ScienceInsider

Breaking news and analysis from the world of science policy

  • Begin HIV treatment immediately says major study, ending long debate

    Begin HIV treatment immediately says major study, ending long debate

    A study in 35 countries that involved 4685 HIV-infected people has ended early because results showed that immediate treatment cut the risk of disease and death in half. The data, revealed today at a teleconference held by the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), brings to a close a divisive issue. The United States and many other countries already recommend treating everyone diagnosed with an HIV infection, but guidelines in the United Kingdom and elsewhere call for starting treatment only after immune system damage occurs, in part because of worries about long-term toxicities of the drugs.

    As NIAID Director Anthony Fauci explained, evidence suggested that early treatment benefited people but no randomized, controlled clinical trial had ever proven it until now. “These findings clearly demonstrate that starting antiretroviral treatment sooner rather than later is of significant health benefit to the HIV-infected individual,” Fauci said. “These results are certain to impact medical treatment guidelines.” He said the new findings also validate the push to use treatment as a prevention tool, as other studies have shown that HIV-infected people on antiretrovirals (ARVs) are far less likely to transmit the virus to others.

  • Affirming support for Thirty Meter Telescope, Hawaii's governor calls for closing others

    An artist's conception of the Thirty Meter Telescope.

    An artist's conception of the Thirty Meter Telescope

    TMT Collaborative

    In an attempt to break the impasse over a mammoth telescope that astronomers plan to build atop the tallest mountain in the Pacific, Hawaii Governor David Ige has called for the elimination of a quarter of the telescopes already there. At a press conference yesterday, Ige, a Democrat, affirmed his support for the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), a $1.55 billion behemoth that would perch 193 meters below the 4205-meter summit of Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii. Construction is currently on hold as Native Hawaiian protesters claim the mountain as sacred and have blocked access to the construction site. But Ige also chastised the University of Hawaii for its handling of the mountain and called for removing a quarter of the 13 telescopes already there before the start of TMT operations, planned for 2022. He also called for the return to a state agency of 4000 hectares of land that the university isn't using for astronomy and the formation of a Mauna Kea Cultural Council to oversee the mountain. In the past, protesters have said no compromise over the construction of TMT is possible.

  • Japan to enlarge massive cosmic ray array in Utah

    Physicists will nearly double the number of particle detectors like this one in the vast Telescope Array.

    Physicists will nearly double the number of particle detectors like this one in the vast Telescope Array.

    John Matthews, University of Utah

    Every once in a while, a cosmic ray—a subatomic particle from outer space—strikes the atmosphere with an energy 10 million times higher than a humanmade particle accelerator has ever achieved. Physicists don't know where such mind-bogglingly energetic particles come from, but they could be closing in on an answer thanks to the expansion of one of the world's biggest cosmic ray experiments.

    Japan will spend $3.7 million to nearly quadruple the size of the Telescope Array (TA), which currently consists of 507 particle detectors spread across 700 square kilometers of Utah desert. The detectors sense the avalanche of particles, or what physicists call an "extensive air shower," triggered when a ray hits the atmosphere. Physicists will deploy 400 more loosely spaced detectors to stretch TA's area to about 2500 square kilometers—twice the area of New York City—says Yoshiki Tsunesada, a physicist and TA team member at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. From the size and direction of an air shower, physicists can deduce the energy and direction of the original ray. Researchers hope to complete the expansion in 2017. Japan paid two-thirds of the current array's $25 million cost.

  • Karolinska releases English translation of misconduct report on trachea surgeon

    Paolo Macchiarini

    Credit: Consuelo Bautista

    The Karolinska Institute in Stockholm today released its English translation of a report critical of surgeon Paolo Macchiarini, famous for transplanting tissue-engineered tracheae into more than a dozen people. The report concludes that Macchiarini committed scientific misconduct in publications describing the results of several of the transplants. Karolinska, where Macchiarini is a visiting professor, commissioned the external inquiry after allegations arose in August 2014.

    The investigator, Bengt Gerdin, professor emeritus of surgery at Uppsala University, examined six papers about the patients and one on animal tests of the procedure and found multiple problems that he deemed serious enough to constitute misconduct, including inaccurate descriptions of the condition of patients at the time of publication and stating that ethical permission had been obtained for the work although there is none on record. The report, submitted to the Karolinska vice chancellor on 13 May, concludes that Macchiarini “bears the main responsibility for the publication of false or incomplete information in several papers, and is therefore guilty of scientific misconduct.”

    Macchiarini has disputed the allegations, but he told ScienceInsider that he could not comment further until Karolinska Vice Chancellor Anders Hamsten issues his decision on the case. That is expected sometime in June.

  • New RIKEN president hopes to hold on to young stars

    Hiroshi Matsumoto

    Hiroshi Matsumoto

    Dennis Normile

    Seven weeks into his presidency of RIKEN, Hiroshi Matsumoto at a press conference on Friday outlined his strategy for restoring luster to the scandal-tarnished network of national laboratories. His big new idea: introducing a tenure track system that would retain the best young researchers now on temporary contracts at RIKEN.

    Matsumoto’s overriding task is to help RIKEN recover from last year’s debacle. A high-profile paper reporting a new way of creating stem cells, dubbed stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP), proved bogus after a series of investigations. The fiasco led to the suicide of a senior scientist and the restructuring of RIKEN’s Center for Developmental Biology.

    A specialist in magnetic fields and space plasma, Matsumoto had spent his entire career at Kyoto University and served as its president from 2008 to 2014. Since taking the helm at RIKEN on 1 April, Matsumoto has visited all of RIKEN's 15 major facilities, meeting leaders and young researchers to listen to their concerns. He presented his "Initiative for Scientific Excellence" on 22 May here at the RIKEN headquarters near Tokyo.

  • Bipartisan Senate coalition calls for boost in energy research

    As part of its call for increased funding for the Department of Energy, the Senate version of COMPETES would boost spending on basic energy research.

    As part of its call for increased funding for the Department of Energy, the Senate version of COMPETES would boost spending on basic energy research.

    Pacific Northwest National Laboratory/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

    Three Republican and four Democratic senators introduced a bill on Wednesday that would give the Department of Energy (DOE) the authority to grow its science programs by 4% a year over the next 5 years. Although the bill's sponsors say that sets the stage for doubling DOE’s science budget, including that of the agency’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), at that rate the doubling would take more than 17 years. Still, the bill is more generous than a corresponding bill passed this week by the House of Representatives to authorize a host of research programs at DOE, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and other agencies.

    "Governing is about setting priorities, and this legislation will put us on a path to double basic energy research—one of the best ways to keep good paying jobs from going overseas," said Senator Lamar Alexander (R–TN) in a statement. The bill was introduced into the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, which is chaired by Lisa Murkowski (R–AK), who co-sponsored the bill.

    The bill would be part of the Senate version of the renewal of the American COMPETES Act, bipartisan legislation that was passed in 2007 and reauthorized in 2010 and that aimed to bolster U.S. capabilities in the physical sciences. The 2007 law was drafted in response to Rising Above the Gathering Storm, an influential report from the U.S. National Academies that warned the United States would lose its economic edge if it did not invest more in such research.

  • House spending panel does its best to hide large cut to NSF social and geosciences research

    NSF

    NSF

    NSF

    A congressional spending panel has proposed a 16% cut in funding next year for the social and geosciences at the National Science Foundation (NSF). But you’ll need a magnifying glass and a calculator to come up with that number.

    The reduction is buried in a report that accompanies a $51 billion spending bill for 2016 covering numerous federal agencies that was approved Wednesday by the appropriations committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. (Kudos to Richard Jones of the American Institute of Physics, who did the math and reported it yesterday in his FYI blog.) The legislators disregarded pleas from NSF officials and science advocates not to tie the agency’s hands by designating funding levels for individual research directorates rather than the agency’s overall portfolio. It also intensifies a 2-year attack on those disciplines that until now has been led by the House science committee.

    The science panel sets policies for NSF, and its controversial America COMPETES Act, which would reduce authorized spending levels for the two disciplines, passed the same day by the full House. But that panel does not control NSF’s purse. The $51 billion spending bill, on the other hand, does set budgets. It would give NSF a $50 million increase, to $7.4 billion—a 0.7% boost that is far short of the 5.2% requested by President Barack Obama.

  • House committee approves bill on speeding medical innovation

    The 21st Century Cures Act will provide new funding for research in areas including biomarkers, precision medicine, infectious diseases, antibiotics, and basic research.

    The 21st Century Cures Act will provide new funding for research in areas including biomarkers, precision medicine, infectious diseases, antibiotics, and basic research.

    mathrong/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

    A major congressional effort to spur medical innovation passed another milestone today when a House of Representatives committee signed off on the 21st Century Cures Act.

    The bill, developed by representatives Fred Upton (R–MI) and Diana DeGette (D–CO), revamps policies and provides new funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Approved unanimously by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the bill contains a few changes from a version introduced in April.

    As before, the measure authorizes annual $1.5 billion raises to NIH’s budget for 3 years and also provides $10 billion over 5 years in mandatory funding for a new NIH Innovation Fund. Annually, at least $500 million of the fund will support the new Accelerating Advancement Program, which would provide matching funds for NIH’s 27 institutes and centers for research in areas including biomarkers, precision medicine, infectious diseases, antibiotics, and basic research. The remainder would go to young scientists (at least 35%); high-risk, high-reward research; and NIH intramural research. This is somewhat different from an April draft bill that would have directed the Innovation Fund to young scientists, precision medicine, and a third, unnamed category.

  • Researchers turn to volunteer readers to speed research on rare genetic disorder

    Bioinformaticist Andrew Su (center front) has launched a crowdsourcing campaign to find game-changing links in biomedical literature by using volunteer “citizen scientists.”

    Bioinformaticist Andrew Su (center front) has launched a crowdsourcing campaign to find game-changing links in biomedical literature by using volunteer "citizen scientists."

    © John Gastaldo/The San Diego Union-Tribune/ZUMAPRESS.com

    Biomedical research is often slow and incremental, but it can take a leap when someone uncovers a hidden connection. For example, researchers might never have tested a hunch that fish oil eases symptoms of Raynaud syndrome, a circulatory disorder, if an information scientist hadn’t taken the time to painstakingly scour stacks of technical articles on the seemingly unrelated topics.

    It’s likely that other game-changing links lurk elsewhere in the biomedical literature. But with new papers getting published every 30 seconds, scientists are hard-pressed to find those needle-in-haystack connections. Today, one group of researchers is launching a crowdsourcing initiative to pave the way, by harnessing the efforts of lay volunteers who will scan papers for key terms to help create a powerful searchable database.

    This crowdsourcing curation campaign, dubbed Mark2Cure, is first reaching out to a particularly motivated crowd—the community of people affected by NGLY1 deficiency, a newly discovered genetic disorder. Researchers have diagnosed the disease—which is caused by defects in NGLY1, an enzyme that removes sugar molecules from proteins to ensure proper degradation—in about 35 people worldwide, but they believe some 1500 others may have it. The disorder has a bewildering array of symptoms that include liver problems, poor reflexes, an inability to produce tears, and sometimes seizures.

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