Science  19 Sep 2008:
Vol. 321, Issue 5896, pp. 1615

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  1. THREE Q'S


    At 38, Joseph DeRisi already has an impressive resume that includes co-developing the ViroChip, the DNA microarray used in 2003 to identify the SARS virus that plagued Asia. Last week, the University of California, San Francisco, scientist won this year's $250,000 award for Technology, the Economy and Employment from the Heinz Family Foundation. The full list of awards is at

    Q: Why haven't you tried to patent ViroChip or any of your other inventions?

    It's a sense of fairness. If we really want to push the endeavor of researching human health forward, we're going to need to disseminate technology faster and into more people's hands simultaneously rather than simply making it available to only those who can pay.

    Q: Are there any situations in which you think patenting technology is appropriate?

    Sure. I'd patent the iPhone. But publishing scientific progress and keeping the methods secret, … that's not okay. Or keeping something secret when it would slow public health advancement, that's a problem, too.

    Q: Can you give an example in which open sharing of research has led to faster development of a tangible health benefit?

    Two companies that do genetic testing to predict the likelihood of a recurrence of breast cancer, Genomic Health and Agendia, have products based on microarray gene expression experiments that used the open-access platform we gave away. If we had kept those things secret, maybe those experiments wouldn't have been done, and [someone] wouldn't know what their risk of recurrence of breast cancer is.



    ROW, ROW. As a postdoc at the University of Oxford in the U.K., geochemist Joshua West is in the opening stages of what he hopes will be a long and successful career in science. But the 31-year-old American has already reached the summit in his other career: Last month, he won an Olympic silver medal in rowing, competing for Great Britain in its eight-man boat.

    Born and raised in Santa Fe, New Mexico, West has dual U.S.-U.K. citizenship. He came to attend graduate school at the University of Cambridge in 1998 and joined the British rowing team in 2001. After years of balancing both sports and his study of Earth's chemical weathering, he left the lab for the year running up to the games because “trying to train at that level and keep a career going is a tough lifestyle.”

    Competing in Beijing was “a fantastic opportunity,” he says. Now that he's back to the daily grind of research, he's not sure which is tougher. “While it's definitely not physically as taxing as a training session, research certainly has its own intensity,” he says.


    FORESHADOWING. British plasma physicist Steven Cowley is the new director of the Culham Science Centre in the United Kingdom. The center is home to the Joint European Torus (JET), which will be the world's largest fusion reactor until ITER comes online in 10 years in southern France. “I started out in fusion,” says Cowley, 49, who in recent years has been pondering the origins of the universe's magnetic field through a joint position at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Imperial College London. “It'll be good to be thrown back into it.”


    JET, which set the fusion world record back in 1997 by generating 16 megawatts of power, is being refitted as an ITER test bed with an interior lining and radio-frequency heating antenna similar to that of its bigger cousin. “We have to learn a lot of things from JET about ITER,” he says. But it's not all about preparing for the next big thing. After JET's upgrade is finished in 2010, “we'll put some tritium in and break all the world records again,” Cowley promises.

    Cowley takes over from Chris Llewellyn Smith, who is retiring after 5 years at the helm.


    BIOMEDICAL STARS. Four scientists have won the prestigious Lasker Awards for research on RNAs that opened up a new world of gene regulation and for discovering the first statin drug that lowers cholesterol.

    Victor Ambros, 54, of the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, Gary Ruvkun, 56, of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, and David Baulcombe, 56, of the University of Cambridge, U.K., will share the $300,000 basic research award for their RNA work, which began in the early 1980s when Ambros and Ruvkun were postdoctoral fellows in the same lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. Their discovery of tiny RNA molecules controlling development in worms was seen as having limited impact until Baulcombe found small RNAs in plants that also controlled gene expression. That “really lit up a dry tinder,” says Ruvkun. Since then, hundreds of small RNAs have been identified in many species, including humans.

    Separately, the $300,000 Lasker Award for clinical research goes to Akira Endo, 74, of Biopharm Research Laboratories in Tokyo. Endo speculated that substances in fungi might be able to lower cholesterol, and, after exhaustive testing, he found one in 1973. Statin drugs today are taken by millions of people.