H5N1: Timeline of Select Episodes and their Significance

In September 2011 researchers from the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, The Netherlands led by Ron Fouchier announced that they had successfully engineered a mutant form of influenza H5N1, “avian influenza,” that is transmissible by respiratory route between mammals (ferrets). Given that ferrets’ immune response to influenza is considered to be similar to the response in humans, the studies suggest that the engineered H5N1 is likely transmissible human-to-human as well. The researchers suggested that the transmissible flu they had created remained as lethal as the original strain on which their work had been carried out, a strain estimated to be fatal in ~30-60% of cases in humans. Several months later it became widely known that a second research group, led by University of Tokyo and University of Wisconsin professor Yoshihiro Kawaoka, similarly had engineered a mammal-to-mammal transmissible form of H5N1. The conduct of the work, the handling of its announcement, and the political turmoil set into motion by the prospect of its publication have raised serious questions about the limits of free inquiry and the regulation of research with dangerous organisms. It has also raised serious questions about the terms under which such research should be organized, justified, and critiqued. In the table that follows I provide a timeline of the key episodes in the unfolding of this event, with an explanation of how each episode is significant. I pay particular attention to how the story being told about the research and importance had changed, and how its political framing has led to a game of justification and counter justification in which the account of the science and how it should be interpreted has become formed by the polemics which have taken hold. Where possible the table provides links to the primary documents or presentations referenced as part of the timeline. I have also included a second table with a list of the primary individuals involved in this event, with a short introductory bio on each. The materials in this second table have been extracted from longer biographies available online. The material in this timeline was developed in close conversation with Roger Brent and Meg Stalcup, and with the assistance of Desmond Huynh, of the Center for Biological Futures.

By Gaymon Bennett:;xNLx;Center for Biological Futures, Basic Sciences, Hutchinson Center

The CDC Inspects the Virology Facilities at Erasmus Medical Center, Rotterdam

Fouchier Group Co-Authors on a Cross-Protective Immunity Publication

Fouchier Group Publishes a Progress Report on Transmissibility Studies

Fouchier Gives Keynote Presentation at ESWI

A Report on Fouchier’s Work is Published in Scientific American, Framing these Endeavors as Matters of Public Health

New Scientist Publishes a Report on Fouchier's Work in Terms of the Ease of Intentionally Engineering an H5N1 Pandemic

Fouchier Group Submits its Transmissibility Research for Publication

Fouchier Informs the NIH and Dutch Government of Research

NIH Requests NSABB Review of Manuscripts

NSABB Subcommittee Reviews Manuscriptes

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