Science Policy For All

Because science policy affects everyone.

Archive for May 2013

Science Policy Around the Web – May 28, 2013

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By: Katherine Donigan

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

Portland Rejects Fluoridation—Again– (also “What’s the matter with Portland?“)- Starting in 1945, major cities across the US began to supply fluoridated water to residents to promote dental health. Fluoridation as a way to reduce tooth decay is supported by many major health organizations, including the American Dental Association, the American Medical Association and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Despite this support, opponents of fluoridation cite concerns about potential unknown effects of the chemical, referring to published findings that correlate high levels of fluoride exposure with adverse health effects.  However, such high fluoride levels greatly exceed the levels recommended for drinking water across the US.  Others argue that fluoridation infringes in personal autonomy.  Since first put to a vote in the city of Portland in 1956, proposals to add fluoride to the city’s water supply have repeatedly failed.  In the summer of 2012, the City Council voted to approve fluoridation outright, circumventing a ballot measure.  Fluoridation opponents quickly gathered enough petition signatures to force a vote, with the measure failing by a 60-40 margin.  Portland remains the largest US city without fluoridated drinking water.  (Francis X. Clines, NYTimes) (Jake Blumgart, Slate)

Fusion program at MIT is ending– Amid federal budget cuts, MIT has announced that they will be shutting down a research program that explores nuclear fusion as a possible energy source.  After the program is shut down about a year from now, there will only be two such programs remaining in the United States. MIT’s fusion program took a major budgetary hit last year, with funding reduced 44%, from $25 million to $14 million.  As of March 2012, the program halted acceptance of new graduate students, and current students may have to scramble to find new projects in order to complete degree requirements. Researchers are hopeful that a solution can be found and are planning to put their equipment on standby rather than dismantling it completely.  If the cuts go through as planned, around 70 layoffs will affect scientists, engineers and support staff. The Department of Energy will continue to fund nuclear fusion research, but has changed the focus from domestic programs to a larger, international effort that, according to MIT’s vice president for research, is behind schedule and over budget.  At least one MIT faculty member plans to leave for a position in Europe.  Further cuts to domestic research programs may ultimately result in more scientists moving abroad in order to continue their work. (Boston Globe, Carolyn Y. Johnson)

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May 28, 2013 at 10:18 pm

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Science Policy Around the Web – May 17, 2013

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By: Jennifer Plank

photo credit: ynse via photopin cc

photo credit: ynse via photopin cc

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

Will insurance cover genetic testing, preventative surgery? – This week, Angelina Jolie was in the news following her op-ed piece discussing her preventative double mastectomy once she learned that she had a mutated BRCA1 gene. Women with a mutation in either of the BRCA genes are at an increased risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. Due to their patent, Myriad Genetics is the only company allowed to perform genetic testing on either of the BRCA genes resulting in the test being very expensive- on average, BRCA genetic screening costs approximately $4000 when not covered by insurance. Doctors recommend that a patient with a positive result receive yearly mammograms and/or MRIs, adding thousands of dollars to the cost of preventative care. Once the Affordable Care Act is fully implemented, BRCA genetic testing will be classified as preventative care and require no out of pocket costs for the patient. (Melanie Hicken)

Scientists report first success in cloning human stem cells – 17 years after the cloning of Dolly the sheep, scientists generated stem cells from human skin cells. Until recently, human cells have been unable to be reprogrammed using “nuclear transfer”, a technique that has been effective in many other species. Dr. Shoukhrat Mitalipov, a scientist at Oregon Health and Science University, has used the technique to reprogram human skin cells into cells resembling embryonic stem cells. This new advance in technology provides another source for deriving embryonic stem cells to be used for stem cell based therapies. (Alice Park)

Supreme Court supports Monsanto in seed-patent case – In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court opined that farmers cannot use Monsanto’s genetically altered soybeans to make new seeds without paying the company. According to the opinion written by Justice Elena Kagan, the ruling was narrow in scope and will not automatically be extended to every self-replicating product. Normally, farmers who buy soybeans from Monsanto must sign a contract stating that they will not harvest seeds from one season’s crop to use in following seasons. This ensures that the farmers will buy new seeds yearly. However, in this case, the farmer obtained seeds through a second-hand source and determined which seeds were Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds. He then harvested seeds from those plants to use in subsequent seasons. The Supreme Court ruled that the farmer must pay Monsanto over $84,000. (Adam Litpak)

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May 17, 2013 at 5:48 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – May 12, 2013

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tanning bed

photo credit: mag3737 via photopin cc

By: Katherine Donigan

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

FDA Proposes Tougher Warnings for Tanning Beds – Despite recommendations from the FDA’s own advisory panel and the American Medical Association that favor an outright ban on tanning beds for children, the agency is proposing only to increase the risk level associated with indoor tanning.  This move would result in requiring tanning beds to display a warning label advising against use by anyone under 18.  The decision to upgrade tanning beds from low to moderate risk devices is a step in the right direction, as skin cancer has been found to be significantly increased in people who are exposed to UV radiation from tanning beds before age 35.  The FDA has indicated that warning labels may be a precursor to an outright ban in the future, but the reasoning behind the agency’s reluctance to presently support such a ban remains unclear. (Steve Reinberg, US News)

Cancer Vaccines Get a Price Cut in Poor Nations – The two major manufacturers of the HPV vaccine have announced that they will be making it available to girls and women in poor countries for under $5 per dose.  This price reduction is significant, as in the US, the vaccine usually runs around $130 per dose.  Advocates of a low-cost HPV vaccine hope that by 2020, 30 million girls living in 40 different countries would be vaccinated.  The HPV vaccine protects against multiple strains of human papilloma virus that cause genital warts and up to 70% of cervical cancers.  Dramatically reducing the cost barrier for women and girls in poor countries at higher risk of dying from cervical cancer has the potential to save millions of lives, representing a major advance for women’s health. (Sabrina Tavernise, NYTimes)

New Genomic Prostate Cancer Test Holds More Answers – The limitations of the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test have become increasingly apparent over the years, as new studies have shown PSA levels alone are a relatively poor marker for prostate cancer.  Data indicate that PSA testing can lead to overdiagnosis, and in October 2011, the United States Preventive Services Task Force issued a recommendation against PSA testing in healthy men at any age.  A new test from Genomic Health, Oncotype DX, screens 17 different genes from a biopsy and assigns a numerical score correlating to tumor aggressiveness.  The test appears to be more sensitive at detecting the differences between low and high-risk samples, potentially sparing thousands of men each year from unnecessary medical treatment. (Andrew Pollack, NYTimes)

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May 12, 2013 at 9:21 pm

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Science Policy Around the Web – May 2, 2013

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By: Jennifer Plank

photo credit: ZaldyImg via photopin cc

photo credit: ZaldyImg via photopin cc

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

NIH discontinues Immunizations in HIV vaccine study – Immunizations in an NIH sponsored HIV vaccine trial (HVTN 505) were halted last week. The study was in Phase IIb and aimed to determine if the vaccine could prevent infection or reduce viral load in patients who become infected with HIV. The trial consisted of a DNA-based vaccine to “prime” the immune system followed by a recombinant vaccine with the adenovirus type 5 vector housing genetic material encoding HIV antigens. Approximately 2500 people enrolled in the study. This phase of the study was limited to men who have sex with men and transgender individuals who have sex with me. Of the participants, 1250 received the vaccine and 1244  received the placebo.  Overall, 71 cases of HIV were reported (30 placebo recipients and 41 vaccine recipients). Additionally, there were 30 participants with a measurable viral load (15 placebo/15 vaccine). Based on these findings, the NIH decided to halt vaccination at each of the trial sites.  (NIH News)

Oregon’s math problem: How to measure health? – In an effort to improve health care and reduce unnecessary expenses, the Obama administration granted the state of Oregon almost $2 billion to coordinate better health care practices. The state has decided on 33 different measurements in evaluating health care providers. For example, health care providers are encouraged to ask patients if they use drugs or alcohol. If the patients answers affirmatively, the clinician is supposed to ask follow up questions and refer the patient to facilities to help them if necessary. The goal of the program is to have doctors refer patients for additional services only when necessary. The state has 5 years to fully implement the evaluations and prove that medical costs have not increased. (Kristian Voden-Vencil)

U.S. lawmakers propose new criteria for choosing NSF grants – A new bill drafted by Lamar Smith (R-TX) would replace NSF peer review with funding criteria chosen by Congress. Additionally, the bill includes language that suggests that every other scientific agency could be evaluated by the same process. All awarded NSF grants would have to meet the following criteria:

1) “… in the interests of the United States to advance the national health, prosperity, or welfare, and to secure the national defense by promoting the progress of science;

2) “… the finest quality, is groundbreaking, and answers questions or solves problems that are of utmost importance to society at large; and

3) “… not duplicative of other research projects being funded by the Foundation or other Federal science agencies.”

The top Democrat on the House of Representatives science committee, Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX), strongly opposes the legislation stating that no chair of the science committee has ever deemed themselves an expert in the science underlying the grant proposals. (Jeffrey Mervis)

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

May 2, 2013 at 1:01 pm