Science Market Update
Researchers trying to find ways to help cure children of disease before they are born with it face an uphill challenge, in part because research on human embryos (even research that might result in a human embryo) is limited by the federal government when federal funding is at issue. Yet progress is being made, notably in the case of mitochondrial diseases passed from mother to child. A gene therapy procedure being studied and tested at Oregon Health Sciences University puts the nucleus of an egg cell with the mother's DNA into the scooped-out mitochondrial shell of another, healthier woman's egg cell. Then the egg is fertilized in vitro and gestated in utero. When research on nonhuman primates three years ago was a success (the monkeys are all alive and well), they tested the basic steps of the procedure with donated human eggs. They brought the hybrid eggs to the blastocyst stage, then cultured lines and did testing on them. At least 20% of the fertilized samples would have been viable for placement in utero.
One of the most prestigious scientific awards, the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), has been awarded to not one University of Michigan Ann Arbor researcher, but three! This award, started in 1996 by President Bill Clinton, was founded to recognize "the most meritorious scientists and engineers whose early accomplishments show the greatest promise for assuring America's preeminence in science and engineering and contributing to the awarding agencies' missions," as per a White House press release. These scientists are nominated by eleven different US government departments and agencies including the Departments of Energy and Health and Human Services, as well as the National Science Foundation.
At the University of Pennsylvania, Steve Fluharty is the senior vice provost for research, as well as a professor and researcher himself in the School of Veterinary Medicine. Now he's got one more hat to wear, as a member of the selection committee for the newly-announced Golden Goose Awards, sponsored by a congressional committee and supported by the AAAS and a broad base of other organizations and industry. At a time when basic research in particular is hard-tasked to justify its continued funding, the point of the awards is to look positively at the sometimes-serendipitous nature of scientific progress so as not to "kill the golden goose" (that lays the golden eggs), which all variations on the ancient fable agree is a really bad idea. Wikipedia says of the phrase: It is generally used of a short-sighted action that destroys the profitability of an asset. Exactly.