Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) convened a first-of-its-kind Senate hearing on gain-of-function research Wednesday, during which expert witnesses contradicted Dr. Anthony Fauci’s public statements that the National Institutes of Health never funded gain-of-function research.
“The statements made on repeated occasions to the public, to the press and to policymakers by the NIAID director, Dr. Fauci, have been untruthful. I do not understand why those statements are being made because they are demonstrably false,” Rutgers University molecular biologist Dr. Richard Ebright testified in response to a question from Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.).
Ebright was one of three scientists who testified that gain-of-function research needs more oversight at a Homeland Security subcommittee that focuses on emerging threats and spending oversight. This controversial field of research studies how pathogens might be enhanced to cause new, potentially deadlier infectious diseases. Gain-of-function experiments involve taking a pathogen that was found in nature and altering it in a lab.
The purpose of such experiments is to study how diseases might become deadly to humans, so that vaccines and other preventive measures could be developed to control and prevent a pandemic. But critics like Ebright and others are greatly concerned that gain-of-function research can be abused to create new deadly viral diseases that may cause a global pandemic if they escape from a lab.
Paul has clashed with Fauci over the NIH’s apparent support for gain-of-function research in China several times in Senate hearings over the past two years. The Kentucky lawmaker has advocated for legislation tightening restrictions on the type of research the NIH may fund through grants and asserted that gain-of-function experiments at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China may have played a role in the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has repeatedly denied that his agency or any part of the NIH has provided federal funding for gain-of-function research at the Wuhan lab.
Paul said Ebright’s testimony about Fauci was “damning” in comments to the Daily Wire after the hearing.
“I was told directly to my face, and the quote is there from Dr. Fauci, they had never ever funded gain-of-function research in Wuhan. All three witnesses contradicted that,” Paul said. “I think that’s a big deal because the first hearing we have had where scientists who actually look at this information [and], as informed as he is, completely disagree with him and say that the research was gain-of-function and the NIH paid for it.”