• Art Jahnke

    Senior Contributing Editor

    Art Janke

    Art Jahnke began his career at the Real Paper, a Boston area alternative weekly. He has worked as a writer and editor at Boston Magazine, web editorial director at CXO Media, and executive editor in Marketing & Communications at Boston University, where his work was honored with many awards. Profile

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There are 3 comments on Federal Court Supports NIH Review of Biolab Safety Risks

  1. Given the current suite of medical care issues — and the possibility of various forms of bioterrorism — this is truly wonderful news. Of course, eternal vigilance is the price of no catastrophes in a situation like that which faces the NEIDL as it gears up to commence research at levels 3 and 4, but the sheer effort required to obtain permission for full operation should prove motivating to maintain zero safety failures. Having served on a committee charged with approving grant proposals that involved some degree of hazard some years ago, I made a discovery that may be relevant. The committee (chaired by John Sandson, the then ex-dean of the Medical School) had as members both lower-level hospital staff and some South End residents as well as faculty and administrators from both campuses. I fully expected two characteristics from the community and lower-level staff members: (1) limited ability to understand the scientific issues in any detail, and (2) deep-seated, relatively inflexible hostility to projects dealing with serious health risks, particularly those that explored new territory where novel precautions might be required. To my (chagrined!) surprise the community members of the committee held their own on the understanding of key points relative to hazards, and they were more than rational and sophisticated about when, where and how the grants would need to be revised if they did not anticipate clear and adequate procedures to deal with as-yet-unknown types of risk. I describe this experience as an argument for a suggestion about the management of the NEIDL. Since I have not read all the many reports about it, this suggestion may already be superfluous, but if not, please consider it seriously. HAVE COMMUNITY REPRESENTATIVES AND LOWER-RANKED STAFF MEMBERS SERVE ON A SAFETY REVIEW PANEL THAT MEETS REGULARLY. They would see issues with fresh eyes and raise intelligent questions that the local community would wish to see examined. In an era of ever-spreading drug-resistant pathogens like SARS (that can travel around the globe in less than 24 hours) the NEIDL doesn’t need bad publicity and the possiblity of legal injunctions blocking research. It must continue to demonstrate unequivocally that it’s a good neighbor and runs a tight ship.

      1. Thanks for the information. I could not tell without a search whether or not that type of committee existed. Perhaps my comment will help focus some attention on it. I seriously believe it has a very crucial role to play, both to keep the University’s attention sharply focused on the safety/security issue AND to provide a two-way channel of communication with the community.

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