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Nagaland bat study: Scientific research work must follow protocol, says Health Ministry

Action will be taken to ensure that mechanisms are put in place rectify the situation, says official

All research work has to follow a process and action will be taken if protocols aren’t followed, said the Health Ministry on Tuesday to question on a probe into a filovirus study of bats in Nagaland undertaken by the Bengaluru-based National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR).

The Ministry’s response follows the article Government report flags ‘lapses’ in Nagaland bat study published in The Hindu on June 15.

The Hindu had also first reported on the study in February 2020 on the enquiry being initiated into whether adequate permissions had been sought for the study that according to a Central government report now specified “concerning lapses” in the conduct and protocols followed.

The study had listed two scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology as “co-authors” and was partially funded by the U.S. Department of Defence through its Defence Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA).

Health Ministry Joint Secretary Lav Aggarwal on Tuesday said: “There are protocols for all research work undertaken and wherever there are lapses action will be taken to ensure that mechanisms are put in place to rectify the situation.’’

The Ministry is also concerned about the storage of the Nagaland bat samples. The Ministry wants the samples to be at the Biosafety Level-4 (BSL-4) standard facility at the National Institute of Virology laboratory in Pune rather than NCBS’s Bengaluru facilities that are rated BSL-3. It said samples must be handled in a laboratory equipped for “biosafety and biosecurity conditions” as they can pose a “significant public health hazard”.

This when the Department of Atomic Energy noted that the samples were “non-infectious” and had been checked for the presence of filoviruses (Ebola and Marburg).

When asked about the zoonotic pathogens and need to protect against any spill-over that is being discussed world-wide — the Nagaland bat study on filoviruses (Ebola and Marburg) is in no way related to the coronavirus (SARs) studies at Wuhan — Mr. Aggarwal said laboratories have to be supported to ensure that all future pandemics are prevented.

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