Protect the public from high-risk research on pathogens at UW-Madison lab

Justin B. Kinney and Richard H. Ebright

Laboratory accidents happen. They happen because scientists are human, and humans make mistakes. The overwhelming majority of scientific research is safe, and only a small fraction of laboratory accidents pose risks to the public. But accidents involving potential pandemic pathogens can have catastrophic consequences. Potential pandemic pathogens are viruses and bacteria that, if released, could cause a devastating pandemic.

A bill before the Wisconsin Legislature, Senate Bill 401, will protect the public from the most significant hazards of research on potential pandemic pathogens — without having significant costs or adverse impacts. The bill is commonsense legislation that deserves broad-based support.

SB 401 contains two important provisions.

The first provision will establish public transparency for research on potential pandemic pathogens. Currently, laboratories doing this research are not required to inform state or local governments about where the research is performed, which pathogens they possess or the potential public health impacts if a pathogen escapes. SB 401 will require these laboratories to provide this information to the state Department of Health Services.