NIH Director faces tough questions from CNN about Wuhan lab research, misleads with answers


NIH Director Francis Collins - Greg Nash- Pool/Getty Images

CNN's Pamela Brown confronted National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins on Sunday on whether there was an "oversight failure" under his leadership that resulted in U.S. taxpayers funding risky coronavirus research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Last week, the NIH released documents and sent a letter to a Republican lawmaker confirming that EcoHealth Alliance, a U.S. nonprofit that studies emerging diseases, used an award from the agency to fund gain-of-function experiments in Wuhan, China. The letter said that EcoHealth funded an experiment "testing if spike proteins from naturally occurring bat coronaviruses circulating in China were capable of binding to the human ACE2 receptor in a mouse model." The documents released by the NIH revealed the experiment involved cloning MERS-CoV, the virus that caused a deadly outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome in 2012, and then engineering the clone by giving it a receptor-binding domain from a bat coronavirus to see if it would be able to enter human cells that were put into mice.

This experiment had the "unexpected result" of making the MERS-based virus more transmissible among the humanized mice, which would apparently meet the NIH's definition of gain-of-function research. And the NIH said in its letter that EcoHealth Alliance violated the terms of its grant by failing to report those results. But Collins and his subordinate, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease Director Dr. Anthony Fauci, have each publicly denied many times that the NIH ever funded gain-of-function research.

Interviewing Collins on Sunday night, Brown asked, given the NIH's admission that EcoHealth Alliance funded research that made a virus more transmissible among human cells, how the agency could claim "the NIH has not ever and does not now fund gain-of-function research in the Wuhan Institute."

"You're just now finding out U.S. tax dollars were being used to pay for this risky research in that Wuhan lab two years ago," Brown said. "So the question is how can you know what this money is going toward? What kind of research this is going toward in places like the Wuhan lab if you're just now finding this out from EcoHealth Alliance how the U.S.' taxpayer dollars were being used?"


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