NIH rejects plan to infect volunteers with Zika virus

A study involving infecting people with the Zika virus in an attempt to develop an effective vaccine has been deemed to have too many ethical concerns to be carried out as currently proposed, STAT news reported on its website recently.

The article indicates that “it is not uncommon for researchers to deliberately infect study participants with viruses in the course of vaccine research” in what are called “human challenge studies.” However, a federally appointed ethics panel found that the proposed Zika vaccine study posed too great a risk to people who hadn’t volunteered for the research, such as the sexual partners of people who might contract Zika.

The UAMS IRB office cannot, right off the top of its collective head, immediately think of a study done here that involved deliberately infecting people with anything. However, this article implies that this type of challenge study can, in fact, be carried out.

The ethics panel’s full report can be found here, and it includes information about the history of challenge studies (influenza, typhoid, and malaria, for example). Our web surfing also turned up some powerpoint slides of a talk given by panel director Seema Shah, JD, on the topic of challenge studies. Ms. Shah’s biography is available here.

What are your thoughts on the ethical concerns related to these challenge studies? Would you consider approving something like this here?