Washington, Oct 22 (IANS) The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) has finally accepted that they have given in funding for gain-of-function research on bat coronaviruses at China’s Wuhan lab, the media reported.
The Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), which is also central to the lab leak theory for Covid-19’s origins, is thought to practise gain-of-function research — the controversial practice of increasing a virus’ transmissibility or lethality to study the development of new diseases.
The NIH reportedly gave a $600,000 donation to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) in 2014, through US-based non-profit EcoHealth Alliance to study bat coronaviruses.
But US President’s Covid advisor Anthony Fauci, who is also the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), has repeatedly asserted that the US funding was not used for gain-of-function research.
According to NIH’s Principal Deputy Director Lawrence A. Tabak, the agency funded for a “limited experiment”, the Daily Mail reported.
The experiment was conducted to test if “spike proteins from naturally occurring bat coronaviruses circulating in China were capable of binding to the human ACE2 receptor in a mouse model”, at the Wuhan lab.
The results showed that mice infected with the modified bat virus “became sicker” than those infected with the unmodified bat virus, Tabak said in a letter addressed to Kentucky Congressman James Comer.
“As sometimes occurs in science, this was an unexpected result of the research, as opposed to something that the researchers set out to do,” Tabak was quoted as saying.
Tabak did not, however, use the term, but essentially confirmed that gain of function research took place at the Chinese lab despite consistent denials from Dr Fauci, the report said.
The letter shifted the blame to EcoHealth Alliance, which used NIH money to fund research at the WIV, for not being transparent about the kind of research they were doing.
“EcoHealth failed to report this finding right away, as was required by the terms of the grant,” Tabak wrote in his letter.
The company has been notified “to submit to NIH any and all unpublished data from the experiments and work conducted under this award,” within five days.
Federal funding for the practice was banned under President Barack Obama in 2014, but the NIH overturned the decision in 2017, the report said.
Meanwhile, a group of US Republicans are planning to push legislation to ban all federal funding for gain-of-function research.
“For the last decade, Dr Fauci has funded gain-of-function research on SARS viruses, and until we get to the bottom of the origins of Covid-19, the federal government should not provide another dime in funding for viral gain-of-function research in the name of global health,” Senator Roger Marshall, R-Kansas, said in a statement recently.
The moratorium would ban all federal research grants to universities and other organisations funding gain-of-function research, the report said.