Top Science News

Meat: Animal versus Lab

Some of you might have heard of the possibility to create meat in the lab. Stem cells, which are cells that can potentially change into any type of cell found in the body, can be harvested from live animals and cultured in the lab. These cell cultures can then be coaxed by various cocktails of hormones and growth factors to grow into fibres, which can then be accumulated into a bulk. Et voila, a chicken nugget. While the technology is still far from main stream, it has obvious exciting implications, including for people concerned with animal welfare or climate change. But a new study on the impact of animal vs lab meat production has now cast some doubt onto the anticipated advantages of lab meat for the climate. The thing is, cows and other live stock are problematic, in part, because they produce methane. While methane does contribute to the greenhouse effect, it only stays in the atmosphere for about 12 years. Carbon dioxide on the other hand can accumulate in the atmosphere for thousands of years, contributing to climate change over a much longer period of time. Considering that most laboratories’ energy needs aren’t covered entirely by renewable energy, the study said, could tip the scales in favour of meat produced by animals. At least regarding the climate impact. The authors note that meat production in the lab is not only a matter of climate change, but other ethical and economical concerns and that it is difficult to discern whether improved methods or reduced carbon emission of laboratories in the future could tip the scales again. So, until lab meat appears in our supermarkets, you might use the time to ponder whether you’re happy to try it once it becomes available.

Detecting sepsis

holmesSepsis, a complication of infection, can occur in people of any age, at any time and can have serious consequences, including death. The patient with suspected sepsis needs to be treated with broadband antibiotics, and fast. Every hour of delayed treatment makes death and other serious complications, such as amputations, more likely. But diagnosing sepsis is not easy. There are certain symptoms that you can look out for however: Slurred speech or confusion, extreme shivering or muscle pain, passing no urine all day, severe breathlessness, it feels like you’re going to die and skin mottled or discoloured. To combat this problem researchers at the University of Strathclyde have started to develop a test that could detect sepsis as rapidly as in 2 and a half minutes. The test could potentially be used in hospital or GP settings and detect biomarkers for sepsis, including interleukin 6 (IL-6). More and more biomarkers are being discovered and could greatly improve outcomes for patients in the future if the test goes into clinical trials. The test could aid the choice of antibiotic as well, making the therapy more targeted to the actual infection. While still in its early stages of development, the test could potentially save lives and has been welcomed by sufferers and charities alike.

Bright eyed into the future

eye-scanAMD, or age-related macular degeneration is a problem that affects about 600,000 people in the UK and leads to vision loss. The vision loss is caused by the death of cells that form something called the macular at the back of the eye. Patients experience central vision loss, as well as the ability to see details and AMD is currently the most common cause of blindness in the UK. A new trial, supported by the Welcome Trust, is now injecting gene therapy at the back of the eye in 10 patients with macular degeneration. While the ultimate goal of the therapy is to stop or even avoid any loss of vision in AMD, the current trial is only testing the safety of the procedure. All participants have already lost some of their vision, but if successful, gene therapy could potentially provide a cure for AMD. There have been other trials, including the successful implantation of stem cells at the back of the eye of two patients at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, restoring their vision. The novelty of the gene therapy approach is that “healthy” DNA is inserted into the macula to fix the underlying cause of AMD. If successful, AMD might be halted in patients before they lose a significant amount of their vision.

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