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  Latest News  
  March 1,  2005


  Scientists Criticize Microbiological Research Policy
Protesters ask NIH to broaden definition of biodefense to include more public-health-based research

  In an open letter to be published in the March 4 issue of Science, more than 750 scientists have called on National Institutes of Health Director Elias A. Zerhouni to take corrective action on a 2002 decision they contend is “a misdirection of NIH priorities and a crisis for NIH-supported microbiological research.”

The 2002 decision by the National Institute for Allergy & Infectious Diseases created funding set-asides and special funding review panels and procedures for six bioweapons-related agents deemed to have high biodefense significance (C&EN, Feb. 14, page 25). The signers of the letter argue that narrowly defining biodefense as work on six agents has bled funds from other microbial research of more public health import.

Richard H. Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University, Piscataway, N.J., who spearheaded the open letter, tells C&EN that the NIAID decision “is unsupportable on grounds of science; unsupportable on grounds of public health; and, importantly, unsupportable on grounds of biodefense.”

He and his fellow signers offer Zerhouni two key policy recommendations. First, broaden the definition to include biodefense-related work on model microorganisms and on other pathogenic organisms. And second, combine the grant review panels for biodefense with those for model microorganisms and related pathogenic organisms to ensure a uniform standard of evaluation and merit.

As Ebright explains, the signers of the open letter are “hoping it serves to drive awareness of the concerns about the current NIH definition of biodefense,” and on how NIH’s implementation of its biodefense programs has negatively affected other microbial science. By increasing awareness, the letter writers hope to influence—ideally, to change—how the NIH administration will use its budget appropriations in the future.
  Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2005

Related Story
The Biodefense Enterprise
[C&EN, Feb. 14,  2005]  
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