Breaking news and analysis from the world of science policy

  • Experiment to raise the dead blocked in India

    A man in a hospital bed


    BENGALURU, INDIA—The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has derailed a controversial experiment that would seek to revive brain-dead accident victims. On 11 November, ICMR’s National Institute of Medical Statistics removed the “ReAnima” trial from India’s clinical trial registry.

    In May, Himanshu Bansal, an orthopedic surgeon at Anupam Hospital in the north Indian state of Uttarakhand, announced plans to give around 20 brain-dead people a mix of interventions including injections of mesenchymal stem cells and peptides, and transcranial laser stimulation and median nerve stimulation. Transcranial laser stimulation involves shining pulses of near-infrared light into the brain; median nerve stimulation is the electrical stimulation of a major nerve that runs from the neck to the arm. Both techniques have been shown to improve cognition in patients with traumatic brain injury. Bioquark, a biotech firm based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, had agreed to supply the trial with peptides that are said to help regenerate brain cells.

    In interviews with Indian media in the spring, Bansal described his aim as bringing brain-dead individuals back to a “minimally conscious state” in which patients show flickers of consciousness, such as moving their eyes to track objects. Although there is scant evidence that brain-dead people can recover such function, Bansal says the medical literature describes a significant number of cases of people who have recovered full consciousness from a minimally conscious state.

  • New Zealand earthquake rattles experts


    A powerful magnitude-7.8 earthquake on a little studied fault caused major infrastructure damage in New Zealand on 14 November.

    Associated Press

    The earthquake that struck New Zealand shortly after midnight local time on 14 November, killing two people, is a stark reminder that New Zealand's seismic activity "is a lot more complicated than we thought," says James Goff, a seismologist and tsunami expert at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. The ruptured fault is not along the tectonic plate boundaries where major quakes are expected. "We are finding out again that there is seismic activity that we didn't really know about," Goff says.        

    The U.S. Geological Survey placed the epicenter of the magnitude-7.8 earthquake near Kaikoura, a coastal tourist town 92 kilometers northeast of Christchurch, at a depth of about 23 kilometers. The shallow quake caused extensive damage to infrastructure. Landslides blocked the main highway through the region and temporarily dammed the Clarence River. Aftershocks continued throughout the day Monday.

  • Embryonic stem cells and fetal tissue research—will Trump intervene?

    Accusations that Planned Parenthood profits from fetal tissue sale have sparked calls to end federal funding for the group, and broader state efforts to limit the use of tissue from abortions.

    Accusations that Planned Parenthood profits from fetal tissue sale have sparked calls to end federal funding for the group, and broader state efforts to limit the use of tissue from abortions.

    American Life League/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

    Of all the materials valued in biomedical research, embryonic stem (ES) cells and fetal tissue have gotten disproportionate attention from politicians. Because creating ES cell lines initially requires destroying a human embryo, President George W. Bush tightly restricted the use of federal funds for research on all but a few stem cell lines. President Barack Obama then made lifting those restrictions one of his first official actions after he took office in 2009.

    More recently, accusations that abortion clinics were unlawfully selling fetal tissue to researchers has stoked opposition to that type of research. So far, however, members of Congress have been unable to enact any restrictions into law.

    Now, biomedical researchers are wondering: How will a Donald J. Trump administration handle these ethically delicate materials?

  • Newt Gingrich, a major Trump ally, has a complicated love affair with science

    Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich gives a speech in 2013.

    Newt Gingrich in 2013.

    Gage Skidmore/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

    With the election of Donald Trump as president, Newt Gingrich’s name is very much back in the headlines. The former speaker of the House of Representatives was one of candidate Trump’s staunchest early backers, and is now reportedly in the running for a senior appointment in the new administration.

    Gingrich is no stranger to the scientific community. Indeed, as ScienceInsider reported in 2012, when Gingrich was running for president, he “has a long and complicated relationship with the science community marked by equal measures of flattered delight and bewildered anxiety.” Now, some wonder whether Gingrich’s voice might help shape the Trump administration’s approach to research.

    Here’s our 2012 story, written just before Gingrich suffered a devastating setback to his White House aspirations in the Florida primary: 

  • Canada wants your nominations for its national science adviser

    Canadian flag

    Rebecca Schley/Flickr (CC BY NC ND 2.0)

    OTTAWA—The Canadian government will within weeks issue an open call for nominations for the position of national science adviser, Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan said Thursday at an annual science policy conference here.

    Average Canadians, researchers, as well as institutions such as universities, will be asked to offer up candidates for the position, which Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to resurrect after being elected to office in October 2015, while vowing to usher in an era of evidence-based policy- and decision-making informed by scientific knowledge.

    The scientific community has been bristling over its lack of input into policy decisions since Trudeau’s predecessor, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, axed the position of national science adviser in 2008. Harper also eliminated the highly respected Health Council of Canada, a body once mandated to advise the government on efforts to achieve systemic healthcare reform.

  • How states voted on science-related initiatives


    JaulaDeArdilla/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

    Donald Trump’s stunning victory in the presidential election on Tuesday helped usher in a new era of Republican rule in Washington. But voters also weighed in on several science-related state ballot items. Here’s a roundup of the results:

    Carbon tax loses in Washington
    Voters soundly rejected a ballot initiative that would have established the nation’s first-ever carbon tax in exchange for a sales tax cut and working families tax rebate. Initiative 732, which got just 41.1% support, sought to appeal to stakeholders and voters across ideological lines by being revenue-neutral. But it took friendly fire from many environmental, labor, and social justice activists for not investing revenues in clean energy and in vulnerable communities and communities of color that need help preparing for climate change.

  • Update: Florida voters split on releasing GM mosquitoes

    satellite image of Key Haven, Florida

    The island suburb of Key Haven, Florida, is the proposed site of Oxitec’s first U.S. release of genetically modified mosquitoes.

    Google Maps

    UPDATE:  Although 57% of residents of Monroe County in Florida voted in favor of releasing transgenic mosquitoes produced by Oxitec, the fate of the company’s trial there is unclear. In the small suburb of Key Haven, the proposed site of the trial, 65% of the 643 residents who voted were against the release. Although both of these referenda were nonbinding, three of five members on the local mosquito control board have said they would follow the decision of the voters on whether to approve the project. It’s not yet clear what the split vote means for their decision, but the board is expected to discuss next steps at its 19 November meeting.

    “While we did not win over every community in the Keys, Oxitec appreciates the support received from the community, and is prepared to take the next steps with the Florida Keys Mosquito Control Board to trial its environmentally friendly and nonpersisting mosquito control solution,” Oxitec CEO Hadyn Parry said in a statement.

  • NIH to double funding for chronic fatigue syndrome, but patient distrust remains

    A woman with chronic fatigue syndrome participates in a trial of rituximab, an antibody that has shown promise.

    A woman with chronic fatigue syndrome participates in a trial of rituximab, an antibody that has shown promise.

    Pål S. Schaathun

    The most anticipated speaker late last month at an international conference devoted to the mysterious malady commonly known as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) was not a scientist with a hot new finding—although there was excitement about new research in the air. Rather, it was a National Institutes of Health (NIH) official bearing good news to a community that has long existed on the margins of the biomedical research establishment. Vicky Whittemore, the agency's CFS point person in Bethesda, Maryland, delivered on a promise that NIH Director Francis Collins made last year by announcing that NIH spending for research on the poorly understood disease should rise to roughly $15 million in 2017, doubling the estimated $7.6 million handed out in 2016.

    What's more, the NIH emissary said to those gathered here, the biomedical agency will in December solicit CFS proposals from outside scientists to establish several collaborative centers for basic and clinical research, and another center to manage their data on the illness. The calls for applications, which will come with dedicated funds from the planned budget increase, are the first of their kind for CFS from the United States's major medical research funder since 2005. "There is a shifting tide at NIH with regard to ME/CFS," Whittemore told the conference, incorporating the term that many with the multisystem illness prefer. (ME stands for "myalgic encephalomyelitis," and the meeting was convened by the International Association for CFS/ME.)

  • What Trump can—and can't—do all by himself on climate

    Donald Trump

    Donald J. Trump

    Gage Skidmore/Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0)

    Despite the vulnerability of many of his own properties to sea level rise, on the campaign trail President-elect Donald Trump stuck with Republican orthodoxy in questioning human-driven climate change, and criticizing the steps the Obama administration has taken to combat it.

    Trump has promised to "cancel" the Paris agreement, the recently adopted global deal to curb global warming, and to curb climate regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), including the Clean Power Plan to cut emissions from coal-fired power plants, during his first 100 days in office.

    Leaving the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change 'would be the most symbolic antiestablishment move.'

    David Victor, University of California, San Diego

    How much of this can he really do after he assumes the presidency on 20 January, along with a Republican majority in the House of Representatives and the Senate?

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