Rand Paul to lead first congressional hearing on gain-of-function research

On Aug. 3, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) will once again try to determine the origins of COVID-19. Paul, ranking member of the subcommittee on emerging threats and spending oversight, will lead the first congressional hearing on gain-of-function research. This is an important matter that many Democratic politicians have largely ignored given the significance of the COVID-19 pandemic. Paul’s office announced the hearing in a press release earlier this week.

“Gain-of-function research has historically been supported by tax dollars both domestically and internationally; as such, this hearing lies at the intersection of the subcommittee’s two primary jurisdictional responsibilities — monitoring emerging threats and conducting oversight of federal spending,” the press release states. “The dangers of this research are so acute that under President Barack Obama, the National Institutes of Health suspended funding for all gain-of-function projects until a risk assessment protocol could be developed for them. Gain-of-function research resumed in 2017, after a special committee review process was established to help manage these risks. However, serious questions remain about whether that protocol is sufficient to protect the U.S. and the world from the potential negative consequences of this research. Moreover, the debate over what gain-of-function research is and what it is not, is not settled.”

Gain-of-function research has been hotly debated. In previous hearings regarding the pandemic, Paul and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have had contentious exchanges. In May 2021, the two verbally sparred over whether the National Institutes of Health funded gain-of-function experiments at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Paul claimed that “superviruses” were created. Fauci denied this and said such reports were “entirely and completely incorrect.”

“The purpose of this hearing is to examine issues involving gain-of-function research, which attempts to enhance the severity and transmissibility of existing viruses that may infect humans or other mammals. Witnesses include Dr. Richard H. Ebright, Ph.D., Laboratory Director of Waksman Institute of Microbiology, Dr. Steven Quay, M.D., Ph.D., Chief Executive Officer at Atossa Therapeutics, Inc., and Dr. Kevin M. Esvelt, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Media Arts & Sciences of MIT Media Lab,” the press release says.

Much of the skepticism regarding NIH’s role in the COVID-19 pandemic stems from a letter sent to Congress by Lawrence A. Tabak, a top NIH official. Tabak claimed that Fauci authorized NIH to fund EcoHealth Alliance to research the relationship between humans and bat-specific pathogens. In the letter, Tabak claimed that NIH failed to report results that revealed an increase in viral growth.

“These medical and scientific professionals will inform and educate lawmakers and the public on the myriad issues involving the risky, virus-enhancing research that is funded by taxpayer money,” the press release says.

If proven true, it would be a black eye for NIH, Fauci, and federal government stewardship of taxpayer money.

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