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Public Affairs Update

  • Addiction researcher Volkow to head drug abuse institute . . . . A leading biomedical researcher, Nora D. Volkow, who has focused on the brain’s dopamine system and the neural mechanisms underlying reinforcing, addictive, and toxic properties of drugs, has been selected to head the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Currently Professor of Psychiatry and Associate Dean of the Medical School at SUNY-Stony Brook, she also heads the medical department at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, NY. Volkow begins her new position on April 15, becoming the first woman to head the nation’s $900-million/year basic research agency, which supports more than 85 percent of the world’s research on health aspects of drug abuse and addiction. She considers addiction to be a disease and is a proponent of the relatively new perspective that addiction produces permanent changes in the brain. Among her scientific achievements is a study showing that drug addicts have fewer pleasure-related dopamine receptors, causing them to use dopamine-stimulating drugs (e.g., cocaine). She has also studied the effect of love and food on brain chemical activity, showing that the simple sight of a tasty food stimulates pleasure-associated chemical activity in the brain. Volkow replaces Acting Director Glen R. Hanson.

  • Justice Department issued first terrorism grant solicitation derived from social scientists’ advice . . . . A U.S. Justice Department RFA (request for grant applications) directly stemming from social science advice given to the President’s National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) was issued this fall. The Social, Behavioral and Education Sciences Working Group of an NSTC task force (see Public Affairs Update, December 2002 Footnotes, p. 3) suggested last spring that the federal government fund research in the very area solicited in the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) RFA. This grant proposal solicitation seeks “to support research on terrorism and counter-terrorism strategies to inform and improve policy and practice in the criminal-justice system. Research must deal with either the relationship between transnational organized crime and international terrorism, or issues related to terrorism that affect the criminal-justice system at the local, state, and federal levels.” The total amount to be awarded and number of awards was not specified.

  • Schwetz is named acting director of HHS office for human research protections . . . . U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson has named Bernard A. Schwetz, DVM, PhD, as Acting Director of the HHS Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP), which leads HHS’s efforts to ensure the responsible conduct of research involving human subjects. Schwetz will assume this position on February 3, 2003, replacing Greg Koski, who stepped down as the first director in late November. The office monitors programs at more than 10,000 HHS-funded research institutions. According to HHS, Schwetz’s priorities will include harmonizing the reporting of adverse events, intensifying the focus on prevention to improve protection quality, and strengthening communications with the research community, the public, and other interested groups. OHRP will seek to reduce the paperwork burden for institutions and Institutional Review Boards, and help educate the public about what constitutes quality research protections, according to an HHS press release. Currently, Schwetz is the senior advisor for science at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is a Distinguished Scientist at the University of Maryland-College Park. From January 2001 to February 2002, he was acting principal deputy commissioner of the FDA and prior to that served as FDA’s acting deputy commissioner. He was director of FDA’s National Center for Toxicological Research in Arkansas from 1993 to 1999.

  • Bush administration appoints human-subjects research advisory panel members . . . . The Bush administration has named 12 members to its new advisory panel on federal protections for human research subjects known as the Health and Human Service (HHS) Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Human Research Protection (SACHRP) (see Public Affairs Update, September/October 2002 Footnotes, p. 3 and Vantage Point, December 2002 Footnotes, p. 2). Reporting to Secretary Tommy G. Thompson, the panel replaces President Clinton’s National Human Research Protections Advisory Committee (NHRPAC) and is charged with proposing changes in federal regulations aimed at protecting people who volunteer in medical, behavioral, and social science studies. SACHRP’s charter differs from NHRPAC’s in that it places “particular emphasis” on the review of research involving embryos, fetuses, and pregnant women. Some believe this charge was added because of Bush administration frustration over the stem cell research and cloning report of the President’s Council on Bioethics, which had not reached clear-cut consensus. SACHRP’s charter provides another avenue to address the issue. Amid a blizzard of controversy about the administration’s motives in reformulating the committee’s composition and charge, the science community had anxiously awaited the announcement of the new members, concerned that political ideology would trump the committee’s scientific and bioethical purposes. HHS also made an unprofessional impression, as it rushed nomination requests to the scientific community over the holiday period and deadlines seemed to vacillate wildly. And, three former NHRPAC members included on SACHRP’s roster had not been asked of their willingness to continue. Bioethicist, Jonathan D. Moreno, University of Virginia’s Director of the Center for Biomedical Ethics, immediately refused to serve, stating that the administration had not contacted him before renaming him to the panel and that the panel lacked patient group and research subject representation. After this initial firestorm, the administration hastily announced on January 13 the addition of child cancer patient advocate and developmental psychologist Susan Weiner. The administration announced in the fall that the new panel would include advising on whether to define embryos as human subjects, and one new member has publicly declared research on embryonic stem cells to be unethical. Ernest D. Prentice, associate dean for research and vice chancellor for academic affairs and regulatory compliance at the University of Nebraska Medical School will chair SACHRP. Developmental psychologist Celia B. Fisher, the director of the Center for Ethics Education at Fordham University, currently serving as bioethicist-in-residence and as visiting professor in psychology at Yale University, will be the social scientist among the panel’s new members.