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Science Policy Around the Web – October 9, 2015

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By: Rebecca A. Meseroll, Ph.D.

Refugee scientist relief policy

Program launched to help refugee scientists find opportunities in Europe

Many thousands of Syrian refugees have fled to Europe in recent months, and among those in crisis are scientists who had to leave their research behind. The European Commission has demonstrated its support for these refugees by launching an E.U.-wide program called Science4Refugees, which will allow refugee scientists to be matched with universities and other institutions that have volunteered to be a part of this initiative. The program will provide an online portal where refugees who are interested in jobs, internships, or other training opportunities at the institutions can get more information about available vacancies and upload their CVs. Refugee job seekers will not receive preferential treatment and must compete for available positions with all other applicants, but this approach should at least help increase refugees’ awareness of which institutions have vacancies and provide a centralized online location to apply for these jobs. Science4Refugees joins the ranks of other initiatives that provide relief for displaced scientists in individual countries around the E.U., including established programs such as the UK’s Council for At-Risk Academics, which was instituted in the 1930s to help scientists persecuted by the Nazis and the Scholars at Risk program in the Netherlands, as well new programs in Germany and France. (Tania Rabesandratana, ScienceInsider)

Women in STEM

‘Pretty Curious’ campaign criticized

In an effort to increase the involvement of women in science and technology, a London-based energy company, EDF Energy, recently started a program to foster interest in STEM among girls ages 11-16, but the initiative has garnered some objections because of its name – Pretty Curious. Some critics of the name bristle at the implication that girls place a lot of importance on being pretty and liking pretty things, and thus need to be tempted with prettiness to be interested in STEM. Others object to the use of ‘pretty’ as an adverb, as they believe it suggests the girls will be only fairly interested in STEM topics, rather than truly passionate. EDF Energy states that they chose the name intentionally to “to challenge the stereotypes around personal appearance that are often applied to girls,” as well as to draw attention to their campaign. Pretty Curious plans to hold workshops in the UK to teach girls technological activities and techniques, such as coding and 3D printing, as well as introduce them to various female role models who have succeeded in STEM fields. Whether the program will overcome its early controversy and help increase representation of women in science remains to be seen. (Chris Woolston, Nature)

Animal population control

New vaccine provides hope for single-shot animal birth control

A recent study by Li et al. in Current Biology presents a new method of vaccine sterilization for both male and female mice, which may be a promising technique for cheap, easy, and long-lasting animal population control for pets and wildlife. Pet populations tend to be controlled by spaying or neutering, but these procedures require anesthetization and can be costly. Animal contraceptive vaccines that are currently in use, such as GonaCon, have been used to sterilize deer and other wildlife, and work by eliciting an immune response to gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), which is required for production of sex hormones. These vaccines often lose their efficacy after several years if administered in a single dose. The new vaccine developed by Li et al. contains an anti-GnRH antibody encased in an inactive viral shell and uses the animal’s muscle cells to generate more antibodies, rather than the immune system. Because muscle cells are long-lived, they continue to produce antibody in over a long period of time without the need for a booster. When injected into muscles of the mice at a high enough dose, the vaccine conferred long-term infertility to the animals, although there is a two-month lag between injection and the onset of infertility, as the muscles ramp up production of the anti-GnRH antibody. Future study will be required to minimize the lag time and test the technique in animals other than mice before it can be used to control captive and wild animal populations. (Sarah C.P. Williams, Science)

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October 9, 2015 at 9:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – October 6, 2015

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By: Eric Cheng, Ph.D.

Photo credit link: pixabay

HIV drug policy

Treat all people living with HIV, offer antiretrovirals as additional prevention choice for people at “substantial” risk

A new policy change recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) will remove previous limits which suggested that patients wait until the disease progresses instead of treating HIV infection when first detected.  The previous WHO guidelines limited treatment to people whose immune cell counts had fallen below a certain threshold. This new change could prevent more than 21 million deaths and 28 million new infections by 2030, which is in line with the United Nation’s aim of ending the AIDS epidemic in the same year.

“Everybody living with HIV has the right to life-saving treatment. The new guidelines are a very important step towards ensuring that all people living with HIV have immediate access to antiretroviral treatment,” said Michel Sidibe, executive director of UNAIDS. However, this move would lead to an increase in demand for antiretroviral therapy, which generally are given as a three-drug cocktail aimed at reducing the risk of the virus developing resistance. This increase in demand will lead to an increase in required financial support from both charities and governments.  Currently, almost $22 billion is currently spent on AIDS in poor and middle-income countries, half of it contributed by donors, according to UNAIDS. Even before the new guidelines were announced, the necessary funding was predicted to rise to $32 billion by 2020. “Now the question becomes how quickly will governments take up this recommendation,” Matthew Kavanagh, senior policy analyst for the U.S.-based Health Global Access Project. (WHO News Release)

NIH Leadership

Selection of Dr. Michael Lauer as the Deputy Director for Extramural Research, NIH

Michael S. Lauer, M.D, the Director of the Division of Cardiovascular Sciences (DCVS) at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) has been selected to head the extramural research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). As the director of DCVS, Dr. Lauer provided leadership in basic, clinical, population, and health services research on the causes, prevention, and treatment of cardiovascular diseases in one of the largest extramural divisions at NIH with a $1.7 billion portfolio. Now as director of the Office of Extramural Research, Dr. Lauer will oversee policies and guidelines for extramural research administration within NIH and in the biomedical research community.

Dr. Lauer will be replacing Sally Rockey, who resigned in June to accept a position at a new nonprofit called the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research. (Francis S. Collins, NIH)

International Scientific Community

Scientist says researchers in immigrant-friendly nations can’t use his software

A German scientist, Gangolf Jobb, writes that he will be revoking the TREEFINDER licenses of researchers in Germany, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdom on October 1 because of the countries’ immigration policy. He wrote “Immigration to my country harms me, it harms my family, it harms my people. Whoever invites or welcomes immigrants to Europe and Germany is my enemy,” and added, “Immigration unnecessarily defers the collapse of capitalism, its final crisis.”

TREEFINDER is a computer program that computes phylogenetic trees from molecular sequences. It is commonly used to build diagrams to show the most likely evolutionary relationship of various species. Fortunately there are alternatives to this software, which has not been updated since March of 2011. Researchers in the United States had already been banned from using the program in February to protest “a small rich elite there that misuses the country’s power to rule the world. The USA is our worst enemy.” (Kai Kupferschmidt, ScienceInsider)

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October 6, 2015 at 9:00 am

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Science Policy Around the Web – October 2, 2015

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By: Danielle Friend, Ph.D.

Health Policy Conflict of Interest

Coca-Cola Funds Scientists Who Shift Blame for Obesity Away From Bad Diets

Coca-Cola recently released statements indicating that they have given more than $118 million in funding to health-related projects with approximately $22 million allocated to health research. A complete list of projects funded by Coco-Cola can be found here. The release of these numbers is presumed to be in response to growing fears and complaints regarding the possibility of biased influence of food and beverage companies support on nutrition research. Additionally, the New York Times reports that Coco-Cola recently used $1.5 million to help create the Global Energy Balance Network, a non-profit that emphasizes the importance of physical activity rather than diet in weight control and maintenance. The Global Energy Balance Network has partnered internationally with scientists to help spread the message that “weight conscious Americans are overly fixated on how much they eat and drink while not paying enough attention to exercise.” Conversely, health experts state that Coco-Cola’s message is misleading and is an effort to reduce the responsibility that companies like Coco-Cola have played in developing sugary drinks that contribute to obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Sales of sugary drinks have significantly sank in the last few years and companies like Coco-Cola are likely using this new tactic to encourage health-conscience consumers to focus more one exercise than diet in relation to weight loss and maintenance but clearly brings up concerns about the ethics of this tactic. (Anahad O’Connor, New York Times)


Dr. Insel to leave NIH, headed for Google

The director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Dr. Tom Insel, recently announced that he will be leaving his position after 13 years to join the Google Life Science team (GLS). During his time at the NIH, Dr. Insel is credited for shifting the field of mental health toward a more biology based, biomarker approach. In particular, Dr. Insel’s work at the NIH has focused on trials demonstrating that many of the medications that are currently available to treat mental illness are not as effective as previous thought. When asked what type of projects Dr. Insel will be leading at GLS, he responded that the projects were currently still undefined but would likely involve the development of technology that could aid in public health by tracking and predicting behavior related to mental illnesses. Tom also stated that the “GLS mission is about creating technology that can help with earlier detection, better prevention, and more effective management of serious health conditions. I am joining the team to explore how this mission can be applied to mental illness.” Google Life Sciences is currently a division of Google X and will soon become a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., a conglomerate of several companies linked to Google.

NASA Discovery

Water on Mars

Scientist at National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) confirmed this week that they have identified liquid water on Mars. The news was announced by James L. Green, the director of NASA’s planetary science division. This news is especially exciting to those who are interested in examining whether life exists on other planets. “We haven’t been able to answer the question, ‘Does life exist beyond Earth?’ But following the water is a critical element of that. We now have, I think, great opportunities in the right locations on mars to thoroughly investigate that”, Green states. The house committee on Science, Space, and Technology held hearings on Tuesday titled “Astrobiology and the Search for Life Beyond Earth in the Next Decade” with the mission of reviewing scientific methods to be used to search for life, examine recent scientific discoveries in the field of astrobiology, and to assess the prospects of finding life beyond Earth over the next decade. Much of the hearings will focus on the Mars Exploration Program. (Kenneth Chang, New York Times)

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October 2, 2015 at 9:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – September 29, 2015

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By: Cheryl Jacobs Smith, Ph.D.

Photo source: capitol via licence

Legislative Policy

Congress moves closer to averting government shutdown with Senate vote

Amidst the controversial language to de-fund Planned Parenthood in a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the federal government solvent, the Senate pushed ahead with a stopgap spending bill to keep federal services running for a few more months – and with no cuts to Planned Parenthood. An earlier link post by Sara Cassidy, M.S., Ph.D. reported that some in Congress were pushing for budget legislation that would de-fund Planned Parenthood written into the CR to fund the National budget. That particular addition to the legislation threatened that the CR would not be passed by the September 30th deadline resulting in a government shutdown. However, since John Boehner, 53rd Speaker of the House, announced his resignation at the end of October, Republican leaders joined by Democrats went forward with a short-term funding measure to keep the government operating without cuts to Planned Parenthood. On Monday, the Senate overwhelmingly advanced the government funding bill by a 77-19 vote. Final passage in the Senate is likely to come Tuesday. The House is expected to vote Wednesday. (Lisa Mascaro, Los Angeles Times)


FDA OKs Novo Nordisk Diabetes Drug Tresiba

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Novo Nordisk’s anti-diabetic drug, Tresiba on Sept. 25. The Denmark-based company behind Tresiba is pleased with the FDA’s approval. “We are very happy with FDA’s decision to approve Tresiba and Ryzodeg as we believe these products offer significant benefits and important treatment options for people with type-1 and type-2 diabetes”, said Lars Rebien Sørensen, president and chief executive officer of Novo Nordisk. Sørensen added that this approval is a milestone for the company. Tresiba was initially disapproved by the FDA due to the lack of data on the risk for heart problems. Tresiba is a long-acting insulin used to control blood sugar levels of type-1 and type-2 diabetics and can last up to 42 hours. Living with type-1 or type-2 diabetes is similar to other chronic disorders where the care and maintenance of the disease encompasses every minute of the day. This longer-acting insulin promises to give some relief. Another positive aspect about the passage of Tresiba is that Novo Nordisk’s North America’s chief medical officer, Todd Hobbs said that “We want to do everything we can to make it as affordable and as broad of an access as we can.” (Julienne Roman, Tech Times)

Environmental News

After a year of stonewalling, Volkswagen finally came clean

Volkswagen stunned two senior officials with the U.S. Environmental Protective Agency (EPA) by admitting the automaker hacked its own cars to deceive U.S. regulators about how much their diesel engines pollute and exceed EPA emission regulations. U.S. officials exposed the deception on September 18, triggering Volkswagen’s admission that it had installed software in its cars to detect when they were being tested and alter settings to conceal the true emissions of 11 million cars sold worldwide. As a result, Volkswagen, the world’s largest automaker by sales, faces EPA fines that could reach $18 billion. (Reuters)

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September 29, 2015 at 11:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – September 25, 2015

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By: Elisavet Serti, Ph.D.

Image courtesy of NIH Image Bank

Drug Policy

The new hepatitis C virus bottleneck: Can delaying therapy be justified?

Chronic Hepatitis C infection affects more than 3.2 million people in the United States, resulting in severe liver disease, cirrhosis, hepatocellular carcinoma and death. The FDA approval of the new anti-Hepatitis C direct acting antivirals marked a revolution in HCV therapeutics; it is now possible to offer patients safe and highly effective (more than 90%) alternatives to pegylated interferon and ribavirin. However, the high cost of these new treatment regimens has proven to be a major obstacle to their delivery. Twelve weeks of anti-Hepatitis C oral treatment costs between $80,000 and $95,000, and it has been estimated that total health care costs related to Hepatitis C therapy could soon reach $27 billion per year. As a consequence, many state-funded and private insurance programs have restricted access to direct acting antiviral-based therapy to patients with advanced fibrosis and extra-hepatic manifestations. In Texas, Medicaid has elected not to cover this type of therapy at all.

In a recent Hepatology editorial, the editors wondered about the potential burdens of this Hepatitis C therapy bottleneck that leads to exclusion of the majority of chronic patients due to high costs. The editors argue that “while persons with advanced fibrosis are clearly at higher risk for short-term complications, it is not clear that persons with lesser degrees of fibrosis are not at risk for harm.” A recent meta-analysis has demonstrated that rates of fibrosis progression may be far more accelerated than previously thought. This means that the option of delaying therapy runs the risk of progression to cirrhosis and development of hepatocellular carcinoma. The editors argue that delaying therapy could introduce the added burden of implementation of hepatocellular carcinoma or portal hypertension screening. Also, chronic Hepatitis C has been associated with a variety of extra-hepatic manifestations like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, psychiatric disorders, depression, renal dysfunction and rheumatologic conditions. This means that we should factor these extra-hepatic complications when calculating the cost effectiveness of the new Hepatitis C therapies. For these and several other reasons, the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD) – Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) HCV guidance recommends that all infected persons should be treated.  (Tracy G. Simon and Raymond T. Chung, Hepatology)

Biomedical Research

Is the Alzheimer’s protein contagious?

A study recently published in Nature concluded that human transmission of amyloid-b pathology and cerebral amyloid angiopathy is possible. In simpler terms, they concluded that Alzheimer’s disease can be transmissible person-to-person, under special iatrogenic (or medical treatment) routes. The researchers examined the brains of eight people that had died of iatrogenic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) as a result of treatment with human cadaveric pituitary-derived growth hormone contaminated with prions. Prions are misfolded proteins with incubation periods that can exceed five decades. Human transmission of prions has occurred via medical and surgical procedures worldwide as well as via cannibalism in Papua New Guinea. Although treatment with cadaveric-derived growth hormone stopped in 1985, iatrogenic CJD continues to be found.

The researchers showed evidences of amyloid-β spread in the brains of these subjects, which is responsible for the development of Alzheimer’s disease, supporting the theory that the contaminated growth hormone injections could have contributed to the development of iatrogenic Alzheimer’s disease as well. It has never been reported in the past that amyloid-β protein can be transmittable through other medical procedures, such as brain surgery or blood transfusion. These results and their interpretation spurred criticism from several neuro-specialists and researchers who noted that the prions causing CJD can also trigger the formation of amyloid deposits in these brains. Still, there is no epidemiological connection between the contaminated growth hormone injections and the development of Alzheimer’s disease (Emily Underwood, Science Latest News).

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September 25, 2015 at 9:00 am

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Science Policy Around the Web – September 22, 2015

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By: Kaitlyn Morabito, Ph.D.

photo credit: 2-cell via photopin (license)

Embryonic Research

U.K. researcher applies for permission to edit embryo genomes

Stirring up an old controversy about “designer babies”, a scientist at the Francis Crick Institute in London has applied for “a license to edit the genes of human embryos” from the UK’s Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA). In an effort to research early human development, researcher Kathy Niakan would like to use genomic editing to better understand this process. The use of genomic editing of embryos would be solely for use in the laboratory and not used for reproduction. This application comes on the heels of calls from the scientific community to evaluate the risks and benefits of using these emerging and established techniques in embryonic research as well as develop new guidelines for their use. In the US, this research would be not be illegal, but would not be eligible for funding from the National Institutes of Health due to federal law. (Gretchen Vogel, ScienceInsider)

Public Health

Experimental Ebola drug ZMapp gets fast track status from FDA

With the Ebola epidemic still raging in West Africa, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has fast tracked approval of ZMapp, an antibody-based Ebola drug that initially made headlines for its experimental treatment of Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol.  In total, the drug was used in nine infected patients in Africa, the US, and Western Europe.  However, the efficacy of the drug cannot be evaluated since it was not administered in a controlled clinical trial.  The drug has been shown to be effective when given within forty-eight hours of infection in monkey studies.  ZMapp consists of three monoclonal antibodies that were generated in mice and acts by binding to the virus to prevent attachment and entry into new cells.  ZMapp will need to be shown to be both safe and able to induce an immune response in human before it will be given approval by the FDA. (Debra Goldschmidt,

NFL Head Trauma

87 of 91 tested ex-NFL players had brain disease linked to head trauma

According to a study by the US Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University, ninety-six percent of tissue samples tested for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, CTE, were positive.  CTE is a brain disease thought to be caused by trauma to the head and has become a headline regarding the safety of NFL players.  The samples came post-mortem from NFL players who were concerned that they may be suffering from CTE, so the overall prevalence in former NFL players is unknown.  Although publicized as being found mainly in athletes involved in repetitive brain trauma, CTE strikes non-athletes as well including people who experience grand mal seizures and abuse.  CTE can only be diagnosed post-mortem and is defined by the build-up of tau protein in the brain leading to neurological symptoms.  This is not the first time the NFL has addressed this issue, and have previously settled with former NFL players to cover medical expenses for disorders associated with repeated head trauma.  Additionally, the NFL has been working to decrease head trauma through changing regulations and evaluation procedures. (Jason Hanna, Debra Goldschmidt and Kevin Flower,

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September 22, 2015 at 9:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – September 18, 2015

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By: Sara Cassidy, M.S., Ph. D.

photo credit: via photopin cc

Legislative policy

Turmoil in Congress could lead to government shutdown and a stall in scientific research

Planned Parenthood has received a lot of negative press surrounding a video of a high-level executive talking about fetal tissue collection and sale. Despite the fact that Planned Parenthood is completely within the law regarding such sales, and fetal tissue research (typically in the form of stem cell research) is also legal and funded by the NIH (in the form of grants to university researchers), and has real promise in saving individuals with devastating disease, some in Congress are using anti-abortion grandstanding and the threat of de-funding Planned Parenthood to hold up passage of a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government solvent. If a CR is not passed by Sept 30th, the government will likely experience a shutdown similar to the one experienced in 2013.

The government shutdown impedes science in a variety of different ways. When the government is unfunded, NIH cannot enroll new patients to the clinical center including children with cancer. In 2013, the FDA was forced to furlough approximately 45% of its employees, which jeopardized food safety, since they were no longer able to inspect food manufacturers or monitor food imports. And the government shutdown was felt in science beyond the DC metro area. Scientists applying to the federal government for grants and funding to conduct research, who would have otherwise had their applications reviewed in October, had to wait until January for review. The Washington Post estimates the likelihood of a government shutdown on Oct 1st as “well over 50%”to 70%.

Women in STEM

Miss Vermont uses the talent portion of Miss America 2016 to promote STEM

Alayna Westcom didn’t tap dance or sing for her talent in Atlantic City on Sunday night (9/13/15), she chose beakers and chemicals in an effort to wow the crowds with chemistry. Westcom has a B.S. in forensic science from Bay Path University and an M.S. in medical laboratory science from the University of Vermont. More recently, she completed an internship with the Vermont state medical examiner’s office. Westcott plans to attend medical school after her tenure as Miss Vermont with the goal of becoming a medical examiner herself. Since her victory as Miss Vermont 2015, she has traveled the state sharing her love of STEM with school children, hoping reach 10,000 by the end of the year. Her chemistry demonstration in last night’s competition mixed potassium iodide, hydrogen peroxide, and soap to produce a foamy eruption called “elephants toothpaste”. You can see the demonstration at the 2015 Miss Vermont pageant here. While Miss Vermont was not crowned Miss America on Sunday, her elevation of science was a welcome addition to the talent competition.

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

September 18, 2015 at 9:00 am


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