ScienceScope

Science  04 Mar 2005:
Vol. 307, Issue 5714, pp. 1389
  1. Sri Lankan Disease Emerges

    1. Dennis Normile

    Sri Lankan and international health officials are warily eyeing the progress of a mysterious disease in that country. Over the past 3 weeks, 200 people have been hospitalized with chest pains, shortness of breath, and racing hearts. But there have been no deaths, despite media reports to the contrary. Sri Lankan health authorities have been unable to identify a causative agent in blood samples.

    The outbreak has hit the region around Badulla, about 130 kilometers east of Colombo. The epicenter is some distance from the coast, and the outbreak is thought to be unrelated to the late December tsunami. Paba Palihawadana, deputy chief of epidemiology for the country's Ministry of Health, says that local hospitals are reporting five or six new cases a day. But she adds that concern about the disease's unknown cause is tempered by its apparent mildness. Patients are recovering quickly, and the disease does not seem to be highly contagious. “So far, we have not seen any clustering of cases,” Palihawadana says.

    Experts from the World Health Organization were due to arrive in Sri Lanka this week to help investigate the new disease.

  2. Research Boost for Italy's South

    1. Susan Biggin

    ROME—Italy plans to spend $600 million over the next few years to strengthen research capacity in its underdeveloped southern region. The investment is large—the entire national research council budget for 2005 is about $1.2 billion—and will be divided between specific projects aimed at boosting the economy, such as a lagoon-monitoring system in Sardinia, and the creation of a dozen labs in areas from seismology to medical diagnostics.

    “This is truly a first for the south,” says Letizia Moratti, head of Italy's education and research ministry, who sees the initiative as an opportunity to attract scientists to the region.

    However, critics argue that the money would be better spent in backing ongoing efforts that are underfunded. “Why not put resources into our existing labs, projects, and many excellent researchers?” asks medical researcher Gianluigi Giannelli of the University of Bari.

  3. Stem Cell Center Gets Head

    1. Constance Holden
    CREDIT: USC

    Neurobiologist Zach Hall, medical research dean at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, has been named interim president of the new California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), the state agency set up by Proposition 71 to administer stem cell research. He was endorsed by the institute's board at a 1 March meeting held at Stanford University.

    Hall, 67, seems to fill the bill admirably as a researcher, biotech entrepreneur, and former director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke at the National Institutes of Health. Hall is also relatively immune from conflict-of-interest charges because his work on cell surface receptors doesn't involve stem cells. A headhunting firm has been tapped to find a permanent director for CIRM by June.

  4. New Buoys May Buoy Research

    1. Eli Kintisch

    Ocean researchers hope the expanded U.S. tsunami warning system could offer new opportunities for basic science.

    A shortfall in ship support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) is putting the squeeze on researchers. “The number of field programs at sea that NSF can actually support is going down,” says Lynne Talley, a physical oceanographer with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California.

    But marine scientists might find room aboard ships being deployed for the tsunami initiative. Managers from various seafaring government agencies met this week at the headquarters of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to discuss plans for, among other things, expanding the number of wave-detection buoys in its Pacific tsunami warning system from six to 24, plus a handful more in the Atlantic and Caribbean (Science, 21 January, p. 331). “Any other science mission we can do while we're out there we'll try to accommodate,” a NOAA spokesperson says. Such missions could include bottom-mapping efforts and marine biology.

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