White House halts research into ‘super strains’

The White House has halted research examining how diseases like influenza, MRSA, and SARS can be more easily transmitted among animals, citing safety concerns. The US will not fund any new research and is encouraging those with existing research to pause their experiments.

There were apparently biosafety “incidents” at federally-funded research centers. As a result, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, along with the Department of Health and Human Services, is launching “a deliberative process” to asses risks associated with this type of research.

In August, a CDC researcher contaminated samples while rushing to a meeting. And in June, the CDC left anthrax samples unlocked and used expired disinfectant on them. It’s not clear from the White House statement if these were the incidents being referred to. A call to Becky Fried, a spokeswoman for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy wasn’t immediately returned.

Called “gain of function” research, these studies increase infectious agents’ ability to cause disease, or make it easier for them to spread. Right now, these types of studies are ongoing in influenza, methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, and sudden acute respiratory syndrome. The White House is particularly concerned with research expected to create versions of those pathogens that increase airborne transmission.

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