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Level of Transparency

An expert panel in the US is weighing whether more transparency is needed surrounding federally funded gain-of-function viral research efforts, Nature News reports.

In 2014, the White House suspended federal funding for certain gain-of-function research projects involving the influenza, SARS, and MERS viruses while it conducted a review to assess the potential risks and benefits of such research. Concerns arose regarding gain-of-function studies in 2011 when researchers from the US and Europe sought to publish how they modified the H5N1 bird flu to be more easily transmitted. This led the US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) to ask the groups to redact some of the details of their work so that it didn't fall into the wrong hands.

This moratorium was lifted in 2017 as the National Institutes of Health developed a framework for assessing gain-of-function studies, including determining whether the labs where the researchers work are equipped for such a project.

But Nature News notes that part of this assessment is shrouded from public view, as there is no public explanation of why a study is approved, who was on the panel that gave it the OK, or when the research is to start. Others, though, argue that these disclosure might make such research more difficult, it adds. NSABB is now reviewing the current guidelines.