Go-ahead for bird flu study publication after security check
Bird flu experts meeting in Geneva on Friday ruled that controversial research on a mutant form of the virus potentially capable of being spread among humans should be made public.
Security assessments must however be carried out first before the two studies can be published and the research can continue, scientists agreed at a two-day meeting at the World Health Organization.
"The consensus was that in the interest of public health the full papers should be published," said Professor Ron Fouchier from the Institute of Virology in the Netherlands, the scientist behind one of the studies.
US bio-security chiefs urged in November that key details of the papers remain unpublished, citing fears of a pandemic should a mutated H5N1 virus escape the laboratory.
Scientists agreed on January 20 to a 60-day moratorium on further studies.
That deadline will now be extended for an unspecified time to allow for a wider group of scientists to examine security issues and allow for public discussion, Fouchier said at a conference following the meeting.
"This is very important research that needs to move forward," he said.
"The question is, how can it be done safely, what about bio-security, how do we prevent access to bad people?"
"Once there's agreement on all those issues then we can continue our work."
The 22 participants included the two teams of researchers and representatives of the scientific journals Science and Nature who were asked to withhold publication.
Avian influenza H5N1 is primarily transmitted between birds and very rarely to humans.
The Dutch team and another from the University of Wisonsin in the United States found ways late last year to engineer the virus so that it could be transmitted among mammals.
The breakthrough raised alarm that the method could fall into the wrong hands and unleash a massive flu pandemic that could cost millions of lives.
© 2012 AFP