Science  19 Nov 2004:
Vol. 306, Issue 5700, pp. 1273

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  1. EPA Postpones Pesticide Study

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has suspended a controversial $7 million study of children's exposure to indoor pesticides while it takes another look at the study's design. The Children's Environmental Exposure Research Study (CHEERS) had encountered a flurry of criticism earlier this month, just as it began in Florida (Science, 5 November, p. 961).

    CHEERS is designed to figure out how children become exposed to indoor pesticides, such as roach sprays. Review boards for the three participating agencies had already blessed the study when the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., criticized EPA for taking $2 million in study funding from the American Chemistry Council (ACC), an industry group. It also questioned whether parents would be adequately warned about the potential dangers of exposing young children to pesticides.

    EPA stood by the study but announced on 8 November that it would establish a new panel to review it and report back next spring. “It's great that [EPA] pushed the pause button,” says EWG's Richard Wiles. But he still has concerns about industry funding—a topic the new panel isn't expected to address. ACC, meanwhile, says it continues to support the research.

  2. U.K. Court Orders Animal-Rights Activists to Stand Off

    LONDON—The United Kingdom's High Court has ordered animal-rights protesters to stay away from anyone involved in a laboratory construction project at Oxford University. At the university's request, the court last week issued an injunction against seven groups and activist John Curtin, whose protests last July helped shut down work on the $33 million research center (Science, 6 August, p. 761).

    The injunction was needed to protect researchers, builders, and construction company stockholders from “a small minority of people … who were undertaking a program of harassment and intimidation” at and away from the construction site, a university spokesperson told Science. The order still allows weekly protests at the site by up to 50 people standing outside a 46-meter exclusion zone. It is unclear when work will resume on the project, but university officials say they are aiming to complete the building by late 2005.

  3. NIAID Tackles Flu Genomes

    Hoping to spur the field of influenza research, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) this week announced a new flu genome sequencing project. The $2-million-plus effort will crank through the sequences of thousands of human and avian influenza viruses and deposit them in GenBank, the public DNA database.

    Because flu viruses constantly mutate, a new vaccine has to be designed each year for flu season. Having many more sequences on hand will help researchers explore why certain strains are more virulent and improve vaccines and drugs, NIAID officials say. “There's not a lot of sequence out there in the public domain,” says the agency's Maria Giovanni. Researchers can also use the data to study how readily a human virus will combine with an avian flu strain, such as the H5N1 strain in Asia, and potentially touch off a global pandemic. The project—part of a broader NIAID microbial sequencing initiative based at The Institute for Genomic Research in Rockville, Maryland—will include collaborators such as flu expert Robert Webster's lab at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.

    In another push to prepare for a pandemic, public health experts, government officials, and companies met last week for 2 days at the World Health Organization in Geneva. They called for governments to put up more money for pandemic vaccine development.

  4. Infusion for Gulf War Sudies

    In a move sure to spur debate, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will spend up to $15 million over the next year on research into Gulf War illnesses, with an emphasis on the role of neurotoxins. The decision, announced on 12 November, follows a key recommendation made by a VA advisory panel that examined ailments arising from the 1990–91 Gulf War (Science, 1 October, p. 26).

    The panel, chaired by former Defense Department official and Vietnam veteran James Binns, found a “probable link” between the symptoms experienced by Gulf War veterans and toxins that affect the nervous system, such as sarin gas and pesticides. Other committees, in particular those appointed by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), have rejected the neurotoxin hypothesis.

    Harold Sox, editor of the Annals of Internal Medicine and a member of an IOM Gulf War committee, says the new studies aren't likely to settle the issue because researchers lack good epidemiologic information on what Gulf War troops were exposed to on the battlefield.