How do you study a disease that no longer exists?
That's the challenge facing researchers who want to develop new ways to treat and prevent smallpox, the devastating scourge that was eradicated from nature more than 20 years ago.
While there have been no new cases of the disease since the late 1970s, isolates of variola, the smallpox virus, are stored in laboratories in Russia and at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta. With so many infectious diseases continuing to claim lives around the world, few people envisioned the need to continue devoting much attention to smallpox—at least until experts investigating potential bioterrorist threats learned that the virus may already be in the hands of countries or groups that would consider wielding it as a biological weapon.
Stephenson J. Researchers Launch a Web-Based Resource for Smallpox Research. JAMA. 2001;285(7):872-873. doi:10.1001/jama.285.7.872-JMN0221-2-1