ScienceScope

Science  05 Apr 2002:
Vol. 296, Issue 5565, pp. 27
  1. Privacy Rule Revised

    Biomedical research groups are welcoming revisions to a patient confidentiality rule that they feared would paralyze research. On 21 March, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) proposed several changes to the so-called Privacy Rule, which goes into effect in April 2003.

    Most important for researchers, HHS this month is seeking suggestions on what data should be stripped from records so that they can be shared with scientists. HHS had planned to remove so many identifiers—such as zip codes and birth dates—that the records would have been useless, say researchers (Science, 7 December 2001, p. 2070). HHS also wants to simplify patient consent forms for sharing data.

    Jennifer Kulynych of the Association of American Medical Colleges says that although her group still has concerns, “we're very encouraged.”

  2. Tough Task

    A Nobel Prize-studded panel held its first meeting this week to tackle NASA's troubled life and materials sciences program. Led by Columbia University neurobiologist Rae Silver, the task force was put together by NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe to study how to maximize scientific returns aboard the shrinking space station.

    CREDIT: JSC/NASA

    The 20-member panel boasts two Nobel Prize winners, but scientists close to the station program are skeptical that it will have an impact. Money woes, they note, will severely restrict station science for the foreseeable future. But Silver says O'Keefe gave the panel free rein to propose the best science, regardless of budget. Its final report is due in June.

  3. Imported Embryos

    French research minister Roger-Gérard Schwartzenberg has jumped the gun on proposed changes in France's bioethics laws that would authorize human embryo research. Last week, Schwartzenberg announced that he intends to allow French scientists to import embryonic stem cell lines from other countries where such research is permitted, such as Australia and the United Kingdom. The new bioethics law has already passed a first reading in the National Assembly, but Schwartzenberg acted after noting that the lengthy parliamentary process meant that scientists “risk having to wait” until 2003 to get cells.

  4. Interim Quartet

    Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson last week appointed a four-member team heavy on bioterrorism expertise to temporarily lead the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta. The quartet succeeds Jeffrey Koplan, who will become a vice president at Atlanta's Emory University (Science, 1 March, p. 1624).

    CDC deputy director David Fleming leads the new crew, with James Hughes and Julie Gerberding, the director and acting deputy director of CDC's National Center for Infectious Diseases, fronting bioterrorism efforts. The fourth member is bioterrorism guru Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, who will be Thompson's “representative” to CDC until a new chief is found.

    Agency watchers say Osterholm's slot is designed to give Thompson greater control over CDC, which was criticized for its handling of the anthrax crisis. Margaret Hamburg, a bioterrorism expert at the Nuclear Threat Initiative in Washington, D.C., says the pick “reflects Thompson's desire to have someone he knows and trusts on the team.”

  5. Pick Six

    The National Science Foundation (NSF) has chosen six new Science and Technology Centers (STCs) for its long-running and once-controversial experiment in large, collaborative research. The new centers—which will be formally unveiled this summer—could receive up to $40 million each over 10 years to explore everything from space weather to new cancer-detection technologies.

    Then-NSF director Erich Bloch started the STC program in 1987 as an attempt to move the agency beyond its traditional emphasis on small grants to single investigators. Many scientists feared that the centers would focus on applied science and drain support for basic research, but outside reviewers have since endorsed the concept.

    The six new centers, chosen from 143 applications, will join five existing centers created in 2000 (23 others have finished their runs). Another competition is scheduled to begin later this year. All the new centers have multiple partners—the University of California, Berkeley, for example, is involved in four new STCs. The winners are now negotiating their budgets and marching orders with NSF. (For a list, see sciencenow.sciencemag.org/feature/data/stc.shtml.)