Office of Science and Technology Policy Blog

  • Strengthening Safety and Security across the U.S. Life Sciences Research Enterprise

    Research and discoveries in the life sciences have expanded our understanding of the natural world and led to major advances in medicine, agriculture, environmental protection, and overall quality of life. While this robust area of research has provided and continues to provide extraordinary benefits to society, the scientific community recognizes that some of its products can, in the wrong hands, be misused for unintended purposes. Research giving rise to such products or technologies is known as “dual use” research. Dual use research of concern, or DURC, is a subset of dual use research defined as life sciences research that can be reasonably anticipated to provide knowledge, information, products, or technologies that could be directly misapplied to pose a significant threat with broad potential consequences to public health and safety, agriculture, the environment, or national security.

    Additionally, the recent series of lab incidents at U.S. facilities has prompted the Administration to take decisive steps to strengthen biosafety and biosecurity, and has reminded us of how important it is to have in place robust and effective oversight processes that facilitate identification and mitigation of risks associated with certain types of life sciences research.

    Today, the Obama Administration issued a U.S. Government Policy for Institutional Oversight of Life Sciences Dual Use Research of Concern to help ensure that our Nation’s vitally important research efforts in the life sciences are carried out safely and in ways that minimize the risk of misuse.

    The institutional policy released today builds on the Federal government’s previous DURC policy released in March 2012, which formalized a process for periodic Federal review of U.S. Government-funded or -conducted life sciences research involving 15 high-consequence agents and toxins, and seven categories of experiments. Today’s policy formalizes the roles and responsibilities of institutions and principal investigators in overseeing life sciences DURC involving this same subset of agents and toxins.

    The Policy calls on all Federal agencies, institutions that receive Federal funding for life sciences research that conduct research with any of the 15 agents and toxins listed in the Policy, to, within one year, put into place the infrastructure, policies, procedures, education, and training to ensure that DURC is identified and appropriate risk-mitigation measures are implemented.

    The Policy reflects substantial input solicited from the public, non-governmental experts, and stakeholders, including institutions that will be subject to this policy.   In the coming year, as institutions begin to implement the Policy, the Administration will continue to solicit feedback and evaluate the Policy’s impact on the life sciences research enterprise. This input will help determine whether additional steps can be taken to assist facilities with implementation and whether further modifications are needed. While the policy released today focuses on mitigating risks associated with the potential misuse of certain types of life sciences research, it complements a broader suite of policies that govern safety and security in laboratories. For additional information on the Federal government’s comprehensive approach to strengthening U.S. biosafety and biosecurity, please see the Science Safety Security website.

    Life sciences research is making important contributions to the development of new diagnostics, preventive measures, and treatments for diseases; enhancing emergency preparedness and response efforts; and providing countless other benefits to people around the world. The Administration looks forward to continuing to work with the life sciences community to strengthen the safety of this vitally important research.

    Read the Policy here.

    Dr. Andrew Hebbeler is Assistant Director for Biological and Chemical Threats at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

    Dr. Jo Handelsman is Associate Director for Science at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

    Dr. Pat Falcone is Associate Director for National Security and International Affairs at the White House Office of Science

  • Paying for Success to Transform Learning

    Currently, a large gap remains between the relatively modest impact that technology has had on education, particularly in K-12, and the transformative impact that technology has had on many aspects of our economic and social life. Advances in our understanding of how people learn and the explosion in information technologies such as low-cost smartphones and tablets, cloud computing, broadband networks, predictive analytics, and related technologies are poised to transform learning and make it more interactive, personalized, and effective for American students.

    To achieve this potential, President Obama announced ConnectED, a new initiative to connect 99 percent of America's students to the Internet through high-speed broadband and wireless within 5 years that has already reported major progress. As we make the critical investments to upgrade the physical infrastructure and connectivity that students and teachers will have in their classrooms, we must also invest in building the next-generation of learning software that will utilize this connectivity and devices.

    Building a strong ecosystem of “supply” and “demand” for effective learning software will be critical. This will happen both through greater investment in “push” mechanisms, like grants, R&D funding, or government laboratories, pay for research inputs, proposals like the President’s proposal for an ARPA-ED, and through “pull” mechanisms, like prizes, commitments to purchase products, and other “pay for success” mechanisms, reward outputs and the development of specific technologies.

  • Identifying Breakthrough Life Science Research Technologies

    Every so often, a new tool, technique, or instrument completely revolutionizes how we do research. These tools and techniques are quickly ingrained into the research enterprise, catalyzing breakthrough discoveries and making it difficult to imagine life without them. These tools, techniques, and instruments, often called “platform technologies,” have enabled discoveries that even their inventors did not anticipate, created entire new fields of research, and resulted in Nobel Prize-winning breakthroughs.

    The Obama Administration has championed the use of open innovation approaches like prize competitions to spur innovation and engage citizen solvers on a broad range of issues. Recently, six foundations ran a prize competition to identify the most compelling ideas for revolutionary life science platform technologies.

    We had the chance to speak with representatives from these foundations about the life science platform technologies competition. Here’s what they had to say:

  • Domestic Economic Growth Fueled by the Energy, Materials, Manufacturing Nexus

    Manufacturing, energy and advanced materials are a tightly bound set of issues that stand to advance our economy through job growth, entrepreneurship and technology innovation. A year and a half ago, in support of the Administration’s Advanced Manufacturing Partnership, the Department of Energy’s Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative (CEMI) was created to bring together a wide array of relevant Department of Energy offices, federal agencies, research institutions, and private sector partners to map out and implement a strategy to ensure that U.S. manufacturers are competitive in the global marketplace.

    On Wednesday, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and Assistant Secretary David Danielson kicked off the 2014 American Energy and Manufacturing Competitiveness Summit - an annual capstone event to identify key opportunities that the public and private sectors can address to enhance U.S. clean energy manufacturing competitiveness celebrate the progress of CEMI and to provide forward looking objectives for the Department. In this morning’s remarks there was a clear theme that achieving our desired objectives will require a closer examination of how energy, advanced materials and manufacturing all work together and that CEMI is positioned to play a lead role.

  • PCAST Releases New Report on Combating Antibiotic Resistance

    Today, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) released a report to the President, Combating Antibiotic Resistance. The report was released simultaneously with a National Strategy on Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria as well as with a Presidential Executive Order, emphasizing to the Nation the importance of addressing this growing challenge.

    The evolution of antibiotic resistance in bacteria is occurring at an alarming rate and is outpacing the development of new countermeasures. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the annual domestic impact of antibiotic-resistant infections to the U.S. economy has been estimated at $20 billion in excess direct health care costs, with additional costs to society for lost productivity as high as $35 billion per year and 8 million additional days in hospitals. The safety of many modern medical procedures – including cancer chemotherapy, complex surgery, dialysis for renal disease, and organ transplantation – relies on effective antibiotics. These interventions become significantly more dangerous as bacterial resistance rises. Indeed, the World Health Organization recently warned that we risk entering a “post-antibiotic” era unless we act now.

    Bacteria and other microbes evolve in response to their environment and inevitably develop mechanisms to resist antibiotics. In his 1945 Nobel Prize address, Alexander Fleming (recipient of the Nobel Prize for his discovery of penicillin) warned that the inappropriate use of antibiotics would cause human infections to become resistant to these drugs. As bacteria evolve resistance to widely used antibiotics, it is crucial to stay one step ahead of the problem. PCAST recommends measures to strengthen antibiotic stewardship, boost surveillance, and facilitate the development of new drugs, diagnostics, and vaccines to combat this growing crisis.

  • We the Geeks: Miss America

    All across the United States, there is living evidence that scientists and engineers are not the nerdy, all-male, lab-coat-wearing, wallflowers pictured in the history books but include the full diversity of the nation. Bringing these images out of the shadows will inspire further diversity in STEM fields, as young people see inspiration in their teachers, communities, and mentors. 

    Some of the talented young women who competed for this year’s Miss America title have dreams not only of a crown but of solving the toughest health, technology, and environmental challenges facing the world. Competing for a coveted few STEM scholarships from the Miss America organization, the finalists have stories like many young women around this country inspired to pursue STEM. Sporting some serious STEM credentials, we will have a conversation about inspiration, goals, and overcoming challenges with these young women who are on career pathways to be scientists, engineers, doctors, and entrepreneurs.