Science  10 Dec 2004:
Vol. 306, Issue 5703, pp. 1875

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  1. IOM to Probe Disease Math

    1. Eliot Marshall

    Following allegations that government scientists last spring hyped the risks of dying from obesity, experts plan to meet at the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in Washington, D.C., on 13 to 14 December to consider the best methodology to calculate risks associated with common disorders.

    The workshop, paid for by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), comes on the heels of a fight within the agency over an article co-signed by CDC's chief Julie Gerberding and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in March. Some CDC scientists charged that the paper's estimate that 400,000 U.S. residents died from obesity in 2000—nearly the number of tobacco-related deaths—was grossly exaggerated (Science, 7 May, p. 804).

    CDC held an inquiry into the charges that the numbers were inflated but has not disclosed the results. Meanwhile, CDC spokesperson Karen Hunter confirms news reports that the agency has “submitted an erratum” to JAMA and plans to release the details of its new obesity toll when it is published.

  2. GM Rice Bid Still Cooking

    1. Dennis Normile,
    2. Xiong Lei

    BEIJING—The status of several proposals to commercialize genetically modified (GM) rice in China remains uncertain after a closed-door meeting last week of a Chinese biosafety committee.

    “No application has been approved or rejected so far,” says Fang Xiangdong, director of the agricultural ministry's GM biosafety office, who says the 58-member panel is preparing a report on its deliberations (Science, 26 November, p. 1458). But Zhu Zhen, a biotechnologist at the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, suggests that the panel may reject his application for an insect-resistant rice line, one of four under review. Some observers are more optimistic about a variety resistant to bacterial blight.

    Ronald Cantrell, director general of the International Rice Research Institute in Los Baños, the Philippines, is also troubled by the uncertainty, noting that previously there had been “encouraging signs [of acceptance] from the committee and other interested groups.” If China does delay the introduction of GM rice, a blight-resistant GM rice variety now undergoing field trials in the Philippines could be the first in the world to win approval.

  3. Stem Cell Alternatives

    1. Constance Holden

    Interest appears to be growing in technologies that can circumvent the destruction of human embryos for stem cell research. At last week's meeting of the President's Council on Bioethics, Columbia University researchers Donald Landry and Howard Zucker suggested using cells from embryos in fertility clinics that have stopped dividing—a procedure they compared to taking organs from brain-dead people. And council member William Hurlbut, a physician at Stanford University, elaborated on an approach he first floated in 2002, “altered nuclear transfer,” in which genes essential for development of an embryo have been inactivated.

    Some panelists were enthusiastic, and council chair Leon Kass suggested that such techniques might lead a way through the “political impasse” over cloning. Although the council's actions have not always pleased scientists, stem cell researcher Gerald Schatten of the University of Pittsburgh says “I'm especially encouraged” by the latest meeting because it shows that the council is serious about finding a solution that satisfies all sides.

  4. Vaccine Pledge Sparks Protest

    1. Martin Enserink

    Two prominent malaria experts have criticized a U.K. government pledge to purchase a promising malaria vaccine, a trial of which was described this fall in The Lancet (Science, 22 October, p. 587). Robert Snow of the Kenyan Medical Research Institute in Nairobi and Nicholas White of Mahidol University in Bangkok say the government could save many more lives by paying for existing weapons against malaria.

    In a 24 November speech, Treasury chief Gordon Brown said the U.K. government would stimulate production of new vaccines for developing countries by guaranteeing manufacturers a market; he singled out the GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) malaria vaccine as “a revolution in our time.” But Snow and White told Brown in a 3 December letter that “this good intention is misguided. … We fear you have been advised poorly.” The duo points out that the vaccine, which would cost $10 to $20 a shot when it becomes available, is only partially effective and needs further study; insecticide-impregnated bed nets and a new group of drugs based on artemisinin can save lives right away at lower cost, they say.

    “I think it's a bit of a false debate,” says Melinda Moree of the Malaria Vaccine Initiative, which supported the new vaccine. “It's not either this or that—it's both.”