US announces rules for potential bioterror agents

A long-awaited US government policy on biological research that could be used for terrorism or other nefarious purposes is little changed from a draft released 19 months ago, despite receiving 38 comments from institutions and researchers concerned that it goes either too far or not far enough. The centrepiece of the policy, released on 24 September, is a set of guidelines for researchers working on 15 specific pathogens or toxins. But the rules do not regulate experiments that engineer pathogens not on the list to make them more deadly – so-called gain-of-function research.  Officials from the White House and US National Institutes of Health (NIH) say the government will be addressing these concerns in coming weeks.  Read more

US government labs plan biohazard-safety sweep

The unexpected discovery of smallpox in a refrigerator at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, on 9 July has apparently sparked some soul searching in the US government. On 27 August, the NIH designated September as “National Biosafety Stewardship Month,” encouraging researchers to inventory their freezers for potentially dangerous agents such as pathogens and toxins, and review their biosafety protocols. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) did the same in a memo released on 28 August, suggesting “a government-wide ‘safety stand‐down,’” and “strongly urging” both federal agencies and independent labs to complete these steps within the month.  Read more

NIH alternative-medicine centre proposes name change

The US National Institutes of Health’s Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), a perennial punching bag, no longer wants to be “alternative”. Director Josephine Briggs announced today that NCCAM is accepting public comments on a proposal to rename itself the “National Center for Research on Complementary and Integrative Health”.  Read more