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After earmarks ban, many
local projects are on hold

WASHINGTON — Gone for now are the likes of the taxpayer-financed teapot museum, or studies on the mating habits of crabs.

But also shelved are a project to help consolidate information about arrests in Brazos County, Texas, and staffing for two new shelters for abused women and children in Salt Lake City. A rural Wisconsin county will not be able to upgrade its communication system, and a road in Kentucky will not be widened next year.

Across the country, local governments, nonprofit groups and scores of farmers, to name but a few, are waking up to the fact that when Congress stamped out earmarks last week, it was talking about their projects, too.

Tensions are particularly acute in districts where new conservative lawmakers, many of whom criticized the practice of quietly inserting earmarks into spending bills, are coming face to face with local governments and interest groups who were counting on federal dollars to help shore up their own collapsing budgets.

The issue is hardly limited to Republican districts. Democrats, led by President Barack Obama, also agreed to give up the practice. Last week, Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee who has long cherished earmarks, announced they would be banned from this year’s bills.

$1 million prize for inventor of tracker of ALS progress

BOSTON — Tracking the inexorable advance of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the deadly neuromuscular ailment better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease or ALS, has long been an inexact science — a matter of monitoring weakness and fatigue, making crude measurements of the strength of various muscles.

This imprecision has hindered the search for drugs that could slow or block the disease’s progress. But now a neurologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center here has won a $1 million prize — reportedly the largest ever for meeting a specific challenge in medical research — for developing a reliable way to quantify the small muscular changes that signal progressive deterioration.

The winner, Dr. Seward Rutkove, showed his method could halve the cost of clinical trials to screen potential drugs for the disease, said Melanie Leitner, chief scientific officer of Prize4Life, the nonprofit group that created the competition.

The method does not provide a target in the body at which to aim drugs, nor will it help doctors better diagnose the disease. But Dr. Merit Cudkowicz, a professor of neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital and a chairwoman of the Northeast ALS Consortium, compared Rutkove’s discovery to the way magnetic resonance imaging expedited the development of drugs for multiple sclerosis.