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Posts Tagged ‘Ebola

Science Policy Around the Web – February 21, 2017

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By: Rachel Smallwood, PhD


Should We Treat Obesity Like a Contagious Disease?

Researchers are modeling obesity from a public health perspective as a contagious disease. There are many factors associated with obesity, including genetics, low levels of physical activity, and high caloric intake. An earlier study examined the effects of different social factors on an individual’s risk of being obese; it found that people with obese friends and family were at an increased risk for obesity, and this trend was influenced by how close the relationships were.

In this model of the prevalence of obesity, the researchers included a factor to represent obesity as a “social contagion”, reflecting those previous findings and indicating a potential increased risk and increased prevalence due to transmission from one person to another. This mechanism is assumed to be related to people adopting the behaviors of those close to them; notably, activity levels and type and quantity of food consumed. The model predicts obesity rates in populations with terms associated with the genetic contribution to obesity, the mother’s non-genetic contribution to her offspring, and the prevalence of obesity. Essentially, the more obese individuals there are in a society, the more likely it is for someone to know and interact with an obese person.

The models indicate that obesity prevalence plateaus around 35-40% without an intervention. The model is still fairly primitive, but the researchers hope that in future it could provide insight into the effects of potential interventions. For example, is it better to target an intervention to individuals who are already obese, or should the reach of the intervention be more broad and target the population as a whole? When the models reach a level of complexity comparable to the existing factors for obesity, they can be a powerful tool in preventing and addressing the epidemic. (Kelly Servick, Science Magazine)


Brain Scans Spot Early Signs of Autism in High-Risk Babies

A study recently published in Nature showed that alterations in brain development in children who go on to be diagnosed with autism precede behavioral symptoms. High-risk infants’ brains were scanned with MRI at 6, 12, and 24 months. It was determined that the infants who were subsequently diagnosed with autism had a faster rate of brain volume growth between 12 and 24 months. Additionally, between 6 and 12 months, these infants had a faster rate of growth in the surface area of folds on the brain, called the cortical surface.

Taking these findings, the research team used a machine learning approach called a deep-learning neural network to make a model to predict whether an infant would be diagnosed with autism based on their MRIs from 6 and 12 months. This model was tested in a larger set of infants, and the model correctly predicted 30 out of 37 infants who went on to be diagnosed (true positives), and it incorrectly predicted that 4 infants would be diagnosed with autism out of the 142 who were not later diagnosed (false positives). These results are much more robust than behavior-based predictions from this same age range.

More work needs to be done to replicate the results in a larger sample. Additionally, all of the participants were high-risk infants, meaning they had a sibling who was diagnosed with autism, so the results are not necessarily generalizable to the rest of the population. Further studies need to be done in the general population to determine if these same patterns are observable, but that would require an even larger sample due to the lower risk. However, the early detection of symptoms and prediction of diagnosis are potentially valuable tools, especially considering another recent publication showed that early intervention in children with autism affects the severity of symptoms years down the road. (Ewen Callaway, Nature News)

Science Funding

Ebola Funding Surge Hides Falling Investment in Other Neglected Diseases

Funding totals from 2015 reveal a trending decrease in funding for neglected diseases, excluding Ebola and other viral hemorrhagic fevers. Neglected diseases are diseases that primarily affect developing companies, thus providing little incentive for private research and development by commercial entities; the other diseases include malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS. Given the recent surge of funding for Ebola research, the analysis firm, Policy Cures Research, decided to separate it from the other neglected diseases in its analysis to observe funding patterns independent from the epidemic that dominated the news and international concerns. Funding was tracked from private, public, and philanthropic sources.

The funding for Ebola research has primarily gone to development of a vaccine, and over a third of the funds were provided by industry. For the other diseases, the decline in overall funding is mostly represented by a decline in funding from public entities, primarily comprised of the governments of large, developed countries. Those countries accounted for 97% of the research funding for neglected diseases in 2015, so any significant change in that funding category would affect the overall funding amounts. However, there was also a slight decline in philanthropic funding. When including Ebola with the others, funding of neglected diseases was actually at its highest in the past ten years. It is not known whether money was funneled from the other diseases to Ebola research, or if this decline is indicative of less research spending in general. (Erin Ross, Nature News)

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February 21, 2017 at 10:03 am

Containing Emerging and Re-emerging Infections Through Vaccination Strategies

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By: Arielle Glatman Zaretsky, PhD

Source: CDC [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons

           Throughout history, humans have sought to understand the human body and remedy ailments. Since the realization that disease can be caused by infection and the establishment of Koch’s postulates, designed to demonstrate that a specific microbe causes a disease, humans have sought to identify and “cure” diseases. However, while we have been successful as a species at developing treatments for numerous microbes, viruses, and even parasites, pure cures that prevent future reinfection have remained elusive. Indeed, the only human disease that has been eradicated in the modern era (smallpox) was eliminated through the successful development and application of preventative vaccines, not the implementation of any treatment strategy. Furthermore, the two next most likely candidates for eradication, dracunculiasis (guinea worm disease) and poliomyelitis (polio), are approaching this status through the use of preventative measures, via water filtration and vaccination, respectively. In fact, despite the recent pushback from a scientifically unfounded anti-vaxxers movement, the use of a standardized vaccination regimen has led to clear reductions in disease incidence of numerous childhood ailments in the Americas, including measles, mumps, rubella, and many others. Thus, although the development of antibiotics and other medical interventions have dramatically improved human health, vaccines remain the gold standard of preventative treatment for the potential of disease elimination. By Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Recently, there have been numerous outbreaks of emerging or reemerging infectious diseases. From SARS to Ebola to Zika virus, these epidemics have led to significant morbidity and mortality, and have incited global panic. In the modern era of air travel and a global economy, disease can spread quickly across continents, making containment difficult. Additionally, the low incidence of these diseases means that few efforts are exerted to the development of treatments and interventions for them, and when these are attempted, the low incidence further complicates the implementation of clinical trials. For example, though Ebola has been a public health concern since the first outbreak in 1976, no successful Ebola treatment or vaccine existed until the most recent outbreak of 2014-2016. This outbreak resulted in the deaths of more than 11,000 people, spread across more than 4 countries, and motivated the development of several treatments and 2 vaccine candidates, which have now reached human trials. However, these treatments currently remain unlicensed and are still undergoing testing, and were not available at the start or even the height of the outbreak when they were most needed. Instead, diseases that occur primarily in low income populations in developing countries are understudied, for lack of financial incentive. Thus, these pathogens can persist at low levels in populations, particularly in developing countries, creating a high likelihood of eventual outbreak and potential for future epidemics.

This stream of newly emerging diseases and the re-emergence of previously untreatable diseases brings the question of how to address these outbreaks and prevent global pandemics to the forefront for public health policy makers and agencies tasked with controlling infectious disease spread. Indeed, many regulatory bodies have integrated accelerated approval policies that can be implemented in an outbreak to hasten the bench to bedside process. Although the tools to identify new pathogens rapidly during an outbreak have advanced tremendously, the pathway from identification to treatment or prevention remains complicated. Regulatory and bureaucratic delays compound the slow and complicated research processes, and the ability to conduct clinical trials can be hindered by rare exposures to these pathogens. Thus, the World Health Organization (WHO) has compiled a blueprint for the prevention of future epidemics, meant to inspire partnerships in the development of tools, techniques, medications and approaches to reduce the frequency and severity of these disease outbreaks. Through the documentation and public declaration of disease priorities and approaches to promote research and development in these disease areas, WHO has set up a new phase of epidemic prevention through proactive research and strategy.

Recently, this inspired the establishment of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) by a mixed group of public and private funding organizations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, inspired by the suggestion that an Ebola vaccine could have prevented the recent outbreak if not for the lack of funding slowing research and development, to begin to create a pipeline for developing solutions to control and contain outbreaks, thereby preventing epidemics. Instead of focusing on developing treatments to ongoing outbreaks, the mission at CEPI is to identify likely candidates for future outbreaks based on known epidemic threats and to lower the barriers for effective vaccine development through assisting with initial dose and safety trials, and providing support through both the research and clinical trials, and the regulatory and industry aspects. If successful, this approach could lead to a stockpile of ready-made vaccines, which could easily be deployed to sites of an outbreak and administered to aid workers to reduce their morality and improve containment. What makes this coalition both unique and exciting is the commitment to orphan vaccines, so called for their lack of financial appeal to the pharmaceutical industry that normally determines the research and development priorities, and the prioritization of vaccine development over treatment or other prophylactic approaches. The advantage of a vaccination strategy is that it prevents disease through one simple treatment, with numerous precedents for adaptation of the vaccine to a form that is permissive of the potential temperature fluctuations and shipping difficulties likely to arise in developing regions. Furthermore, it aids in containment, by preventing infection, and can be quickly administered to large at risk populations.

Thus, while the recent outbreaks have incited fear, there is reason for hope. Indeed, the realization of these vaccination approaches and improved fast tracking of planning and regulatory processes could have long reaching advantages for endemic countries, as well as global health and epidemic prevention.

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January 26, 2017 at 9:47 am

Science Policy Around the Web – April 12, 2016

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By: Amy Kullas, Ph.D.

A representation of the surface of the Zika virus is shown. A team led by Purdue University researchers is the first to determine the structure of the Zika virus, which reveals insights critical to the development of effective antiviral treatments and vaccines. (Purdue University image/courtesy of Kuhn and Rossmann research groups)

Funding the ongoing Zika pandemic

Shifting funds for Zika is a good start, but more money is still needed

Last week, the White House made the decision to redirect $589 million in unspent federal funds, previously allocated for an Ebola response, to cover costs associated with fighting and researching Zika. The White House is still advocating for additional funding for both the ongoing Zika pandemic and to replenish the money that was moved away from Ebola. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), informed ScienceInsider that ~$50 million of the reallocated funds will go to NIAID to fund Zika research. None of the redirected funds will come out of the money that NIAID had previously received for research on Ebola, as the vast majority of those funds have already been spent. Further, Fauci warns “That’s not enough to last me very long. We can start the work, but we can’t finish what we need to do.”

Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed in a press conference on April 12, “Everything we know about this virus seems to be scarier than we initially thought.”

In February, the Obama administration had requested almost $2 billion to help thwart the Zika virus and its transmission. Unfortunately, the Republican-controlled Congress failed to act on this emergency funding request. White house officials are nevertheless still trying to persuade Congress to pass the emergency Zika funding. Fauci bleakly predicts, “If we don’t get all of the Zika money, that is when things start getting hurt,” alluding to the possibility of having to further shift critical NIAID funds away from ongoing malaria, influenza, and tuberculosis research. (Puneet Kollipara, ScienceInsider)

Mental Health

Solutions to mental health impairments require global collaboration

Globally, almost 1/3 of people will suffer from a mood, anxiety, or substance-use issue during their lifetime. In fact, these disorders are one of the leading causes of disability. The resources to assist people facing these problems are not only inadequate in the United States, but around the world as well. There are some countries in Africa, where people are extremely underserved leaving them particularly vulnerable because these countries have the fewest resources for mental-health care as they only one psychiatrist for the entire country. In fact, there are only 9 mental health providers per 100,000 people worldwide.

Importantly, support for mental health does not lack political backing. Both the World Health Organization and the World Bank will coorperate to broaden global efforts in mental health. This past September, mental health was included in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Since 2011, new investments (estimated at ~$80 million US) have been made by the three largest funders of mental-health research in low- and middle-income countries: the US National Institute of Mental Health, Grand Challenges Canada, and the UK Department for International Development. Recently, research has focused on efficacy, effectiveness and implementation in the low- and middle-income countries. These local research teams often work or consult with colleagues in rich countries. Researchers, clinicians, and caregivers must unite to all work together because “when it comes to mental health, all countries are developing.” (Pamela Y. Collins & Shekhar Saxena, Nature Comment)

Vaccine shortage and Global Health

Dangerous shortage of yellow fever vaccine

Four. There are only four facilities worldwide that produce yellow fever vaccines: the Pasteur Institute, two government facilities in Russia and Brazil, and a French vaccine company Sanofi Pasteur. Unfortunately, their combined efforts have been failing the world’s demands and the ongoing outbreak in Angola only further emphasizes the escalating shortage. Jack Woodall, formerly of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, warns “another major outbreak…could be impossible to control.” He admits that this potential is something that he’s deeply concerned about.

Yellow fever is an acute viral hemorrhagic disease transmitted by infected mosquitoes. The ‘yellow’ in the name refers to the jaundice that affects some patients. Without treatment, up to half of severely affected people will die. Annually, there are an estimated 60,000-80,000 deaths attributed to yellow fever globally. There is no specific treatment for yellow fever, leaving vaccination the most important preventative measure.

When a yellow fever outbreak occurs in an urban setting, like the one in Angola, it is often relentless as the mosquitoes can easily transmit the virus person to person. William Perea, of the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) Control of Epidemic Diseases department, stated that Angola has confirmed 490 cases and almost 200 deaths, the actual numbers could be 10 fold higher. Since February, a large vaccine initiative has been underway, reaching 6 million of Luanda’s estimated 7.5 million residents. Currently, yellow fever has stretched into 6 of the 18 provinces in the country. The global emergency yellow fever vaccine stockpile has been left empty, unlikely to be replenished anytime soon. (Kai Kupferschmidt, ScienceInsider)

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April 12, 2016 at 12:00 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – February 9, 2016

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By: Cheryl Jacobs Smith, Ph.D.

Photo credit: Contains LEAD via photopin (license)

Health Policy

What the Science Says About Long-Term Damage From Lead

Almost two years since the city of Flint, MI switched from Detroit water to their local water supply, the citizens are finally being listened to in regards to their drinking water. Time and time again, citizens and researchers were ignored when they tried to alert local officials to their poor water quality conditions. Finally, Flint residents and researchers were able to get the message out: not only is their local water undrinkable, it is contaminated with lead.

Lead intoxication or lead poisoning does not necessarily lead to seizures, hospitalizations or medical events. However, health care professionals are still alarmed because lead levels in children reached 5 micrograms per deciliter (5 ug/dL). The percentage of children in Flint, MI under the age of 5 with lead levels that high have now since doubled (2.4 percent to 4.9 percent). Furthermore, in areas with the highest levels of lead, more than 10 percent of children have lead levels that are at least that high.

The most worrisome statistics are the long-term and lasting effects due to lead poisoning. A study published in Pediatrics examining more than 3,400 children in Rhode Island identified that children with blood lead levels between 5 to 9 micrograms per deciliter (5-9 ug/dL) fell below reading readiness for kindergarten. Additional studies examining lead levels and child development also report increase likelihood to engage in risky behaviors such as smoking or drinking at an early age.

Now that attention is centered on Flint, MI and its trouble with lead in the water, focus needs to turn to mitigating any long-term damage children and adults may have as a result of lead poisoning. Historically, lead has been used ubiquitously in manufacturing. Not only used for pipes, lead has been an additive in gasoline, in paint and has also accumulated in soil. We should take a lesson from Flint and analyze the state of lead poisoning in our own communities. As Aaron E. Carrol comments, “Until we solve the lead problem for good, we may be condemning children to a lifetime of problems.” (Aaron E. Carroll, The New York Times)

Public Health and Infectious Disease

Governor, health officials sued over Ebola quarantines

During the Ebola epidemic in 2014, several people coming back to the United States from West Africa were quarantined: meaning they could not return back to their normal lives for at least 20 days. For several of these people, they felt the quarantine was akin to imprisonment and now have filed a lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed by Yale Law School students against Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy and state health officials on behalf of ex-quarantined plaintiffs or those plaintiffs still in West Africa. The plaintiffs who were quarantined claim that they had no Ebola symptoms that warranted their isolation upon their return. The lawsuit seeks monetary damages and an order preventing any future quarantines. Plantiffs say, “Being quarantined made me feel like a criminal.” “There was no scientific reason to confine me to my apartment, with no visitors and a police officer parked outside my door.”

Like other governors of New York or New Jersey who issued quarantines to health workers returning from areas in Africa endemic with Ebola, Governor Malloy adopted the same stringent policies. Not only did health care workers feel undue prejudice or discrimination as a result of traveling to West Africa, but so did Liberians living in Connecticut. It will be interesting to see what the court rules.   (Dave Collins, The Washington Post)

Drug Policy

Cancer drug’s usefulness against Alzheimer’s disputed

A study described in the top biomedical journal, Science, in 2012 observed that bexarotene, an FDA-approved cancer drug, was able to clear a protein, A-beta, from the brains of mice. This reduced plaque formation and smaller forms of the protein which in essence reduced the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease which is known to accumulate proteins that form plaques in the brain that reduce brain function. Excitingly, the mice treated with bexarotene showed signs of improved learning and memory—a reversal of Alzheimer’s symptoms. However, a year after their work appeared, four reports, also in, Science, disputed some of those findings.

In tests on rats, Amgen, a pharmaceutical company, found that bexarotene didn’t drop levels of plaques or smaller forms of the protein, A-beta. The author of the original Science paper, Dr. Landreth, argued that the present study did not use a formulation of the drug that would persist at high enough levels in the brain to be useful.

“Larger trials would be more informative”, says Landreth, who stands by his group’s original findings. “When we published our Science paper, it took us five years and we did the best science we could,” Landreth says. “And I am convinced that we are right.” (Laura Sanders, Science News)

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February 9, 2016 at 9:00 am

UPDATE: Science Policy Around the Web – January 15, 2016

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By: Amanda Whiting, Ph.D.

photo credit: Microbe World via photopin cc

West Africa Ebola epidemic

New Ebola case confirmed in Sierra Leone, one day after the outbreak was declared over

A 22-year-old woman in Sierra Leone who passed away earlier this month has been confirmed as testing positive for Ebola. Authorities in the area are now actively engaged in “investigating the origin of the case, identifying contacts and initiating control measures to prevent further transmission,” according to a statement today by the World Health Organization (WHO). This new case comes a day after the WHO officially declared the West Africa Ebola epidemic over. Dr Bruce Aylward, WHO’s Special Representative for the Ebola Response, said yesterday that “we still anticipate more flare-ups and must be prepared for them.” Francis Langoba Kelly, spokesman for the Office of National Security in Sierra Leone, told local radio Friday that country’s level of preparedness is high and there is no cause for concern over the current case. It it hopeful that the country’s preparedness for and (unfortunate) practice in this situation will quickly shut down any possible transmission routes from this case. (J. Freedom du Lac and Kevin Sieff, The Washington Post)

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January 15, 2016 at 1:34 pm

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Science Policy Around the Web – January 15, 2016

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By: Amanda Whiting, Ph.D.

photo credit: Microbe World via photopin cc

West Africa Ebola epidemic

WHO declares Ebola outbreak over

On Thursday, January 14, 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) marked the end of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa at a press conference in Geneva, Switzerland, by declaring Liberia free of Ebola. This declaration means that at least 42 days (two 21-day incubation cycles of the virus) have passed since the last confirmed case of Ebola in Liberia tested negative for the virus twice. The other two countries most affected by the outbreak, Sierra Leone and Guinea, were declared Ebola-free in early November and late December 2015, respectively. This announcement marks the first time that all known chains of viral transmission in these three countries have been stopped. “Detecting and breaking every chain of transmission has been a monumental achievement,” said WHO director-general Margaret Chan in a news release. The final cost of this epidemic has been estimated at 11 300 people killed out of 28 500 infected, making it one of the worst international health disasters in history.

While Rick Brennan, directed of emergency risk management and humanitarian action at WHO stated that “today is a good day,” the risk of virus reemerging is a very real threat, and he stressed the need for continued vigilance. Liberia was first declared Ebola-free in May 2015 but has twice encountered new flare-ups of the virus, with the latest in November 2015. The risk of Ebola causing new flare-ups comes from the fact that Ebola can persist in some tissues and bodily fluids of survivors for months, such as in the eyeball fluid of one survivor, and in the semen of some survivors up to a year after infection.

With the outbreak now officially over, scientists and public health officials are looking at what lessons can and should be learned from it. The most important lesson, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and public face of the small US-based outbreak, is the need to strengthen health care systems in low- and middle-income countries. “If there was a system to have recognized and stopped the outbreak that began with the child in Guinea in December, 2013, we might have avoided the explosive outbreaks in Sierra Leone and Liberia.”(Kai Kupferschmidt,, Erika Check Hayden, NatureNews)

Embryonic Research

U.K. researcher details proposal for CRISPR editing of human embryos

A researcher in the United Kingdom, Kathy Niakan, of the Francis Crick Institute in London, has proposed using CRISPR genetic editing on embryos to study genes involved in early human development. Dr. Niakan previously applied to the U.K.’s Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) in September 2015 to renew her existing license to use human embryos in research, and to extend that license to include CRISPR editing. This proposal has just come up for review by HFEA, and Niakan met with journalists from the Science Media Centre on January 13th to talk about her research and proposal in advance of any decision. Her research currently uses human embryos that are left over from in vitro fertilization attempts and donated for research. After their use, these embryos are destroyed when they are 7 days old. Niakan hopes to use CRISPR to knock out genes known to play a role in human development when the embryos are single cells at only 1 day old, and study how that affects their development into blastocytes, a 5-day old embryonic structure. While Niakan speculated that research of this type might one day lead to improved treatments for infertility, for the near future her research involves one narrow goal – to determine what specific genes do in blastocytes. Whether or not she will be able to pursue these studies still depends on the near-future decision of the HFEA. (Erik Stokstad, ScienceInsider)

Public Heath Recommendations

Eggs are okay again

The final version of the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans was announced on January 7, 2016 in a joint press release from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). One of the more interesting points that many have jumped on was the fact that the 2015 guideline does not include a limit to cholesterol intake, and instead just states that “individuals should eat as little dietary cholesterol as possible.” Previous guidelines had recommended that Americans restrict their daily cholesterol intake to no more than 300 mg. This new governmental stance on cholesterol is more in line with current research and the findings of other nations. This does not mean that high blood levels of cholesterol are no longer bad – high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol have been clearly linked to heart disease. However, the contribution of foods high in cholesterol (such as eggs) to overall blood cholesterol levels may be overshadowed by the amount of cholesterol produced by a person’s own liver. As such, the amount of cholesterol one consumes becomes an individual’s personal decision based on their own medical history and situation. As with many aspects of health care, personalized nutrition may become the future of nutrition science. (Ariana Eunjung Cha, The Washington Post)

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January 15, 2016 at 9:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – January 12, 2016

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By: Tad Davenport, Ph.D.

Photo source:

Biomedical Resources

Funding for key data resources in jeopardy

The goal of science is to push boundaries of knowledge. In a letter to John Locke, Isaac Newton famously wrote about his own discoveries, saying: “If I have seen further, it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants.” The pace of scientific discovery is accelerating, and the findings accumulate rapidly – this means that the giants whose shoulders we stand on today have never been quite so gigantic nor have they ever grown so quickly.

Increasingly, biomedical researchers rely on curated databases such as UniProt, OMIM, FlyBase and others to rapidly sort through enormous (and rapidly growing) volumes of information. These databases provide digestible, searchable access to descriptions of protein function and interactions, post-translational modifications, mutations associated with disease, and changes in protein and RNA levels during the development of model organisms including fruitflies and zebrafish. These databases are essential for generating hypotheses and designing experiments to understand basic biology and disease mechanisms.

A recent report by Jocelyn Kaiser for Science magazine describes the fiscal challenges faced by the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in supporting the maintenance of these databases.  It is estimated that over $110 million or the NIH’s $30 billion annual budget is spent on maintaining these databases, and the cost is likely to continue growing in parallel with rapid expansion of genomic and other data.  To address the long-term “sustainability problem”, leaders of NHGRI have initiated discussions on alternative funding sources and mechanisms, including subscriptions and use-based fees. The enormous value of these databases for scientific progress is difficult to estimate, and every effort should be made to ensure easy accessibility for all researchers. (Jocelyn Kaiser, Science)

Vaccine Research

Unfilled Vials – Accelerating and Prioritizing Vaccine Development

Vaccines are a highly cost-effective means of preventing transmission of infectious agents. Unfortunately, vaccine development does not always make fiscal sense for pharmaceutical companies. In order to encourage pharmaceutical companies to take on the substantial financial burden of developing and testing vaccines in human clinical trials, it is likely that public-private partnerships, designed to mitigate the financial risk to companies, will play a critical role.

In a recent Science magazine article, Jon Cohen describes some recently proposed mechanisms for igniting private interest in developing and testing vaccines for pathogens that do not typically impact wealthy nations. One important step toward this goal is generating consensus regarding which pathogens should be prioritized for vaccine development.

Based on a poll of twelve vaccine experts, Science magazine generated its own list of the top ten pathogens that should be prioritized in designing new vaccines. Number one on the list was Ebola Sudan, a pathogen known and feared by many in the United States and other wealthy countries. However, a number of the pathogens on this list are less well-known in the United States (but no less important), including Chikungunya, Schistosoma, and Hookworm.  In ranking the pathogens, the contributors considered the pathogen’s impact on human populations, its transmissibility, its “potential to cause economic and social chaos”, and importantly, the feasibility of developing an effective vaccine (based on the immunity generated by natural infection, or preliminary results from tests in animal models). Cohen’s article enlightens the reader by presenting a balanced review of the challenges of vaccine development and a rational mechanism by which much-needed vaccines might be brought to market. (Jon Cohen, Science News)

The Future of Science

Interviews: Big ideas for better science

In a 2015 year-end interview with Kendall Powell of Nature magazine, four notable scientists made recommendations for how to improve the practice and culture of scientific research.

Jin-Soo Kim from Seoul National University suggests that eliminating the one-directional anonymity of the peer review process and openly crediting reviewers would reduce the potential conflict of interest in which a competing scientist is asked to review a colleague’s paper.

Jean-Baptiste Mouret at the French Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation, recommends improving the openness and accessibility of computer programs used in research, with numerous potential benefits including better reproducibility and faster scientific progress.

Maria Cristina De Sanctis at the Institute for Space Astrophysics and Planetology in Rome emphasizes the importance of encouraging women in science from the very earliest ages.

And Danielle Edwards from the University of California, Merced recommends instilling more humanity in scientific research by providing a safer, more understanding work environment for people with varied experiences of life and its associated challenges.

These can be thought of as “New Year’s Resolutions” for science. How do you resolve to improve science, and more broadly, the world, this year? (Kendall Powell, Nature)

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January 12, 2016 at 9:00 am