Science  12 Feb 1999:
Vol. 283, Issue 5404, pp. 913

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  1. Under the Microscope

    Psychiatric experiments will get greater scrutiny from funders at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). On 5 February, an advisory panel gave NIMH head Steven Hyman (left) the go-ahead to form a special working group to examine proposed “challenge” studies, in which patients' symptoms are exacerbated by medication, and “drug washout” studies, in which medication is withdrawn. Such experiments have drawn intense criticism from some lawmakers and patient advocates (Science, 22 January, p. 464). The group—expected to number up to 10 ethicists and NIMH “outsiders”—may not have much work to do. Hyman estimates that just five of 250 grants made in a recent funding round would have gotten the special treatment. But he says NIMH has “to be proud of and ready to defend” the research it funds.

  2. No Alien Nation

    Swiss biomedical researchers could soon face a ban on xenotransplants—the grafting of animal organs, tissues, or cells into people. On 7 February, Swiss voters approved by a wide margin a referendum giving Parliament the authority to regulate xenotransplants. After the vote, Swiss president and science chief Ruth Dreifus said that government leaders will ask Parliament to forbid alien transplants, except in special cases. Some scientists and biomedical companies worry that the new rules could begin a regulatory trend in Europe that would endanger proposed xenotransplant trials. Other experts, however, would welcome a ban: They fear the transplants could allow animal viruses to jump to humans, triggering new disease outbreaks.

  3. Presidential Timber?

    Scientists took a drubbing in a straw poll that asked the public to decide which of 20 prominent women were most qualified to be U.S. president (Science, 2 October 1998, p. 21). Neither cardiologist Bernadine Healy nor psychologist Judith Rodin made the top five, although physician-astronaut Mae Jamison was a runner-up. Prominent winners included Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Dole.

  4. Racing the Genetic Clock

    Science diplomats are scrambling to hammer out some last-minute compromises on a controversial international agreement to regulate the global traffic in transgenic organisms. A United Nations committee will convene next week in Cartagena, Columbia, to finalize a Biosafety Protocol to the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity. The protocol is intended to prevent engineered organisms, such as crop plants, from escaping into the wild or transferring their implanted genes to other species; ministers plan to sign it later this month.

    But some observers wonder whether the negotiators will run out of time before finding common ground. Some European and developing countries, for instance, want the pact to cover transgenic organisms and foods, drugs, and vaccines derived from them. On the other hand, U.S. officials—who will just be observers at the meeting because the Senate hasn't ratified the biodiversity treaty—fear such sweeping coverage could hurt the U.S. biotech industry. Says one U.S. diplomat: “Never in international negotiations have I seen a draft with this many key issues waiting to be resolved.”

  5. From Classroom to Boardroom

    In hopes of stimulating Japan's flagging economy, the nation's Ministry of Education (Monbusho) wants to change a law that prevents national university professors from serving as officials of private corporations. “There has been a lot of discussion over how Japan can encourage the creation of venture businesses as America does,” says a spokesperson for Monbusho, which plans to ask the Diet, Japan's parliament, to end the ban. “We think Monbusho must do its part.”

    Removing the prohibition would be “a very good thing,” agrees Ryozo Yoshizaki, a cryogenic engineer who heads an industry liaison office at the University of Tsukuba. But he cautions that a change is unlikely to have an immediate impact. “Professors are very happy to have their research benefit society, but most aren't interested in actively participating in the necessary commercial development,” he believes.

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