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Risky Research Review

The US National Institutes of Health has called for a review of policies governing potentially risky research, the Washington Post reports.

On Monday, the NIH called on the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity it to review biosafety and other policies for gain-of-function and dual-use research. Gain-of-function research raised concerns about 10 years ago when researchers announced they developed avian influenza virus variants that were more easily transmissible through air, leading to a pause on US funding of such studies before the development of new guidelines. The Post notes that concerns now largely center on ensuring that such studies remain in the lab, due to the "lab-leak theory" for the origins of COVID-19 that scientists largely discount.

NIH officials say gain-of-function and dual-use research are necessary. "Research involving pathogens is vital for ensuring the United States is prepared to rapidly detect, respond to, and recover from future infectious disease threats. Such research can be inherently high risk given the possibility of biosafety lapses or deliberate misuse," Lawrence Tabak, the acting NIH director, says in a statement. "However, not doing this type of research could impair our ability to prepare for and/or respond to future consequential biological threats."

The Post adds that NIH hopes to have recommendations from the advisory board by the end of the year.