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Will The White House Suspend Funding For Research That Can Cause Pandemics?

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Dylan Housman General Assignment & Analysis Reporter
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A contentious method of scientific experimentation is at the center of the COVID-19 lab-leak theory, and the administration of President Joe Biden could potentially put a stop to some of it.

Proponents of the theory that COVID-19 originated in a laboratory setting have cited gain-of-function (GOF) research as a possible source of the pandemic. GOF research involves making pathogens more infectious and lethal in order to study them for knowledge on possible remedies or vaccines.

Some scientists believe the risks associated with GOF research outweigh the potential benefits. In 2012, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists estimated that there was an 80% chance a dangerous virus could accidentally escape from a lab every twelve years due to the amount of GOF research happening worldwide. “Laboratory systems are not infallible, and even in the greatest laboratories of the world, there are mistakes,” director for the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins Thomas Inglesby told Vox last year.

Some of the research conducted at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) has fallen under the category of GOF. The WIV also received more than $3 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) between 2014 and 2020. (RELATED: Did Coronavirus Come From A Lab? Ten Key Takeaways From A Shocking New Report)

At one point, the NIH agreed with skeptics and declared that GOF research was too dangerous to fund. “The U.S. Government will institute a pause on funding for any new studies that include certain gain-of-function experiments involving influenza, SARS, and MERS viruses,” the 2014 announcement read. However, in 2017, the ban was lifted, and GOF projects once again became eligible for GOF funding.

When it happened, some called the decision to lift the funding pause “controversial.” As the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread early in 2020, researchers called for more transparency in the process of granting funding for GOF work. “We’re not trying to say the policy is wrong, we’re trying to say the policy is ambiguous,” Harvard epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch, when speaking about the NIH approval process for GOF research, told Nature. (RELATED: Can The WHO’s COVID-19 Investigation Be Trusted? Some Experts Say No)

The Biden administration could choose to once again ban funding for GOF experimentation. While the administration recently expressed doubt over the validity of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) investigation into the matter.

“We have deep concerns about the way in which the early findings of the COVID-19 investigation were communicated and questions about the process used to reach them,” Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan recently said.

The NIH told the Daily Caller that there is no intention to reinstate the ban on GOF funding at this time. “As stated in the Director’s statement (from 2017)… the funding pause was lifted with the release of the Department of Health and Human Services Framework for Guiding Funding Decisions about Proposed Research Involving Enhanced Potential Pandemic Pathogens (HHS P3CO Framework). NIH will continue to follow this framework.”

Early on in the pandemic, suggestions that the virus may have originated in a lab setting were dismissed as “conspiracy theories.” Now, the idea is gaining more traction. After initially ruling it out as a possibility, the WHO backtracked recently and said it is still open to the possibility that the virus accidentally escaped from a lab.

The White House did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller’s request for comment.