed to see the work. Nor do we believe that restricted information … would stay confidential for long," adds the journal.
The rigorous security procedures used by Kawaoka was key in persuading the the NSABB to reverse its initial position that advised publishers to omit essential methods and data. But such precautions cannot be guaranteed in every country, given differing regulatory systems and cultures of laboratory safety, says Nature.
The WHO will soon release international standards for biosafety that will highlight good governance but, will not provide guidelines for implementation. The editorial warns that this"is an urgent concern for all researchers working with dangerous organisms, and for all who fund and publish their work".
dfedson ( France )
14 May 2012
The debate over restricting publication of the experimental details of the H5N1 research by Fouchier and Kawaoka misses a larger point. Influenza viruses can and do develop more efficient transmissibility on their own; we've known this for decades. What is more important is to understand what we might do to reduce mortality when this happens. Immunomodulatory agents that were developed to treat heart disease and diabetes could probably be used to modify the host response to severe influenza and improve survival (Influenza Other Respi Virus 2009; 3: 129-42). Evidence that this happens was published recently. In a study of patients hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed influenza, statin treatment reduced mortality by 41% (J Infect Dis 2012; 205: 13-9). The reduction in mortality was in addition to any benefit that might have been due to previous influenza vaccination or antiviral treatment. Influenza scientists and the public health officials who listen to them have yet to understand the potential importance of these agents, yet if a highly virulent H5N1 virus gets loose, the vaccines and antivirals they're counting on won't be available in time to do much good. The issue we should be discussing is not whether to undertake or publish research on H5N1 influenza virus transmission; it's why we have failed to undertake laboratory and clinical research on immunomodulatory agents that could save lives. These agents are produced as generics in developing countries and could be used to treat anyone with access to basic health care. The cost of treating an individual patient would be less than one dollar.
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