Federation of American Scientists Case Studies in Dual Use Biological Research Module 5.0: Antibiotic Resistance Case Study
Topic: Discussion

Dr. Levy is the president of the Alliance for Prudent Use of Antibiotics, an organization committed to promoting the proper use of antibiotics and reducing antibiotic resistance. He is also involved in dual-use research awareness and is currently one of the 24 members on the NSABB. As a result of its July 2006 meeting, the NSABB has released a draft of guidance documents that contains criteria for identifying dual-use research of concern. The document recommends that careful consideration be given to seven types of experiments, including those that “confer to a biological agent or toxin, resistance to clinically… useful prophylactic or therapeutic interventions.

In the case of Dr. Levy’s research, there may be risks associated, but there are still benefits. The NSABB’s draft of guidance documents also contains an outline for a dual-use assessment framework. The first point in the ‘benefit analysis’ section of the framework asks “are there potential benefits to public health and safety from application or utilization of this information?” Since antibiotic resistant bacterial infections are increasing, but antibiotic drug discovery has slowed, research into the mar locus could pave the way for new treatments to be developed which would counter bacteria whose resistance is based on this mechanism. The frequency of spontaneous antibiotic resistant mutants showing increased MarA expression suggests that this is a common means for bacteria to become resistant and therefore a worthwhile therapeutic target.

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