ScienceScope

Science  07 Mar 2003:
Vol. 299, Issue 5612, pp. 1497
  1. Hughes Institute to End Graduate Fellowships

    A depressed stock market and the desire to redirect its support for graduate training have led the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to cancel its 15-year-old graduate fellowship program. The program, which has funneled nearly $150 million to support some 1200 doctoral students in the biological sciences, will end this spring after a final round of awards, but institute officials are already mulling options for replacing it.

    “As impressive as these students are, I think that they would be funded whether we were there or not,” says Peter Bruns, vice president for grants and special programs, about the fellowships. Half of the awards typically went to students attending Harvard, Stanford, and the Berkeley and San Francisco campuses of the University of California, he notes. “Our next step is to figure out what type of programs we want to support and to what end.”

    One possibility is institution-based traineeships that would allow Hughes to focus attention on, for example, interdisciplinary collaborations or applications of research to patient care. Terminating the program will save $17 million a year, says Bruns, helping HHMI cope with a 3-year economic downturn that has shrunk its endowment from $13 billion to $10.1 billion.

  2. More Greenbacks for U.S. Farm Research

    Agricultural researchers are cheering a major funding boost for a flagship program. Congress last month gave a 40% boost to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) National Research Initiative (NRI). NRI is USDA's main competitive grants program, funding everything from genome sequencing to environmental studies.

    Although the record $47 million increase, to $166 million for this year, fell short of the White House's request for $240 million, ag science advocates aren't complaining. Besides funding more proposals, the new cash will help soften the blow delivered by “declining resources from traditional sponsors and state support,” says Karl Glasener, science policy chief for the agronomy, crop science, and soil science societies in Washington, D.C.

    Science lobbyists are hoping to repeat the success in the 2004 budget, which recently began working its way through Congress. The Bush Administration has requested $200 million for NRI, but it could be difficult to win that 20% jump if there's a war and the economy continues to stagger.

  3. China Has the Moon In Its Sights

    BEIJING—Long-whispered plans for Chinese lunar exploration became somewhat official last week when the director of the China National Space Administration (CNSA) laid out a three-stage program for crewless missions to the moon.

    Speaking to a national aerospace conference in Beijing, Luan Enjie described preliminary work under way to orbit, land on, and return from the moon. The goals include supporting scientific exploration, studies of possible uses for lunar resources, and expertise for future deep-space efforts.

    CREDIT: NASA

    CNSA spokesperson Li Jinduo warns that the agency has not yet completed all the feasibility and cost studies. More important, the Chang'e Program, named after a Chinese fairy tale involving a trip to the moon, has yet to obtain government approval. But Luan's comments suggest that the space agency is actively lobbying for support.

  4. Panel Backs Resumption of Most Gene-Therapy Trials

    Most gene-therapy studies that were stopped for an emergency review may soon get to enroll patients again. A U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory panel last week recommended that the agency allow most U.S. gene-therapy studies to proceed, albeit with caution. In January, FDA stopped 27 studies involving the use of retroviruses to insert new genes into patients after French researchers reported a second case of leukemia among children receiving one type of therapy (Science, 17 January, p. 320).

    Although investigators believe that the therapy caused the cancer, the 20-member panel concluded that most of the suspended studies should resume. But it backed a 2-year delay for three trials that are similar to the French study, unless sponsors can show there are no alternatives. “We really have to come to grips with what steps need to be taken to try to prevent this from happening in the future,” says panelist John Coffin of Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, Massachusetts. FDA officials are likely to move quickly to get trials up and running again.

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