Chapter 1. Biological Psychology: Scope and Outlook

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By Neuroskeptic The science story of the past week was the claim from Chinese scientist He Jiankui that he has created gene-edited human babies. Prof. He reports that two twin girls have been born carrying modifications of the gene CCR5, which is intended to protect them against future HIV risk. It’s far from clear yet whether the gene-editing that He described has actually taken place – no data has yet been presented. The very prospect of genetically-modifying human beings has, however, led to widespread concern, with He’s claims being described as “monstrous“, “crazy” and “unethical”. All of which got me wondering: could there ever be a neuroscience experiment which attracted the same level of condemnation? What I’m asking here is whether there are neuroscience advances that would be considered inherently unethical. It would, of course, be possible to carry out any neuroscience experiment in an unethical way, by forcing or tricking people into participation. But are there experiments which would be unethical even if all the participants gave full, informed consent at every stage? Here are a couple of possibilities: Intelligence enhancement: Suppose it were possible to substantially boost human intelligence through some kind of technological means, perhaps a drug, or through brain stimulation. I suspect that many people would see this prospect as an ethical problem, because it would give users a definite advantage over non-users and thus, in effect, force people to use the technology in order to keep up. It would be a similar situation to the problem of doping in sports: if doping were widespread, it would be very difficult for non-dopers to compete.

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Intelligence
Link ID: 25738 - Posted: 12.01.2018

By Karin Brulliard Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie defended the agency’s ongoing experiments on dogs Friday and said he would continue to “reauthorize” them, eight months after Congress passed legislation limiting tests that are opposed by a bipartisan cast of lawmakers and several veterans’ groups. Speaking at the National Press Club, Wilkie rejected calls to end research that he said led to the invention in the 1960s of the cardiac pacemaker and the discovery in the late 1990s of a treatment for deadly cardiac arrhythmias. These days, he said, some of the testing is focused on spinal cord injuries. “I love canines,” Wilkie said. “But we have an opportunity to change the lives of men and women who have been terribly hurt. And until somebody tells me that that research does not help in that outcome, then I’ll continue.” Wilkie’s comments drew swift backlash from lawmakers who have criticized the experiments, which occur at three VA locations and are invasive and sometimes fatal to the dogs, as cruel and unnecessary. President Trump in March signed a spending bill that included language restricting such tests, and legislation has been proposed that would end all canine research at VA. “Having sustained catastrophic injuries on the battlefield, which included the loss of both my legs, I am acutely aware of the vital role dogs play in helping troops recover from war’s physical and psychological tolls,” said Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.), an Army veteran and co-sponsor of the legislation. “The VA has not executed what we wanted as intent, which is to bring this to an end in its entirety, so we will keep up the pressure." © 1996-2018 The Washington Post

Keyword: Animal Rights; Regeneration
Link ID: 25660 - Posted: 11.10.2018

By Aaron E. Carroll Even before the recent news that a group of researchers managed to get several ridiculous fake studies published in reputable academic journals, people have been aware of problems with peer review. Throwing out the system — which deems whether research is robust and worth being published — would do more harm than good. But it makes sense to be aware of peer review’s potential weaknesses. Reviewers may be overworked and underprepared. Although they’re experts in the subject they are reading about, they get no specific training to do peer review, and are rarely paid for it. With 2.5 million peer-reviewed papers published annually worldwide — and more that are reviewed but never published — it can be hard to find enough people to review all the work. There is evidence that reviewers are not always consistent. A 2010 paper describes a study in which two researchers selected 12 articles already accepted by highly regarded journals, swapped the real names and academic affiliations for false ones, and resubmitted the identical material to the same journals that had already accepted them in the previous 18 to 32 months. Only 8 percent of editors or reviewers noticed the duplication, and three papers were detected and pulled. Of the nine papers that continued through the review process, eight were turned down, with 89 percent of reviewers recommending rejection. Peer review may be inhibiting innovation. It takes significant reviewer agreement to have a paper accepted. One potential downside is that important research bucking a trend or overturning accepted wisdom may face challenges surviving peer review. In 2015, a study published in P.N.A.S. tracked more than 1,000 manuscripts submitted to three prestigious medical journals. Of the 808 that were published at some point, the 2 percent that were most frequently cited had been rejected by the journals. An even bigger issue is that peer review may be biased. Reviewers can usually see the names of the authors and their institutions, and multiple studies have shown that reviews preferentially accept or reject articles based on a number of demographic factors. In a study published in eLife last year, researchers created a database consisting of more than 9,000 editors, 43,000 reviewers and 126,000 authors whose work led to about 41,000 articles in 142 journals in a number of domains. They found that women made up only 26 percent of editors, 28 percent of reviewers and 37 percent of authors. Analyses showed that this was not because fewer women were available for each role. © 2018 The New York Times Compan

Keyword: Attention
Link ID: 25643 - Posted: 11.05.2018

By David Grimm The number of monkeys used in U.S. biomedical research reached an all-time high last year, according to data released in late September by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The uptick (see graph below)—to nearly 76,000 nonhuman primates in 2017—appears to reflect growing demand from scientists who believe nonhuman primates are more useful than other animals, such as mice or dogs, for testing drugs and studying diseases that also strike humans. “I think the numbers are trending up because these animals give us better data. … We need them more than ever,” says Jay Rappaport, director of the Tulane National Primate Research Center in Covington, Louisiana, which houses about 5000 monkeys. The increase also comes amidst a surge in funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which supports much of the nonhuman primate research in the United States. The figures have surprised and disappointed groups seeking to reduce the use of lab animals. The biomedical community has said it is committed to reducing the use of research animals by finding replacements and using these animals more selectively, says Thomas Hartung, director of Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing in Baltimore, Maryland. But the new numbers suggest “people are just blindly running toward the monkey model without critically evaluating how valuable it really is.” © 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 25639 - Posted: 11.03.2018

By Kelly Servick WASHINGTON, D.C.—A hand-size monkey called Callithrix jacchus—the common marmoset—is in great demand in labs and yet almost nowhere to be found. Marmosets’ small size, fast growth, and sophisticated social life were already enough to catch the eye of neuroscientists. They’ve now been genetically engineered to make their brains easier to image and to serve as models for neurological disorders such as autism and Parkinson’s. The problem: “There are just no monkeys,” says Cory Miller, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego. At a meeting here this week, convened by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s (NASEM’s) Institute for Laboratory Animal Research, neuroscientist Jon Levine, who directs the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, likened the surge in demand to “a 10-alarm fire that’s about to be set.” In response, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) plans to launch funding to expand marmoset research. And established marmoset researchers, including Miller, are working together to help new labs get animals. When Miller’s lab started to work with marmosets in 2009, many colleagues who studied macaques—the most popular genus of research monkey—didn’t even know that marmosets were monkeys, he remembers. “They were like, ‘Is it those chipmunks that were in the Rocky Mountains?’” (They were thinking of marmots.) © 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Animal Rights; Autism
Link ID: 25611 - Posted: 10.24.2018

By Christine Hauser A New Jersey man died after being infected with Naegleria fowleri, also known as the “brain-eating amoeba,” a rare infection that is contracted through the nose in fresh water. The man, Fabrizio Stabile, 29, of Ventnor, N.J., was mowing his lawn on Sept. 16 when he felt ill from a headache, according to his obituary and GoFundMe page. His symptoms worsened and he was taken to the hospital after he became unable to speak coherently. A spinal tap revealed he was infected with the amoeba, and he died on Sept. 21. It is the first confirmed case of the infection in the United States since 2016, an epidemiologist for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Jennifer Cope, said on Monday. Mr. Stabile fell ill after visiting the BSR Cable Park and Surf Resort, a surf and water park in Waco, Tex., said Kelly Craine, a spokeswoman for the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District. She said in a telephone interview on Monday that the C.D.C. sent epidemiologists to take samples from the park to test for the presence of the amoeba, and those results could come this week. There are no reports of other illnesses at the Waco park, the C.D.C. said. The amoeba is a single-celled organism that can cause a rare infection of the brain called primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, also known as PAM, which is usually fatal. It thrives in warm temperatures and is commonly found in warm bodies of fresh water, such as lakes, rivers and hot springs, the C.D.C. said, though it can also be present in soil. It enters the body through the nose, and it moves on to the brain. Infection typically occurs when people go swimming in lakes and rivers, according to the C.D.C. The amoeba got its nickname because it starts to destroy brain tissue once it reaches the brain, after it is forced up there in a rush of water. Before it enters the body, it happily feasts on the bacteria found in the water. “It turns to using the brain as a food source,” Dr. Cope said. “It is a scary name. It is not completely inaccurate.” © 2018 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Miscellaneous
Link ID: 25515 - Posted: 10.02.2018

By Piercarlo Valdesolo Earlier this year, a research team led by Dr. Sven Karlsson published the largest scale study on the causes of human intelligence. They found an intriguing pattern of results: Focusing on arithmetic and linguistic tests, genetics predicted over 26% of people’s responses. Namely, individuals with a long allele of the 4-GTTLR gene got more right answers on the arithmetic, mental rotation, and semantic memory tasks than did individuals with the short version of the gene. In contrast, education explained only 4% of people’s responses. Describing the work, Karlsson wrote “We believe this is an interesting result! Our findings indicate that, contrary to certain previous assumptions, basic cognitive capabilities—mental rotation, math and language—really have a strong heritable component. Intelligence in adulthood seems to be predicted by genes early in life… things like education and effort play a small role once you take into account the role of genetics.” How did you react to the description above? Hopefully you haven’t already tweeted about it: it’s completely made up. A genetic basis for intelligence is a politically fraught scientific idea about which you had likely developed an opinion before reading about the fictitious Dr. Karlsson. You might think it obviously so that genes play an important role in shaping all traits, including intelligence. Or you might think that genes play a trivial role in comparison to socialization and learning. The ease with which you accepted the brief synopsis of research above as true likely depends on these existing beliefs. If the findings are consistent with your beliefs, you might have quickly accepted its truth value. If inconsistent, then you might have been tempted to either dismiss the finding out of hand, or perhaps dig deeper into the article to find some disqualifying error in method or analysis. These are reactions that psychologists have known about for decades. Motivated reasoning, confirmation bias, selective attention. We are equipped with a range of psychological processes that inoculate us from the threat of information that pokes up against our worldviews and beliefs, and attract us to information consistent with our beliefs. © 2018 Scientific American

Keyword: Intelligence; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 25468 - Posted: 09.20.2018

By: Richard Restak, M.D. Editor’s Note: Unthinkable’s author, a British neuroscientist, tracked down nine people with rare brain disorders to tell their stories. From the man who thinks he's a tiger to the doctor who feels the pain of others just by looking at them to a woman who hears music that’s not there, their experiences illustrate how the brain can shape our lives in unexpected and, in some cases, brilliant and alarming ways. Several years ago, science writer Helen Thomson, consultant to New Scientist and contributor to the Washington Post and Nature, decided to travel around the world to interview people with "the most extraordinary brains." In the process, as described in Unthinkable: An Extraordinary Journey Through the World's Strangest Brains (Ecco/Harper Collins 2018), Thomas discovered that "by putting their lives side-by-side, I was able to create a picture of how the brain functions in us all. Through their stories, I uncovered the mysterious manner in which the brain can shape our lives in unexpected—and, some cases, brilliant and alarming ways." Thomson wasn't just learning about the most extraordinary brains in the world, but in the process was "uncovering the secrets of my own." During her journey Thomson encounters Bob, who can remember days from 40 years ago with as much clarity and detail as yesterday; Sharon, who has lost her navigational abilities and on occasion becomes lost in her own home; Tommy who, after a ruptured aneurysm that damaged his left temporal lobe, underwent a total personality change; Sylvia, an otherwise normal retired school teacher who experiences near constant musical hallucinations; and Louise, who is afflicted with a permanent sense of detachment from herself and everyone around her. Beyond skillfully portraying each of these and other fascinating individuals, Thomson places them in historical and scientific context: when neuroscientists first encountered similar patients, along with past and current explanations of what has gone amiss in their brains. © 2018 The Dana Foundation

Keyword: Attention
Link ID: 25420 - Posted: 09.07.2018

Nell Greenfieldboyce Sarah Anne, a 59-year-old chimpanzee, is famous enough to have her own Wikipedia page. That's because she was captured from the wild as an infant and raised in the home of a language researcher who taught her to use symbols for words. These days, she lives at Chimp Haven, a wooded sanctuary for former research chimps in Louisiana, along with a new pal named Marie. "And Marie loves to groom with Sarah, and follows her around and gives her lots of attention. And we're seeing Sarah play with her and just being much more sociable," says Amy Fultz, who studies animal behavior and co-founded Chimp Haven in 1995. "At 59, that's a really cool thing to be able to see and watch." Their friendship shows that even very old chimps can grow and change. But it's more than just a big deal for Sarah Anne. The arrival of Marie, along with some other chimps from a research facility in New Mexico, tipped the scales in terms of where most chimps live in this country. "There are more chimps in accredited sanctuaries than there are in research facilities now," says Rana Smith, the president of Chimp Haven. That means the retirement of research chimps has reached its endgame — and this final stage is proving to be unexpectedly challenging. In 2015, the National Institutes of Health announced that the era of chimp biomedical research was over, and that all of its chimps remaining in research labs — nearly 400 at the time — would gradually be transferred to Chimp Haven. © 2018 npr

Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 25392 - Posted: 08.29.2018

By Neuroskeptic On this blog I usually focus on academic, scientific neuroscience. However, there is a big world outside the laboratory and, in the real world, the concepts of neuroscience are being used (and abused) in ways that would make any honest neuroscientist blush. In this post I’m going to focus on three recent examples of neuro-products: commercial products that are promoted as having some kind of neuroscience-based benefit. 1) Neuro Connect Golf Bands We’ll start out with a silly one. This product, full name Neuro Connect™ INFUSED Shaft Bands, costs $150 for a pack of ten bands. You’re supposed to place one of these bands just below the grip on your golf clubs. This will improve your golf swing by providing a ‘subtle energy connection’ between your club and your brain. Here’s how it works: “A field emitted by the shaft bands intersects with the central nervous system when the club is swung around the body. Swinging with an INFUSED shaft band immediately enhances the function of nerve receptors in muscles and joints.” Now, generally speaking, when an “energy field” interacts with your nerves, the result is rather painful, but Neuro Connect uses a special “subtle energy pattern” which has no known negative effects. I suspect the field has no positive effects either, and that it doesn’t exist. On their FAQ, under the heading of “Do you have any scientific proof the devices work?”, Neuro Connect admit that “credible peer-reviewed studies take years to complete” which I take as a roundabout way of saying “no”.

Keyword: Miscellaneous
Link ID: 25336 - Posted: 08.16.2018

Laura Sanders To understand the human brain, take note of the rare, the strange and the downright spooky. That’s the premise of two new books, Unthinkable by science writer Helen Thomson and The Disordered Mind by neuroscientist Eric R. Kandel. Both books describe people with minds that don’t work the same way as everyone else’s. These are people who are convinced that they are dead, for instance; people whose mental illnesses lead to incredible art; people whose memories have been stolen by dementia; people who don’t forget anything. By scrutinizing these cases, the stories offer extreme examples of how the brain creates our realities. In the tradition of the late neurologist Oliver Sacks (SN: 10/14/17, p. 28), Thomson explores the experiences of nine people with unusual minds. She travels around the world to interview her subjects with compassion and curiosity. In England, she meets a man who, following a bathtub electrocution, became convinced that he was dead. (Every so often, he still feels “a little bit dead,” he tells Thomson.) In Los Angeles, she spends time with a 64-year-old man who can remember almost every day of his life in extreme detail. And in a frightening encounter in a hospital in the United Arab Emirates, she interviews a man with schizophrenia who transmogrifies into a growling tiger. By visiting them in their element, Thomson presents these people not as parlor tricks, but as fully rendered human beings. Kandel chooses the brain disorders themselves as his subjects. He explains the current neuroscientific understanding of autism, depression and schizophrenia, for example, by weaving together the history of the research and human examples. His chapter on dementia and memory is particularly compelling, given his own Nobel Prize–winning role in revealing how brains form memories (SN: 10/14/00, p. 247). |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2018

Keyword: Miscellaneous
Link ID: 25326 - Posted: 08.14.2018

Alison Abbott The two major neuroscience societies in the United States and Europe have joined forces to criticize the prestigious Max Planck Society (MPS) in Germany for its treatment of a world-renowned neuroscientist targeted by animal-rights activists. Nikos Logothetis, a director at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics (MPI-Biocyb) in Tübingen who used to run a primate laboratory, has been charged with mistreatment of animals after allegations made by animal-rights groups. When Logothetis was indicted in February, the MPS removed many of his responsibilities relating to animal research — despite the fact that a court has not yet ruled on those charges. Logothetis, who studies how the brain makes sense of the world, denies the allegations. In a strongly worded statement posted online on 3 August, the US Society for Neuroscience (SfN) and the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS), which together represent more than 60,000 scientists, add to an outcry that has been gathering momentum since scientists at MPI-Biocyb made their concerns public in May. “FENS and SfN are extremely dismayed by the treatment of Professor Nikos Logothetis and his colleagues,” reads the joint statement. The MPS's actions set "an alarming precedent whereby institutions neglect to support affiliated scientists facing similar unproven accusations and disregard the presumption of innocence”, adds the statement. © 2018 Springer Nature Limited

Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 25309 - Posted: 08.08.2018

By David Grimm —As soon as the big yellow school bus pulls into the parking lot of the Oregon National Primate Research Center (ONPRC) here, it’s clear that many of the high school students on board don’t know what they’ve signed up for. They know that science happens somewhere on this wooded, 70-hectare campus west of Portland—and that they may get to see monkeys—but everything else is a mystery. “Are we going to go into some giant underground lair?” asks a lanky sophomore in a hoodie, imagining that the center is set up like a video game or Jurassic Park. Diana Gordon is here to disabuse him of both notions. As the education and outreach coordinator of the country’s largest primate research center, she spends her days guiding students, Rotary clubs, and even wedding parties through the facility. Here, visitors see monkeys in their habitats and meet scientists—all while learning, Gordon hopes, that the animals are well-treated and the research is critical for human health. “If we don’t speak up, there’s only one side being heard,” she says. “The side that wants to shut us down.” That side has been racking up victories recently. In the past 6 months, animal activist groups have won bipartisan support in Congress to scuttle monkey and dog studies at top U.S. research facilities; they have also helped pass two state bills that compel researchers to adopt out lab animals at the end of experiments. The public itself seems to be turning against animal research: A Gallup poll released last year revealed that only 51% of U.S. adults find such studies morally acceptable, down from 65% in 2001. © 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Scienc

Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 25147 - Posted: 06.27.2018

By Lisa Feldman Barrett Jasanoff’s big message in “The Biological Mind” is you are not your brain. Or rather, you are not merely your brain — your body and the broader circumstances of your life also make you who you are. Jasanoff reminds us that the brain is not some mystical machine — it’s a gooey, bloody tangle of cells, dripping with chemicals. But we mythologize brains, creating false boundaries that divorce them from bodies and the outside world, blinding us to the biological nature of the mind. These divisions, Jasanoff contends, are why neuroscience has failed to make a real difference in anyone’s life. Unfortunately, the book’s own divisions between body versus brain, and nature versus nurture, reinforce the very dualisms that Jasanoff indicts. He gives examples of the ways our bodies and the world around us affect our thoughts, feelings and actions, but not how body and world become biologically embedded to constitute a mind. Missing is a discussion of how the workings of your body necessarily and irrevocably shape your brain’s structure and function, and vice versa. The artificial boundary between brain and world also goes largely unmentioned. In real life, the experiences we have from infancy onward impact the brain’s wiring. For example, childhood poverty and adversity fundamentally alter brain development, leaving an indelible mark that increases people’s risk of illness in adulthood. This is fascinating and profound stuff, but it mostly goes unexamined in Jasanoff’s book. Still, “The Biological Mind” is chock-full of fun facts that entertain. And best of all, it makes you think. I found myself debating with Jasanoff in my head as I read — surely a sign of a worthy book. © 2018 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 25143 - Posted: 06.26.2018

Paul Biegler explains. Mind-reading machines are now real, prising open yet another Pandora’s box for ethicists. As usual, there are promises of benefit and warnings of grave peril. The bright side was front and centre at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in Washington DC in November 2017. It was part of a research presentation led by Omid Sani from the University of Southern California. Sani and his colleagues studied six people with epilepsy who had electrodes inserted into their brains to measure detailed electrical patterns. It is a common technique to help neurosurgeons find where seizures start. The study asked patients, who can be alert during the procedure, to report their mood during scanning. That allowed the researchers to link the patients’ moods with their brainwave readings. Using sophisticated algorithms, the team claimed to predict patients’ feelings from their brainwaves alone. That could drive a big shift in the treatment of mental illness, say researchers. Deep brain stimulation (DBS), where electrodes implanted in the brain give circuits a regular zap, has been successful in Parkinson’s disease. It is also being trialled in depression; but the results, according to a 2017 report in Lancet Psychiatry, are patchy. Sani and colleagues suggest their discovery could bump up that success rate. A portable brain decoder may be available within a generation.

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 25136 - Posted: 06.25.2018

By Neuroskeptic Do scientists have a responsibility to make their work accessible to the public? “Public Engagement”, broadly speaking, means scientists communicating about science to non-scientists. Blogs are a form of public engagement, as are (non-academic) books. Holding public talks or giving interviews would also count as such. Recently, it has become fashionable to say that it is important for scientists to engage the public, and that this engagement should be encouraged. I agree completely: we do need to encourage it, and we need to overcome the old-fashioned view that it is somehow discreditable or unprofessional for scientists to fraternize with laypeople. However, some advocates of engagement go further than I’d like. It is sometimes said that every researcher actually has a responsibility to engage the public about the work that they do. Speaking about my own experience in neuroscience in the UK, this view is certainly in the air if not explicitly stated, and I think most researchers would agree. Public engagement and ‘broader impact’ sections now appear as mandatory sections of many grant applications, for instance. In my view, making public engagement a duty for all scientists is wrong. Quite simply, scientists are not trained to do public engagement, and it isn’t what they signed up to do when they chose that career. Some scientists (like me) want to do it anyway, and they should be encouraged (if I say so myself), but many don’t want to. Cajoling the latter into doing engagement is futile. A half-baked public engagement exercise helps no-one.

Keyword: Miscellaneous
Link ID: 25133 - Posted: 06.25.2018

By David Grimm The environment a laboratory animal lives in can have a dramatic impact on whether it’s a good model for human disease. A mouse that lives in a shoebox-size cage, for example, gets less exercise than its wild relatives, and thus may not be the best model for studying obesity. Enriched environments with bigger cages and more toys can help, says Garet Lahvis, but the best way to make animals good models is to take them out of the lab—and, in some cases, study them outside in the great wide world. This could be accomplished with cutting-edge electronics and remote sensors, says the behavioral neuroscientist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. He’s presenting his proposal today at the Behavior Genetics Association’s annual conference in Boston. Lahvis chatted with Science about what studying lab animals in the wild could look like, and why some researchers think it won’t happen. This interview has been edited for clarity and length. Required fields are indicated by an asterisk (*) Q: Why did you become interested in this idea? A: Our lab studies social behavior in mice. We’ve shown that mice have the capacity for empathy when they hear other mice getting an electrical shock, and that mice are gregarious—they like to hang out with each other. But we were studying them in these small, relatively sterile cages—not anything like they’d encounter in the wild. About 6 or 7 years ago, I started thinking, “How could it be normal for you to spend your entire life with only three other individuals in a small room? Are the mice we’re looking at really normal?” Once that door opened, I started to think about everything else that could go wrong with lab animal research. © 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 25128 - Posted: 06.22.2018

By Meredith Wadman Breaking with a history of reticence, nearly 600 scientists, students, and lab animal workers published a letter in USA Today this morning that calls on U.S. research institutions to “embrace openness” about their animal research. “We should proudly explain how animals are used for the advancement of science and medicine, in the interest of the well-being of humans and animals,” the 592 signatories write in the letter. “From the development of insulin and transplant surgery to modern day advances, including gene therapies and cancer treatments; animals … continue to play a crucial role in both basic and applied research.” The letter was organized by the pro–animal research advocacy group Speaking of Research, which has offices in the both the United States and the United Kingdom. The group notes that four Nobel Prize–winning biologists are among the signatories: William Campbell, Mario Capecchi, Carol Greider, and Torsten Wiesel. It was also signed by students, lab technicians, veterinarians, physicians, and a few public policy experts. “I read the letter and decided within minutes that I would sign it,” says Greider, a biologist at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, who shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2009 for her discovery of the enzyme telomerase. “Animal research is very important to understanding fundamental biological mechanisms.” © 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 25114 - Posted: 06.21.2018

By Aaron E. Carroll The medical research grant system in the United States, run through the National Institutes of Health, is intended to fund work that spurs innovation and fosters research careers. In many ways, it may be failing. It has been getting harder for researchers to obtain grant support. A study published in 2015 in JAMA showed that from 2004 to 2012, research funding in the United States increased only 0.8 percent year to year. It hasn’t kept up with the rate of inflation; officials say the N.I.H. has lost about 23 percent of its purchasing power in a recent 12-year span. Because the money available for research doesn’t go as far as it used to, it now takes longer for scientists to get funding. The average researcher with an M.D. is 45 years old (for a Ph.D. it’s 42 years old) before she or he obtains that first R01 (think “big” grant). Given that R01-level funding is necessary to obtain promotion and tenure (not to mention its role in the science itself), this means that more promising researchers are washing out than ever before. Only about 20 percent of postdoctoral candidates who aim to earn a tenured position in a university achieve that goal. This new reality can be justified only if those who are weeded out really aren’t as good as those who remain. Are we sure that those who make it are better than those who don’t? A recent study suggests the grant-making system may be unreliable in distinguishing between grants that are funded versus those that get nothing — its very purpose. When a health researcher (like me) believes he has a good idea for a research study, he most often submits a proposal to the N.I.H. It’s not easy to do so. Grants are hard to write, take a lot of time, and require a lot of experience to obtain. © 2018 The New York Times Company

Keyword: ADHD
Link ID: 25097 - Posted: 06.18.2018

by William Wan and Lenny Bernstein The National Institutes of Health on Friday canceled a mammoth study of moderate drinking after determining that officials had irrevocably compromised the research by soliciting over $60 million from beer and liquor companies to underwrite the effort. NIH Director Francis S. Collins said the results of the 10-year, $100 million study would not be trusted because of the secretive way in which staff at an institute under NIH met with major liquor companies, talked to them about the trial’s design and convinced them to pick up most of the tab for it. “Many people who have seen this working-group report were frankly shocked to see so many lines crossed,” he said, calling the staff interaction with the alcohol industry “far out of bounds.” Collins ordered the examination of what was originally planned as a study of more than 7,800 people around the globe after the New York Times reported in March that officials had aggressively sought the industry funding and routed their donations through the institutes’ nongovernmental foundation. In May, NIH suspended enrollment of participants in the research, which was already underway when the newspaper published its story. The findings released Friday address the scientific merit of the study. The review found that the staff who met with five liquor companies did not follow existing rules that required them to report such contacts. In a statement, NIH said that “a small number” of employees at the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) violated policies and that “appropriate personnel actions” would be taken, without specifying what that would entail. The report includes a lengthy appendix with emails between staff and industry representatives. © 1996-2018 The Washington Post

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 25096 - Posted: 06.16.2018