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NIH quietly rewrites 'gain-of-function' definition amid greater scrutiny of controversial research

Questions have swirled for nearly two years as to whether agency funded dangerous Wuhan coronavirus experiments.

October 23, 2021 2:08pm

Updated: October 23, 2021 3:12pm

The National Institutes of Health quietly altered a key definition of "gain-of-function" research on its own website amid a wave of major scrutiny regarding its funding of controversial research in Wuhan, China. 

The altered definition received significant attention after being noted by retired Navy officer Jeremy Redfern on Twitter on Friday afternoon. 

Web archives show that as recently as Oct. 19, the NIH defined "gain-of-function" experiments as "a type of research that modifies a biological agent so that it confers new or enhanced activity to that agent."

"This research poses biosafety and biosecurity risks," the prior definition stated, "and these risks must be carefully managed. When supported with NIH funds, this subset of GOF research may only be conducted in laboratories with stringent oversight and appropriate biosafety and biosecurity controls to help protect researchers from infection and prevent the release of microorganisms into the environment."

The latest revision appears rewritten to significantly downplay the concept of gain-of-function research at all; rather, the page focuses mostly on "enhanced potential pandemic pathogen," or ePPP, research. 

"While ePPP research is a type of so called 'gain-of-function' (GOF) research," the site states, "the vast majority of GOF research does not involve ePPP and falls outside the scope of oversight required for research involving ePPPs."

The page notes that it was "last reviewed" on Oct. 20. It gives no explanation, or mention, of the significant edits it underwent. 

The NIH was again thrust into the national spotlight this week when a newly surfaced letter from NIH Principal Deputy Director Lawrence Tabak appeared to confirm that the federal agency may have funded at least one gain-of-function-related experiment in Wuhan. 

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