Scientists are creating new, incurable diseases in labs

In recent years, scientists have found a way to make H5N1 jump between ferrets, the best animal model for flu viruses in humans. They say they need to create a transmissible version in order to better understand the disease and to prepare potential vaccines.

That worries people like Marc Lipsitch and Alison P. Galvani, two epidemiologists who write in a PLoS Medicine editorial today that creating these types of new infectious agents puts human life at risk. They estimate that if 10 American laboratories ran these types of experiments for a decade, there would be 20 percent chance that a lab worker would become infected with one of these new super-flus and potentially pass it on to others. …

Accidents involving lab-grown pathogens aren’t just the stuff of sci-fi movies. A Singaporean lab worker was inadvertently infected with SARS in 2003. In 2004, a Russian scientist died after accidentally sticking herself with a needle contaminated with Ebola at a Siberian lab. In April, Paris’ Pasteur Institute lost 2,000 vials containing the SARS virus. And in March, the Galveston National Laboratory in Texas lost a vial containing Guanarito virus, which causes “bleeding under the skin, in internal organs or from body orifices like the mouth, eyes, or ears.”