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Posts Tagged ‘EPA

Science Policy Around the Web – June 10, 2017

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By: Allison Dennis, BS

Source: pixabay

Animal Testing

Lack of Clarity Puts Chemical Safety and Animal Welfare at Odds

In the lineup of American stereotypes, the health-nut who cares about the chemicals in his shampoo is often the same person who cares if that shampoo was tested on animals or not. However, a bill signed June 22, 2016, known as the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, may be placing those two views at odds. The bill requires the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to implement a risk-based process to evaluate the safety of chemical substances currently being used in the marketplace and approve the use of new chemicals before their introduction. The bill was passed with bipartisan support and offered EPA the new-found power to fully regulate the use of well-known carcinogens like asbestos.

Yet the pathway forward for the EPA is daunting. More than 62,000 substances find their way into and onto our bodies through the products we use and our environment. While many of these substances have become associated with disease over time, how can the EPA certify the risks associated with different exposures to varying amounts of each substance on such an extensive list? The Act itself suggested that once the EPA has evaluated the existing information on the 62,000 substances currently in use, it spend the next twelve months triaging chemicals according to their potential risk. Next, the highest priority chemicals will be evaluated on a three-year deadline to develop knowledge of their toxicity and guidelines for their regulation. Ultimately, by clearly cataloging the risk of common chemicals the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act promises to greatly reduce the amount of animal testing needed in the long-term.

In the meantime, however, the companies that use to-be-regulated substances in their products may be inclined to undertake independent toxicity testing, collecting enough data to guarantee that their favorite substances meet the low-risk criteria and avoid a drawn-out evaluation. Defining toxicity requires careful experimentation, which can sometimes be carried out in human cells outside of the body, but often require evaluation in animals. Animal rights groups like the Human Society find concern with the lack of transparency in the pre-prioritization process. They fear the eagerness of companies to provide data without any clear guidelines about how that data will be evaluated or what substances will require extensive evaluation could result in extensive and unnecessary animal testing. Further they suggested that the EPA require any new pre-approval data obtained by companies to be collected using non-animal methods. (Maggie Koerth-Baker, FiveThirtyEight)

CRISPR

Small Study may Reveal Big Concerns over CRISPR-Based Therapy

A one-page letter published in Nature Methods last week reports unexpectedly high levels of unintended changes to the genomes of mice that underwent a CRISPR-based therapy. Since it’s renaissance as a therapeutic tool in 2012, CRISPR has occupied the imaginations of scientists, doctors, patients, investors, and ethicists. CRISPR technology provides a relatively straight-forward and reproducible means to gene editing on the cellular level, but its applications to create heritable mutations in the human germ line is on hold until more is understood about the long-term effects such treatments would have.

The original study sought to explore potential long-term effects of germline manipulation by CRISPR in a mouse model. Guide RNA along with the Cas9 enzyme were injected into mouse zygotes, which introduced a correction in a mutation in the rd1 gene of otherwise blind mice. Initiating this change before the first cell division enabled this corrected mutation to be inherited by all cells arising in the developing mouse, consequently restoring the ability for the eyes to develop normally. In a follow-up experiment described in their one page letter, the researchers looked for mutations in the genomic DNA of two CRISPR-treated adult mice compared with a control mouse, revealing over 2,000 unintended mutations following CRISPR treatments. None of these mutations appeared to affect the mice, suggesting that deep genomic sequencing may be required to reveal unanticipated changes in an outwardly healthy mouse. Further, the nature of these unintended mutations offered few clues explaining how they might have occurred.

This result stands in contrast with other reports quantifying the extent of these unintended changes, which found CRISPR to be highly specific. While the CRISPR-Cas9 system has been observed to sometimes alter off-target regions of the genome, this activity can usually be curbed through the careful design and evaluation of the guide RNA. The limitations of this small study have been discussed extensively since its publication. However, the findings have sparked the need for further investigation into the long-term-whole-animal effects of germline-editing by CRISPR. As human germline-editing creeps closer to reality, the FDA will be tasked with developing an entirely new means of evaluating the safety of such technologies (Megan Molteni, Wired)

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June 10, 2017 at 11:33 am

Science Policy Around the Web – May 31, 2016

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By: Emily Petrus, Ph.D.

Biomedical Research Salaries

Higher Salary for Postdocs Coming Soon

What do a Metrobus driver and a recent biomedical PhD graduate in have in common? Their salary! Although both positions are important to keeping society moving forward, figuratively or literally speaking, one can imagine the disparity between the educational time commitment between these two positions.

New rules set forth by the US Department of Labor dictate that employees with annual salaries falling below $47,476 must be paid overtime for hours they work beyond 40 hours per week.  Research scientists who have recently (typically within 5 years) received a PhD in biomedical sciences will undergo additional training before the next step in their career, similar to residency among medical school graduates.  These highly skilled postdoctoral researchers are called postdocs, and they fall below this threshold, with an average starting salary of $45,000.

This gives research organizations such as academic universities and the National Institutes of Health two options: track the hours their postdocs log at the bench and pay them overtime, or raise the base salary above the threshold.  Because scientific research rarely falls neatly into a 9-5 time table, NIH director Francis Collins is leading the NIH to increase postdoc pay to avoid logging hours for overtime pay.  Most academic research labs follow NIH guidelines for postdoc salary, so the NIH’s commitment to increase their pay should spill over into most other areas of biomedical research.  In a recent article penned by Collins and Thomas Perez, the U.S. Secretary of Labor, they called on the nation to “embrace the fact that increasing the salary threshold for postdocs represents an opportunity to encourage more of our brightest young minds to consider choosing careers in science.”

Although these salary increases will increase the pressure on labs already struggling with tight funding, it may serve as an incentive for future generations to choose biomedical research careers over driving a Metrobus. (Beryl Lieff Benderly, Science Articles)

Chemical Safety

United States poised to approve major chemical safety overhaul

Did you know that companies can use new chemicals in their products without demonstrating their safety for consumers or the environment? How about that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cannot ask them to remove it until they demonstrate toxicity, which requires a costly amount of research and legislative action? If this sounds backwards to you, take heart: the House of Representatives has approved a long overdue overhaul of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).  This measure is expected to be approved by the Senate and President Obama with the next few months.

The TSCA was originally passed in 1976, and contains wording difficult for environmentalists, consumers, and even industry to follow. The original act required the EPA to consider regulatory costs during safety review, effectively reducing the importance of science-based research into chemical safety for consumers and the environment while favoring regulatory cost saving measures. It also made toxicity testing difficult by the EPA by requiring the minimal (“least burdensome”) amount of testing instead of full-fledged studies. The new TSCA will enable the EPA to order companies to prove chemicals are safe for consumers and/or the environment before introducing them to the marketplace, to hopefully avoid another issue such as the widespread use of asbestos in construction until the 1970’s.

Other components of the revised TSCA include an emphasis on reducing numbers of animals used in toxicity studies by replacing them with other testing methods when possible. The act also aims to identify and increase studies on “cancer clusters,” areas of the country which have higher incidences of cancer which may be due to environmental effects.

The revision of the TSCA is arguably the biggest environmental legislative success since the Clean Air Act amendment of the 1990’s. By containing clearer language, it makes the act “a careful compromise that’s good for consumers, good for jobs, and good for the environment” – said John Shimkus (R-IL). (Puneet Kollipara, ScienceInsider)

Mental Health

Children in Poverty at Risk for Increased Incidence of Mental Health Issues

Is it the chicken or the egg?  When it comes to mental health and poverty, it can be difficult to determine causation versus correlation: are mentally unstable people unable to provide for themselves, or is the stress of poverty causing mental health issues?  A recent study in children has determined a third genetic component to the puzzle, related to how the structure of DNA differs between poor and healthy children.

Although it has long been known that children from families below the poverty line have increased incidences of mental and physical ailments such as depression and diabetes, many have pointed to environmental factors such as relatives smoking or poor nutrition as the main culprits. New evidence suggests exposure to stress in utero and during childhood changes the very DNA of these children. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter important for maintaining “happy” brain chemistry and is often targeted for treating depression. New researchers found that the DNA for a serotonin transporter protein is altered in poor children, which may decrease the amount of serotonin allowed to get into brain cells. This was also correlated with higher levels of stress, indicating that growing up in poverty can change fundamental biological components and create lifetime mental health issues for these children.

Growing up in poverty is stressful for children; however there are ways to attenuate their suffering.  High quality, affordable, preschool and childcare is one way the government can step up to the plate.  “Headstart” is a program which enables children of families below the federal poverty line to enjoy a stimulating, warm environment and may reduce the burden of their families to choose between working and providing for their families or staying home to avoid daycare expenses. There are a multitude of issues creating stressful environments for poor families, but providing high quality child care and healthy meals for kids for part of the day is a small investment towards a big, epigenetic payoff in generations to come. (Sara Reardon, Nature News)

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May 31, 2016 at 12:00 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – February 12, 2016

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By: Rebecca A. Meseroll, Ph.D.

Zika research funding

Obama requests $1.8 billion in emergency funds to fight Zika

President Obama issued a statement of intent to request $1.8 billion from Congress to develop resources to combat the spread of Zika virus both internationally and domestically.  Zika, which is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, has spread rapidly around Central and South America, the Caribbean, and the Pacific Islands in the past year, and is an emerging public health threat, especially due to its possible link with congenital microcephaly, a severe birth defect, in children born to women infected with the virus during their pregnancy.  The funds requested by the president would be used for a variety of purposes in an aggressive effort to contain the spread of the virus, including mosquito control, research on the virus and a potential vaccine against it, public education campaigns, and support personnel and equipment for areas where the outbreak is ongoing.  Congress will have to decide whether to grant the funds, which would be part of the 2017 budget, later this year.  While there is much to be done to minimize the impact of Zika, health officials indicate there is no cause for alarm about large-scale spread of the virus in the United States at present, but women who are pregnant or considering becoming pregnant are advised to use caution when planning travel to countries affected by Zika. (Jon Cohen, ScienceInsider and Mark Landler, The New York Times)

Climate change policy

Supreme Court stays climate change regulations

The Clean Power Plan, developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at President Obama’s behest last year, sought to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 32% compared to 2005 levels.  The EPA’s rules would require states to create their own plans, due to the agency by September of this year, detailing how they would reduce emissions beginning in 2022.  This week, however, the US Supreme Court granted a request put forth by many states and power companies to put the regulations on hold on the grounds that they are outside of the purview of the EPA.  Thus the regulations are set up to endure a lengthy legal battle, as the case will not come up in appeals court until June, after which it will likely be appealed to the Supreme Court, who would not hear the case until 2017.  Although the Supreme Court did not give its reasons for granting the stay, experts suggest that the Court may be telegraphing its wariness about the legality of the regulations by making this decision before the case has gone through a lower court.  The Obama administration remains confident and environmentalists hopeful that the regulations will hold up in court, however it may be necessary in the future for Congress to pass climate change legislation before progress can actually be made. (Jeff Tollefson, Nature and Robert Barnes and Steven Mufson, The Washington Post)

HIV and organ transplantation

First HIV-positive organ transplants to occur in the United States

Years of advocacy led to the passage of the HIV Organ Policy Equity Act in 2013, which lifted a ban on research into organ donations between HIV-positive individuals, and now the life-saving promise of the law is about to come to fruition. Doctors at Johns Hopkins received permission from the United Network for Organ Sharing to perform the first kidney and liver transplants between HIV-positive donors and recipients in the US, and they are prepared to conduct the procedures as soon as the first patients are ready. Johns Hopkins will be the first in the world to perform liver transplants between an HIV-positive donors and HIV-positive recipients, however doctors in South Africa have had success with kidney transplants of this kind since 2008.  It has been estimated that organs from more than 500 potential HIV-positive deceased donors have gone unused each year because of previous prohibitions, thus this new source of HIV-positive donor organs for HIV-positive recipients is expected to improve wait-times for all patients hoping for an organ to become available.  The current HIV-positive transplants will utilize only organs from deceased donors, as more research must be done to determine the outcomes of kidney donation for HIV-positive patients. (Daniel Victor, The New York Times and Ariana Eunjung Cha, The Washington Post)

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February 12, 2016 at 9:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – December 11, 2015

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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)

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December 11, 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)

Pharmaceuticals

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 – August 25, 2015

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By: Eric Cheng, Ph.D.

Photo source: pixabay.com

Climate Change

New U.S. climate rules target methane leaks

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed new measures to cut methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40 to 45 percent from 2012 levels by 2025. These new measures will mainly target industrial sources which will include the capturing of natural gas from hydraulically fractured oil wells, as well as limiting emissions from new and modified pneumatic pumps and other equipment used at natural gas transmission compression stations.

Methane, the main component of natural gas, has been found to be 80 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide when measured over a 20-year period. Preventing the escape of methane from gas fields and pipelines is predicted to have a measurable affect on reducing gases which contribute to global warming by reducing the equivalent of 7.7 to 9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. In addition, reduction in carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere is estimated to have a net climate benefit of $120 to $150 million in 2025.

Critics of the new proposals argue that there is already a “strong economic incentive to capture and utilize methane” and “that producers have already made deep cuts in methane emissions through voluntary measures and best practices.” U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe (R–OK), chair of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, in a statement believes that these new measures are “not only unnecessary, but another example of the [Obama] administration’s punitive expansion of their war on fossil fuels.” The EPA will take comments on the proposals for 60 days after they are published in the Federal Register. (Eli Kintisch, ScienceInsider)

Infectious Diseases

Tackle Nepal’s typhoid problem now

Nepal continues to struggle to rebuild their infrastructure stemming from the two earthquakes in April and May of 2015. This damage to the country’s infrastructure has disrupted the water resources of up to 1.3 million people as well as sanitation support for up to 1.7 million. In addition to the disruption to water and sewage systems, thousands still live in temporary shelters and camps. All these issues along with the current monsoon season has lead to an increase in typhoid outbreaks which can easily lead to an epidemic in the hardest hit areas such as the Sindhupalchowk and Gorkha districts of Nepal.

Typhoid fever, a potentially fatal multisystemic illness caused by Salmonella enterica, can be treated with antibiotics. However, Salmonella enterica strains resistant to antibiotics such as fluoroquinolones and azithromycin are emerging. Currently, prevention of infection is key to tackling the typhoid problem. Clean water and sanitation is still the best way to prevent typhoid, but it will take decades for Nepal to repair and build the necessary infrastructure to pre-earthquake levels. Typhoid can also be prevented through vaccination. However, the Nepalese government does not have sufficient funds to vaccinate millions of people using the vaccine recommended by the WHO.

There are cheaper vaccines that Nepali health officials can deploy that are not pre-qualified by the WHO, and it is unclear why they have not yet done so. What is known is that buying and delivering enough doses will almost certainty require outside financial support for Nepal. This support could come from institutions such as Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, based in Geneva, Switzerland, which is committed to increasing access to vaccination in poor countries, or support could come from the profits of pharmaceutical companies. (Buddha Basnyat, Nature: News & Comment)

Ethics in Research

Apparent ‘pay to cite’ offer sparks Internet outrage

This past June Cyagen, a contract research organization and cell culture product manufacturer, sent out an email entitled: “Cite us in your publication and earn $100 or more based on your journal’s impact factor!” Based on Cyagen’s formula: Voucher Value = (impact factor) * $100, a citation in Science magazine (impact factor = 30) could entitle the author to $3,000. It is only in recent days that this email promotion was picked up by Twitter and bloggers about the possible conflict of interest involved with participating in this promotion.

Upon more careful reading of the promotion, the deal is not what it appears at first glance. The reward is not cash, but store credit for a future purchase from the company. In addition, the citation Cyagen requires for the store credit is nothing more than a notation in the materials and methods section of the journal that a Cyagen product or service was used in that particular paper. This notation is something that is already required by most scientific journals in order assist in other researchers to be able to faithfully replicate a particular experiment. Some believe this promotion is akin to receiving “undisclosed funds in exchange for a citation.” While others such as a developmental biologist from the University of Amsterdam do not believe that this promotion would generate any conflict of interest because it does not appear any different “from any other discount you often get when buying lab equipment, antibodies, transgenic services.” (John Bohannon, ScienceInsider)

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August 25, 2015 at 9:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – May 29, 2015

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By: Julia Shaw, Ph.D.

Pills prepared for H.I.V. patients in Thailand. Credit: Taylor Weidman/Getty Images

Global Health – Treatment for HIV

H.I.V. Treatment Should Start at Diagnosis, U.S. Health Officials Say

The Strategic Timing of Antiretroviral Treatment (Start) trial, the largest clinical trial evaluating the benefits of early antiretroviral treatment for HIV, was ended prematurely after interim analyses revealed a 53% reduction in AIDS-related death or illness in subjects who began taking antiretroviral drugs at diagnosis compared to those who started only after their CD4 T cell counts in blood dropped below 350 cells/ml or after succumbing to an AIDS-related event like infection with an opportunistic pathogen. Although the news is not a surprise to those working in the HIV field, according to the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease, Dr. Anthony Fauci, for those who may have been exposed to the virus it is “another incentive to seek out testing and start therapy early, because you will benefit.” Additionally, those on a consistent regimen of anti-HIV drugs are over 90% less likely to infect others.

As of 2014, only 13 million out of an estimated 35 million infected with HIV were on antiretroviral treatment. Experts estimate identifying and treating all HIV positive individuals would cost at least three-times the amount currently donated through organizations like The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. Aside from the cost of drugs, in the United States — where only 30% of those infected take antiviral drugs consistently — many still fear drug side-effects yet most modern formulations do not have the harsh side-effects of the earlier generation of drugs. When the study began in 2009, guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended starting therapy when a patient’s CD4 count fell below 500. The World Health Organization suggested waiting until the count fell below 350. This study provides strong evidence that in terms of lives saved, earlier treatment is clearly effective. (Donald G. McNeil Jr., The New York Times)

The Environment – Clean Water

President Obama asserts power over small waterways

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers have finalized their proposal for the controversial “waters of the United States rule”, a rule designed to clarify which waterways are protected by the Clean Water Act. Past Supreme Court decisions have questioned whether small tributaries, streams, and wetlands were subject to the regulations of the Clean Water Act, prompting the construction of this new rule. Republicans and like-minded businesses fear excessive federal involvement and regulation of minor waterways, ditches and puddles. However Gina McCarthy, head of the EPA, maintains the rule will “protect the streams and wetlands that one in three Americans rely on for drinking water . . . This rule will make it easier to identify protected waters and will make those protections consistent with the law as well as the latest peer-reviewed science.” McCarthy further contends the federal government’s jurisdiction would increase less than 3% and that the rule does not hamper agriculture or remove existing exemptions for farmers, ranchers, or foresters, frequently the most vocal opponents to the rule. Despite efforts in both the House and Senate to overturn the rule, President Obama stands firmly in support of the new regulations stating, “Too many of our waters have been left vulnerable to pollution.” (Timothy Cama, The Hill)

International Funding for the Sciences

Russian foundation tarred with ‘foreign’ label

Russia’s foreign agent law was enacted in 2012, targeting nongovernmental organizations concerned with human rights and free elections. The law forces burdensome reporting requirements and necessitates that any materials produced by the organization indicate that a foreign agent produced them. On Monday, the Russian government identified the Dynasty Foundation, a nonprofit based in Moscow and one of the country’s leading science foundations supporting science education and early-career scientists, as a “foreign agent.” The ruling was made despite a petition organized by 28 members of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) arguing that the foundation’s work is fully transparent and “has nothing to do with advocacy of foreign states’ interests.” Funding for the foundation is heavily dependent on its founder, Dmitry Zimin, a Russian telecom tycoon who regularly transfers funds, some $10 million per year since its inception in 2002, from his offshore accounts to the foundation. President Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, stated that if Dynasty “gets money from abroad, then it is a foreign agent” which is subject to the foreign agent law. In response, Zimin has threatened to stop funding the institution. A meeting of Dynasty officials set for June 8th will decide the foundation’s future. (Vladmir Pokrovsky, Science Insider)

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May 29, 2015 at 9:00 am