Science  12 May 2000:
Vol. 288, Issue 5468, pp. 941

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  1. Unconventional Committee

    South African President Thabo Mbeki's controversial AIDS advisory panel found little common ground this week and ended up establishing a four-person committee to devise tests of fringe ideas about what causes the disease. Mbeki outraged many mainstream AIDS researchers last month when he questioned whether HIV causes AIDS and named leading skeptic Peter Duesberg of the University of California, Berkeley, to a deeply divided 33-member panel that will recommend ways South Africa should fight the disease (Science, 28 April, p. 590).

    The panel, which met on 6 and 7 May in Pretoria, appointed two researchers from each camp to work on formulating experiments that could test theories about HIV's role in AIDS, which threatens more than 10% of South Africa's 42 million people. The four—Duesberg, William Makgoba of South Africa's Medical Research Council, Helene Gayle of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States, and Harvey Baily, a Mexico-based AIDS researcher—plan to confer by Internet over the next 6 weeks. They will return to South Africa to present their ideas before the 7 July opening of the 13th World Conference on AIDS.

    Critics call the exercise a waste of time and money. But Mbeki told the panel he is keeping an open mind: “You can't respond to a catastrophe merely by saying ‘I will do what is routine.’”

  2. Eyes on the Finnish

    Searching for new ways to battle type I diabetes, the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation (JDF) is turning to the country with the world's highest incidence of the disease. Last week, JDF signed off on two 5-year contracts, together worth over $4 million, to support Finnish researchers.

    A joint venture with the Academy of Finland and the Sigrid Juselius Foundation will focus on new treatments, such as using stem cells to replace lost pancreas cells. The other program, run by Turku University since 1995, aims to test 20% of Finnish newborns for genetic susceptibility, then follow at-risk children in a bid to pinpoint what triggers the disease. Says JDF chief science officer Bob Goldstein: “It's a fabulous chance to do long-term epidemiology.”

  3. Not-So-Small Doubts

    The National Science Foundation (NSF) is looking for a giant-sized, 124% increase in nanotechnology research to lead the Administration's half-billion-dollar initiative (Science, 11 February, p. 952). But even legislators impressed with nanoscience's potential aren't sure that NSF is up to the job of overseeing five other agency efforts.

    “Powerful bureaucracies usually win out over science,” Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) said last week during a hearing on NSF's 2001 budget request, worrying that the foundation could be pushed around by the program's bigger partners. “NSF may be trying to take on more than it can handle,” added Senator Kit Bond (R-MO), the panel's chair, noting that it is already responsible for directing the Administration's information technology initiative.

    No problem, responded presidential science adviser Neal Lane. A small coordinating office housed at NSF, he said, will help keep the troops in line and marching smoothly. But an army must also be fed. “We can't do it without the money,” says NSF engineering chief Eugene Wong.

  4. Chimpanzee Transfer

    The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has assumed ownership of 288 chimpanzees at the New Mexico- based Coulston Foundation. Details were still being worked out as Science went to press, but the arrangement “establishes a permanent home for the chimpanzees, with guaranteed support,” says Coulston spokesperson Don McKinney. The animals have all been exposed to either HIV or hepatitis B as part of research protocols, and they will continue to be available for research.

    Coulston has been under fire from animal rights groups and is the subject of an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) of animal welfare office (Science, 12 November 1999, p. 1269). As part of a 1999 settlement with the USDA, Coulston agreed to surrender up to 300 of its chimpanzees by January 2002, and McKin- ney says the 288 chimps, plus 21 animals slated to move elsewhere, would bring Coulston into compliance with that agreement.

    For now, Coulston will continue to care for the chimps at Holloman Air Force base near Alamogordo, New Mexico, with funds from NIH. But NIH deputy director Wendy Baldwin says it is not yet clear where the animals will live for the long term. Holloman isn't an ideal spot for a research lab, she says, but its chimp facilities are the best available quarters.