[GRG] More on the Risks of Studying Ebola: Air Travel and GoF Research

To Members and Friends of the Los Angeles Gerontology
Research Group:  More
risks: International air travel, for example.  At least Ebola is not
(yet) air transmissible. The West African tradition
of washing the dead is a cultural problem that can be solved by
education, right? — Steve Coles

“Ebola Vaccine Won’t Come Without
Taking Some Risks”

It is becoming clear that researchers working on these pathogens denote
agree on how best to study these particularly dangerous viruses and two
groups have now
emerged with different views. The fear is that this could affect the
fields of virology and microbiology as a whole and slow down the speed at
which vaccines can be found or developed.
(Source: The Conversation/Tulane University, Bob Garry)Wednesday, August 6, 2014; (Drug Discovery and Development)
— The current West African Ebola virus outbreak, which has
now reached more than 1,000 cases and resulted in more than 800 deaths,
is a reminder of the often unpredictable nature of viruses and the
difficulties in finding and developing vaccines and antivirals.  The
outbreak appears to have focused efforts. Anthony Fauci, Director of the
National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the US, said human trials for a
vaccine will start in September with a potential vaccine ready by July.
His comments come after two infected US doctors were reportedly treated
with a serum, believed to be a monoclonal antibody administered under an
FDA compassionate exemption that allows drugs to be used outside clinical
trial.  But even in the case of Ebola virus, it has taken nearly 40
years to get this far (partly due to a lack of funding from
pharmaceutical companies), and there is no guarantee that these
treatments will be successful.
 Handling Viruses Other
viruses that pose a continuous threat of disease include seasonal
influenza, measles and mumps, and also viruses that pass from animals to
humans, such as the MERS coronavirus and avian influenzas. 
Understanding these diseases can lead to curbing transmission and the
development of new antivirals or vaccines. This is usually done under
controlled conditions in the lab or by taking samples in the field and
using computers to model virus spread.  But it is becoming clear
that researchers working on these pathogens denote agree on how best to
study these particularly dangerous viruses and two groups have now
emerged with different views. The fear is that this could affect the
fields of virology and microbiology as a whole and slow down the speed at
which vaccines can be found or developed.
 The Research Controversy 
Controversy surrounds these pathogens because of potential lapses in
safety, notably by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which admitted
employees may have been exposed to anthrax more than once and the NIH,
which found six vials of forgotten smallpox (along with other viruses) in
a storage room. (Sigh! — LSC)
 The most
recent uproar was the creation of a dangerous strain of influenza virus
by virologist Yoshihiro Kawaoka and colleagues that could evade the human
immune system – in order to aid in the development of new influenza
vaccines. In 2010, the labs of Kawaoka and a fellow virologist, Ron
Fouchier in The Netherlands, were blocked from publishing work that
demonstrated the genetics and characteristics required for avian
influenza viruses to transmit between ferrets.
 As these
viruses aren’t normally able to do this and were artificially modified to
give them novel properties, the experiments fall under a category called
“Gain of Function” (GoF). The debate rests on whether any potential risk
to the public is worth the benefit to be had from an increased
understanding of influenza virus biology.
 The issue
sparked a year-long self-imposed moratorium by influenza virologists to
assess this but after further guidelines, this type of research has
resumed and the withheld studies have been published.
 Scientists at Loggerheads 
Microbiologists, and virologists in particular, have a long history of
working safely with pathogens and have developed effective strategies to
protect themselves, the public and the environment from a potential
release.  Viruses, as well as bacteria and parasites, are classified
into biosafety levels, each with their own specific safety strategies.
The highest safety categories are three and four (to which Ebola virus
belongs), with specialized rooms and buildings together with personal
protective gear and rules on coming in and leaving the lab. This is
before you consider outside safety checks and funding conditions.
leading scientists who formed a collective have called for another stop
to GoF research. But others who disagree argue that preventing this work
would be inhibitory to science and potentially damaging to the field,
have instead created another group called Scientists for
members, backed by the International Union of Microbiological
Societies, are confident that current safety measures and
high-containment labs around the world are sufficient to protect
researchers and the public from any risks involved in working with
pathogenic viruses. They believe a broad ban should be avoided in favor
of specific consideration on a project-by-project basis. They have called
for an independent meeting of scientists, funders and public health
officials to work out the best way to proceed, given the difficulty of
accurately predicting the future benefits of scientific research.
 Taking the Risk The fact
is, if we are to prevent infections and deaths by developing antivirals
and vaccines, continuing research into viruses such as influenza and
Ebola virus is critical. And despite reported lapses in safety in certain
labs, changes to current protocols must be balanced against the risks of
not undertaking such work, including the bigger potential for spread
raised by global travel.
Ultimately, working with pathogenic viruses carries some risk. As the
most recent Ebola virus outbreak and inevitable fears around novel
strains of influenza show, finding ways to counter dangerous viruses will
require us to go further than we have done so far– and it is something we
will need to resolve soon.
Reprinted courtesy

The Conversation 
Date: August 5, 2014
Source: The


Disease Research

Drug Discovery

L. Stephen Coles, M.D., Ph.D., Cofounder
Los Angeles Gerontology Research GroupE-mail: scoles@grg.orgE-mail:


About Johnny Adams

My full-time commitment is to slow and ultimately reverse age related functional decline to increase healthy years of life. I’ve been active in this area since the 1970s, steadily building skills and accomplishments. I have a good basic understanding of the science of aging, and have many skills that complement those of scientists so they can focus on science to advance our shared mission. Broad experience Top skills: administration, management, information technology (data and programming), communications, writing, marketing, market research and analysis, public speaking, forging ethical win-win outcomes among stakeholders (i.e. high level "selling"). Knowledge in grant writing, fundraising, finance. Like most skilled professionals, I’m best described as a guy who defines an end point, then figures out how to get there. I enjoy the conception, design, execution and successful completion of a grand plan. Executive Director Gerontology Research Group (GRG). Manages Email discussion forum, web site, meetings and oversees supercentenarian (oldest humans, 110+ years) research. CEO / Executive Director Carl I. Bourhenne Medical Research Foundation (Aging Intervention Foundation), an IRS approved 501(c)(3) nonprofit. http://www.AgingIntervention.org Early contributor to Supercentenarian Research Foundation. Co-Founder Geroscience Healthspan Forum. Active contributor to numerous initiatives to increase healthy years of life. Co-authored book on conventional, practical methods available today to slow the processes of aging – nutrition, exercise, behavior modification and motivation, stress reduction, proper supplementation, damage caused by improper programs, risk reduction and others. Fundamental understanding of, and experience in the genomics of longevity (internship analyzing and curating longevity gene papers). Biological and technical includes information technology, software development and computer programming, bioinformatics and protein informatics, online education, training programs, regulatory, clinical trials software, medical devices (CAT scanners and related), hospital electrical equipment testing program. Interpersonal skills – good communication, honest, well liked, works well in teams or alone. Real world experience collaborating in interdisciplinary teams in fast paced organizations. Uses technology to advance our shared mission. Education: MBA 1985 University of Southern California -- Deans List, Albert Quon Community Service Award (for volunteering with the American Longevity Association and helping an elderly lady every other week), George S. May Scholarship, CA State Fellowship. BA psychology, psychobiology emphasis 1983 California State University Fullerton Physiological courses as well as core courses (developmental, abnormal etc). UCLA Psychobiology 1978, one brief but fast moving and fulfilling quarter. Main interest was the electrochemical basis of consciousness. Also seminars at the NeuroPsychiatric Institute. Other: Ongoing conferences, meetings and continuing education. Aging, computer software and information technology. Some molecular biology, biotech, bio and protein informatics, computer aided drug design, clinical medical devices, electronics, HIPAA, fundraising through the Assoc. of Fundraising Professionals. Previous careers include: Marketing Increasing skill set and successes in virtually all phases, with valuable experience in locating people and companies with the greatest need and interest in a product or service, and sitting across the table with decision makers and working out agreements favorable to all. Information Technology: Management, data analysis and programming in commercial and clinical trials systems, and bioinformatics and protein informatics. As IT Director at Newport Beach, CA based technology organization Success Family of Continuing Education Companies, provided online software solutions for insurance and financial professionals in small to Fortune 500 size companies. We were successful with lean team organization (the slower moving competition was unable to create similar software systems). Medical devices: At Omnimedical in Paramount CA developed and managed quality assurance dept. and training depts. for engineers, physicians and technicians. Designed hospital equipment testing program for hospital services division. In my early 20’s I was a musician, and studied psychology and music. Interned with the intention of becoming a music therapist. These experiences helped develop valuable skills used today to advance our shared mission of creating aging solutions.
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