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Zika Update: Current Knowledge and New Directions

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By: Keith Jacobs, Ph.D.

Zika is the newest international viral outbreak alarming physicians, researchers and the general public. The virus, which is related to dengue, yellow fever, and West Nile viruses, was first isolated in 1947 from a rhesus monkey in the Zika forest of Uganda. Very limited research was performed on the virus over the next several decades. Of the limited work that was done – including one researcher even injecting himself (under the generic description of a “human volunteer”) and several others documenting their symptoms from accidental exposure – none of it was able to shed any light on the true nature of the virus. Due to its relative obscurity and mild symptoms, there was not any interest in even studying Zika.

Times have certainly changed, however, as Zika has now been declared a “public health emergency of international concern” by the World Health Organization (WHO) in the wake of a 2015 outbreak in Brazil. Zika is transmitted through the Aedes aegypti mosquito which is endemic to South America, however strong evidence suggests that Zika may be sexually transmitted as well. While mosquitos carrying Zika have not been found in the US, over 300 Americans have contracted Zika through either travel or sexual contact with a partner who has traveled to regions where Zika is endemic. The majority of adult patients infected with Zika fail to show any symptoms, with the minority who do only exhibiting mild, general maladies such as aches, fever and rash (with no deaths reported).

While Zika infection is not a concern for adults, Brazilian physicians have noticed a stark increase in cases on microencephaly (small heads/brains) in newborns concurrent with the recent epidemic. Zika virus has also been found in the brains of affected fetuses. These correlations did not provide enough evidence however to definitively state that Zika infection was causing these deformities. A careful assessment of the reported cases cited in Brazil indicates that the recent increased incidence of microencephaly may be at least partially due to awareness bias and a lack of standardized criteria for defining deformations. In other words, physicians may be simply observing what they are already looking for based off the initial reported correlation.

As the Zika story began to spread, an alternative explanation for the explosion of microencephaly surfaced. A group of Argentinian doctors argued that it is not the Zika virus but instead the larvicide pyriproxyfen that is responsible for the increased risk of microencephaly. Ironically, pyriproxyfen is added to water in order to control the spread of the very mosquito that carries Zika and other viruses. This report cited a recommendation by the nonprofit Brazilian public health organization the Brazilian Association for Collective Health (BACH) that criticized the use of pyroxifen and warned against its potential environmental and neurotoxic effects. To add to the controversy, pyriproxyfen is manufactured by a Japanese company that is very loosely connected to the agricultural corporation Monsanto, a popular enemy of environmentalists due to its corporate practices concerning the sale of genetically modified crops. Following these assertions, BACH curiously backed off their initial claims and decried the misinterpretation of their statement. In addition to the increasingly strong data connecting Zika infection with fetal brain abnormalities, there is no evidence to support a link between microencephaly and larvicides, and these claims have been disparaged by numerous authorities including the Brazil Ministry of Health:

“Unlike the relationship between the Zika virus and microcephaly, which has had its confirmation attested in tests that indicated the presence of the virus in samples of blood, tissue and amniotic fluid, the association between the use of pyriproxyfen and microcephaly has no scientific basis.”

A case study reported in late March provided the strongest connection to date between maternal Zika infection and fetal brain abnormalities. A woman was infected with Zika 11 weeks into her pregnancy, after which uterine imaging demonstrated a progressive reduction in fetal head size and eventually abnormal gross morphology of the brain. The pregnancy was eventually terminated, and autopsy confirmed large viral loads in the fetal brain and placenta with lower amounts present in other fetal tissues as well. Zika also remained present in the mother for up to 10 weeks following infection. Finally, on April 13th the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) officially declared that the preponderance of evidence supports a causal link relationship between Zika and birth defects.

Prior to this case, physicians believed that Zika only remained active in the body for a week following infection. Likely due to this study, the Centers for Disease Control now recommends that women wait at least 8 weeks after exhibiting symptoms before trying to conceive, or up to 6 months when a male sexual partner has contracted the disease. The absence of any strong symptoms in adults along with the long duration required for viral clearance may thus contribute to Zika’s danger, as pregnant and soon-to-be-pregnant women may be infected without having any knowledge of their exposure. The true risk of Zika, its potential effect on fetal neural development, can therefore be a hidden danger.

While severe birth defects are the most common and perhaps the most threatening aspect of Zika infection, the dangers of Zika are not restricted to pregnant women. Recently, more severe consequences of Zika exposure have been identified in adults. A study published in late February identified a causal link between Zika infection and diagnosis with Guillain-Barré Syndrome. Guillain-Barré syndrome is an auto-immune neurological disease that affects the peripheral (external from brain/spinal cord) nervous system, resulting in potentially severe muscle weakness. Guillain-Barré is often preceded by infection, especially from viral pathogens such as the related dengue fever virus. Systemic infection with these viruses induces an overactive immune system leading to persistent inflammation, and Zika likely acts through this same mechanism.

By leaving its host alive and utilizing abundant mosquitos as a carrier, Zika is likely more contagious than Ebola (which only spreads through direct contact between bodily fluids). The virus therefore has the potential to spread rapidly over a wide range, and without overt visible symptoms it may be difficult to track its true reach. In contrast with Ebola however, where local African culture and poor infrastructure promoted the spread of the disease, the Americas have much better public health resources and preparation. Additionally, a great deal of research is already underway working towards both improved understanding and treatment of Zika. Published studies have described the cell biology of Zika infection, the Food and Drug Administration in the US is reviewing diagnostic tests, and international efforts have already made progress on a vaccine. While the Zika outbreak is somewhat under control, the virus is not likely to go away any time soon. Hopefully the sum of these efforts will neutralize Zika before it becomes an even more significant international public health issue.


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April 14, 2016 at 1:00 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – September 11, 2015

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By: Agila Somasundaram, Ph.D.

Corals and Fish on Jackson Reef by Matt Kieffer via Flickr Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0

Climate Change

Warming Oceans Putting Marine Life ‘In a Blender’

Lobsters are thriving in Maine, while their numbers are dwindling in southern New England. The reason? Global Warming. The higher temperatures in the north may be speeding up their metabolism, but the waters may be too warm at the southern edge of their range. This is just one example of a global trend in changing temperatures. Because the ocean temperatures have been rising, many marine species are moving to more comfortable waters. Many species are moving towards the pole, away from the Equator, at an average speed of 4.5 miles a year, about 10 times as fast as land species are moving. Scientists are developing models to study what this reshuffling of ocean ecosystems will look like, and the picture seems stark. In a recent study published in Nature Climate Change, scientists analyzed the current ranges of about 13,000 species of marine organisms. If ocean temperatures continue to rise, species will move to stay in their ‘thermal niches’. The move might be easier for some, and not so for the others, depending on the obstacles that lie in their migration paths. Scientists also project that, if this happens, by 2100, the tropics will lose a majority of their species, and there will not be new species taking their place. It’s unclear how the existing ecosystems away from the equator would be affected by the arrival of new species. Some newly arrived species may outcompete the native inhabitants, and some may go extinct. “It’s a game about winners and losers”, says Dr. Jorge García Molinos, lead author of the study. Dr. Malin L. Pinsky says that movement of fish away from the tropics might have food implications. “Seafood in many of these countries is a very important source of nutrition. Climate change could leave a gaping hole in the oceans.” (Carl Zimmer, The New York Times)

STEM Education and Funding

Intel Ending Sponsorship Of Prestigious Science Contest For High School Student

Intel, the giant semiconductor manufacturer, has been a sponsor of the Science Talent Search competition, organized by the Society For Science, since 1998. But Intel will be ending its partnership with the competition after 2017. Science Talent Search is the most prestigious science and mathematics award for high school students in the U.S. Some of the past winners have gone on to win prestigious awards such as the Nobel Prize and the MacArthur Fellowships. The decision by Intel is puzzling given that sponsoring the competition costs Intel $6 million a year, about 0.01 percent of Intel’s annual revenue, and it generates goodwill to the organization. Intel moving away from this competition does not mean it is moving away from encouraging students about STEM fields. Intel is partnering with Turner Broadcasting to create a technology-based invention reality show called the ‘America’s Greatest Makers’. (Brakkton Booker, NPR)

Reproductive Research

Preemies’ Survival Rates Improve, But Many Challenges Remain

Extreme preemies — born somewhere between 22 and 28 weeks — have a better chance of surviving now than they did 20 years ago, doctors reported Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). But many of these babies still have severe health problems. The study was done by pediatrician Barbara Stoll and her colleges at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. The doctors found that the survival rate of preemies has risen from 70 to 79 percent between 1993 and 2012 due to improvements in treatments for these babies. Outcomes are still bad for very young preemies, born less than 25 weeks – 90 percent of babies who survive have severe health problems. While neonatologist Roger Soll of the University of Vermont College of Medicine says “The changes in outcomes are much less than might be expected given the substantial changes in practice and raise the question whether many of these changes in practice have been effective”, Stoll is more optimistic. “We hoped for small, steady improvements like this,” she says. “We are cautiously optimistic that the data show progress is being made.” Two major medical interventions have helped this progress: prenatal steroid treatments to help preemies’ lungs develop faster, and doctors’ willingness to surgically deliver extreme preemies. (Michaeleen Doucleff, NPR)

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September 11, 2015 at 12:00 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – April 28, 2015

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By: Sylvina Raver, Ph.D.

Biotechnology and Bioethics

Scientists edit the genome in human embryos for the first time

Scientists now have access to technologies that allow them to edit DNA sequences in human tissue with relative ease. As has been discussed in detail previously, the safety and ethical considerations of permanently altering the human genome are considerable. Genetic modifications, however well intentioned, may be unsafe and result in unintended consequences in the embryo. And because these alterations can be passed on to subsequent generations of people, the far-reaching effects are substantial as well. In light of the many concerns raised by these technological advances, the scientific community has been nearly unanimous in calling for a temporary moratorium on genetic engineering in human embryos until the technical, safety, and bioethical concerns can be more fully understood. However, not all scientists are adhering to this temporary ban. This week a team of researchers at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, China published a report in the online journal Protein & Cell describing how they were able to successfully modify the genetic code in human embryos. The scientists, led by Dr. Junjiu Huang, performed experiments in non-viable human embryos using the CRISPR-Cas9 technology to modify a gene called HBB, mutations of which can lead to the fatal blood disorder beta-thalassemia. The scientists found that the rate of successful editing was quite low; only 28 of the 86 very early embryos studied demonstrated successful repair of the HBB gene. In addition to the relatively low efficacy of this technique, the paper also reported that embryos contained multiple unintended changes to their DNA. The authors state that their results highlight the need to improve the fidelity and efficacy of the CRISPR-Cas9 platform if it is to be applied in clinical settings in the future. Despite these qualifications, responses to the report by the international scientific community have been swift and mostly critical. Many scientists and watchdog groups argue that these experiments underscore the need for a moratorium on germline gene modification. However, other prominent voices in the bioethical and stem cell communities praise the value of basic research aimed at improving genetic engineering methods. A wave of similar research reports may be on the horizon as multiple Chinese research teams are rumored to be conducting ongoing experiments to edit the genome of human embryos. (David Cyranoski & Sara Reardon, Nature; Rob Stein, NPR; Jocelyn Kaiser & Dennis Normile, ScienceInsider)

Public Health

Contraceptive implants could decrease the rate of unplanned teenage pregnancies in the US

The rate of unplanned pregnancies in the United States is nearly 50%, and since 2001 the US made no substantial progress toward reduce this number. In teenage women between the ages of 15-19, the rate of unintended pregnancy is nearly seven times higher than in countries like Switzerland or the Netherlands. Many of these pregnancies could be averted through more widespread use of highly effective forms of birth control, including hormonal implants (miniature plastic rods inserted under the skin) or intrauterine devices (IUDs). The failure rate for these forms of contraception is only about 0.2%, which is remarkably lower than those for more commonly used methods like the pill (9%) or condoms (18%). Furthermore, because implants and IUDs are inserted and then remain stable for multiple years, they remove the need for women to remember to take a daily pill, or to rely on her partner to use a condom. Long-term contraception essentially changes the default, so that instead of actively preventing pregnancy, women can instead consciously decide when to conceive. Yet despite these clear advantages, only 7% of American teenage women use implants or IUDs, compared to nearly 40% of women in China. A primary reason for the limited use may be lack of information. A recent survey by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found that nearly 77% of American women knew “little to nothing” about implantable birth control. Misconceptions about the safety and efficacy of these devices are also prevalent, possibly due to a lingering collective memory of a defective IUD that caused infections in some women and was removed from the market in the 1970’s. However, a lack of adequate information concerning implants does not lie solely with patients. Despite guidelines that require medical providers to recommend implants and IUDs as the “first-line” method of birth control for teenagers, many practitioners are not trained to insert these devices or worry that they are not suitable for teenagers. Medical providers, including pediatricians, who many teenagers first approach for birth control, must be reminded of the benefits of recommending IUDs and implants, and must be trained to properly insert and remove these devices. Increased promotion of IUDs and implants by public health agencies is also warranted. States that have increased the prevalence of these devices have seen both their birth rates and abortion rates fall dramatically among teens, particularly those in lower socioeconomic brackets. (The Economist)

Natural Disasters

Major earthquake devastates Nepal, may herald more Himalayan tremors

A 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck late in the morning of Saturday April 25, 2015 and has devastated a large portion of central Nepal, including the capital city of Kathmandu and the mountaineering destination of Mount Everest. At least 3,800 people are dead in what may prove to be one of the most deadly natural disasters to strike the Himalayas in years. Sadly, an earthquake of this magnitude was not unexpected, as the tectonic plates underneath Nepal have been close to the breaking point for centuries. The same geological forces that cause the Himalayan Mountains to reach such towering heights cause this region to be one of the most seismically active in the world. While seismic events are not unexpected in Nepal, the socioeconomic situations of many Nepalese citizens, combined with a rapid rate of urbanization, contribute to the devastation wrought by the April 25th quake. Much of the older infrastructure in villages and cities like Kathmandu has not been upgraded to withstand earthquakes. And as the country becomes more urbanized, new construction that lacks structural reinforcement often occurs hastily in dense and impoverished neighborhoods. Earthquake recovery, rather than prevention, will likely dominate Nepal for the foreseeable future. While the April 25 quake released much of the strain accumulating within the faults in the region, many experts feel that this earthquake was not sufficient to relieve all of the building pressure, and predict more than 30 aftershocks greater than magnitude 5 in the coming weeks. (Matt Schiavenza, The Atlantic; Alexandra Witze, Nature; Priyanka Pulla, ScienceInsider)

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April 28, 2015 at 9:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – December 9, 2014

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By: Jennifer E. Seedorff, Ph.D.

Flu Season – Public Health

Potential for a deadlier flu season

This flu season has the potential to be an especially bad season. This year the predominant circulating flu strain is a H3N2 virus, and historically the H3 strains have been associated with more severe flu seasons, including increases in hospitalizations and deaths. This season may be especially bad because some of the circulating H3 viruses have mutated since the strains for the vaccine were chosen, and these mutations may mean that the vaccine may be less effective against the mutated strain. Despite the mismatch between the flu strains and the vaccine, vaccination is still highly recommended. The vaccine will still provide protection against other strains of flu, including the unmutated H3N2 strain that is also in circulation, and may still provide a “weak defense” against the mutated strain, according to the CDC.   Additionally, this year CDC recommends that anti-viral drugs like Tamiflu (oseltamivir) be given to vulnerable patients with flu symptoms without waiting for a positive flu test, since these drugs work better when given earlier in the infection. Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, said that, “Flu is unpredictable, but what we’ve seen thus far is concerning.” (Donald McNeil, Jr. New York Times)



Successful test flight of the Orion spaceship

NASA’s Orion spaceship successfully completed its first unmanned test flight on December 5th. Orion is intended to replace the retired shuttle for manned spaceflight, including missions to the Moon and eventually Mars. Mark Geyer, NASA’s Orion program manager, commented on the successful flight and splashdown in the Pacific, “It’s hard to have a better day than today.” This 4.5 hour unmanned spaceflight was intended to test the performance of critical re-entry systems, including its thermal shielding. The Orion spaceship is being developed in parallel with a new launch rocket that will likely be ready around 2017-2018. Amos reports that commentators are “worried that the policy as laid out cannot continue in its current guise.” John Logsdon, a historian, commented that, “the first Orion launch with a crew aboard is 2020/21, and then nothing very firmly is defined after that, although of course NASA has plans. That’s too slow-paced to keep the launch teams sharp, to keep everyone engaged. It’s driven by the lack of money, not technical barriers.” Ellen Stofan, NASA’s chief scientists said that, “We have all these technologies mapped out and we’re asking, ‘what is the most sustainable path we can get on (to acquire them)?’” Despite concerns about the pace of development and future missions, Friday’s launch was a reason for celebration. As mission control commentator Rob Navias said, “There’s your new spacecraft, America.” (Jonathan Amos, BBC News)


Regulatory Policy – FDA

New drug labels to include more information on risks of medications during pregnancy

In June 2015, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will begin to require labels on prescription drugs and biologics to include more information on risks to pregnant and breastfeeding women, and on the reproductive risks to both men and women. Prior to this rule change, drugs were given a letter grade based on known or unknown risks of the medication during pregnancy and breastfeeding. “The ABC system was useless. Every thing was C, and all it said was there was no known data during pregnancy but that wasn’t necessarily the case,” said Jacques Moritz, director of gynecology at Mount Sinai St. Luke’s and Mount Sinai Roosevelt in New York. Sandra Kweder, deputy director of the Office of New Drugs in the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, FDA, wrote, “Our new method provides for explanations, based on available information, about the potential benefits and risks for the mother, the fetus, the breastfeeding children, and women and men of reproductive age.” The new rule will require that the information packets included with medications approved since 2001 include subsections on “Pregnancy,” “Lactation,” and “Females and Males of Reproductive potential” and include a summary of risks and the data to support the conclusions.  The rule will not require companies to do studies on the risks during pregnancy and lactation, but will require them to provide the information, if it exists. “Oftentimes the research is out there in the medical literature,” Kweder said and that, “oftentimes companies know about it,” but may not include it. (Brady Dennis, Washington Post and Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times)



Compromise in debate over genetically modified plants in the European Union

Recently, a compromise was reached in the approval process of genetically modified (GM) plants for cultivated in the European Union (EU). Approval of genetically modified crops has been particularly controversial in Europe where resistance and support for GM crops varied greatly amongst the member states. Prior to this compromise, approval by the EU Commission would have allowed GM crops to be grown in all member states, some of which have laws that ban cultivation of GM plants. This compromise agreement will allow individual member states to overrule EU approval of GM crops in their state. This agreement should help to speed up the approval process, but still needs to be approved to come into force. The compromise of letting individual member independently decide on whether to allow GM crops to be grown has met with resistance from both supporters and defenders of GM crops. Still the EU commissioner of Health and Food Safety Vytenis Andriukaitis called the deal “a significant step forward, after 4 years of intense debates . . . (The agreement will) give the democratically elected governments at least the same weight as scientific advice when it comes to important decisions concerning food and environment.” (Daniel Cressey, Nature News)


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December 9, 2014 at 2:16 pm

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Science Policy Around the Web – November 4, 2014

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By: Agila Somasundaram, Ph.D.

photo credit: Storm Crypt via photopin cc


Algal virus found in humans, slows brain activity

Humans have traditionally caught viruses from closely related species like monkeys and pigs, but recent studies show that algal viruses can reside in our bodies. Scientists at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland have implicated the virus ATCV-1, which infects algae in lakes and rivers, in reduced cognitive function in humans. The group found the ATCV-1 virus in a study of 92 otherwise healthy people. People infected with the virus performed poorly on visual processing tasks, and exhibited shorter attention spans. The team tested if the virus had a causal role in cognitive decline by injecting mice with infected and uninfected algae. The infected mice exhibited poorer attention spans and spatial memory when compared with the uninfected mice. The researchers have also found a change in activity of almost 3000 genes in the infected animals in the hippocampal region of the brain, which is important for learning and memory. The researchers speculate that the virus might stimulate certain immune responses that might in turn affect gene activity in the brain. It is unclear if and how ATCV-1 infects people, even though the virus has been found in many samples around the world. These new findings raise concerns about whether workers who work around water bodies are more susceptible to this virus. Only more studies will tell. (Elizabeth Pennizi, Science)




Science suffers in rocket explosion

The surging enthusiasm for the rocket launch was crushed when Antares exploded 6 seconds after takeoff from the Virginia launch pad on 28th October. Also crushed were all of the scientific experiments that were to be sent to the International Space Station. About one-third of the cargo on Antares was scientific equipment, including a miniature satellite developed by Planetary Resources to mine asteroids for valuable deposits, a high-definition video camera built at the Chiba Institute of Technology to study the properties of meteor showers, and satellites made by Planet Labs to add to their constellation of small satellites to image Earth. A radiometer to measure atmospheric water vapor, one to study how satellites break-up when they de-orbit, and experiments to grow pea shoots to feed astronauts are among other cargo lost in the explosion. Fortunately, nobody was hurt in the explosion, and the six astronauts aboard the space station should be fine with the existing cargo for another six months, says Michael Suffredini, the space station program manager for NASA in Houston. However, the biggest challenge now seems to be getting a ride for the cargo to space in future launches. A significant amount of rescheduling needs to be done given that Orbital Sciences, the company that launched Antares, will not be able to fly for some time, pending investigations, and so cargo needs to be accommodated in other missions. “Nobody likes to see a rocket blow up on a launch pad,” says Dante Lauretta, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona in Tucson. (Alexandra Witze, Nature)



Ebola in the Maternity Ward

 The World Health Organization recently estimated the mortality rate for Ebola at seventy percent, but the viral infection is even more deadly for pregnant women. In the 1995 Ebola outbreak in Zaire, the virus killed fourteen out of fifteen infected pregnant women. This has created a serious ethical and practical problem in the Ebola stricken West African countries. Pregnant women in labor bleed profusely, and they are therefore highly infectious. The staff is at high risk of contamination, and there is a shortage of medical supplies and trained obstetricians or midwives. This, coupled with the belief that pregnant women infected with Ebola are highly likely to die anyway and the resources could instead be given to some other patient, results in them not being permitted in the standard Ebola wards. “They aren’t even given beds. They get put in an area where they get no interventions. They are assumed to die,” says Gabriel Warren, who runs West African Medical Missions, a nonprofit in Sierra Leone. If the Zaire mortality rate of pregnant women were to be applied to the present Ebola outbreak, then only around five percent of infected pregnant women would survive. But if that figure is wrong, then excluding pregnant women is too, says Nir Eyal, a bioethicist at Harvard Medical School. The United Nations Population Fund estimates that of the eight hundred thousand women projected to give birth in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone in the coming year, a hundred and twenty thousand are at risk of dying due to insufficient medical care. Ethics being one side of the argument, a large amount of funding is required to manage the projected maternal deaths in the coming year. How to deal with pregnant women infected with Ebola “is a challenging medical-ethics scenario. There’s no easy answer,” says Joseph Bresse, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control mission in Sierra Leone. (Joshua Lang, The New Yorker)



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November 4, 2014 at 11:03 am

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Science Policy Around the Web – June 13, 2014

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By: Bethanie Morrison

photo credit: Renée S. Suen via photopin cc

photo credit: Renée S. Suen via photopin cc

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

Japanese Stem Cell Debacle Could Bring Down Center –The RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology (CDB) may be forced to shut down in order to prevent a recurrence of research misconduct, according to a statement released from a press conference regarding this matter in Japan on June 12.  Haruko Obokata, Yoshiki Sasai, and Teruhiko Wakayama all will likely face severe disciplinary measures based both on research misconduct (Dr. Obokata) and lack of oversight (Dr. Sasai and Dr. Wakayama).  These measures may extend as high as to the Director of CDB, Masatoshi Takeichi.  This misconduct is not only the result of unreproducible results on a new method to reprogram mature cells into stem cells by Dr. Obokata, but also due to the strong desire of CDB to publish the latest stem cell method without regard for proper protocol.  These findings were the result of two RIKEN-formed committees, an investigation committee and a reform committee.  Disciplinary actions will be decided by yet a third committee.

Health Officials Call for More Fish in Diets of Children and Pregnant Women – In an update to its recommendation in 2004, the FDA is now calling for pregnant women to consume at least two servings of low-mercury seafood per week.  The upper limit of only three servings has been scrutinized by physicians who believe that the benefits gained by both the pregnant mother and her child of eating fish during pregnancy far outweigh the risks, as long as the fish is low in mercury.  High mercury fish such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, and albacore tuna should still be avoided during pregnancy, nursing, and in young children.  Studies have shown that children born to women who consume fish during pregnancy have higher I.Q.s and better behavioral development.  Dr. Roger B. Newman, the director of the obstetrics and gynecology department at the Medical University of South Carolina and a member of the Perinatal Nutrition Working Group believes that the recommendations are on the low side, but they are a step in the right direction.

UK Chief Scientist Calls for Urgent Debate on Climate Change Mitigation – Sir Mark Walport, the top science advisor to the government of the U.K., recommended that the government move past the debate on whether climate change exists to discussions on what to do about it, according to his interview with The Guardian.  He would like top scientists and engineers with ideas and who can communicate well to come forward and engage the public in a debate based on evidence, not politics.  At the same time Sir Walport acknowledges that ultimately how to combat climate change is not a science decision, but a policy decision. In order to be a good policy decision, however, the evidence from scientists must be taken into account by the policy makers.  The debate must move on from the experts in climate change, who are typically asked to speak at public engagements, and onto the experts in the realm of solar panels, agriculture, or insulation.  Changing from whom the general public hears and well as with whom policy makers engage will help to drive the conversation forward.  Hopefully more solutions will be employed and more arguments ended.

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June 13, 2014 at 11:13 am