A team of scientists in New York said it has discovered a technique for engineering influenza viruses that are harmless to humans but still capable of passing through the air between laboratory ferrets, a development that could pave the way for safer pathogen research, the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy reported on Wednesday.
Announcement of the findings by Mount Sinai Medical Center scientists came a week after virologists from around the world cited a need to modify an emerging form of avian flu in ways that could render the virus more transmissible to people. Ferrets are routinely used as a models for human transmission in such research, which proponents argue is necessary to help anticipate potentially dangerous changes that could occur to viruses in nature.
“This group should be commended for dedicating themselves to finding additional biosafety measures to ensure that this research can move forward,” said Katie Ballering, a microbiologist and CIDRAP senior scientist. “I think that this is a large and important step in that process.”