‘Science Fiction’: Scientists Say Gain-Of-Function Research Has Never Actually Provided Real-World Benefits

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Dylan Housman Deputy News Editor
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The alleged benefits of dangerous gain-of-function (GoF) research, such as that going on at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) before the COVID-19 pandemic, have never actually manifested in the real world, numerous scientists told the Daily Caller.

In the context of virology, gain-of-function research refers to experimentation that alters pathogens to make them more infectious, more deadly or both. Some experts believe the COVID-19 pandemic may have begun as a result of GoF research gone awry, theorizing researchers at the WIV accidentally leaked the virus from their lab during this dangerous experimentation.

Proponents of GoF research, who typically dismiss the idea that it could have played a role in the outbreak of COVID-19, claim it has several medical benefits. Primarily, they argue it aids in vaccine development and gives researchers a head start on preventing future pandemics. Opponents, however, say those benefits are “all theoretical.”

“As far as I know, they are all theoretical and no beneficial examples in the real world exist,” said Dr. Hideki Kakeya, an engineering professor at Japan’s University of Tsukuba. “There is a slim chance of GoF contributing to therapeutics in the real world. It’s often the case that scientists lie to get huge grants.”

Kakeya compared GoF researchers to seismologists in Japan collecting grant money for research on “predicting” earthquakes with little to no success. He wasn’t the only critic to raise financial interests as a reason for scientists to promote GoF work.

“I am not aware of any specific benefits for the general public that have come from gain-of-function research on dangerous pathogens,” German physicist Roland Wiesendanger, who specializes in nanoscience, told the Daily Caller. “There are only benefits for the scientists performing such risky research because they get a lot of taxpayers’ money for that.”

While it remains unknown whether or not GoF research or a lab leak played a role in the COVID-19 pandemic, and may never be known, lab leaks with dangerous pathogens have happened before. For example, dozens of American researchers were exposed to Anthrax as a result of an accident in 2014, and a 1978 smallpox outbreak in Birmingham, England, was linked back to a lab leak.

Such incidents include accidents involving bioweapons development, which is an area to which GoF research is applied regularly, and the benefits are much more clear than with virology.

“Gain-of-function research of concern has no — zero — civilian practical applications,” Rutgers University microbiologist Richard Ebright told the Daily Caller. “In particular, gain-of-function research of concern is not needed for, and does not contribute to, the development of vaccines and drugs.”

Ebright went on to say pharmaceutical companies develop treatments for viruses that are already known and circulating among humans, not against ones that don’t yet exist and aren’t circulating among people.

Valentin Bruttel, an immunologist at the University of Wuerzburg in Germany, made a similar point: “Developing a therapeutic can cost up to a billion $. No one would do this for a synthetic virus that only exists in a lab.”

“The mRNA vaccine platforms were developed for other diseases and then adapted within days, so there is not even much time that can be saved by these extremely dangerous experiments,” he continued. (RELATED: FBI Questioned NIH For Funding ‘Gain Of Function’ Research At The Wuhan Lab, Email Shows)

The Daily Caller reached out to multiple proponents of GoF research, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, to ask them the same question as the detractors: could they name one example of a concrete, real-world medical benefit that has come from such research? None responded.

Still, those researchers are largely able to continue on with their work, oftentimes funded by American taxpayers, with little oversight. Even during a moratorium on funding GoF work between 2014 and 2017, much of it continued to slip through the cracks, including at the WIV, experts say.

“I do get the impression it slipped through review with little attention,” professor of molecular retrovirology at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, Dr. Simon Wain-Hobson, told the Daily Caller. He added he can’t explain with certainty why researchers are continuing to pursue work he called “science fiction,” but that he’s surprised they haven’t learned the lesson that the danger isn’t worth whatever perceived benefits may exist.