Sun Won't Shine on Biosafety Documents at U. of Texas Medical Branch

The Chronicle of Higher Education
October 24, 2003

The University of Texas Medical Branch will not have to turn over documents from its Institutional Biosafety Committee to the Sunshine Project, a watchdog group that monitors the proliferation of biological weapons.

This month the state's attorney general, Greg Abbott, rejected the group's public-information request to review the documents.

The Galveston institution recently won a $110-million National Institutes of Health grant to build a highly secure biocontainment laboratory to study the world's deadliest microbes. In denying the Sunshine Project's initial request, the university argued that Texas law prohibits it from sharing information about medical committees. Mr. Abbott's office agreed with the university's interpretation of the law.

However, Texas law appears to contradict federal guidelines from the National Institutes of Health for recombinant-DNA research. They require colleges to release the minutes of their institutional biosafety committee meetings and other documents to the public upon request.

"The University of Texas has fought for and won its right to be secretive, but the cost will be stigmatizing," says Edward Hammond, the group's director. "It will erode public confidence in the safety and security of biodefense research in Texas and across the country."

The Sunshine Project has requested that the NIH investigate the matter.
Section: Government & Politics
Volume 50, Issue 9, Page A22

Copyright © 2003 by The Chronicle of Higher Education