February 15, 2013

Flu researcher whose findings met U.S. biosecurity review to speak at UW

UW Health Sciences/UW Medicine

University of Wisconsin- Madison School of Veterinary Medicine professor Dr. Yoshihoro Kawaoka will speak Jan. 19 at the UW on pandemic influenza.

Michael Forster Rothbart

University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine professor Dr. Yoshihoro Kawaoka will speak Jan. 19 at the UW on pandemic influenza.

Influenza virologist Yoshihiro Kawaoka, whose research findings met with an extensive review by the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity last year, and generated continuing public debate on publishing infectious agent study results, will speak at the UW. His talk on “Pandemic Influenza “ is scheduled for 9 a.m., Tuesday,  Feb. 19 in Hogness Auditorium at the UW Health Sciences Center. The UW Department of Microbiology is sponsoring the free lecture.

The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity provides oversight on dual use research. The term refers to  biological studies with legitimate scientific purpose that may be misused to pose a threat to public health or national security

Kawaoka and his team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine study the molecular mechanism of interspecies flu virus transmission that can lead to influenza pandemics in humans and how the virus operates in poultry and mammals. He teaches the diagnosis and management of viral diseases in animals to veterinary students.

His group discovered four mutations that make a flu virus more transmissible among ferrets through sneezing and coughing. Publication of the paper in Nature magazine was stopped last February due to concerns that releasing the results publicly would pose a bioterrorism risk. Near the same time, publication in Science of an influenza paper by Dr. Ron Fouchier of Erasmus Medical Center was also halted.

Kawaoka based his defense on the fact that similar transmission studies had been conducted and published for years, that the work was important to developing treatments and vaccines against avian flu and to improving international surveillance of the emergence of more serious forms of influenza. He also noted that his lab was diligent in its safety and security measures. The biosecurity panel reversed its decision last March in a recommendation accepted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Kawaoka was then free to speak about this work and Nature was allowed to fully publish his paper.  Publication of the Foucher paper was permitted in redacted form.