NIH: No Documents Available on Removal of ‘Gain-of-Function’ Definition From Website

By Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber is a senior reporter for The Epoch Times based in Maryland. He covers U.S. and world news.
December 9, 2021Updated: December 9, 2021

No documents exist explaining why officials decided to remove the definition of “gain-of-function research” from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) website, the agency told The Epoch Times.

The NIH site used to include a 232-word definition of the research, but it was removed around the same time the agency disclosed that research it funded in China met the definition.

The alteration took place sometime between Oct. 19 and Oct. 21.

The Epoch Times submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for any communications and other documents from between Oct. 1 and Oct. 25 relating to the change, which had been authorized by the NIH Office of Communications and Public Liaison.

The request was closed this week. The NIH told The Epoch Times that it “does not have documentation” on the change other than the updated page.

The Department of Health and Human Services in 2017 published a document explaining how to deal with proposed research involving “enhanced potential pandemic pathogens,” or gain-of-function research. The document narrowed the definition to pathogens both highly transmissible and likely to cause significant sickness or death in humans.

The page in question “had described the general definition of gain-of-function research that fell outside the scope of the HHS P3CO Framework,” an NIH spokeswoman told The Epoch Times in an email in October.

“However, that information was being misused/used incorrectly (and still is) and creating confusion (and still is),” she said, triggering the change.

Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) asks questions during a hearing in Washington on May 14, 2020. (Greg Nash/Pool/Getty Images)

The NIH’s FOIA office sent a statement on the change that was nearly identical to the one from the spokeswoman.

Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.), the ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, told The Epoch Times via email that the changed definition “has only muddied the waters.”

“Part of understanding what happened in the Wuhan lab is understanding precisely what gain of function means, and NIH has not been helpful in this regard,” he wrote.

The documents released to lawmakers in October showed that the NIH funded, via the EcoHealth Alliance, research in China that included enhancing the pathogenicity of a modified bat coronavirus.

Experts told The Epoch Times that the research clearly fit the definition of gain-of-function.

Dr. Francis Collins, the head of the NIH, had said in a statement in May that his agency had never approved any grant “that would have supported ‘gain-of-function’ research on coronaviruses that would have increased their transmissibility or lethality for humans.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of Collins’s top subordinates, said under oath during a congressional hearing that “the NIH has not ever and does not now fund gain-of-function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”

After the October disclosure, Collins and Fauci appeared to admit the research met the general definition of gain-of-function, but argued it didn’t meet the definition laid out in the HHS framework that refers to research requiring special oversight.