MARCE Conference 2014

Conference Explores Critical Balancing Act between Public Safety and Scientific Advancement

On February 10, 2014 CHHS hosted an annual public health conference in partnership with the Middle Atlantic Regional Center of Excellence for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases (MARCE). This year’s focus was on Dual Use Research of Concern (DURC), which encompasses life science research involving dangerous pathogens that could be purposefully misapplied or accidentally released into non-laboratory environments, causing harm to the public. DURC garnered a lot of attention in 2011 and 2012 following debate about the publication of scientific papers detailing information about deadly laboratory-induced mutations in the avian influenza (H5N1) virus.

Over the course of the day-long conference, a series of panels offered expertise from across the spectrum of government, the private sector, academia, and the general public. All of the speakers emphasized themes of biosafety and biosecurity. Discussions of best practices included beginning all research with a risk and vulnerability assessment, and establishing the safety standards to be put in place.

Dr. J. Patrick Fitch, the founding Laboratory Director for the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center (NBACC) and President of the Battelle National Biodefense Institute, LLC, delivered the keynote address. Dr. Conference Explores Critical Balancing Act between Public Safety and Scientific Advancement Fitch explained the importance of pushing for a “culture of responsibility” at NBACC, where safety is the number one priority in all of their research, and expanding this culture industry-wide to maintain the safety of laboratories and the public.

A large part of the question and answer sessions focused on what the appropriate balance is between unfettered scientific research and ensuring public health and welfare. The need to protect people, animals, and agriculture from the dangers of DURC with regulation and oversight needs to be balanced with the potential for scientific innovation in these research arenas. While the nearly 85 conference participants did not draw a hard line, the consensus was that a compromise between safety and scientific advancement could be reached with open dialogue and reasonable research practices.

This text was taken from the CHHS Spring 2014 Newsletter.

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