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Science Policy Around the Web – April 4, 2017

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By: James Taylor, PhD

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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 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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Written by sciencepolicyforall

April 4, 2017 at 10:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – November 18, 2014

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By: Kaitlyn Morabito

photo credit: yui.kubo via photopin cc

Federal Science Policy

Panel considers lifting FDA ban on blood donations by gay men

Due to the rise in AIDS in the US and the association with homosexual men at the time, the FDA banned blood donations by gay men in 1985. This ban includes all men who have had sex with another man since 1977. According to the FDA, the rationale behind this ban is that men who have sex with men are at an increased risk of acquisition of HIV, Hepatitis B and other blood-borne pathogens and HIV testing of blood is not 100% accurate. However, proponents of removal of the ban emphasize that risk behavior is not taken into account. Overturning of the sexual orientation based ban is supported by the American Red Cross, AABB, and America’s Blood Centers which supply the major of blood in the US. Many other nations have removed the lifetime ban of gay men in favor of ban on men who have had sex with men within 12 months. A US Department of Health and Human Services Panel is currently debating the lifting of the ban in the US.  (Monte Morin, ScienceNow, LA Times)


Technology Development

U.S. to build two world-class supercomputers

The Department of Energy (DOE) is developing two new supercomputers with 4-10 fold increased computing ability up to speeds of 100-300 petaflops. The work on these supercomputers will be done in two national labs: Oak Ridge and Livermore.   The DOE have set aside $325 million for construction of two supercomputers.   In conjunction with the hardware, the DOE will apply another $100 million to software and application development through the FastForward 2 program. One of the supercomputers will be available for use by the scientific community while the other computer will mainly be utilized by National Nuclear Security Administration.   The DOE hopes that funding of these technological advances will maintain the US as a leader in technology as well as contribute to national security and the economy.  (Robert F. Service, ScienceInsider)


Antibiotic Resistance

Racial disparities in ear infection treatment may contribute to antibiotic overuse

A joint study by the CDC, Emory University, and the University of Utah found that black children are 30% less likely to be diagnosed with ear infections than their non-black counterparts. Of those diagnosed with ear infections, non-black children are 20% more likely to be prescribed broad-spectrum antibiotics than black children. This may indicate that black children are being under diagnosed and under prescribed or that non-black children are being over diagnosed and overprescribed antibiotics.   Regardless of the explanation, this study highlights an important discrepancy between treatment received by black and non-black children indicating a potential bias in physicians. Recently, new guidelines on antibiotic usage for otitis media were released with a focus on reduction in the use of broadspectrum antibiotics to help combat antibiotic resistance.  (Science Daily)


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Written by sciencepolicyforall

November 18, 2014 at 12:00 pm