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Scientists Plan on Making a Superflu in Labs

Update Date: Aug 08, 2013 03:10 PM EDT
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In one of the strangest scientific studies to date, scientists announced that they would create a superflu from the H7N9 strain, which is the avian flu that has been circulating in China since February. This strain will be drug resistant, have a faster human-to-human transmission rate and will be effective in bypassing the immune system. If the strain is created, it could lead to very dangerous situations if the wrong people come into contact with the end result. However, the researchers believe that the process of creating such a strain is worth the risk. They hope that the new research will enlighten them and other researchers about the nature of these viruses. This data would then ideally help scientists come up with even better drug treatments and preventative measures.

The proposal to create this superflu was published on Wednesday in the journals, Science and Nature by researchers Ron Fouchier from the Netherlands' Erasmus Medical Center and Yoshihiro Kawaoka from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Their proposal included several risky experiments, but the one in the forefront was the plan to create a dangerous virus from the H7N9 strain. The proposal was backed up by 20 other scientists who signed it as well.

"We know that all pandemic viruses over the last century were transmitted via the airborne route. The H7N9 virus is not yet transmitted efficiently [through the air]. But the question is, can it gain the capacity and therefore pose a serious pandemic threat?" Fouchier stated according to NPR. "By engineering these viruses, we can stay ahead of the game. By knowing which mutations might arise in nature, we can be on the lookout for them. That's clearly of great relevance for public health."

The researchers aim to genetically engineer the H7N9 strain into becoming a strain that would cause a pandemic. They plan on testing the new virus' transmission speed and ability between mammals. This is not the first kind of experiment that the research duo has conducted. In 2011, Fouchier and Kawaoka created different versions of H5N1 that were capable of transmission via coughing and sneezing in ferrets. This type of experiment drew controversy regarding the safety of the overall population.

The proposal will now go through the review process before the research team can receive funding from the U.S. 

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