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Posts Tagged ‘federal research funding

Science Policy Around the Web – May 31st, 2019

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By: Silvia Preite, Ph.D.

Image by rawpixel from Pixabay 

Common drink and food sweetener – High-Fructose Corn Syrup – accelerates colon cancer growth in mouse models: what about in humans?

Increased consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks has been associated with higher risk of obesity and intestinal cancers. However, whether sugar directly contributes to tumor development, independently from obesity, is less clear. A common sweetner of sodas, fruit-flavored drinks and processed foods is high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). A recent study published in Science revealed that consumption of HFCS accelerated colon cancers in predisposed mice bearing a mutation in a tumor-suppressor gene commonly found in human colorectal colon cancers. Strikingly, the human diet equivalent amount of HFCS required to see such effects in mice corresponds to 12 ounces of a sweetened drink – one can of soda per day!

Mice fed with HFCS did not become obese or developed metabolic syndrome, however, developed larger and more advanced tumors, compared to water-treated animals. Mechanistically, HFCS leads to increased levels of fructose and glucose in the intestinal lumen and serum, that can be transported and utilized inside the tumor to generate energy and support its growth. The identification of these events opens new possibilities for the development of therapeutic strategies aimed at controlling tumor growth; in particular, targeting of fructose metabolism may selectively slow tumor progression without affecting survival of normal cells. 

Further studies are needed to assess if similar tumorigenic mechanisms take place in humans. Moreover, whether prolonged and extensive consumption of HFCS has a greater detrimental effect on human health compared to other types of sugar remains to be determined. Regardless, this study could contribute to increase public awareness about the potential deleterious effects on physical health and tumor development due to sweetened drinks and processed food whose comsumption is globally rising. 

(Source: Goncalves et al., Science, 2019)

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May 31, 2019 at 3:08 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – May 14th, 2019

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By: Mary Weston, Ph.D.

Source: Pixabay

Rural areas drive increases in global obesity

While past studies have found that the increase in global obesity is largely driven by urban regions, a newly published paper argues that this rise is actually being led by those in rural areas. 

Global increases in BMI (body mass index) have been observed for decades, but no one had evaluated differences in urban and rural regions on a large-scale across many countries. The new Nature study evaluated BMI values in 200 countries from 1985-2017, finding that rural areas are responsible for more than 55% of the global rise in the average BMI and more than 80% of the rise in some low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). 

Previous theories argued that urbanization caused rising BMI largely because of the availability of cheap, ultra-processed foods, a lifestyle that provides more transportation options, and greater access to non-physical leisure activities (smartphones, cable television). In contrast, rural areas were thought more likely to consume more local produce, have less access to ultra-processed and packaged food, and participate in high energy expending activities. However, rural areas, even in LMICs, have now begun to resemble urban areas because of access to ultra-processed foods and cheap mechanized devices that reduce transport and farming energy expenditure.

Obesity results in higher health care costs, lower life expectancy, and reduced quality of life. Thus, prevention strategies are vital but currently, most preventative measures are targeted towards urban areas. Given this new data, funding priorities and strategies need to adjust to address this growing issue. 

(Barry M. Popkin, Nature)

After outcry, USDA will no longer require scientists to label research as ‘preliminary’

After protests, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has stopped requiring their staff scientists to label all published peer-reviewed research as “preliminary.” Released last week, the revised USDA guidelines now require the following language when disclaimers are necessary: “The findings and conclusions in this [publication/presentation/blog/report] are those of the author(s) and should not be construed to represent any official USDA or U.S. Government determination or policy.” Not all publications will be obliged to contain this statement. 

Previous USDA guidelines, implemented last July, required publications to carry the label: “The findings and conclusions in this preliminary publication have not been formally disseminated by the [USDA] and should not be construed to represent any agency determination or policy.”  This disclaimer caused concern over claims that it was confusing and possibly misleading. Scientific publications are peer-reviewed (evaluated by professionals in the field for quality and accuracy) and considered completed work, not preliminary. Some among the scientific community feared the disclaimer might reduce the impact of the published research conclusions or be used to diminish findings that conflict with views of the current administration. 

While reaction towards the disclaimer change has been generally positive, some non-USDA researchers are still concerned that the latest guidelines have the potential to jeopardize scientific integrity. The new guidelines say that the USDA can request “corrections” or “changes” to research papers if they pertain to a “prominent issue,” a significant scientific advancement, or could influence trade/policy decisions. Rebecca Boehm, an economist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, stated that “removing ‘preliminary’ from the disclaimer is a step in the right direction, but there still may be unnecessary obstacles preventing agency researchers from publishing their work in peer-reviewed journals.” 

(Ben Guarino, Washington Post)

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May 14, 2019 at 4:56 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – June 13, 2017

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By: Nivedita Sengupta, PhD

By Mikael Häggström, used with permission. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Stem Cell Therapy

Texas on Track to Become First State to Explicitly Back Stem Cell Therapies

On 30th May, Texas passed a bill  authorizing unapproved stem cell therapies, making Texas the first state to openly recognize experimental treatments. The bill will make the use of unapproved stem cell therapies legal for patients and is currently awaiting the approval of Governor Greg Abbott, who already supports the measure. Experimental stem cell therapies for terminal and chronic conditions have struggled for years to gain support without much success. Until now, no state has provided legal validation for these kind of therapies and the current stem cell procedures are mostly done under strict regulations.

Amendments were added to the bill, which require that the treatments be delivered by doctors with the approval of an institutional review board, which deals with human research. It will also add another amendment that will allow patients to have authority to sue in case the treatments go wrong. Many scientists and advocates opposed the measure stating that unapproved stem cell therapies can be harmful rather than beneficial. They state that though the amendments add protection to the patients, there are a few aspects of the bill that make them uncomfortable. Two other bills focused on patient access to experimental therapies, also known as “right-to-try” policies, failed to pass in the Texas Senate. (Andrew Joseph, STATNews)

Research Funding

NIH Scraps Plans for Cap on Research Grants

US National Institutes of Health (NIH) decided to drop the controversial proposal of capping the number of grants that an investigator can have at a time. The initial capping attempt was suggested to gather funds for younger researchers by NIH in May. The proposal was based on studies that suggested that a lab’s productivity decreases once it holds too many grants. Younger scientists often face more difficulties in obtaining NIH RO1 grants compared to their older more experienced colleagues. As a result, many researchers applauded the NIH’s effort to provide more funding for younger scientists. Yet the capping proposal received major adverse response from the scientific community stating that the NIH’s interpretation of the productivity study data does not apply to all labs, especially to the collaborative lab groups with four or five R01s that are more productive than labs with only one. Researchers also complained that the proposed point-based scoring system will also make collaborations difficult thus hampering productivity in the long run.

NIH director Dr. Francis Collins stated that the original idea was still a work in progress and NIH is going to put a hold on it. Instead of the cap, on 8th June, NIH announced the creation of the special fund, the Next Generation Researchers Initiative (NGRI), starting with US$210 for funding young researchers. The initiative will focus on investigators with less than 10 years of experience as NIH- funded principal investigators, and on high score grant proposals that were rejected because of lack of money. The initiative will grow up to $1.1 billion over the next five years. According to NIH principal deputy director Larry Tabak, NIH will immediately start creating an inventory of investigators who meet these criteria and expects that this approach will allow more than 2,000 additional R01 grants to be funded to younger scientists compared to the cap-based plan, which would have supported only 1600 awards. Nonetheless, the current proposal is still going to generate controversy as it will affect the older researchers because of NIH’s diversion of funding. (Sara Reardon, Nature News)

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June 13, 2017 at 7:08 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – May 24, 2017

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By: Joel Adu-Brimpong, BS

Source: Flickr by Selena N. B. H. via Creative Commons

Scientific Publishing

Fake It Until You’re Caught?

The beauty of the scientific enterprise is that it is, eventually, self-correcting. Thus, occasionally, a scientific paper may be retracted from a journal based on new revelations or due to reports of ethical breaches. Tumor Biology, a peer-reviewed, open access journal disseminating experimental and clinical cancer research, however, seems to have set a record for the number of retracted papers at once. In a single notice, in April, Tumor Biology retracted 107 articles; yes, one hundred and seven!

Springer, the former publisher of Tumor Biology, reported that the retracted papers were due to a compromised peer review process. Like other journals, Tumor Biology allows the submission of preferred reviewer information (name and email address) when submitting a manuscript. In the case of the retracted papers, “the reviewers were either made up, or had the names of real scientists but false email addresses.” Unsurprisingly, the manuscripts sent to the fake reviewers consistently received positive reviews, bolstering the likelihood of publication.

Springer, of course, is not the first and only major publisher to uncover issues in its peer-review process leading to mass retractions. A 2016 paper reveals similar issues from other major publishers including SAGE, BioMed Central and Elsevier. These breaches are particularly worrisome as some of the retracted manuscripts date back to the beginning of the decade. This means that studies floating around in other journals may have built on knowledge reported by the retracted studies. As if this was not enough, Springer has also come under scrutiny for individuals listed on Tumor Biology’s editorial board, several of whom appear to have no association with the journal and/or in at least one case, have been deceased for several years.

These discoveries are particularly disturbing and are percolating at a time when biomedical research spending is increasingly being scrutinized. Richard Harris, the award-winning NPR journalist, in his recent book Rigor Mortis: How Sloppy Science Creates Worthless Cures, Crushes Hope, and Wastes Billions (2017), highlights major areas in biomedical research that produce wastes, such as studies that may incite researchers, and even whole fields, to follow a phantom lead. In the meantime, it does appear that journals are taking measures to ensure that these breaches are minimized, if not prevented entirely. (Hinnerk Feldwisch-Drentrup, ScienceInsider)

Research Funding

Fighting On All Fronts: Republican Senators Advocate for DOE’s Research Funding

Republican senators are, again, urging President Trump to rethink potential budget cuts to research programs; this time to the Department of Energy (DOE). On Thursday, May 18, 2017, six top senate republicans, including well-known congresspersons Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), drafted a letter to the President reminding him of the importance of government-sponsored research. In the letter, they re-echo, “Government-sponsored research is one of the most important investments our country can make to encourage innovation, unleash our free enterprise system to create good-paying jobs, and ensure American competitiveness in a global economy.” They go on, “It’s hard to think of an important technological advancement since World War II that has not involved at least some form of government-sponsored research.”

If it seems like we’ve been down this road before, it’s because we have. Earlier this year, Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), on the House Appropriations and Budget Committee, and his colleagues signaled disagreement with proposed budget cuts to the NIH and CDC in President Trump’s fiscal blueprint. The Republican congressman reiterated the importance of agencies like the NIH and CDC in conducting crucial biomedical research and leading public health efforts that protect Americans from diseases. The strong commitment to advancing biomedical research and the health of the American people led to an omnibus agreement that repudiated President Trumps proposed cuts, increasing NIH funding by $2 billion for the 2017 cycle.

The letter by Senator Alexander and colleagues was drafted following reports suggesting that the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy could face a reduction in funding of up to 70 percent for the 2018 fiscal cycle.  In a separate follow-up analysis, Democrats on the Joint Economic Committee reported on the growth and importance of clean energy jobs and its contribution to the economy. Cuts to the DOE’s research programs could have profound impact on not only millions of jobs but also America’s ability to stay competitive in the global economy as it shifts towards renewable energy and resources. (Geof Koss, ScienceInsider)

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Science Policy Around the Web – May 5, 2017

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By: Thaddeus Davenport, PhD

Healthcare Policy

House Passes Bill to Repeal and Replace the Affordable Care Act

Thomas Kaplan and Robert Pear reported for the New York Times yesterday that Republicans in the US House of Representatives voted to pass a bill that would undo a number of central elements of the Affordable Care Act. Only six weeks ago, House Republicans failed to gather enough support to even vote on the first version of this bill, which was predicted to eliminate insurance coverage for twenty-four million Americans over the next decade. Since that time, Republican lawmakers have modified the so-called American Health Care Act (AHCA) bill to appeal to the more conservative members of the House – including provisions that would limit federal support of the Medicaid program, allow states to opt out of requiring that insurance cover services like maternity and emergency care, and also enable states to apply for waivers that would let insurance companies charge higher premiums for some individuals with pre-existing conditions. Like the first version, the bill that passed the House on Thursday does away with the ‘individual mandate’, which imposes a tax on people who can afford to buy insurance but do not – an aspect of the Affordable Care Act that was relatively unpopular but critical to ensure sustainability of the insurance markets. It also replaces government-subsidized insurance plans with tax credits between $2,000 and $4,000, depending on age. Other provisions in the bill would stop federal funding to Planned Parenthood for one year as well as eliminate taxes on high-income individuals, insurance companies, and pharmaceutical companies that helped to fund the Affordable Care Act. Yesterday, 217 Republicans voted in favor of the revised AHCA bill that will certainly  not provide healthcare insurance for everyone, without waiting for a non-partisan Congressional Budget Office analysis of the bill’s impact on the federal deficit or on the American people. These representatives’ haste reveals that they care little about how the AHCA will actually affect their constituents’ lives, and Democrats are counting on voters remembering this in upcoming elections. (Thomas Kaplan and Robert Pear, The New York Times)

Science Funding

NIH Funding Changes to Support More Early Career Investigators

The NIH budget has gradually declined over the last fourteen years, from $40 billion in 2003 to about $32 billion in 2017. Given that a proposed budget from the Trump administration for fiscal year 2018 would further cut funding for NIH by $5.8 billion, it is unlikely that funding for the NIH will increase dramatically in the coming years. To address these budget limitations, and in an attempt to do more with less, Jocelyn Kaiser reported for ScienceInsider this week that the National Institutes of Health will impose a cap on the number of grants awarded to investigators. In an open letter announcing the decision, NIH director, Francis Collins, writes that 40% of NIH funding is concentrated in the hands of 10% of NIH-funded investigators. He notes that this is not inherently problematic, except that many studies indicate that there are diminishing scientific returns on each additional dollar that is granted to any individual investigator. Under the new guidelines, investigators will be limited to a maximum of three R01-equivalent grants in order to support approximately 1,600 more grants to early career and mid-level researchers, who have been particularly affected by the declining NIH budget. While it is difficult to quantify scientific impact, the NIH decision is admirable for its intent to support diversity and efficiency in funding research. (Jocelyn Kaiser, ScienceInsider)

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Science Policy Around the Web – April 4, 2017

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By: James Taylor, PhD

Photo source: pixabay.com

Research Funding

NIH Research Grants Yield Economic Windfall

Assessing the social and economic benefits of basic research – research conducted with no clear medical or financial goal in mind – has is often tricky with the former being philosophical in nature whilst the later sometimes coming years later from unexpected angles. A classic example of this process is the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which was built on basic research on DNA replication in bacteria from hot springs published years before its invention.  Critics of publicly funded research often take studies out of context in order to ridicule them, such as Sarah Palin’s infamous “fruit flies” comment.

A recent analysis of the economic effects of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding has shone light on the economic benefits of basic research. Danielle Li and colleagues found that although 8.4% of NIH grants between 1980 and 2007 led directly to patents, 30.8% produced a scientific article which was later cited in a commercial patent for a drug, device or other medical technology. This demonstrates an enormous but indirect benefit of publically funded research. Furthermore, when the studies were broken down into basic or applied (research with a stated medical or commercial goal) they found no difference between the two in terms of how likely they were to be cited in a patent. This should give funding bodies pause for thought, as it calls into question their growing emphasis on applied research.

Taking into account the indirect effects of NIH funded research, the authors estimate that every $1 in NIH funding returns $1.40 in drug sales. This report is timely with proposed budget cuts for science funding looming large in the horizon, and exposes such cuts as sheer economic folly. (Elie Dolgin, Nature News)

HIV/AIDS

HIV Infections are Spiking Among Young Gay Chinese

Recent surveys of HIV infections in China have shown a worrying spike in HIV infections among young gay and bisexual men, and have sparked the implementation of a broad 5-year plan to raise awareness and boost research into new treatments by the country’s ruling State Council. In the early 2000s, HIV infections were most prevalent amongst drug users in China, but there has been a steady decrease in prevalence amongst this group. The increase in HIV infections amongst men who have sex with men (MSM) has bucked this trend, and instead has been rising at an alarming rate. The cause of this increase remains unknown, with researchers at the National Health and Family Planning Commission in Beijing and China Medical University in Shenyang rather hopelessly suggesting that it was “possibly due to several unidentified and yet unaddressed risky sexual behaviors”.

China has previously mounted an effective response to the initial HIV epidemic by providing free antiretroviral to all HIV patients. This does little good, however, if you are afraid to admit you have HIV because it may out you as gay or bisexual. Despite recent improvements in LGBT rights and growing acceptance of LGBT people among the younger generation, being LGBT in China still carries with it significant stigma. This stigma, along with that of having HIV, may be causing young men to avoid seeking help out of fear. To reach out to gay men who may be at risk, the government and concerned nongovernmental organizations are working on novel outreach programs, such as working with dating apps popular with young gay and bisexual men to spread HIV awareness. The director of the Chinese Centre for Disease Control (China CDC), Wu Zunyou, has proposed increasing the availability of HIV self-test kits and pre-exposure prophylaxis medications, both of which would help those at risk whilst lessening the pressure from social stigma. (Kathleen McLaughlin, Science)

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April 4, 2017 at 10:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – June 17, 2016

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By: Eric Cheng, Ph.D.

Photo source: pixabay.com

Biomedical Research Funding

NIH gets $2 billion boost in Senate spending bill

The Senate approved a $2 billion dollar boost to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget for the 2017 fiscal year. This will increase the agency’s overall budget to $34 billion which represents a 6.2% increase from the previous year. This boost in funding represents an increase to NIH’s funding for the second year in a row after more than a decade of stagnate funding. NIH received an additional $2 billion last year.

The increase to NIH’s funding is the result of bipartisan negotiations between Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Roy Blunt (R.-Mo.) and Ranking Member Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.)

“Last year, for the first time in 12 years, we were able to have an increase in [funding to support] NIH research,” Blunt said at a subcommittee meeting to unveil the budget proposal. “We have worked hard to repeat that this year.” Adding that he hopes to establish a pattern of increases for health research funding, he further noted that “if you are going to have an annual pattern, year two is critical. So we’re proposing for the second year in a row we make a substantial commitment to NIH research.”

The bill will include $1.39 billion for Alzheimer’s disease research, a $100 million increase for Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative, an additional $100 million for the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) brain-mapping project, and $50 million in new spending for a federal initiative to combat antimicrobial resistance. Not mentioned is the $670 million proposal for Vice President Joe Biden’s proposed moonshot to double progress against cancer. (Jocelyn Kaiser, ScienceInsider)

Federal Accountability

House sharpens oversight of new NSF facilities

The U.S. House of Representatives approved bill H.R. 5049 by a vote of 412 to nine which would direct the National Science Foundation (NSF) to audit its major multi-user research facilities. This bill was passed in response to the problems that have plagued NSF’s National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) under construction at dozens of sites across the country. Last December NSF fired the contractor, NEON Inc., citing a potential $80 million cost overrun and continued delays in completing the project.

The passage of the NSF Major Research Facility Reform Act of 2016 would direct the NSF to audit its major multi-user research facilities in order to prevent such cost overrun problems in the future. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that conducting these audits required by the legislation would cost about $2 million annually and $10 million over the 2017-2021 period. Specifically, the bill would require NSF to analyze how much every large research project would cost by the first year of the start of construction.

NSF officials remain concerned on how these changes in legislation would affect how audits are conducted and the use of management fees for a contractor. Such additional restrictions on management fees could potentially scare off some highly qualified would-be bidders for future projects. In addition, they believe that the proposed audits would not have caught the problems that NEON faced. (Jeffrey Mervis, ScienceInsider)

Infectious Diseases

Zika virus added to the FDA Priority Review Voucher Program Act

U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.) supported emergency funding to help stem the spread of the Zika virus in the United States. Over $1 billion in emergency funds passed the Senate today on a bipartisan basis to help mitigate the spread of Zika and respond to outbreaks of the virus.

“The Zika virus is a real threat, and we need action to curtail its spread and encourage the development of treatments and a vaccine,” said Franken. “This emergency support will help fight back against the disease, and now, we need to work with the House of Representatives and with President Obama to make sure that the funding measure becomes law. This is far too important of an issue to ignore.”

The Centers for Disease Control has reported that over 150 pregnant women in the U.S. have been diagnosed with Zika virus, which can cause a range of birth defects including devastating neurological defects. There are currently no known treatments or vaccines for the disease. The funds will be used to control mosquitos that carry the Zika virus, raise awareness of Zika virus disease, provide education on how to reduce risk of becoming infected, and accelerate development of a vaccine. (Congressional Research Service)

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June 17, 2016 at 9:00 am