Breaking news and analysis from the world of science policy

  • Brazil opens ‘spectacular’ Antarctic research base, but will it have the cash to fulfill its potential?

    Brazil’s Comandante Ferraz Research Station in Antarctica

    A new research station designed by Brazilian architecture company Estúdio 41 can accommodate 64 people.

    Estúdio 41

    SÃO PAULO—Brazil will officially open its new scientific outpost in Antarctica this week, 8 years after a fire destroyed its original base there. The new, $100 million station is nearly twice the size of the old one and stands out for its sleek architectural design and hotel-style accommodations for up to 64 people, including scientists and military personnel. Seventeen laboratories will support research in a range of fields, from environmental microbiology to human physiology, paleontology, and climate change.

    An inauguration ceremony is scheduled for 14 January, with Brazilian Vice President Hamilton Mourão and several cabinet ministers in attendance.

    “It’s a first-class facility, really spectacular in many ways,” says Wim Degrave, a molecular biologist and biotechnology specialist at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation who visited the station in November 2019. But many scientists worry that the Brazilian government—whose support for science has plummeted the past few years—may not make enough money available to use the facility to its full potential.

  • FDA and NIH let clinical trial sponsors keep results secret and break the law

    Conceptual illustration. People are walking around in lab coats and suits. Two are in line to put files in a file cabinet marked required. Two officials are sitting nearby, seemingly not paying attention

    For 20 years, the U.S. government has urged companies, universities, and other institutions that conduct clinical trials to record their results in a federal database, so doctors and patients can see whether new treatments are safe and effective. Few trial sponsors have consistently done so, even after a 2007 law made posting mandatory for many trials registered in the database. In 2017, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tried again, enacting a long-awaited “final rule” to clarify the law’s expectations and penalties for failing to disclose trial results. The rule took full effect 2 years ago, on 18 January 2018, giving trial sponsors ample time to comply. But a Science investigation shows that many still ignore the requirement, while federal officials do little or nothing to enforce the law.

    Science examined more than 4700 trials whose results should have been posted on the NIH website under the 2017 rule. Reporting rates by most large pharmaceutical companies and some universities have improved sharply, but performance by many other trial sponsors—including, ironically, NIH itself—was lackluster. Those sponsors, typically either the institution conducting a trial or its funder, must deposit results and other data within 1 year of completing a trial. But of 184 sponsor organizations with at least five trials due as of 25 September 2019, 30 companies, universities, or medical centers never met a single deadline. As of that date, those habitual violators had failed to report any results for 67% of their trials and averaged 268 days late for those and all trials that missed their deadlines. They included such eminent institutions as the Harvard University–affiliated Boston Children’s Hospital, the University of Minnesota, and Baylor College of Medicine—all among the top 50 recipients of NIH grants in 2019.

    The violations cover trials in virtually all fields of medicine, and the missing or late results offer potentially vital information for the most desperate patients. For example, in one long-overdue trial, researchers compared the efficacy of different chemotherapy regimens in 200 patients with advanced lymphoma; another—nearly 2 years late—tests immunotherapy against conventional chemotherapy in about 600 people with late-stage lung cancer.

  • Yada yada … scientists name new virus after Seinfeld catch phrase

    An image from the set of Seinfeld

    Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Jason Alexander on the set of Seinfeld, the TV series that inspired scientists in Australia to name a new virus the Yada Yada virus.

    Joey Delvalle/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images

    How do you tell the world that your discovery of a new virus isn’t that big a deal? Simple: You name it “Yada Yada,” the catch phrase made famous in a 1997 Seinfeld episode.

    Yada yada means “boring or empty talk,” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, which notes that the phrase is “often used interjectionally, especially in recounting words regarded as too dull or predictable to be worth repeating.”

    That pretty much sums up the Yada Yada virus, according to Jana Batovska of AgriBio, the Centre for AgriBioscience, the first author of a short paper published on 9 January in Microbiology Resource Announcements.

  • Chinese researchers reveal draft genome of virus implicated in Wuhan pneumonia outbreak

    aerial view of Wuhan cityscape

    A seafoofd market in Wuhan, China has been considered the likely source of an outbreak of a novel virus but it may have first infected people elsewhere.


    Scientists worried about China’s lack of transparency about a month-old outbreak of pneumonia in the city of Wuhan breathed a sigh of relief today, after a consortium of researchers published a draft genome of the newly discovered coronavirus suspected of causing the outbreak.

    “Potentially really important moment in global public health-must be celebrated, everyone involved in Wuhan, in China & beyond acknowledged, thanked & get all the credit,” Jeremy Farrar, head of the Wellcome Trust in London, wrote in a tweet. “Sharing of data good for public health, great for those who did the work. Just needs those incentives & trust.”

    Also this morning, Wuhan health authorities reported the first death from the new disease. The patient was a 61-year-old man who frequently visited the live market in Wuhan that most cases have been linked to. He also suffered from abdominal tumors and chronic liver disease and died on Thursday. The Wuhan Health Commission said 41 people so far have been confirmed to have been infected with the new virus; no new patients have been identified since 3 January.

  • Mystery virus found in Wuhan resembles bat viruses but not SARS, Chinese scientist says

    Xu Jianguo in a lab

    “Plenty of people are working on the outbreak,” says Xu Jianguo, head of an evaluation committee advising the Chinese government.

    Xu Jianguo

    SHANGHAI—A new coronavirus identified by Chinese scientists is the putative cause of an outbreak of unusual pneumonia in the central city of Wuhan, according to Chinese news reports yesterday. In an interview today with Science, Xu Jianguo, head of an evaluation committee advising the Chinese government, confirmed that scientists have a complete sequence of the novel virus’s genome.

    The World Health Organization on 9 January requested sequence data, a spokesperson in Geneva says, and many scientists urge the country to make the sequence public quickly, but the decision is up to the top leadership of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, says Xu, who is director of the Beijing-based State Key Laboratory for Infectious Disease Prevention and Control, part of China CDC. (The center’s head, George Gao, did not respond to emails from Science seeking comment.)

    Xu says the investigation is being led by China CDC but numerous groups in other government agencies are involved. “Plenty of people are working on the outbreak,” he says. The role of the evaluation committee Xu leads is to review all the findings and make recommendations to the National Health Commission. Xu also said the novel coronavirus resembles known bat viruses, but not the coronaviruses that cause severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

  • Indonesian health minister under fire for pushing his own controversial stroke treatment

    Indonesia Minister of Health Terawan Agus Putranto

    Health Minister of Indonesia Terawan Agus Putranto has treated many prominent Indonesians, including a former president.

    Dhodi Syailendra/Shutterstock

    Indonesia’s health minister, Terawan Agus Putranto, has alarmed the country’s medical community by recommending that its hospitals start to use a controversial treatment against stroke that he himself has pioneered. Many physicians and scientists say there’s no evidence that the procedure, called intra-arterial heparin flushing (IAHF), works—and it could do harm. Terawan’s longtime, aggressive advocacy for it makes him unfit to lead health policy for the world’s fourth most populous nation, critics say.

    “We really need to protect our patients and the whole society,” says Irawan Satriotomo, an Indonesian neuroscientist working at the University of Florida and a vocal opponent of the treatment’s use.

    Details on IAHF are a bit sketchy, but it is a variation on a diagnostic procedure called digital subtraction angiography (DSA), which is used to make blood vessels in the brain visible. In DSA, a catheter is inserted into a patient’s leg and passed up the brain’s blood vessels, and a contrast dye is injected that can be made visible using x-ray imaging. A bit of heparin, an anticoagulant, is injected to prevent blood clots from forming on the catheter.

  • Florida joins U.S. government in probing foreign ties of researchers

    Chris Sprowls speaking

    Florida state Representative Chris Sprowls (R) is leading a special panel looking into foreign influences on publicly supported research.

    AP Photo/Steve Cannon

    Florida lawmakers have begun an investigation into the foreign ties of researchers at the state’s universities and research institutions. The inquiry, the first of its kind at the state level, dovetails with an ongoing federal probe into whether such affiliations, notably with Chinese entities, pose a risk to the U.S. research enterprise.

    The Florida effort is triggered by revelations last month that six scientists at the Moffitt Cancer Center had been dismissed for failing to disclose their participation in China’s Thousand Talents Program. The researchers include the center’s CEO, Alan List, and the head of its research center, Thomas Sellers.

    “I’m appalled by the actions of the Moffitt CEO and some of its researchers,” says state Representative Chris Sprowls (R), who is chair of a bipartisan select committee created by Republican House Speaker José Oliva. “The question is, has there also been any theft of intellectual property? Clearly, the intent is there.”

  • Scientists urge China to quickly share data on virus linked to pneumonia outbreak

    Public Health Officials run thermal scans on passengers arriving from Wuhan, China at Suvarnabumi Airport on January 8, 2020 in Bangkok, Thailand.

    Public health officials in Thailand check passengers arriving from Wuhan, China, for signs of fever at Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok on 8 January.

    Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images

    Chinese scientists have identified a novel coronavirus—a pathogen family responsible for two other new diseases since 2003—as the likely cause of the outbreak of an unusual viral pneumonia in the central city of Wuhan that has sickened dozens of people since mid-December 2019. The researchers have sequenced the virus and developed a test to identify it, according to a news report today by CCTV, China’s state-owned broadcaster.

    Although the link between the agent and the disease needs to be confirmed, many scientists praised the discovery, which they say is a testimony of China’s prowess in virology. But they are urging the country to quickly share much more information about the new agent, the disease it causes, and how it appears to spread.

    “The virologists in China are some of the best in the world, they work extremely quickly, extremely efficiently,” says Peter Daszak, president of the EcoHealth Alliance. “They have a lot more information than we know about right now. I hope that information comes out very soon.” The outbreak, Daszak says, is “a chance for China to show that they are doing 21st century public health as well as 21st century virology.”

  • Department of Energy picks New York over Virginia for site of new particle collider

    An aerial view of Brookhaven National Laboratory

    If all goes as physicists hope, the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (ring above) at Brookhaven National Laboratory will be converted into the Electron-Ion Collider.

    Getty Images

    Nuclear physicists’ next dream machine will be built at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York, officials with the Department of Energy (DOE) announced today. The Electron-Ion Collider (EIC) will smash a high-energy beam of electrons into one of protons to probe the mysterious innards of the proton. The machine will cost between $1.6 billion and $2.6 billion and should be up and running by 2030, said Paul Dabbar, DOE’s undersecretary for science, in a telephone press briefing.

    “It will be the first brand-new greenfield collider built in the country in decades,” Dabbar said. “The U.S. has been at the front end in nuclear physics since the end of the Second World War and this machine will enable the U.S. to stay at the front end for decades to come.”

    The site decision brings to a close the competition to host the machine. Physicists at DOE’s Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Newport News, Virginia, had also hoped to build the EIC.

  • New Trump rule would allow government to ignore climate impacts of major projects

    President Donald Trump

    President Donald Trump


    Originally published by E&E News

    It took seven years for President Barack Obama to get federal agencies on the same page about considering the climate impacts of proposed projects. That could be reversed for good by regulations expected to be released today by the White House.

    The anticipated rules won’t change what has been the common practice at most federal agencies since President Donald Trump took office three years ago—which has been to check a box on climate change while ignoring a project’s true contribution to global warming when carrying out reviews mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

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