Science  18 Jul 2003:
Vol. 301, Issue 5631, pp. 289

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  1. Milken Center Takes Aim At Medical Roadblocks

    Cancer survivor and former junk bond magnate Michael Milken has hired a savvy politico to lead an effort to remove obstacles to progress in medicine. Milken's latest brainchild is the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Accelerating Medical Solutions (CAMS), and this week the center tapped Greg Simon as its director.

    Simon is a longtime Democratic staffer who was science and technology adviser to former Vice President Al Gore. Working with a staff of economists and other experts, Simon will target bottlenecks in medical investment, research, and regulation that could be eased by improving computer technology, for example, or increasing access to medical information.

    Milken will contribute his business connections and fundraising skills. “This is an opportunity to put some muscle behind finding solutions to medical problems,” says board member David Baltimore, biology Nobelist and president of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “I don't think there's anything else like it.”

  2. Sex-Study Grants Scrape Through

    Congress last week turned back a challenge by conservatives to five biomedical grants with sexual or exotic themes. Two members of the House tried to block funding for the projects during a vote on a bill providing $27.6 billion in 2004 for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which passed by a slim majority. The research included studies of older men's sexual habits, Asian prostitutes, female sexual arousal, and transgendered Native Americans.

    Junior members Patrick Toomey (R-PA) and Chris Chocola (R-IN) led the blitz, arguing that the research was a waste of taxpayer funds. Along with the sex studies—one of which Toomey said was too shocking to describe aloud—they attacked an NIH-funded study of panda populations in China. “Who thinks this stuff up?” Toomey asked.

    Senior House members Ralph Regula (R-OH) and David Obey (D-WI) mounted a bipartisan defense against the attempt to “micromanage” NIH. They carried the day, but the two-vote margin (212-210) rattled the biomedical community. “I'm very concerned,” says one lobbyist. “I'm sure [the critics] will try this again.”

  3. NCI Moves Ahead With National Tissue Bank

    The National Cancer Institute (NCI) is launching a national bank of cancer tissue samples, NCI Director Andrew von Eschenbach announced at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in Washington, D.C., last week.

    Named the National Biospecimen Network, the bank is being set up by NCI officials and others as part of the National Dialogue on Cancer, a private entity von Eschenbach helped create (Science, 24 May 2002, p. 1395). It's still unclear where samples will be stored, what cancers will be included, and how the venture will be funded.

    Not everyone believes that a national bank is the right approach. “I'm wary, as budgets get tighter, in investing a lot of money in something that may not get used,” says Harold Varmus, president of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

  4. State Sets Phosphorus Levels For Everglades

    After nearly a decade of debate, a Florida environmental agency has agreed on a new standard for phosphorus levels that is intended to preserve the Everglades. But environmental advocates are critical of the rule, saying that it relies on calculations that make phosphorus levels appear deceptively low.

    Roughly 80 tons of phosphorus get dumped into the Florida Everglades every year by way of runoff from sugar-cane farms and other agricultural industries, badly damaging parts of the 970,000-hectare ecosystem. Last week, the state's Environmental Regulation Commission voted to limit phosphorus to 10 parts per billion (ppb), a level that is one-fifth of the previous standard.


    Most researchers agree that the new standard is reasonable. But measuring phosphorus concentration is tricky. Ronald Jones, an ecologist at Florida International University in Miami, says “they've used new math to create a 10 that really isn't 10” by relying heavily on geometric means. Ernie Barnett, director of ecosystem projects at the Department of Environmental Protection in Tallahassee, agrees that the calculations are “contentious” but denies that they would allow for levels higher than 10 ppb.