Science Policy For All

Because science policy affects everyone.

Archive for June 2014

Science Policy Around the Web – June 27, 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.

Oral Vaccine for Cholera Found Effective in Africa – A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine last month found that two doses of a new oral vaccine, Shanchol, provided 86 percent protection against cholera. Cholera causes diarrhea and dehydration so severe that it can kill. Shanchol is cheaper, packaged in a smaller container and is also easier to administer than the older vaccine, Dukoral. Shanchol, which costs less than $2, was developed with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. (Donald G. McNeil Jr.)

Researcher Charged in Major HIV Vaccine Fraud Case – Former Iowa State University laboratory manager Dong-Pyou Han had federal charges filed against him after he admitted to falsifying data. This falsification led to million of dollars in AIDS funding with hopes of a breakthrough in AIDS vaccine research. Han faked data that appeared to show promise for an experimental HIV vaccine by spiking samples of rabbit blood with human antibodies. The irregularities of Han’s research were discovered by another laboratory. He could face up to 5 years in prison for making these false statements. Iowa State has agreed to pay back the NIH nearly $500, 000, making up for the cost of Han’s salary. This case is the result of fierce competition to win scarce NIH funding and is a bellwether for desperately needed changes within the peer review funding process that, if not changed, will most likely lead to more and more desperate acts similar or worse than Han’s. (Ryan J. Foley)

U.S., U.K. debate nutrition advice – In an effort to get U.S. and U.K. citizens to eat healthier foods, government-led proposals in both countries are stirring up a lot of debate. In the U.S., The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed changes to the Nutrition Facts label on food products. These labels have not been overhauled since 1993 and since then, there have been substantial changes in our understanding of nutrition. While most people agree that changes need to be made, there is little consensus on specifically which changes should be made. However, one of the main topics of discussion is how to inform consumers about added sugars which many nutritional advocates agree is extremely detrimental to the U.S. diet.  In the U.K., a 366-page report was released recommending that the population consume “free sugar” (added sugars and naturally present sugars such as honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juices) that’s no more than 5% of their diet. (Jennifer Couzin-Frankel)

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June 27, 2014 at 1:30 pm

New Policy Alert! National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded Research Must Include Gender Balance

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By: Bethanie Morrison

Photo courtesy of clever cupcakes/photopin/cc

Not surprisingly, men and women progress through certain diseases differently and respond dissimilarly to certain medications. A variation in disease progression and response to therapeutics are due to many factors, some of which are linked to differences in genes expressed on the X and Y chromosomes1. In February, a 60 Minutes story highlighted the recent example of the drug Ambien, which is metabolized differently in women and men2. As a result of this story, a bipartisan group of 15 women senators wrote a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), urging the agency to improve the representation of women in drug trials3. In addition to enhancing the diversity of clinical drug trials, preclinical therapeutic development must also be addressed. For years, researchers avoided preclinical drug studies using female animals for fear that physiological changes that occur during reproductive cycles would confuse experimental outcomes. In an interview with the New York Times, NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins remarked that, “most scientists want to do the most powerful experiment to get the most durable, powerful answers. For most, this has not been on the radar screen as an important issue.4

The NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH) is dedicated specifically to the promotion of women’s health and sex differences research within and beyond the NIH scientific community5. Dr. Janine Clayton, Director of the NIH ORWH, is leading the NIH policy change initiative that will require scientists to include female animals and cell lines in preclinical research design6. In an interview with Judy Woodruff on the PBS NewsHour, Dr. Clayton explained, “what’s really important now is right now we have been able to put the focus on getting this as a priority. In fact, we are supporting scientists who are doing this research, but it wasn’t enough of a priority. In some way, it was like a blind spot. Scientists weren’t thinking about it.7” The issue now becomes the implementation of the policy by the scientific community.

In a comment published in Nature, Drs. Collins and Clayton disclosed that the NIH would be implementing this new policy in October 20148. Grants submitted to the NIH after October will be required to include plans for experimental gender or sex considerations. The ORWH will work with the FDA to co-fund the Specialized Centers of Research on Sex Differences program, which facilitates proper incorporation of sex and gender variables within experimental design and analysis. Going forward, reviewers and administrators of research grants and programs also need to be cognizant of any discrepancies regarding gender or sex in proposals. Implementing this new policy will ensure that biomedical research funded by the NIH continues to uphold the rigorous standards for which it is internationally recognized and insure that the differences in gender biology are properly incorporated into future biological discoveries.

 

1. Mogil, J. S. & Chanda, M. L. Pain 117, 1–5 (2005).

2. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/sex-matters-drugs-can-affect-sexes-differently/

3. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/60-minutes-helps-pave-way-for-change-at-nih-fda/

4. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/15/health/nih-tells-researchers-to-end-sex-bias-in-early-studies.html?_r=1

5. http://orwh.od.nih.gov/about/mission.asp

6. http://orwh.od.nih.gov/about/staff/clayton.asp

7. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/nih-orders-scientists-test-new-drugs-animals-sexes/

8. Clayton, J. & Collins, F. Nature 509, 282-283 (2014).

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June 26, 2014 at 7:01 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – June 22, 2014

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By: Jennifer Plank

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

Administration Takes Steps to Aid Bees – In recent hears, the numbers of honey bees and other pollinators have drastically decreased. In order to address the issue, President Obama has assembled a “pollinator health task force” consisting of individuals from 14 different federal agencies to address the decline and to determine if pesticides played a role in the reduction. (Josh Schwartz)

U.S. Senate wants more support for science at black colleges – The Senate appropriations committee has been urging the NSF to provide more funding for research and programs at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). The NSF agrees with the sentiment, but would prefer to address the issue on their own terms. A 2015 spending bill addresses the issue in 3 ways. 1- HBCUs should receive no less than 3 (out of 15) grants awards through I-Corps, 2- NSF should set aside $7.5 million for programs to attract minorities into the life sciences, and 3- the NSF should form a panel to address mechanisms to approve opportunities at HBCUs. (Jeffrey Mervis)

Report: Government warnings about antidepressants may have led to more suicide attempts – Beginning in the 2003, the government began issues warnings that children and adolescents may have increased suicidal thoughts while taking antidepressants. A recent study published in BMJ suggests that the warnings resulted in increased suicide attempts by young people because patients were afraid of seeking treatment. These findings further suggest that the warnings placed on antidepressants such as Paxil and Zoloft may have had unintended consequences. (Brady Dennis)

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June 22, 2014 at 4:32 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – June 13, 2014

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By: Bethanie Morrison

photo credit: Renée S. Suen via photopin cc

photo credit: Renée S. Suen via photopin cc

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

Japanese Stem Cell Debacle Could Bring Down Center –The RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology (CDB) may be forced to shut down in order to prevent a recurrence of research misconduct, according to a statement released from a press conference regarding this matter in Japan on June 12.  Haruko Obokata, Yoshiki Sasai, and Teruhiko Wakayama all will likely face severe disciplinary measures based both on research misconduct (Dr. Obokata) and lack of oversight (Dr. Sasai and Dr. Wakayama).  These measures may extend as high as to the Director of CDB, Masatoshi Takeichi.  This misconduct is not only the result of unreproducible results on a new method to reprogram mature cells into stem cells by Dr. Obokata, but also due to the strong desire of CDB to publish the latest stem cell method without regard for proper protocol.  These findings were the result of two RIKEN-formed committees, an investigation committee and a reform committee.  Disciplinary actions will be decided by yet a third committee.

Health Officials Call for More Fish in Diets of Children and Pregnant Women – In an update to its recommendation in 2004, the FDA is now calling for pregnant women to consume at least two servings of low-mercury seafood per week.  The upper limit of only three servings has been scrutinized by physicians who believe that the benefits gained by both the pregnant mother and her child of eating fish during pregnancy far outweigh the risks, as long as the fish is low in mercury.  High mercury fish such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, and albacore tuna should still be avoided during pregnancy, nursing, and in young children.  Studies have shown that children born to women who consume fish during pregnancy have higher I.Q.s and better behavioral development.  Dr. Roger B. Newman, the director of the obstetrics and gynecology department at the Medical University of South Carolina and a member of the Perinatal Nutrition Working Group believes that the recommendations are on the low side, but they are a step in the right direction.

UK Chief Scientist Calls for Urgent Debate on Climate Change Mitigation – Sir Mark Walport, the top science advisor to the government of the U.K., recommended that the government move past the debate on whether climate change exists to discussions on what to do about it, according to his interview with The Guardian.  He would like top scientists and engineers with ideas and who can communicate well to come forward and engage the public in a debate based on evidence, not politics.  At the same time Sir Walport acknowledges that ultimately how to combat climate change is not a science decision, but a policy decision. In order to be a good policy decision, however, the evidence from scientists must be taken into account by the policy makers.  The debate must move on from the experts in climate change, who are typically asked to speak at public engagements, and onto the experts in the realm of solar panels, agriculture, or insulation.  Changing from whom the general public hears and well as with whom policy makers engage will help to drive the conversation forward.  Hopefully more solutions will be employed and more arguments ended.

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June 13, 2014 at 11:13 am

Science Policy Around the Web – June 6, 2014

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By: Kaitlyn Morabito

photo credit: phalinn via photopin cc

photo credit: phalinn via photopin cc

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

Google Glass Enters the Operating Room –  Doctors at hospitals around the country are embracing Google Glass as a means to enhance surgery and training.  This technology allows doctors to project patient records and x-rays without having to look across the room.  Additionally, Google Glass can be used to videocast live or record surgeries for consultations with other specialists or train doctors in foreign countries.  It can also be used by emergency response crews to consult with doctors in the field.  Since Google Glass is hands free, it doesn’t pose a contamination threat.  Before Google Glass will be an operating room staples many concerns will need to be address.  This includes protecting patient privacy and preventing the dangers of multitasking and “tunnel vision” by operating doctors.  (Anahad O’Connor)

Unusual Microbe Engineered to Convert Grass to Gas – U.S. researchers have genetically modified bacteria, Caldicellulosiruptor bescii, originally found in the hot springs of Yellowstone National Park, to break down simple sugars into ethanol.  The goal of this research is to decrease the production and environmental cost of ethanol, which is currently manufactured from corn requiring a lot of energy and money.  Using Caldi, ethanol can be derived from cellulosic biomass such as plant leaves and stems including switch grass which can be grown anywhere.  The researcher seek to increase efficiency by 20% to make it viable and cheaper alternative.  (Robert F. Service)

Children with Autism have Elevated Levels of Steroid Hormones in the Womb – In a retrospective study, scientists in Cambridge and Denmark measured hormone levels in amniotic fluid samples from 128 males known to have autism.  These samples were from around 15-16 weeks of pregnancy, a known critical time period for early brain development.  Scientist found higher levels of all steroid hormones compared to normal controls.  This builds on previous knowledge that autistic traits are associated with higher levels of prenatal testosterone.  These finding may begin to explain why the autism rate is higher in males than in females.  Although an important step in finding in understanding autism, these findings cannot function as a prenatal screening test since there was overlap between the groups.  (Science Daily)

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June 6, 2014 at 12:26 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – June 1, 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.

F.D.A. Announces Stricter Rules on Tanning Beds – Stricter regulations of tanning beds were announced by the Food and Drug Administration on Thursday, which require manufacturers to put a black-box warning on tanning beds. The warning must state that the beds should not be used by anyone under the age of 18. Research studies have shown that indoor tanning before the age of 35 increases the risk of developing melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer, by 59 percent to 75 percent. Additionally, manufacturers will have to comply with the F.D.A. that the tanning beds do not deliver too much ultraviolet radiation and that the timers and alarms intended for controlling tanning times work properly. Manufacturers will have to stop selling models that do not meet the new standards by 2015. These new regulations stopped short of banning their use by minors but the F.D.A. did not rule out one in the future. (Catherine Saint Louis)

Asian Institutions Release Genomes of 3000 Rice Lines – Since rice production is expected to increase in demand by 25% by 2030, steps have been made to increase rice production. Researchers from three institutions have released the genetic sequences of 3000 rice lines, acquired from 89 different countries, which they hope will aid in discovery of new adaptive varieties. The sequencing confirmed that there are five broad varietal groups and identified approximately 18.9 million single nucleotide polymorphisms which may be indicative of important traits. The supporters of this research hope that the genetic information will identify genes for drought, disease, and pest resistance as well as tolerance for poor soils. (Dennis Normile)

NSF bill with dire implications for social sciences moves forward – The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee approved legislation that recommends drastic cuts to the US National Science Foundation’s (NSF) social science funding and controversial changes to the agency’s grant-making process. The bill is slated to reduce social, behavioral, and economic sciences by 22% in fiscal year 2014 with even further reductions recommended for 2015. These provisions and others have spurred outrage and protests from the broader scientific community and ignited concern from the National Science Board. The fate for this bill remains uncertain as it is unknown whether this bill will come up for a vote before Congress adjourns for the year. Also, the bill in it’s current form is unlikely to pass in the Senate. (Jessica Morrison)

 

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June 1, 2014 at 10:41 am