Science Policy For All

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Science Policy Around the Web – February 16, 2016

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By: Julia Shaw, Ph.D.

Photo Credit: Kara Wall

The Environment

NYC waters are teeming with plastic particles, study finds

A recent study, conducted by the environmental group NY/NJ Baykeeper, has concluded that the waters around New York City are a “soup of plastic.” Inspired by a similar study of the Great Lakes, NY/NY Baykeeper collected water samples from the East River, the Hudson River in New York Harbor area, and the Passaic River and Raritan Bay in New Jersey and analyzed them for their plastic content. This study found an average of 256,322 plastic particles per square kilometer, with approximately 165 million plastic bits floating in the Harbor area. Plastic microbeads used in exfoliating skin care products contributed tens of millions of particles alone. The Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, which goes into effect in July 2017, will require companies to cease selling microbead products. Carcinogenic chemicals can also adhere to plastic particles, and be ingested by fish and shellfish mistaking the particles for food. As a result, city and state officials are advising women who are or may become pregnant and children to avoid eating seafood caught in the waters around New York City. A spokeswoman for the mayor said reducing plastics and other waste is a priority for the administration, which is working to put in place a ban on plastic-foam food containers as well as engaging in a public awareness campaign encouraging the use of reusable bags, mugs, and bottles in place of disposables. (Karen Matthews, Phys.org)

Global Health

Zika Virus Test is ‘Weeks, Not Years’ Away, WHO Says

Though first discovered almost 70 years ago in Uganda in 1947, the Zika virus has not been well-studied. However, the latest outbreak of Zika in Latin America is about to change that. On February 1st the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Zika virus a global public heath emergency. Zika virus is related to other mosquito-vectored viruses including those that cause dengue, yellow fever, and West Nile, but no test specific for Zika is commercially available. However, ten companies have developed assays to either directly detect viral particles in the blood or to detect specific antibodies raised against the virus. According to the W.H.O. assistant director general for health systems and innovation, Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, these assays bode well for the first commercial tests being available in a matter of weeks following independent validation and regulatory approval. Symptoms of infection include fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes, yet the most startling consequences are an apparent link to the neurological disorders microcephaly and Guillain-Barre syndrome in babies born to women exposed to the virus while pregnant. The government of El Salvador has advised women to delay any pregnancies until 2018, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the WHO are recommending pregnant women avoid travel to areas where the virus is actively circulating. Because the virus also appears capable of sexual transmission, the WHO further advises couples living in endemic areas to use condoms. Two early vaccine candidates, one from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and another from an Indian pharmaceutical company, Bharat Biotech, are being developed, yet Dr. Kieny cautions that “vaccines are still at least 18 months away from large-scale trials.” (Sewell Chan with contributions from Donald G. McNeil Jr., The New York Times)

Biomedical Ethics

Karolinska Institute vice-chancellor resigns in wake of Macchiarini scandal

Anders Hamsten, vice-chancellor of Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute (KI) has stepped down amidst ongoing controversy surrounding the work of surgeon Paolo Macchiarinini, a visiting professor at KI from 2010 through October 2015. A recent documentary that aired on Swedish public television re-ignited interest in the case, which involved the implantation of artificial trachea into eight patients, six of whom have since died. While originally hailed as a great success for regenerative medicine, questions have been raised concerning the accuracy of Macchiarini’s published papers describing the effectiveness of the technique. Hamsten led an investigation into Macchiarini’s work last year following the submission of whistleblower reports detailing suspected research misconduct by the surgeon, however, Hamsten cleared Macchiarini of all charges. In November, KI awarded Macchiarini a new 1-year contract. In a recent article published in the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter, Hamsen reversed his opinion stating, “[I]t seems very likely that my decision in this case was wrong. I realize it will be difficult for me to continue working as Vice Chancellor of Sweden’s most successful university with credibility and effectiveness.” The Macchiarini misconduct case is set to be reopened and responsibility for the inquiry transferred to the Central Ethical Review Board of Sweden. (Gretchen Vogel, ScienceInsider)

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

February 16, 2016 at 9:00 am

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