The National Institutes of Health (NIH) altered a key portion of its website last week around the time it disclosed to Congress that experiments it funded in China met the definition of gain-of-function.
The federal agency had a detailed explanation of gain-of-function research on its site, noting that the term refers to any research “that modifies a biological agent so that it confers new or enhanced activity to that agent.”
But the explanation was wiped between Oct. 19 and Oct. 21—possibly ahead of the NIH’s most recent disclosures on Oct. 20 about research it funded in China that increased the potency of a virus by modifying it.
The updated page now says, in its only reference to that type of research, that research involving enhanced potential pandemic pathogens (ePPPs) “is a type of so-called ‘gain-of-function’ (GOF) research.” It claims that “the vast majority of GOF research does not involve ePPP and falls outside the scope of oversight required for research involving ePPPs.”
Oversight involving research on ePPPs is governed by a framework (pdf) issued by the U.S. government in late 2017, on the same day the NIH lifted its yearslong funding pause on most gain-of-function research.
There’s no definition of gain-of-function inside the framework. The only mention of it refers people to a list of examples of activities that would and would not be considered to involve ePPPs. That list was last available in May 2017, according to an Epoch Times review.
An NIH spokeswoman confirmed that the webpage, a “backgrounder” on the framework, was altered last week, around the same time the disclosures were made.
The information concerning gain-of-function “was being misused/used incorrectly (and still is) and creating confusion (and still is),” the spokeswoman told The Epoch Times in an email.
“The backgrounder was updated to provide clarity on the scope of the framework,” she said.
The NIH Office of Communications and Public Liaison made the decision to alter the page, according to the spokeswoman. She noted that a separate page still gives details on gain-of-function research, but it doesn’t contain nearly as much information about what exactly the type of research is as the other page did.
The Epoch Times has submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for all communications and other internal NIH documents concerning the alteration.