- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 24, 2014

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - A University of Iowa researcher has resumed work on the deadly MERS virus under tighter oversight after being sanctioned for not following proper safety guidelines.

The university in February temporarily halted microbiology professor Stanley Perlman’s research after discovering his team started in September 2013 without approval of the school’s biosafety committee, the Des Moines Register reported Wednesday (http://dmreg.co/1vnvX2s ). The committee reviews research to ensure the safe, legal and ethical use of biological materials that pose potential risks.

MERS is short for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.

Perlman’s team conducted the research in a biosafety level-2 laboratory. Under guidance issued by National Institutes of Health in November 2013, the work should have been done in a more secure level-3 facility that includes more personal protective equipment and special ventilation that filters air to prevent contamination outside the laboratory.

The university reported those problems to the NIH in February, saying it concluded that Perlman didn’t effectively communicate to staff the importance of obtaining approval before initiating research and didn’t sufficiently review standard operating procedures.

The university said it would put Perlman and his subordinates under additional monitoring during a probationary period. They will meet monthly with a biosafety officer and others to discuss current and proposed research to ensure it is being conducted in accordance with the biosafety committee’s approval.

Jacqueline Corrigan-Curay, acting director of NIH Office of Biotechnology Activities, said in a Feb. 28 letter that the school’s response “appears appropriate” and that no further action was necessary.

Edward Hammond, a writer and researcher based in Austin, Texas, said he uncovered the letter through a Freedom of Information Act request to NIH. He said he was surprised that Perlman was able to import a bacterial artificial chromosome of the virus from a colleague in Spain without obtaining a federal permit and launch the work without university approval.

Perlman told the newspaper that he did not need a permit when he imported the chromosome. He described the incident as miscommunication and said he has been able to return to his project once he obtained approval.

“The most important thing from my point of view is that this particular incident is unfortunate, but it compromised absolutely nothing,” Perlman said. “We should have done it by the right process, but no safety was compromised.”

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Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com

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