Public Affairs

Court Upholds Federally Funded Stem Cell Research

A federal appeals court ruled on August 24 that the federal government may continue to pay for human embryonic stem cell research. The three-judge panel ruled that the government has correctly interpreted a law banning the use of federal funding to destroy human embryos for research. Currently, federal funding can be used to conduct embryonic stem cell research as long as federal money is not used to derive the stem cells. The NIH has an advisory board that approves stem cell lines that can be used for federally funded research; that list currently has 178 eligible lines, with an additional 43 under review.

After the ruling, NIH Director Francis Collins released the following statement:

“Today’s ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals is important news for patients. President Obama is committed to supporting responsible stem cell research and today’s ruling was another step in the right direction. NIH will continue to move forward, conducting and funding research in this very promising area of science. The ruling affirms our commitment to the patients afflicted by diseases that may one day be treatable using the results of this research.”

The plaintiffs in this case, Sherly v. Sebelius, have 45 days from the decision date to seek a rehearing. Sherly has stated in the past that he plans to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court. Congressional Leaders Agree on Temporary Funding Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) announced in July that they reached an agreement on a continuing resolution to fund the government through March 2013. The agreement was made to prevent a government shutdown that would have occured on October 1, when the new fiscal year started. The appropriations process has been on hold in both the House and Senate as members have turned their attention to the November elections and do not want to go on the record making tough funding decisions that may alienate some voters.

The details of the agreement were not made public by Reid and Boehner, but are reported to fund the federal government at $4 billion in discretionary spending above FY 2012 levels. The plan was to draft and vote on the resolution in September after members returned to Washington from the August Congressional recess.

While the continuing resolution prevented the October closure of the government, it does not resolve the sequestration that will take place January 2, 2013. Sequestration refers to the automatic across- the-board cuts to the federal budget that will take place if Congress cannot agree on a way to limit spending as agreed to in the Budget Control Act of 2011. The White House Office of Management and Budget has announced that they have begun consulting with federal agencies to plan for those cuts if sequestration were to come to fruition. To learn more about sequestration go to http://bit.ly/QLuvoW.


Presidential Candidates Views on Science

Both President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney have responded to a 14 question survey from ScienceDebate.org answering “Science Questions Facing America.”

The effort to get Presidential candidates to debate scientific-related issues or go on-the-record with their positions began before the 2008 election, when the founders of the initiative were frustrated that the candidates were not sharing their views on these topics. While no debate was held, the initiative did lead then candidates Obama and John McCain to respond to 14 questions about science and science policy.

The questions have been updated for the 2012 election, with input from scientists and scientific organizations across the country. The questions cover a broad array of topics, including innovation, climate change, research, biosecurity, and science in public policy. Take a moment to view Obama and Romney’s responses and know where the candidates stand on science prior to the November 6 election! A side-by-side comparison of their answers can be found at http://www.sciencedebate.org/debate12/.


NIH Fully Adopts Special Council Review

After piloting a Special Council Review (SCR) process for well-funded applicants, NIH announced in August that they are fully adopting the process. Beginning with September 2012 Council meetings, new and renewal applications from well-supported investigators who currently receive more than $1 million in direct costs from NIH will be reviewed by the Council. The policy does not cap the total amount of funds an investigator may receive from NIH, but rather is intended to “complement existing NIH policies that require monitoring all investigators’ activities for overlapping support, and determining whether additional funds should be awarded to well-supported investigators,” according to Sally Rockey, NIH director of Extramural Affairs, on her blog.

Some changes have been made from the piloted SCRs. The threshold for the SCR process has been lowered from $1.5 million to $1 million, and now only considers direct costs. Approximately 89 applications for the fall council round will undergo special review. The full SCR policy is published in the NIH Guide and can be found at http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-12-140.html.


NIH Office of Women’s Health Gets New Leader

Janine Austin Clayton was named the director for the Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH) and associate director for Research on Women’s Health at the National Institutes of Health. Clayton has been serving as ORWH acting director since the retirement of Vivian Pinn, M.D., in August 2011. Prior to her tenure as acting director, Clayton served as the ORWH deputy director for three years. Clayton currently co-chairs the NIH Working Group on Women in Biomedical Careers. Before joining ORWH, Clayton was the deputy clinical director of the National Eye Institute, NIH. A board certified ophthalmologist, Clayton’s research interests include autoimmune ocular diseases, and the role of sex and gender in health and disease. Clayton received her undergraduate degree with honors from the Johns Hopkins University and her medical degree from Howard University College of Medicine.

October 2012 Table of Contents