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6 March 2014 1:04 pm ,
Vol. 343 ,
Magdalena Koziol, a former postdoc at Yale University, was the victim of scientific sabotage. Now, she is suing the...
Antiretroviral drugs can protect people from becoming infected by HIV. But so-called pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP...
Two studies show that eating a diet low in protein and high in carbohydrates is linked to a longer, healthier life, and...
Considered an icon of conservation science, researchers at World Wildlife Fund (WWF) headquarters in Washington, D.C.,...
The new atlas, which shows the distribution of important trace metals and other substances, is the first product of...
Early in April, the first of a fleet of environmental monitoring satellites will lift off from Europe's spaceport in...
Since 2000, U.S. government health research agencies have spent almost $1 billion on an effort to churn out thousands...
- 6 March 2014 1:04 pm , Vol. 343 , #6175
- About Us
- Friday, July 10, 2009 - 6:23pm
Ever since Canadian officials announced in May that pigs on an Alberta farm harbored the novel H1N1 virus causing the swine flu outbreak, scientists have struggled to explain its origins. Researchers had hoped a close look at virus isolates from the pigs would clarify matters, but new sequences posted on a public database yesterday had many unusual mutations that raised more puzzling questions.
Many mysteries remain about the origin of the pandemic in humans, and the Alberta pigs have received intense attention because they were the first swine found to harbor the virus. From the outset, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) dismissed the possibility that the pigs had spread the virus to humans, saying it was "highly probable” that the animals had become infected by a carpenter working on the farm who recently had returned from Mexico with a respiratory illness. But the carpenter, Adrian Blaak, told ScienceInsider on 24 June that he has tested negative for the virus on several tests, which Alberta health officials confirmed. Still, CFIA maintained that a human most likely infected the pigs, as that farm is isolated and does not introduce swine from other sources. (Pigs on a farm in Argentina recently tested positive for the virus, and officials there also suspect that it was human-to-swine transmission.)
On 14 May, CFIA sent GenBank, a public database, the sequence from one Alberta pig isolate. Evolutionary biologist Andrew Rambaut of the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom cofounded a wiki Web site about the evolution and origin of the new virus and noticed that it had an unusual number of mutations compared with human sequences. But with just one isolate, Rambaut had difficulty making sense of it. Then on 9 July, CFIA posted partial sequences from 10Continue Reading
- Friday, July 10, 2009 - 4:50pm
The Golden State is on the verge of going broke, and the 170,000 faculty and staff of the University of California (UC) are feeling the pinch. Today, UC President Mark Yudof released a furlough plan that would shave $184 million from the university's projected $813 million shortfall in state funding over the next 2 years. Last month, Yudof floated three proposals for salary cuts and/or furloughs. The cuts would have amounted to a roughly 8% reduction in pay across the board. Many UC researchers were particularly aggrieved because their salaries come from federal grants, medical center income, and other non-state sources. Cutting their salaries wouldn't save the university money, they argued; instead, it would deprive the university of revenue from overhead costs on federal grants and deprive the state of sorely needed tax revenue. Earlier this week, more than 300 UC scientists criticized the proposed cuts to UC in a letter to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and 25 legislators, arguing that UC risks losing its position as a premier public university and its ability to train the science and technology workforce needed to spur economic growth.
The new plan from Yudof appears to take some of researchers' concerns into consideration. It calls for furloughs (preferred by most staff over salary cuts) to be scaled according to pay grade—from 11 days, equivalent to a 4% cut, for those making less than $40,000 a year to 26 days, or a 10% cut for those making more than $240,000. Employees funded entirely from non-state sources would be exempt, as would employees at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, who are under contract with the U.S. Department of Energy. But faculty and staff who receive even a fraction of their salaries from state funds would be furloughed.
And the painContinue Reading
- Friday, July 10, 2009 - 12:57pm
A House of Representatives spending panel today approved a $942 million raise for the National Institutes of Health that would bring its 2010 budget to $31.3 billion. That 3.1% boost is roughly double what President Barack Obama had requested. According to Representative David Obey (D–WI), chair of the House Appropriations Committee, the new money would be spread equally across NIH's 27 institutes and centers. (Details of the spending bill are not yet available.)
The president's request included a 5% increase for cancer research across NIH, including a 3.6% boost for the National Cancer Institute. The labor, health and human services, education subcommittee "reject[ed] the Administration’s targeted funding approach and ensur[ed] that all institutes and centers receive funding to offset biomedical research inflation," Obey's press release says.
Biomedical research groups welcomed the panel's decision, the first step in a long budget process. "We've very happy. We're pleased to see that not only is it more than the president requested, but that he [Obey] has no intention to allocate money by specific disease," said Carrie Wolinetz, spokesperson for the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. FASEB has been told that the bill also rejects an extra $19 million for autism research that the president requested.Continue Reading
- Friday, July 10, 2009 - 11:53am
UPDATE: NIH posted a notice today saying that ongoing research on previously approved stem cell lines can continue.
BARCELONA, SPAIN—Science was the main topic of conversation here yesterday at the International Society for Stem Cell Research’s (ISSCR’s) annual meeting. But three other items distracted researchers. First, the weather—it poured rain all afternoon, marring planned tours of this beautiful city. Second, a Spanish leg of the Tour de France rolled into town late in the afternoon, and I must admit I sneaked out of the poster sessions for 20 minutes to see the riders zoom by. But the third issue dominating conversations here was politics. While American stem cell researchers were celebrating the final NIH stem cell guidelines, questions remain, particularly whether the National Institutes of Health will approve existing lines in time for use with stimulus funds. And in Europe, politics concerned the Italian scientists here as several of them are suing the government to force it to include human embryonic stem in its stem cell funding.
Regarding the new NIH guidelines, which took effect on Tuesday, 7 July, Kevin Eggan of Harvard University noted that he spent Tuesday night talking to Harvard lawyers about whether he needed to shut down experiments in his lab. While he has been working with federally-approved human ES lines, he notes that those lines could be considered illegal until they get vetted by the stem cell working group NIH plans to create. Indeed, if one looks closely at all the informed consent requirements, Eggan argues that all existing human ES lines will have to get waivers from the NIH working group to be studied with federal funding. “There are no human ES lines that currently meet NIH guidelines,” he says.
Eggan ultimately decided his group didn’t need to stop lab work,Continue Reading
- Friday, July 10, 2009 - 11:32am
23andme, the genetic testing company in Mountain View, California, has drafted a bill introduced into the California State Senate that would exempt it and similar companies from certain regulations and oversight. The bill comes after 23andMe was told last year that it needed to stop testing California residents because it wasn’t complying with state laws that govern gene testing labs.
The new bill would allow gene testing companies to operate without a state license. It is generating criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union and others who want to see more regulation of this booming business, which federal and state officials are still sorting out how to manage it.Continue Reading
- Friday, July 10, 2009 - 9:25am
President Barack Obama has nominated a prominent oceanographer to lead the U.S. Geological Survey. Marcia McNutt, a geophysicist and CEO of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in Moss Landing, California, would be the first woman to head the 130-year-old agency.
A professor at MIT before coming to MBARI in 1997, the 57-year-old McNutt spent 3 years working on earthquake prediction at USGS's Menlo Park office after earning her Ph.D. in 1978. A past president of the American Geophysical Union, McNutt also chaired a presidential panel on ocean exploration during the Clinton Administration. Her advocacy efforts over the years have linked her with two other prominent scientists in the Obama Administration, presidential science adviser John Holdren and NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, a former member of MBARI's board of trustees.
In an interview yesterday with the San Jose Mercury News, McNutt defended scientific openness and declared that "as long as the scientists stick to the facts of the science and don't try to dictate policy, they should be completely unfettered in being able to say what the science is."Continue Reading
- Thursday, July 9, 2009 - 5:06pm
WASHINGTON, D.C.—With NASA mired in budgetary woes, scientists this week gathered here at the National Academy of Sciences to begin planning the next decade’s missions to the solar system. The steering group for the next planetary science decadal survey—a prioritized list of recommended missions categorized by cost—heard how dire space science’s situation is at NASA. And they were reminded of the previous decadal survey’s spotty record estimating costs. But this new group—headed by Steven Squyres of Cornell University and Mars rover fame—is already looking to avoid any fiscal fiascos this time around.
At the meeting, which wrapped up yesterday, NASA Associate Administrator Edward Weiler warned that shrinkage of NASA’s planetary budget from $3 billion to $1.5 billion in the past 4 years means that “we no longer have a viable Mars program.” He added that the current budget “will not support a 2020 mission to Europa,” a proposal that recently won a head-to-head competition for the next major mission to the outer planets. Weiler then announced an unprecedented agreement with the European Space Agency to conduct a joint program of Mars missions. It would extend to a robotic trip to return samples from Mars in the 2020s, but that still wouldn’t bail out planetary science as a whole, he cautioned.
Weiler also reminded the committee how the cost of a major mission recommended in the 2003 planetary decadal survey—the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL)—had “almost doubled” from the survey’s initial estimate. That committee vaguely described MSL as a science mission to the surface of Mars that would also demonstrate new technology for sample return. It fell in the survey’s medium-cost category of less than $650 million. By the time NASA approved the mission, it had grown in mass, instrumentation, and ambition with an estimated cost of $1.6 billion and a launchContinue ReadingPosted In:
- Thursday, July 9, 2009 - 3:10pm
An expert panel convened by the Council on Foreign Relations has recommended increasing the number of foreign students and skilled workers allowed to enter the United States as part of a comprehensive reform of U.S. immigration policy. "It makes no sense to restrict the immigration of those skilled workers who are highly sought after by many countries, and who would bring the greatest economic benefits to the United States," states the report, issued yesterday, which asserts that the country "is badly mishandling its immigration policy, with serious consequences for its standing in the world."
The 115-page report by the 19-member panel covers all aspects of this controversial subject, including the need to strengthen border security and resolve the status of immigrants living in the country illegally. But it devotes considerable attention to the question of attracting and retaining skilled workers in the natural sciences and engineering. Currently, the annual number of visas awarded to skilled foreign workers is capped at 65,000. Another 20,000 H-1B visas can be given out each year to those who have earned advanced degrees from U.S. universities. In recent years the demand for H-1B visas has greatly exceeded the supply, with the number of requests from companies hitting the ceiling within days of the start of the new cycle on 1 April. This year, however, because of the recession, the number of applications is down sharply and stands at 45,000.
The report argues that the current quota can hinder innovation and make the United States less competitive in the global economy. It recommends that the quota be increased to an unspecified level and that the country allow a greater flow of skilled foreign workers to claim jobs in the United States. It says the current requirement that visa holders offer proof that they do notContinue ReadingPosted In:
- Thursday, July 9, 2009 - 2:03pm
Yesterday, Maria Leptin was appointed the new director of the European Molecular Biology Organization. EMBO is an honorary organization with more than 1300 members and a budget of €18 million. It administers a well-known fellowship program, sponsors meetings, and publishes four journals. Leptin, a developmental biologist at the Institute for Genetics at the University of Cologne in Germany, will take over from Hermann Bujard, who will step down at the end of the year. Leptin spoke with ScienceInsider earlier today. A transcript follows. (Leptin’s comments have been edited slightly for clarity.)
Q: What attracted you to the job?
M.L.: I’ve worked with EMBO for some time. It’s the only really European organization that looks after molecular biologists. … I just think what they’re doing is both good and important. It’s an organization with a really good spirit and with, I think, an important role.
Q: What is that role?
M.L.: EMBO is best known for its postdoctoral fellowship program, which has turned into more than a fellowship program. It has created a network of young molecular biologists. I think that’s good for European science. Everything EMBO does contributes to that—the workshops, the journals. [The organization] has an important role in creating a truly European network in this field.
Q: EMBO’s funding body, with delegates from the 27 member countries, just had its meeting. What is the budget outlook?
M.L.: This is not the greatest time, given the economic situation, to ask governments for money. Although if we look at what [U.S. President Barack] Obama is doing, I don’t see why Europe isn’t giving more money to science. I think we’re still hopeful that there won’t be any cuts but rather a small increase. The justification is obvious. [Science funding] is where innovation is going to come from.Continue Reading
- Wednesday, July 8, 2009 - 4:59pm
It's official: The White House intends to tap geneticist Francis Collins to lead the National Institutes of Health. President Barack Obama's announcement today ends months of speculation that Collins, leader of the international Human Genome Project, was about to be named to head the $30.6 billion agency. Collins has been rumored to be interested in the job since he stepped down as director of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) last summer.
The president has chosen a 15-year veteran of NIH, a skilled administrator and communicator who has many supporters in the scientific community. But he also has critics because of his support for "big biology" and his openness about his religious views. Despite reservations, scientific leaders are praising his selection. "Francis is one of the most accomplished scientists and scientific leaders of his generation. ...Having worked with him for many years I am sure that he will rise to the unique challenges of this job", Elias Zerhouni, who resigned as NIH director last fall, told Science recently. Former NIH Director Harold Varmus says, "He'll be a remarkably good director." The Association of American Medical Colleges declared that it is "very pleased."
Some observers had hoped for more fanfare, however. The White House made the announcement with President Obama away in Italy at the G-8 summit. In a press release, Obama said: "The National Institutes of Health stands as a model when it comes to science and research. My administration is committed to promoting scientific integrity and pioneering scientific research and I am confident that Dr. Francis Collins will lead the NIH to achieve these goals. Dr. Collins is one of the top scientists in the world, and his groundbreaking work has changed the very ways we consider our health and examine disease. I look forward to workingContinue Reading
- Wednesday, July 8, 2009 - 3:01pm
Congressional spending panels are taking nicks and cuts out of the 2010 budget request for the Department of Energy (DOE). So far, the department's bread and butter, lab-based research programs are doing well, while some of the initiatives and redirections that the Obama Administration has requested are receiving rougher treatment.
Meeting late into the night yesterday, the House of Representatives appropriations committee came within $13 million of the president's $4.94 billion request for the Office of Science. That's a $171 million increase over the regular 2009 appropriation for the office, which also received $1.6 billion this winter from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, known familiarly as the stimulus package. Research funding for the myriad basic and applied fields the office supports actually exceeds the president's request, however, since the committee cut $22 million from DOE's request for staffing the office.
This morning, the Senate spending panel that controls DOE's budget gave the science office $4.90 billion, or $29 million less than the House version and $42 million under the request. Although details of the Senate bill won't be released until after it is taken up by the full appropriations committee tomorrow, both the House and Senate appear very supportive of a decision by the Bush and Obama Administrations to seek a 10-year doubling of the office's budget.
House members are much less enthusiastic, however, about plans by Energy Secretary Steven Chu to fund eight large energy research centers, or hubs. They have given Chu only $35 million of the $280 million he requested for what he has dubbed "Bell Lablets." The committee's press release attributes the cut to "redundancy with existing initiatives and a lack of implementation details." It gives the same explanation for its decision to allocate $7.5 million rather than the $115 million requestedContinue Reading
- Wednesday, July 8, 2009 - 1:43pm
Biomedicine may have done well so far in the economic downturn, but the largest coalition of U.S. biomedical researchers is warning of dire consequences if the National Institutes of Health doesn't continue to get hefty raises.
NIH’s $10.4 billion windfall in stimulus funding runs out in 2011. Today, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) issued a report claiming that the number of competing grants—essentially new awards—will plunge about 40%, from 16,564 to 9850, if NIH's base budget stays at the $31 billion requested by President Barack Obama for 2010. That would put many scientists out of work, FASEB suggests. "We're going to slow progress; we're going to end careers; we're going to be terribly discouraging to young scientists," incoming FASEB President Mark Lively told reporters at a press breakfast this morning.
FASEB calculates that NIH needs a 10% raise in 2011 and 3% above inflation in subsequent years (or about 6% to 7%). That would bring its budget to a stimulus-era level of $36 billion in 2012. The landing could also be softened if investigators get more time to spend their stimulus money, which NIH can do to some degree by giving them 1-year, no-cost extensions, Lively said. Some lawmakers have also proposed stretching out NIH's timeline for disbursing the stimulus. FASEB's message will likely be well-received: Administration officials and key lawmakers have both said that they share the concerns about NIH's budget after the stimulus ends.
Lively also touched on the president's plan to double cancer research at NIH over 8 years, which FASEB opposes because it believes basic science should be supported "across the board." And he lamented the delay in naming a permanent NIH director who could make the case for more NIH funding before Congress.Continue Reading
- Tuesday, July 7, 2009 - 5:53pm
Back in 2007, drug giant Pfizer hired hotshot biotech entrepreneur Corey Goodman to reinvigorate research and get the pipeline flowing with potential blockbuster therapies. Goodman was to head a new Biotherapeutics and Bioinnovation Center to be built near the Mission Bay campus of the University of California, San Francisco, a growing center of biotech activity. The new center was supposed to bring the entrepreneurial spirit of biotech into the pharma fold. Now those plans appear to be falling apart.
In January, Pfizer announced a $68 billion deal to buy Wyeth Pharmaceuticals. In the ensuing executive shakeup, Goodman left. And today, the San Francisco Chronicle reports that Pfizer intends to back out of its lease on 105,000 square feet of lab space in an as yet unfinished building at Mission Bay. A Pfizer spokeswoman told the Chronicle that it makes more sense for Pfizer to forgo the move and maintain its Bay Area hub at Rinat Neuroscience, a South San Francisco company it acquired in 2006.Continue Reading
- Tuesday, July 7, 2009 - 5:37pm
Repeat after me: "Pandemic H1N1 2009." That's the new name three international agencies, including the World Health Organization, have picked to end the chronic confusion about what to call the influenza pandemic and the virus that causes it. But some scientists are only half-happy with the solution.
From the outset, health agencies and scientists have used a variety of monikers to describe the pathogen. "Mexican flu" and "swine flu" were considered controversial because they could stigmatize Mexicans or induce irrational fears of pigs or pork. So a plethora of alternatives has resulted. WHO has stuck with "influenza A(H1N1)," a term criticized by scientists as ambiguous because there's a seasonal A(H1N1) strain circulating as well. Others have called the pathogen anything from "swine-origin influenza virus" and "novel influenza H1N1" to "influenza A(H1N1)v," in which "v" stands for "variant."
Now, WHO, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) have chosen to use "pandemic (H1N1) 2009" for the disease. For example: "Hundreds of new cases of pandemic (H1N1) 2009 were reported." And: "pandemic (H1N1) 2009 virus" for the agent. In scientific papers, genome databases, et cetera, researchers can use the existing, complex naming scheme for individual viral isolates, but add a "v" to indicate that it's the pandemic strain, as in "A/California/7/2009(H1N1)v."
The new nomenclature was first reported yesterday on ProMED, an online outbreak reporting system, where it had arrived through a "personal communication" from someone within WHO, says ProMED Viral Diseases Moderator Craig Pringle. At a telephone press conference today, WHO flu chief Keiji Fukuda said the three agencies picked the new name after a virtual consultation with virus experts several weeks ago. They didn't issue an official statement to introduce the name, however; WHO simplyContinue Reading
- Tuesday, July 7, 2009 - 5:23pm
Scientists at the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic (ASCR) are fighting for their reputation and the future of their institutes. A budget proposal announced last week by the Czech Republic government would cut the Academy's funding by nearly 20% next year and almost 50% by 2012.
As the country tries to wade through a broader economic crisis, the Czech Republic plans only a flat research budget for the coming 3 years. Yet the government has proposed going forward with plans to boost funding for applied research--to the detriment of ASCR, which administers 54 basic research institutes and more than 3000 scientists. This year, ASCR's budget is 5.88 billion CZK ($319 million). The proposed budget gives the academy 4.61 billion CZK in 2010 and just 2.81 billion CZK in 2012. ASCR leaders say the cuts would force hundreds of layoffs and the closure of some institutes (ASCR's Web site blares "Academy in Distress").
The Academy budget reductions were recommended by the country's Research and Development Council (RDC), which advises the government on research policy. They are based in part on a new evaluation system that attempts to measure the output of the country's researchers. Academy scientists say that system is unfair and values publication quantity over quality--a handful of letters to the editor and review articles can count as much as a major monograph, for example. "An institute that produced 20 papers in Science and 20 more in Nature would be considered substandard by the current criteria," says Vaclav Horejsi, director of the academy's Institute of Molecular Genetics in Prague.
The academy has enjoyed significant budget increases in recent years, says Jaroslav Doležal, vice-chair of the RDC, who is also the national executive for Honeywell International in the Czech Republic. Doležal acknolwedges the council hoped toContinue Reading
- Tuesday, July 7, 2009 - 3:31pm
The Obama Administration should use the U.S. civil space program to help meet a broader array of national goals, says a report released today by the National Academies' National Research Council. The study also calls for the U.S. government to put a higher priority on environmental monitoring from space, urges NASA to create an advanced technology organization, and backs human space flight as a tool for enhancing "U.S. soft power leadership."
America's Future in Space: Aligning the Civil Space Program with National Needs appears just 24 hours before the confirmation hearing of Charles Bolden, the former astronaut that Barack Obama has nominated to lead NASA. But it does not delve into several near-term issues that senators are likely to raise with Bolden, such as cost overruns on satellite projects, retirement of the space shuttle, and an expensive new human launcher now in the works. Bolden may also face tough questions on conflict-of-interest issues, given the time he has spent as a consultant. But there's no indication that these worries could derail his confirmation.
The 15-member panel, led by Lester Lyles, a retired Air Force general who was on the short list of potential NASA chiefs, argues that the Administration must take a broader view so that "a disciplined space program can serve larger national imperatives." The report calls on the new president to reverse "the deterioration of the U.S. Earth observation infrastructure" and take the lead internationally in monitoring global climate. At the same time, it says NASA must revitalize its advanced technology program, which has suffered budget cuts in the past decade. The report recommends an organization modeled on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency within the Department of Defense.
The panel, whose members are predominantly university professors with long experience in government service, also goes to batContinue Reading
- Tuesday, July 7, 2009 - 11:08am
NEW DELHI—Joining a global trend, India is giving science a boost in the face of the worldwide economic downturn. On 6 July, the newly elected government headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh presented its first budget, which grants science agencies a roughly 12% increase over last year. The overall R&D budget is expected to be around $2.5 billion; the exact figure has not yet been tabulated.
A big winner is India's space program. The human space flight program will get $58 million in 2009, an 84% increase over last year, even as a proposal to launch two astronauts into a 400 kilometer low Earth orbit after 2017 awaits formal government approval. "I am happy with this continued support," says G. Madhavan Nair, chair of the Indian Space Research Organization in Bangalore.
Other highlights include higher education, which will receive a 26% increase in part to pay for the establishment of new elite Indian Institutes of Technology. Agencies that maintain databases of animal and plant diversity will get a one-time, $40 million grant for upgrading laboratories. Biomedical research and agricultural research did not find favor with the new government: Funding for these areas will remain at 2008 levels.
Indian scientists applaud the budget, noting that the global financial crisis could have given the government reason to scale back programs. "No complaints with the reasonable increases," says chemist Thirumalachari Ramasami, secretary of the Department of Science and Technology in New Delhi. The government, he says, has sent a message that "it values knowledge generation and innovation." Parliament is expected to approve the budget in the coming weeks.Continue ReadingPosted In:
- Tuesday, July 7, 2009 - 5:12am
BEIJING—The United States and Japan are not the only countries hoping that a massive windfall for science will help rescue their economies. In response to the global financial crisis, China is upping its R&D spending in 2009 to $25.7 billion, a hefty 25.6% increase over 2008, says Du Zhanyuan, vice minister of the Ministry of Science and Technology here. With this increase, China is rapidly closing the science funding gap with Japan, which this year has allotted $37.1 billion for R&D.
Much of China’s boost, revealed in an announcement at a trade fair last month that has received little publicity, will go to applied research. The government plans to spend $4.8 billion on 16 special S&T projects, including software development, infectious disease research, and a homegrown commercial airplane industry. Such funding levels for individual S&T projects are unprecedented, says Zhao Wang, director of the Institute of Natural Medicine at Tsinghua University in Beijing.
The new push complements an initiative unveiled in February by China’s State Council: a “key industrial adjustment and revive plan” to lend a helping hand to corporate R&D. Major initiatives include emissions reductions, semiconductor-based lighting, and energy-saving vehicles. Demonstration projects will be organized in 13 cities. China also plans to speed up development of high-tech clusters, such as the Zhongguancun Life Science Park in Beijing.
Some scientists are skeptical about the budget bonanza’s likely impact. China’s science spending “is just so much less than America,” says neuroscientist Guosong Liu of the School of Medicine at Tsinghua University. And it is skewed too far toward applied research, he says.Continue ReadingPosted In:
- Tuesday, July 7, 2009 - 4:56am
The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee in the U.K. Parliament has come out with a new report on genomic medicine. The report expresses concern about at-home direct-to-consumer genetic tests and calls upon the U.K. government to produce a new "white paper" looking at how personalized, genome-based medicine will affect the National Health Service.
The report also calls for improvements to the European Union's regulations on conducting clinical trials, a source of frustration to many researchers. According to a statement from Rory Collins, co-director of Oxford University's Clinical Trial Service Unit: "The EU Clinical Trials Directive is a serious obstacle to important medical research and, as a consequence, it is harming patients in the UK and elsewhere in Europe. I strongly endorse the recommendation that the Government should revise the UK implementation of the EU Clinical Trials Directive and should work closely with the European Commission to revise the Directive in order to make it less obstructive to research. In making these changes, as is also recommended by the Lords, it is essential that the Government involve researchers who have experience in conducting successful clinical trials that have improved the efficacy and safety of patient care."
Update: Here's a short video with Lord Patel, chair of the committee, discussing the report.
- Monday, July 6, 2009 - 5:08pm
Scientists expressed satisfaction with the final guidelines on research with human embryonic stem (ES) cells issued today by the National Institutes of Health.
The new rules, which set out criteria for determining which ES cell lines can be used in federally-funded experiments, give NIH discretion to approve old lines that don't meet stringent modern ethical requirements. And they call for NIH to set up a registry of eligible lines. The rules add up to "a major step in the right direction for stem cell research," says Harvard University stem cell researcher George Daley.
Like draft guidelines issued in April, the new rules limit federal funding to work on ES cells derived from surplus embryos donated by couples receiving fertility treatment. (Federal funds cannot be used to derive ES cells under a Congressional ban known as the Dickey-Wicker amendment.) The big question researchers had was whether the 21 lines approved for use under the Bush Administration, which are still used in many research labs, would qualify under detailed provisions for informed consent by embryo donors that are spelled out in the guidelines. The answer is there will be no automatic "grandfathering" in of the Bush lines. However, a working group will deal with them on a case-by-case basis, recommending that they be approved if they conform to the spirit if not the letter of the guidelines.
As acting NIH Director Raynard Kington explained at a press conference, there will be separate channels for determining whether a cell line is eligible depending on whether it was derived before or after 7 July, the effective date of the guidelines. For those derived on or after that date, there will a routine administrative review to see that they conform with informed consent requirements. If such lines are derivedContinue Reading
- Monday, July 6, 2009 - 3:53pm
A fight has broken out over who owns important pieces of RNA interference (RNAi) technology, a strategy to silence genes that could prove extremely lucrative as companies figure out how to apply it to human disease. Last week, the Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science, which supports research at Germany’s Max Planck institutes, and Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, an RNAi company in Cambridge, Massachusetts, sued three institutions alleging that they had “usurped” inventions that “rightfully belong to Max Planck,” according to the suit. The institutions being sued are the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, and the University of Massachusetts.
The lawsuit, filed in Suffolk County Superior Court in Massachusetts, is unusual because many scientists whose work formed the basis of the suit have allegiances to both sides. Two co-founders of Alnylam, Nobel Prize–winner Phil Sharp and David Bartel, are professors at MIT.
Several parties involved in the lawsuit, including Alnylam and Max Planck, declined to comment. But essentially, the lawsuit contends that some discoveries to which the three U.S. institutions have patent rights, which cover ways to silence genes with RNAi, rightfully belong to Max Planck. Alnylam has an exclusive license to the Max Planck patent; but not to the Whitehead, MIT, and University of Massachusetts patent; according to the lawsuit. Given that, Alnylam “stands to lose any and all competitive advantage in the marketplace that it otherwise would have,” the suit reads. Max Planck and Alnylam are pressing to prevent the U.S. institutions from taking any further action around their RNAi patent.
- Monday, July 6, 2009 - 12:16pm
Note: This item has been corrected to indicate that the draft rules were issued in April rather than March as previously reported.
The National Institutes of Health is holding a press conference at 1 p.m. EDT on its final guidelines for human embryonic stem cell research, but the rules quietly became public this morning. Draft rules issued in April after President Barack Obama lifted Bush-era restrictions set tough new informed consent criteria that many scientists feared would preclude the use of even the 21 stem cell lines approved by Bush in 2001. NIH will be establishing a stem cell registry so that individual institutions won't have the burden of determining whether a cell line is eligible for federal funding. Cell lines that predate the guidelines—and there are hundreds, in addition to the Bush lines—will be reviewed by an NIH advisory committee. Early reactions from scientists have been positive.Continue Reading
- Monday, July 6, 2009 - 10:54am
A survey of people working on HIV/AIDS in 71 countries under various guises of the United Nations found that 31% expect the global financial crisis will impact the ability to provide antiretroviral treatment. These 71 countries have 3.4 million people receiving anti-HIV drugs. The survey, conducted in March by the World Bank and UNAIDS, is the foundation of a new report,The Global Economic Crisis and HIV Prevention and Treatment Programmes: Vulnerabilities and Impact. Other questions addressed include the impact of the financial crisis on prevention and programs that target tuberculosis and HIV.Continue Reading
- Monday, July 6, 2009 - 10:50am
BEIJING—China has perhaps the strictest quarantine procedures in the world to limit the spread of the Influenza A H1N1 virus—as I found out firsthand today.
I’m the Asia editor for Science. My family and I have lived in Beijing for nearly 2 years. Earlier today, we arrived on a flight to Beijing’s capital airport from London, via Amsterdam. I had taken part in the World Conference of Science Journalists last week in London and my family and I had visited relatives in the United Kingdom.
In response to the pandemic, a medical team boards every international flight arriving in China and scans each passenger with an infrared thermometer. We disembarked, assuming everything was okay. But at a counter where passengers turn in medical declarations, we were pulled to the side and told that our younger son, Quinn, who is 6, had a slight fever and would be tested for the virus—a process that would take “1 hour or three.”
My wife was allowed to go home with our older son, while Quinn and I donned face masks and were escorted past gawking fellow passengers, out a backdoor and whisked by ambulance—the driver was dressed head-to-toe in a biosafety suit—to a downtown hospital. We entered a makeshift isolation ward outside the hospital and a nurse, clad in a surgical gown, face mask, and goggles, locked the door from the inside. It was a few minutes before 11 a.m. local time.
Quinn and I had our own room. A wall fan was whirring but the room did not have air conditioning and it was roasting. We were whomped from the overnight flight, and lounged lethargically on the beds. After an hour or so, a nurse came by and brought us a simple takeaway Chinese lunch. Soon after, a pediatrician came and swabbedContinue Reading