Will the Terminator’s ambitious program, encapsulated in Proposition 71, to make the Golden State a citadel of intensive, and profitable, stem cell research be terminated? Hard to say, but things are looking somewhat, well, less golden than before. The bug under the chip is the existence of two prior rather broad patents, that could complicate the funding of stem cell research projects and the eventual payout if there were to be any. The patents in question were granted in 1998 and 2001 to James Thompson, an investigator at UW in Madison, and are owned by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF). The existence of the patents has long been known and talked about among stem cell researchers, but the question came to life in a big way when a WARF attorny, talking at an industry meeting in March, mentioned the possiblity of the Foundation’s asking for a share of whatever comes out of the California initiative. While legal fussing over the money made from any commercial development of a product based on stem cell research is probably a long way off, because there is no product to hassle over, the question of academic research is a lot livelier and more pressing. WARF is saying that it is open to and supportive of academic research that will help expand stem cell science, and, eventually, lead to therapies. But the fine print on some of the licenses granted in California so far are said by some critics to be rather more restrictive than WARF is admitting. Thus far, WARF has not done much to enforce the patents, but as the pile of dollars in the pot gets bigger, the incentive for more vigorous action to assert it rights, and get cut in on the dough, gets more urgent as well.
And you thought that the science was the hard part! Technology Review has a nice survey:
If they liked it once, they’ll love it twice, as they say in Show Biz. That’s the reason behind the flood of revivals of, and sequels to, movies, plays, TV shows and so on. If we went with one story from Canada, why not go with two, to keep the North of the Border flavor, as it were? OK, off we go to Quebec. One of the most homogeneous populations in North America is composed of the descendants of the original French settlers of what was then called New France. About 15,ooo people made the journey in the years 1608-1760. Of these, many returned, some pushed on into the interior, and about 2600 stayed to multiply over the next ten generations to more than 800 times the original or “founder” population. There was not much marriage outside the group, so these people form an almost ideal body for attempst to discover and trace genetic influences on the etiology of diseases. Similar studies have been done on other ethnic groups, such as the people of Iceland and Ashkenazy Jews of Central Europe. But Genizon Biosciences, based in Qubec, is using newer methods to expand the inquiry to diseases that have been difficult to deal with previously, especially common diseases such as diabetes, in which many genes may play a small role. To aid in the search, Genizon built a genetic map based on the highly homogeneous founder population of Quebec, and is swiftly running through the list of common diseases it wants to process. The company is pursuing patent protection on what it calls several interesting and prominent pathways, which might lead to a “new paradigm” of drug development. Well, maybe. That “paradigm” stuff again. What seems of greater interest to the Blogging Grouch is the shockingly swift advance in the development of analytical techniques for gene investigations. Drugs, if any, are probably a long way down the pike. The always valuable Technology Review describes the methods Genizon is using.
Genes in Quebec
Canadians have a reputation for being even-tempered, not given to flamboyant excess, perhaps even being a bit on the phlegmatic side. Maybe it’s the cold weather. But, recently tempers have been rising over a dispute centering on one of the country’s major medical journals…the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ). On Feb. 20, the CMAJ’s long serving editor, John Hoey and deputy editor, Anne Marie Todkill, were dismissed without notice by the Canadian Medical Association. The CMA statement said that the firings were deemed necessary, because “a fresh approach” was needed. But observers dismissed that rationale as, well, a lot of hooey. ( Sorry, but I couldn’t resist. How many times does a chance like this come along?) Apparently the team had been feuding with the parent organization for a long time over editorial independence, and the fact that they were canned without ceremony was taken as a sign that the CMA wanted to show who’s boss. But, the CMAJ editors had and have a lot of friends among Canada’s clinical scientists. Protests were heard at once. Fourteen of the nineteen board members resigned, and a parade of editors ad interim has not been able to stop the downward spiral. Many Canadian physicians give Toey and Todkill credit for raising the influence of the journal very considerably during their tenure, from what was effectively a throw-away published by the CMA to an internationally respected vehicle for the publication of important research results. Informed outsiders have been aware of tensions between the editorial team and the parent organization for some time. The CMA may feel that it was put into a false position by some of the articles that appeared in the journal, which dealt with health policy matters of some sensitivity. The editors insist on operational independence and when the CMA’s director of media relations moved to assert his right to veto any content the editors demurred, and were out of a job. It’s hard to know who has the right of it, and, frankly, anybody with the title of Director of Media Relations automatically comes under suspicion around here, but one can also sympathize with the CMA if the body felt its position on important matters was being falsified in the public mind. Still, it seems that the Trial at Arms was a serious mistake. The big loser, so far at least, is the CMAJ.
Here’s the story in Science
(Notice that in the first paragraph, there is a back link to an earlier report)
The New England Journal of Medicine has introduced a new feature. The publication will offer what it describes as a new kind of article, called Videos in Clinical Medicine. Target audiences include students, trainees and younger physicians, who might need expert instruction from an experienced colleague in the correct way to perform certain tests and conduct specialized physical examinations. An article announcing this new feature claims that the video demonstrations will be indexed in MEDLINE, and will be treated as a kind of review article. The banner medical journal is launching an initial group of four documents, the first being on the placement of an arterial line. Another four are to appear later on this year. For a while now, critics have been griping that journals, or more precisely, journal publishers, have been too timid in exploiting the possiblities of the Web in their products, contenting themselves with transferring their printed product to an online form. So, this venture which combines text and motion media in one package is an interesting experiment in pushing the boundries a bit. The text of the announcement and some important technical information can be read at:
Not so long ago we were talking about sequels and Show Biz and the like. Well, life catches up on blogging pretty fast and in some odd ways. The first generation E-books were launched in the late Nineties,with lots of PR hoopla, but they failed pretty badly. Now, Son of E-book looks like its ready to try the Boards and see if it can turn the origninal turkey into a hit. The gadget in question is the SONY READER, which is supposed to overcome some of the unpleasant aspects of using this format, such as eyestrain and poor battery life. OK, Maybe. Dickens Barcus was willin’ and so is Borders Books, which plans to sell the READER at some 200 outlets in the USA starting this summer. So, we will get a field test. But Barnes and Noble is still pretty chilly and is perfectly willing to let Borders go first. This may be nothing more than the “dont be the first driver through the intersection” ordinary prudence, or BN may have looked at the gadget, without finding much. The first launch was definitely over-hyped and maybe the smart thing is just to let the new format find its ecological niche, rather than to insist that the E-book had just got to be the future of publising and everybody, absolutely everybody has just got to want one, or else.
Here’s a short report from USA TODAY:
The bad news just keeps on coming. Criticism of the way results of drug trials are reported in the medical literature is mounting. Notice the passive voice “are reported”. It would be more accurate to say that the authors of articles reporting such trial results fudge, obfuscate, hype, spin and slant reports, for reasons of career advancement or financial gain. “Journalology” is the neologism used by Jim Giles, writing in Nature, about the effort to do research into research, or conduct studies on studies. One method is to compare the number of registered protocols with the number of papers published. If a lot of trials don’t get written up, does this mean that the outcomes were inconclusive or negative? What effect on the total picture of a drug’s safety and efficacy could the ” missing” papers exert? Giles also notes that journal editors should make sure all appropriate data is submitted to allow fair evaluation of the manuscript, since authors may not submit all the outcomes results listed in the protocol. Journal editors are getting tired of being taken for a ride by authors using such methods and the Empire is striking back. Company funded studies are facing tougher demands for “transparency”, or at least, basic honesty, on the part of editors who are taking increasingly critical stances toward publications with industrial sponsorship. The Lancet insists that authors submit a trial protocol with the manuscript so reviewers can check that all data gathered have been reported, not just the most favorable ones. JAMA wants research reports submitted by for-profit groups to undergo independent statistical anaylysis. Various studies on studies have come to interesting conclusions. A Danish study in 2003 on 370 drug trials showed that the strongest predictor of authors’ conclusions on the efficacy of a drug was not the data, but the type of sponsorship. Some journal editors complain that drug companies attempt to influence decisions on publication by promising to buy lots of reprints if the study gets published. This can be nice little cash windfall for the journal, so it is a temptation…one that the bigger journals can swat away, but which might be harder for others to dismiss. So the struggle continues. The stakes are pretty high for all those involved.
Electronic books, or E-books, were launched amid a great hoopla and fanfare on the part of publishers who expected this format to generate a sizeable chunk of their sales, and ultimately, profits. The E-book should have been a lollapalooza, but turned out to be more of an Edsel, the paradigmatic example of a corporate floperoo, launched by Ford Motors in the Fifties and shunned by customers who raced to get as far away from it as possible. Why the E-b00k crashed and burned, and why the bottom fell out of that market have been chawed over by analysts, who reached various answers, all more or less nicely costumed versions of the truism that customers just didn’t like them. One big reason is that the first E-books offered a really low-grade reading experience. It was hard to look at them for any length of time…hard optically, physiologically.
The tech gurus say that this drawback has been overcome in the new generation of devices being launched, since they employ “electonic ink”. This form of page display is not back-lit, and offers very good resolution. It’s optical characteristics are similar to a printed, paper page and this should make the machines more congenial to human peepers. E-ink is the company which developed the display, and SONY will offer it in its Portable Reader System, due very soon. Another company is working on a more newspaper-like layout, so things are happening. The E-book concept has some big advantages, but customers might still baulk. Publishers face decisions about sale vs. lease, readers’ rights to lend and copy and the usual raft of IP matters, proprietary vs. open format, battery life etc. All these things have a business impact. We shall see.
Whose books were enough to make even “the most obscene romance writer” blush? Why, Carl von Linne of course, a chap perhaps better known to us in the Latinized form of his name, Carolus Linnaeus. Biological taxonomy is not generally regarded as an X-rated subject area. In fact, if anything, it has a rep for being on the staid side. Linnaeus ran afoul of some of his Enlightenment contemporaries because he had introduced a method to help in the classification of plants, that was based on sex, and on counting the sexual organs of the plant’s flowers as a means to decide what kind of critter it could be, and what other critters it could claim as relatives. His critics thought this language too direct for the youths and ladies who might take up botany as an accomplishment. The Times Literary Supplement has a detailed review of a new translation of Linnaeus’s Philosophia Botanica . The translator is Stephen Freer, who gets high marks from the reviewer for the suppleness of his rendering. The Philosophia is not just a manual of classification. It’s also a practical handbook on preservation and storage of plant specimens, on how to manage a greenhouse and on fun ways to arrange a botany outing or field trip. The review, by Jim Enderby, is nice essay on the history of attempts at classification and on how dificult the art remains today, and how important doing it correctly is to all of us. Far from an area of science that’s pretty much over and done with, classification is a challenge, rooted ( no pun) in a mystery.
If this link doesn’t work for you, go to the Scitech Daily Review site and find the story