Latest research news

December 20, 2006

Alcohol may offer protection against arthritis
In addition to boosting heart health, moderate alcohol consumption might also protect against some types of arthritis, a preliminary mouse study suggests. Mice that drank diluted ethanol were about 40 per cent less likely to develop the autoimmune disease rheumatoid arthritis than those given water instead. Researchers say that more studies are needed to understand exactly why alcohol has this effect and whether it also protects against arthritis in humans. Andrej Tarkowski at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, and colleagues injected male mice with a type of collagen to induce rheumatoid arthritis – a disease in which the immune system starts attacking the body’s joints. Some of the animals were then given water to drink in the following weeks, while other received 10 per cent ethanol in their drinking water.
New Scientist

City spin-out's robot a shot in the arm for stem cell research
A spin-out company from Edinburgh University is to provide pharmaceutical companies with stem cell lines using a fully-automated robot at its new UK centre. The cutting-edge production facility launched by Edinburgh-headquartered Stem Cell Sciences, will speed up the production of cells and allow them to be created in volume to supply the demand from the drugs industry - reducing the need for animal testing and increasing efficiency in pharmaceutical companies. SCS, which was formed in the Scottish capital in 1994 to commercialise the work of Dr Peter Mountford and Professor Austin Smith, said the new facility at the Babraham Research Campus in Cambridge would provide them with a "significant" new revenue stream, which would come into effect next year.
The Scotsman

Malaria vaccine strategies get boost
Christmas came early last week to researchers who aim to conquer malaria - the mosquito-borne disease that kills over a million people every year. In a first-ever summit on the disease at the White House, US President Bush announced an expansion of his Malaria Initiative, which has dedicated an extra $1.2 billion (£611 million) to cut malaria-related deaths by 50 per cent in targeted African countries within five years. The number of targeted countries has now expanded to fifteen from last year's seven. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has also announced an additional $83.5 million contribution in grants towards science aimed at conquering the disease. Including these grants, the Gates Foundation has to date committed more than $750 million to fighting malaria.
Nature

First nano-welds herald new era of electronics
The world’s smallest construction site is taking shape in a laboratory in Switzerland, thanks to the development of new welding techniques that work at scales of a billionth of a metre. The
researchers behind the techniques say they can be used to assemble electronic components at smaller scales than have ever been possible. One technique, called "nanorobotic" spot welding, uses molten copper to join up objects in the same way that a human electrician might use solder. It was developed by Brad Nelson, Lixin Dong and Li Zhang at the Institute of Robotics and Intelligent Systems, Zurich, Switzerland and colleagues Xinyong Tao and XIabin Zhang at Zhejiang University, China.
New Scientist

'Tis nobler in the mind to read Shakespeare
Reading Shakespeare excites the brain in a way that keeps it “fit”, researchers say. A team from the University of Liverpool is investigating whether wrestling with the innovative use of language could help to prevent dementia. Monitoring participants with brain-imaging equipment, they found that certain lines from Shakespeare and other great writers such as Chaucer and Wordsworth caused the brain to spark with electrical activity because of the unusual words or sentence structure. Referring to “functional shift” - such as when a noun is used as a verb - Philip Davis, of the university’s School of English, said that the brain reacts “in a similar way to putting a jigsaw puzzle together.”
The Times

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