A stunning presentation from Ilaria Capua on the necessity of releasing sequence information relating to avian flu. There’s lot’s ocoverage on the web – here’s one and a snippet:
After Capua took over, IZSVe became Italy’s reference lab for bird flu, testing samples from all over the country. In 2002, OIE asked Capua if IZSVe could serve as one of its global reference labs as well; FAO asked in 2004. As a result, the institute has received a steady stream of samples from H5N1-affected countries, primarily in the Middle East and Africa.
It was because she was at the hub of this research that Capua became aware of the lapse in data sharing. Her discomfort began in February, when WHO asked her to deposit the sequence of a sample from Nigeria, the first African country affected, in a closed-off compartment of a flu database at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, to which fewer than 20 labs have access. If she shared her sequence, WHO scientists said, she would have access to the rest of the hidden Los Alamos data.
“I’m very brave. I’m often ahead of others in thinking about important issues.” –Ilaria Capua
Capua refused and instead deposited her sequences in GenBank for the entire world to see. At the same time, in a message on ProMED, an e-mail list for emerging infectious diseases, she asked her colleagues to follow suit (her posting won ProMED’s annual award in August); she also asked Science to investigate (3 March, p. 1224).
WHO defended the closed database on the grounds that H5N1-affected countries often don’t want reference labs in the developed world to publish information about the strains circulating within their borders. But Giovanni Cattoli, the director of research and development in Capua’s lab, says that “is simply not our experience,” noting that of the 15 countries the Capua team has dealt with, 14 said sharing data was “fine.” As to scientists’ worries that they might be scooped if they post their sequences in real time, Capua says: “What is more important? Another paper for Ilaria Capua’s team or addressing a major health threat? Let’s get our priorities straight.”
Simply: establshed bureacratic processes had the key data locked up in dusty databases that no one was using. Iliara insisted that data should be available to all and “just did it”. A storm of outrage followed, but also growing support and now her approach and vision is accepted.
This set the scene for my presentation and put me in a polemic mood… more later.