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Posts Tagged ‘research funding

Science Policy Around the Web – June 6, 2018

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By: Leopold Kong, PhD

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Research funding

China increasingly challenges American dominance of science

Earlier this year, China’s science minister announced that China’s total spending on research and development in 2017 was estimated to be US$279 billion, which is up 70.9% since 2012 and represents 2.1% GDP. In comparison, the United States devoted 2.8% GDP to research and development that same year.  In terms of scientific research, the United States spends half a trillion dollars, more than any other country, but China has pulled into second place and is on track to surpass the U.S. by the end of this year, according to the National Science Board.  In fact, China surpassed the US in terms of scientific publications in 2016. According to Pastor-Pareja, a geneticist who gave up Yale for Bejing, there are now 30 fly genetics laboratories in Beijing, more than in either Boston or San Francisco. Furthermore, China has 202 of the world’s 500 most powerful supercomputers, 60 more than the U.S., and the largest radio telescope ever built, a US$180 million dish used to hunt for black holes.

The increased investment in science has enabled Chinese scientists to make more cutting edge discoveries.  For example, last year, biologists in China were the first to clone a monkey, which may speed medical research. Chinese physicists developed the proof of concept for a quantum communications system that is theoretically instant and secure. Much of this growth is driven by aggressive recruiting programs such as the Thousand Talents, which targets Chinese citizens who have studied science in the United States or elsewhere, driving a “reverse brain drain”.  The program has recruited more than 7,000 scientists, who are given a US$160,000 signing bonus and guaranteed research funding for many years.  Foreign-born scientists may get additional perks such as subsidies for housing, meals, relocation and additional bonuses.

Despite the massive growth in science, Chinese research faces challenges in quality control.  For example, last year, 107 scientific papers involving over 400 Chinese authors were retracted in a major publication fraud.  In fact since 2012, China has retracted more scientific papers because of faked peer-reviews than all other countries and territories put together, according to Retraction Watch.  In 2013, Science had exposed a thriving academic black market in China involving corrupt scientists and editors operating in plain view.  Poor quality Chinese research may be exacerbated by lack of stringent regulatory systems. “In America, if you purposely falsify data, then your career in academia is over.  But in China, the cost of cheating is very low. They won’t fire you. You might not get promoted immediately, but once people forget, then you might have a chance to move up”, said Zhang Lei, a professor of applied physics at Xi’an Jiaotong University in an interview with the New York Times.  Still, China has much to offer as collaborators according to experts. Denis Simon, executive chancellor of Duke Kunshan University noted, “The Chinese, for the first time, really have something to offer us. It is vitally in the U.S. interest to plug in.”

(Ben Guarino, Emily Rauhala and William Wan, The Washington Post)

Privacy

Took an ancestry DNA test? You might be a ‘genetic informant’ unleashing secrets about your relatives

Last Friday, police revealed parts of the arrest warrant for Joseph DeAngelo, the 72 year old former police officer accused of being the Golden State Killer who committed at least 12 murders, more than 50 rapes and over 100 burglaries from 1974 to 1986. Until recently, DeAngelo had eluded capture until DNA from a genealogical website was found to match the DNA found at one of the killer’s crime scenes. The lead from the website belonged to a distant relative of the suspect which helped lead the authorities to focus their investigation on DeAngelo.  Supplemented with other evidence, such as saliva collected from the suspect’s garbage can for a more direct DNA match, the authorities arrested DeAngelo in April of this year.

The DNA match was found on GEDmatch, a Florida- based website that pools raw genetic profiles, which now number more than a million genomes.  In at least eight states, authorities can search law enforcement databases for possible genetic matches.  Genetic family searching has been used numerous times in the past.  For example, in 2003, Craig Harman was identified as the individual who threw a brick through a windshield of a passing vehicle that caused the driver to suffer a fatal heart attack via a DNA match to Harman’s brother. In 2011, the serial killer Lonnie Franklin, charged on 10 counts of murder, was identified through DNA of Franklin’s son.

While genomics searching may provide valuable leads, some critics say it infringes on privacy. “When you put your information into a database voluntarily, and law enforcement has access to it, you may be unwittingly exposing your relatives — some you know, some you don’t know — to scrutiny by law enforcement. Even though they may have done nothing wrong,” said Andrea Roth, assistant professor of law at UC Berkeley Boalt School of Law and an expert on of forensic science in criminal trials.  Genomics searching failed in 2014 when Micheal Usry, a New Orleans filmmaker was falsely accused of murder using evidence from AncestryDNA after authorities asked for access to the data through a court order. “…even though it is easy to think of this technology as something that is used just to track down serial killers,” says Roth, “If we allow the government to use it with no accountability or no further safeguards, then all of our genetic information might be at risk for being used for things we don’t want it to be used for.”

(Ashley May, USA Today)

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June 5, 2018 at 10:00 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – May 8, 2018

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By: Saurav Seshadri, PhD

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Environment

EPA Cites ‘Replication Crisis’ in Justifying Open Science Proposal

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may soon be using far less scientific evidence to inform its policy positions.  EPA administrator Scott Pruitt recently announced that, in an effort promote reproducibility and open access to information, the EPA will no longer consider studies whose underlying data or models are not publicly available.  However, such studies often represent the ‘best available’ data, which the EPA is legally obliged to consider, and form the basis of, among others, policies limiting particulate matter in the air.  Several studies that support the health and economic benefits of lower particulate limits do so by using detailed medical information whose disclosure would compromise patient confidentiality.  The so-called HONEST (Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment) Act, put forth by House Republicans, aims to suppress such ‘secret science’; its detractors say that it’s a poorly disguised gift to industry interests, conveniently timed to take effect just before a scheduled review of pollution limits.

Opposition to the policy has been building steadily.  A letter signed by 63 House democrats, asking for an extension to the open comment period for the policy, has so far been unsuccessful. A separate letter, signed by almost a thousand scientists, and comments from several professional associations, have also been ignored – perhaps unsurprisingly, given Pruitt’s parallel effort to bar relevant scientists from EPA advisory boards.  The scientist behind the article calling attention to the ‘reproducibility crisis’ cited by Pruitt has also spoken out, writing that simply ‘ignoring science that has not yet attained’ rigorous reproducibility standards would be ‘a nightmare’.

Perhaps the most effective response has come from scientists who are outpacing the bureaucracy.  In a pair of papers published last year, a biostatistics and public health group at Harvard used air quality data, Medicare records, and other public sources to reiterate the health risks posed by air pollution.  Such studies could not be excluded by the new EPA policy and may influence regulators to keep particulate limits low.  Another potential roadblock to implementing changes could be the controversy surrounding Pruitt himself.  The administrator has been the target of several federal probes, following a series of scandals regarding his use of government funds for purposes such as a 24-hour security detail, soundproof office, and first class travel.  Bipartisan calls for his resignation have made his future at the EPA, and the quick implementation of a Republican agenda there, uncertain.

(Mitch Ambrose, American Institute of Physics)

Science funding

NIH’s neuroscience institute will limit grants to well-funded labs

With a budget of $2.1 billion, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) is the fifth largest institute at NIH.  Yet each year many investigators are constrained by a lack of funds, while some large labs have accumulated so many grants that their principal investigator can only spend a few weeks per year on a given project.  To address this disparity, NINDS recently announced a plan to revamp implementation of an existing NIH policy, in which grant applications from well-funded labs must go through an additional review by a special council. While the current secondary review rarely rejects such applications, NINDS’ policy takes two steps to make the process more stringent: first, it increases the number of labs that would undergo review, to include labs that would cross the $1 million threshold with the current grant; second, it sets higher standards for review, requiring applications from such labs to score in the top 7% of all proposals to be successful.

Responses to the idea have been tentative, despite widespread support for its objective.  One potential cause for concern is its perceived similarity to the Grant Support Index (GSI), a previous NIH initiative with a similar goal (i.e., reallocating resources to sustain less-established but deserving researchers). The GSI sought to achieve this goal by placing a cap on the number of grants that a lab could receive, using a point system. However, this caused an uproar among scientists, who, among other issues, saw it as punishing or handicapping labs for being productive – it was quickly revised to create the Next Generation Researchers Initiative, a fund earmarked for early and mid-stage investigators, for which each institute is responsible for finding money.  The new policy appears to be a step towards meeting this obligation, and not, NINDS insists, a return to the GSI.

The impact of the new policy will probably be clearer after NINDS’ next round of grant reviews takes place, in January 2019.  So far, only the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) has a comparable policy, which has been in place since 2016.  The success of these approaches may well shape future cohorts of NIH-funded scientists – cutoffs and uncertainty are not unique to neuroscience, and other institutes are likely to be paying close attention.

(Jocelyn Kaiser, Science)

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May 8, 2018 at 6:11 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – November 14, 2017

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By: Saurav Seshadri, PhD

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Alzheimer’s Disease

Bill Gates sets his sights on neurodegeneration

Microsoft founder Bill Gates has announced a new funding initiative for research into Alzheimer’s Disease, starting with a personal donation of $50 million to the Dementia Discovery Fund (DDF).  The DDF is a UK-based, public-private collaboration, launched in 2015 and designed to encourage innovative research into treatments for dementia, of which Alzheimer’s Disease is a leading cause.  Initial investment in the DDF, which came from the pharmaceutical industry and government entities, was $100 million, meaning Gates’ contribution will be significant.  Gates says his family history makes him particularly interested in finding a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease.  The DDF has already taken steps in this direction: its first investment was in the biopharma company Alector, which is moving forward with immune system-related research to combat Alzheimer’s Disease.

Gates is already famous for his philanthropy through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which funds efforts to fight poverty and disease throughout the world.  However, the Foundation has traditionally focused on infectious diseases, such as HIV and malaria, making Alzheimer’s Disease Gates’ first foray into neuroscience.  In this regard, he has some catching up to do to match philanthropic contributions and business pursuits by other tech billionaires.  These include his Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who started the Allen Institute for Brain Sciences with $100 million in 2003.  The Allen Institute provides a range of tools for basic researchers using mouse models, generating comprehensive maps of brain anatomy, connectivity and gene expression.  More recently, Tesla founder Elon Musk started Neuralink, a venture which aims to enhance cognitive ability using brain-machine interfaces.  Kernel, founded by tech entrepreneur Bryan Johnson, has a similar goal.  Finally, while the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (started by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in 2015) doesn’t explicitly focus on neuroscience, its science program is led by acclaimed neuroscientist Cori Bargmann.

As pointed out by former National Institutes of Mental Health Director Tom Insel, this infusion of money, as well as the fast-moving, results-oriented tech mindset behind it, has the potential to transform neuroscience and deliver better outcomes for patients.  As government funding for science appears increasingly uncertain, such interest and support from private investors is encouraging.  Hopefully the results will justify their optimism.

(Sanjay Gupta, CNN)

 

Physics

Elusive particles create a black hole for funding

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) enabled a scientific breakthrough in 2012 when it was used to produce evidence for the Higgs boson, a physical particle that endows matter with mass.  In the wake of the worldwide excitement generated by that discovery, physicists finalized plans for a complementary research facility, the International Linear Collider (ILC), to be built in Japan.  While the LHC is circular and collides protons, the ILC would collide positrons and electrons, at lower energy but with more precise results.  Unfortunately, anticipated funding for the $10 billion project from the Japanese government has failed to materialize.  Following recent recommendations by Japanese physicists, the group overseeing the ILC has now agreed on a less ambitious proposal, for a lower energy machine with a shorter tunnel.  Though physicists remain optimistic that the ILC will still provide useful data, it will no longer be able to produce high-energy quarks (one of its planned uses), and will instead focus on previously detected particles and forces.  The ILC’s future is currently in limbo until the Japanese government makes a concrete financial commitment, and it is unlikely to be completed before 2030.

After the Higgs boson, the LHC struggled to find proof of the existence of other new particles.  One such high-profile disappointment was the search for dark matter.  When dark matter was hypothesized to be the source of unexplained gamma radiation observed with NASA’s Fermi Space Telescope, the search for a dark matter particle became a top priority for the LHC’s second run.  Such evidence would also have supported supersymmetry, a key theory in particle physics.  However, these efforts, as well as multiple others using different detectors, have thus far failed to find any signs of dark matter.  These unsuccessful experiments certainly contributed to scaling back the ILC, and illustrate larger problems with setting realistic expectations and/or valuing negative results among scientists, government officials, and the public.  As a result, in order to advance our understanding of the basic building blocks of our universe, particle physicists will now have to do more with less.

(Edwin Cartlidge, Nature News)

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November 14, 2017 at 5:40 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – October 13, 2017

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By: Maryam Zaringhalam, Ph.D.

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Research Funding

Why gun violence research has been shut down for 20 years

The mass shooting in Las Vegas has reinvigorated the debate around gun control. In turn, scientists and policymakers have renewed the call for more support around gun violence research. According to Alan Leshner, CEO-emeritus of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, “Gun violence is not something you can solve by just intuition and common sense or ideology.” Rather, research is required to make evidence-based policies around the best possible prevention strategies.

Gun violence research, despite its mortality rate, receives less funding and fewer publications than other leading causes of death according to an article published in JAMA earlier this year. The gap is attributable in large part to the Dickey Amendment, first passed in 1996 and reauthorized every year since. The provision, named for former Congressman Jay Dickey, mandated that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) could not use funding “to advocate or promote gun control,” effectively banning federal research into gun violence.

Prior to the amendment’s passage, the CDC was responsible for the bulk of research around gun violence, which informed policies aimed at violence prevention. Since the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, The Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice has resumed funding for gun violence studies, awarding 13 grants since 2014. Still, the bulk of funding is provided by private sources, such as the Joyce Foundation, which has spent over $53 million over the last 15 years on gun violence prevention research and advocacy.

While the Dickey Amendment has been reauthorized every year since 1996, Dickey himself has reversed his thinking on the issue: “We need to turn this over to science and take it away from politics.” While Congress is considering restrictions on ‘bump stocks’ with the support of the National Rifle Association, the political winds remain unfavorable for reopening research support.

(Todd C. Frankel, The Washington Post)

 

Women in Science

Disturbing allegations of sexual harassment in Antarctica leveled at noted scientist

Last week Science broke the news about an investigation into David Marchant, an Antarctic geologist and department chair at Boston University (BU), accused of sexually harassing two of his former graduate students while they were in the field in Antarctica. The accusations speak to an alarming trend highlighted in an online survey in PLOS ONE that found 71% of 512 female respondents reported being sexually harassed during fieldwork. Marchant’s case is one in a number that have come to light in recent years, highlighting sexual harassment and gender discrimination in science.

The allegations come at a time when U.S. universities and the U.S. government are struggling to address sexual harassment. In 2011, the Obama administration clearly defined sexual harassment as a form of gender discrimination under Title IX, directing schools to evaluate harassment claims based on a “preponderance of evidence” rather than prove allegations “beyond a reasonable doubt,” as is required for a criminal conviction. On September 22, 2017 Education Secretary Betsy DeVos submitted guidance that universities should instead consider a “clear and convincing standard” of proof. On October 12, 2017 California Representative, Jackie Speier, introduced a bill that would codify the “preponderance of evidence” standard.

BU’s Equal Opportunity Office is currently investigating Title IX complaints filed by two of Marchant’s former graduate students over the last year. According to Science, they have “interviewed numerous people, elicited a 200-page rebuttal from Marchant, and received at least four letters in his support plus at least five letters supporting [the former graduate student who filed the complaint].”

Marchant is now one of a number of senior male scientists who have been accused or found guilty of sexual harassment. These scientists span the disciplines — including astronomer Geoff Marcy, paleoanthropologist Brian Richmond, linguistics expert Florian Jaeger, and molecular biologist Jason Lieb — and have spurred a larger conversation around sexual harassment and discrimination in the scientific community. Last week, the National Academies of Science convened their fourth committee meeting on the Impacts of Sexual Harassment in Academia. The study is investigating the influence of harassment on the “career advancement of women in the scientific, technical, and medical workforce.” The committee will soon issue a consensus report, including identification of policies and practices that have been effective in combatting harassment.

(Meredith Wadman, Science)

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October 13, 2017 at 5:11 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – June 20, 2017

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By: Eric Cheng, PhD

Source: Flickr, via Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0)

Research Funding

America is Still First in Science, but China Rose Fast as Funding Stalled in U. S. and Other Countries

American scientific groups continue to publish more biomedical research discoveries than groups from any other country, and the United States still leads the world in research and development expenditures. However, American dominance is slowly diminishing as China’s increase in funding on science over the last twenty years are starting to pay off. Chinese biomedical research now ranks fourth in the world for total number of discoveries published in six top-tier journals. This is with China spending three-fourths of the amount of money that the U.S. spent on research and development in 2015. In addition, new discoveries and advances in science are becoming more of a collaborative effort, which include researchers from around the world.

These findings come from research published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation by a group of University of Michigan researchers. The analysis comes at an important time for Congress to think about whether the annual uncertainty of the National Institutes of Health’s(NIH) budget and proposed cuts are in the nation’s best interest over the long-term. Bishr Omary, the senior author of the article commented, “If we continue on the path we’re on, it will be harder to maintain our lead and, even more importantly, we could be disenchanting the next generation of bright and passionate biomedical scientists who see a limited future in pursuing a scientist or physician-investigator career.”

The research was based on data up to 2015. During the current fiscal year of 2017, funding for NIH was proposed to be increased by 2 billion dollars, which is the second year in a row where funding was increased after 12 years of flat budgets. With this increase in funding, Omary hopes that, “our current and future investment in NIH and other federal research support agencies will rise above any branch of government to help our next generation reach their potential and dreams.” (University of Michigan, ScienceDaily)

Opioid Crisis

The Role of Science in Addressing the Opioid Crisis

Opioid addiction is an ongoing public health crisis. Millions of individuals all over the United States suffer from opioid use disorder with millions more suffering from chronic pain. Due to the urgency and scale of this crisis, innovative scientific solutions need to be developed. As part of a government-wide effort to address this crisis, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is supplementing current research efforts with a public-private collaborative research initiative on pain and opioid abuse.

The Director of NIH, Dr. Francis Collins met with research and development leaders from biopharmaceutical companies in April 2017 to discuss new ways in which  government and industry can work together to address the opioid crisis. Dr. Collins stated how some advances such as improved formulations, opioids with abuse-deterrent properties, longer-acting overdose-reversal drugs, and repurposing of treatments approved for other conditions may be quick. Other advances such as mu-opioid receptor-based agonists, opioid vaccines, and novel overdose-reversal medications may be slower to develop. Overall, the goal for this partnership is to reduce the time typically required to develop new, safe, and effective therapeutics to half the average time. (Nora D. Volkow and Francis S. Collins, New England Journal of Medicine)

Climate Change

France is Offering US Scientists 4-year Grants to Move to the Country and do Research

Following President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement, France created an initiative that will allow researchers, teachers, and students to apply for a fully financed four-year grant to combat climate change. The website for the initiativesays,

“You will be able to stay in France at least for the duration of the grant, and longer if you are granted a permanent position. There is no restriction on your husband / wife working in France. If you have children, note that French public schools are free, and the tuition fees of universities and ‘grandes écoles’ are very low compared to the American system.”

Since Emmanuel Macron won the French presidential election in May, he has addressed American scientists who feel alienated by the Trump administration. Macron has promised strong funding for climate initiatives. However, some U.S. scientists like David Blockstein of the National Council for Science and the Environment see Macron’s invitation as “both a publicity stunt and a real opportunity.” Although it is not very likely that many U.S. researchers will take up the offer, it does provide a “sharp contrast to an increasingly hostile U.S. political environment for science.” (Chris Weller, Business Insider)

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June 20, 2017 at 1:10 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – June 16, 2017

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By: Emily Petrus, PhD

Source: pixabay

Science and Politics

Politics in Science – It’s Not Just the U.S.!

Romania is a country in eastern Europe that joined the European Union (EU) in 2007. Scientists there are few and far between; research spending only accounts for 0.49% of GDP, the lowest in Europe (the US spent 2.7% in 2016). After joining the EU, Romanian researchers were encouraged to apply for European merit-based grants and sit on international review boards such as the National Research Council and the National Council of Ethics. It seemed that research was making slow but steady progress, but the new administration elected this year has shaken things up in all facets of government, including scientific research.

The new research minister, Serban Valeca, removed the international members appointed to government councils that oversee research funding, ethics, innovation and science policy, and replaced them with city council members, government-loyal union members, researchers from second tier Romanian institutes and even a surgeon being investigated for embezzlement. Grant review panels have been shuffled to remove international scientists and replace them with domestic researchers, but only if they have a certificate saying their university approves of their participation. These changes mark a departure from welcoming international input into Romanian proceedings and a movement towards scientific isolation.

To combat these changes, Romanian scientists have formed an organization, Ad Astra, which calls on researchers to boycott grant evaluations. Combined with the shuffling, the councils have been suspended for 3 months, which delays funding and puts already under-funded researchers in peril. The European University Association calls the policies deeply concerning, and although the current president may disagree with the research minister’s handling of the situation, his political ties ensure he won’t hold much sway over how this plays out. A computer scientist at the University Politehnica in Bucharest, Costin Raiciu, is concerned that the policies will affect talented researchers who have returned to Romania and says, “Without [merit-based] funding, people would either give up research altogether or move out of the country”. This is an all too familiar scenario in which it is apparent that policy and science must cooperate to produce ideal outcomes. (Alexandra Nistoroiu, ScienceInsider)

Mental Health

Clinical Trials Down, Basic Research Up at NIMH

Mental health is a notoriously tricky field. The development of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in the 1950s has historically been a way to diagnose patients with mental health issues, and then give appropriate treatment. This has proved to be an imprecise treatment strategy, because within a category of diagnosis there is a broad spectrum of behaviors, and underlying this behavior there may be multiple causes. The NIH’s Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI) seeks to characterize 1,000,000 people by behavior, genetics, environment, and physiology. Researchers from the NIMH will send questionnaires evaluating behavior to detect mood and reward responses for this group of people. When this mental health evaluation is combined with information about their genetics, lifestyle and environment, scientists can characterize mental health disorders more specifically.

Many clinician researchers are upset by the steep decline in clinical trial research funded by NIMH, which has become higher profile with director Joshua Gordon’s arrival in 2016. NIMH seeks to route funding to study mental disorders using a basic research approach before spending time and money on costly clinical trials which too often lead to inconclusive or disappointing results. In 2011 NIMH launched the Research Domain Criteria (RDoC), which encourages research proposals to include a hunt for the mechanism underlying mental health studies. Since the initial call to include a RDoC perspective in grant applications, the incidence of RDoC appearing in funded applications has increased while mention of the DSM has decreased. Other buzzwords that are present in funded grants include biomarker, circuit, target and mechanism.

These data represent a shift in how funding decisions will proceed in mental health but may have broader reaching implications for other areas of research. In a blog post Dr. Gordon writes, “the idea that RDoC will facilitate rapid, robust and reproducible neurobiological explanations for psychopathology (as observed within and across DSM disorders) represents a hypothesis”. It remains to be seen if RDoC is an effective metric to evaluate successful grants. (Sara Reardon, Nature News)

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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