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The Science Media Centre is not restricted to reacting to the headlines, and has helped scientists to more proactively set the agenda by bringing new science or evidence to journalists. This comes from our regular briefings, which take a variety of forms and cover a wide range of topics. Many are background briefings introducing journalists to the best experts and science on controversial issues like nuclear waste, nanotechnology, emerging diseases, or animal research, for example. They may also be news briefings where the SMC works with scientists to give the national media a new story on developments within science, whether it’s a report on climate change, a paper on stem cells being published in a leading journal, or science funding cuts in the latest budget. In addition, the SMC encourages leading experts to ‘speak out’ to the media about developments they believe may pose a threat to scientific research – not something science has been renowned for.

new crop breeding technologies: genome engineering and beyond

Recent advances in genome engineering make it possible to precisely alter DNA sequences in living cells, providing unprecedented control over a plant’s genetic material. This briefing enabled journalists to find out about molecular genetic techniques for genome editingand tools for epigenetic modification. read more

biomarkers for Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s drug trials have not been promising and one suggested reason for this is that we are spotting and treating the disease too late. A group of UK researchers, publishing in Alzheimer’s & Dementia, have been looking to see how accurate indicator proteins in people’s blood may be for predicting who is likely to develop the condition. read more

bovine TB – a model of spread and control

Bovine tuberculosis costs the UK about £100 million per year, and despite efforts to control it, it remains a major agricultural problem. A new paper published in Nature uses models to separate out the different factors contributing to the bovine TB problem, to establish the routes of transmission of different outbreaks, and to predict which of the factors would be best to address in attempt to more effectively control the spread and incidence of this disease. read more

the science of statins

The row over the BMJ claims about side effects of statins and the angry response from some to NICE’s proposal to extend the drugs to people with a lower risk has led one columnist to refer to ‘The Statin Wars’. In the middle of this dispute lie the public and patients, confused about where the evidence actually lies. read more

pre – ESHRE preview press briefing

Leading fertility experts came to the SMC for a preview of the main studies being presented at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) annual meeting, taking place in Munich, Germany from 29th June to 2nd July. read more

sugar and health – what does the evidence say?

Sugar has recently been branded as ‘toxic’, ‘addictive’ and ‘the new tobacco’. Campaigners have suggested that sugary drinks should come with obesity warnings and that a tax on sugar might be beneficial to consumers. But what does the evidence say? read more

expert encounter: Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of the GAVI Alliance

Dr Seth Berkley, epidemiologist and CEO of the GAVI Alliance (formerly the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation) made a brief visit to the UK to share his insights into how vaccines are changing the worldwide public health landscape. One of the most important figures in vaccine technology and delivery came to the SMC to talk to journalists. read more

results of the HFEA’s third scientific review into the safety and efficacy of mitochondria replacement

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) was asked by government to reconvene its core panel of experts to review the latest evidence on the safety and efficacy of the two mitochondrial donation techniques: pro-nuclear transfer (PNT) and maternal spindle transfer (MST). The authors of the report came to the SMC to talk about the safety and efficacy of mitochondrial replacement. read more

do e-cigarettes help smokers to quit?

We often hear anecdotes about e-cigarettes helping people to quit smoking – but what does the science say? A new study to be published in the journal Addiction provides the first evidence of e-cigarettes’ impact on quitting, based on a survey of 5,863 smokers in England between 2009 and 2014 as part of the Smoking Toolkit Study. read more

does internet use change teenage brains?

Stories about the internet destroying teenage brains are not uncommon – but what does the evidence say? Does internet use actually cause lasting changes to the brain? A new study published in the journal Trends in Cognitive Neuroscience answers these questions in a comprehensive review of current scientific evidence. read more

launch of Study of Cognition, Adolescents and Mobile Phones (SCAMP)

Scientists remain uncertain as to whether children’s developing brains are more vulnerable than those of adults to radio wave exposures from mobile phones. SCAMP will be the largest study in the world to date to address those uncertainties, specifically with regards to cognitive development. read more

concordat on openness on animal research

In October 2012 over 40 bioscience organisations declared that they would commit to a Concordat on Openness about animal research. Since that date they have been seeking the opinions of the public, the scientific community and journalists as to what steps need to be taken and what others feel openness means. read more

air pollution and health

Thanks to the additional component of Saharan dust we were all recently very aware of the pollution in the air that surrounds us. But how much is usually there, what is it made of and how does it affect our health? read more

nitrogen pollution, climate and land use: why what we eat matters

A new report on nitrogen and food, to be published in May by the ‘Task Force on Reactive Nitrogen’ of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, calculates what would happen if Europe were to decrease its consumption of meat and dairy products. Some of the report’s authors came to the SMC to describe their findings. read more

wind energy: what are the limits?

The Royal Academy of Engineering’s new report, Wind energy: implications of large-scale deployment on the UK energy system, assesses the potential for wind energy to help meet the government‘s own target of 15% of the UK’s energy from renewable sources by 2020 and 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. read more

new study on effectiveness of Tamiflu and Relenza

Authors of the latest updated ‘Cochrane Review: Neuraminidase inhibitors for preventing and treating influenza in healthy adults and children’ came came to the SMC to outline their findings about the effectiveness of Tamilflu and Relenza. read more

paying heroin addicts to be vaccinated

Around ¼ million people in the UK are injecting drug users and it is estimated that 50 – 60,000 of them are infected with hepatitis B (HBV), which can cause liver cancer or cirrhosis in chronic carriers of the virus. Researchers, publishing in The Lancet, have been assessing the benefit of paying heroin addicts to be vaccinated for HBV. read more

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