Science Policy For All

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Science Policy Around the Web – March 1, 2016

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By: Melissa Pegues, Ph.D.

Photo source: pixabay.com

European Science

Exit from European Union Could impact British Research

As Britain considers its future with the European Union (EU), academics worry that an exit could jeopardize British research. Scientists in the United Kingdom (UK) are concerned that acquiring funding for their work may become more difficult. There is also concern that collaborations between British scientists and researchers in other member states that have been fostered through the EU could be disrupted. Nobel Prize winner Professor Sir Paul Nurse has indicated that because ideas and people are easily shared, all EU scientists have benefited from the union. Science Minister Jo Johnson also believes it would be detrimental to the future of British research if the UK were to secede, and during remarks from an event hosted by the Royal Society stated that “the risks to valuable institutional partnerships, to flows of bright students and to a rich source of science funding mean the Leave campaign has serious questions to answer.”

It remains unclear whether or not scientific funding would be adversely affected by a British exit. Between 2007 and 2013 the UK has supplied over 78 billion Euros to the EU with 5.4 billion Euros specified for research and development. In that same time period, UK researchers have received 8.8 billion Euros from the EU for research. This amounts to approximately 16% of total research funding. However, it is unknown if the UK could still submit applications for funding if they chose to secede. Norway and Switzerland, non-EU members, do receive funding for scientific research through the EU, demonstrating that it may be possible for the UK as well. An exit would also raise questions as to how current large-scale, international collaborative efforts such as CERN and the European Space Agency will proceed. Additionally, the UK has worked with other EU member states to reform policies pertaining to clinical trials that would ease the bureaucratic burden through measures such as simplified reporting and lighter regulations where medicines are already authorized and promote sharing of data, while still protecting clinical trial volunteers. Opponents to staying in the EU, including Scientists for Britain, counter that the UK is not reliant on the EU for funding or participation in collaborative projects. Still, British researchers may lose priority to EU members when trying to access funds, and will lose their political voice in discussion of the future of these projects.

While the potential effects of a British exit from the EU remain under debate, Britons will have much to consider. A referendum has been set for June 23rd. (, BBC News)

Biotech and Intellectual Property

Illumina files suit over DNA sequencing technology

Illumina has recently filed a lawsuit against rival Oxford Nanopore Technologies arguing that technology used in Oxford Nanopore’s devices infringe upon patents held by Illumina for sequencing technology produced by researchers at the University of Washington and the University of Alabama at Birmingham. California-based Illumina, a leader in the development of technologies used for next generation sequencing (NGS), was once an investor in UK-based Oxford Nanopore Technologies, but that relationship ended in 2013 when Oxford Nanopore turned their focus towards technologies not covered by their agreement.

The suit is centered on Oxford Nanopore’s palm-sized MinION sequencer that has been hailed for its size, speed, and low cost. Although the device’s accuracy is not high enough for use in studying human genomics, the device is well-suited for reading smaller sequences and applications where data needs to be read in real time, such as diagnosing infections during epidemics. Indeed, the device was used to identify new infections during the recent Ebola epidemic in Western Africa. Although Illumina does not currently market a similar device, they argue that they have made “substantial investments” in nanopores, and that the pore used in the MinION infringes upon patents that Illumina holds for pores used to read DNA.

Oxford Nanopore was the first to commercialize nanopore technology for sequencing DNA and have planned the release of a higher-throughput device, PromethION, for later this year. If successful, Illumina’s suit could prevent Oxford Nanopore from selling their devices in the US. Some researchers, including Opinionomics author Mick Watson, worry that this could threaten the development of innovative sequencing methods.

Oxford Nanopore’s CEO, Dr. Gordon Sanghera responded to the litigation by stating that “[i]t is gratifying to have the commercial relevance of Oxford Nanopore proucts so public acknowledged by the market monopolist for NGS.” (Erika Check Hayden, Nature News)

Public Heath and Infectious Disease

Japanese encephalitis virus could have a new transmission route in pigs

Mosquitoes have recently been in the news for being potent disease vectors in diseases like Zika. However, many questions remain as to how these mosquito-borne diseases are maintained when their vectors die out over temperate months. A recent study assessing Japanese encephalitis virus (JEV) transmission, a mosquito-borne virus that is distantly related to the Zika virus, provided a surprising answer: pigs. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the JEV causes approximately 68,000 clinical cases per year. While progression to encephalitis is rare, it can cause lifelong neurological damage or even death. It is well established that pigs act as a reservoir from which uninfected mosquitoes can acquire the virus before spreading the virus to other animals. Although this cycle was well-accepted, a natural question that arose from this paradigm is how the virus is maintained when mosquitoes are absent. The study identified that during the colder months, pigs can pass JEV to other pigs, where “the virus lingered for weeks in the pigs’ lymphatic tissue and tonsils.” This is the first time mosquito-free transmission of the virus has been documented in pigs, but remains to be further validated on the farms where natural transmission occurs. Interestingly, a vaccine does exist for this virus for both humans and pigs. Implementation of this vaccine has proven difficult, since “it’s not cost-effective to vaccinate pigs because they breed and turn over so quickly.” As such, the WHO suggests on their site “that JE vaccination be integrated into national immunization schedules in all areas where JE disease is recognized as a public health issue.” (Laurel Hamers, Science News)

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

March 1, 2016 at 9:00 am

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