The National Institutes of Health (NIH) just , meaning researchers can now receive federal funding for more dangerous research. Any researcher that applies for this funding will have to get their research proposal analyzed by a panel of experts to make sure that the potential benefits outweigh the risks.
“We see this as a rigorous policy,” said NIH director Francis Collins . “We want to be sure we’re doing this right.”
Now that the ban is lifted, researchers can better study dangerous diseases like bird flu and ebola, which kill thousands of people a year. This type of research can be very valuable: Scientists can manipulate these viruses to see how they might mutate in the future, or understand them better so they can make vaccines.
But this type of research can also be dangerous, and if a lab-created virus escapes it could cause a pandemic. So the NIH has attached a number of conditions to any lab seeking to do research on dangerous pathogens. In addition to an expert review to make sure the benefits of the research outweigh the risks, the NIH also requires that the researchers show their work is scientifically sound, performed in a high-security lab, and that there is no safer way to get the same results.
Only once all of these conditions are met will the NIH fund studies that make viruses more lethal. Collins believes that these conditions will prevent any of these studies from inadvertently killing thousands of people. For all our sakes, let’s hope he’s right.