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WHO panel wants smallpox research done

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NEW YORK, Nov 12, 2004 (United Press International via COMTEX) -- A World Health Organization panel wants scientists to be allowed to manipulate a gene in the smallpox virus to speed development of an antidote.

The WHO panel's proposal envisions inserting a so-called marker gene into the smallpox virus that glows green under fluorescent light, a standard way to screen for potential antiviral drugs, the New York Times reported Friday.

Smallpox was eradicated in 1980 by the United Nations agency based in Geneva. Since then, stocks of the variola virus that causes the disease have been kept frozen in Russian and U.S. labs.

Initially, the WHO intended to destroy those remaining stocks of smallpox virus, but member states delayed destroying the virus, demanding more research to find effective drugs, develop safer vaccines and improve diagnostic tests.

Last week the WHO's 20-member international advisory committee voted unanimously to allow insertion of the gene into variola virus at U.S. and Russian labs.

Copyright 2004 by United Press International.


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