By Adam Turner
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has exposed many challenges facing the West and particularly the U.S. One rather unexpected challenge is the revelation that U.S.-funded biological research facilities in Ukraine may be targets of Putin’s military strategy. Conspiracy theories aside, statements from a senior State Department official, Victoria Nuland, confirming that these facilities could pose a serious threat only elevate the need to look deeper into U.S.-funded gain of function (GOF) research.
Scientists at one lab reported a “lack of modern biosafety equipment” as well as using “lethal microbes that in the West would be locked away in high-containment laboratories,” but were not secured. If labs in foreign countries testing dangerous pathogens using U.S. taxpayer funds sounds familiar, you’ve been paying attention. The need for answers over the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have gotten more urgent as we’ve learned more from communications of senior officials closest to the issue trying to suppress any genuine scrutiny.
Subsequent congressional oversight into the issue has only just begun and may trigger a broader reassessment of the U.S. government’s approach to research commonly known as GOF. Some of the biggest recipients of this funding, like EcoHealth Alliance, deserve an equal level of oversight and investigation.
In a U.S. Senate hearing in July 2021, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), clashed over this very topic. Sen. Paul claimed the National Institute of Health (NIH) had provided $600,000 in funding for a GOF study by EcoHealth Alliance in Wuhan, China; Dr. Fauci denied that the study was in fact GOF. Paul accused Fauci and the NIH of “defining away gain of function … saying it doesn’t exist because you change the definition” on the government’s website.
Moreover, the change in definitions occurred at the same time information came to light that EcoHealth Alliance had indeed conducted a GOF study in Wuhan. EcoHealth was forced to admit in the progress report that it created a lab-generated SARS-related coronavirus that was more pathogenic toward mice with humanized cells than the natural virus on which it was based. Quite a coincidence.
Whether COVID-19 originated in a Wuhan lab will continue to be a hotly debated question, one that may not be resolved in any definitive manner given the many financial incentives at stake. What has been established is the viability of the lab-leak theory. This should give every American pause. Will the pandemic of the last two years result in a serious recalculation of the cost-benefit analysis of U.S. government-funded GOF research efforts? What metrics can the federal government point to that demonstrate we were better prepared to handle the recent global pandemic?
With billions of dollars sent from the U.S. treasury to grant recipients conducting GOF or GOF-type research around the world – much of it in countries that are either openly hostile to the U.S. or outside the reach of genuine oversight controls – it’s time to reassess the federal government’s objectives and funding when it comes to GOF research (including the research that was recently “redefined”).
Before change can occur, though, we need sunshine into what has become one of the most under-appreciated threats facing the American people today. My organization, the Center to Advance Security in America, is digging in to get some answers. What exactly did we fund with EcoHealth Alliance in Wuhan? Were the early efforts by government officials to silence conversations into a potential lab-leak theory consistent with the scientific integrity principles that are so commonly espoused by senior leaders? Are we still funding GOF research under a different name? Are we funding such research in the Ukraine? It’s time to find out.
Adam Turner is the Director of the Center to Advance Security in America.
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