Science Policy For All

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Science Policy Around the Web – June 23, 2015

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By: Rebecca A. Meseroll, Ph.D.

Water conservation

Satellite data reveals depletion of underground water supply

A decade-long study using NASA satellite data reveals that 21 of the world’s 37 largest aquifers have passed their sustainability tipping points, i.e., more water was removed from the aquifers than replenished over the course of the ten years that study was conducted. These underground water supplies account for 35 percent of human water usage around the globe, with increased use during times of drought, when above-ground water sources are diminished. Stress on the aquifers varies around the world, but was found to be highest in the areas of dense human populations, especially in dry environments. The most drastically depleted aquifer is the Arabian Aquifer, which services more than 60 million people, followed by the Indus Basin in India and Pakistan. Aquifer depletion rates are also high in locations where water-demanding activities, including various types of mining and drilling for oil and natural gas, take place, such as the Canning Basin in western Australia. Although water basins do become replenished with rainwater and snow melt, this is a process that can take thousands of years. According to Jay Famiglietti, the principal investigator of the study, the stress on the aquifers is anticipated to get worse as with global warming, as areas around the equator receive less rain and people living in those areas need to get more water from underground sources. Population growth is also expected to put strain on the aquifers. Water conservation efforts will be required to prevent further depletion of aquifers worldwide. (Todd Frankel, Washington Post)

Supplement regulation

Senator calls for scrutiny of Alzheimer’s supplements

Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri), a ranking member of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, sent letters last week to fifteen major retailers asking what efforts they were making to prevent the sale of any fraudulent or potentially dangerous supplements that claim to protect against Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. The letters requested documentation of retailers’ policies relating to sale, marketing, removal, and reporting of adverse effects of dietary supplements. Federal law, as laid out by the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, allows supplement manufacturers to make general claims about their products’ health benefits, but prevents them from claiming a supplement can treat a specific disease. Despite this legislation, supplements claiming to protect against diseases still make it into the marketplace. In her letter to Amazon, McCaskill specifically targets a supplement called Brain Armor, touted by its manufacturer to protect against Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and several other hallmarks of cognitive decline.   Although this particular supplement was removed from Amazon following notification by the FDA, which had been made aware of the supplement’s illegal claims during a staff meeting with McCaskill, the letter raises the question of why it had been for sale in the first place. Supplement regulation has been in the news previously this year when the New York State attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, sent cease and desist letters to GNC, Target, Walmart, and Walgreens, upon discovering that these retailers were selling herbal supplements that contained unlisted contaminants or did not even contain what was on the label. New legislation may be necessary to protect consumer safety if current regulations are not sufficient. (Anahad O’Connor, The New York Times)

Ebola drug development

Trials for potential Ebola drug halted

Tekmira Pharmaceuticals and the Wellcome Trust announced late last week that they ceased enrollment in a trial for the potential Ebola drug, TKM-Ebola-Guinea, because the study had reached a statistical endpoint, meaning the trial would not likely be improved by increased enrollment in the study. Although the drug was found to be an effective anti-Ebola therapeutic in rhesus monkeys, it has not proven beneficial for human patients. TKM-Ebola-Guinea is composed of several small RNA molecules, which interfere with Ebola proteins to counteract replication of the virus, inside a lipid nanoparticle. The drug tested on humans uses an older type of lipid nanoparticle compared to the one used on the monkeys, because the newer lipid nanoparticle has not undergone safety trials yet, and this difference may have an influence on the efficacy of the drug. Trial design has also presented some difficulties in analysis of the data, due to the ethical considerations of treating infected patients with a placebo instead of the drug. Everyone enrolled in the study received the drug, and outcomes were compared with those of patients at treatment centers not involved in the trial, rather than a control group receiving a placebo or a different drug. Data that have been collected from the trial thus far will still be analyzed to learn more about the tolerability of the drug and its effect on the patients that were treated with it. Clinical trials for other potential Ebola treatments and preventions, such as the antibody cocktail ZMapp and two candidate vaccines, are ongoing. (Gretchen Vogel and Kai Kupferschmidt, ScienceInsider)

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

June 23, 2015 at 9:00 am

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