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17 April 2014 12:48 pm ,
Vol. 344 ,
Officials last week revealed that the U.S. contribution to ITER could cost $3.9 billion by 2034—roughly four times the...
An experimental hepatitis B drug that looked safe in animal trials tragically killed five of 15 patients in 1993. Now,...
Using the two high-quality genomes that exist for Neandertals and Denisovans, researchers find clues to gene activity...
A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that humanity has done little to slow...
Astronomers have discovered an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of a red dwarf—a star cooler than the sun—500...
Three years ago, Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University proposed that a warming Arctic was altering the behavior of the...
- 17 April 2014 12:48 pm , Vol. 344 , #6181
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- Thursday, June 6, 2013 - 1:10pm
Under fire from researchers and ethicists, the U.S. government agency responsible for protecting patients involved in scientific studies is backing away from a decision to sanction the leaders of a clinical trial involving premature infants after finding that the researchers failed to disclose the trial's full risks. "We have put on hold all compliance actions," the U.S. Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP) announced in a 4 June letter to the University of Alabama, Birmingham (UAB), which led the trial. OHRP also says that it plans to hold a public meeting to discuss the controversy, with an eye toward clarifying the rules for providing informed consent.
OHRP's move came a day before The New England Journal of Medicine published two pieces urging OHRP to reconsider the sanctions and expressing support for the researchers who designed and carried out the trial. "[W]e respectfully disagree with the conclusions of the OHRP," wrote three senior officials from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which funded the study, including NIH Director Francis Collins. "Allowing the decision to stand would be unfair to the investigators and institutions involved," wrote a group of several dozen prominent bioethicists and pediatric researchers.
The controversy came to public light in early April, after the nonprofit group Public Citizen alerted reporters to a 7 March letter from OHRP to UAB. It concluded that the 23 institutions involved in the trial, known as SUPPORT, had failed to fully disclose its risks. The letter also asked UAB to prepare a "corrective action plan." The trial, which ran from 2005 to 2009, provided 1316 extremely premature infants with different oxygen concentrations to better understand how to prevent the blindness that sometimes accompanies the treatment. The trial's results, published in 2010Continue Reading
- Thursday, June 6, 2013 - 12:00pm
U.S. scientists and companies could soon find it easier to collaborate with international partners on projects involving potentially sensitive spacecraft technologies. The Obama administration has opened public comment on new rules designed to ease government controls on exporting space-related technologies, such as satellites, that could have military applications. Existing U.S. export controls have drawn criticism from scientists and space industry executives, who say that they have hampered collaboration with foreign colleagues and customers.
U.S. export controls have been "a real complication for cooperative space activities," says Jorge Vago, project scientist for the European Space Agency's (ESA's) ExoMars program. And if the new U.S. rules "reclassify spacecraft in such a way that all the singing and dancing that is required at present could be avoided, this would constitute a great step."
The new rules are designed to streamline the process of getting export permits. Now, the U.S. government closely regulates export of space-related technologies under rules known as the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), which are overseen by the U.S. Department of State. In 1999, responding to a controversy over the alleged theft of U.S. space technologies by China and other nations, Congress passed legislation that required all space-related technologies to be listed and tightly regulated as "munitions" under the ITAR framework, making the United States the only space power with such a policy. Lawmakers also barred the White House from exempting any technologies from the regulations.
In practice, the moves meant U.S. companies and researchers seeking a government permit to share technologies with foreign partners faced "a presumption of denial," says Scott Pace, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University (GWU) in Washington, D.C. "If you want to export something the answer is no unlessContinue Reading
- Wednesday, June 5, 2013 - 3:00pm
After getting the cold shoulder from the federal government for 17 years, U.S. scientists who study the public health impact of gun-related violence are finally getting a warm embrace. A report issued today by the National Research Council (NRC) and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) lays out a national strategy for firearms research that identifies more than a dozen possible topics.
The report comes 5 months after President Barack Obama announced an end to the ban on public health research on gun violence by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that had been in place since 1996. The White House also asked NRC and IOM to organize a blue ribbon committee of firearms experts, criminologists, and public health scientists, which was charged with surveying the existing literature and coming up with recommendations for future research.
One key need, it says, is simply more and better information on how many guns are in the United States and how often they cause death or injury. "The problem is there just aren't any data," committee Chair Alan Leshner told ScienceInsider in a telephone interview. (Leshner is CEO of AAAS, publisher of ScienceInsider.) "Others on the committee may not have been surprised, but I was."
The best available estimates put firearm-related deaths in the United States at more than 30,000 per year, with twice as many nonfatal injuries. That is the highest rate among industrialized nations. But details about the circumstances of the deaths and injuries, let alone their causes, are often lacking. And the number of guns across the country—both legally and illegally owned—is simply unknown. Political lobbying groups such as the National Rifle Association have vigorously fought to prevent such data from being collected by the federal government.
- Wednesday, June 5, 2013 - 1:20pm
Democrats and Republicans on the House of Representatives science committee agreed yesterday that the federal government needs to take a more coordinated approach to improving science education. But that's about the only aspect of the Obama administration's proposed reorganization of 226 programs at a dozen agencies that they liked.
The hearing was the first public vetting of a plan to reshuffle the government's current $3 billion investment in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education. The proposal, part of the president's 2014 budget request to Congress, would cut the total number of federal programs by half and concentrate resources at three agencies—the Department of Education for elementary and secondary school programs, the National Science Foundation (NSF) for undergraduate and graduate programs, and the Smithsonian Institution for informal and public science activities.
Legislators pressed the administration's witnesses on how programs were selected for the chopping block, whether the lead agencies were capable of taking on new responsibilities, and if the outside community was part of the process. By and large, they weren't happy with the answers from presidential science adviser John Holdren, who was joined by NSF's Joan Ferrini-Mundy, and NASA's Leland Melvin, co-chairs of an interagency STEM committee staffed by Holdren's Office of Science and Technology Policy. Last week, that committee issued a long-delayed strategic plan for federal STEM education that lays out long-term goals to measure success in each of the four priority areas.
Unlike most hearings at which the Republican-led House examines an initiative from the Democratic White House, the legislators' comments and questions were refreshingly nonpartisan. Unfortunately for the administration, however, that comity resulted in a steady stream of skepticism flowing from both sides of the aisle. Members were particularly worried about the fate of informal scienceContinue Reading
- Tuesday, June 4, 2013 - 2:35pm
A group of scientific publishers today announced a plan for allowing the public to read taxpayer-funded research papers for free by linking to journals' own websites. The publishers say that this will eliminate the need for federal agencies to archive the papers themselves to comply with a new government directive. Details are sketchy, however, and it's not yet clear whether the plan will accomplish everything that the government wants from agencies.
The plan is a response to a February memo from White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Director John Holdren that asks federal science agencies to come up with a plan by 22 August for making peer-reviewed papers that they fund freely available within 12 months. The memo would essentially extend a National Institutes of Health (NIH) policy that requires its grantees to submit copies of their papers to NIH's full-text PubMed Central (PMC) archive for posting after a delay of up to a year to protect journal subscriptions. Many publishers dislike PMC, however, because they say it is duplicative, infringes on copyright, and diverts readers from their own journal websites. So they have proposed an alternative that would offer a way to let the public see full-text articles without creating more PubMed Centrals.
Organized in part by the Association of American Publishers (AAP), which represents many commercial and nonprofit journals, the group calls its project the Clearinghouse for the Open Research of the United States (CHORUS). In a fact sheet that AAP gave to reporters, the publishers describe CHORUS as a "framework" that would "provide a full solution for agencies to comply with the OSTP memo."
As a starting point, the publishers have begun to index papers by the federal grant numbers that supported the work. ThatContinue Reading
- Tuesday, June 4, 2013 - 11:15am
Three months after Congress approved mandatory across-the-board 5% budget cuts due to sequestration, the National Institutes of Health today described in grim detail how it is absorbing the loss of $1.55 billion. "NIH must apply the cut evenly across all programs, projects, and activities (PPAs), which are primarily NIH institutes and centers. This means every area of medical research will be affected," a fact sheet states.
It lists several figures, some of which were described earlier in agency budget documents and notices. The agency will make around 700 fewer grants; it will freeze training stipends; and it expects to admit 750 fewer patients the NIH clinical center. About one in six grant proposals will be funded, or 17%. Already awarded, ongoing grants will be cut by an average of -4.7%.
Intramural research must absorb the 5% cut in less than 6 months, a "substantial" impact, the fact sheet says. However, NIH does not expect to furlough employees but will find savings by freezing hiring and reducing service contracts.
As ScienceInsider previously reported, exactly how these cuts will affect labs will unfold over months and may be difficult to disentangle from the effects of over 10 years of flat NIH budgets.Continue Reading
- Friday, May 31, 2013 - 3:35pm
It sets the course only for European physicists, but an updated strategy for European particle physics released yesterday hints at a possible global strategy for the whole field.
Presented in Brussels, the updated plan builds on an original strategy formulated in 2006. Predictably, its first priority is full exploitation of the world's biggest atom smasher, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the European particle physics laboratory, CERN, near Geneva, Switzerland. The LHC started taking data in 2010 and last year coughed up the long-sought Higgs boson, the particle that's key to physicists' explanation of how other fundamental particle get their mass.
More significantly, the updated strategy explicitly states for the first time that Europe is willing to join in other megaprojects, even if they're built in North America or Asia. "We are offering the other regions that Europe is willing to participate once they have a clear plan," says Rolf-Dieter Heuer, director-general of CERN and a member of the European Strategy Group, the panel that produced the update.
That statement could have outsized implications. Although there are smaller experiments, particle physicists' plans currently center on three mammoth projects. The first is the LHC, which researchers plan to run until 2030 in hopes of discovering other new particles. Second, for more than a decade, physicists have hoped to build a 30-kilometer-long straight-shot International Linear Collider (ILC) that would study in detail in its clean electron-positron collisions the new particles the LHC would unearth in its messy proton-proton collisions. Third, physicists aspire to build a far-bigger version of current experiments in which they shoot a beam of elusive particles called neutrinos through Earth to a gargantuan underground detector hundreds of kilometers away to study how the three types of neutrinos morph into each other.Continue Reading
- Friday, May 31, 2013 - 11:45am
Researchers are about to take a big step toward better understanding a tiny air pollutant. A U.N. expert panel earlier this month agreed on a technical road map that will guide the first multinational effort to create a standardized emissions inventory of black carbon, a kind of microscopic soot particle. Scientists say that black carbon emissions play an important but poorly understood role in both global climate change and air pollution.
"The increased emphasis on complete reporting across the countries … is clearly an important step forward," says atmospheric scientist Chris Dore, chair of the U.N. task force, which helps implement the 1979 Geneva Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution. Fifty-one nations, including the United States and members of the European Union, abide by the convention.
The move reflects growing concern about black carbon particles, which are produced by burning an array of fuels, including oil, wood, crop residues, and even garbage. Health researchers consider airborne soot particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers a major health threat, causing lung disease and premature death. And climate scientists say that black carbon is a key player in global warming because it can absorb solar radiation and accelerate ice melting.
Efforts to calculate black carbon's full impact, however, suffer from incomplete emissions data. A January study in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, for instance, concluded that existing climate models underestimate black carbon's climate-changing contribution by up to a factor of three as a result of data gaps in key regions. Existing inventories, such as those created by measuring emissions from smokestacks and tailpipes, contain large uncertainties, says atmospheric physicist Philip Stier of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. In part, that's because they are often designed to show only that a nationContinue Reading
- Thursday, May 30, 2013 - 5:30pm
BARCELONA, SPAIN—Ten top European life sciences institutes have launched a new alliance to help themselves become more competitive and have a strong, unified voice in European science policy. The new group, EU-Life, had its kickoff here yesterday at the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG) in Barcelona, one of its members. "All of us together, we can really try to make something powerful," says CRG Director Luis Serrano, who co-founded the new alliance.
Serrano says that the idea for EU-Life came to him about 3 years ago when he realized that, to be able to compete, Europe needs to attract postdocs from large emerging countries like India and China. To do so, it's important to highlight that "in Europe, there are institutes which are comparable in quality and success to the best American institutes," Serrano tells ScienceInsider.
Another motivation has been frustration that policymakers are taking the wrong measures to make Europe competitive, says Jo Bury, another EU-Life co-founder and managing director of the Flemish Institute for Biotechnology (VIB) in Ghent, Belgium. For instance, the European Commission's new funding program, Horizon 2020, forces researchers to build huge multinational networks in which each gets "bits and pieces," Bury says. Instead, Europe should massively increase the budget of the European Research Council, which selects researchers based solely on excellence, he says.
Although European universities have had a clear voice in the debates about Horizon 2020—for instance through the League of European Research Universities—Bury and Serrano felt that individual institutes remained silent. "By creating this critical mass, we become more visible to politicians," Bury says.
EU-Life's members, besides CRG and VIB, are the French Curie Institute; the Netherlands Cancer Institute; the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in Germany; the European Institute of Oncology,Continue Reading
- Thursday, May 30, 2013 - 4:55pm
France's government hopes that science can help shore up the country's lackluster economy. On Tuesday, the National Assembly approved a new law that aims to simplify the national landscape for research and higher education and make it more efficient, better able to address societal and economic challenges, and more competitive at the European level. The bill, which comes hand in hand with a new strategic plan for France's research priorities, also gives the government a greater role in coordinating research. The bill and the road map have been sharply criticized by various groups of researchers and university professors.
The French government is rolling out its new policies after an extensive, 4-month national consultation on research and higher education that ended in November. It presents the plans as a break from the government of Nicolas Sarkozy because it gives the state a more active role in defining priorities. French Higher Education and Research Minister Geneviève Fioraso described the road map, called France Europe 2020, as " the return of the strategist state" in an article in Le Monde.
The road map brings national priorities in line with the European Commission's nascent 7-year funding scheme, Horizon 2020, in part because France hopes that its researchers will score better in that program than they have in previous E.U. funding rounds. Health, food security, climate change, sustainable energy, urban systems, digital technologies, and space will be the national priorities; they will be further refined and periodically revised by a newly created strategic research council, chaired by Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, with input from the French national research agency (CNRS) and five large research-coordinating networks.
Trade unions say that the government can't make science responsible for rescuing the economyContinue Reading
- Thursday, May 30, 2013 - 3:00pm
Tens of thousands of new compounds will be screened for effectiveness against critical illnesses
Japan is joining global efforts to contain malaria, tuberculosis, and a variety of tropical diseases in a big way. A recently formed public-private partnership will on Saturday formally announce agreements to screen tens of thousands of drug candidates from Japanese private and public sector compound libraries for treatments for illnesses that primarily afflict the poor in developing countries.
The 11 initial agreements are the first fruits of a recently formed public-private Global Health Innovative Technology Fund (GHIT Fund). It was set up in April and brings together Japan's foreign affairs and health and welfare ministries, a consortium of five pharmaceutical companies, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Japanese government is putting up a bit over one-half of the $100 million that is committed to GHIT over the next 5 years; the drugmakers and the Gates Foundation are contributing the rest. Funding could increase if more companies join the consortium, says BT Slingsby, the fund's CEO and executive director.
Slingsby says that Japan has been a bit behind other nations in contributing to the global health R&D effort. Even though Japan is a major producer of new pharmaceuticals, Japanese companies lack the size and global recognition of American and European pharma giants. Although Japan has been one of the biggest contributors to development assistance in recent years, little of that money has previously gone into global health R&D. And the major nongovernmental organizations addressing global health concerns are based in the United States or Europe, leaving Japan out of the picture.
To get back into the game, GHIT looked for a new model rather than creating new nonprofit organizations focused on specific diseases, Slingsby says. "We'reContinue Reading
- Thursday, May 30, 2013 - 11:30am
The Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) has, for the first time in 22 years, elected itself a new president. Yuri Osipov, who has headed RAS since the collapse of the Soviet Union, has stepped down and yesterday RAS members chose Vladimir Fortov, head of the RAS Joint Institute for High Temperatures (JIHT) in Moscow, to replace him.
A simple majority was required to win the presidency and Fortov got 58% of the votes. It was not the first time that Fortov has run for the RAS presidency—in the previous elections in 2008 he got more than 40% of votes. Fortov was Russia's science minister from 1996 to 1998 and deputy prime minister during the same period. He was also a vice president of RAS from 1996 to 2001.
RAS manages more than 400 institutes and employs nearly 100,000 scientific staff members. It is, however, often criticized for being a secretive club ruled over by powerful academicians. The academy has not fully embraced peer review or competitive funding methods—the patronage of influential scientists still plays an important role. Fortov says that change is necessary in the work of the academy, but he may find that difficult because of his own complicated relationship with the Ministry of Education and Science.
In March, science minister Dmitry Livanov said in an interview with Moscow's most popular radio station Echo of Moscow, that the academy is not viable and is without prospects, after which RAS academicians sent an open telegram to the minister demanding an apology. Livanov apologized but stated that "in general, the system of organization of work of RAS researchers is not modern, efficient, and does not meet world standards." Later that month, Fortov, who was a member of the ministry's Public Council, an advisory body,Continue Reading
- Wednesday, May 29, 2013 - 4:35pm
Conservation biologists have an ambitious target for protecting marine biodiversity: 20% of the oceans set aside as no-take reserves, where fishing and other activities are banned. As with many other conservation targets, however the world's governments have fallen short on this goal. Little more than 1% has complete protection.
The United States has gone a wee bit further, having declared 1.3% of its coastal waters off-limits. Now, two conservation groups have taken a closer look at what individual states and territories have done to protect marine life in their coastal waters in an effort that they call SeaStates. Compiling data from MPAtlas.org and MPA.gov; researchers from the Marine Conservation Institute in Seattle, Washington; and Mission Blue calculated the fraction of coastal waters that each state or territory has designated as a no-fishing zone.
The groups emphasize that no-take reserves help overfished ecosystems recover and will ensure that healthy environments are as resilient as possible to threats like climate change and ocean acidification. "Our interest is in keeping the world functioning in ways that will continue to support the diversity of life and us," Elliott Norse of the Marine Conservation Institute tells ScienceInsider. "We see SeaStates—scientists holding governments accountable for their performance—as a potential game-changer."
Here's the percentage of state waters set aside in no-take reserves:
5.7%: U.S. Virgin Islands
1% or less: Florida, Puerto Rico, Oregon, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, Washington, American Samoa, North Carolina, Virginia, and Maine.
0%: Alabama, Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire , New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Texas.
That's not the whole picture. The reportContinue ReadingPosted In:
- Wednesday, May 29, 2013 - 2:30pm
A group of research funding organizations from around the world today put its weight behind open access (OA) to the scientific literature but stopped short of making concrete policy recommendations for its members. The landscape for research and publishing is too varied to come up with general solutions, leaders of the Global Research Council (GRC) said today at the end of the group's second annual meeting in Berlin.
For instance, GRC's Action Plan towards Open Access to Publications does not recommend making it compulsory for grantees to publish their work in journals that comply with an established OA policy, as some of its members do; it also doesn't wade into the hotly debated choice between "gold" and "green" OA models. (In the gold model, authors pay to publish in a journal that makes papers freely available on the web; in green, they publish in any journal but also "self-archive" their paper in a public repository.) Such issues differ from one region of the world to the other and also depend on the funder's mandate, said Peter Strohschneider, president of the German Research Foundation and co-host of the meeting, today at a press conference.
Instead, GRC proposes a list of actions that members can consider to raise awareness about OA, for instance by publicizing OA success stories or organizing workshops in developing countries. It also proposes action steps for supporting OA, such as encouraging publishers to develop new business models; monitoring the affordability of OA publication costs; and helping scholarly societies, many of which publish journals, to make the transition to OA. It's OK that different parts of the world will have "different velocities" when it comes to OA, Strohschneider says; "the important thing is that we're all going the same direction."Continue Reading
- Tuesday, May 28, 2013 - 4:45pm
Are Dutch scientists hampering the fight against a lethal new coronavirus by patenting the virus and making it needlessly difficult for other scientists to study it? Accusations to that effect were flying last week at the World Health Assembly (WHA), the annual meeting of the world's health ministers in Geneva, Switzerland. Margaret Chan, the director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), used strong words in an apparent attack on virologist Ron Fouchier and his colleagues at Erasmus MC in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
But there is nothing unusual about the arrangement under which Fouchier has shared samples of the virus, several scientists and an intellectual property expert tell ScienceInsider. And so far, nobody has offered concrete examples of how the legal arrangements have slowed down research. The criticism is "completely unjustified," says Christian Drosten, a virologist at the University of Bonn in Germany who has developed diagnostic tests for the virus. "Nothing was blocked."
Fouchier's group identified the virus, now called Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), in June last year after receiving a sample from Ali Zaki, an Egyptian doctor working at the Dr. Soliman Fakeeh Hospital in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. MERS has since sickened 49 people—five more cases were reported today by the Saudi government—and killed 24, sparking fears that it might start spreading globally, like its distant cousin SARS did in 2003.
Last week's debate started with a 20 May CBC story that quoted Frank Plummer, the head of Canada's National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) in Winnipeg, as saying that the Rotterdam group had made it hard for others to use the virus. "[T]here was a lot of negotiation and a lot of lawyers involved both with us and the Americans and others around the world," Plummer said, "which slowedContinue Reading
- Tuesday, May 28, 2013 - 1:50pm
The European Union today announced that it is contributing €5 million toward SESAME, a groundbreaking project to build a synchrotron light source in the Middle East. SESAME, which stands for Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East, has nine member countries and has drawn support from many nations and organizations around the world because of its twin aims of providing front-rank science in the region and fostering political understanding between often-hostile neighbors.
Some $50 million has already been invested in SESAME, in funding, buildings, and donated hardware. The local member states are paying the project's operating costs from their minimal science budgets, but more money is still needed to complete the first phase of construction by 2015. Four members—Iran, Israel, Jordan, and Turkey—have each pledged an additional $5 million; the €5 million announced by the European Union today will pay for new magnets—to be built by CERN, the European particle physics lab near Geneva—for the synchrotron's main ring. A further $10 million is still needed to achieve the 2015 target.
"SESAME is one of the most important projects in the world right now," CERN Director-General Rolf-Dieter Heuer said in a statement today. "[W]ith its close parallels to the origins of CERN, I am very happy that we are able to make this important contribution to the young laboratory's success."
Synchrotrons are particle accelerators that are used to produce intense monochromatic x-ray light for studies in physics, biology, materials science, and archaeology. More than 60 such facilities exist worldwide, but there are none in the Middle East. The idea for SESAME was born in the 1990s when U.S. physicist Herman Winick suggested that Berlin's BESSY I synchrotron, which was being dismantled to make way for a newer machine, should beContinue Reading
- Tuesday, May 28, 2013 - 11:45am
Work on circadian rhythms, astrophysical accretion disks, and statistics have earned a half dozen scientists Shaw prizes for 2013.
Jeffrey Hall of the University of Maine, Orono; Michael Rosbash of Brandeis University; and Michael Young of Rockefeller University unraveled the molecular mechanisms controlling circadian rhythms in a series of experiments using mutant fruit flies; and the same fundamental processes proved to be at work in other organisms, including humans. The trio will share the Shaw Prize in life science and medicine.
Steven Balbus of the University of Oxford and John Hawley of the University of Virginia are sharing the astronomy award for developing the concept of magnetorotational instability, which describes the turbulence of the accretion disks that surround astrophysical objects such as forming stars and supermassive black holes. And Stanford University's David Donoho's new algorithms for dealing with noisy data that underpin many statistical and signal processing applications earned the mathematical sciences award.
Hong Kong media entrepreneur and philanthropist Run Run Shaw established the Shaw Prize in 2002. Each prize category carries a $1 million cash award.Continue Reading
- Friday, May 24, 2013 - 3:25pm
A former senior career official at the U.S. Census Bureau has been nominated as its director. The appointment, applauded by community leaders, comes at a time of intense political and financial pressure on the statistical agency.
Last night, President Barack Obama announced that he wants John Thompson to succeed Robert Groves, who left last summer to become provost of Georgetown University. Thompson spent 27 years at the Census Bureau and led the 2000 census. Since 2008, he has been president of NORC, an independent research organization based at the University of Chicago.
Groves called Thompson's appointment "a wonderful gift" to the country. "The world of data describing human behavior is changing at an unprecedented rate, and John has grappled with those issues at both the Bureau and NORC," Groves said.
Last month, The Census Project, a coalition of organizations that use census data, urged the White House to act "promptly" on the nomination. In a letter to Obama, the coalition noted the need for a permanent director "as the agency confronts serious budget challenges, defends the American Community Survey (ACS), and conducts critical testing and systems development for Census 2020."
"I think it's a great choice, and I'm glad there's a nominee," said Lawrence Brown, a professor of statistics at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School and chair of the National Academies' Committee on National Statistics. "The selection of someone with his experience and stature and knowledge is a sign of the administration's support for moving the agency forward."
Each of the issues flagged in the coalition's letter poses a significant challenge for the next director. Specifically, the 2010 census cost a record $14 billion, and doing it the same way in 2020 could cost twice as much. NobodyContinue Reading
- Friday, May 24, 2013 - 1:25pm
The renovation of an office for Lynda Chin, the wife of the president of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Ronald DePinho, may have cost as much as $2 million, according to an analysis by a Washington, D.C., investigative newsletter. The allegations of lavish spending on Chin's office at MD Anderson add to the woes of the pair of cancer research leaders a year after Chin was awarded an $18 million grant from a state cancer research fund that did not undergo scientific review.
The office suite for Chin, who heads a new drug discovery institute at MD Anderson and chairs the center's Department of Genomic Medicine, was meant to have a "corporate" feel, according to 680 pages of documents obtained by The Cancer Letter. The do-over included designer furniture and required many exceptions from university building rules for features such as glass walls. The renovation was paid for by the center's capital accounts, which come from investment income, gifts, and patient revenue, MD Anderson officials told the newsletter.
MD Anderson disputed the newsletter's cost estimates and defended the spending. Although the overall project cost $1.5 million, officials said that this amount included the purchase of lab equipment. The tab for Chin's office renovations was $547,434, they said. They told The Cancer Letter that the project "transformed a traditional academic office suite to a work environment and meeting area for a science/business enterprise, a concept new not only to MD Anderson, but most of academic medicine." (The Cancer Letter estimated costs of up to $2 million based on invoices and other documents that did not mention lab equipment.)
- Friday, May 24, 2013 - 12:15pm
Swiss billionaires Hansjörg Wyss and Ernesto Bertarelli have bought the former building of drug company Merck Serono in Geneva, where they plan to set up a biotech research center with two local universities. The announcement, made on Wednesday, was welcomed by Swiss scientists as a boon for the Geneva area. It comes about a year after Merck Serono said that it would close down its Geneva headquarters and relocate R&D activities to Germany, the United States, and China. The company employed about 1250 people in Geneva at the time.
"This will fill a gap. Serono's exit had caused hundreds of researchers to lose their jobs," Jean-Paul Clozel, head of biotech company Actelion in Basel, Switzerland, told La 1ère, a Swiss public radio station, yesterday.
Merck Serono sold the building to a consortium called Campus Biotech, made up of the Bertarelli family, the Wyss Foundation, the University of Geneva (UNIGE), and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL). Bertarelli is, in fact, buying back the site of his former family business, biotech firm Serono, which he had sold to Merck in 2007.
Clozel praised the billionaires, regional authorities, and university leaders for their joint work. "It's quite rare to see so many people agreeing among themselves," he said, adding that politicians should now let scientists lead the endeavor. "Creating this kind of center cannot be done without political will and support … but at the end, the venture's success will be down to the research projects," Clozel said.
The Campus Biotech project includes the creation of Wyss Institute for Bio- and Neuro-Engineering. It will receive $103 million from the Wyss Foundation and will be modeled after a similar center for biologically inspired engineering that Wyss funded atContinue Reading
- Friday, May 24, 2013 - 11:20am
The São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) has launched a second round of Research, Innovation and Dissemination Centers (RIDCs) in Brazil. The 17 new, multidisciplinary centers will receive a total of $680 million over 11 years for basic research, technology transfer initiatives, and outreach in a variety of fields including drug discovery and the social science of violence. FAPESP will provide half their funding, with the rest coming from the host institutions.
The RIDC program is designed "to offer funding for research groups which have especially bold scientific proposals that require funding for a long time," explains Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, the scientific director of FAPESP, which announced the new round of winners on 15 May. São Paulo's constitution guarantees 1% of the state's tax revenues to FAPESP every year, a provision that Brito calls "essential" to the foundation's ability to fund ambitious, long-term research projects like the RIDCs.
FAPESP funded the first round of RIDCs from October 2000 to December 2012. Three of the original 10 centers have basically been extended for a second decade: the Center for Metropolitan Studies, the Center for Cell-Based Therapy, and the Center for the Study of Violence.
The principal investigators (PIs) from five other original RIDCs also received second-round funding, largely to expand upon or advance the work of their first-round centers. The Center for Structural Molecular Biotechnology will become the Center for Research and Innovation in Biodiversity and Drug Discovery, for example, and the Human Genome Research Center will add stem cell research to its mission.
Nine of the second round RIDCs are entirely new. They include centers focused on food, glass, inflammatory disease, obesity, applied mathematics, computer science and engineering, and biomedicine, as well as two neuroscience initiatives.
Two ofContinue Reading
- Thursday, May 23, 2013 - 6:40pm
One day after a prominent paper in the journal Cell was flagged for image duplication, the main author and the journal say that the problems arose from simple mislabeling of images and do not invalidate the results. They also defended the unusually rapid review of the paper, which was accepted only 4 days after official submission and published online 12 days later.
The work, led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov of the Oregon National Primate Research Center in Beaverton, was notable for two reasons: It's the first time anyone has used cloning to create personalized human embryonic stem (ES) cells, and it's the same result that was described back in 2004 and 2005 by a group of South Korean scientists in what turned out to be one of the world's most notorious cases of scientific fraud.
Stem cell scientists were initially delighted, with one telling Science that the work was a "hard-won triumph after many years of diligent research." After a commenter posted on a site called PubPeer, alleging duplicated and mislabeled images in the paper, delight turned to dismay. "It's a shame that this important area of research has come under scrutiny once again," writes Kevin Eggan of Harvard University to ScienceInsider in an e-mail.
Mitalipov spoke with ScienceInsider this afternoon, and says that he and the other co-authors simply overlooked the mistakes, in part because the images in question are meant to show that the cells are similar. "With the naked eye, it's very hard to see if this is the same image or a different image." He says that he is curious whether the PubPeer contributor used image-checking software to catch the duplications. "I wish we had that software to run the paper through," he says.
The first setContinue Reading
- Wednesday, May 22, 2013 - 5:20pm
Eight years after South Korean stem cell scientists were exposed in one of the biggest scientific frauds ever, a paper claiming to have achieved work they faked is itself under investigation.
Last week, a group led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov of the Oregon National Primate Research Center in Beaverton reported in Cell that it had used cloning to make personalized human embryonic stem cells (hESCs). The news was widely covered (including in Science) that Woo-Suk Hwang and his team claimed to have created individually tailored hESCs by cloning skin cells. That report, in Science, soon unraveled when it was found that the team had manipulated images and faked their data.
After last week's report, a commenter on PubPeer, a site dedicated to postpublication peer review, alleged several instances of "image reuse" in the Cell paper. The commenter also noted that "in the paper, it is recorded that the journal Cell accepted this paper just 4 days after submission."
The claims of image inconsistencies were enough to pique the journal's concern. "I can confirm that our editorial team is assessing the allegations brought up in the PubPeer piece," writes Cell spokesperson Mary Beth O'Leary in an e-mail to ScienceInsider. "I will get back to you as soon as they have fully investigated the claims raised in PubPeer."Continue Reading
- Wednesday, May 22, 2013 - 4:35pm
ROME—A controversial Italian stem cell therapy that scientists say is unproven will undergo its first solid scientific test. The Italian Senate today voted in favor of a new bill, already approved by the Chamber of Deputies on 16 May, that sets aside €3 million for a clinical trial of the treatment, devised by the Stamina Foundation in Turin. Meanwhile, the foundation can continue treating 12 patients at a hospital in Brescia who are already undergoing the disputed therapy.
"This will probably be the first time that a parliament orders a clinical trial," says Elena Cattaneo, director of UniStem stem cell center at the University of Milan.
The merits of Stamina's treatments have long been under dispute in Italy. The foundation says that it has found a way to transform a patient's own mesenchymal stem cells, derived from bone marrow, into newly minted nerve cells that can be used to treat neurodegenerative diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's. But many stem cell scientists have dismissed those claims; the International Society for Stem Cell Research recently said that there is no "compelling evidence from clinical trials that such cells provide benefit to patients with neurological conditions."
Under existing Italian law, unproven stem cell therapies can be administered on a case-by-case basis to patients with untreatable, severe illnesses who have no other options—but only if there are enough published data on safety in internationally recognized journals and if therapies are prepared by authorized hospital labs under the Italian rules for the production of stem cells. Stamina has treated 12 patients at the Spedali Civili, a public hospital in Brescia, since 2011. But in 2012, the Italian Medicines Agency (AIFA) halted the treatments there after it had identified several irregularities.
- Tuesday, May 21, 2013 - 5:05pm
In a sign of how much the controversy over human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) has waned, the most prominent lobbying group for hESC research announced today that it is folding after 12 years. The Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research (CAMR) will transfer its work to another group that focuses on moving hESC research into the clinic.
"We are in an era where the primary issues are not federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research," wrote CAMR President Amy Comstock Rick, who is also CEO of the Parkinson's Action Network, in an e-mail to the more than 100 patient advocacy, scientific, and other groups that belong to CAMR. "Given the progress we are seeing in the field of regenerative medicine, the policy issues we now see go beyond the historical focus of CAMR."
CAMR was founded around when President George W. Bush issued an executive order on 9 August 2001 limiting federal funding for hESC studies to existing cell lines. The coalition pushed for a bill, passed by Congress in 2005 and 2007, that would have removed those limits; Bush vetoed the bill both times. In 2009, the landscape changed when President Barack Obama issued an executive order instructing the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to lift the Bush-era constraints. The number of NIH-approved stem cell lines has since grown from 21 to more than 200, CAMR notes.
In the last couple of years, CAMR wrote amicus briefs supporting NIH's battle against a lawsuit seeking to shut down federally funded hESC research. In January, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the suit.
Rick notes that little is now happening in Congress on the stem cell front. Even the announcement last week that researchers have achieved the long-sought goal ofContinue Reading