• And we’re a go, people: Get ready for the world’s first study on human embryonic stem cell therapy.
• But first, bye bye absurd abortion laws!
• The Inauguration killed the Internets! No mere series of tubes can withstand the pressure of this seminal moment in history.
• “BarackBerry,” “ObamaBerry”—call it what you will, we still can’t get over the fact that he’s the first president ever to use e-mail while in office.
• An economist explains why all those hospital procedures cost what they do.
• The trees are dying! The trees are dying!
• OMG! We’re in the White House! Blogging, presidential style.
• No, Virginia, there’s no such thing as truly clean coal.
So it happened: Barack Obama has officially taken his place as the country’s 44th President (complete with a shout-out to science during the inaugural address!). And, with the country facing enough massive problems to sink a fleet of aircraft carriers, the word is he’ll waste no time getting to work. But what can a new president accomplish in his first few days in office? Plenty, if you count issuing executive orders that reverse policies from the previous administration (which should by all means be counted). And when it comes to science and medicine, there are miles to go before the new POTUS sleeps.
So what are some top science priorities that President Obama can stick on his “ASAP” list? Here’s a few ideas, along with the likelihood that they’ll be addressed in the super/semi/not-so-near future:
Car companies are doing it, banks are doing it, and magazines may (ahem) soon be doing it—bailouts are all the rage these days. Which makes it less surprising that the biotech industry is getting in on the action. Lobbyists for the biotech industry are pushing Washington to pass a law granting biotech companies that are currently hemorrhaging money (a.k.a. nearly all of them) a chance to get cash now in exchange for not taking tax credits in the future should they become profitable.
According to the New York Times, the proposed bill:
could enable the industry to receive potentially hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars, on the condition that the money would be used for research and development.
The effort comes as many smaller biotechnology companies, particularly those trying to develop drugs, are facing a severe cash shortage that is forcing them to dismiss workers, curtail research and even file for bankruptcy protection or liquidation.
In fact, it’s so bad that BIO, the main lobbyist for the industry, is saying that a quarter of the 370 publicly traded U.S. biotech companies have less than six months of cash on hand.
As we mentioned yesterday, the Obama administration is getting a running start, already gearing up to reverse Bush on topics from oil drilling to abortion. And stem cell research, which has been straining under the bonds of various federal funding bans since 1994.
Earlier this year, Obama stated in his Science Debate 2008 response that he “strongly support[s] expanding research on stem cells,” and that:
“As president, I will lift the current administration’s ban on federal funding of research on embryonic stem cell lines created after Aug. 9, 2001 through executive order, and I will ensure that all research on stem cells is conducted ethically and with rigorous oversight.”
Skip forward to today, where democracy has spoken! Hooray for research! Scientists like George Daley, the former president of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, along with many of his colleagues, are understandably thrilled.
Granted, not everyone in the field is busting out the Kristal.
None too soon, the experts have begun weighing in on what President-Elect Obama should do regarding climate and energy policy. Even better, Obama’s transition team has put together a list of around 200 Bush policies to be kicked to the curb ASAP. They include gems like reversing the limit on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, and ditching a rule that stops U.S. aid-receiving family planning groups from informing women about the availability of abortion.
The biggest slashes, so far anyway, have been saved for Bush’s environmental policies. As the Washington Post reports, Obama has announced his intention to “quickly reverse the Bush administration’s decision last December to deny California the authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles.” There’s also the undoing of the executive order that opens public lands to oil drilling, as well as social/economic moves like closing Guantanamo and tossing a life preserver to GM (though whether that’s a good idea remains to be seen).
Stem cell researchers, re-start your engines.
Another huge winner last night: The Internet.
Also consider it a huge win for academia: The president-elect, his vice president, and both their spouses have all worked in higher education.
The Senate and the House didn’t do so badly either.
And we hate to do this, but here’s the bad news.
What are the three most important things the next U.S. president needs to do for science? To cut through the jargon and find an answer, we bring you the DISCOVER Science Policy Project, in which we give a group of the country’s most celebrated scientists and thinkers the chance to state their views. All past responses can be found here.
Free up scientific research on stem cells by revoking Bush’s restriction of research to stem cell lines that were created before his speech in August 2001. It was never defensible to give more protection to embryos consisting of a few cells than we give to sentient beings like dogs and chimpanzees. In any case, thanks to advances in science, the potential for creating a new human life now exists in almost every cell in our body.
As any lawyer knows, the difference between “and” and “or” can mean winning a seven-figure award versus having your a case tossed out of court. Or, in this case, millions of dollars for stem cell research versus none at all.
It all started last week, when the Republican Platform Committee approved an amendment to the party platform regarding embryonic stem cell research. The change boiled down to that one crucial word—from “and” to “or”—in the platform’s call for the ban of (emphasis added): “the creation of or experimentation on human embryos for research purposes.”
Which means, essentially, is that if the party has its way, virtually all human embryo research, from freezing embryos at fertilization clinics to the privately-financed creation of new stem-cell lines, will be shut down.
• Americans aren’t the only casualty of a shrinking federal budget: Facing lack of funds, the National Center for Atmospheric Research shut down a program focused on helping poor countries forecast and deal with droughts, floods, and other climate-related disasters.
• The latest in obesity research technology: virtual reality studies.
There’s lots of buzz in the world of AIDS research this week, with the XVII International Conference on AIDS getting ready to kick off in Mexico City. Robert Siliciano, an HIV expert at Johns Hopkins, has found that current antiretroviral drugs have stopped HIV from replicating, the first of three steps needed to cure the virus. Some drug combinations have even squashed the viral cells’ ability to copy themselves to less than one time in a billion. So if the virus can’t spread, what’s left to cure? According to Siliciano’s prior research, HIV hides in reservoirs throughout the body, where it can live without replicating. Curing HIV means finding all of those reservoirs, and then finding a way to eliminate them.
Anti-transmission technologies are also seeing some success in the lab. At St. George’s University of London, a team of researchers led by Martin Cranage has been testing a rectal gel on macaques infected with SIV (the monkey version of the AIDS virus). They found that the gel, which contains the HIV drug tenofovir, partially or totally protected most of the uninfected monkeys from transmission.