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Vol. 343 ,
- 6 March 2014 1:04 pm , Vol. 343 , #6175
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- Thursday, December 11, 2008 - 12:50pm
Steve Chu could be a groundbreaking energy secretary for the energy research efforts of President-elect Barack Obama's Administration in several ways. It's not just that Chu will be the first life-long scientist— and a Nobel prize-winning physicist at that—to run a department which spends more than $15 billion a year on physical science research, including weapons work. (Previous energy secretaries have usually been political allies of the president, which Chu isn't; a Naval Admiral and a power industry official have previously held the post.) But his selection, and new clues from Obama's transition team, could signal some big changes in the way that the United States conducts science to tackle the energy challenge.
First there's the big picture for the Department of Energy, a sprawling, $23 billion per year agency that manages twenty national laboratories and roughly a dozen nuclear waste cleanup projects. DOE spends roughly $9 billion to maintain the U.S. nuclear arsenal, roughly $10 billion on the waste sites, about only $4 billion on applied energy research, and close to $5 billion on basic physical science. Congress has historically preferred that lopsided balance. But recent fights between appropriators on Capitol Hill and a veto-threat-wielding White House over the budget (such as this skirmish) have prevented the agency from steadily doubling that basic research component—something both sides want to do. Money is tight, but Obama won't be threatening a veto over spending bills and moreover, he has promised to double the budget. So that, along with the appointment of a Nobel prize-winning physicist to run DOE, means the agency will probably do more and more science, including applied research as well as fundamental physics. Chu was one of the authors of a highly influential report from the U.S. National Academies on theContinue Reading
- Thursday, December 11, 2008 - 12:14pm
A new $500 million nuclear physics facility will be built at Michigan State University in East Lansing, the U.S. Department of Energy announced today. Known as the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, the straight-shot linear accelerator will pump out beams of fleeting radioactive nuclei for studies in nuclear physics that could help unravel the origins of scores of elements and give physicists a much deeper understanding of how atoms work.
Michigan State's success ends a David-versus-Goliath competition that pitted a team from the university's plucky National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory against one from Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois. Michigan State's lab is funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation with 300 employees and a $20 million annual budget. Argonne is a giant multipurpose facility with a staff of 2800 and a $530 million budget. Some observers thought that Argonne's greater resources and DOE connections would play into its favor.
Stay tuned for analysis.Continue Reading
- Wednesday, December 10, 2008 - 5:59pm
CNN, MSNBC and the AP are reporting that Steve Chu will be named president elect Obama's Secretary of Energy. If this story is true -- and the transition team is neither denying or confirming it -- it would be huge news for US physical science. Chu is a Nobel Prize winning physicist who has made Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California an international powerhouse in applied energy research and has lectured around the world on the need for aggressive basic energy research to reverse global warming. He also would be the first person who's been a scientist his whole career to lead the Department of Energy, which funds the majority of US physical science research.Continue Reading
- Wednesday, December 10, 2008 - 5:11pm
Should academics who work on dangerous pathogens be required to undergo periodic psychological evaluations to ensure that they are not mentally imbalanced as U.S. Army researcher Bruce Ivins appears to have been? Currently, they're not. But the question was clearly on the table today at a meeting of the National Scientific Advisory Board on Biosecurity.
Over the last two years, the board has been discussing what federal agencies, institutions, and scientists must do in order to prevent the accidental or deliberate misuse of life sciences research. In the wake of Ivins' implication in the 2001 anthrax letter attacks, NSABB is now looking into ways to minimize the threat of an academic scientist with access to deadly pathogens carrying out a criminal or terrorist attack. Although federal rules already require institutions and individuals who do research on select agents to undergo a security check, the case of Ivins, who committed suicide on 29 July, has raised concerns about whether current procedures are good enough.
The board has yet to come up with any recommendations on the matter, but adding mental health evaluations to the screening process is a possibility. One NSABB member told Science that the board could decide not to recommend any new requirements in the end.Continue Reading
- Wednesday, December 10, 2008 - 4:21pm
The tug of war over the best way to ensure the safety of nanotechnology is nearly over. The Bush Administration has lost ground. Its longtime critics in the U.S. Congress, academia, and nongovernmental organizations have gained ground.
The two sides have fought to a standoff for years over the strategy the federal government should take to ensure that the environmental, health, and safety (EHS) risks of nanotechnology are adequately addressed. Administration officials have long maintained that the agencies funding the research—such as the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—are best qualified to set their own research priorities to ensure nanotech safety. Critics, meanwhile, have argued that this leads to a duplication of efforts and gaps where no agency is willing to pick up the ball. What's needed, they argue, is an overall vision and plan for how to get there and to come up with the money to do so.
The House Science and Technology Committee passed a bill earlier this year reauthorizing the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), which coordinates federal agencies participating in nanotech research. Within the bill were add-ons that pushed much of the critics' agenda, including a proposal to appoint an EHS czar. But the Administration pushed back on the czar, among other things, and with the economic chaos this fall, the bill never made it through.
Last year, the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office, which oversees day-to-day operations of NNI, asked the U.S. National Research Council (NRC) for an independent review of NNI's EHS strategic plan. This morning, NRC came down squarely in the critics' camp. In its report, the NRC committee concludes that NNI's plan suffers from serious weaknesses and represents essentially an ad hoc collection of research priorities from the 25 federal agencies that make upContinue Reading
- Wednesday, December 10, 2008 - 3:45pm
President-elect Barack Obama will reportedly name Nancy Sutley as head of White House Council on Environmental Quality, the top environmental post in the White House. Sutley is deputy mayor for energy and environment in Los Angeles and has served on the California State Water Resources Control Board. She was a top adviser in the Environmental Protection Agency during the Clinton Administration.Continue Reading
- Wednesday, December 10, 2008 - 1:29pm
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has quietly dropped plans to halt the use of certain long-term antibiotics in animals that end up on our dinner plates. Many public health officials have long worried about the overuse of antibiotics in people and animals, which can promote drug resistance, now a major problem in many hospitals. Antibiotics in cattle, pigs, and other animals killed for food have been particularly controversial. On the one hand, they can protect animals from certain infections and promote growth. On the other, for at least 20 years, researchers have known that humans who develop infections, such as salmonella, after eating meat from animals fed copious amount of antibiotics are less likely to respond to related drugs.
In July, FDA said it would push against use of cephalosporin antibiotics in animals. In late November, it reversed its decision days before the rule was scheduled to take effect. The FDA said in a notice in the Federal Register that it had received "many substantive comments" on its planned ban and was "taking this action so that it may fully consider these comments." An agency spokesperson says FDA could later implement the ban.Continue Reading
- Wednesday, December 10, 2008 - 12:43pm
The U.S. government lacks an effective plan for ensuring the safety of nanotechnology, a new report concludes today. The report, by the National Research Council, finds that the current plan for coordinating federal research on environmental, health, and safety risks of nanotechnology represents more of an ad hoc collection of research priorities from the 25 federal agencies that make up the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative.
“The current plan catalogs nano-risk research across several federal agencies, but it does not present an overarching research strategy needed to gain public acceptance and realize the promise of nanotechnology," David Eaton of the University of Washington, Seattle, chair of the NRC committee that wrote the report, said in a statement.
More to come soon on the topic from ScienceInsider.Continue Reading
- Tuesday, December 9, 2008 - 3:54pm
A detailed series on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency running this week in The Philadelphia Inquirer includes new information about how the agency had initially decided to regulate carbon dioxide.
In December 2007, one of EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson's top deputies emailed the White House a long-awaited rule that spelled out EPA's rationale and approach for regulating CO2 emissions. But the White House refused to open the email and 6 months later the agency issued a much weaker rule that essentially took no action. What was in the draft? Aside from EPA officials, only a handful of U.S. Senators have seen the document. The Inquirer has this to report:
According to confidential records reviewed by The Inquirer, Johnson cited strong evidence: rises in sea level, extreme hot and cold days, ecosystem changes, melting glaciers, and more. Minor doubts about long-term effects, he wrote, were not enough to alter his conclusion.
Two sentences in Johnson's draft stood out. In sum: The U.S. emits more greenhouse gases from cars than most countries do from all pollution sources. This fact is so compelling that it alone supports the administrator's finding.
The story cites four previous (and Republican) EPA chiefs who think Johnson, with science on his side, shouldn't have backed down. But Johnson does get glowing praise from James Connaughton, the top environmental adviser in the White House. "He was a shining star from the outset," Connaughton told The Inquirer. "He has done as we would have expected and hoped."Continue ReadingPosted In:
- Tuesday, December 9, 2008 - 11:03am
A long-shot attempt to block U.K. researchers from creating human-animal hybrid cells or embryos has ended quickly, with a judge dismissing a new lawsuit filed by the Christian Legal Centre and the Comment on Reproductive Ethics and ruling that the groups should pay £20,000 in court costs. The two parties had challenged the decision by the U.K's. Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to grant licenses for the interspecies work to several research teams. (A new law expanding the types of research regulated by HFEA was recently adopted.) In a statement, Stephen Minger of King's College London, who has one of the licenses, hailed the court decision:
It is gratifying that Justice Mrs. Dobbs recognized that the science behind the creation of hybrid embryos was always about creating unique cloned human cell lines that could accelerate the development of therapies for a number of important neurodegenerative conditions. We welcome her decision and would also like to thank our legal team who worked so hard to defend our science.Continue Reading
- Monday, December 8, 2008 - 2:13pm
Worried that the U.S. Congress will force its hand because of public concern, the National Institutes of Health is moving to change its rules on financial conflicts of interest for scientists who receive its grants. A new set of regulations could be ready in 6 months to 1 year, according to acting NIH director Raynard Kington at a meeting on Friday in Bethesda, Maryland. Last week, NIH submitted a draft list of questions to the White House on which it wants public input, which will help them shape the new rules:
--How to define whether a financial interest is "significant." Should the current definition, which exempts any financial conflict worth less than $10,000, get replaced with a more stringent limit or no lower limit at all?
--Whether NIH should strengthen its policing to make institutions comply by requiring independent confirmation of institutions' reports?
--Whether NIH should look for conflicts involving financial agreements between universities and companies
--Whether NIH should require investigators to disclose any and all of their financial interests
The last possibility prompted Christine Seidman, a professor of medicine and genetics at Harvard Medical School in Boston, to observe that new requirements could mean that the amount of paperwork required to disclose financial ties could "very quickly exceed the scientific content" of a grant application.
She spoke at a meeting of the NIH director's advisory committee, which was webcast and should soon appear archived online. The questions will be released soon for public comment, officials said.
Current regulations require NIH grantees to submit "significant" financial conflicts to their institution, which then must report the conflict to NIH and assure that it has been managed or eliminated. This year, NIH reviewed 20 cases of alleged failure to follow the rules. Six are still being investigated, but so far,Continue Reading
- Monday, December 8, 2008 - 2:10pm
Turns out it depends on which type of scientist you ask. As part of its upcoming examination of more than 2000 U.S. doctoral research programs, the National Research Council asked faculty members to weigh the relative importance, in percentages, of five types of diversity among faculty and student populations.
The NRC asked the scholars, which included academics in the humanities, to rank the importance of faculty and student diversity with respect to women and to underrepresented minorities--African-Americans, Hispanics, and native Americans/Pacific Islanders--as well as international students. The program assessment won't be out until mid-February, but study director Charlotte Kuh previewed the diversity component during a talk Friday at the annual meeting of the Council of Graduate Schools in Washington, D.C.
The results follow. Remember that the numbers add up to one within each scientific discipline:
* Those in the health sciences are far more concerned (0.38) than are those in any other discipline with the number of students belonging to underrepresented minorities. That discipline also tops the list with regard to faculty members belonging to underrepresented minorities (0.24). In contrast, those in the physical sciences put much less weight, 0.20 and 0.10, respectively, on those issues. Health scientists are least concerned (0.07) about the presence of international students.
* The number of female students is the top concern for those in the physical sciences (0.29), with the number of international students (0.21) their second biggest worry.
* The number of international students is three times more important to those in the physical sciences (0.21) than to those in the health sciences (0.7), and more than twice that for biology (0.9).
* The number of women faculty members is a bigger issue for biologists (0.23) than for those in any other discipline. But physical scientists are more worried than areContinue ReadingPosted In:
- Monday, December 8, 2008 - 7:28am
Move over, Detroit automakers. The United Kingdom’s biotech industry wants a spot among those queuing for government financial help during the global economic downturn. "All of us have concluded that this is the most serious, dire situation that the sector has ever been in. We are teetering on the edge of the abyss," Christopher Evans, founder of the medical sciences investment house Excalibur, told the Daily Telegraph last week. Evans and 21 other U.K. biotech leaders want their government to provide up to £500 million for two funds, one that would help small firms consolidate and one that would bankroll companies needing money to grow. According to the Financial Times, Evans says biotech companies would give up equity for the money, offering the promise that the U.K. government could earn the cash back down the road. The biotech leaders recently prepared a dossier on their proposal for government officials, although there's no word on whether they made the mistake of using a private jet to deliver the document.Continue ReadingPosted In:
- Sunday, December 7, 2008 - 9:59pm
President-Elect Obama today on Meet the Press, compelling hundreds of scientists to start editing their PowerPoints:
MR. BROKAW: Who are the kinds of artists that you would like to bring to the White House?
PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: Oh, well, you know, we have thought about this because part of what we want to do is to open up the White House and, and remind people this is, this is the people's house There is an incredible bully pulpit to be used when it comes to, for example, education. Yes, we're going to have an education policy. Yes, we're going to be putting more money into school construction. But, ultimately, we want to talk about parents reading to their kids. We want to invite kids from local schools into the White House. When it comes to science, elevating science once again, and having lectures in the White House where people are talking about traveling to the stars or breaking down atoms, inspiring our youth to get a sense of what discovery is all about. Thinking about the diversity of our culture and, and inviting jazz musicians and classical musicians and poetry readings in the White House so that, once again, we appreciate this incredible tapestry that's America. I--you know, that, I think, is, is going to be incredibly important, particularly because we're going through hard times. And, historically, what has always brought us through hard times is that national character, that sense of optimism, that willingness to look forward, that, that sense that better days are ahead. I think that our art and our culture, our science, you know, that's the essence of what makes America special, and, and we want to project that as much as possible in the White House.(Emphasis added.)
Physicist Herman White of Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois,Continue Reading
- Friday, December 5, 2008 - 4:41pm
Worried that Congress will force its hand because of public concern, the National Institutes of Health is moving to change its rules on financial conflicts of interests among scientists that receive its grants. A new set of regulations could be ready in six months to a year, according to acting NIH director Raynard Kington at a meeting on Friday at the institutes. Last week NIH submitted to the White House a draft list of questions on which NIH wants public input, which will help them shape the new rules:
-- How to define whether a financial interest is “significant.” Should the current definition, which exempts any financial conflict worth less than $10,000, stay in place?
-- Whether NIH should strengthen its work to make institutions comply. Would stronger policing lessen the likelihood of biased research?
-- Whether NIH should oversee institutional conflict, rather than just individual conflict. If so, how would NIH define institutional conflict of interest?
-- Whether NIH should require investigators to disclose any and all financial interests directly to it.
The last possibility prompted Christine Seidman, a professor of medicine and genetics at Harvard Medical School, to observe that new requirements could mean that the length of disclosures “very quickly exceed the scientific content.” Huh? Length? Paperwork? She spoke at a meeting of the NIH director's advisory committee, which was webcast (LINK please/archived?). The questions will be released soon for public comment, officials said.
Current regulations require NIH grantees to submit “significant” financial institutions to their institution, which then must report the conflict to the NIH and assure that it has been managed or eliminated. This year, the NIH reviewed 20 cases of alleged failure to follow the rules. Six are still being investigated, but so far,Continue Reading
- Friday, December 5, 2008 - 9:05am
That's among the questions a new high-powered group in Washington, D.C., will consider as it launches the first major nonpartisan effort to study how the government ought to use scientific information to make decisions. "We will be looking at what policymakers can do that is legitimate and what is beyond the pale," says David Goldston, an organizer for the 13-member panel. They'll meet for the first time next month and hope to release their one-and-only report in June.
Goldston says the group is not trying "to dissect what the Bush Administration has done right or wrong" in the consideration of scientific information for decision-making. Instead, it will examine federal advisory boards, conflict-of-interest policies, how different agencies consider scientific advice, and what role scientists should play in decisions by regulatory agencies such as the FDA or EPA.
So far, most of the work on the topic has been by journalists or the left-leaning nonprofit group Union of Concerned Scientists, whose reports have criticized the Bush Administration on issues including the editing of federal scientific reports and the pressure that government scientists may encounter as they seek to influence policy or speak to reporters about their findings. But this group includes former Bush Administration officials, former Science Committee chair Sherry Boehlert, former Science magazine editor-in-chief Don Kennedy, industrial officials, academics, and even, yes, the UCS, represented by its president, Kevin Knobloch.
Goldston, a former staff director for the House Science and Technology Committee, says the effort is sponsored by the Packard and Hewlett foundations as well as ExxonMobil and is run out of the Bipartisan Policy Center, a relatively new Washington group.
- Thursday, December 4, 2008 - 5:46pm
Amid growing concerns about hefty payments that some doctors receive from industry, The Cleveland Clinic plans to post this income in a public database, the New York Times reported yesterday. Now ABC News says the University of Wisconsin and Duke plan to do the same. These institutions appear to be responding to concerns that drug and device industry payments are biasing doctors' treatment decisions and perhaps research studies. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has been investigating the issue for the past few months and wants drug companies to report their payments to doctors in a national database.
- Thursday, December 4, 2008 - 5:35pm
Now it's coming from the horse's mouth. The Center for American Progress, headed by John Podesta, who is also running Barack Obama’s transition team, has spelled out on its Web site what it thinks the next president's stem cell policy ought to be. The piece calls on the new president to give the Department of Health and Human Services 90 days to come up with guidelines allowing federal funding for research on any "ethically derived" human embryonic stem cells and making clear that no federal money will go to violating the federal ban on harming embryos.
It's hard to imagine what else Obama would do. He's as unlikely to try to open up stem cell research to new firestorms of political controversy by calling for federal funding for research cloning (what some call harming embryos) as he is to try to retain the much-hated (at least by most stem cell scientists and Democrats) Bush policy. Obama’s choice for HHS secretary, by the way, is Tom Daschle, a close ally of the center who has appeared at a number of its events.Continue Reading
- Thursday, December 4, 2008 - 1:27pm
Grim-faced NASA officials went before the cameras today with bad news for Mars aficionados. Given a series of technical troubles, the agency will delay launch of the Mars Science Laboratory for nearly 2 years. Instead of sending the complex probe toward the Red Planet next fall, the spacecraft won't begin its journey until late in 2011. Though the problems may be ironed out soon, the relative orbital positions of Earth and Mars necessitates a 26-month delay.
That decision is also bad news for scientists working on other Mars and planetary science projects, since the delay will increase the mission's price tag another $400 million. That, warns NASA Science Chief Ed Weiler, will have an impact on other spacecraft. While he doesn't expect to have to cancel other projects, he warns delays are likely. But the alternative—putting the probe en route to Mars next fall—was not an option. "We're avoiding a mad dash to launch," he says. "Failure is not an option."
Weiler's predecessor Alan Stern, who recently blasted NASA management of the Laboratory mission in a letter to Science and an editorial in the New York Times, called the decision "disheartening" and "predictable almost a year ago." And, he adds, it likely will not mark an end to the overruns.
The delay coupled with the financial collapse around the world is forcing both the U.S. and Europe to combine their martian efforts to create a sturdier, long-term plan to explore the planet. Weiler says that European Space Agency officials yesterday agreed that future missions—including a 2016 launch—should be planned and executed together. So look for a cash-strapped Obama Administration to push for closer international ties in coming years.Continue ReadingPosted In:
- Thursday, December 4, 2008 - 11:48am
When President-elect Barack Obama introduced New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson yesterday as his nominee to be secretary of commerce, both men emphasized that getting Americans back to work would be job #1. But don't be surprised if Richardson, a former secretary of energy under Bill Clinton, also finds a way to strengthen the science agencies within his realm.
Despite its name, the Department of Commerce has a sizable research portfolio as the home of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as well as the National Institute of Standards and Technology. It also houses the U.S. Patent Office, the Census Bureau, and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. A former aide predicts that Richardson, an early casualty in the Democratic presidential primary, will push his staff for ideas to build up the department in ways that will also bolster science.
"He's always loved the idea of linking science to economic development," says the aide. "He's done it in New Mexico, and he did it at Energy." But don't look for Richardson, who at one point had hoped to be named secretary of state or even Obama's vice president, to come up with the plan himself. As his track record shows, he doesn't do details.Continue Reading
- Thursday, December 4, 2008 - 11:17am
Thanks to a temporary extension granted last week to his animal experiments license, Andreas Kreiter, a neuroscientist at the University of Bremen, can continue his primate research for now—at least when he’s not tied up explaining his work to journalists. Kreiter, who uses macaques to study the brain’s visual perception system, is caught up in a high-profile legal saga surrounding primate research in the German city of Bremen. Last year, the city-state's legislature passed a nonbinding resolution declaring a phase-out of all primate research, and apparently city authorities mean to follow through. Kreiter was informed in October that his application for an extension of his animal research license, due to expire on 30 November, had been rejected. However, the university has vowed to fight that decision in court, based on the German constitution's clause protecting "freedom of research." They have filed an initial complaint and have said they will appeal all the way to the country's top constitutional court if necessary.
In the meantime, Kreiter received a temporary order last week that extends his license until a Bremen court can decide whether to take the case. Without such an order, Kreiter worried that his macaques would be left in legal limbo. He can't care for them without a license, and most have had brain surgery that means they require special care and can't simply be given to a zoo or sanctuary. In the worst case, Kreiter says, he could be forced to euthanize them, even though German law prohibits euthanizing animals without an "important reason." It isn't clear, he says, if loss of a research license would qualify. For now, he says, he is relieved that he can continue work. An initial decision from the court is expected sometime early in 2009.Continue ReadingPosted In:
- Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - 4:42pm
Rockefeller University President Paul Nurse has joined the growing line of research institution heads who've been forced to deliver bad news to faculty and staff in the wake of the financial meltdown. Today, an email he wrote to university staff, obtained by ScienceInsider, described a 15% decline in the endowment since July. This will necessitate delays in planned renovations and possibly a reduction in administrative positions. But he said that for now there's no plan to put a brake on faculty recruitment:
We will not make any peremptory decisions, nor will we take actions that might impact negatively on Rockefeller research in the long term. However, it is clear that our expenditure needs to be contained, and then reduced, if we are to succeed in balancing the budget in the years after 2010. Briefly, the endowment, from which we receive roughly one third of our operational funding, lost around 15% of its value between July 1 and October 30.
Full letter after the jump.
From: Paul Nurse
Sent: Wednesday, December 03, 2008 at 3:15 PM
Subject: University Finances
The Rockefeller University and the World Financial Crisis
The financial turbulence of recent weeks shows no sign as yet of abating. It is now anticipated that volatility in the markets may continue for some time, and that the influence of the downturn in the nation’s finances will persist, possibly for a number of years. In common with other scientific research and educational institutions, Rockefeller cannot escape the effects of these dramatic developments.
We can, however, start to make contingency plans so as to prepare ourselves for the difficulties that might lie ahead. In response to this situation, Rockefeller’s administrators and trustees have begun a review of the economic assumptions and models that drive the budget planning process. TheContinue ReadingPosted In:
- Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - 3:14pm
Word has leaked out: The new $450 million federal lab to replace the aging Plum Island Animal Disease Center will be built in Manhattan, Kansas. The Associated Press broke the story this afternoon, citing a briefing that officials of the Department of Homeland Security gave to lawmakers late on Tuesday.
Kansas State University, which will manage the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility after it gets built in 2012, outcompeted bids by 28 other organizations. Five were short-listed last year. The new lab will do research on some of the world's deadliest animal diseases such as anthrax and African swine fever. Some environmentalists have opposed relocating the lab from Plum Island, off of Long Island, New York, onto the mainland because of safety concerns. DHS is expected to announce the decision later this week, after issuing an environmental impact statement about the site.Continue Reading
- Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - 3:11pm
Worried about quack treatments with stem cells? Take a look at the website of the International Society for Stem Cell Research. It posted a set of guidelines and tips today—just part of the growing number of guidelines intended to improve the quality of stem cell science.
The publications include an appendix directed at the general public: Patient Handbook on Stem Cell Therapies. ISSCR officials have pointed out in the past that they simply can't track all the questionable operators in the stem cell world. So instead, they're hoping to educate consumers on some principles to help judge claims. The eight page document warns, for example, that stem cell therapies are all unproven with the exception of some for blood disorders, and regeneration of skin and cornea. It also explains what should be in an informed consent form.
The main text concerns quality control for scientists. It contains general recommendations on animal testing and human trials to assist investigators seeking to develop treatments. Meanwhile, the U.S. National Academies has been regularly updating standards for research on human embryonic stem cells. Strictures originally designed to apply to pluripotent cells derived from human embryos, for example, now also cover pluripotent cells from other sources such as induced pluripotent stem cells.
More guidelines are in the offing: When President-elect Barack Obama rolls back the Bush Administration's restrictions on stem cell research, as he is widely expected to do in the early days of his Administration, the National Institutes of Health will be revamping guidelines that were put on ice at the end of the Clinton presidency.Continue Reading
- Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - 2:18pm
The National Institutes of Health has a new chief for its environmental health institute, which has been leaderless since David Schwartz left in February under a cloud of controversy. Federal toxicologist Linda Birnbaum will become director of the $730 million National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, in January.
Birnbaum is an expert on a controversial topic: dioxin and other hormone-like pollutants that may contribute to cancer and other human health problems. She has spent nearly 29 years in government, first at NIEHS and more recently at the Environmental Protection Agency's research lab near NIEHS. That resume has some researchers worried that Birnbaum might favor regulatory science over investigator-initiated research. Others, however, are encouraged by her strong record of research on biological mechanisms.
One big plus for Birnbaum in her new job: support from the environmental community, which, along with some lawmakers, attacked Schwartz, a pulmonologist, for emphasizing clinical research and proposing to sell off NIEHS's journal. In the end, Schwartz left over ethics concerns. With morale in the doldrums at NIEHS, some scientists there say whatever Birnbaum's shortcomings, they're glad to be moving on with a new leader.Continue ReadingPosted In: