Swords to Ploughshares and Back: The Continuing Threat of Immunomodulatory Research and Development

  • Joseph P. CornishEmail author
  • Reed F. Johnson


The immune system plays a vital role in many diseases. Motivated by the desire for better treatments, there are ongoing significant efforts aimed at controlling the immune system to improve human health. As the immune system is important in curing, preventing, or causing disease, technological or scientific advances in our understanding or control of the immune system have the potential for misuse. Indeed, the Soviet biological weapons program extensively exploited scientific understanding of the immune system in attempts to use immunomodulatory technologies to enhance or even create biological weapons. In spirit and in practice, today’s research and development are different: the intent and use have, thus far, been exclusively to improve human health. Beneath the well-intended spirit and practice is the reality that today’s research efforts are inalienably linked to the weapons of the past and potentially to those of the future. What benefit or harm can be derived from understanding and control of the immune system is in the eye of the beholder. This chapter explores the research and technologies currently underway, their actual or potential abuses, the broader scope of risks, and approaches to mitigate these risks.


Immunity Antibody evasion Dual use risks Virotherapy Immunomodulation 



This work was funded in part through the NIAID Division of Intramural Research. The content of this publication does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) or of the institutions and companies affiliated with the authors. Mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations do not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Emerging Viral Pathogens Section, Laboratory of Immunoregulation, Division of Intramural ResearchNational Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of HealthFrederickUSA

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