UF genetics institute director named to federal biosecurity panel

Kenneth I. Berns, M.D., Ph.D.

Kenneth I. Berns, M.D., Ph.D.

The director of the University of Florida Genetics Institute has been named to the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, a key federal panel that advises on matters of national security and public health.

Kenneth I. Berns, M.D., Ph.D., has accepted an invitation to serve on the board for a term ending June 14, 2012, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

As one of a group of advisers to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and National Institutes of Health Director Francis S. Collins, Berns will provide security oversight of what is termed “dual-use” research — legitimate biological research that could be misused to pose a biologic threat to public health or national security.

“Fundamentally it’s a question of evaluating whether life sciences research and technologies used to advance human, animal and plant health can also be used to threaten public health and safety,” said Berns, a former dean of the College of Medicine and Vice President for Health Affairs. “The government wanted to bring the scientific community and the public into the process, which is the reason for my involvement.”

The group recommends strategies for efficient oversight of federally conducted or supported dual-use research, taking into account national security concerns and needs of the research community. The challenge the board faces is to protect scientific discovery and creativity, while preventing the use of science for harm.

“It is a compliment to UF and its faculty to be asked to serve the nation on important commissions, boards, panels and committees,” said Win Phillips, UF’s vice president for research. “The Advisory Board for Biosecurity will make critical recommendations, and it is important to have highly qualified individuals such as Dr. Berns advising on such matters.”

In addition to Health and Human Services and NIH leaders, the board advises the heads of all federal departments and agencies that conduct or support life-science research. It is directed by Dr. Amy Patterson. Berns’ service on the biosecurity board will be in addition to his UF duties.

A member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, Berns has served on many scientific advisory committees, including the Genetic Biology Panel of the National Science Foundation, the Virology Study Section of the NIH, the Board of Scientific Counselors of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the Virology-Microbiology panel chair of the American Cancer Society, the Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee Chair of the NIH and the National Advisory Research Resources Council of the NIH. He has also served similar roles for the EPA, the U.S. Army and the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center.