TOPIC: National Institutes of Health

If EPA can’t act on BPA, try canning

We recently took a look at why it’s so hard to get rid of BPA in food containers if it’s becoming clearer that there are health risks to humans in consuming BPA (not to mention lab animals).  Kiera Butler of Mother Jones tracks the problem back to a food industry practice — lining cans with a layer of plastic — that has been around for more than 50 years and which has helped keep people safe from botulism and other illnesses.  Nowadays, manufacturers of canned food — including brands like Progresso, Campbell’s, and Hormel — don’t want to do much about the high rate of BPA (more…)

In real life, not so easy to ban BPA (but who said life was going to be easy?)

Denise Grady’s insightful report in the New York Times makes it clear why it’s so hard to remove the plastic bisphenol-A, or BPA, from various products — and from our own bodies.  The reason is America’s general approach to food and product safety.  This approach puts the onus not on industry, but on scientists (in and out of government), who must prove that it a product is unsafe after it has already been introduced.  Grady contrasts our approach to that of the European Union, which favors the “better safe than sorry”  method for approving the use of chemicals people are going to ingest.   Seems like in America, it’s better sorry than safe. (more…)

Chemicals in our lives: Industry self-policing doesn’t work

Here’s why industry self-policing doesn’t work when it comes to dangerous chemicals. Last month the Environmental Working Group found that those shiny grocery and gas station receipts contain high levels of the chemical, bisphenol A (“BPA”), which is absorbed into our skin.  The Food and Drug Administration is already considering whether to regulate BPA found in plastic food containers – including baby bottles – but only after a public outcry. (more…)

True Fact: Government Agencies Cooperating

By Marci Greenstein

National Institutes of Health chief, Dr. Frances Collins was talking up his agency’s partnership with the Food and Drug Administration on NPR’s Diane Rehm Show last week.  The move is intended to speed up the process for getting drugs from laboratories to the marketplace.  What’s surprising is that this collaboration hasn’t happened sooner.  How often have we heard about patients desperate to get drugs that are successful in clinical trials but are moving at a snail’s pace through the FDA’s regulatory maze? (more…)


Barack Obama has picked geneticist Francis Collins — who lead the National Institutes of Health’s sequencing of the human genome — to be the new head of the National Institues of Health. Gardiner Harris of the New York Times has an interesting write-up on the pick — many are critical of Collins for hyping the Human Genome Project at the expense of other areas of NIH research.

Given the Senate’s track record on administration nominations, Collins should be confirmed in the next 5-10 years. He’ll then lead a part of the Dept. of Health and Human Services that has a $37 billion research budget — and a new mandate to utilize certain embryonic stem cells.-MB


Barack Obama has said that the National Institutes of Health may approve the use of about 700 embryonic stem cell lines for research if the stem cells were obtained ethically, reports the Washington Post’s Shankar Vedantam. There are clear parameters for what is an ethical procedure like that the embryo was destroyed after an in vitro fertilization and donors gave their consent to use the lines for scientific research. But, ultimately, what stem cell lines can be used is up to NIH: Obama has empowered scientists to figure out what lines should be used to research illnesses. His trust of bureaucratic scientists on this touchy political issue is a welcome break from the Bush administration.-MB


Rob Stein of the Washington Post reports that it is not up to Congress or Barack Obama but the National Institutes of Health to decide what type of stem cell research to permit:

In anticipation of Obama’s decision, the NIH had begun drafting guidelines assuming that funding would be limited to lines from embryos discarded after in vitro fertilization. That is what officials had proposed during President Bill Clinton’s administration and what would be accomplished under legislation Congress passed twice and will consider again.

But proponents of the research had hoped that Obama’s order would be free of caveats, fulfilling his promise to leave such decisions to scientists. Obama cast his decision that way, coupling it with an order aimed at removing politics from scientific decisions across the government.

NIH has 120 days to decide if stem cells besides spare lines from fertility clinics can be made available for scientific research "such as embryos created specifically for research or by means of cloning techniques." As Stein notes, Obama, after delaying an announcement on stem cells, has made a more sweeping change of Bush administration policy than expected. And the ramifications will be instantly felt at NIH, the research arm of the Dept. of Health and Human Services which goes from having its mouth taped in the Bush administration to making a policy decision about a defining scientific and cultural issue.-MB


The Bush administration has been full of federal agency heads who uncritically accept the scientifically dubious beliefs of the White House (see Johnson, Stephen). But National Institutes of Health Director Elias Zerhouni, who resigned yesterday, was never one of them.

The New York Times’ Gardiner Harris reports that Zerhouni’s greatest- and most controversial-contribution in his six years as director was a ban on NIH scientists consulting with drug makers. The ban followed years of Congressional investigation into how much government scientists were on the take from drug and medical device companies. Zerhouni also publicly went against President Bush’s call for limits on federal financing of stem cell research.

Zerhouni says he plans to write a book about his time in the Bush adminstration. It may or may not provide juicy details about the suppression of scientific evidence. Regardless, Zerhouni walks away from the Bush administration with his integrity intact.-MB


The National Institute’s of Health Toxicology Program released a report yesterday that bisphenol A, a chemical found in 93 percent of all U.S. patients’ urinary tracts, could lead to everything from cancer to stunted growth. The chemical is found in plastic containers from baby bottles to the linings of soda cans. 

What now bears monitoring, reports the Washington Post’s Lyndsey Layton, is whether the Environmental Protection Agency and Food and Drug Administration act on the NIH findings and regulate the chemical. Or will action during what remains of the Bush administration be limited to the states?  Read Layton here. MB


The Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima and Rick Weiss report that a National Institutes of Health laptop computer with the records of 2,500 patients was stolen from an NIH worker’s car in February. The records contained years of the patient’s medical information, but the NIH didn’t inform the patients until last Thursday. Indeed, the NIH response to the security breach seemed based on the institute’s biweekly board meetings.

The records could have been made secure had information technology personnel encrypted the data. This never happened, though, and now NIH joins the club of an estimated 19 federal agencies that have recently left citizens vulnerable to identity theft.  Read Nakashima and Weiss here.   MB