A researcher has modified the 2009 pandemic flu virus to allow it to evade the antibodies that humans have developed against it.
University of Wisconsin-Madison scientist Yoshihiro Kawaoka has slightly altered the genetic makeup of the H1N1 influenza strain in order to enable it to break free of the immune system responses that humans have developed toward the virus in recent years, the London Daily Telegraph reported on Wednesday.
Kawaoka has not yet published his research but said it is ready to be submitted to a scientific journal.
“Through selection of immune escape viruses in the laboratory under appropriate containment conditions, we were able to identify the key regions [that] would enable 2009 H1N1 viruses to escape immunity,” the researcher wrote in an email.
Kawaoka has carried out a number of controversial studies involving flu viruses. He led a team of researchers at the University of Wisconsin in reproducing nearly the entire virus that caused the deadly 1918 Spanish flu outbreak. He also conducted a study that modified the H5N1 virus to make it more easily transferrable between mammals.
The flu specialist’s most recent research was approved by Wisconsin’s Institutional Biosafety Committee. Rebecca Moritz, who is tasked with monitoring research in the state done on “select agents,” said Kawaoka’s work on the H1N1 flu strain would inform understanding about how the virus could mutate in the future, possibly making current vaccines ineffective.
“This work is not to create a new strain of influenza with pandemic potential, but [to] model the immune-pressure the virus is currently facing in our bodies to escape our defenses,” she said.
Kawaoka acknowledged the safety concerns about his research but said, “There are risks in all research. … As for all the research on influenza viruses in my laboratory, this work is performed by experienced researchers under appropriate containment and with full review and prior approval by the [biosafety committee].”
What We're Following See More »
The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear an appeal to the "federal disclosure rules for political advertising," leaving in place the ruling by a lower court upholding a law requiring the disclosure of donors to political ads. The appeal came from "a Denver-based libertarian think tank that wanted to run an ad without being forced to divulge its major donors," which argued that the requirement was a violation of first amendment rights under the Court's Citizens United decision.
"The Trump administration is proposing a budget it says will increase defense spending by $54 billion and cut non-defense spending by the same amount. The White House is sending a topline budget proposal reflecting those figures to federal agencies on Monday afternoon, according to an Office of Management and Budget official." An unnamed OMB official said most federal agencies would face cutbacks.
Donald Trump announced in a tweet on Saturday that he would not attend the White House Correspondents' Association dinner in April. The move did not come as a surprise, another moment in his ongoing battle with the media, which he has dubbed the "enemy" of the American people and repeatedly refers to as "fake news." Multiple outlets have already cancelled their events surrounding the dinner and several are considering skipping the event outright.
Phillip Bilden, Donald Trump's nominee for Navy secretary, has decided to withdraw his nomination after he was unable to sufficiently untangle his financial commitments. Bilden follows Vincent Viola, who withdrew his nomination for Army secretary.