Science  23 Nov 2007:
Vol. 318, Issue 5854, pp. 1227

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  1. Church Blesses Stem Cell Studies

    With the support of the pope and the Italian Episcopal Conference, which represents all the bishops of Italy, Bishop Vincenzo Paglia of Terni announced last week that he has provided University of Milan-Bicocca researcher Angelo Vescovi with €380,000 to isolate stem cells from naturally miscarried fetuses and test whether the cells can help people afflicted with multiple sclerosis or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

    It's the first time Italy's Catholic Church, which has strongly opposed embryonic stem cell work and all in vitro fertilization practices, has funded any stem cell research, says Vescovi, who openly sided against ES cell research in a 2005 referendum in Italy. The overall project will cost about €2 million, and Vescovi says the remaining funds have been pledged by private and public sources. He now seeks regulatory approval in Europe or the United States to start clinical testing of his fetal stem cells in the next few months.

    But University of Milan stem cell researcher Elena Cattaneo says, “scientists should have more data on stem cells from naturally miscarried fetuses before proceeding [to the clinic].”

  2. Brits Wish Scopes Farewell

    The United Kingdom announced plans last week to withdraw from the Gemini Observatory, cutting the country off from two of the world's most advanced telescopes. Gemini's twin 26-foot telescopes in Hawaii and Chile allow astronomers from a seven-nation consortium an unobstructed view of the entire night sky. The United Kingdom had invested about £35 million in building Gemini. “No one was expecting this,” says astronomer Roger Davies of the University of Oxford, U.K. The United Kingdom has other access to Southern Hemisphere telescopes, but Davies says the loss of access to the northern skies would jeopardize the country's extrasolar-planet detection and dark-energy research.

    The U.K. Science and Technology Facilities Council, meeting this week to finalize the withdrawal, says the move will help it focus financial resources on the “highest priority programmes.” But the council declined to explain how much money the decision will save. The United Kingdom pays about £4 million each year in Gemini operating costs, and under the consortium's 1992 agreement, a country that withdraws would lose its observing time and still be liable for those costs for 2 years, explains Jean-René Roy of the Gemini Observatory.

  3. NIH Budget Boost Fails

    The House last week failed to override a presidential veto of a 2008 spending bill, dashing hopes for a 3.8% budget boost for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). On 13 November, President George W. Bush vetoed the $151 billion bill funding labor, health, and education programs, calling it fiscally irresponsible. Although the Administration had asked for a $279 million cutback at NIH, this proposal included a $1.1 billion raise. The attempt to override the veto in the House on 15 November was close but fell two votes short of the two-thirds majority needed (277-141).

    Lawmakers are now talking about meeting the president halfway, suggesting an increase of only $700 million for NIH, according to David Obey (D-WI), chair of the House Appropriations Committee. National Cancer Institute Director John Niederhuber told advisers last week that he expects the 2008 appropriation won't be finalized until February. For now, NIH and other agencies are operating at 2007 levels under a continuing resolution that expires on 14 December.

  4. Reprieve Granted on Grants

    The National Health Council (NHC) is on the prowl for $250,000 to fund a proposed database of rejected National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants. Under the plan, developed by NHC, a consortium of medical corporations and nonprofits based in Washington, D.C., investigators would submit the title, abstract, and other information from their rejected NIH proposals to a searchable database. Jo Anne Goodnight of NIH's Office of Extramural Research says the database would allow smaller organizations to leverage the NIH peer-review process.

  5. Protesters Strike Again

    PARIS—French academic life came to a partial standstill last week as students occupied or blocked access to faculty buildings at half of the country's 85 universities to demand the repeal of a law that gives those schools more freedom to handle budgets, staffing, and housing decisions. Many researchers applaud the reforms, which are slated for implementation in the coming months, but radical student unions fear they will increase inequality among universities and give business too much influence. A countermovement of students claiming the “right to study” has emerged.

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