Science  29 Oct 2004:
Vol. 306, Issue 5697, pp. 791

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  1. NIH Tweaks Review Criteria to Include Clinical Research

    In its first overhaul of grant-review criteria in 7 years, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has reworded the rules to give more weight to projects that translate research results to patients.

    The five grant-review criteria—significance, approach, innovation, investigators, and environment—will now “better accommodate interdisciplinary, translational, and clinical projects,” NIH says in a 12 October announcement. For example, “innovation” can include challenging “clinical practice” as well as “existing paradigms.” And overall, instead of advancing “a field,” the work can “improve clinical decision or outcomes.” Reviewers are also asked to review the research teams, not just the lead investigator. The changes, which take effect in January, are part of NIH Director Elias Zerhouni's Roadmap, a set of initiatives aimed at boosting translational research.

    Although NIH can't say how the rules might change the mix of basic and clinical research it funds, NIH deputy director for extramural research Norka Ruiz-Bravo is “hopeful” that reviewers “will be even more thoughtful” about these projects.

    Clinicians welcome the revisions. “It's going to shift [the mix] some,” predicts Herbert Pardes, president of New York-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, who served on a 1997 NIH panel on clinical research. “The more attention they pay to clinical research, the better.”

  2. Russian Parliament Clears Way for Kyoto Protocol

    Russia's upper house of parliament was expected to ratify the Kyoto Protocol this week, guaranteeing that the landmark international pact to control greenhouse gas emissions will enter into force early next year. Last week, the Duma, parliament's lower house, voted 334–73 to approve the agreement, and Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to sign the measure within weeks.

    “We'll toast [Russia] with vodka tonight,” Greenpeace climate campaigner Steve Sawyer told reporters after the 22 October Duma vote.

    After years of debate, Russia's cabinet endorsed the protocol earlier this month (Science, 8 October, p. 209). To enter into force, Kyoto needed the backing of nations responsible for at least 55% of 1990 emissions. Russia, with a 17% share, put the pact over the threshold.

  3. Blood Tainted With Mad Cow Worries France

    PARIS—A French woman recently diagnosed with variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) donated blood multiple times between 1993 and 2003, the French health ministry announced last week. As a result, 10 transfusion recipients may also be at risk of vCJD, the human counterpart of bovine spongiform ecephalopathy or “mad cow disease.” They will be notified and told not to donate blood, tissue, or organs themselves, officials say.

    The risk of vCJD transmission through blood products is unknown but not zero, most researchers believe. In 2002, a British man in his late 60s developed vCJD nearly 7 years after receiving blood from a donor later found to have the disease. The chances that a person in the British victim's age range got infected coincidentally, from eating infected meat products, are small— between 1 in 15,000 and 30,000, says Charlotte Llewelyn of the National Blood Service in Cambridge, who studied the case. Last August, British researchers also published evidence of a preclinical vCJD case in another blood-transfusion patient who had died of unrelated causes.

    For recipients of infected blood products, there is neither a test for infection nor a cure should they get sick. Still, notifying them could help prevent further spread of the disease, Llewelyn says.

  4. Thai Bird Smuggler Carries Avian Flu to Europe

    The Asian bird flu crisis briefly visited Europe last weekend, when authorities at an airport in Brussels happened to snatch a Thai passenger illegally transporting two birds that were later found to be infected with the deadly H5N1 virus strain.

    So far, the virus appears to have been kept in check. The birds—endangered mountain hawk eagles—were killed and never left the airport's quarantine area. A veterinarian who handled them suffered from an eye infection that appears to be transient, officials say, and the smuggler is in good health. Early this week, officials were still hoping to contact passengers on the two flights—one from Bangkok to Vienna, and a connection to Brussels—during which the man carried the birds in his cabin luggage.

    The incident shows that the rest of the world cannot assume it's safe from Asia's avian influenza outbreak, says virologist Albert Osterhaus of Erasmus University in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Although the risk of transmission through the illegal bird trade may be small, the consequences could be serious, he says.

  5. LIGO Upgrade Advances


    It's a go for an improved LIGO. The National Science Board, the oversight body for the National Science Foundation (NSF), has given a green light to the $185 million upgrade to the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) facilities in Louisiana and Washington state.

    At a meeting in mid-October, the board judged the upgrade—which will increase by a factor of 1000 LIGO's ability to detect the subtle warping of space and time—to be worthy of NSF funding in 2007 or later. According to Michael Turner, NSF's assistant director for mathematical and physical sciences, the increase in capabilities is “juicy” and will make a major difference in the facility's usefulness to scientists.

    The project must still be formally ranked in importance against other major NSF facilities proposals, a process that will take place sometime in the spring, says Turner. Before NSF seeks to fund the upgrade, however, LIGO must successfully run for a year at its design specification, which it has yet to reach.

  6. Putin Weighs In on Russian Academy Reforms

    Russian scientists worried about an impending retooling of the Russian Academy of Sciences got little reassurance from President Vladimir Putin this week. “No one is going to destroy the academy, this is out of the question,” Putin told the first meeting of the Council for Science, Technologies, and Education in Moscow. But Russia's massive research organization “was created in different conditions, in a different country, in a different economic and political situation,” he said, adding that the challenge now is to prevent it from being “disintegrated in the whirlwind of [current] events.”

    Last month, leaked documents that hinted at possible reforms—including funding cuts and institute closures—provoked vocal protests from Russian scientists (Science, 24 September, p. 1889). A formal plan, however, has yet to surface.