What About The Privately Owned Research Chimps?

In 2015 The National Institutes of Health ended its support for invasive research on chimpanzees, continuing the retirement of federally owned research chimpanzees it started in 2013.  In 2015 the Fish and Wildlife Service reclassified research chimpanzees as endangered, further restricting chimpanzee research under a permitting system.

The research chimpanzees retired by the NIH (a process that has not gone well) have been guaranteed spots in a Louisiana sanctuary.  Research chimpanzees not held by the government do not have such a guarantee, but a reserve in Georgia has been redeveloped to fill that need.  It’s not the only option for those 300 or so chimps that need a home.  They could retire in place, or be transferred to other research centers or zoos.

Project Chimps spearheaded the effort, which should help address this need.  The sanctuary has taken its first group of chimps, and expects to host over 250 animals.

Update Tuesday: New Names For HeLa Film And Defense Innovation Board

Two quick items that have little or no relation to each other.

The film adaptation of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks continues with the casting announcements.  Renée Elise Goldsberry has joined the cast as the title character, whose cells were taken and used for medical research without her knowledge or consent.  Goldsberry is best known for her Tony-winning role as Angelica Schuyler Church in the play Hamilton.  She recently left the play, and depending on when this film comes out, it might be a way for her to be seen by more people than managed to see her off or on Broadway.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter recently announced several additions to the Department’s Innovation Advisory Board.  This would expand the board to 15 members, and Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, is board chair.  Secretary Carter has asked the board to identify private-sector practices and technology solutions that the Department could adopt.  The full roster of board members is (names of the new additions in bold italics):

Eric Schmidt, executive chairman, Alphabet Inc. (DIAB chair)
Jeff Bezos, president, chairman and CEO, Amazon Inc.
Adam Grant, professor, Wharton School of Business
Danny Hillis, computer theorist & co-founder, Applied Inventions
Reid Hoffman, co-founder, LinkedIn, and partner, Greylock Partners
Walter Isaacson, president & CEO, Aspen Institute
Eric Lander, president and founding director, Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard
Marne Levine, chief operating officer, Instagram
J. Michael McQuade, senior vice president for science and technology, United Technologies
William McRaven, chancellor, University of Texas System
Milo Medin, vice president, Access Services, Google Capital
Richard Murray, professor, California Institute of Technology
Jennifer Pahlka, founder, Code for America
Cass Sunstein, professor, Harvard Law School
Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and author

You might notice a few notable names (for instance, Sunstein is scheduled to be on The Late ShowThe Nightly Show later this week) on the board.  The board is expected to provide initial recommendations by October.

Congressional Inaction Doesn’t Stop FDA, NIAID And CDC From Dealing With Zika

Congress managed once again to do nothing when something was necessary, this time with a funding bill to deal with the Zika virus.  The executive branch, however, does not have the luxury of inaction, especially with a lack of resources.  And once Congress returns, the combination of a chronically broken appropriations process and the November elections makes it nearly certain that instead of a new budget there will be a continuing resolution.  Such a resolution would continue spending at the prior year’s levels, which typically means new proposals like Zika funding are shut out.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have been active in the vacuum of Congressional leadership.  The FDA has taken steps on protecting the blood supply, supporting potential diagnostic tests, dealing with potential Zika-related fraudulent devices and addressing the mosquitoes that carry the virus.  But as of this writing there are no FDA-approved diagnostic tests, vaccines or treatments in the advanced stages of development.

The CDC has been active in developing resources for state and local health agencies, as well as various stakeholders.  They are assisting the Utah Department of Health in a case of virus transmission, and may assist other states as the number of U.S. cases grows.  The NIAID has been active in researching the virus since before the current outbreak, but started expanding that work in the beginning of 2016.

However, without additional resources (using Ebola funds that have not yet been spent could be counterproductive), the impact of this work will be necessarily limited.  With almost 800 pregnant women with Zika in the United States, perhaps the microcephaly associated with Zika births will motivate Congressional action.  But I’m not optimistic.

 

 

Bioethics Commission To Continue Look Back In Next Meeting

The next meeting of the President’s Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues will take place August 31 in Philadelphia.  Building off part of the work in its last meeting, the Commission will continue its discussion of the impacts of bioethical advisory bodies, with an eye toward recommendations for future bodies.

While there is no agenda available as yet, the meeting comes after the Commission concluded a request for comment from the public on this topic.  Regrettably, I cannot find the submitted comments online, but I would expect the Commission to discuss them during the August meeting.

As more information becomes available, I’ll post about it.  But given my oversight of the May PCAST meeting, I don’t want to let this one slip through the cracks.

More On The UK Cabinet Reshuffle

Again, UK readers should feel free to move along, as there’s likely nothing you haven’t already read on the latest cabinet postings.

New UK Prime Minister Theresa May continues to appoint members of Parliament to her cabinet.  On Friday I noted the reorganization of the department formerly known as Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), and the appointment of MP Greg Clark to head the new Department of Business, Energy, and Investment Strategy.  Now we know the fate of the two ministers with responsibilities for science in the previous cabinet of former Prime Minister Cameron.

Jo Johnson has been reappointed to serve as Minister for Universities and Science.  However, the universities portfolio has been shifted from the former BIS to the Department of Education.  So Johnson will answer to two departments.  That’s not unheard of for a junior minister, but apparently it is unusual.  MP George Freeman, who had served as a minister for life sciences, was responsible to ministers at both BIS and the Department of Health.  He is no longer, having been asked by the Prime Minister to head her policy board.  I think this is an entity separate from the Number 10 Policy Unit, but I may be wrong on this point.

It is also worth noting that MP Nicola Blackwood has been named a minister in the Department of Health.  As a result, she will have to step down as chair of the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology.  Hopefully that means at most a pause in the inquiry that committee is conducting on the impact of leaving the European Union on U.K. science and technology.

Appointment News: UK Cabinet Reshuffle + New Librarian

With Theresa May now officially the U.K. Prime Minister, there have been changes to the government’s cabinet.  This was certainly expected, but the part of this that I still haven’t gotten used to in parliamentary systems is how the departments can change along with whomever is appointed to head those departments.

Most notable of these changes is the reorganization (once again) of what was the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (where much of the science portfolio resided since 2009) to now include much of what was the Department of Energy and Climate Change.  The new name is Department of Business, Energy and Investment Strategy.  MP Greg Clark, who had served as Minister for Universities and Skills from 2014-2015, is the Minister in charge of the new department.  I have seen no word yet about junior ministers in the department, including the fates of Cameron life sciences minister George Freeman and universities minister Jo Johnson.  That information should come soon.

Here in the U.S. the Senate finally confirmed a new Librarian of Congress.  Nominated in February, Dr. Carla Hayden has been the CEO of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore since 1993.  She has also served as head of the American Library Association and is the first librarian to hold the job in decades.  Based on Hayden’s work in modernizing the Baltimore library system, I would expect her to focus, at least in part, on doing the same for the Library of Congress.  She will have a 10 year term (recently established in law) to work her magic.

What Was Likely The Most Interesting PCAST Meeting In Years

The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) met on May 20th in Washington, D.C. You can watch a webcast and/or review a transcript of the meeting online.

For the PCAST work updates, there was information on the ongoing PCAST forensic science study, the Council noted that there is an ongoing study on drinking water safety, which was the focus of the sole in-person public comment at this meeting.

The outside experts presenting at the panel talked about two potentially transformative subjects.  One panel of federal employees spoke on near-Earth objects (NEOs), of which we need to monitor in the event of future close calls (or impacts).  The other outside panel was on cryptocurrencies.  While you might think that Bitcoin is the one and only digital currency secured by cryptography, it is not, and the presenters helped PCAST engage with what cryptocurrencies are and some of the policy issues that come with introducing a new kind of money into an existing monetary system.