Science  28 Jul 2006:
Vol. 313, Issue 5786, pp. 423

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  1. Cell Funding Stemmed

    The European Union will tighten its rules over stem cell research that can be funded through its E.U.-wide research program.

    In June, the E.U. Parliament voted to allow research using human embryonic stem cells in the upcoming 7-year research plan (Science, 23 June, p. 1732), raising hopes among stem cell scientists. But on Monday, a late-forming coalition of science ministers from countries opposed to the research threatened to block the entire program unless funding was restricted; the ministers were unwilling to fund research prohibited within their borders. After 5 hours of debate on 24 July, ministers agreed to block funding of the derivation of new stem cell lines from embryos, although there will be no restrictions on which cell lines researchers can use once they have been derived. Research Commissioner Janez Potoônik said the move preserves the status quo, because no researchers have thus far used E.U. funding to derive new cell lines.

    Austin Smith of the University of Edinburgh, U.K., who heads an E.U.-funded project on stem cells, says the decision is “a compromise one can live with. The critical thing is that there is no cutoff date” for derivation of cell lines as there is for federal funding in the United States. The $63 billion Framework 7 program is to go into effect in January if the E.U. Parliament approves the change; that body next meets in the fall.

  2. Bioinsecurity

    Some U.S. universities handling dangerous pathogens are beefing up their security procedures in the wake of a recent federal audit. A 30 June Health and Human Services (HHS) inspector general report found that between November 2003 and November 2004, 11 of 15 universities audited lacked adequate security procedures for handling select agents. Most problems involved access control, security plans, and training. In comments on HHS's draft report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that the findings “generally agree” with the results of its own inspections and that half of 26 identified “weaknesses” have already been addressed.

    Meanwhile, Tufts University has bolstered safety steps after a test tube of botulism toxin in a centrifuge cracked at the veterinary school on 5 April. No one was hurt, but the Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited the school earlier this month for having inadequate respirators and training, fining the university $5625.

  3. FDA Hunts for Conflicts ...

    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this week announced a plan to manage conflicts of interest on its advisory committees without excluding experts with industry ties. But a key lawmaker doesn't like the idea one bit.

    Under current rules, experts with industry ties can serve on FDA panels as long as they get a waiver. Legislation pending in Congress would make it tougher for FDA to appoint such experts: The House version of the law bars waivers entirely, although the Senate language is somewhat less restrictive (Science, 30 September 2005, p. 2145). But FDA official Scott Gottlieb, speaking at a conflict-of-interest panel this week, said that the agency “needs to preserve” the waiver system to maintain expertise. Instead, he announced that FDA will review and make more transparent its waiver-granting process.

    The announcement, light on specifics, drew fire. “Saying that there are not enough potential advisory panel members available without conflicts, as the FDA argues, is an empty claim,” said Representative Maurice Hinchey (D—NY) in a statement critical of FDA's plans. Hinchey is the sponsor of the House legislation. And Merrill Goozner of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which assembled the panel, notes that some National Institutes of Health committees have instituted far stricter conflict-of-interest rules than FDA's.

  4. ... While U.K. Slays Acronyms

    The U.K. government has decided to put all of its spending on large scientific facilities in the hands of one body. The change will in effect combine the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) and the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils.

    Public comments this spring ran two-to-one in favor of creating a Large Facilities Council, which would have a budget of nearly $1 billion in 2007-'08. PPARC manages the U.K. subscription to large facilities such as the CERN particle physics lab near Geneva, Switzerland, and the European Southern Observatory in Chile.

    Particle physicist Brian Foster of Oxford University says he is “cautiously optimistic” about the merger but adds that PPARC had too many large commitments. So, he says, the new council's success depends on sufficient resources. Both houses of Parliament must now approve formation of the new council.