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News from the National Academies
Date: Jan. 31, 2006
Contacts: Vanee Vines, Senior Media Relations Officer
Megan Petty, Media Relations Assistant
Office of News and Public Information
202-334-2138; e-mail <news@nas.edu>

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Publication Announcement

Global Effort Needed to Anticipate and Prevent Potential Misuse of Advances in Life Sciences

Biomedical advances have made it possible to identify and manipulate features of living organisms in useful ways -- leading to improvements in public health, agriculture, and other areas. The globalization of scientific and technical expertise also means that many scientists and other individuals around the world are generating breakthroughs in the life sciences and related technologies. However, coordinated global efforts are needed to reduce the growing risk that new advances in these areas will be used to make novel biological weapons or misused by careless groups and individuals, says a new report from the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. The report recommends multidisciplinary measures to identify and mitigate such dangers over the next five to 10 years.

"Our increasingly interdependent global society needs a broad array of integrated, decisive actions to successfully anticipate and manage the potential misuse of biomedical research and the technologies it generates," said Stanley M. Lemon, director, Institute for Human Infections and Immunity, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, and co-chair of the committee that wrote the report. "The opportunities to inflict harm are unparalleled."

As a start, the entire scientific community should broaden its awareness that bioterrorism threats now include, for example, new approaches for manipulating or killing a host organism or for producing synthetic micro-organisms, the report says. "U.S. national biodefense programs currently focus on a relatively small number of specific agents or toxins, but gains in biomedical understanding have raised major concerns about the next generation of biowarfare agents," said committee co-chair David A. Relman, associate professor of medicine and of microbiology and immunology, Stanford University, Stanford, Calif. "We need to expand our thinking about the nature of future biological threats, as well as more fully exploit advances in the life sciences to create a global public health defense that is agile and flexible."

An independent advisory body should be established to analyze and forecast the fast-changing science and technology landscape in partnership with U.S. intelligence officials and government leaders -- helping them to stay abreast of developments in the life sciences that could be used for both peaceful and destructive aims, the report says. Although the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently formed the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity to advise the government on "dual use" biological research activities, the proposed advisory group would focus exclusively on analyzing science and technology to anticipate future biological threats.

The report adds that the national security and intelligence communities should bring greater scientific and technical expertise to their decision-making and other activities in biosecurity-related areas.

Continuing advancement in the life sciences is essential to thwarting bioterrorism, the report says; vaccine development, for example, depends on cutting-edge biomedical research. The open exchange of scientific data and concepts is the linchpin of these advances, and the results of fundamental research should remain unrestricted except when national security requires classification of the information. U.S. policymakers also should promote international scientific exchange and the training of foreign scientists in the United States. Both measures have contributed to the productivity of America's scientific enterprise.

Promoting a shared sense of responsibility as well as ethical behavior throughout the world's scientific enterprise is important. S&T leaders and practitioners should develop explicit national and international codes of ethics and conduct for life scientists, the committee said. Additionally, decentralized groups of scientists, government leaders, and other authorities are needed around the world to collaboratively monitor the potential misuse of biomedical tools and technologies -- and intervene if necessary.

The committee said that even if fully implemented, its recommendations would not guarantee that biomedical advances would be used solely for peaceful purposes. Therefore, steps should be taken now to strengthen America's public health infrastructure by improving its ability to quickly detect biological agents and recognize disease outbreaks, and respond to emergencies such as bioterrorist attacks or rapidly spreading pandemics. In addition, greater coordination of federal, state, and local public health agencies is sorely needed.

The National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide science and health policy advice under a congressional charter. The Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. A committee roster follows.

Copies of Globalization, Biosecurity, and the Future of the Life Sciences will be available this spring from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at http://www.nap.edu. Reporters may obtain a pre-publication copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).

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[ This announcement and report are available at http://national-academies.org ]


INSTITUTE OF MEDICINE
Board on Global Health
and
NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
Division on Policy and Global Affairs
Development, Security, and Cooperation

Committee on Advances in Technology and the Prevention of their Application to
Next Generation Bioterrorism and Biowarfare Threats

Stanley M. Lemon, M.D. (co-chair)
John Sealy Distinguished University Chair, and
Director, Institute for Human Infections and Immunity
University of Texas Medical Branch
Galveston

David A. Relman, M.D. (co-chair)
Associate Professor of Medicine and of Microbiology and Immunology
Stanford University School of Medicine
Stanford, Calif.

Roy M. Anderson, Ph.D.
Professor and Head
Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology
Imperial College School of Medicine
University of London
London

Steven M. Block, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Departments of Biological Sciences and Applied Physics
Stanford University
Stanford, Calif.

Christopher F. Chyba, Ph.D.
Professor of Astrophysical Sciences and International Affairs
Woodrow Wilson School
Princeton University
Princeton, N.J.

Nancy Connell, Ph.D.
Professor of Medicine and Vice Chair for Research
Department of Medicine, and
Director, Center for Biodefense
New Jersey Medical School
University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey
Newark

Freeman J. Dyson
Emeritus Professor of Physics
Institute for Advanced Study
Princeton, N.J.

Joshua M. Epstein, Ph.D.
Senior Fellow in Economic Studies
Brookings Institution
Washington, D.C.

Stanley Falkow, Ph.D.
Robert W. and Vivian K. Cahill Professor of Microbiology and Immunology, and of Medicine
Department of Microbiology and Immunology
Stanford University School of Medicine
Stanford, Calif.

Stephen S. Morse, Ph.D.
Center for Public Health Preparedness and
Associate Professor
Mailman School of Public Health
Columbia University
New York City

Randall S. Murch, Ph.D.
Associate Director, Research Program Development
National Capital Region Operations
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Alexandria

Paula J. Olsiewski, Ph.D.
Program Director
Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
New York City

Chandra Kumar N. Patel, Ph.D.
Chief Executive Officer and Chair
Pranalytica Inc., and
Professor of Physics
University of California
Los Angeles

Clarence J. (C.J.) Peters, M.D.
Director for Biodefense
Center for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases
University of Texas Medical Branch
Galveston

George Poste, D.V.M., Ph.D.
Director, Arizona BioDesign Institute
Arizona State University
Tempe

C. Kameswara Rao, Ph.D.
Executive Secretary
Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education
Bangalore, India

Julian Perry Robinson
Director
Harvard Sussex Program
SPRU Science and Technology Policy Research
University of Sussex
Brighton, United Kingdom

Peter A. Singer, M.D., M.P.H., F.R.C.P.C.
Sun Life Financial Chair in Bioethics, and
Director
Joint Centre for Bioethics
University of Toronto
Toronto

Christopher L. Waller, Ph.D.
Associate Director
Research Informatics
Pfizer Global Research and Development
Ann Arbor Laboratories
Ann Arbor, Mich.

STAFF

Eileen Choffnes, Dr.P.H.
Senior Program Officer