Gain-of-Function Explained | Francis Collins and Lex Fridman | Summary and Q&A

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November 7, 2021
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Gain-of-Function Explained | Francis Collins and Lex Fridman

TL;DR

Gain-of-function research is important for understanding and developing strategies against pathogens, but it requires stringent oversight to ensure safety.

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Questions & Answers

Q: What is gain-of-function research, and why is there confusion around the term?

Gain-of-function refers to experiments that enhance the functional properties of an organism. It is causing confusion because it has different meanings depending on the context, with the oversight of potentially dangerous human pathogens being the focus in this case.

Q: Does gain-of-function research have any positive applications?

Yes, gain-of-function research is essential for cancer immunotherapy, where it improves patients' immune function to combat cancer effectively. Many other scientific advancements rely on gain-of-function experiments.

Q: Why is gain-of-function research on established human pathogens subject to strict oversight?

Gain-of-function research on known human pathogens that can cause pandemics necessitates rigorous oversight to evaluate whether the benefits justify the potential risks. This oversight is crucial to prevent accidents and ensure public safety.

Q: Did the gain-of-function research conducted at the Wuhan Institute of Virology meet the oversight requirements?

The gain-of-function research conducted at the Wuhan Institute of Virology did not require the same level of oversight because it involved non-human bat viruses that were not known to be infectious to humans.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • In 2014, the US placed a hold on gain-of-function research due to laboratory biosecurity incidents involving dangerous pathogens.

  • In December 2017, the ban was lifted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as gain-of-function research is crucial for identifying and countering rapidly evolving pathogens.

  • Gain-of-function research involves enhancing the transmissibility or virulence of established human pathogens, requiring rigorous oversight to balance benefits and risks.

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