Random Samples

Science  06 Jul 2007:
Vol. 317, Issue 5834, pp. 23

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    Officially a disease now?CREDIT: HBO/THE KOBAL COLLECTION

    Two institutes in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) may soon get name changes to emphasize that addiction is a disease. Last week, a Senate panel agreed to change the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to the “National Institute on Diseases of Addiction” and to rename the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) the “National Institute on Alcohol Disorders and Health.”

    The bill's sponsor, Senator Joe Biden (D-E), said the term “abuse” is “pejorative” and doesn't convey that addiction is a brain disease. NIDA director Nora Volkow also felt that her institute's name should encompass addictions such as pornography, gambling, and food, says NIDA adviser Glen Hanson. “She would like to send the message that [we should] look at the whole field.” NIAAA director Ting-Kai Li also wanted his institute's name changed to indicate that moderate drinking can be healthful.

    The Senate bill—a companion to a House bill introduced by Representative Patrick Kennedy (D-RI)—was news to psychiatrist Eric Nestler of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. “My first reaction is that Joe Biden should have more important things to do,” Nestler says. Expanding NIDA's purview to “diseases of addiction” seems like “overkill,” he adds, given that NIH's mental health institute also funds studies on gambling and other compulsive behaviors.



    Wildlife researchers have taken the first photographs of one of the world's rarest birds: the recurve-billed bushbird, which lives in a dense bamboo habitat in northeastern Colombia. Paul Salaman, director of international programs at the American Bird Conservancy, says the bird uses its ultra-specialized bill to split open hollow-stemmed bamboo shoots and extract grubs and other invertebrates.

    Only a few dozen bushbirds are estimated to remain. Their survival is literally miraculous: In 1709, locals spotted an image of the Virgin Mary in the root of a felled tree. The Vatican declared it a miracle, a chapel was built, and the church has protected a relict forest around it ever since. Last year, the Colombian bird preservation group ProAves declared the area a bird reserve.


    Developing DNA tests for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder will be the focus of a new center at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York state. The Stanley Center for Psychiatric Genomics will be established with $25 million—one of the largest gifts in the lab's 117-year history—from the Theodore and Vada Stanley Foundation.

    Earlier this year, the Stanleys funded an interdisciplinary center on severe mental illnesses at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts (Science, 9 March, p. 1351). The new center has a narrower mission: “to unambiguously diagnose patients with psychiatric disorders based on their DNA sequence in 10 years' time,” according to a 22 June announcement. That's a tall order, the lab's president Bruce Stillman acknowledges, because so far, only a handful of genetic variants have been strongly linked to psychiatric illnesses. The focus of the center is influenced by the fact that the Stanleys have a son with bipolar disorder, and Cold Spring's chancellor, James Watson, has a son with a “schizophrenialike” disorder, Stillman says.

    The lab will use the gift to scale up its genomics efforts and hire scientists to comb DNA sequences from schizophrenia and bipolar patients for risk-related genetic variations. “I think that it is fair to say that we are witnessing a fundamental change in psychiatric genetics research,” says David Porteous, a medical geneticist at the University of Edinburgh, U.K., who plans to collaborate with the new center.

  4. NETWATCH: NIH's Patron Saint

    She never ran a gel or trained an electron microscope on a virus, but Mary Lasker (1901-1994) had a huge impact on biomedical research. The fundraiser and lobbyist is the latest subject in the U.S. National Library of Medicine's Profiles in Science series.

    Lasker took illnesses personally—whether they were the frequent ear infections she suffered as a child growing up in Wisconsin or the cancer that killed her husband, Albert. “I am opposed to heart attacks and cancer and strokes the way I am opposed to sin,” Lasker said. She got angry and used her connections and gift for persuasion to try to get even. One of her achievements was helping to boost the National Institutes of Health budget 150 fold in the years after World War II.