White House Targets June 29th For Several Cancer Moonshot Summits

Today the Vice President’s Office announced that it will host a Cancer Moonshot Summit on June 29th.  The national meeting will take place at Howard University in Washington, D.C. and in a break with the typical cancer meeting, the focus is on cancer, not a specific type of cancer.  This is consistent with the focus of the Moonshot – reducing barriers to communications across fields and specific cancers, as well as encouraging data sharing.

The meeting in Washington is not the only Summit planned for June 29th.  The Department of Health and Human Services is looking to coordinate a series of summits across the country.  If you are interested in participating in such a meeting, you can let them know here.

The events are intended for a wide variety of stakeholders, including researchers, clinicians, cancer patients, caregivers, and others involved in fighting cancer and trying to understand it better.

Attention Kids: White House Wants Your Science And Technology Input

At last month’s White House Science Fair, Jacob Leggette, one of the young people who presented their work to President Obama, suggested that the President have a kid science adviser.  President Obama was taken by the suggestion enough to mention in his remarks at the Fair.

Now there’s been some follow up.  While it’s probably not exactly what Jacob had in mind, the White House is seeking input from kid about science, technology, engineering and math.  Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren posted today that the White House wants to hear two things from kids:

What is your favorite thing about science, technology, engineering or math?

What one idea would you pitch the President about to make our country work better using science or technology?

The White House is taking comments until June 17.  No word in the post about how these ideas might be synthesized by the Administration and/or communicated back to the public.

While the post is written for an audience of kid scientists and innovators, I think any kid could (and should) submit his or her ideas.

2016 Canadian Science Policy Conference Returns To Ottawa

The 2016 Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC), the eighth such event, will return to the nation’s capital from November 8-10.  This is the third year the Conference will take place in Ottawa, and the first time it has been held in the same city in consecutive years.  I attended the first conference in 2009, and the event has grown in size and stature every year since.  I’d encourage anyone interested in Canadian science policy, or even in how interested researchers and practitioners form and grow a community, to review previous conferences and consider attending the event.

The conference themes have been announced, and conference organizers are looking for panel proposals.  The deadline for submitting them is June 17th.  Most of the conference themes reflect the change in Canadian government (which took place just before the last CSPC) and the statements that government has made regarding science, technology and innovation policies for the country.  These new policies include the establishment of a science adviser of some kind (distinct from the government’s Minister of Science, Kristy Duncan, who spoke at the 2015 conference) and a spending review for fundamental science research.

More information on the 2016 conference should trickle in over the summer.

First Arctic Science Ministerial Will Take Place In Washington This Fall

Last week Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren announced that the United States will host the first Arctic Science Ministerial on September 28, 2016 in Washington, D.C.  Representatives will attend from many countries as well as indigenous groups.

It’s not clear from the announcement which countries and native groups will be participating.  However, the Arctic Council, which the United States is chairing this year, has as its members the Arctic States (the Kingdom of Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Canada, Norway and the United States) and six international groups representing indigenous people in the Arctic States.  I don’t know enough to guess at what other countries and groups might participate.  Perhaps there will be some representation of countries and people affected by Antarctic science.

The White House announcement named four themes for the Ministerial meeting,

  1. Arctic Science Challenges and their Regional and Global Implications.
  2. Strengthening and Integrating Arctic Observations and Data Sharing.
  3. Applying Expanded Scientific Understanding of the Arctic to Build Regional Resilience and Shape Global Responses.
  4. Arctic Science as a Vehicle for STEM Education and Citizen Empowerment. 

The overarching goal of the meeting is to expand collaborative efforts in Arctic science, including but not limited to: data sharing, research, monitoring, and observations.  With an increasing interest in the region, this first meeting has the capacity to address how new activities in the Arctic can add to the climatic changes already taking place.

US Government Might Just Spend Some Zika Money Before The Virus Spreads

On Tuesday the Senate is scheduled to vote on various proposals for committing over $1 billion to fight the spread of the Zika virus in the United States and in other countries.  The White House released a spending proposal back in February, while whatever Senate proposal emerges still has to be approved by the House of Representatives (or a House proposal, reportedly coming this week, would need to be approved by both houses of Congress).

Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have obtained money redirected from other federal programs in order to help state and territorial governments the ability to boost their own Zika preparedness programs.  Proposals are due by June 13 and the money will be available through July 2017.  The Obama Administration has identified several hundred million dollars that will be redirected (not just through the CDC).

While some coverage of the emergence of the Zika virus in the United States has been described as sensational, to me it doesn’t appear to rise to the level of the concerns over Ebola in the United States back in 2014.  The consequences of the disease may not be as severe as the lethal potential of Ebola, but the nature of this virus, and how it spreads, suggests there will be many more cases than the handful of people infected by Ebola that were discovered in the U.S.

About those consequences…Zika is very rarely lethal.  But it can contribute to birth defects (most notably microcephaly) in the fetuses of pregnant women that contract the disease.  Perhaps the fact that the most serious consequences of Zika are to fetuses makes it easier to push off acting against the virus.  If the consequences aren’t seen for months, the urgency to act may be hard to stoke.

As of May 11, the locally generated cases of Zika – those not linked to people traveling from affected areas – have been limited to the territories of Puerto Rico, American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  There have been a total of 1204 cases reported in the U.S. and its territories, with cases of Zika reported in 44 of the 50 states.

Increasingly it appears that many elected leaders are inclined to treat disease prevention like they do funding elections – as cheaply as possible and after ‘more important’ things receive funding.  Maybe we can put both actions in the maintenance camp – things that need to be done, but lack the interest or the rewards to motivate sufficient action.

Open Science Prize Finalists Announced

Earlier this week the six finalists for the first Open Science Prize were announced.  The prize is a joint effort of the National Institutes of Health, the Wellcome Trust, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.  Focused on encouraging the development of tools and services to make it easier to use open data, the six finalists were selected from a total competition pool of 96 teams representing 45 countries.  Each finalist team now has $80,000 to develop a prototype or refine an existing prototype.  The finalist teams are:

  • OpenAQ: A Global Community Building the First Open, Real-Time Air Quality Data Hub for the World – Combines the existing real-time air quality data sources into one data hub.
  • Real-Time Evolutionary Tracking for Pathogen Surveillance and Epidemiological Investigation – Promoting the open sharing of viral genomic data to make it easier to identify emerging epidemics.
  • Open Neuroimaging Laboratory – An app program called BrainBox would facilitate collaborative annotation and analysis of brain imaging data.
  • OpenTrialsFDA – Facilitates the access, searching and presentation of clinical trial data from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
  • Fruit Fly Brain Observatory – Creates a model of the fruit fly brain upon which researchers could apply computational disease models to assess the impacts of various drugs.
  • MyGene2: Accelerating Gene Discovery with Radically Open Data Sharing – Facilitates sharing of medical information on single gene caused diseases to improve diagnoses.

The teams have until December 1 to make their final submissions, and the winner will be announced by February 28 of next year.

Vice President Soliciting Public For Help Shooting The Cancer Moon

This week the Vice President announced the opening of a White House website for people to share their ideas and stories concerning cancer.  As part of the Cancer Moonshot effort, this public outreach would help put faces to various forms of cancer and try and connect public ideas with researchers and their work.

The White House site joins two other main sites connected to the effort.  If people have cancer research ideas, they can go to Cancer Research Ideas (the White House website will send them there as well).  There is also a Cancer Moonshot page on Medium, a platform that the Administration has used for other projects as well.  This collection of stories and articles functions as a high-level archive for the Moonshot project.  If you’re looking for more research-focused coverage, consult the National Cancer Institute’s page for this project.

Besides research ideas, the Vice President is interested in hearing general suggestions for the Moonshot, as well as the kinds of things people are doing to accelerate developments in cancer research.  No deadlines are stated, but since the Vice President is leaving office in January, there’s not reason to dawdle.