NIH restarts bat research grant

Researcher Omar Garcia works with a bat (Sturnira lilium) for zoonoses prevention studies at a ranch in El Corral community in Tzucacab, Yucatan state, Mexico on March 29, 2023. - As night fell in Mexico's Yucatan jungle, veterinarian Omar Garcia extracted blood and fluids from a bat as part of an investigation aimed at preventing the next potential pandemic. The goal of the Franco-Mexican project is to detect diseases -- known as zoonoses -- transmitted from animals to humans in tropical climates. (Photo by Pedro PARDO / AFP) (Photo by PEDRO PARDO/AFP via Getty Images)
(Photo by PEDRO PARDO/AFP via Getty Images)

OAN’s Geraldyn Berry
11:35 AM – Tuesday, May 9, 2023

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has restored the bat research grant three years after former President Donald Trump put pressure on the organization to halt the funding to a U.S. team researching bat CORONAVIRUS with collaborators in Wuhan, China.


The previous award, which provided $576,000 per year to the EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit research group in New York City, has been scaled back to a new, four-year grant. The 2014 grant had included a sub-award to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) and included support for contentious studies that combined components of several bat viruses associated with severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which caused a widespread outbreak in 2002–2004.

It is reported that the research had not been included in the current grant, and EcoHealth must adhere to stringent new accounting regulations after receiving criticism from government auditors for its bookkeeping procedures.

Nobel Prize winner Richard Roberts of New England Biolabs, who in May 2020 had helped organize a letter from 77 Nobel laureates protesting the grant’s suspension, said that “It is long overdue.”

“Unfortunately, the original cancellation reflects the ongoing partisan politics where first Trump and now many Republicans are attacking science unfairly,” Roberts said.

The most closely studied grant in the organization’s history was R01AI110964, which the NIH extended in 2019 with a subaward to WIV totaling approximately $600,000 over eight years. In April 2020, Trump demanded its termination in response the then-theory which was gaining momentum that a lab leak at WIV had caused the COVID-19 epidemic.

Concerns were later raised about the project’s tests, which were carried out at virologist Shi Zhengli’s lab at WIV and involved attaching the spike protein of distinct wild bat CORONAVIRUS to a different viral “backbone” in order to assess the infections’ capacity to infect human airway cells.

Many Republicans in Congress as well as other critics have said that this study qualified as risky “gain-of-function” (GOF) research that amplifies the threat of possible pandemic viruses, and that it should have been subjected to a special evaluation.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and its then-director Anthony Fauci answered that the experiment did not meet the risky GOF criterion put forward by the NIH since the bat viruses were not known to infect humans and WIV had no aim of making them more hazardous.

According to NIH, the WIV chimeras were only remotely linked to SARS-CoV-2.

Virologists say that this kind of study is crucial for creating treatments and vaccines against newly emerging diseases as well as for determining the likelihood that a pathogen would cause a pandemic. The NIH and HHS are developing guidelines that will presumably tighten regulation of this type of research in the U.S.

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