Science  26 May 2006:
Vol. 312, Issue 5777, pp. 1135

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    INVALUABLE ASSISTANT. Vincent Santana was a 19-year-old security guard in a New York City hospital when he saw an ad seeking an escort for Alzheimer's disease researchers doing interviews in dangerous neighborhoods. He got the job, and 15 years later he's still working with the same Columbia University-based team. But now he conducts the interviews himself.

    He spent years gathering family histories and testing individuals in northern Manhattan whose relatives suffer from Alzheimer's disease. Now Santana (above, right) oversees an Alzheimer's epidemiology project of Dominican families, following roughly 600 of them in search of the genes behind the disease.

    Santana praises his boss, Columbia's Richard Mayeux, for giving him “on-the-job training” in lab research and fieldwork. Since joining the Columbia team, Santana has picked up a bachelor's degree in finance and economics, and this month he will receive an MBA. “He's one of these kids who never stops learning,” says Mayeux, who half-jokingly predicts that Santana will one day run a hospital.

    That's not too far off from where Santana envisions himself. Among other things, he'd welcome becoming the administrator of “a major genetics department,” melding his dual interests in business and science.



    TOP OF THE HEAP. Hannah Wolf (left) of Allentown, Pennsylvania, Madhavi Gavini (center) of Stakville, Mississippi, and Meredith MacGregor (right) of Boulder, Colorado, rose to the top in the 2006 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, which drew 1500 high school contestants from 47 countries. Wolf won for her study of formations caused by ancient earthquakes in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument; Gavini discovered a novel method to destroy a bacterium that causes secondary infections in patients with cancer, AIDS, and other conditions involving weakened immunity; and MacGregor earned the prize for her investigation of the Brazil nut effect: the phenomenon that makes the largest-sized particles in a container rise to the top when the container is shaken. Each of the three women will receive a $50,000 scholarship.



    HERE TODAY … The French scientific establishment raised a toast to the country's young talent last week with an event aimed at showcasing the promise of the next generation of scientists. But it also ended up raising a thorny question: Can France retain its most talented researchers?

    The 339-year-old Academy of Sciences heard from six young biomedical scientists at the 16 May event, which was designed to show that, despite its current budget woes, French research can still excel. “It was an opportunity you couldn't pass up,” says Jérôme Gros (above, left) of the Developmental Biology Institute of Marseille, who presented his work on muscular stem cells. But Gros may not be around long: He's off to apply for jobs at five U.S. universities. A second speaker, cellular microbiologist Emmanuel Boucrot (right), is already an expatriate: He left Marseille's Center for Immunology for a postdoc at Harvard Medical School in Boston last year.

    But the event's organizer, Pasteur Institute microbiologist Pascale Cossart, is confident a number of recent initiatives—including France's National Research Agency (Science, 26 August 2005, p. 1316)—will help lure them back. “They are fantastic scientists, and there's a future for them in France,” she says.


    MUSIC FOR UCSF. When Ray Dolby says something sounds good, people listen. This month, the physicist who pioneered noise-reduction techniques and whose name is synonymous with stereo sound, gave the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), $16 million to support the construction of a new stem cell research facility. Dolby's prodding also helped persuade UCSF officials to change the name of their center from the Institute for Stem Cell and Tissue Biology to the Institute for Regeneration Medicine, in order to make its mission clear. Officials briefly considered “regenerative” instead of “regeneration” in the institute's name. But, says Dolby, “to my ear, the word regenerative sounded too much like heavy machinery.” The design for the institute's new building, which will bring under one roof 15 UCSF labs involved in stem cell research, is expected to be completed this summer.

    This isn't Dolby's first gift to stem cell science: Last year, he gave $5 million to help create the administrative infrastructure for the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the state's $3 billion stem cell initiative.