Science  27 Oct 2006:
Vol. 314, Issue 5799, pp. 577

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  1. Don't Catch Some Rays

    1. Andrew Lawler

    With plans for 6-month moon missions, NASA needs to look harder at the effects of radiation on astronauts, their spacecraft, and their lunar base. That's the conclusion of a new report from the National Academies' National Research Council (NRC), which warns that the radiation could damage astronauts' bodies as well as electronic equipment on board. Rather than trying to solve the problem by over-designing a moon base with too much shielding—an expensive prospect—NASA could save money by determining the extent of the threat through existing data sets and tools regularly used by solar and space physicists. The NRC panel urges human-space-flight planners and radiation researchers to work together.

  2. Sicily Center Iced

    1. Jacopo Pasotti

    Italy's new budget zeroes out a $410 million Biomedical Research Center in Palermo, Sicily—a joint project planned with the University of Pittsburgh Medical School for studies of regenerative medicine, medical imaging, and computational biology (Science, 14 April, p. 177). Funding was promised by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who was defeated in the April national election. Recruitment for a staff of 600 was well under way when word arrived this month that the government will back out, says Bruno Gridelli, director of the ISMETT organ-transplantation research center in Palermo, which was to host the project. The cancellation, he says, “represents a substantial loss” for Sicily. Now the medical school will look for other partners.

  3. Chinese Genomicists Target Cancer

    1. Gong Yidong

    The $10 million Cancer Genome project, announced last week, marks China's first large-scale research program targeting a specific clinical disease. The program focuses on variations at the structural genomic and sequence levels, epigenomics, and transcriptomics, says Yang Huanming, director of the Beijing Genomics Institute. The program will carry out research into cancers that are prevalent in China, which could include lung, liver, stomach, and esophageal cancers. U.S. National Cancer Institute official Daniela Gerhard calls the project “a good idea,” noting China's unique tumor samples. Although China is a partner in the international Human Genome and HapMap projects, Gerhard says the United States will wait for more details before considering partnering on the latest effort.

  4. Blocked Cancer Study Published

    1. Dan Ferber

    A study of cancer death rates among U.S. computer-chip workers was published last week after IBM lost its legal battle to block the author from publishing it. Epidemiologist Richard Clapp of Boston University analyzed mortality data on 31,941 American IBM employees, many retired, who died between 1969 and 2001. He reported last week in Environmental Health that men and women in that group were 7% or 15% more likely, respectively, to have died from cancer than were those in an age- and sex-matched subset of the U.S. population. What's more, men who worked at one of four U.S. chip- and disk-drive manufacturing plants faced significantly higher risks of death from kidney and brain cancer, and, for women, breast cancer.

    Clapp did the study after being hired as an expert witness for the former IBM workers who were suing the company (Science, 14 May 2004, p. 937). IBM's lawyers argued for almost 2 years that the study could be used only for litigation, but a New York district judge ruled in February that Clapp was free to publish it. “It feels great,” Clapp says. IBM spokesperson Chris Andrews says that “Clapp's assertions are not backed by any credible science.” Epidemiologist John Bailar, scholar-in-residence at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., says that “from what I know at present, there is an excess cancer risk.”

  5. Taking a Shot at Flu

    1. Martin Enserink

    After consulting with more than 120 experts, the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland, announced a plan this week to drastically shore up the world's capacity to produce influenza vaccines—a measure that it says could save millions of lives if a flu pandemic strikes. Developing a vaccine that works is one challenge should a pandemic of H5N1 or another flu strain occur. Rapidly churning out enough of the vaccine to protect 6 billion people is even tougher. Currently, flu vaccine companies produce only 350 million doses of the seasonal influenza vaccine per year. That's why the use of annual vaccine should be promoted and new factories built—especially in the developing world—while scientists look for vaccines that are more broadly effective and easier to make, the agency says. WHO is hoping that rich countries will finance the plan, for which it has almost no budget.

    “It's good that WHO is at long last speaking up on the production issues,” says David Fedson, a vaccine expert and former executive at Aventis Pasteur MSD who follows pandemic vaccine issues closely.