By: Kimberly Leblanc, Ph.D.
Kris Krüg via Photo Pin cc
Climate Change Policy
In symbolic move, Congress votes to gut Obama climate plans
Early last week, the U.S. House of Representatives approved two measures that would block the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) first-ever limits on carbon dioxide emissions from new and existing power plants. Just two weeks prior, the senate approved the same two measures, S.J. Res. 23 and S.J. Res. 24. In addition, a number of states, industry groups, and companies have taken the fight to the courts, asking judges to overturn EPA’s rules for new power plants. The legislative and judicial push is in response to Obama’s Clean Power Plan. The plan includes two EPA regulations that will limit greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector. One regulation sets carbon dioxide emissions limits for new and future power plants. The other, effective since August, sets similar limits on existing power plants, but offers options that states can choose between to achieve the emission limits. These options are ranging from energy-efficiency measures to renewable energy to emissions trading. The power plan seeks to cut CO2 emissions from the power sector by 30% from 2005 levels by 2025. Obama plans to veto the bills, so the votes are largely a symbolic gesture, a way to send a message to the global leaders meeting in Paris at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change that U.S. lawmakers may not carry out any deal. (Puneet Kollipara, ScienceInsider).
Ethical Biomedical Research
The truth about fetal tissue research
On December 3, the Republican-led US Senate voted to strip Planned Parenthood of government funding. On November 27th, a gunman killed three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado. According to one law enforcement official, the shooter said “no more baby parts” after his arrest. These events are a reaction to covertly filmed Planned Parenthood videos, in which senior physicians bluntly discussed their harvesting of fetal organs from abortions for use in research. In 2014, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded 164 projects – 0.27% of the NIH’s budget – that used human fetal tissue for research. While the use of fetal tissue may be discomforting, the tissue, which is obtained legally with informed consent and without profit and which would have otherwise been discarded, has already led to major medical advances.
Vaccines for hepatitis A, German measles, chickenpox and rabies were developed using cell lines grown from tissue from two elective abortions that were performed in the 1960s. German measles “caused 5,000 spontaneous abortions a year prior to the vaccine,” said Dr. Paul Offit, an infectious-disease specialist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “We wouldn’t have saved all those lives had it not been for those cells. Fetal tissue was “absolutely critical” to the development of a potential Ebola vaccine that has shown promise, said Dr. Carrie Wolinetz, the NIH’s associate director for science policy. Fetal tissue has also been critical to the development of mouse models with humanized immune systems that have led to significant advances in HIV research, drug discovery, and vaccine development. Fetal tissue is being used to make significant advancements in research into cancer, autism, schizophrenia, juvenile diabetes, Huntington’s disease, eye development and disease, Hepatitis C, and more. Scientists point out that if there were better alternatives, they would turn to them. But those techniques are still being refined, and some fields are likely to remain reliant on fetal tissue, such as the study of fetal development.
The question for many scientists is what the fallout of the controversy will be. Since July, four bills that would criminalize or otherwise restrict the research (H.R. 3171, H.R. 3729, H.R. 3215, H.R. 3429) have been introduced in the US Congress, and lawmakers have launched similar efforts in a dozen state legislatures. (Missouri, Arizona and North Dakota already ban the research.) Overall, scientists think hard on the ethics of their work. “We are not happy about how the material became available, but we would not be willing to see it wasted and just thrown away” says Larry Goldstein, a neurobiologist at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine. (Meredith Wadman, Nature magazine and Scientific American, see also Scientists say fetal tissue remains essential for vaccines and developing treatments, by Collin Binkley and Carla K. Johnson, Associate Press, PBS News )
Research Funding and Bias
Research group funded by Coca-Cola to disband
The Global Energy Balance Network, a group of researchers spanning several U.S. universities whose research focused on metabolic energy balance, announced last week that it was shutting down. The group was financially backed and created by Coca-Cola, and public health authorities had been voicing concerns for months that the group’s mission was to play down the link between soft drinks and obesity. In a statement issued in August, the group’s president, Dr. James O. Hill, acknowledged that Coca-Cola had provided the money to start the Global Energy Balance Network, but insisted that Coca-Cola had “no say in how these funds are spent” and that it “does not have any input into our organization.” But a series of emails obtained by The Associated Press and reported last week suggested that Dr. Hill had allowed Coke to help pick the group’s leaders, create its mission statement and design its website. The group’s vice president, Steven Blair, said in a recent video announcing the new organization “Most of the focus in the popular media and in the scientific press is, ‘Oh they’re eating too much, eating too much, eating too much’ — blaming fast food, blaming sugary drinks and so on, and there’s really virtually no compelling evidence that that, in fact, is the cause.”
There is, in fact, compelling evidence that exercise has only minimal impact on weight compared with what people consume, although exercise has other significant health benefits. Furthermore, a recent analysis of beverage studies, published in the journal PLOS Medicine, found that those funded by Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, the American Beverage Association and the sugar industry were five times more likely to find no link between sugary drinks and weight gain than studies whose authors reported no financial conflicts. Last month, amidst the controversy, the University of Colorado School of Medicine said it would return a $1 million grant that Coca-Cola had provided to help start the organization. The University of South Carolina had also accepted $500,000 from Coke to help start the group, but a spokesman for the university did not return phone calls or messages asking what the university planned to do with the money it had taken. (Anahad O’Connnor, New York Times)
Have an interesting science policy link? Share it in the comments!