United States Senate on Tuesday (25 May) passed the amendment to permanently ban funding for the ‘Gain of Function’ research in China
The ‘Gain of Function’ research aims to enhance the infectiousness or severity of a virus.
The amendment was proposed by Libertarian-leaning Republican Senator Rand Paul and was co-sponsored by other Senators including Ron Johnson, Tommy Tuberville, Roger Marshall and Mike Braun.
“We don’t know whether the pandemic started in a lab in Wuhan or evolved naturally,” Paul said in a statement.
“While many still deny funding gain-of-function research in Wuhan, experts believe otherwise. The passage of my amendment ensures that this never happens in the future. No taxpayer money should have ever been used to fund gain-of-function research in Wuhan, and now we permanently have put it to a stop,” he added.
Senate Amendment 2003 bans the National Institutes of Health and any other US agency from funding any gain-of-function research in China.
The amendment defines gain-of-function research as “any research project that may be reasonably anticipated to confer attributes to influenza, MERS, or SARS viruses such that the virus would have enhanced pathogenicity or transmissibility in mammals.” This is the same definition the NIH used when implementing a funding moratorium on gain-of-function research in 2014-2017, the statement added.
During a Senate hearing on 11 May, Senator Paul specifically asked Dr Anthony Fauci, NIAID Director and chief medical advisor to US President, about the funding of gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and the potential link between the COVID-19 outbreak and the lab itself.
The ‘Gain-of-Function’ experiments involve genetically modifying viruses to make them more infectious in an effort to better understand them. Fauci is a leading advocate of ‘gain-of-function’ research and was instrumental in reauthorizing it domestically after it was suspended due to safety concerns.
China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), located just miles from the market where the first COVID-19 outbreak was reported, received funding from Fauci’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases via the non-profit EcoHealth Alliance.
The EcoHealth grant part funded the research at Wuhan Lab that involved analysing bat specimens collected from caves in China to study their potential for infecting humans. EcoHealth’s work in China started in the aftermath of the 2002–2004 SARS epidemic, which also likely originated from bats.
Senator Rand Paul criticised Fauci during the hearing for continuing to defend gain-of-function research on deadly viruses despite the possibility that the novel coronavirus leaked from a laboratory that was performing such research in Wuhan, China.
However, Fauci denied that NIH funded any ‘Gain of Function’ research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.