ScienceScope

Science  30 Nov 2007:
Vol. 318, Issue 5855, pp. 1363
  1. Gene Therapy Trial Back On

    Federal regulators have given a green light to a gene-therapy arthritis trial that was halted in July after a patient died. The decision comes as a relief to researchers who had worried that the treatment was to blame.

    The trial conducted by Targeted Genetics Corp., located in Seattle, Washington, was put on hold after the 24 July death of 36-year-old Jolee Mohr of Taylorville, Illinois, who had recently received a gene-therapy injection to treat rheumatoid arthritis in her knee. Mohr apparently died mainly from a fungal infection called histoplasmosis that her immune system was unable to fight off (Science, 21 September, p. 1665).

    New tests confirm that the gene therapy didn't contribute to Mohr's death, neither through replication of the adeno-associated viral vector nor by raising levels of an immune system-suppressing protein in her blood, the company says. It announced this week that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has lifted its hold on the trial. The federal Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee will issue its conclusions about the case at a meeting next week.

  2. Italian Cold Cuts

    The heads of Italy's four major research institutes are protesting unexpected last-minute cuts in their 2007 budgets, saying they will force them to slash ongoing projects and could harm international collaborations.

    As part of its National Fund for Research, Italy had committed €1.6 billion to the nation's research institutes for 2007, which represented a €50 million increase over 2006's budget. Scientists had wanted more but were promised another increase in 2008. Last week, however, Italy's Ministry of Economy announced it would allocate only €1.5 billion to the institutes for 2007.

    The research heads are meeting next month with Italy's research minister to plead their cases, but there's little optimism that the cut can be reversed—and fears that the 2008 boost won't come through. Roberto Petronzio, president of the Italian National Institute for Nuclear Physics, says that his organization might have to reduce its contributions to the CERN accelerator near Geneva, Switzerland. “European countries like Spain are increasing research funds at level of 20% while Italy is stuck. That's really worrying,” he says. The Ministry of Economy declined comment.

  3. Baghdad Museum to Reopen

    Two galleries of Baghdad's Iraq Museum, shut since the U.S. invasion in 2003, are set to reopen in December, a move that some archaeologists worry could imperil its artifacts. The museum was badly damaged and looted during the start of the war, and more than 10,000 objects are still missing. Now Iraqi authorities plan to reopen two of the 16 galleries, which have been restored with Italian assistance, reports The Art Newspaper.

    But former director Donny George and other archaeologists oppose the reopening. “Opening any part of the museum is a dangerous move,” says George. A U.S. officer in Baghdad recently told the American Forces Press Service that the military was eager to reopen the museum. “Can they really be sure that a suicide bomber does not go into the galleries?” asks Elizabeth Stone of Stony Brook University in New York state.

  4. Wanted: More Tongues

    The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) has cheered linguists by strengthening its commitment to a federal effort to record and analyze dying languages. Since 2005, NSF, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Smithsonian Institution have spent $10 million on the Documenting Endangered Languages initiative, and this month, NSF said it would make the project a permanent program at the foundation. “Much remains to be done,” says program director Douglas Whalen, who estimates that nearly half of the world's 6500 languages could disappear in the next century. NSF hopes to spend $2 million to $3 million next year on the project. Last year's contribution was $3.7 million.

  5. Bonobo Reserve Established

    The Democratic Republic of the Congo has designated the world's largest contiguous reserve for the bonobo, spanning 30,570 square kilometers. Although the government is not paying for the reserve, the Bonobo Conservation Initiative (BCI), which helped conduct initial surveys, says the official designation will make it easier to raise funds from international NGOs, which will help efforts to develop sustainable agriculture and curb the bush-meat trade. Craig Sholley of the African Wildlife Foundation worries that biological surveys and consultations with local chiefs were incomplete, but BCI's Michael Hurley expects to finish the remaining accords in the next year. Another reserve to the north, Kokolopori, is due for official designation within the coming months.

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