A new analysis might offer some comfort to those worried that U.S. studies of dangerous pathogens are proliferating unchecked. Federal officials report that over 8 years, they rejected two-thirds of proposals for some 90 studies that fall into a category of studies considered so risky to public health that they require special review. But one onlooker, although praising the results, says the definition of restricted studies should be expanded to include controversial influenza experiments not now covered by the rules.
The report, published online on 8 September in the journal Health Security, summarizes reviews conducted by an office within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta. That office, CDC’s Division of Select Agents and Toxins (DSAT), oversees the use and handling of certain viruses, bacteria, and toxins that appear on a government list of “select agents” that could potentially be used as bioweapons. In 2005, in the wake of the post-9/11 anthrax attacks, the federal government began requiring DSAT to review two types of select agent studies.
One category involves making a select agent resistant to drugs or chemicals. Researchers sometimes intentionally create this resistance in order to select out clones of bacteria that carry a desired trait. (Those not carrying the desired trait are killed by the treatment, removing them from the study population.)