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Science Policy Around the Web – June 17, 2016

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By: Eric Cheng, Ph.D.

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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

Science Policy Around the Web – March 25, 2016

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By: Nivedita Sengupta, Ph.D.

Photo source via pixabay

Genetically Engineered Foods

Policy: Reboot the debate on genetic engineering

Genetic engineering (GE) is a highly controversial topic of debate in current days partially because of its increasing impact on day to day living. In recent years, a great deal of advancement has been made in the field of GE as established by the development of sophisticated modern tools like CRISPR. This has led to increasing concern among people regarding GE and food safety laws.

One of the issues with respect to food safety laws was to determine whether the focus of the regulatory policies should be the process by which GE organisms are made or the GE products themselves. Most people in favor of product-based regulation believe that GE organisms are no different compared to the conventionally bred organisms. In United States, since mid-1980s, GE products have been overseen by the Coordinated Framework for Regulation of Biotechnology (CFRB). According to the CFRB, product-based regulation is the science-based approach and hence GE organisms could be covered by existing policies without any need for formulating new laws. Thus they could be simply channeled into particular government agencies depending on whatever category they fell into.

However, in the process of regulating GE products, the agencies realized that the process of engineering is important as well. The agencies recognized that from a scientific standpoint, a product’s traits, harmful or beneficial, depend on the process by which it is made. For example, in human gene-therapy trials, new methods for delivering genes have removed the need for potentially harmful viral vectors. Thus, product and process issues are not distinct in regulation. Though regulating GE products rather than the process is accepted in many countries beyond the United States, other countries like Brazil and Australia have laws which mandates the regulation of the mechanisms by which the GE products are developed.

The inconsistency of views among GE developers and regulators in product-versus-process arguments demands a fresh start on formulating regulatory policies involving GE. It’s time to consider a mix of product and process issues to order to identify product groups which are likely to be of concern and require regulation. These efforts should be focused on keeping in mind the polarization of product-versus-process and science-versus-values framings so that the government can form a system which will be based on information provided by science as well as the concerns and values of citizens. (Jennifer Kuzma, Nature Comment)

Infectious Diseases

Dengue vaccine aces trailblazing trial

Vaccine development is a long and complex process which can take decades to be available for clinical use. Scientists at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, have developed a vaccine which may be the most potent vaccine available to date for preventing dengue infections. These researchers employed a ‘human challenge’ strategy during the development and testing of this vaccine, a method which fell out of favor during the last century. ‘Human challenge’ involves deliberately infecting healthy volunteers with a weakened form of the disease causing virus. Concerns about the safety of deliberately infecting people has limited the use of human challenge studies and usually researchers test developing vaccines on people who are already at risk of contracting the disease of interest.

The dengue virus is a difficult vaccine target because of its four serotypes. Infection with one of the serotype will render a person immune against that type for life but will offer no protection against the others and may also increase the risk of acquiring hemorrhagic fever upon exposure to a different dengue serotype. The current vaccine study tested only dengue serotype 2, the most virulent serotype. 21 volunteers were injected with the experimental vaccine, and 20 volunteers with a sham vaccine. Six months later, all 41 volunteers were injected with a weakened version of the dengue virus which causes symptoms similar to a mild dengue infection, such as rash. The vaccine provided 100% protection against the challenge and only the individuals who received the sham vaccine showed mild symptoms with 80% of them developing a rash.

As all the current dengue vaccines only protect a proportion of volunteers, if these results hold up in larger populations the vaccine could be one of the most promising dengue vaccines developed. “This is a tremendous step forward, and something that has been desperately needed for 30 years,” says Duane Gubler, a disease researcher at the Duke NUS Medical School in Singapore who was not involved in this study. Moreover, he mentioned that the lack of human challenge studies is actually one of the things that made the development of dengue vaccines very difficult. Scott Halstead, a virologist and vaccinologist at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland stated that “this is an incredible paper that shows what is absolutely necessary to develop a vaccine against the dengue virus. It’s a really important demonstration of the kind of proof that you really need to have before you spend US$1.5 or 2 billion on a phase III [efficacy] trial.”

Meanwhile investigators have already begun a second human-challenge study to test whether the vaccine protects against dengue serotype 3, and they hope to go on to test it against serotypes 1 and 2 using human challenge strategy. Moreover, they intend to perform studies using the human-challenge strategy to develop vaccine against Zika virus, which is related to dengue. Though scientists are enthusiastic of using human challenge strategy for developing vaccines in recent future, it demands reconsideration of the policies and consideration of the past incidents on which current laws are based. (Erika Check Hayden, Nature News)

Federal Science Funding

Biological specimen troves threatened by funding pause

Collecting biological specimens is an essential part of science and conservation and collections are used to identify species, track diseases and study climate change. One such important biological specimen collection is the collection of fish samples in Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle which serves as a repository for the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for the North Pacific. NOAA uses the specimens collected each year to assess fish abundance and set fishing quotas for species conservation. In another case, a collection of eggs possessed by the Field Museum in Chicago led to the famous conservation discovery that the pesticide DDT caused widespread nesting failures in birds of prey resulting in near extinction of several species.

Despite their value to science, biological specimen collections recently lost a valuable source of funding and support. The US National Science Foundation (NSF) announced that it would indefinitely suspend a program which provides funding to maintain biological specimen collections. The NSF will maintain its current grants but not accept any new proposals. Many researchers and curators have found this disheartening and are worried because the NSF is one of the only public providers of such funding and  only roughly 0.06% of the agency’s $7.5-billion is allocated for maintaining biological specimen collections. According to NSF they are soliciting feedback on the program along with evaluating the currents grants in the collections grant program. Depending on the results of evaluation, decisions will be made and it remains unclear whether the funding hiatus is temporary or permanent.

This pause however has scientists dismayed given the importance of these scientific collections. As mentioned earlier, preserved specimens play an immense role in understanding historic range of species and provide information on species invasion and extinction. Biological collections also help researchers track species carrying human diseases for containment of disease outbreak. Moreover, due to advancements in technology, the specimens can be put to use in a way which has not yet been anticipated. For example, DNA sequencing of museum specimens which were collected before DNA identification was discovered has helped to identify previously unknown species. With the sudden change in funding options many museums are considering digitizing their collections, and indeed, the NSF’s program to support digitizing collections remains unchanged.  But “there’s no point digitizing if we don’t take care of the collections themselves”, says Barbara Thiers, director of the William and Lynda Steere Herbarium at the New York Botanical Garden. “You certainly can’t get any DNA out of an image.” (Anna Nowogrodzki, Nature News)

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March 25, 2016 at 9:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – May 19, 2015

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By: Courtney Pinard, Ph.D.

Gender Bias in Science Funding

Pentagon Request for Information About Gender Bias in Grant Funding

Last year, members of the U.S. House of Representatives asked a congressional watchdog agency to analyze the issue of gender discrimination in the grantsmaking process. Six agencies were asked to report information about their applicants including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Department of Defense (DOD), and the Department of Energy (DOE). While the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that both the NIH and NSF routinely report information on gender and minority status on their applicants, they found that NASA, DOD, and DOE do not report demographic information. The three agencies previously claimed that they had “no use for this information” and that their “computer systems lacked the capacity” to collect additional data on applicants. In response, the White House budget office has provided agencies with templates for the collection of demographic information to be completed by the time the final GAO report is due this fall. Today, the DOD announced that it would start collecting information on gender. Lawmakers hope to explore whether success rates at federal research agencies differ by gender. (Jeffrey Mervis, Science Insider)

Public Health

Federal Government Invests to End the Rape Kit Backlog

Every two minutes someone is sexually assaulted in the United States. With the crime of sexual assault, the victim’s body is part of the crime scene. Immediately following the assault, many victims endure an arduous process in emergency rooms and health clinics with hopes that the police will use the collected biological material as scientific evidence to accurately and quickly identify and prosecute the perpetrator. Mainly, the police use the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) of known offender’s DNA records to find suspects. According to a recent report, 100,000 to 400,000 untested kits remain untested nationwide. In Memphis, Tennessee alone, for example, there are 12,374 untested rape kits. The reason for this backlog is, in part, due to the cost of the tests; it costs $1,000 to $1,500 to process one rape kit. In response to lobbying efforts by advocacy groups, such as the Natasha Justice Project and the Joyful Heart Foundation, the federal government has invested $41 million to support law enforcement agencies testing backlogged rape kits. This investment will hopefully lead to the prosecution of those sexual assault perpetrators still at large. New York City has taken the lead and cleared their backlog of 17,000 rape kits, resulting in 200 prosecutions throughout the city. Now, more than 20 states have passed legislation holding jurisdictions accountable for their rape kit backlogs. (Abigail Tracy, Scientific American; Vocativ)

Climate Change

Scientists Find That Global Warming is Causing Stronger Hurricanes

Hurricane Sandy costs the U.S. over $60 billion in damages and was rated as the second costliest storm behind Hurricane Katrina. Although Sandy was rated a category 1 storm when it hit the Northeastern U.S., the size of the post-tropical cyclone created a surge typical of a much larger storm. According to a study published this week in Nature Climate Change and led by researchers at Florida State University, stronger hurricanes, like Sandy, are becoming more common with increases in ocean temperature. The study examined how both frequency and intensity of tropical cyclones vary with ocean warmth. (Angela Fritz, Washington Post; Nature)

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May 19, 2015 at 9:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – May 18, 2015

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By: Amanda Whiting, Ph.D.

Agriculture and Food Policy

Food industry braces for Obama trans fat ban

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is expected to announce its final determination on the use of partially hydrogenated oils (or trans fats) in food products as early as next week. The announcement is expected to ban the use of trans fats. This potentially marks a final step in removing artificial trans fats from the American diet, a move that began in 2013 when the Obama administration issued a tentative determination stating that partially hydrogenated oils are not generally regarded as safe (GRAS). Partially hydrogenated oils are created when unsaturated liquid oils are exposed to hydrogen, which reduces their unsaturation and creates solid fats that improve food product texture and shelf life. Consumption of trans fats have been linked to cardiovascular disease and their removal could “prevent 20,000 heart attacks and some 7,000 deaths” according to FDA estimates, said Sam Kass, the former senior adviser for nutrition at the White House and executive director of Let’s Move!, to Politico. While the potential health benefits of such a policy are easily apparent, there are other repercussions to consider with a policy change such as this. Trans fats have been used in a myriad of smaller applications, such as in the sprinkles on cupcakes to prevent color leaching, to prevent baked goods from sticking to equipment, and to stabilize flavors in food products, that may not have been well considered by the FDA. Food manufacturers will need tweak their recipes and/or find alternative substances to fill the void left by a trans fat ban. In the past, they have turned to palm oil, though there are environmental concerns over rainforest deforestation to harvest the palm oil. Getting rid of trans fats is not a bad idea in terms of public health – let’s hope that its alternative does not end up having an unintended detrimental effect elsewhere. (Helena Bottemiller Evich, Politico)

Antibiotic resistance

Guarantee drug companies a profit to develop new antibiotics, U.K. report says

With the increasing, widespread and global appearance of antibiotic resistant infections, the need to develop new potent antibiotics to tackle these threats is quite clear. Once developed however, in order to prevent resistance from developing to the new drugs, their use – and in our current economic model, their sales – must be restricted and limited. This presents drug companies with a problem, since the high cost of drug research and development is often driven and funded with an eye on the potential future sales of a drug. This makes it highly economically undesirable for a drug company to spend resources to develop a drug that must then be restricted, despite the very great worldwide need for such drugs. A report commissioned by the government of the United Kingdom, seeks to fix this problem. In the report, it is suggested that global governments “unite to offer multibillion-dollar incentives for drug developers, and pharmaceutical companies should pool their billions in support of early-stage research.” Most interestingly, the report suggests a way to incentivize drug development without encouraging overuse by “de-linking” a drug company’s profits from the drug’s sales. Specific examples of how this could be accomplished include having a “designated global body” buy the rights to a new pharmaceutical (at $2-3 billion per antibiotic) and then carefully manage the worldwide supply, or having a company retain the rights to the drug but receive a “bonus” for developing and introducing it to market, while being patient with overall (rather than initial blockbuster) sales. While this would take worldwide cooperation, aligning financial incentives for drug companies with the needs public health via a unifying policy could help kick-start drug development where we need it most. (Kelly Servick, ScienceInsider)

Federal Funding

Key House Republican says 70% of NSF’s research dollars should go to “core” science—not geo or social research

Two out of the six research directorates at the National Science Foundation (NSF) have been targeted to not receive any additional funds in the 2016 federal spending bill. The current spending bill allots an additional $50 million to the overall NSF budget, much smaller than the total $379 million (or 4.3% increase) requested. The markup of the House spending bill from the Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) subcommittee would allow the NSF to spread the additional $50 million in funds only in areas that have been deemed “pure sciences” – namely, biology, computing, engineering, and math and physical sciences. The bill prevents NSF from funding research in geoscience and the social and behavioral sciences. Both Representative John Culberson (R–TX), chair of the CJS subcommittee, and Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX), chair of the science committee who introduced the America COMPETES Act to set NSF policies, say they support the NSF and simply want to make sure what it funds is in the “national interest.” That is all well and good, but what is in the “national interest” today may not be where the groundbreaking research of tomorrow is born. Scientific research is increasingly breaking out of such siloed classifications and into multidisciplinary fields and collaborative discovery that require inputs from all areas. While Rep. Culberson may favor funding only the “hard sciences,” understanding our own home planet and our human-to-human interactions are also areas worthy of study and research. (Jeffrey Mervis, ScienceInsider)

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May 18, 2015 at 9:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – April 17, 2015

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By: Cheryl Jacobs Smith, Ph.D.

photo credit: MJ/TR (´・ω・) via photo pin cc

Genomics in Medicine

Personalizing Cancer Treatment With Genetic Tests Can Be Tricky

Since the New Year, President Obama, backed by National Institutes of Health Director, Dr. Francis Collins, has rejuvenated an initiative to use the human genome to make more informed medical decisions in health care. Since the completed endeavor to sequence the human genome was published in 2001, scientists and physicians have used this information to better understand the underlying complexities of human behavior, health, and disease. As a consequence, many areas in medicine use human genetic information as a diagnostic to guide treatment regimens.

More and more oncologists, or cancer doctors, are relying on genetic tests of a patients’ tumor to help guide cancer treatment. However, given the complexity of our genome coupled with our limited understanding of the millions of A, T, C, and G’s encoding our genetic information, oftentimes much of the information generated from genetic tests can be ambiguous. Researchers writing in Science Translational Medicine say there is a way to make these tests more meaningful.

One of the main issues with genetic testing of tumors is that they harbor mutations and it is unclear which mutation is the key to killing the cancer cell, thus, making a therapeutic decision difficult. In this regard, the researchers suggest not only conducting genetic tests on the cancer of the patient, but also conducting genetic tests on healthy, normal tissue of the patient. In this way, physicians and researchers can detect cancer-specific mutations as these mutations would only be present in the cancer, but not the normal, healthy tissue.

This is not to say that current genetic tests conducted on cancer are not trustworthy. They, indeed, are quite reliable at identifying mutations that are clearly linked to certain cancers. This group asserts that in those cases where this approach does not work, that additional sequencing of the normal, healthy tissue as a means of comparison may help improve the diagnostic quality of those tumors that produce ambiguous results. The future of cancer diagnostics is a booming, changing, field and much is to remain to be seen in regards to consistency of tactic used. (Richard Harris, NPR)

Federal Research Funding

Controversy awaits as House Republicans roll out long-awaited bill to revamp U.S. research policy

The America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act of 2007, or America COMPETES Act, was signed by President Bush in 2007 and it became law on August 9, 2007. The COMPETES Act sets funding targets for select physical science agencies: the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and two offices with the Department of Energy (DOE): the Office of Science, and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E.

Authored by the panel’s chair, Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX), there are provisions to the reauthorization act that scientists are likely to find interesting.

  • NSF spending: The bill would authorize $126 million less than President Obama requested but $253 more than NSF’s current budget. It relocates NSF’s budget to the natural sciences and engineering at the expense of the geosciences and the social and behavioral sciences. To add injury to insult, additional cuts from the geosciences and the social and behavioral sciences are expected.
  • DOE R&D: At least in 2016, the bill funds most Office of Science programs but the budget remains flat in 2017. Cuts will occur in the more applied renewable energy programs and new energy technologies. Interestingly, funding will boost in the areas on fossil and nuclear energy.
  • Peer review: Since Smith became chair in 2013, this has been a major area of debate regarding how NSF reviews the 50,000 or so requests for funding it receives from scientists every year. Apparently Smith and the NSF Director, France Córdova, have agreed upon legislation that will not “[…]alter[ing] the Foundation’s intellectual merit or broader impacts criteria for evaluating grant applications.”
  • NSF’s portfolio: This section of the bill gives NSF the responsibility “to evaluate scientific research programs undertaken by [other] agencies of the federal government.” This language apparently wants NSF to judge other research agencies about how they are facilitating their research programs. This is quite an awkward and broad demand. It still remains to be seen how this will play out.
  • Large new facilities: This section of the bill tries to rein in “wasteful spending” by requiring the NSF to correct any problems identified by an independent audit on a project’s expected cost before starting construction. However, the bill also restricts spending from contingency funds “[…] to those occurrences that are foreseeable with certainty … and supported by verifiable cost data.” This is interesting language given the need of a contingency fund is to fund unexpected occurrences.
  • Administrative burden: This part of the bill supports reducing administrative oversight in the form of government oversight and regulations. The bill argues that administrative costs are high and costly and these monies could be used to fund research. Instead, the bill will have the White House science advisor convene an inter-agency panel.
  • NIST: The bill increases NIST’s budget; however, falls short of President Obama’s request.

The good news is that the COMPETES bill has finally been reauthorized. However, controversy awaits as to the effectiveness of the reauthorized bill. (Jeffrey Mervis and David Malakoff, ScienceInsider)

Climate Policy

Climate change: Embed the social sciences in climate policy

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) needs to broaden its perspective by adding more social scientists. The organization is akin to a moth to a flame— focusing attention on a well-lit pool of the brightest climate science. But the insights that matter are not readily viewed and are far from the bright light of the debate. The IPCC has involved only a narrow slice of social-sciences disciplines: economics. The other social sciences were mostly absent. Bringing the broader social sciences into the IPCC may prove challenging, but it is achievable if they adapt a strategy that reflects how the fields are organized and which policy-relevant questions these disciplines know well. The IPCC has proved to be important. But presently, it is too narrow and must not monopolize climate assessment. In the future, reforming the organization will benefit the conversation surrounding climate change greatly and move contentious work into other forums. (David Victor, Nature)

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April 17, 2015 at 9:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – March 24, 2015

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By: Courtney Pinard, Ph.D

Open Access

NSF unveils plan to make scientific papers free

The National Science Foundation (NSF) unveiled a plan last week that will require their grantees to make their peer-reviewed research papers freely available within 12 months of publication. This plan comes two years after the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy ordered U.S. federal science agencies to devise their own public-access policies. According to the plan, archives of full-text articles will be available on the publisher’s website. The push for public-access policies by some scientists and activists has been happening since the late 1990s with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) leading the effort with PubMed Central repository. Many publishers critical of repositories like PubMed Central say that public access policies infringe on their copyright and decrease their revenues. In response to these concerns, NSF has decided to work with the Department of Energy to create a system called PAGES (Public Access Gateway for Energy and Science). PAGES will contain abstracts, authors, and other metadata, but not the full-text paper. Instead, PAGES will provide a link to the full-text paper on the publisher’s website. In the future, NSF may allow open access to full-text papers through other repositories. (Jocelyn Kaiser, ScienceInsider)

Infectious Disease

Is Tuberculosis Still a Risk?

Tuberculosis is a widespread, and in many cases fatal, infectious disease caused by various strains of mycobacteria. Tuberculosis (TB) was once the top killer in the U.S. during the 19th century. With the advent of antibiotics, TB cases have steadily declined. In 2013, for example, 9,588 cases were reported in the U.S. Because of antibiotic resistant strains, there has been a surge in the number of people falling sick with TB in recent decades. Just last week, 27 people tested positive for TB at Olathe Northwest High School in Olathe, Kansas after a single case prompted testing. Due to the strength of their immune systems and access to proper antibiotics, none of these 27 people had symptoms, nor were they contagious. Without the correct treatment, however, more than 80% of people die from the infection. In fact, TB is the second leading cause of death in adults world-wide after HIV, and affects 1 million children each year. Two-thirds of the drug-resistant cases are found in the BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Health policy officials in these countries started working on a TB treatment access plan more than two years ago, but little progress has been made. According to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO), three million people developing tuberculosis in BRICS countries are missed by national notification systems each year and only a fraction of cases are being treated. The WHO report emphasized the need to improve vulnerable populations’ access to quality tuberculosis care in low- to middle-income countries. Maybe, one day, TB-infected individuals in BRICS countries will have similar access to TB medical testing and treatment as those in Olathe, Kansas have. (Jacob Creswell, WHO; Dr. Salmaan Keshavjee, NPR)

Global Health and Agriculture

For the love of pork: Antibiotic use on farms skyrockets worldwide

As the developing world becomes richer, more and more people are consuming meat. Increased meat production will lead to the skyrocketing use of antibiotics, according to a study published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study estimates that of the 228 countries who use antibiotics in livestock, total consumption will increase 67% from 63,151 tons in 2010 to 105,596 tons by 2030. The authors suggest that a huge rise in farm drug use will be especially prevalent in middle-income countries, where there is no regulation of antibiotic use on farms. That being said, although the United States Food and Drug Administration has made efforts to limit antibiotic use, critics say U.S. policies passed so far support “voluntary cooperation,” not binding regulation. (Michaeleen Doucleff, NPR)

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March 24, 2015 at 9:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – March 1, 2015

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By: Elisavet Serti, Ph.D

International Science Policy

Scientific review labels U.N development goals as vague, weak or meaningless.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a major policy project being currently developed from the United Nations, “are fairly tales, dressed in the bureaucratese of intergovernmental narcissism” stated the editor of the Lancet scientific journal. A panel of scientists reviewed the 169 goals and appeared supportive of the general concept but concluded that the countries will struggle to achieve them unless the targets are clarified and quantified. These goals range from ending extreme poverty, securing equal access to justice and identifying sustainable energy sources to expanding marine conservation and ending poaching of wildlife. There has been good progress toward these goals, according to the United Nations; for example, the percentage of children under the age of 5 who were affected from poor nutrition dropped from 40% in 1990 to 25% in 2012. Child mortality has also declined almost 50% over the same period.

Only 29% of the 169 SDGs are well defined; the rest lack specific endpoints and time frames and a smaller proportion cant be measured accurately. For example, scientists support that some of these targets can be more specific, such as halving the number of people who lack enough water. Another example is goal 7: “Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.”   In this goal the access is not defined and is considered weak and potentially subject to loopholes. Overall, 54% of the SDGs need to be strengthened and 17% are weak or redundant. The whole project will be discussed by the full membership of the United Nations this summer and the announcement of the final SDG list is expected to be announced at a September summit. (Erik Stodstad, Science)


Vaccine Science

Advancing the science of vaccination

Vaccines are medical science’s most powerful weapons that have led to increase of lifespan and have eradicated numerous infectious lethal pathogens. Louis Pasteur, who discovered in 1879 the first vaccine against a disease called chicken cholera, is considered the father of vaccination.

Numerous reports that oppose the whole idea of vaccination, the link of vaccination with the development of autism by one study that proved to be wrong by following studies and the influence of anti-vaxers has significantly increased the number of parents that choose not to vaccinate their children. Also, it has brought back previously defeated illnesses like measles and mumps. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is determined to advance and promote the science of vaccination. That is why the AAAS devoted several sessions of its annual meeting on how vaccines can be tested and produced faster, better and cheaper and to estimate how many vaccines are in the pipeline. There is an effort for raising funds for the establishment of a Human Vaccines Project reminiscent of the Human Genome Project so that vaccine development is accelerated and expanded to pathogens such as HIV, tuberculosis and malaria.  (The Economist, Feb 2015, pages 76-77)


Federal Research Funding

Two new House Representatives will craft the NIH and NSF budget for 2016.

After November elections, two new house representatives will oversee federal research spending and have already started crafting the budget for the 2016 fiscal year. Representative Tom Cole (R-OK) will head the subcommittee for the NIH budget and Representative John Culberson (R-TX) will head the panel for the NASA and the NSF budget.

Representative Cole has an academic background; as a graduate student at the university of Oklahoma, he moved to England on a Fulbright scholarship to study and write his dissertation British history, focused on the evolution of a working-class village in London’s East End. He believes that historians “have a pretty good sense of what type of research should be pursued.”

On funding issues, Cole says that he cant guarantee a healthy increase of the NIH budget and that the committee “will always be scrambling to maintain the programs we think they are important, at the expense of those of lesser importance.”   Cole is a strong supporter of the NIH’s Institutional Development Award Program which funds states like Oklahoma, his home state, which get little federal science funding. He is planning on holding numerous committee hearings in order to hear all different opinions and promote cooperation.

Representative Culberson is very excited to become the chair of the Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) and Related Agencies appropriations subcommittee that includes NASA and NSF funding. Although he has supported NASA missions in the past, many researchers will probably disagree with his opinions on climate change, social science research and his definition on wasteful research spending. Culberson grew up in a conservative family, he has represented a conservative district in West Houston and he is a member of the Tea Party Caucus. According to his statements, in 2002 he was offered a seat on the Appropriations Committee after assuring the then-Majority Leader Tom Delay that he was going “to say no to everything except science and national defense.”  Culberson is really interested in astronomy and he vows to support NASA’s priorities missions, especially the trip to collect and return samples from Mars. On the other hand, researchers of climate change are likely to have a hard time getting funded since he cites “scientific evidence of dramatically higher temperatures that are completely unrelated to human activity.”  On NSF’s funding, Culberson rejects specific grants that have been recently targeted by conservatives by stating that NSF should “avoid funding studies like shrimps on a treadmill or alcoholism among prostitutes in Thailand.”   (Jeffrey Mervis, Science)



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Written by sciencepolicyforall

March 1, 2015 at 1:11 pm