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5 December 2013 11:26 am ,
Vol. 342 ,
Dyslexia, a learning disability that hinders reading, hasn't been associated with deficits in vision, hearing, or...
Exotic, elusive, and dangerous, snakes have fascinated humankind for millennia. They can be hard to find, yet their...
Researchers have sequenced and analyzed the first two snake genomes, which represent two evolutionary extremes. The...
Snake venoms are remarkably complex mixtures that can stun or kill prey within minutes. But more and more researchers...
At age 30, Dutch biologist Freek Vonk has built up a respectable career as a snake scientist. But in his home country,...
Since arriving on the island of Guam in the 1940s, the brown tree snake ( Boiga irregularis ) has extirpated native...
An animal rights group known as the Nonhuman Rights Project filed lawsuits in three New York courts this week in an...
Researchers have been hot on the trail of the elusive Denisovans, a type of ancient human known only by their DNA and...
- 5 December 2013 11:26 am , Vol. 342 , #6163
- About Us
- Tuesday, May 26, 2009 - 2:15pm
After a week of playing coy, President Barack Obama finally announced his choice to lead NASA on 23 May. He picked two space flight advocates—former astronaut Charles Bolden and Washington lobbyist Lori Garver—to take the jobs of administrator and deputy administrator for the space agency. If Bolden can overcome concerns about his lobbying work for rocket companies and win Senate confirmation, he will have his work cut out for him.
An expensive new launcher is now in the works to replace the space shuttle, due to retire next year, but its projected costs are rapidly rising. Meanwhile, the new Administration wants to spend more money on Earth observation at a time when the overall science program is suffering from delays and overruns. Yet Obama has proposed a boost for next year to NASA’s $18 billion budget—but decreases for the following 2 years.
The situation is so urgent that the White House last month appointed a 90-day blue ribbon panel led by former aerospace manager Norm Augustine to come up with options for the future human space flight effort, which now is focused on a return to the moon by 2020. Given that the overall agency budget is unlikely to increase substantially in coming years, the outcome will have a profound effect on science as well. “NASA is facing a crisis that many of us knew would come,” says Charles Kennel, a former NASA advisory council chair and director emeritus of Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, California. Kennel says that the rush to get the new launcher in operation by 2015 already has caused a slowdown in science funding.
- Tuesday, May 26, 2009 - 1:04pm
The biomedical research community was buzzing Friday with a rumor that the White House would nominate geneticist Francis Collins that afternoon to head the National Institutes of Health. That did not happen, but Bloomberg later ran a story saying that according to "a source familiar with the selection process," Collins is the leading contender and that vetting "is in the final stages." For months, Collins has been rumored to be on the top candidate to head NIH (see here and here). Sources suggest that the announcement will be made this week.Continue Reading
- Friday, May 22, 2009 - 10:28pm
Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), today announced the decision to spend $1 billion of existing funds on what a press release gingerly called “steps necessary to prepare for potential commercial-scale production of a candidate vaccine for the novel Influenza A (H1N1).”
The press release says HHS will spend the money on vaccine ingredients needed for commercial-scale production and for the early clinical tests needed to determine how much of this and how much of that to put into the final product. Specifically, influenza vaccines contain the hemagglutinin protein that studs the surface of the virus, the so-called antigen that stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies. In countries outside of the United States, vaccine makers add a booster, or adjuvant, to increase potency, which increases the amount of final product they can make from a given amount of antigen—or reduces the number of doses ultimately needed to trigger a robust antibody response. Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) currently does not license the use of any influenza vaccines that contain adjuvants, it has approved adjuvant-containing vaccines against many other diseases. (FDA does not license adjuvants, per se, but considers them as an integral ingredient of final products that use them.)
HHS spokesperson Bill Hall told ScienceInsider that the money will purchase 20 million doses of vaccine, the amount needed to protect “critical infrastructure personnel and vulnerable populations.” But the $1 billion only covers the cost of bulk ingredients, not a final product that is properly formulated, put into vials, and approved by FDA. And Hall stressed that there has been “no decision” about whether to go into full-scale production to make enough vaccine for the entire country's 304 million people.
Hall said three companies will receive two-thirdsContinue Reading
- Friday, May 22, 2009 - 10:18pm
Responding to mounting confusion, the World Health Organization (WHO) has sent the definition of a full-scale, phase 6 influenza “pandemic” to the rewrite desk. But no formal revisions have been made yet, leaving the old definition in place, and that says a phase 6 alert should be triggered if two regions of the world have sustained community spread in humans of an animal or animal-human hybrid of a flu virus.
On 29 April, WHO raised the pandemic threat level from 4 to 5, citing sustained community transmission in the U.S. and Mexico. At the same time, WHO said phase 6 was “imminent” and would be declared if the same type of spread appeared in a second region of the world. But at a press conference today, Keiji Fukuda, WHO's assistant director-general, said that representatives from several countries who attended the World Health Assembly in Geneva this week criticized the current phasing system, which relies solely on geographic spread without regard to severity of disease.
Fukuda said WHO agreed with the countries that the phase system needs to more accurately reflect the impact the virus is having on populations. Fukuda also said WHO might bump up the alert to phase 6 if the virus started to spread significantly in the Southern Hemisphere, including South America and Africa, even without causing severe disease.
To clarify this confusing potential revision of the definition of phase 6, ScienceInsider asked whether WHO would declare a pandemic right now if the virus were the much deadlier H5N1 that causes avian influenza. “Even if it were H5N1, we would still be looking for clear evidence of widespread community outbreaks going on in countries in multiple regions,” said Fukuda. “This is still a situation that we have not seen yet.”
Fukuda did not know when WHO would craftContinue Reading
- Friday, May 22, 2009 - 6:45pm
When Congress reauthorized the nation's main fishing law in 2006, it directed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to end overfishing by 2010. That's a tough goal, but one promising tool is a type of management called catch shares. Earlier this week, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco put her weight behind this approach.
With catch shares, individual fishers own rights to catch fish. They can trade or sell these rights, which makes fishing more efficient and provides a market-based incentive not to overfish. The system has been shown to lower the chance of a fish stock collapsing.
Speaking to a top committee of fishery management councils—the regional bodies that set fishing policies—in Boston on Tuesday, Lubchenco made her case:
Recent scientific analyses show us that fisheries managed with catch share programs perform better than fisheries managed with traditional tools. Even in the first years after implementation, catch share fisheries are stable, and even increase their productivity. The scientific evidence is compelling that catch shares can also help restore the health of ecosystems and get fisheries on a path to profitability and sustainability. These results, … these scientific analyses, … are why moving forward to implement more catch share programs is a high priority for me. I see catch shares as the best way for many fisheries to both meet the Magnuson mandates and have healthy, profitable fisheries that are sustainable.
Lubchenco noted that the agency's budget request for FY 2010 included $18.6 million to help the struggling New England groundfish fishery implement a catch-share program. She also announced a new task force that will figure out how the agency can make sure that councils consider this type of program when they update their management plans and how NOAA can provide technical support.Continue Reading
- Friday, May 22, 2009 - 6:04pm
The most detailed description yet of the origins of the novel H1N1 virus causing the swine flu outbreak appears today on ScienceExpress. The study, conducted by an international team of scientists working at breakneck speed, has good news about the prospects of making a vaccine against the virus and raises the intriguing possibility that a species other than pigs might have harbored a precursor to it.
The study analyzed 76 isolates of the new virus taken from people in Mexico and the United States. It involved a team of 59 researchers led by investigators from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. At a CDC press conference today, the team's lead scientific spokesperson during the swine flu outbreak, Anne Schuchat, called the study a “big breakthrough from global scientific collaboration.” (Schuchat, CDC’s interim deputy director for science and public health program, is not one of the co-authors.)
Much of the data in the study has come out previously, some in earlier papers about the parents of the virus that “reassorted” to make this new H1N1, some in the flood of genetic sequences put into public databases, and some in press interviews with public health agencies and academic investigators. “CDC has done a great job of getting information out as soon as it is available, and some of this paper is the peer review of that information,” acknowledged one of the lead authors, evolutionary biologist Derek Smith of the University of Cambridge in the U.K. But he points out that many of the finer details have not appeared before.
Virologist Robert Webster of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, one of the world’s leading influenza investigators, said the paper is “very, very useful” because itContinue Reading
- Friday, May 22, 2009 - 4:26pm
In a surprise move, the White House has nominated Paul Anastas to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) Office of Research and Development. ORD focuses on science that will help assess the risk of existing chemicals. But Anastas, 46, is a synthetic chemist and a founder of the field of green chemistry. The departure for ORD caught many by surprise. "I see this as pretty amazing," says Carol Henry, an adjunct researcher at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services in Washington, D.C.
Anastas, a professor at Yale University, isn't green at EPA or in Washington policy circles. After earning his Ph.D. in 1989, he worked at EPA's Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances (OPPT) for a decade, rising to head the Industrial Chemistry Branch. There his focus was on how to develop compounds in a way to make sure they would not be carcinogenic. After leaving EPA in 1999, he spent 5 years at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. He joined Yale in 2007.
In 1991, Anastas coined the term "green chemistry." It means different things to different people; check out the 12 principles in a 2002 article Anastas cowrote for Science. Generally, green chemistry refers to sustainability and the concept of designing and producing chemicals in a way that minimizes the potential for health or environmental hazards. (At EPA, the green chemistry program is in OPPT.)
So what might the nomination mean for EPA, if Anastas is confirmed by the Senate? Henry, who directed the American Chemistry Council's research portfolio, says that an injection of green chemistry could stimulate moreContinue ReadingPosted In:
- Friday, May 22, 2009 - 12:51pm
Italian space scientist Giovanni Bignami, who in 2008 was forced out as head of the Italian Space Agency (ASI), is running as a Democratic candidate in the European Union parliamentary elections to be held 6-7 June. Contesting from the country's northwest constituency, the largest of Italy's five electoral districts, Bignami hopes to win one of 72 seats available to Italian representatives. The body will comprise a total of 736 parliamentarians for the coming 5-year term.
Bignami's manifesto promises an improved status of research in Italy and greater leverage of the country's membership in the E.U. He wants to give young people better access to careers in research and raise spending on science, which currently stands at 0.9% of the country's GDP, one of Europe's lowest.
Bignami's party faces a tough fight against the right-wing establishment, led by Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi, which dominates the current flock of 78 Italian Euro-MPs. Bignami certainly has a bone to pick with Berlusconi's government, which removed him from the presidency of ASI last summer in a broader move to overhaul Italian research institutes.
Bignami is demanding clear objectives and assessment and transparency in the use of public funds. An endorsement on his campaign Web site from fellow Italian and physics Nobelist Carlo Rubbia says Bignami is "the right person to defend science, research, innovation, and the universities in Europe."Continue ReadingPosted In:
- Friday, May 22, 2009 - 6:40am
One criticism of Singapore's multibillion-dollar effort to build a biomedical empire is its reliance on high-profile foreign researchers lured to the city-state on short-term contracts. But at least two top hired guns who worked for a while in Singapore and then left—David and Birgit Lane—are returning to the island nation for keeps.
Lane, 56, who was knighted in his native United Kingdom for the discovery of the tumor suppressor gene p53, originally took a 2-year sabbatical from the University of Dundee to become executive director of Singapore's Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB) in 2004. He also chaired the Biomedical Research Council, which advises Singapore's Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) on life science research. His wife, Birgit, 58, a skin cancer researcher, also took leave from Dundee to head the Institute of Medical Biology (IMB). The couple stretched the 2-year leaves into 3 years and then returned to Dundee in 2007—only to discover that they like living in Singapore better. Starting 1 September, David will assume the post of "chief scientist and mentor" at A*STAR, while Birgit will resume her full-time role as IMB executive director. David Lane discussed the move and the Singaporean research scene with ScienceInsider from his lab in Singapore.
Q: When we met at your office in Singapore 2 years ago, you were just getting ready to go back to Dundee. Why come back to Singapore full-time?
D.L.: I really like it here. I had a lot of discussions with my wife as well and for the two of us, it's just very good. I wanted to have more of an opportunity to just be doing more bench science and less administrative work, and they've very happily arranged that for me here. It's a fantastic chance.
Q: Are you resigningContinue Reading
- Thursday, May 21, 2009 - 4:14pm
(Note: This story was revised at 9.30 pm U.S. EDT on 21 May to correct some inaccuracies.)
Scientific partnerships between countries don't always have to involve national governments; state governments can do it too. Take the example of California, U.S., and Victoria, Australia, which are pooling money to fund stem cell research.
At this week’s BIO 2009 Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, Victorian Innovation Minister Gavin Jennings announced four collaborative grants between Victorian and Californian teams. They are a subset of the 15 grants announced last week by the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) to expedite the translation of stem cell research into the clinic. The Victorian government is contributing U.S.$5 million for the four projects; California, as much as $24 million. The collaborations involve the Australian Stem Cell Centre (ASCC), Monash University, and the Florey Neuroscience Institutes. The grants augur well for the future of the embattled ASCC, which fielded three of the four grants. And there are other indications that ASCC is back on track: A new board and chairperson was announced on 8 May, and the federal government is due to make a decision on a new strategic plan for the center by June.
The CIRM funding increases the ties between Californian and Australian stem cell science. In the past 3 years, the state has lured two key members of the Victorian team that produced the world’s second human embryonic stem cell line. Martin Pera became director of the Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine at the University of Southern California, and Alan Trounson took on the presidency of CIRM itself.
Three of the four projects receiving CIRM money capitalize on Victoria’s expertise at finding markers for differentiated stem cells versus cells that still have tumor-forming potential. A fourth capitalizes on a novelContinue Reading
- Thursday, May 21, 2009 - 2:54pm
The feeding frenzy that began when scientists went after $10.4 billion in stimulus money at the National Institutes of Health seems to have given way to more normal grant-seeking behavior. NIH's latest stimulus competition for Grand Opportunities (GO) grants has attracted more than 2400 letters of intent, NIH acting Director Raynard Kington said today at a hearing of a Senate spending panel. He expects 2000 follow-up applications by the late May deadline.
That response is tiny compared with the 20,000 applications submitted for Challenge Grants, which 15,000 reviewers are now rushing to evaluate. GO grants are bigger—$1 million is the floor rather than the ceiling, as it is in Challenge awards—and it's not clear how many awards NIH will make. But the success rate will likely be considerably higher, up to 10%, rather than the dismal 2% that may be the case for the Challenge awards. Meanwhile, scientists who went an entirely different route and opted to expand an existing grant, known as a competitive revision, lucked out. NIH received about only 1600 applications, and according to this budget document will fund nearly 600 of them for a success rate well over 30%.
At today's hearing, the overarching concern of the chair, Senator Tom Harkin (D–IA), was the "cliff" edge NIH may soon face—that is, how the agency will support scientists after it spends the stimulus money, which the Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 says must be done by October 2010. "Maybe we might want to think about making an exception for NIH," said Harkin, suggesting 4 years might make more sense. Kington said NIH can spend the money "responsibly" in 2 years, but that "having more flexibility probably would be helpful."Continue Reading
- Thursday, May 21, 2009 - 10:46am
Last weekend, several media outlets reported that the White House was on the verge of nominating former astronaut Charles Bolden Jr. as the administrator of NASA. The only step along the way was supposed to be a meeting between the 62-year-old Bolden and President Barack Obama. The meeting did take place on Tuesday, but a nomination seems unlikely this week.
It's possible that Bolden's past as a lobbyist for ATK, a manufacturer of rocket boosters, and his connection until March 2008 to GenCorp, which provides propulsion systems for the space shuttle, is raising concerns about a possible conflict with Obama's ethics policy. The policy bars appointees from participating in matters involving former clients for 2 years from the appointment date. White House officials have not offered any statements about how the policy might impact Bolden's capability to make decisions as NASA head. There's also no indication on whether the Administration will seek a waiver to enable his appointment, as it has done with some previous appointments.
"We’re soon gonna have a new NASA administrator; I can’t disclose it to you because I’ve got to have some hoopla on the announcement back here on Earth,” Obama remarked yesterday during a congratulatory phone call to the space crew that made repairs to the Hubble Space Telescope earlier in the day.Continue ReadingPosted In:
- Wednesday, May 20, 2009 - 6:31pm
One of the most baffling features of the swine flu outbreak is that, unlike seasonal influenza, severe disease largely does not occur in the elderly. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) plans to release a detailed report that says some older people have antibodies that react to the novel H1N1 virus behind the swine flu outbreak.
CDC’s influenza chief, Nancy Cox, discussed this in an interview posted on ScienceInsider last week, but CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report later today or tomorrow will have a detailed account of the findings.
One reason why the elderly may have antibodies is from exposure to an older cousin of the swine flu strain. At a press conference today, CDC epidemiologist Daniel Jernigan noted that between the pandemics of 1918 and 1957, an H1N1 circulated in the United States that appears to have left some people with an antibody response that in test-tube studies “cross-reacts” with the new H1N1 virus. “That is not something that tells you about protection,” cautioned Jernigan. “We can infer from that to some degree that there is some level of protection, but we don’t have a good answer to that right now.”Continue Reading
- Wednesday, May 20, 2009 - 6:14pm
Despite recent news report to the contrary, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) assures ScienceInsider that efforts to make a vaccine against the virus causing the swine flu outbreak have not met unexpected delays.
Confusion about the vaccine timeline stems from a report from the World Health Organization (WHO) yesterday, which recounted a meeting held by a scientific working group that looked closely at the production issues. The advisory working group concluded that manufacturers would not be able to begin “large-scale production” of a vaccine against the novel H1N1 virus until mid-July. The report did not describe these as delays, but many media accounts did, noting that WHO’s Marie-Paule Kieny, director of WHO’s initiative for vaccine research, earlier predicted that production could begin 2 months earlier and suggested that a vaccine might be ready as early as September.
Tom Skinner, a spokesperson for CDC, assured ScienceInsider that everything is on track. “We’re hopeful we can have a vaccine ready by late fall; however, we know that the manufacturing process is complicated, and we need to be prepared in case we run into glitches with production of the vaccine,” says Skinner. The timing, of course, depends on the specific steps in the manufacturing process, and CDC and the WHO working group appear to have different estimates on some key points.
The vaccine process begins with the viral isolate being converted into “seed stock.” CDC has already sent five isolates to seven laboratories to make this starting material. A key property of seed stock is that it’s a weakened, or attenuated, version of the original virus, which makes for a safer production process and lowers the risk of an accidental release.
Skinner says CDC expects to have the seed stock in hand next week. According toContinue Reading
- Wednesday, May 20, 2009 - 3:34pm
Yesterday, California voters soundly defeated five ballot measures intended to help right the state's wobbly finances. The vote is a rebuke to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and state legislators, who in February cobbled together a mix of caps on state spending, extensions on temporary tax hikes, earmarks to offset cuts to education, and other measures in an attempt to close the state's projected $21 billion budget deficit. The outcome also portends more pain for the state's cash-strapped university system.
Even before the vote, the University of California (UC) had instituted some hiring and salary freezes and taken other steps to address the financial crisis. For the 2009–2010 academic year, UC cut freshman enrollment targets by 2300 students and raised student fees 9.3%. Now, more sacrifices appear to be in store. A revised budget scenario released by the governor's office last week predicted a net $322 million, or 10%, reduction in the university's budget if the ballot measures failed. In a statement, UC President Mark Yudof said the university would be forced to look at "a wide variety of unpleasant options" including still higher fees, larger classes, and pay cuts or furloughs for staff. The California State University system and community colleges will also face harsh cuts.Continue ReadingPosted In:
- Wednesday, May 20, 2009 - 2:58pm
The National Institutes of Health, a bastion of basic research, is making a foray into developing drugs. NIH leaders today announced a $120 million, 5-year plan to set up a drug development service center at the agency. The center's chemists and toxicologists will modify promising compounds until they're ready to be tested in people. The focus will be on rare and neglected diseases.
"This initiative really is new," said acting NIH Director Raynard Kington in a press conference today. NIH has "never tried to directly develop medications for rare and neglected diseases"—or done much drug development, period. The Therapeutics for Rare and Neglected Diseases (TRND) program builds on NIH's $100-million-a-year Molecular Libraries Program, a small-molecule screening program that some say is replicating work by drug companies. But NIH officials say they will target diseases that industry is ignoring. "It is not TRND's intention to compete with pharmaceutical and biotech companies," said Stephen Groft, director of the NIH Office of Rare Diseases Research.
The program will have space somewhere near NIH’s main campus in Bethesda, Maryland, and will be staffed with scientists recruited from industry. They will take potential drugs discovered at NIH and at universities and tweak their chemistry so the compounds work well in humans without causing toxic side effects—a slow, hard process. Then either NIH or a company will apply to the Food and Drug Administration to test the compounds in clinical trials. NIH could profit from licensing the drugs, but "that's not our goal," said Alan Guttmacher, acting director of the National Human Genome Research Institute. NHGRI will oversee the center, which will get its $24-million-a-year budget from each of NIH's 27 institutes and centers.
One challenge will be choosing the diseases. NIH says there are 6800 rare diseases and others that are consideredContinue Reading
- Wednesday, May 20, 2009 - 11:26am
Nineteen professional societies and labor organizations launched a national campaign today to protect the white-collar work force against political interference. The coalition, called Professionals for the Public Interest, held a press conference this morning to unveil a Web site and promote an essay contest intended to highlight egregious examples of such interference—and how they were thwarted.
The group was formed 2 years ago amid concerns that the Bush Administration was compromising professional job standards and distorting the results of research carried out by employees or outside advisory panels. The group also hopes to protect those who try to blow the whistle on illegal or unethical behavior within the federal government, including science agencies such as NSF and NIH. "The ability to do the job right matters to professionals—and to everyone they serve," says Paul Almeida, president of the Department for Professional Employees within the AFL-CIO. The 19 organizations include the American Chemical Society, IEEE-USA, and AAAS (which publishes ScienceInsider).Continue ReadingPosted In:
- Tuesday, May 19, 2009 - 4:22pm
Mexico’s Ministry of Health regularly posts informative, detailed graphs of its outbreak that have received little prime-time exposure. Even if you don’t read Spanish, you can glean loads of tidbits from the charts. On 15 May, for example, a graph that shows the accumulation of confirmed cases by date of the onset of symptoms indicates that cases peaked on April 26. The curves suggest that the outbreak there has waned, as Mexican health officials there have asserted (though there may be detection bias because of factors like processing older samples first). Note, too, that the graph has 34 cases that were symptomatic before 1 April, the date of a much ballyhooed “patient zero” from La Gloria, Veracruz. Other charts show the breakdown of confirmed cases by age, gender, and states, as well as the frequency of specific symptoms.
Image Credit: Ministry of Health, Mexico
- Tuesday, May 19, 2009 - 4:04pm
Effect Measure, a spirited and popular blog written by anonymous public health scientists/practitioners, has an entertaining riff about the confusion over whether to call the swine flu outbreak a pandemic. “The argument boils down to this,” write the Effect Measure’s editors, who call themselves the Reveres (after Paul Revere, a member of the first U.S. board of health). “We shouldn't call a pandemic a pandemic, because people might misunderstand that this means it's a pandemic.”Continue Reading
- Tuesday, May 19, 2009 - 1:57pm
Add 2 months to the timetable for producing a vaccine against the virus causing the swine flu outbreak, says an advisory group to the World Health Organization (WHO).
It may be mid-July before manufacturers have the appropriate “seed stock” to start making the vaccine against the new A (H1N1), according to a report posted online today from a WHO working group on vaccines that met via teleconference on 14 May. The report says a crude form of the seed stock likely will be ready by the end of the month, but 1 to 2 weeks of testing in animals will be required. Manufacturers typically need 1 to 2 months more to find the fastest growing strains that will produce the most surface proteins from the virus, which are the main ingredients in a vaccine. The group warned that moving too quickly “could result in starting vaccine production with strains of lower growth potential,” as happened with a strain of H5N1, the bird flu virus. “Using a poorly growing A (H1N1) virus could reduce global supplies of A (H1N1) vaccine,” the group warned.
On 1 May, Marie-Paule Kieny, director of WHO’s initiative for vaccine research, predicted that the seed stock would be ready “by mid- or end of May.” Kieny, who spoke at a press conference, said, “The reality is that from the time the potentially pandemic virus is identified, it takes between 4 to 6 months to have the first doses of vaccine coming out of the factory and be available for immunizing people.”
The working group report does not address when a final product likely will exist but estimated that 4.9 billion doses “could be produced over a 12-month period after the initiation of full-scale production.” The group noted that this would require using “the most dose-sparing formulations,” whichContinue Reading
- Tuesday, May 19, 2009 - 12:15pm
Austria will remain a member of CERN. Yesterday, Austrian chancellor Werner Faymann overruled his science minister, Johannes Hahn, and said that Austria would not pull out of the European particle physics center near Geneva at the end of 2010, as Hahn had asserted on 7 May. Faymann said he didn't want to damage Austria's reputation as a reliable partner in international collaborations, but there appear to be other factors involved in the U-turn.
The government of Lower Austria is understood to have kicked up a fuss because CERN scientists are helping it build a particle-beam cancer therapy center called MedAustron. Lower Austria officials were concerned that a severing of ties with CERN would delay the project. The announced withdrawal also prompted a public debate about the value of such fundamental research. Austria's scientific community rallied very rapidly, and an online petition garnered more than 32,000 signatures within days.
The governing coalition's internal politics may have played a role as well, as Faymann is a Social Democrat and Hahn a Conservative. A few weeks ago, some high school reforms proposed by the Social Democrat education minister were quashed after a public outcry, and Hahn's shaming may have an element of scores being settled.
Whatever the internal squabbles, Hahn was widely criticized for failing to consult first with the scientific community, CERN, or the Austrian chancellor. "It was not very well handled," says Christian Fabjan, director of the Institute for High Energy Physics in the Austrian Academy of Sciences. "There were very many arguments against withdrawal, and very few for it."Continue Reading
- Tuesday, May 19, 2009 - 6:08am
Today's Independent, among others, has a nice account of a contentious academic debate among the United Kingdom's geographers, which has culminated in a vote by Royal Geographical Society members to not support large-scale scientific expeditions.
Michael McCarthy writes:
More than 300 fellows and members of the Royal Geographical Society crowded into a lecture theatre at the society's elegant Kensington headquarters, to argue over a controversial call for the RGS to resume the big scientific expeditions for which it was once a byword, and which have now been abandoned.
But after a passionate two-hour debate behind closed doors, which involved some of Britain's leading explorers, including the Arctic adventurer Pen Hadow and the pioneer of rainforest studies Robin Hanbury-Tenison, the motion was defeated.
The argument had been seen as a fight for the soul of the RGS, between those who felt that large-scale exploration should still be its true purpose, and those who felt that times had changed, and it should now be an essentially academic institution.
More than 4000 of the society's 10,000-plus members cast a ballot, and the motion to restore major expeditions was defeated 61.3% to 38.7%.Continue ReadingPosted In:
- Monday, May 18, 2009 - 3:13pm
The phasing system for pandemic influenza needs fixing, representatives of several countries told Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization (WHO), at the World Health Assembly meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, today.
On 29 April, WHO announced a phase 5 alert about the swine flu outbreak, one level short of a full-scale pandemic. But the alert has yet to move to phase 6 because WHO says no country outside of North America has experienced spread of the new H1N1 virus in a community. Critics have noted that this phasing system does not take into account the severity of the disease, and that the definitions of “community spread” are not clear. At a “high-level consultation,” representatives from member countries said they wanted a more “nuanced” system, WHO spokesperson Thomas Abraham told ScienceInsider, that took severity of disease and other factors into account.
Although Slyvie Briand of WHO’s influenza program said at a 13 May press conference that a “severity index” for flu "is not very helpful," a committee there has been looking carefully at the possibility of creating one for the past year, says Abraham.
As of this morning Geneva time, WHO said 39 countries had reported 8480 confirmed cases of swine flu. The United States now has 5123 confirmed cases, more than 200 of which have been hospitalized. Anne Schuchat, interim deputy director for science and public health at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a press conference this morning that the virus is still spreading rapidly in the country. “The H1N1 is not going away, despite what you may have heard,” she said.Continue Reading
- Monday, May 18, 2009 - 3:10pm
Former astronaut Charles Bolden is expected to be named the next administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as early as today, according to press reports over the weekend. A veteran of four space shuttle missions in the 1980s and '90s, Bolden retired as a major general in the Marine Corps in 2004. He has since worked as a lobbyist for the aerospace community. If nominated and confirmed, Bolden will be the first African American to lead NASA. He is scheduled to meet with President Barack Obama for an interview today. Stay tuned.Continue Reading
- Monday, May 18, 2009 - 8:58am
The number of confirmed influenza A (H1N1) cases in Japan exploded over the weekend, going from an officially reported four—all in returning vacationers—on 16 May to 129 as of 18 May. The 125 new cases are all among high-school students in Osaka and Kobe, two neighboring cities in western Japan. None of these cases has yet been linked to a returning traveler. Japanese media, citing their own surveys of local health offices, are reporting 135 confirmed cases as of late afternoon on 18 May. Despite the surge, the World Health Organization (WHO) hasn’t yet raised its pandemic alert level to indicate that a global pandemic is under way. "What we're seeing now is not the trigger for phase 6," says Peter Cordingley, spokesperson for WHO's Western Pacific Regional Office in Manila.
The spread of a novel H1N1 in North America led WHO on 29 April to raise its pandemic alert to phase 5, which indicates human-to-human spread in at least two countries in one WHO region. Phase 6, the highest level, is characterized by such community-level outbreaks in two WHO regions. Cordingley says that although the agency is aware of reports of additional cases in Japan—WHO expects the official numbers to rise—"the bulk of the cases are associated with schools, and we don't see evidence of sustained transmission in local communities."
Others think that this line has already been crossed. "Without sustained community transmission, you cannot have 100 cases," says Hitoshi Oshitani, a public health specialist at Tohoku University in Sendai.
Spain and the United Kingdom also report more than 100 cases of the new H1N1, but they accumulated more slowly than did the cases in Japan. Although the new Japan cases are concentrated among high schoolers, Oshitani says, reports are surfacing of infections among family members of the studentsContinue Reading