Government advisory board asks veterinary researcher, scientific journal to restrict publication of avian influenza research

Dec 23, 2011
By staff
Madison, Wis. — A veterinarian and virologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine is working with the scientific journal Nature to determine how much of his avian influenza research will be published following a government advisory board request to cut some of the study's details due to bioterrorism risks.

Veterinary researcher Yoshihiro Kawaoka’s study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, examined genetic changes for avian influenza and subsequent experiments created a highly transmissible form of avian influenza. The work was done in ferrets, which is a suitable model to study avian influenza in people.

While the advisory board said that the study's conclusions should be published, they have requested the scientific journal to stop short of publishing details of how these experiments were conducted so they cannot be replicated.

Terry Devitt, a spokesperson for the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB)—an independent expert committee that advised the Department of Health and Human Services and other federal agencies—recommended portions of the study be kept under wraps for biosecurity reasons.

Devitt says the recommendations that came down from NASBB are non-binding, but that the university is taking them “very seriously.”

“We certainly understand that there’s always a possibility for misusing scientific discoveries, but we also feel its important to be true to the science and the scientific method,” Devitt says.

Another study conducted in the Netherlands deals with a similar new strain of avian influenza and is also under review.

“We have noted the unprecedented NSABB recommendations that would restrict public access to data and methods, and we recognize the motivation behind them. It is essential for public health that the full details of any scientific analysis of flu viruses be available to researchers,” says Dr. Philip Campbell, editor-in-chief of Nature. “We are discussing with interested parties how, within the scenario recommended by NSABB, appropriate access to the scientific methods and data could be enabled."

No date has been announced on when Kawaoka’s study could be published.