ScienceScope

Science  12 Jul 2002:
Vol. 297, Issue 5579, pp. 173
  1. Blood Saga

    The 14-year French court battle over the contamination of an estimated 4000 hemophiliacs and blood transfusion recipients with HIV took two new twists last week. But there's still no end in sight.

    On 4 July, an appeals court dismissed all charges—including accusations of “poisoning”—against 30 doctors, researchers, and public health officials who allegedly had failed to protect the victims from infection with the AIDS virus during the early days of the epidemic in France. But 5 days later, prosecutors announced that they would take the case to the final appellate level.

    The list of those still awaiting their fate include respected scientists such as cell biologist François Gros and epidemiologist Jean-Baptiste Brunet (Science, 16 June 1995, p. 1563). Colleagues complain that the government has little basis for an appeal but is merely trying to prolong their legal torment. “This was a politically correct” decision, says immunologist Jean-Claude Gluckman of the St. Louis Hospital in Paris.

  2. No Litmus Test

    National Institutes of Health (NIH) director Elias Zerhouni says that White House officials vetting his appointment never asked him about his views on human embryonic stem (ES) cells. Meeting last week with reporters for the first time since he took office 6 weeks ago, the former Johns Hopkins radiologist says that he is ready to argue for loosening Bush Administration rules that limit ES cell studies to 70-some lines if the science supports that position. But “the science is barely out of the gate,” he adds. As for congressional proposals to ban therapeutic cloning, “that's a political question, not a scientific question,” he said.

    CREDIT: RONEDMONDS/AP

    On other topics, Zerhouni says that NIH “needs to look into” a recent National Academy of Sciences suggestion that it find a way to fund worthy research on combating bioterrorism more quickly. He also plans to “review the effectiveness” of NIH, with input from a forthcoming academy study examining the agency's structure. His short-term priorities include filling five vacant NIH directorships.

  3. Pasteur Loses

    A French civil court has found the Pasteur Institute in Paris to be responsible for a woman's death last year from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD). Pascale Fachin contracted the brain-wasting disease in 1985 from contaminated human growth hormone (HGH) prepared by Pasteur scientists (Science, 31 May, p. 1587). The Montpellier court in southern France ordered Pasteur and the endocrinology group Association France- Hypophyse to pay nearly $800,000 in damages to the family of the 30-year-old Fachin, half of it immediately.

    The institute plans to appeal, arguing that it could not be responsible for the contamination because it was “of a biological nature.” The institute's insurance company has refused to cover the damages because it considers Pasteur to be the producer, not supplier, of HGH—a question the court ruling does not resolve. A defeat at the appellate level could unleash a flood of similar claims against the institute from other families of CJD victims.

  4. Space Fantasy

    Russia's space industry has fallen on hard times since the breakup of the Soviet Union. And even its former competitors, the United States and Europe, are scrambling to pay for current projects such as the international space station. But last week, Russian officials made headlines around the world when they said that they have begun talks with European and U.S. space officials on a 2015 flight to Mars involving a six-person crew.

    CREDIT: GRC/NASA

    Nikolay Anfimov, R&D director of the Institute for Machine Building, and Vitaly Semenov, head of the Rosaviakosmos Keldysh Center, laid out a proposal for a 440-day flight—and a 2-month tour of the Red Planet—at a Moscow space conference. They estimated that the mission would cost a mere $20 billion. If true, that would be a real bargain, as the U.S. Apollo project cost $100 billion in deflated, 1960s dollars.

    Not surprisingly, Western officials are skeptical. “NASA has received no plans or proposals,” says one agency official, who adds that Russia has enough trouble meeting its obligations for the space station without bankrolling a trip to another planet.

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