Gain-of-Function viral “research” and the NIH oversight responsibility

As the theory of a possible lab leak as the source of the covid19 pandemic gains steam in the media and among our elected officials, what is of greater concern to us is the involvement and position of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), specifically:

  1. Why the NIH continued to fund labs that carry out “gain-of-function” research on deadly viruses, even when a moratorium on such research was in the place in the US?
  2. Why the funding was done through a contractor and appears subject to limited (if any) oversight from NIH?
  3. Why such highly dangerous work was not only sponsored but allowed to proceed abroad, in a country that doesn’t have the best record of transparency and data sharing?
  4. Why work that should be conducted in BSL 4 security labs was being allowed to proceed in level 2 and 3 labs, with NIH aware, but essentially turning a blind eye?  

So here we are, millions of deaths later and the entire world at a standstill for over a year so “researchers” can meddle with genetic material, in areas they clearly do not understand, without using the proper precautions, and apparently with little or no supervision by the funders. Even if the covid pandemic was not related to the Wuhan lab, it seems unconscionable that the US National Institutes of Health should be involved in and continuing to fund research to make viruses more deadly. 

The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity report that led to the resumption of “gain-of-function” research in the US in 2017, did little more than turn the funding decisions back to NIH, and with a “framework” that calls for case-by-case decision making. That is a complete failure in thinking, given the track record of 1,500 laboratory mistakes in BSL4 labs. The NIH guidelines on how they would evaluate the risks and benefits of a proposal, manage the security and oversight, were all encouraging and well-intended, we are sure. They just forgot to execute. It is clear now, in 2021, that what was “hoped for” did not happen. No requirement for BSL4 labs, no oversight. Hope is not a management strategy. 

Finally, for all the arguments about the value of “gain-of-function” research in preventing future pandemics, what little we did to address this one was based on 14th century public health techniques (lockdowns and masks), 19th century blood-letting and re-infusion technology (convalescent plasma), 20th century steroids, oxygen, proning, and 200+ years of accumulated vaccination knowledge. It seems that NIH is due at least for some serious soul searching and perhaps a change in leadership is warranted.



2 thoughts on “Gain-of-Function viral “research” and the NIH oversight responsibility”

  1. Thanks for this important piece. In the slow walk that will ultimately lead to the Biden Report admission of human error on a sliding scale, the NIH needs to recognize that “following the science” is not an acceptable defense when “poor judgement” or “I made a mistake” are words long overdue from NIH top leadership.

  2. Great points on NIH role in this pandemic…make sure you spend time focusing on the CDC, the “Center for Disease information collection and observation”!

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