ScienceScope

Science  08 Mar 2002:
Vol. 295, Issue 5561, pp. 1811
  1. Thou Shalt Share

    The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has released long-awaited draft guidelines on data sharing.

    Worried that taxpayer-funded researchers might hoard data to the detriment of science, NIH officials are asking potential grantees to propose how they plan to share the fruits of their labor. NIH says it may provide extra cash to researchers who need help assembling publicly accessible databases or creating other distribution tools. But the policy draft (grants2.nih.gov/grants/policy/data_sharing/index.htm) emphasizes that the government has no wish to stand in the way of patenting potentially valuable discoveries, giving scientists up to 60 days to keep secrets while legal papers are finished. NIH is asking for comment by 1 June, with implementation by 1 January 2003.

  2. Plugging Holes

    NASA finally has a chief of biological and physical research–and soon may have a chief financial officer too.

    NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe named Mary Kicza to the research job 4 March after a nearly 2-year, unsuccessful hunt for a prominent outside researcher (Science, 12 May 2000, p. 938). Kicza, an electrical engineer with a master's in business administration, was associate center director at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and was responsible for coordinating earth and space science efforts. Kicza's lack of a biological or physical research background, however, is sure to raise eyebrows in the life and microgravity sciences community. O'Keefe's statement tries to parry that anticipated criticism by noting that Kicza has managed a diverse portfolio of research agendas for 2 decades. She will work closely with Shannon Lucid, a shuttle veteran recently named NASA's chief scientist.

    O'Keefe also is likely to soon name Steve Isakowitz to the space agency's top budget slot. Isakowitz is currently an influential civil servant at the White House Office of Management and Budget, where he oversees science and space programs. He has been quietly skeptical of NASA's outer planets exploration program and space station research efforts–two issues he will now tackle from the inside.

    O'Keefe also named Frederick Gregory as the agency's chief of space flight. The longtime astronaut will oversee the troubled space station program.

  3. Marine Research?

    Japan hasn't won many friends with its new plan to boost whale research. Government officials have told the International Whaling Commission (IWC) that Japan plans to kill 100 more whales this year under its controversial research whaling program, drawing protests from conservation groups.

    CREDIT: INTERNATIONAL FUND FOR ANIMAL WELFARE

    Japan already kills 160 minke (above), Bryde's, and sperm whales annually in the North Pacific—and 400 minkes in the Antarctic—under a “research” exemption to a decades-old global ban on commercial whaling. It now wants to expand the Pacific hunt by 50 minke and 50 sei whales. The addition of the sei whales is particularly controversial, because the United States considers the species endangered. But the sei's status is based on outdated data, and fresh samples are needed to see if a growing population is competing with human fishers, argues Seiji Ohsumi, director general of the Institute of Cetacean Research in Tokyo.

    Scientists are split over the value of such research, and many argue that there are nonlethal means of collecting the necessary data (Science, 29 September 2000, p. 2264). And the World Wildlife Fund says Japan should not be allowed to expand whaling “under the cynical guise of science.” The IWC's Scientific Committee will review the plan in May, and Ohsumi says his institute will consider any recommendations before the hunt begins in June.

  4. The Beat Goes On

    Mechanical heart makers got some good news this week. Advisers to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) voted 8-2 in favor of a proposal from Thoratec in Pleasanton, California, to use its implanted heart pumps as a “destination therapy” for patients whose own hearts are failing. This could bring a long-sought change in FDA policy, which currently allows such pumps only as a “bridge to transplant” in the few patients lucky enough to be on the waiting list for a donated natural heart (Science, 8 February, p. 1000). If FDA agrees—and it usually goes along with advisory panels—it may grant Thoratec permission to sell its devices to some of the 100,000 U.S. patients with end-stage congestive heart failure. And the decision could open the way to other artificial hearts.

  5. Mouse Pact

    Stanford researchers say they've sealed a knockout deal. The university confirmed earlier this month that it has signed a 3-year pact with Deltagen Inc. that gives its scientists access to the firm's catalog of genetically engineered knockout mice and extensive database of gene function information. In return, the company will get first dibs on discoveries with commercial potential. The deal could become a model for giving academics faster access to knockouts, in which a gene has been removed in a bid to understand its function.

    Deltagen typically charges pharmaceutical firms up to $5 million a year for access to its database and up to 250 of its more than 1000 possible mouse models, says William Matthews, president of the Redwood City, California, company. But Stanford and Deltagen agreed to swap intellectual property instead of cash. Stanford cancer researcher Tony Oro says that, although the arrangement still needs road-testing, he is eager to comb through Deltagen's holdings. Creating and working with knockouts once was “like sipping water drop by drop,” he says. “This is like opening a fire hydrant.”

  6. Rave Review

    The oft-maligned U.S. anthrax vaccine, suspected of causing everything from tinnitus to fatal anemia, received a vote of confidence this week from a panel at the Institute of Medicine (IOM). Headed by Brian Strom, chair of biostatistics and epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, the panel found “no convincing evidence at this time” of serious negative health effects.

    Addressing questions about efficacy, the panel noted that the anthrax bacterium is so dangerous that it would be unethical to test the potency of the vaccine in clinical trials. But the panel concluded that data from animal studies, combined with “reasonable assumptions,” show that the vaccine is “effective” and can protect humans against “any known or plausible engineered strains of Bacillus anthracis.” The vaccine does have faults, according to the report. The six required injections can create swelling and “nodules” at the injection site, fever and malaise, and, in some people, a period of “brief functional impairment.” The IOM group urges the military to fund new studies of how the vaccine works, examine ways to reduce the number of injections, and increase its monitoring of possible long-term health effects.

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