Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Review: ASSESSMENT OF FUTURE SCIENTIFIC NEEDS FOR LIVE VARIOLA VIRUS - IOM

Thoroughly technical, the assessment is a valuable and accurate look at current and possible scientific capabilities that are made possible or assisted by the retention of live variola virus, the pathogen that causes smallpox. The assessment was composed under the direction to ignore all considerations except those scientific, which makes in unavoidable biased. However, despite the lack of criticism for retention of the stocks, the authors clearly press upon the reader the incomplete nature of the debate.

While the assessment is written fluently with technical language, an average reader is assisted by a historical and scientific overview of the virus. Many of the processes described are preceded by helpful explanations of relevant concepts. Exploration of reasons for retention is proportional to the development and potential of each scientific application. For example, extensive discussion of the immune response correlates to the possibility of using variola pathogenesis to glean a more complete understanding of the human immune system.

The bias is also reduced by passages confirming the limited number of research and development opportunities that rely on variola retention. A chart found at the conclusion of the assessment is demonstrative—use of live variola virus in a number of research areas is noted most often as “helpful” rather than necessary.

The most appreciable element of the assessment is that it does not fail to provide the whys. The committee has not only presented the facts behind the argument for retention but also how they have been determined.

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