(ROTTERDAM, Netherlands) — Researchers in the Netherlands have created a mutated, highly contagious form of the deadly H5N1 bird flu strain that some fear could kill millions if it were unleashed on the general public. The U.S. government worries that publishing the methodology behind the strain’s creation could heighten its potential for use as a weapon of biological warfare.
Virologist Ron Fouchier, who carried out his research at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, said in a statement that he hoped his research would assist in developing better vaccines and treatments for influenza in the future. Fouchier did his research on ferrets, whose immune response to influenza is similar to that of humans.
“We know which mutation to watch for in the case of an outbreak, and we can then stop the outbreak before it is too late,” Fouchier said in a statement on the medical center’s website. “Furthermore, the finding will help in the timely development of vaccinations and medication.”
The study results were to be published in the U.S. journal Science, but the National Science Advisory Board, an independent committee that advises the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and other federal agencies, reviewed it Tuesday and warned that bioterrorists could potentially misuse the published research “for harmful purposes.”
Fouchier declined to comment beyond his online statements, and the Erasmus Medical Center press office referred reporters to the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity’s statement until further decisions had been made regarding publication of the research.
The National Institutes of Health, which funded the research, said Fouchier and his team would make changes to the manuscript before it was published in scientific journals.
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