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Re-Engineered Bird Flu Data Can Be Made Public, U.S. Panel Says

Research on a more lethal re-engineering of the avian influenza can be made public by the scientists who created it after a review determined no immediate threat from releasing the data, a U.S. biosecurity panel said.

The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity recommended unanimously that a revised bird flu study by Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin be published “in full.” The board voted 12-6 to recommend publication of “data, methods and conclusions” from a second study, by Ron Fouchier of Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam.

The data “do not appear to provide information that would immediately enable misuse of the research in ways that would endanger public health or national security,” the board said today in a statement.

Groups led by Fouchier and Kawaoka engineered the H1N1 virus to be more transmissible among ferrets, mammals whose response to the flu is most like humans. The studies were intended to demonstrate how the virus might be changed to spread rapidly between people, giving scientists and health officials more information in case of a pandemic.

Publication of the studies in Science and Nature has been on hold since December, when the U.S. government asked the journals to censor details of the research so it wouldn’t “fall into the wrong hands,” the editor of Science said. Fouchier and Kawaoka also agreed to suspend their research pending a review.

A World Health Organization panel met in Geneva in February and recommended publication of the studies.

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