Funding future; vaccine politics; health connections

Researchers let out a collective sigh of relief this week when U.S. congressional leaders settled on a 2017 budget that includes a $2 billion boost for the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The deal sidestepped a government shutdown and reversed a proposed $1.2 billion cut to the NIH budget. But as The Washington Post reports, the battle for funds isn’t over yet: President Donald Trump has proposed a $5.8 billion budget cut for the NIH in 2018.

Meanwhile, the NIH is changing how it doles out the precious funds. On Tuesday, the agency announced plans to limit the amount of funding given to a single researcher at any one time.

“There are reasons to believe that supporting more researchers working on a diversity of biomedical problems, rather than concentrating resources in a smaller number of labs, might maximize the number of important discoveries that can emerge from the science we support,” NIH Director Francis Collins said in a statement.

The new initiative should make it easier for young investigators to get grant money early in their careers. Currently, about 40 percent of NIH funds go to 10 percent of grant recipients, according to the agency.

Unfounded fears about the safety of vaccines are fueling measles outbreaks in the United States and Italy.

An op-ed in The New York Times this week chastises politicians in both countries for propagating the myth that vaccines cause autism. The resulting outbreaks should “sound a piercing alarm,” the piece reads.

If there is a silver lining to the spread of preventable diseases, it’s that health authorities have an opportunity to “strengthen their case by pointing to concrete evidence of what inevitably follows when vaccinations drop off,” the Times editorial board wrote.

special issue of Science takes a closer look at the value of vaccines, presenting data that “make clear the power of vaccines to vanquish disease — an impact that far eclipses their minute risks,” an introduction to the issue reads. “Identifying the best ways to convince hesitant parents of this calculus in an age of internet-fed misinformation is an ongoing challenge for researchers.”

Springer is retracting 107 papers published in the journal Tumor Biology after discovering evidence that at least a some of the peer reviewers were fake.
That amounts to 2 percent of all papers the journal published between 2010 and 2016, the years when the phony reviews were submitted, STAT reported last week. Springer published Tumor Biology until the end of 2016. It is now published by SAGE.

Faking peer review isn’t as tricky as it may sound. In many cases, study authors are asked to submit the names and contact information for possible reviewers. According to STAT, some of the submissions included the names of actual people, but bogus email addresses controlled by companies paid to help researchers get their work in print.

This isn’t the first time Springer has dealt with peer review problems. In November 2016, the publisher retracted 58 papers from seven different journals for review manipulation and other issues. In 2015, Springer retracted 64 articles linked to fraudulent peer review.

Autism Speaks has released a special report on physical and mental health conditions associated with autism.

The 35-page document reviews the connections between autism and epilepsy, obesity and depression. There is mounting evidence that these conditions can shorten the lifespan of people on the spectrum. The good news is many of them are treatable — even preventable.

Spectrum article set to be published on 16 May explores some of the challenges people with autism face in finding good primary care.

A video in STAT this week offers a tour of one of the world’s largest zebrafish labs.

Leonard Zon, a professor at Harvard, has thousands of tanks swimming with 150,000 zebrafish, STAT reports. The tiny fish have transparent embryos, allowing researchers to peer inside their bodies to observe the effects of genetic mutations.

“Zebrafish is a wonderful system to study disease,” Zon told STAT. “They’re essentially embryo factories. … [This] allows you to study as many genetic diseases as possible and do it very effectively.”

This article was originally published on Funding future; vaccine politics; health connections