POLICY LEADER OF THE YEAR
Douglas A. Melton
Thomas Dudley Cabot Professor of the Natural Sciences, Harvard University, and investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Advocated and enabled more extensive studies of embryonic stem cells.
Last year Douglas Melton made a discovery that both advanced the understanding of diabetes and cast doubt on an argument the Bush administration had used to defend its tight restrictions on federally funded research into embryonic stem cells. He has used this result to advance his strong opposition to the policy and to mobilize still more private resources to keep the field alive in this country.
Melton found evidence that the insulin-forming beta cells of the pancreas reproduce by simple division in the mature phase rather than descending from a progenitor, the adult stem cell. The finding was extraordinarily important for diabetes research, which is looking for sources of beta cells that will be accepted by the immune systems of patients with type 1 diabetes who lack such cells and must therefore inject insulin. Now it seems that workers in search of transplantable tissue will have to culture either fully mature cells or fully immature ones--that is, embryonic stem cells. The discovery therefore undermines the administration's argument that adult stem cells could readily fill in for the embryonic kind.
Melton's scientific eminence has made him a particularly effective opponent of the administration's near ban on funding embryo research. Not only has he argued against it in congressional testimony and other public forums, he has found ways to work around it. In March he announced the establishment of 17 new lines of embryonic cells, a feat that nearly doubled the number of usable lines available since the Bush policy took effect. He has since established five more lines. The work was onerous because it had to be done with private funds he helped to raise. It was performed in new laboratories that had never received any federal support. This spring the governing authority for these endeavors was unveiled under the name of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute. Melton will serve as its co-director. His own focus, however, will be diabetes, a field which he entered after his two children were diagnosed with the disease.
Edward C. "Pete" Aldridge
Head, President's Commission on Implementation of United States Space Exploration Policy
Proposed NASA overhaul to prepare for sending humans to the moon and beyond.
To reach for the heavens, Pete Aldridge's commission wants to shake NASA to its foundations. The President's Commission on Implementation of United States Space Exploration Policy has undertaken to investigate how best to make President George W. Bush's goal of human expeditions to the moon and Mars a reality. The commission's report, released in June, counseled gutsy overhauls to NASA bureaucracy. The most drastic change would lead private industry to assume the primary role in NASA space operations through competitively awarded contracts in the hope of making the agency more frugal and nimble. The committee further suggested that to meet the challenges ahead, NASA must streamline its byzantine organization to prune duplicated efforts and excessively diffuse mission support functions. NASA has begun the early stages of implementing the recommendations.
Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology
Serves as a neutral forum for debate on agricultural biotechnology.
The terms "Frankenfood" and "genetic pollution" are part of the heated rhetoric that surrounds agricultural biotechnology. What are the real dangers, and where lies the hype? Initiated in 2001, the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology has continued to stage dispassionate forums and publish balanced reports on critical issues related to environmental and food safety of gene-altered crops. In 2003 the group held a workshop that discussed the prospects of gene flow from genetically engineered to wild plants. This year it came out with a report on the potential of genetically engineered insects to fight diseases such as malaria. A subsequent conference on biotech bugs--silkworms made to produce pharmaceutical and industrial proteins, for instance--was held in September. The group has also conducted polls on consumer awareness of genetically modified foods, held a policy dialogue on modified animals and examined the ability of U.S. regulatory review procedures to handle future agricultural biotechnology products.