Saturday 16 April 2016

How safe is pathogen research?

At an event hosted by the U.K. Parliamentary and Scientific Committee on the safety of pathogen research, three leading academics from pathogen research centres admitted that pathogen research can be dangerous, but that this threat is mitigated and controlled by sophisticated security, exemplary safety standards and thorough monitoring systems.

According to the Royal Society for Biology, Professor Finbarr Cotter from the Royal College of Pathologists explained that while there is a risk to the public, the more immediate risk is to the researchers themselves. For example, pathogen researchers were 65 times more likely to become infected with meningococcus than the general public and five times more likely to die from the infection.

Nonetheless, such work is important. Despite extensive vaccinations programmes and improved sanitation, communicable diseases that are caused by pathogens are still responsible for 20% of global deaths. Although an improvement from the figure of 25% in 1990, this still represents 11 million deaths annually which could be avoided if transmission of pathogenic diseases could be prevented. These figures highlight the importance of research into how viruses, bacteria, fungi and other pathogens cause disease and how they are transmitted.

Posted by Dr. Tim Sandle

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