April 8, 2016

Washington’s Week in Science

Policy News and Selected Funding Opportunities

Top Stories of the Week

  • Congress: Senate Prepared to Move Forward on Appropriations Bills
  • NASA: Small Sat Technology Partnership Solicitation Announced
  • NIH: Blue Ribbon Panel Announced for the Cancer Moonshot Initiative
  • Agricultural Research: USDA Announces Aquaculture Research Grants
  • Climate Change: White House Releases Report on Climate Change Threat to Human Health
  • Research Enterprise: American Academy of Arts and Sciences Report Recommends Strategies to Sustain and Strengthen Public Research Universities

Congress

While the House has been on recess this past week, the Senate was in a high state of activity preparing to bring appropriations bills to the floor in advance of the House, and without a formal budget resolution. Although unprecedented, this would kick-start the appropriations process and maintain a possibility of passing all spending bills before October 1, avoiding a year-end continuing resolution. Appropriations bills could be brought up in the Senate after April 15.

In other action, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee moved five bills forward that eventually will form the counterpart to the House 21st Century Cures bill, intended to accelerate the discovery and delivery of new drugs and increase biomedical research funding.  Although there has been a high level of bipartisan consensus within this panel, one central issue left unresolved is the possibility of establishing a mechanism for mandatory funding for some areas of NIH research.

Thus far, Congress has been critical of the use of mandatory funding for all other science agencies in the FY17 request. However this possibility has been under discussion for NIH for several years and has been seen as one way to stabilize research funding. The House version of the 21st Century Cures bill, which predates the President’s FY17 request, contains a provision that would create a dedicated funding stream of $1.75 billion per year for 5 years for the an “Innovation Fund” within NIH. Under present rules, any mandatory funding mechanism must be enacted in law and is within the jurisdiction of the authorizing committee, such as the HELP Committee.

The division over mandatory funding also dominated a hearing held by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education.  Since the Appropriations Committee does not have the ability to establish mandatory funding, the hearing revolved around the the impacts of reducing the NIH budget by over a billion dollars.  One particular concern was expressed over a “cliff” that would occur when mandatory funding expires—that is, a drastic reduction in program funding.

NASA

Small spacecraft represent an emerging class of satellites, less than 180 kilograms, which can take advantage of low cost rideshare launch opportunities, and exploit the advances in technical capabilities in the electronics industries. Smallsats are becoming a major element of NASA’s science strategies in all disciplines by offering more flight opportunities. Because the scale of effort is modest, smallsats can also be directly managed by university PIs and can increase the involvement of students.

NASA has released an announcement for the Small Spacecraft Technology Program Smallsat Technology Partnerships program which solicits university involvement in the development of spacecraft or payloads for suborbital, balloon or orbital spacecraft.  Specific areas of interest include spacecraft power generation and storage, communications systems, navigation systems for small spacecraft constellations, and instruments and sensors for small spacecraft.

NIH

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) announced the appointment of a special Blue Ribbon Panel to provide advice and scientific input on the Cancer Moonshot Initiative. The Panel, made up of scientists, patient advocates and other experts, will be co-chaired by Tyler Jacks, Chair of the National Cancer Advisory Board and Director of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research; Elizabeth Jaffe, Professor and Deputy Director for Translational Research of the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, and Dinah Singer, Acting Deputy Director and Director of the Division of Cancer Biology of the National Cancer Institute.   The Panel will act as a working group to the Presidentially appointed National Cancer Advisory Board, which will in turn advise the NCI Director.

Public input and comment is being solicited through the National Cancer Moonshot Initiative Website.  Specific areas of interest include: cancer vaccines; highly sensitive approaches to early detection; advances in immunotherapy and combination therapies; single cell genomic profiling of cancer cells; enhanced data sharing; and, new approaches to the treatment of pediatric cancers

Read More: NCI Press Release , Science Insider

Agricultural Research

With stagnant or declining fishery harvests, and a growing global demand for seafood, a dramatic increase in managed aquaculture has become an emerging priority. Aquaculture contributes more than half of the seafood consumed globally, and this contribution is expected to grow to about two- thirds by 2030. However a full understanding of issues such as ocean acidification and warming will be needed to achieve this.

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has announced a funding opportunity to improve the efficiency and sustainability of the aquaculture industry.  The Special Research Grants Program for Aquaculture Research is intended to address the genetics of commercial aquaculture species, the critical diseases impacting aquaculture, the design of environmentally and economically sustainable aquaculture production systems, and the economic factors affecting aquaculture profitability.  This solicitation specifies matching funds will be required.

Climate Change

Although climate change is generally thought to have the greatest impact on third world countries, the impacts on the US can be significant. The White House has released a report by the US Global Change Research Program entitled The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment.

The report was compiled over the past three years by the eight federal agencies involved in climate change research and policy. It was intended to provide greater insight into to how climate change will affect different health problems and how many people in the US will be impacted.

Specific quantifiable impacts are for temperature related deaths and illnesses, air quality impacts, extreme weather events, insect-borne diseases such as West Nile virus, malaria and dengue fever, water related illnesses, food safety, and mental health and well-being. Populations especially at risk include the very young, the very old, and economically disadvantaged.

Read More: White House Press Release , New York Times

Research Enterprise

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences has released the final report in a series of reviews of excellence and access in public higher education.  The report, entitled Public Research Universities: Recommitting to Lincoln’s Vision—An Educational Compact for the 21st Century, contains useful data and analyses of the major challenges facing public research universities.  The report makes recommendations on addressing the current outdated financial model, creating public-private partnerships, and improving student performance and access to higher education.  Among other issues, recommendations are aimed at increasing State funding, reducing federal regulatory burdens and the complexity of student aid, encouraging a greater advocacy role for the private sector, and increasing the efficiency and accountability of public universities themselves.

Read More: American Academy Press Release

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