ScienceScope

Science  21 May 1999:
Vol. 284, Issue 5418, pp. 1245
  1. AIDS Center Shuttered

    An AIDS research center created by and named after virologist Luc Montagnier, co-discoverer of HIV, has gone belly-up. The Luc Montagnier Center, based at St. Joseph Hospital in Paris, was founded 3 years ago with money raised by a French telethon. But the funds have run out, and last week Montagnier filed for bankruptcy.

    The center enrolled nearly 500 HIV-positive patients in a combined program of outpatient clinical care and research, a concept that guided Montagnier's creation of similar centers in the Ivory Coast, Rome, and New York. The Paris center's studies had focused on understanding natural resistance to HIV, identifying immune system targets on the virus, and developing new therapies. But although the hospital will continue to care for the patients, “there will be no more research,” says immunologist Alberto Beretta, the center's scientific director. He and four other researchers are now looking for new jobs.

  2. Power Surge

    In the United States, the hunt for a link between cancer and electricity has fallen into disfavor—earlier this week, for instance, a National Research Council panel concluded that the U.S. does not need a research program aimed at ferreting out possible health effects of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) produced by power lines and home wiring. But Japanese researchers don't share the ambivalence: Japan's Science and Technology Agency has announced it will spend $6 million over the next 3 years to resolve EMF health questions left open by previous surveys.

    Project leader Michinori Kabuto says the new study will gather data on 1000 leukemia and 500 childhood brain tumor patients and up to 4500 control subjects. In addition to probing whether leukemia is linked to high EMF doses, his team will search for ties between cellular phone use by pregnant women and leukemia and brain tumors that develop in their children. “There hasn't been sufficient epidemiological data” in such areas, says Kabuto, whose group will coordinate its work with an ongoing EMF study sponsored by the World Health Organization.

  3. Opening New Vistas

    British astronomers have secured $36 million for a new telescope that will map the southern skies. The 4-meter Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) will be located in Chile and capture more than 100,000 stars and galaxies in every 10-minute exposure, researchers announced. “This will be the largest telescope fully dedicated to surveys,” claims Jim Emerson of the Physics Department at Queen Mary and Westfield College in London, who heads an 18-university consortium planning the instrument.

    Britain's Joint Infrastructure Fund coughed up cash for the project, which will flag interesting objects that can be studied in depth by more powerful telescopes. VISTA's broad scope “will unquestionably identify many unusual [objects],” says astronomer Bruce Margon of the University of Washington, Seattle. But planners are still figuring out exactly where to put their new eye on the sky, which is expected to see first light in 2004.

  4. Altered Food Redux

    A study that stirred concerns over the safety of genetically modified (GM) foods in the United Kingdom was seriously flawed, a scientific panel has concluded. Last year, biochemist Arpad Pusztai (below) sparked controversy by publicizing preliminary data suggesting that rats fed transgenic potatoes had stunted growth and suppressed immune systems (Science, 19 February, p. 1094). But this week, an anonymous six-member panel convened by Britain's Royal Society concluded that poor experiment design and a host of other problems rendered Pusztai's data—which had not been peer reviewed—“inadequate.”

    Pusztai is disappointed in the panel's conclusion and says there still “needs to be a scientific debate about testing GM food.” And Derek Burke, a former head of the government's Advisory Committee on Novel Foods, says the controversy has “done a great disservice to the GM debate.” But whether the panel's findings will help calm the continuing storm over altered foods—which has prompted calls for everything from labeling to import bans—remains to be seen.

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