NIH Embroiled in Fight Over Wuhan Research

Security personnel guard the Wuhan Institute of Virology on February 3, 2021. Image: Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images
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Security personnel guard the Wuhan Institute of Virology on February 3, 2021. Image: Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images

Politics and science collided again yesterday in the ongoing search for the pandemic’s origins as the US NIH castigated a research organization for failing to update the agency on findings from experiments at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
 
NIH has demanded from EcoHealth Alliance any unpublished data from an experiment that found lab mice became “unexpectedly sicker with one of the naturally circulating strains of bat coronavirus,” The Washington Post reports.

Reporting issue:

  • The NIH said the finding should have been reported promptly to it.
  • The EcoHealth Alliance, whose US government grant has been suspended, says it met its reporting requirements.

 
No origins connection: Fending off critics trying to link the agency to the pandemic's origins, Francis S. Collins, NIH director, said the experiment with bat coronaviruses could not have led to SARS-CoV-2, which quickly spread worldwide in early 2020. 

  • “Those virus genomes were as far away from SARS-CoV-2 as a cow is from a human,” Collins told the Post.

 
The issue flared up Thursday after an NIH letter to Republican members of Congress revealed the 2018 and 2019 experiments in Wuhan had unexpectedly made a coronavirus that was more infectious in mice, Science reports.
 
Research argument: NIH critics charged the agency had lied by saying it hadn’t funded “gain of function” research, which can make pathogens more dangerous to people. Collins told the Post the experiment did not involve gain of function research.

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