Controversial scientist recreates H1N1 flu virus that killed 500,000 people

Source: SNEJANA FARBEROV | UK Daily Mail |

A controversial researcher who in the past had replicated the deadly Spanish flu of 1918 has done it again, this time cooking up in his lab an especially resilient strain of the H1N1 virus.

Dr Yoshihiro Kawaoka, professor of virology at University of Wisconsin at Madison, has reportedly tweaked the 2009 strain of pandemic influenza responsible for some 500,000 deaths worldwide to make it resistant to the human immune system’s antibodies.

Kawaoka’s many critics have said that his latest provocative experiment has essentially rendered the world’s population defenseless against the virus.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the H1N1 virus that sparked the 2009-2010 pandemic has turned into a regular human flu virus that continues to circulate seasonally worldwide.

Kawaoka’s goal, as The independent has reported, was to convert the virus into its pre-pandemic state in order to see how it has changed over the past four years.

Ostensibly, his goal is to perfect the design of the flu vaccines of the future, but in order to achieve it, the scientist has enabled the virus to ‘escape’ the human immune system.

‘Through selection of immune escape viruses in the laboratory under appropriate containment conditions, we were able to identify the key regions [that] would enable 2009 H1N1 viruses to escape immunity,’ Professor Kawaoka told the paper.

The award-winning researcher has been tight-lipped about his latest project, but he has acknowledged that his study is now complete and ready for publication.

The trailblazing virologist, who has been conducting his risky experiments out of a state-of-the-art laboratory at the Institute for Influenza Virus Research in Madison, lifted the lid on the H1N1 study earlier this year during a closed-door scientific meeting, where members of the audience walked away shocked.

An unnamed scientist who saw Kawaoka’s presentation explained that his colleague had picked out H1N1 strains that were resistant to antibodies and then repeated the process several time until he had on his hands a super-virus that could not be wiped out by a vaccine.

‘He used a flu virus that is known to infect humans and then manipulated it in such a way that it would effectively leave the global population defenseless if it ever escaped from his laboratory,’ the unnamed scientist told the publication.

He added: ‘Everything he did before was dangerous but this is even madder.’

Officials at the University of Wisconsin have reassured the public that there is little to no risk that the virus could escape from the lab.

Rebecca Moritz, who oversees some of the research center’s most sensitive work, explained that Kawaoka’s project is a stress-test of sorts meant to identify H1N1 strains that could evade the human immune system in order to make the next vaccine more effective.

‘I have no concerns about the biosafety of these experiments,’ she said.