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Science Policy Around the Web – April 18, 2014

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By: Bethanie Morrison

photo credit: lindsay-fox via photopin cc

photo credit: lindsay-fox via photopin cc

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

Rescuing US biomedical research from its systemic flaws -An article written by four of the top scientist-administrators in the U.S. (Bruce Alberts, Marc Kirschner, Shirley Tilghman and Harold Varmus) addressing the flawed biomedical research enterprise was published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences (PNAS). While reminiscent of the Biomedical Research Workforce Working Group report from 2012 and the 1998 report from the National Academies on the future of the biomedical workforce, the thesis of this article is that the American biomedical research atmosphere has become “hypercompetitive,” thereby reducing scientific productivity and harming the careers of promising scientists. The authors suggest that there is an overproduction of Ph.D-level scientists at a time when Ph.D-level jobs are somewhat scarce. They propose the system gradually reduce the number of Ph.D students and alter the ratio of trainees to staff scientists in research labs. Furthermore, the authors strongly urge members of Congress to understand that the research funding and progress as it is right now are unsustainable, and that they must figure out a more stable way to fund biomedical research. (Bethanie Morrison)

Injuries from e-cigarettes increase amid rising popularity – E-cigarettes, battery-powered cartridges that are filled with liquid nicotine that causes an inhalable vapor when heated, have been reported to cause respiratory and cardiovascular problems as well as burns and nicotine toxicity. A recent report from the CDC showed an increased number of calls to poison control centers regarding e-cigarette problems. Companies manufacturing e-cigarettes in the U.S. such as Logic Technology and Lorillard, Inc. cite e-cigarettes made in China as the main problem. China’s regulations on product development and manufacturing are nowhere near as strict as those enforced by the U.S. FDA, allowing China to sell poorly and inconsistently-made products for less money all over the world, particularly via the internet. The FDA is slated to discuss how to regulate e-cigarettes and other “vaping” devices for the first time in the near future, which may potentially reshape the industry. (Reuters)

Political rifts slow U.S. effort on climate laws - A report released this week by the United Nations (UN) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggested that the United States and China need to enact major climate change policies in the next six years in order to stave off the most harmful impacts of global warming. While the United Nations has made climate change a policy priority, U.S. polls have shown that although the majority of Americans (Republican and Democrat) accept that climate change is real, they do not hold it as a high priority come voting season, thus making it a lesser issue for members of Congress. One of the UN policy suggestions made was to impart a tax on carbon pollution. Given the political stances on taxation in Congress, Republicans signing declarations never to raise taxes and Democrats insisting on taxing large corporations, a grand bargain is likely the only way forward. Fortunately, lawmakers from both parties have pushed tax reform such that incorporating a new carbon tax may be paired with a cut in corporate or income taxes. This should help to decrease carbon emissions as such to avoid a catastrophic global atmospheric temperature increase of 3.6°F by 2050, while giving big business the money they need to develop new energy solutions and keep people employed. (Coral Davenport, New York Times)

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April 18, 2014 at 11:18 am

Science Policy Around the Web – April 11, 2014

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By: Kaitlyn Morabito

photo credit: EssjayNZ via photopin cc

photo credit: EssjayNZ via photopin cc

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

Guarded Optimism after breast cancer drug shows promising results  -  In a recent Phase II clinical trial, Pfizer’s breast cancer drug, palbociclib, was shown to decrease the risk of cancer progression by half. This results in about a 10-month difference in the time until progression in the treatment group compared to the control group. Although there was a trend towards increased survival by 4 months, the results were not significant.   Palbociclib inhibits cyclin-dependent kinase 4 and 6 curbing growth of cancer cells.   If the FDA waves the requirement for a Phase III clinical trial, this drug may be on the market as early as next year. If a Phase III clinical trial is required, approval will be delayed for several years. (Andrew Polluck)

Cheaper fuel from self-destructing treesIn an effort to decrease the cost of turning plants into biofuel, scientists at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, have genetically modified trees to express ferulic acid. In order to access the energy source of plants, long chains of sugars called cellulose, lignin that holds cellulose and hemicellulose fibers together must be degraded. This process includes the use of heat and chemical compounds to breakdown lignin and accounts for more than 25% of the cost of cellulosic ethanol based biofuels. Ferulic acid bonds with two other compounds to make up a modified lignin, which is easier to breakdown. The group has made genetically engineered popular trees and is working on making modified corn.  (Robert F. Service)

NIH stem cell programme closes – Amid uncertainty, the NIH’s Center for Regenerative Medicine (CRM), which specializes in stem cell research, has been closed.   Although the center’s Director Mahendra Rao resigned on March 28th, and the institute’s website has been shutdown, there has been no official announcement from the NIH.   Many of the researchers associated with the institute have not received any information on the future of the center. According to officials, a panel of stem cell researchers will gather in May to discuss the fate of the program, including whether to move CRM projects to the National Center for Advancing Translation Sciences and what to do with the remaining budget. The closure of the center follows the funding of clinical trials for only one of the center’s projects, while preparations for clinical trials of 4 additional projects had already begun. (Sara Reardon)

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April 11, 2014 at 12:00 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – April 8, 2014

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By: Tara Burke

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

NASA Breaks Most Contact With Russia – NASA is suspending most contacts with Russian space agency officials. This move underscores the rapid deterioration of the Russian-American relationship which comes after the annexation of Crimea by Russia earlier this year. One exception to this move is operations of the International Space Station which are to remain the same. Historically, the relationship NASA has with Russia has been immune to such political tensions between the two countries. However, as the confrontation over Ukraine intensifies, the Obama administration cannot continue allowing meetings between NASA and Russian officials as if all were normal. This decision by the administration was made easier since the US space program has dwindled and space-relations with other countries are not needed like they once were. (Kenneth Chang and Peter Baker)

 

Neurological Institute Finds Worrisome Drop in Basic Research – The director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), Story Landis, announced data that showed a “sharp decrease” in basic research at her institute. Landis and her staff examined the aims and abstracts of grants funded between 1997 and 2012 and found that NINDS competing grant funding that went to basic research declined from 87% to 71%. Applied research rose from 13% to 29%. When NINDS staffers dug deeper, they found that the percentage of NINDS-funded proposals that were considered basic research and did not have a specific disease focus fell from 52% to 27%. Landis plans to continue to explore the reason behind this decline. She finds this decline worrisome since “fundamental basic research is the engine of discovery”. (Jocelyn Kaiser)

 

The Africa Ebola outbreak that keeps getting worse – News of an Ebola outbreak in Africa has received modest notice in the West. The World Health Organization was not notified until March 23th, months after individuals were infected. As of April 3, the WHO reported that Ebola “has a case fatality of up to 90 percent” with 83 dead and 127 confirmed cases. On April 6th, the number of dead reached 90 and Ghana and Mali announced their first suspected cases of the disease. The announcement of this outbreak has struck fear in the African population. What is particularly worrisome is the migratory pattern of the outbreak. Usually, the outbreaks stay in isolated, remote geographical pockets but, this time, Ebola has shot hundreds of miles from southwest Guinea to the coastal capital of Conakry. Very few doctors, poor infrastructure, and a general distrust of authority by the people of Guinea exacerbate this situation. (Terrence McCoy)

 

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April 8, 2014 at 12:42 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – March 17, 2014

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Photo credit KOMUnews via Photo Pin cc

Photo credit
KOMUnews via Photo Pin cc

By: Tara Burke

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

Billionaires With Big Ideas Are Privatizing American Science – With budget cuts leaving the nation’s research institutions scrambling for funds, American science is increasingly becoming a private enterprise. Research labs are closing, projects are being shelved and many scientists are forced to close their labs due to a drastic drop in federal funding for basic science research. Billionaires such as Eric E. Schmidt (Google), James Simmons (hedge funds) and Michael Bloomberg, to name a few, are financing hunts for disease cures, space exploration, ocean science as well as other science avenues.  However, this private cherry-picked science initiative has some in the science establishment worried that this financing could skew research toward fields deemed more trendy than central. (William J. Broad)

Evidence Mounts Against Reprogrammed Stem Cell Papers – The lead authors are considering retracting two papers that describe a simple method for creating stem cells known as STAP (stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency). An investigating committee confirmed finding problems in the papers and the authors are facing mounting allegations of problematic images and plagiarism. Scientists that have attempted to replicate the findings have not been successful. This controversy is not only damaging to the stem cell community but impacts public trust and support for all fields of science in Japan. (Dennis Normile)

The E.U. Is the Problem on GM Crops, Says U.K. Scientists – Genetically modified (GM) crops in Europe are facing hurdles as use is being hampered by a “dysfunctional approval process” set up by the European Union. The technology of GM has the unanimous backing of U.K. scientists but approval for release of a GM organism must get approval from Brussels. U.K. scientists claim that E.U. regulation has fettered progress of GM use and risk assessments of the technology have been “influenced by political considerations that do not have a scientific basis”. (Angela Saini)

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March 17, 2014 at 3:42 pm

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Science Policy Around the Web – March 6, 2014

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By: Kaitlin Morabito

photo credit: subarcticmike via photopin cc

photo credit: subarcticmike via photopin cc

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

Giant virus resurrected from 30,000-year-old ice – Scientists from Aix-Marseille University in France discovered an ancient giant virus, dubbed Pithovirus sibericum, frozen in Siberian permafrost. Since the known giant viruses, Mimivirus and Pandoraviruses, infect ameobae, the group incubated permafrost samples with amoebae and watched for cell death.  Within these dying amoebae, the scientists, lead by Jean-Michel Claveria and Chantal Abergel, could visualize the virus within the walls of the amoebae via microscope.  Despite similarities with the other giant viruses in host, size, and shape, Pithovirus sibericum has very different properties including mechanism of replication and a much smaller genome.  As global temperatures rise and glaciers melt, the virome in the frozen environment may potentially have an impact on human health. (Ed Yong)

Rare gene protects against Type 2 Diabetes even in obese people – A mutation in one allele of a gene, known as ZnT8, has been shown to mitigate Type 2 diabetes even among the overweight and obese.  The gene was initially identified in a studying comparing 758 people on either end of the weight, age, and risk spectrum.  Of these 758 people, only 2 people in the high-risk group with diabetes had this mutation.  To confirm these results, the researchers added 18,000 people to their study and found an additional 31 obese individuals who were seemingly protected from diabetes.  The findings were further authenticated using bioinformatics.  Interestingly, the mutation of the gene has the opposite result in mice, causing Type 2 diabetes.  Researchers are now focuses on developing drugs which targets the ZnT8 gene. (Gina Kolata)

U.S. Army agriculture development teams - To help combat counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, the United States Army National Guard has deployed Agriculture Development Teams (ADT) made up of environmental scientists, engineers, and professors, who tackle projects aimed at improving agriculture and agricultural education in rural Afghanistan.  An example of militarized aid, this program is focused on small scale, local efforts to engender a good rapport with the United States Army and Afghan government in rural areas where counterinsurgency is problematic.  These projects not only involve endeavors such as delayed-action dams, but are also highly education focused, so the locals and universities can continue to reap benefits after the ADTs leave.  (Alexander Stewart)

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March 6, 2014 at 2:37 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – February 21, 2014

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By: Bethanie Morrison

photo credit: Image Editor via photopin cc

photo credit: Image Editor via photopin cc

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

FDA considers trials of ‘three-parent  embryos’ - A new and controversial fertility technique aimed at women who are carriers of mitochondrial disease has been given guarded approval in the UK.  The primary purpose of this technique, called mitochondrial DNA replacement therapy, is to prevent the passage of genes that cause severe mitochondrial diseases to children by way of removing the nuclear genes from the egg that has mutated mitochondrial DNA (parent #1) and placing them into a donor egg containing healthy mitochondria (parent #2) and continuing with in vitro fertilization (parent #3).  In the US, there are ethical concerns as to whether the benefit of decreasing the risk of spreading devastating disease outweighs the moral objections likely to be raised with altering the human germ line.  As the FDA has the power to regulate any form of gene therapy, including the transfer of mitochondrial DNA in embryos, mitochondrial DNA replacement will be up for discussion at the meeting of the FDA’s Cellular, Tissue, and Gene Therapies Advisory Committee next week.  The FDA will develop its regulations based on recommendations that stem from this meeting.   “It’s going to be hard to find what a fair balance is,” says Doug Wallace, a mitochondrial geneticist at the University of Pennsylvania.  (Gretchen Vogel)

Secretary of State Kerry lashes out at climate change skeptics – While giving a speech to Indonesian students, government officials and civic leaders in Jakarta on Sunday the Secretary of State called out skeptics of climate change for believing shoddy science and for having their heads in the sand regarding what he referred to as, “the world’s largest weapon of mass destruction.”  The Secretary suggested that the solution to the climate change problem is a new global energy policy that shifts reliance from fossil fuels to cleaner technologies, a policy strongly backed by President Obama.  In the days prior to his visit to Indonesia, Secretary Kerry had been in Beijing, a world leader in greenhouse gas emissions, discussing progress on a joint US-China policy initiated by Kerry last year to curb greenhouse gases via the reduction of vehicle emissions, improving energy efficiency of buildings, the advancement of electric power grids, capturing and storing carbon emissions and gathering greenhouse gas data.   It is the hope of the US that collaboration with China will inspire other developing countries to work together and with developed nations to combat climate change.  (AP)

Medicines made in India set off safety worries - The FDA is getting serious about oversight of foreign pharmaceutical plants that export their drugs to the US.  Pharmaceutical companies based in India supply the US with 40% of its over-the-counter and generic prescription drugs, yet these labs are coming under intense scrutiny by the FDA for safety lapses, falsified test results and for the sale of counterfeit medications.  The heightened scrutiny is the result of a law passed in 2012 requiring further regulations on overseas pharmaceutical plants.  The FDA inspected 160 Indian drug plants last year alone.  India exports roughly $15 billion of pharmaceuticals each year, and the increased scrutiny and regulations placed on the industry has led to the closing of many plants and has caused further devastation of the already declining economy.  While India has allowed the FDA to enter and investigate its drug production processes, the same cannot be said for China, which is the largest producer of counterfeit medication in the world.  Despite strong efforts made by the FDA, China has failed to provide the logistics necessary to allow the FDA to enhance its China-based staff.  Unfortunately, the US depends solely on China for many of its imported drugs so the upper hand may still belong to China at this point.  (Gardiner Harris)

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February 21, 2014 at 7:26 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – February 16, 2014

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photo credit: sarihuella via photopin cc

photo credit: sarihuella via photopin cc

By: Kaitlyn Morabito

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

U.S. launches new global initiative to prevent infectious disease threats  – Participants from 26 countries, including the U.S., met on Thursday to launch a new world-wide public health program.  The focus of this initiative is to detect, treat, and contain newly emerging and known infectious disease agents where the outbreak starts to prevent global spreading of diseases such as West Nile virus, Dengue virus, tuberculosis and polio virus.  This program involves establishing a network of disease detecting laboratories, increasing vaccination campaigns and setting up emergency response teams. This global strategy of rapid detection, treatment and containment is more cost efficient than efforts by individual counties once the disease has spread. (Lena H. Sun)

Myriad Wins First Round in Cancer Gene Testing Battle  – Last June, the Supreme Court ruled that companies can not patent naturally occurring human genes, challenging Myriad’s patents on the BRCA genes used in breast cancer screening tests.  Following this ruling, many competitors released their own tests for the BRCA genes, prompting lawsuits from Myraid.  Myraid argues that the ruling does not apply to the related patents on the BRCA testing kits.  Last week, one of the competitors, Gene By Gene, settled with Myraid, agreeing to stop selling the kits within the US.  Lawsuits against other competitors are still pending. (Eliot Marshall)

Fusion energy milestone reported by California scientists  – Scientists at the National Ignition Facility, part of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, are a step closer to creating a fusion reactor.  In their experiment, more energy was released from the fuel core than went into the fuel core.  However, there is still a long way to go before scientists create a fusion reactor.  The fuel core absorbed only a small fraction (about 1%) of the energy from the lasers, so the overall input energy is more than the output energy. (Joel Achenbach)

 

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February 16, 2014 at 10:27 am

Science Policy Around the Web – February 7, 2014

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By: Tara Burke

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

Guidelines urge women to monitor stroke risks more closely than men – The American Heart Association (AHA) and American Stroke Association (ASA) released guidelines yesterday aimed at preventing strokes in women. While women share many of the same risk factors as men, they also have unique risks that stem from pregnancy complications and hormone use. These additional guidelines emphasize maintenance of safe blood pressure levels, especially in young women, and suggest that women be screened for high blood pressure before taking birth-control pills. The AHA and ASA also advocates that women who experienced preeclampsia and eclampsia during pregnancy consider these conditions a risk factor for stroke well after their pregnancy.  (Lena H. Sun)

New Avian Flu Virus Ravages Poultry in Korea – A new strain of avian flu identified in South Korea on 17 January has spread nationwide and 2.8 million domestic chickens and ducks have been culled since the outbreak was discovered. Additionally, the strain has killed dozens of Baikal teal and other migratory birds. Previously this strain, H5N8, had not been seen in such a highly pathogenic form. Scientists are arguing over the origin of this strain and, to date, there are no reports of human infections. However, there is a serious worry that this strain may affect over 15,000 hens and ducks used in animal husbandry and breed improvement research. Destroying all of these animals would severely disrupt the center’s genetic resources and ongoing research projects. (Dennis Normile)

An Unusual Partnership to Tackle Stubborn Diseases – On Tuesday, the NIH along with seven nonprofit organizations and 10 large companies announced a partnership aimed at speeding up the development of drugs to treat Alzheimer’s disease, Type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. The partnership involves a 5-year, $230 million effort in which the participants will share data in meetings and conference calls. This partnership will also make their findings publicly available. This joint effort benefits both academic research and industry with the ultimate goal of benefiting those suffering from these diseases. Drug companies have been strained by the enormous amount of money they have put into developing drugs but have the medications failed in clinical trials. Scientists are dealing with a flood of data from gene sequencing and other technologies, making it difficult to conclude what has been discovered. The partnership should speed up analysis and streamline communications amongst all different facets of research required to effectively create drug treatments. (Gina Kolata)

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February 7, 2014 at 2:15 pm

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Science Policy Around the Web – January 26, 2014

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By: Jennifer Seedorff

photo credit: Cat Sidh via photopin cc

photo credit: Cat Sidh via photopin cc

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

Gore Joins UN Backing EU’s 2030 Climate Plan – The European Commission has released its 2030 energy and climate change proposals, including a binding reduction in carbon emissions to 40% below 1990 levels and a non-binding increase to 27% in the share of energy generated from renewable sources.  Environmental groups have strongly criticized the proposal as being too weak to meaningfully impact global warming, and are particularly disappointed by the switch to non-binding renewable energy targets. However, former Vice President Al Gore and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have a more optimistic view of the proposal. Gore said that the Commission “actually moved aggressively forward adopting a binding target for a 40% reduction in carbon”, while Ban said that the Commission’s proposal “has started the ball rolling” for future rounds of climate negotiations.   (Alex Morales)

FDA to Revise Nutrition Facts Labels – Food labels have not dramatically changed over the last twenty years, but knowledge about nutrition and dietary recommendations have changed. The FDA has been working on revised guidelines for food labels for the last decade and has sent its proposed guidelines to the White House, although a release date has not yet been announced. Some of the possible changes to food labels include: modifying the labels to highlight the amount of added sugars; adding the percentage of whole wheat in a food; using units of measurements, which are familiar to US consumers; changing serving sizes to reflect the amount of food typically consumed by a consumer in a single-sitting or including both per serving and per container nutritional content; removing the amount of calories from fat; and moving some nutritional information to the front of packages to make it easier for consumers to find.  (The Associated Press, Mary Clare Jalonick)

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January 26, 2014 at 10:20 am

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Science Policy Around the Web – January 17, 2014

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By: Kaitlyn Morabito

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

 

photo credit: Greencolander via photopin cc

photo credit: Greencolander via photopin cc

U.S. Science Agencies get Some Relief in 2014 Budget – The 2014 budget agreement was released Monday, and includes increases for US Science Agencies. However, not all fields received equal increases.  Agencies geared towards physical science, such as NOAA, NIST, Agricultural Research Services, and DOE’s Office of Science and Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, received budget expansions ranging from ~10%-23.8%. The biomedical science agency, the NIH, however, received only a 3.5% budget increase, beating only one agency, the U.S. Geological Survey.  Agencies such as NASA, NSF and the Census bureau fell between these groups.  (Jeffery Mervis)

 This Week’s Forecast: What Flu Season May Look Like – Scientists at Columbia University have developed computer models to predict how the flu season will unfold in the US in real time.  They have been testing these models since last year and continue to make improvements.  They hope the flu forecast will eventually be part of the local weather report similar to pollution reports and pollen counts which already accompany this news.  The group at Columbia University, lead by Dr. Jeffery Shaman, use Google search engine data, as well as other factors such as humidity, to predict the peak of flu in many US Cities.  These predictions can help hospital staff and healthcare workers prepare for a potential influx of flu patients. (Carl Zimmer)

 FDA: Acetaminophen doses over 325mg might lead to liver damage - In addition to containing opioid drugs, combination drugs such as Percocet, Vicodin and Tylenol with codeine, contain acetaminophen.  Many people are unaware that acetaminophen is an ingredient in these drugs, and may take an additional dose of acetaminophen to help with pain management.  This can lead to acetaminophen doses that exceed the 4,000mg daily maximum recommended by the FDA.  Excessive doses of acetaminophen can lead to liver damage, serious skin conditions and even death.  To help combat this problem, in 2011, the FDA set a limit on 325mg per capsule for combination drugs with a deadline of January 2014.  Any manufacturers who have not followed these guidelines risk losing approval of their prescription drug.  (Holly Yan)

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

January 17, 2014 at 4:00 pm

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