The U.S. has funded research at a virology lab in Wuhan, China, the city suspected of being the epicenter of the covid-19 pandemic, according to confidential documents released by the National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Leading infectious diseases expert Dr. Antony Fauci is on record denying that the U.S. funded controversial gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV). Gain-of-function research deliberately makes viruses more dangerous to help prepare better for responses to outbreaks that might occur naturally.
The 900-pages of documents, released from the NIH and obtained by The Intercept digital news outlet following a freedom of information lawsuit, showed that the U.S. funded research on several types of controversial coronaviruses at China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology.
The research, with a budget of $120,000 to $150,000 a year, was deployed to understand the risk of a novel bat virus infecting humans in China as had previously happened in the SARS outbreak of 2002.
“It would have been irresponsible of us if we did not investigate the bat viruses and the serology to see who might have been infected in China,“ said Dr. Fauci, who leads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) — the institute responsible for the grant.
Part of the research included exploring whether newly discovered bat viruses had the potential to infect people.
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Contrary to Dr. Fauci’s denial, the released documents showed that the research done at the Wuhan lab, including that funded by the U.S., experimented on the creation of novel viruses.
“The viruses they constructed were tested for their ability to infect mice that were engineered to display human-type receptors on their cell,” said Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University. Ebright also said the documents make it clear that two different types of novel coronaviruses were able to infect humanized mice.
When the first grant ended in 2019, a second grant “Understanding Risk of Zoonotic Virus Emergence in Emerging Infectious Disease Hotspots of Southeast Asia,” was awarded in August 2020 and it extends through 2025.
The first reported covid-19 case in China is thought to be Nov. 17, 2019.
The proposal seems prescient. It focuses on scaling up and deploying resources in Asia in case of an outbreak of an “emergent infectious disease (EID)” and refers to Asia as “this hottest of the EID hotspots.”
None of the bat viruses handled at the Wuhan institute, including those collected as part of a U.S. financed project, were genetically close enough to have been modified to become the pandemic virus known as Sars-CoV-2, according to the NIH scientists.
Investigation into this claim is still ongoing. The World Health Organization (WHO), a number of scientists and President Joe Biden requested a deeper investigation into the origins of the pandemic. On Aug. 27, Biden announced that an intelligence inquiry was inconclusive.
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Many scientists were worried before the pandemic that there were dangers in carrying out this research.
“Fieldwork involves the highest risk of exposure to SARS or other CoVs, while working in caves with high bat density overhead and the potential for fecal dust to be inhaled”, according to the grant proposal.
In the grant proposal, EcoHealth Alliance points out that they know how risky this work is. They detailed researchers getting bitten and kept records of everyone who got bitten.
EcoHealth Alliance President Peter Daszak led the research to screen thousands of bat samples for novel coronaviruses, according to the documents. The research also involved screening people who work with live animals.
Several critical details are contained in the research including the experiments done with humanized mice that were conducted at a biosafety Level 3 lab at Wuhan University Center for Animal Experiment, and not at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, as was previously assumed.
Biosafety Level 3 or BSL-3 labs are used to study infectious agents or toxins that may be transmitted through the air and cause potentially lethal infections, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service. Researchers perform all experiments in a biosafety cabinet. BSL-3 laboratories are designed to be easily decontaminated.
This raises additional questions about the theory that the pandemic began in a lab accident.