In a Department of Homeland Security Senate hearing in April 2012 on ‘Biological Security: The Risk of Dual-Use Research’, Dr Anthony Fauci admitted that the National Institute of Health partnered with the Department of Defense on controversial dual-use research projects.
Dual-use research, of which gain-of-function research is a kind, can involve examining the ability to manipulate natural viruses to become more transmissible or possibly even a bioweapon. Gain-of-function research has found its way into the pandemic lexicon due to the resurgence of questions regarding the origins of COVID-19. Dr Fauci has continued to downplay both his personal involvement and the involvement of NIAID in grant money used to fund research of potential bat-borne viruses in China and at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
In an exchange with then-chairman Joe Lieberman, Fauci described the nature of the work in which the NIH partnered with the Department of Defense:
‘When we did an inventory of what we do mostly on our Bethesda campus and in our Rocky Mountain campus, there were 404 intramural projects that could be dual-use plus 147 manuscripts and none were found to be dual-use research of concern. When we did the extramural inventory of all of the grantees — there were 381 grantees or contractors — 10 of those grants were designated as DURC. Seven of them were in influenza, one in anthrax, one in plague, and one in botulism. So out of 381, there were only 10, and those are the ones we are now going through the process that is delineated very carefully in the new policy. So that is the scope of what we are doing at NIAID.’
Chairman Lieberman went on to question the nature of the research relationship. ‘Just generally, am I right to assume there may be dual-use research projects of concern, for instance, funded by the Department of Defense?’
Fauci replied, ‘I would hesitate to make a statement about the Department of Defense, but we collaborate a lot with them, and yes, I cannot imagine that they are not doing some. But probably a really small amount. But they clearly are doing some.’ Lieberman attempted to clarify Fauci’s answer a bit by asking ‘So most is probably coming through NIH?’ Fauci responded ‘Right.’
In a review piece published on the National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health website, dual-use research is defined as ‘the prospect that its knowledge domain could be used to generate biological agents with altered properties that enhanced their weapon potential’. (My emphasis.)
In the March 2018 piece, titled ‘A New Approach to Evaluating the Risk–Benefit Equation for Dual-Use and Gain-of-Function Research of Concern’, Michael J. Imperiale and Arturo Casadeva of the NIH describe how ‘The conundrum of dual-use research of concern was crystallized by the so-called “gain-of-function” type of experiments in which avian influenza viruses were endowed with new properties in the laboratory such as increased virulence and the capacity for mammalian transmission.’
In the same 2012 hearing, Dr Thomas Inglesby, chief executive officer and director for the Center of Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh, testified to the potential of a serious lab leak in countries like China given poor safety protocols involving possible gain-of-function research:
‘What could go wrong with mammalian transmissible H5N1? Could an accident occur? Biosafety at modern labs is generally excellent. Accidents are uncommon, and most pathogens have little capacity for societal spread. But the accidental escape of an engineered mammalian transmissible H5N1 could result in catastrophe. Although it is uncommon, accidents do happen.’
Inglebsy then went on to cite the H1N1 outbreak in the late 1970s.
‘In 1977, H1N1 caused a mini-pandemic, probably from a lab escape. Nine years ago, during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak, there were at least three incidents in which researchers working in Biosafety Level 3 (BSL-3) or BSL-4 labs in Singapore, Taiwan and China accidentally infected themselves with SARS. I am not meaning to single out laboratories for criticism. Mistakes are made by all types of professionals, doctors, pilots, rocket scientists, all of us, because we are human. We have to factor the possibility of human error, surprise, and accidents into our calculations of the risk of this research.’
Today the Australian published a story resurfacing the fact that in 2012 Dr Fauci argued that the benefits of gain-of-function research outweighed any risk of a laboratory accident, or worse, that could spark an international pandemic. In a paper, Fauci wrote, ‘Many ask reasonable questions: given the possibility of such a scenario — however remote — should the initial experiments have been performed and/or published in the first place, and what were the processes involved in this decision? Scientists working in this field might say — as indeed I have said — that the benefits of such experiments and the resulting knowledge outweigh the risks.’
Of course these revelations do not directly link Dr Fauci to any experiments done at the Wuhan Institute. But they do however raise more questions about the extent of his knowledge of what gain-of-function research was taking place and of any funds going to China, either directly or indirectly from the United States. Fauci had said that no grant money went to any gain-of-function research in China, but has since backtracked on that claim saying that he has no way of knowing what’s happening in the labs in China.
The Senate recently passed an amendment to permanently ban all US funding of gain-of-function research in China.
Sen. Rand Paul, who wrote the amendment, told The Spectator: ‘The US government should not be funding dangerous research with such potentially dire consequences — and I’m proud of my successful amendment to stop the funding of gain-of-function research in China.’