Month: October 2012

Imperial in the news: cancer conference

To mark the centenary of the birth of Sir Richard Doll, who first published evidence of cigarette smoke causing cancer in the 1950s, one hundred of the world’s leading scientists gathered at the World Oncology Forum in Lugano, Switzerland, to make international commitments to tackling smoking.

The Independent reported on the possibility that smoking will single-handedly be responsible for the deaths of up to one billion people in this century if current trends aren’t addressed. The Guardian looked at the shortcomings in developments of anti-cancer drugs and cancer-preventing measures, and the huge variations in treatment and survival rates in different countries.

Imperial in the news: visible virus test

A new test designed at Imperial could pave the way for improvements in early-diagnosis of diseases such as cancer or viruses including HIV, which could in turn save lives.

The BBC reported that the test that can detect infection or disease molecules at ultra-low concentrations. The research was published in Nature Nanotechnology by Professor Molly Stevens [Materials]. Like litmus paper, the colour of the test liquid changes to signal whether the disease is present. At only a fraction of the cost of the tests currently used, this new technique could dramatically improve early diagnosis of diseases, such as HIV, in countries where resources for healthcare are stretched and conventional methods are unaffordable.

Imperial in the news: astronomy>archaeology?

Imperial’s Dr Jonathan Pritchard [Physics] teamed up this week with Harvard’s Professor Abraham Loeb to suggest that astronomy’s power to accurately explain the past is perhaps stronger than the ability of archaeologists using fossils to picture a former landscape.

The crux of their argument, which appeared in New Scientist, based itself around the way that astronomers can actually map the past in the present. So much of the past, in fact, that ‘only’ the first 500 million years of the Universe’s 13.7 billion years of estimated existence are lost, as the light from across the cosmos is detected by the most powerful telescopes on the planet.

Imperial in the news: pension predicaments

People currently in employment will pay more into their pensions for less return to cover the previous generation’s own pension agreements, the Guardian reported today.

In the late 1970s, pensioners received around a third as much as workers each year. By 2010-2011, the average retired household had a disposable income of £17,700, compared to £35,000 for a working household – more than half.

Imperial’s Professor James Sefton [Business School], a former advisor to the Treasury, said that younger people are effectively subsidising the older generation. “I think they should be angry. I think the deal they are getting is poor,” he said.

Imperial in the news: dementia drugs

Researchers from the College have published new findings on possible treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, and the Daily Express reports that Dr Magdalena Sastre [Medicine] is “excited about…the potential they may hold for the future.”

In mice bred to show symptoms of Alzheimer’s, the blood pressure drug prazosin was found to prevent memory loss. High blood pressure has been linked to the onset of dementia, and previous studies have also indicated that drugs to reduce hypertension have also prevented or slowed the development of dementia.

Imperial in the news: rising childhood throat infections

Figures released at the end of last week indicate that the number of children admitted to hospital with throat infections over the past decade has been steadily increasing, and is now over 75 per cent higher than it was in 1999.

In an article on the BBC website Dr Elizabeth Koshy, lead study author from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London, said: “Our findings relating to short hospital stays suggest that many of the children admitted with acute throat infections could have been effectively managed in the community.

“Our study highlights the need to urgently address the issue of healthcare access, with improved models of integrated care within primary and secondary care, to avoid potentially unnecessary hospital admissions for relatively minor infections in the future.”

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  • Imperial in the news: particle economics

    Using technology designed in the labs and research conducted at Imperial College London and the University of Manchester, Nanoco Ltd. is one of just three companies in the world able to produce quantum dots – an extremely rare material that sells for $2m per kilogramme. The company also has a number of Imperial alumni in its major design and development roles.

    CEO of the company, Dr Michael Edelman, hopes to expand the business to increase output from 25kg per year to up to 400kg at a new site in Cheshire. Although quantum dots have little contemporary use, it is predicted that their properties, which include being able to emit light when electrically charged, will be vital in the future development of display screens and solar cells.

    Imperial in the news: feed the world

    Increased awareness of malnourishment and ever-greater media campaigns have had little positive impact on reducing food poverty, as almost one seventh of the planet’s population are starving. A new book, called One Billion Hungry: Can We Feed The World? by Professor Sir Gordon Conway and Katy Wilson [Life Sciences] proposes that the only way to change this is for greater and fairer distribution of the best farming practises, available materials and more high-level support for development.

    Between 100-150 million people would no longer be undernourished, they argue in The Guardian, if female smallholder farmers had the same access as their male counterparts.

    Imperial in the news: building bowel bacteria

    Over the past few years, there have been major breakthroughs in treating dangerous, and sometimes embarrassing, bowel diseases such as Clostridium difficile, which causes severe diarrhoea and in some extreme cases can be fatal. Antibiotics are of little benefit as they often kill off other bacteria, allowing the disease to thrive. One treatment conducted in the UK involves taking parts of the patient’s poo and transplanting it back, creating more competition for resources, which has seen C. difficle has lose out in 90 per cent of cases.

    However, this treatment has been refined, reports the BBC, into selecting the bacteria from faecal matter that can defeat the diseases, and it has been even more successful in lab trials than the current transplant procedure.

    Imperial in the news: DNA beauty

    The Evening Standard reported last night on a new method of selecting beauty treatments: by checking your DNA. The 30-minute makeover is carried out by taking a saliva test of the customer, which identifies the key traits of their DNA that can be enhanced by different cosmetic products.

    The test was designed by Professor Christopher Toumazou [Engineering] after first discovering how to transfer DNA onto a computer microchip. Alongside working with pharmaceutical companies that are looking to develop drugs to tackle diseases such as cancers and Alzheimer’s, the potential application of the product in the beauty industry saw The Organic Pharmacy in King’s Road jump at the opportunity to match his science with beauty treatments for their clients.