Latest research news

January 29, 2003

Gates's $200m gift to fight killer diseases
The world's richest man, Bill Gates, has set the medical community a $200 million (£122 million) challenge to narrow the health gap between the West and the developing world. Inspired by a 19th-century German mathematician who challenged his colleagues to solve the profession's 23 thorniest problems, Mr Gates is calling on medical researchers to devote more effort to the diseases that kill millions of poor people each year. Only 10 per cent of the $70 billion spent on developing new drugs each year is devoted to the diseases, which cause 90 per cent of the world's health burden.

Birth defects drug poised for comeback
Thalidomide, the morning sickness drug, is poised to make a comeback as a cancer treatment 40 years after it caused thousands of deaths and birth defects. Researchers believe the drug, which was originally developed as a sedative before tragically being used to combat morning sickness, could be a potent treatment for a particularly aggressive form of lung cancer.
(Financial Times)

Starvation could relieve multiple sclerosis
Starvation could relieve the symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) and other autoimmune diseases, a new study suggests. Mice with a condition akin to MS that were deprived of food for 48 hours still developed the disease but had fewer brain lesions and performed better on tests of walking, balance, weakness and paralysis.

Prehistoric pinta
The image of our cavemen ancestors as wild hunters who enjoyed no better meal than flesh torn from their latest kill has been dented by new archaeological research. Chemical analysis of 6000-year-old pottery shards shows ancient Britons also had a taste for cow's milk and goat's cheese.
(BBC, New Scientist)

Odds against Earth-like planets
Earth-like worlds circling stars in orbital zones suitable for life may be few and far between in the cosmos, according to new research. In the first comprehensive study of extrasolar planetary systems, astronomers have shown that in most of them it would not be possible to keep an Earth-like world in orbit around a star so that it was neither too hot nor too cold for life.

Waiting in the wings
The discovery of a remarkable four-winged creature – a feathered dinosaur – in the rich fossil beds of Liaoning Province in northeastern China is said to have ended the 140-year-old debate about the origin of birds. Not only does the gliding animal show that dinosaurs were the ancestors of birds, it supports the idea that powered flight was a "tree-down" invention rather than a phenomenon that emerged from a series of "ground-up" evolutionary adaptations.
(The Independent)

Kasparov conquers chess computer
Gary Kasparov flummoxed his computer opponent in the opening game of the latest chess match between man and machine. The revenge will be sweet for the former world chess champion whose reign was blemished by losing to IBM's Deep Blue supercomputer in May 1997.
(New Scientist)

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