By Sharon Begley NEW YORK (Reuters) – As U.S. lawmakers investigate the anthrax and bird flu breaches at a federal laboratory, they have begun to question whether outside oversight of research using dangerous microbes is as independent as federal agencies claim. They are scrutinizing the actions of the nation’s leading biomedical research institute, the National Institutes of Health, which in 2004 established a panel of independent advisors to make recommendations about research on pathogens that could be used as biological weapons. Some private sector biosafety experts say NIH has marginalized the board to prevent it from interfering in research that NIH funds. In the last two years, members of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) found their responsibilities reduced and their meetings canceled, and nearly a dozen were abruptly dismissed, according to seven current and former board members and a Reuters review of agency documents. A spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), NIH’s parent agency, said the changes reflected the agency’s assessment of what it needed from the board and dismissed the suggestion that NIH had marginalized the advisers.
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