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BRRAT Scientists Have Done It Again

 :: Posted by American Biotechnologist on 07-17-2014

So the BRRAT (Bioterrorism Rapid Response and Technology laboratory) scientists are at it again. They just cannot keep themselves out of trouble. I am at a loss for words. There really is nothing left to say. You can’t make this stuff up folks. Three breaches of CDC (Center for Disease Control) policy regarding the safe handling of extremely dangerous bio-hazardous materials all within weeks of each other.

For the benefit of those that have not read the stories that we’ve posted previously, here is a brief recap. In June, approximately 75 scientists were exposed to the deadly Anthrax virus when it was accidentally transferred from a high-level biosafety lab to one with a lower clearance level. Then in early July, an FDA scientist found 6 vials of smallpox somewhere in the back of his freezer. Apparently it had been sitting there for decades, (sounds like a very good freezer-they certainly don’t make them to last like that anymore), waiting for some poor, unsuspecting researcher to find it and bring it back to life.

So what’s next you ask? What’s the third breach? Are you sitting down?

The CDC is reporting that the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian flu virus was mistakenly shipped from a high level biosafety lab to a low level Department of Agriculture Facility. That’s right. The deadly virus was mistakenly shipped to the wrong place. But wait…there’s more. According to CDC Director Thomas Frieden, more than six weeks passed between the time that the virus was sent to the Department of Agriculture until it was officially reported to the CDC.

I give up. My confidence in the system is officially shot.

So how did the CDC respond to these violations? Their official response can be seen in this press release. Here is a synopsis for those who don’t have the patients to comb through another CDC report. Keep in mind that this is my take on the response and not the official position of the CDC:

  • immediate cessation on the transfer of highly dangerous biological materials (now that makes sense)
  • establishment of a working group to hold scientists accountable for common sense
  • establishment of a review group (do you see a pattern here?) to figure out how to prevent such incidents from occurring in the future
  • BRRAT scientists can no longer work with hazardous material until it has been shown that they can act responsibly with materials that can be used to create biological weapons
  • somebody might lose his/her job

So what do yo think? Are these measures strong enough? Do they reinstall your confidence in the ability of America’s top Scientists to protect the rest of us low level lab techs from contracting a deadly disease or potentially spreading it to your friends and family.

I’m not sure that I am feeling any better. Are you?

Smallpox Anyone?

 :: Posted by American Biotechnologist on 07-09-2014

First it was Anthrax and now it’s Smallpox!!! Last month, we told you about the CDC’s report that as many as 75 CDC scientists may have been exposed to Anthrax when a vial containing the deadly bacteria was accidentally transferred to a low level bio-hazard lab that was ill equipped to handle the stuff. Now, Science Insider is reporting that six vials of smallpox were found by an FDA scientist who was cleaning out his freezer! Apparently, the 60 something year old vials were stuffed in the back of this lab’s freezer or fridge in a poorly labeled cardboard box.

Folks, this is why you don’t store you lunch in the same fridge that you store your lab reagents. Imagine the headlines had the vials been mistaken for savory condiments. Scientist contracts smallpox while accidentally spreading it on his favorite sandwich.

It is also another reason not to buy cheap Sharpie pens. Vials must be labeled clearly and the label must last. Labeling your samples in a code that nobody understands is a surefire way to cause major pandemonium amongst current and future lab-mates. And if the label rubs off, what good was it to begin with? I bet that tens of hands (gloved and ungloved) have touched these poorly-labeled vials of smallpox over the decades.

The article in Science discusses the dangerous possibility that these vials could have fallen into the hands of terrorists and used as bio-weapons. But, as scientists, we should be more worried that the vials could have fallen on anybody’s hands and contaminated the entire lab! This is scary stuff.

To read the article in Science Insider visit Six vials of smallpox discovered in U.S. lab

Bio-Rad Commercial Wins Telly Award

 :: Posted by American Biotechnologist on 06-17-2014

Bio-Rad Laboratories received a Silver Telly Award, the highest honor, in the category Branded Content, Commercials, for its commercial “Bio-Rad iScript Supermix vs. Brand X”. The 35th Annual Telly Awards were announced today. Bio-Rad’s winning commercial compared its iScript™ Reverse Transcription Supermix for RT-qPCR to a product from a leading competitor. This year there were nearly 12,000 entries for Telly Awards from all 50 states and numerous countries. This is the second Silver Telly Award Bio-Rad has won in two years.

The “Bio-Rad iScript Supermix vs. Brand X” commercial was inspired by the many infomercials shown throughout the day and night on TV. Bio-Rad wanted to do something out of the ordinary that would capture the audience’s attention and differentiate its iScript Supermix product line from that of a leading competitor.

“Winning the Silver Telly Award made it clear that our infomercial resonated with viewers,” said Paul Streng, Bio-Rad senior product manager, Gene Expression Division, Life Science Group. “We wanted to do something different that would highlight the benefits of our product in a way in which people could relate. We had a lot of fun with the video. It’s rewarding to get this recognition.”

“The Telly Awards has a mission to honor the very best in film and video,” said Linda Day, executive director of the Telly Awards. “Bio-Rad’s accomplishment illustrates their creativity, skill, and dedication to their craft and serves as a testament to great film and video production.”

The Telly Awards was founded in 1978 and honors outstanding local, regional, and cable TV commercials and programs, the finest video and film productions, and notable online commercials, video, and films. Winners represent the best work of advertising agencies, production companies, television stations, cable operators, and corporate video departments around the world.

The product featured in the video, Bio-Rad’s iScript Reverse Transcription Supermix for RT-qPCR, is a simple and sensitive first-strand cDNA synthesis kit for gene expression analysis. The supermix reduces chances of error with a one-tube setup and cuts bench time in half.

To learn more about the Telly Awards, visit www.tellyawards.com.

To view Bio-Rad’s winning video, visit http://bit.ly/iScriptCommercial.

New NIH Resubmission Rule Great for Young Investigators

 :: Posted by American Biotechnologist on 04-29-2014

According to a new policy released earlier this month, the National Institute of Health (NIH) will now allow unsuccessful applicants to resubmit their application for the next application round without including any new information in the resubmitted grant.

The NIH claimed that due to the funding crisis, many meritorious applications, which would have otherwise been funded, were turned down. According to the old policy, the rejected applications could not be resubmitted in their original form and would have had to be reworked before being resubmitted. The effect of this policy was that applicants would have to add new material in the resubmitted grant, despite the fact that the application was strong to begin with. Furthermore, young investigators, already dejected by the original grant rejection, were more apt to leave their positions rather than having to redo and resubmit their original grant. By allowing scientists to resubmit their original grant without significant changes, the NIH will significantly increase the number of meritorious applications in subsequent rounds.

Until October 2008, the NIH did not have resubmission rules governing the grant application process. In a sweeping change in 2008, the NIH placed restrictions on the type of content applicants were allowed to resubmit and instituted a two strike rule that meant that the applicant needed to substantially re-design the project rather than simply change the application in response to previous reviews. The new policy reverses that ruling and will hopefully encourage more young investigators to pursue their dreams without the fear of rejection or failure.

New Study: Funding Science is Good for the US Economy

 :: Posted by American Biotechnologist on 04-04-2014

University research is a key component of the US economic ecosystem, returning the investment through enormous public value and impact on employment, business, and manufacturing nationwide.

Using new data available to examine the short-term economic activity generated by science funding, researchers have for the first time been able to illuminate the breadth of the scientific workforce and the national impact of the research supply chain that is funded by federal grants.

Most of the workers supported by federal research funding are not university faculty members. In fact, fewer than one in five workers supported by federal funding are faculty researchers. The study, published this week in the journal Science, provides the first detailed information about the short-term economic impacts of federal research spending, the researchers said.

Using a new data set, the researchers also found that each university that receives funding spends those dollars throughout the United States – about 70 percent spent outside their home states – supporting companies both large and small.

The researchers conclude that federal funding has a wider impact than is often assumed. “The process of scientific research supports organizations and jobs in many of the high skill sectors of our economy,” the researchers wrote in Science.

The study was conducted by researchers from the American Institute of Research, the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, University of Michigan, University of Chicago, and the Ohio State University. The data came from the STAR METRICS project, which is a partnership between federal science agencies and research institutions to document the outcomes of science investments to the public.

In this study, the researchers examined STAR METRICS data from nine universities – Michigan, Wisconsin-Madison, Minnesota, Ohio State, Northwestern, Purdue, Michigan State, Chicago and Indiana (all members of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation consortium).

The universities in this study received about $7 billion in total research and development funding in 2012, and about 56 percent of that came from the federal government.

One key insight from the study was whose jobs were supported by federal funding. “Workers with many different skill levels are employed, and these are not primarily faculty,” the authors said.

Faculty members accounted for fewer than 20 percent of the people supported by federal funding. About one in three workers is either a graduate student or an undergraduate. One in three is either research staff or a staff scientist, and about one in ten is a post-doctoral fellow.

The study also sheds light on where universities spend the federal funding they receive. In 2012, almost $1 billion of research expenditures were spent with U.S. vendors and subcontractors.

Of those expenditures, 15 percent went to vendors in the university’s home county, 15 percent in the rest of the home state and the balance to vendors across the United States.

The researchers noted that universities bought goods and services from a wide range of contractors in a variety of industries: everything from test tubes to telescopes and microscopes to gene sequencing machines.

Many of the purchases came from large U.S companies. But as the researchers examined the websites of some of the tens of thousands of vendors, “we were struck by how many are small, niche, high-technology companies…” they wrote.

Noting the scope of the impact of scientific work being done across universities, co-author Roy Weiss, Deputy Provost for Research at the University of Chicago, said, “Research universities are dedicated to the discovery of new knowledge. This study reports the first cooperative endeavor by multiple universities to evaluate the benefit of government investment in research. In addition to making the world a better place by virtue of these discoveries, we now have data to support the overall benefits to society.”

“The main purpose of science funding isn’t as a jobs or stimulus program, but this study shows there are also major short-term economic benefits to science funding,” said Bruce Weinberg, co-author and professor of economics at Ohio State.

As Julia Lane, Senior Managing Economist at the American Institutes for Research and a lead researcher on the project, summarized, “This study provides evidence that while science is complicated, it is not magic. It is productive work. Scientific endeavors employ people. They use capital inputs. Related economic activity occurs immediately. Policy makers need to have an understanding of how science is produced when making resource allocation decisions, and this study provides that information in a reliable and current fashion.”

Thanks to the Committee on Institutional Cooperation for contributing this story.