Biomedicine, vaccines and antibiotics dramatically better human lives, but critics raise specter of ‘dangerous viruses’ and bioterrorism

| | September 19, 2019
bioterrorism preparedness
** FILE ** With the U.S. Capitol in the background, members of an U.S. Marine Corps' Chemical-Biological Incident Response Force demonstrate anthrax clean-up techniques during a news conference in Washington in this Oct. 30, 2001 file photo. More than five years after the Sept. 11 attacks, the government cannot show how the $5 billion given to public health departments has better prepared the country for a bio terrorism attack or flu pandemic. (AP Photo/Kenneth Lambert, File)
This article or excerpt is included in the GLP’s daily curated selection of ideologically diverse news, opinion and analysis of biotechnology innovation.

Although continued innovation will further improve people’s lives, it will also give rise to new threats.

True, better diagnostics, vaccines, and antibiotics should help to sustain health, control disease, and contain pandemics. But this very progress has sparked a dangerous evolutionary counter-attack by the pathogens themselves, with bacteria becoming immune to the antibiotics used to suppress them.

And yet, there are also risks associated with the race to develop improved vaccines. In 2011, researchers in the Netherlands and the United States demonstrated that it was surprisingly simple to make the H5N1 influenza [avian flu] virus both more virulent and more transmissible.

Related article:  Podcast: Can we 'outsmart' cancer with synthetic biology? Dr. Tim Lu talks customized disease treatments

But critics of the experiments pointed to the increased risk of dangerous viruses being released unintentionally, or of bioterrorists gaining access to new techniques.

Rapid innovation in biotech demands that we explore regulations to keep experiments safe, control the spread of potentially dangerous knowledge, and police the ethics of how new techniques are being applied. But effective worldwide enforcement of such rules would be virtually impossible. If something can be done, then someone, somewhere, will do it. That is a potentially terrifying prospect.

Read full, original post: The Biomedicine Threat

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