More than 150 experts call for gain of function research to CONTINUE because it’s essential for ‘responding rapidly to emerging viral threats’ — despite fears it led to Covid pandemic

  • Virologists are pressing lawmakers to support risky gain of function research 
  • They argue that GOF is crucial to developing treatments for infectious diseases
  • Critics, though, assert that GOF research resulted in the onset of the pandemic 

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More than 150 experts are pressing policymakers to support high-risk gain of function research that many believe led to the Covid pandemic. 

The group – mainly virologists and biologists from the US and the UK – argue the experiments are necessary to stop future outbreaks.

They outlined their argument in a letter published in mSphere, mBio and the Journal of Virology, journals of the American Society for Microbiology on Thursday. It comes at a questionable time when political pressure is mounting to investigate the pandemic’s origins, which many believe leaked from a Wuhan lab.  

A federal audit of the National Institutes of Health on Wednesday revealed that the sprawling agency failed to properly review whether the research conducted at the Wuhan Institute of Virology involved dangerous pathogens with pandemic potential.

In the Wuhan lab at the center of suspicions about the pandemic's onset, virologists work with pathogens to alter their genetic makeup, sometimes to make them more dangerous In the Wuhan lab at the center of suspicions about the pandemic's onset, virologists work with pathogens to alter their genetic makeup, sometimes to make them more dangerous

In the Wuhan lab at the center of suspicions about the pandemic’s onset, virologists work with pathogens to alter their genetic makeup, sometimes to make them more dangerous 

Today’s letter calls on policymakers to see the benefits of gain of function research, which involves altering pathogens in a way that could make them more dangerous with the hope of developing vaccines and treatments before a real outbreak.

The scientists are urging policymakers to recognize the need for more rational discourse around the future of virology and start a more nuanced, evidence-based discussion around gain of function research.

Gain of function research has been thrust into the political spotlight since the early days of the pandemic when it was revealed that a high-security biosafety lab in Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the novel coronavirus, had been studying highly infectious pathogens which could have leaked out into the public, spurring a global outbreak. 

Dr Felicia Goodrum is the co-Editor-in-Chief of the American Society for Microbiology’s Journal of Virology who spearheaded the commentary?? 

Bombshell Government report says NIH failed to monitor Wuhan lab

 

A report by the US Office of Inspector General conducted an audit of the NIH and found that it failed to properly oversee risky gain of function research in Wuhan, China. 

She said: ‘To respond rapidly to emerging viral threats we must be able to apply modern biology tools to viruses which will ensure that we reduce the burden of future disease outbreaks.’ 

The authors said that demonizing gain of function entirely could prevent scientists from studying other infectious diseases. 

Writing in the letter they said: ‘The source of concern in this area is that changing a virus to add new functionality may yield a dangerous pathogen.

‘It is important to understand, however, that gain-of-function approaches incorporate a large proportion of all research because they are a powerful genetic tool in the laboratory. These include the development of cancer therapeutics, bacterial strategies for bioremediation, and the engineering of drought- or pest-resistant crops.’

For instance, GOF research allowed oncologists at Rutgers University to identify a mutated gene that may cause cancer cells to grow and spread in the body, which is crucial to researching therapies that target the gene in human cancers.

Gain of function has become a common political talking point over the past two years due to its perceived role in driving a global pandemic. 

Advocates for the lab leak theory, including members of congress, have pressed for a more comprehensive investigation into the origins of the coronavirus going back as far as to probe federal funding for the controversial research organization EcoHealth Alliance. The organization has subcontracted taxpayer-funded grants to several labs, including the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Those members of congress plan to use their platforms to investigate gain of function research and, specifically, what role it had in driving the Covid pandemic.

The commentary out Thursday said: ‘As a new Congress convenes in the United States there is an opportunity for oversight hearings related to research in virology and the virology community stands ready to partner with Congress and lend our expertise.

The question of whether the global outbreak began with a spillover from wildlife sold at the market or leaked out of the Wuhan lab just eight miles across the Yangtze River has given rise to fierce debate about how to prevent the next pandemic. Studies point to a natural spillover at the Huanan wildlife market. Positive swab samples of floors, cages and counters also track the virus back to stalls in the southwestern corner of the market (bottom left), where animals with the potential to harbour Covid were sold for meat or fur at the time (bottom right) The question of whether the global outbreak began with a spillover from wildlife sold at the market or leaked out of the Wuhan lab just eight miles across the Yangtze River has given rise to fierce debate about how to prevent the next pandemic. Studies point to a natural spillover at the Huanan wildlife market. Positive swab samples of floors, cages and counters also track the virus back to stalls in the southwestern corner of the market (bottom left), where animals with the potential to harbour Covid were sold for meat or fur at the time (bottom right)

The question of whether the global outbreak began with a spillover from wildlife sold at the market or leaked out of the Wuhan lab just eight miles across the Yangtze River has given rise to fierce debate about how to prevent the next pandemic. New studies point to a natural spillover at the Huanan wildlife market. Positive swab samples of floors, cages and counters also track the virus back to stalls in the southwestern corner of the market (bottom left), where animals with the potential to harbor Covid were sold for meat or fur at the time (bottom right)

‘Our hope is that these hearings will highlight the enormous contributions of virology, including gain-of-function experiments, to human health. However, we fear that some may use any such hearings to discredit virology and virologists and – whether intentional or not – add fuel to an anti-science, fear-based movement.’

While there has been no conclusive evidence to show that the virus escaped from the lab supporters of the theory point out not only that the high security lab specialized in studying coronaviruses, but also that the lab was less than 10 miles away from the wet market where the first cluster of cases was discovered.

Zoonosis, or the theory that the virus transmitted to humans from animals in close proximity, is the leading hypothesis.

‘The lab-origin hypothesis suggests an accident at best or nefarious actors at the worst. At this time and based on the available data, there is no compelling evidence to support either of these lab-origin scenarios. It is important that scientists, the public, and public figures follow the evidence and limit speculation that can become fodder for misinformation and conspiracy theories,’ the experts wrote.

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