Senate Holds Confirmation Hearing for NIH Director Nominee
The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a hearing last week to consider President Biden's nomination of Dr. Monica Bertagnolli to lead the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The confirmation hearing came nearly two years after Dr. Francis Collins stepped down as NIH Director. Dr. Lawrence Tabak has been serving as Acting Director in the interim. Biden had nominated Bertagnolli back in May 2023, but Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who chairs the Senate HELP Committee, delayed the confirmation hearing until the Biden Administration provided a plan for lowering prescription-drug prices. Last Month, Senator Sanders agreed to move ahead with the nomination after the Administration struck a deal with Regeneron to cap the price of a potential treatment for COVID-19.
In June, a group of 115 organizations, including AIBS, sent a letter to Congress expressing support for Dr. Bertagnolli's nomination. And just ahead of the hearing, AIBS joined a group of 120 non-profit organizations, representing scientists, patients and institutions, in sending another letter backing her confirmation.
Bertagnolli currently serves as Director of the National Cancer Institute, a role she has held for just over a year. She is a surgical oncologist with decades of clinical and leadership experience. Bertagnolli previously served as the Richard E. Wilson professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School, as a surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital, and as a member of the Gastrointestinal Cancer and Sarcoma Disease Center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. If confirmed by the Senate, Dr. Bertagnolli will take over the largest public funder of biomedical research in the world, with an annual budget of about $47 billion.
At the hearing, Dr. Bertagnolli was grilled on her plans for the NIH, particularly on how she will repair the agency's reputation. "The NIH became a lightning rod for partisan debates during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that eroded trust between the NIH and the public," said Ranking Member Bill Cassidy (R-LA). "You will be tasked to rebuild the relationship with Congress."
Cassidy has launched a campaign to reform NIH and is requesting input on ways the agency could "improve its process for approving federal research grants, better support the biomedical research workforce, bolster collaboration across academia and industry, and increase transparency into agency activities."
Bertagnolli noted in her remarks that her priorities for the agency include improving the diversity of clinical-trial participants, enhancing access to healthcare innovations, and restoring public trust in scientists. "If confirmed, I will work every day to enhance health, lengthen life and reduce illness for all Americans."
USFWS Joins Collaborative Effort to "Biobank" Endangered Species
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is partnering with the nonprofit Revive & Restore and other organizations on a new initiative to create a "biobank" for U.S. threatened and endangered species.
Biobanking involves deep freezing wildlife cell and tissue samples to protect genetic diversity and enable the future recovery of at-risk species through cloning. The collaborative biobanking project has identified its first 24 endangered animals whose tissue collections will be stored at minus 196 degrees Celsius. These include the Mexican wolf, Preble's meadow jumping mouse, and the Florida bonneted bat, among others. Samples will either be stored at the San Diego Frozen Zoo in California or in the National Animal Germplasm Program facility in Fort Collins, Colorado operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service.
As a part of this effort, Revive & Restore, which promotes the "incorporation of biotechnologies into standard conservation practice," has developed a set of resources designed to help field biologists interested in biobanking the species they work with.
"Cryogenically preserved cell culture samples are an insurance policy against future losses of biodiversity in the wild," said Seth Willey, Deputy Assistant Regional Director of Ecological Services for FWS's Southwest Region. "Biobanking gives us the chance to save irreplaceable genetic diversity...If done right, it creates a marker-in-time and gives future recovery biologists options, like genetic rescue, that are only possible if we act now."
EPA Seeks Experts for Environmental Justice Advisory Panel
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Science Advisory Board is soliciting nominations of scientific experts for a panel that will review the revised Technical Guidance for Assessing Environmental Justice in Regulatory Analysis and develop recommendations on advancing environmental justice science in rulemaking.
The agency seeks nationally and internationally recognized scientists with expertise in environmental exposure, human health risk assessment, epidemiology, environmental justice screening tools and modeling, and several other disciplines. EPA will give the strongest consideration to individuals with demonstrated experience working with overburdened and vulnerable communities.
Nominations will be accepted until November 13, 2023. Learn More.
AIBS Joins Letter Supporting Microbiome Interagency Working Group
AIBS has signed on to a stakeholder letter in support of including language on the Microbiome Interagency Working Group in the final Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS) appropriations bill for fiscal year (FY) 2024.
The letter calls on House and Senate Appropriations Committees to include the report language in the Senate CJS appropriations bill regarding the Microbiome Interagency Working Group in the final negotiated CJS funding bill. "This language is an important step to ensure we continue to advance coordination of microbiome research and increase efficiency and collaboration in areas that impact human, animal and ecosystem health," the groups argue.
The language in the Senate FY 2024 CJS appropriations report states:
Microbiome Interagency Working Group.--The Committee recognizes that microbiome research is foundational research with the potential to advance human, animal and environmental health through the bioeconomy. The Committee supports the continuation of the Microbiome Interagency Working Group and requests an update of the Interagency Strategic Plan for Microbiome Research. OSTP is encouraged to consider the renewal of the charter for the Microbiome Interagency Working Group.
View the letter.
Nominations Sought for the IDEA2L Leadership Award
Nominations are now being accepted for the AIBS Inspiring Inclusivity, Diversity, Equity, Acceptance, Accessibility, and Learning (IDEA2L) Leadership Award, which recognizes commendable leadership in advancing inclusion, diversity, equity, acceptance, accessibility, and learning in the biological sciences community.
Awards will be made at the discretion of the AIBS IDEA2 Committee, which may choose one award, no award, or multiple awards in any one year.
Individual award recipients are recognized at the AIBS Annual Council meeting and receive complimentary registration to an AIBS Professional Development Training Course. Recipients are also given a $500 honorarium or the option of donating the amount to an AIBS Initiative.
Anyone may submit a nomination for the IDEA2L Award with the candidate's permission. Self-nominations are accepted. Nominations must clearly document why the candidate should be considered, above all others, for this distinguished award.
Learn more about the nomination and selection process.
BioScience Talks Podcast: Organization of Biological Field Stations
The latest episode of BioScience Talks features three representatives of the Organization of Biological Field Stations (OBFS), which is an AIBS member organization. The episode covers many topics related to field stations, including the research performed there, as well as the ways that field stations collaborate through organizations like OBFS and AIBS to improve their research, education, and outreach efforts.
Learn more about OBFS and their ongoing efforts on their website. Captions can be found on YouTube.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is hiring for the position of Office Director for the Office of Polar Programs in the Directorate for Geosciences. Applications close October 25, 2023.
The STEMM Opportunity Alliance is seeking feedback on the Draft National Strategy for STEMM Equity and Excellence. The American Association for the Advancement of Science, in collaboration with the Doris Duke Foundation and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, launched the STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine) Opportunity Alliance (SOA) last December at the White House Summit on STEMM Equity and Excellence. SOA is charged with bringing together cross-sector partners to develop a strategic plan for equity and excellence in STEMM and to garner commitments to shared goals and metrics for accountability and progress. The comment period on their draft plan is currently open and will close on November 6 at 5:00 pm PST. See here for more information and to submit comments.
A group of more than 100 Democrats in the House have introduced legislation aimed at restoring protections for wetlands and mitigating the impacts of the Supreme Court's decision in the Sackett vs. Environmental Protection Agency The Clean Water Act of 2023 would clarify the scope of "protected water resources" under the original Clean Water Act. It would reinstate a Reagan-era definition of Waters of the U.S., while also codifying permitting exemptions for activities such as agriculture, mining and construction, and waste treatment. The bill is led by Representatives Rick Larsen (D-WA), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Don Beyer (D-VA), and Melanie Stansbury (D-NM).
The National Academies' committee on the 2025-2035 Decadal Survey of Ocean Sciences for the National Science Foundation (NSF) has been tasked to advise the NSF's Division on Ocean Sciences on forward-looking approaches to guide investments in research, infrastructure, and workforce development and develop a strategy to advance understanding of the ocean's role in the sustainable blue economy. The third public meeting of the committee is scheduled for October 24-25, 2023. Register for the hybrid meeting.
From the Federal Register
The following items appeared in the Federal Register from October 10 to 20, 2023.
Health and Human Services
National Science Foundation
Office of Science and Technology Policy