Research is the crux of new vaccine developments and treatments for viruses. Indeed, the downstream effects of research have undoubtedly benefitted each one of our lives, from antibiotics to vaccines. However, at the same time, research can sometimes have a negative impact on human lives (think atomic bombs).
Thus, should there be a line drawn in research on viruses? This is the point raised by a recent Forbes article in which the ethics of artificially creating “superviruses” – viruses that have been manipulated to have new (and sometimes dangerous) functions – was questioned. In particular, the author brings up a research group who genetically manipulated an influenza virus into a more virulent strain – one that was capable of creating a human pandemic.
While research on extremely virulent viruses may be needed to help us understand how to deal with pandemics, the danger they can pose to society may be just too great to risk conducting research. In fact, the U.S. government announced a few days ago that they would assess the pros and cons of creating viral superbugs. In the meantime, no funding will be given to new experiments proposing to create such viruses, and all current experiments on the subject have been asked to voluntarily cease.