Science  08 Jun 2007:
Vol. 316, Issue 5830, pp. 1407

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  1. Measuring Health Work

    1. Jon Cohen

    Using a $105 million gift from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the University of Washington, Seattle, has created the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). “How do we know the investments in global health we're making are having the impact we want?” asks health economist Christopher Murray, who will head a staff of 130.

    Murray is moving to Seattle from Harvard because billionaire Larry Ellison rescinded his pledge of $115 million to create a similar institute when university president Lawrence Summers resigned. “I'm deeply unhappy that we lost Chris,” says Barry Bloom, dean of Harvard's School of Public Health. “One needs health metrics to hold countries accountable for the health of their people. That's what he does, and he does it better than anyone else.”

    Murray contends that policymakers—especially in developing countries—need better data on mortality, immunization rates, and disease burdens. IHME will train graduate students and issue reports that evaluate specific programs funded by the Gates Foundation and other new players in the global health arena as well as the flow of aid.

  2. Russian Double Trouble

    1. Andrey Allakhverdov,
    2. Vladimir Pokrovsky

    MOSCOW—A governmental office auditing the Russian Foundation for Basic Research (RFBR) has claimed that the funding agency misspent about $8 million in fiscal year 2006. RFBR manages about $150 million, or about 6% of the Russian government's basic research budget. But the audit released last month by the Russian Accounts Chamber called RFBR's activities “unsatisfactory.” The $8 million in question was awarded to two projects already funded in other ways, it said, and last year 96 other research projects receiving about $800, 000 were halted due to “unsatisfactory quality” or because the projects closed down.

    RFBR Director Vladimir Lapshin defended his agency, calling the audit “some kind of a mishmash.” Grants that were occasionally given to already-funded projects make up a “negligible” sum, Lapshin says, adding that terminating unsatisfactory projects was a result of solid peer-review. Several senior Russian scientists, who asked not to be named, expressed fear that the audit could be a prelude to shutting down RFBR or allowing state officials to take control of its budget.

  3. Stem Cell Patents Defended

    1. Eli Kintisch

    The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) says that its three patents covering the derivation of human embryonic stem (ES) cells and the cells themselves comprise work that represents “true innovation.” The foundation responded last week to a March ruling by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office that earlier work with mouse cells “anticipated” the first-ever derivation of human cells in 1981 by James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin, Madison. WARF disputed that contention, citing certain unique chemical requirements for human cells. In a declaration, Colin Stewart of the Institute of Medical Biology in Singapore said that Thomson's achievement “managed to accomplish what others had for years tried and failed to do.”

    Not so, says Jeanne Loring, a molecular biologist at the Burnham Institute in San Diego, California, who believes Thomson simply applied known mouse methods to primate cells to which he had access few others had. The patent office has 2 months to decide whether WARF's patents are invalid.

  4. Glacial Progress

    1. Hao Xin

    With a baseline inventory of its glaciers set in 2002, Chinese scientists now hope to obtain a comprehensive picture of how glaciers in western China have responded to climate change in recent years. The new glacier inventory project will use remote sensing and field surveys to compile data for comparison with the baseline established by China's first survey, which began in 1978 and took more than 20 years to complete. A team of researchers this month will head out to the Qilian Mountains in Qinghai Province to begin fieldwork. Liu Shiyin, a project leader at the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute in Lanzhou, hopes the $2.6 million project will help quantify glacier retreat and warming impacts, such as drought or sea-level rise. Western China's glaciers feed 10 major rivers.

  5. Ecology Lab Gets Execution Stay

    1. Eli Kintisch

    After funding was cut by the Department of Energy, officials last month planned to close the Savannah River Ecology Lab on 31 May (Science, 18 May, p. 969). Now, the University of Georgia has given the lab a 1-month reprieve, although it hasn't told Director Paul Bertsch whether its financial support will do more than pay for salaries and benefits. Lawmakers are investigating the situation.