Science  13 May 2005:
Vol. 308, Issue 5724, pp. 937

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  1. No Stemming the Tide

    New York state legislators have so far failed to pass a stem cell research bill, but private donors are busy making sure the state stays abreast of California in the stem cell stakes.

    Last week, Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City announced a $10 million donation from financier Leon D. Black for the Black Family Stem Cell Institute. The new institute becomes the latest work outside the federal government's stem cell guidelines. Last year, Weill Medical College of Cornell University, also in New York City, was given $15 million by Houston philanthropists Shahla and Hushang Ansary to establish the Ansary Center for Stem Cell Therapeutics.

    The Black Institute will be led by stem cell biologist Gordon Keller, who plans to hire six more researchers. “Yes, the private gifts are flowing,” says Keller. “There'll be a lot happening in New York.” Keller acknowledges that he's had some nibbles from California but that the new gift “allows us to build a very strong stem cell program here at Mount Sinai.”

  2. ALS-Vet Linkage Pursued

    The ALS Association is pushing for more research into why U.S. military veterans seem more prone to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, than the general population.

    The reasons aren't clear. Last year, a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) report by an outside panel of veterans and scientists concluded that there was a “probable link” between neurotoxins and Gulf War illnesses, some of which resemble ALS symptoms. That finding was criticized by a number of researchers (Science, 1 October 2004, p. 26).

    At least two studies have found that veterans of the 1990–91 Gulf War were roughly twice as likely to develop ALS. But because ALS usually strikes in the 40s and 50s, those samples were relatively small. A much broader study was published in January in Neurology: There, a team of Harvard epidemiologists reported that men in the military had a roughly 50% greater chance of contracting ALS—meaning their lifetime risk rose from 2 to 3 in 1600.

    This week the association called for additional funding to tackle the apparent link between ALS and military service and also asked Congress to respond to the VA report's recommendations.

  3. U.S. Funds Innovation Summit

    Lawmakers worried about science and the future of U.S. industry are planning a fall conference to examine the problem. Provisionally dubbed the Innovation Summit, the event is the brainchild of Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA), chair of an appropriations panel that oversees several science agencies. After hearing a colleague, Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), lament the state of U.S. competitiveness, Wolf inserted $1 million for the event into a 2005 supplemental funding bill that passed Congress this week.

  4. Sex Differences at NIH

    The National Institutes of Health (NIH) isn't paying enough attention to biological differences between the sexes, according to an advocacy group.

    Only 3% of recent grants include a hypothesis about sex or gender differences, says the Society for Women's Health Research in a report released this week. Institutes that study behavioral and mental health research, such as the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (at 8%), are doing a better job. But the society found that the topic barely registers at the big five institutes, including those for heart disease and cancer.

    The group's report doesn't say what the proportion should be, but “5% to 8% would be fabulous,” says Sherry Marts, vice president for scientific affairs at the society.

  5. Student-Friendly Visas

    Foreign graduate students and postdocs seeking U.S. visas should not be required to prove they plan to return home, says a new report from the National Academies. The change is needed for the country to attract and retain sufficient scientific talent, says the report, which also recommends two new visa categories for graduate students and postdocs to help the government track them.

    Under the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act, most applicants for nonimmigrant visas have to convince consular officials that they intend to return home. The requirement is “a frequent basis for denial of visas in many countries including China, India, and Russia,” says Norman Neureiter, who served on the academies' panel and directs the Center for Science, Technology, and Security Policy at AAAS (publisher of Science). The change would require congressional approval.