select search filters
briefings
roundups & rapid reactions
factsheets
before the headlines
Fiona fox's blog

briefings

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.

modelling human embryo development

Mouse models of embryo development have told us a great deal about the early stages of life, but until now attempts to model these stages using human embryos have been unable to take us beyond the first few days of development, past the stage where the embryo implants itself into the womb. Now, in parallel papers in Nature and Nature Cell Biology, two international teams report the development of a technique that allows scientists to culture human embryos further than ever before, up to day 13 of development, the limit allowed by international law. read more

new study on neonics and impact on bumblebees

There is growing concern over the impact of the neonicotinoids to insect pollinators and how their loss may limit the ecosystem services that are vital to our food production (globally worth US$215 billion) and the stability of our natural environment. In a new study, published in Scientific Reports, researchers directly relate the effects of three neonicotinoids, at the level of individual brain cells to their impact on whole colonies of bumblebees placed at 5 different sites across Scotland. The conclusions from this study demonstrate that these three neonicotinoids must be considered individually for their risk to bees. Most importantly, the research asks whether they are all toxic (when exposed chronically to field-relevant levels) to bumblebees under the conditions of a field experiment. read more

Future of Psychiatry – Professor Jeffrey Lieberman

Professor Lieberman was President of the American Psychiatric Association for DSM-5, the latest edition of the controversial diagnostic manual used in the US that caused a transatlantic row, he was involved in the early development of the antipsychotic drug Clozapine, led world-leading studies into treatments for schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s and worked on the US government’s Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act. read more

House of Lords report: EU membership- Good or bad for UK science?

The EU Referendum continues to dominate the airwaves as Britain prepares itself to vote on the 23 June, and there has been a lot of back and forth about what impact an exit could have on the UK and what a post-EU Britain would look like. Science and innovation is a major thread in this debate. On Wednesday 20 April, the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee published its report on the relationship between EU membership and the effectiveness of UK science. The committee inquired into how a possible British exit from the EU would impact on UK science and the scientific community, including how research funding, collaborations, and regulation might have to change. read more

dementia rates in the UK

As ageing populations increase, fears of a dementia ‘tsunami’ have grown, with some suggesting that dementia will be the main threat to future health and leading the Prime Minister to announce his dementia 2020 challenge. However, recent research has suggested that the number of cases may be more complicated than we initially thought. read more

the world’s largest imaging (scanning) study gets under way

Taking pictures of the inside of the body is well known as a clinical diagnostic tool, but it also holds tremendous promise for health research and a better understanding of a wide range of diseases, like dementia, cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, arthritis and stroke. Scientists in the UK are now embarking on the world’s largest ever imaging research study. Its goal is to use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and other state-of-the-art imaging methods to scan 100,000 people (at least 10 times bigger than any previous imaging study) in the coming years and provide the most detailed examination yet of major organs. These images will allow scientists all over the world to discover new early signs and risk factors of disease, to better understand why some people develop major diseases and others do not, and to develop interventions (such as new drugs, or changes in lifestyle) that could prevent these diseases. read more

can we treat paedophilia?

The parents of April Jones last year threw their weight behind a controversial organisation offering treatment to paedophiles. Rather than only punishment after the event, this school of thought calls for research into potential strategies or even medical treatments that could prevent paedophiles from acting out their desires and reduce offending rates. The approach is obviously highly contentious and there is little or no research done in the UK. But researchers in the Karolinska institute in Sweden are looking at establishing a preventive treatment for men with paedophilic disorder, to intervene before the damage is done, in order to reduce the incidence of child sexual abuse. As part of this programme of research Swedish scientists will launch a crowdfunding campaign to raise the money for a randomised control trial to test a new drug that could reduce sex drive. read more

Prof Myles Allen: Economic growth and CO2 disposal both essential to stabilizing climate

In a new paper to be published in Nature Climate Change, Prof. Myles Allen, from the Oxford Martin Programme on Resource Stewardship, argues that: large-scale capture and disposal of carbon dioxide is essential if we are to realistically stabilise the climate in the future; only a tiny fraction of the billions spent on combatting climate change is directed towards these vital ‘backstop’ technologies; sacrificing economic growth to reduce emissions could impair future generations’ ability to reduce emissions to zero. read more

autism mortality report: personal tragedies, public crisis

Around 700,000 people in the UK have autism, many of whom are affected so severely that they do not speak, or only speak a few words, and the overwhelming majority will never work full-time. Despite being one of the costliest medical conditions and with controversy around its possible causes and treatments, there has been relatively little research into autism. A new report details how people with autism die much earlier than we realised and highlights how severe the illness is. The report, Personal tragedies, public crisis, has been put together by the research charity Autistica. read more

British scientists win the world’s largest prize for neuroscience

Next week three neuroscientists will be awarded the world’s most valuable prize for brain research. The Brain Prize, awarded by the Grete Lundbeck European Brain Research Foundation in Denmark is worth one million Euros. Awarded annually, it recognises one or more scientists who have distinguished themselves by an outstanding contribution to neuroscience with the world’s most valuable prize for neuroscience. This will be the first time that British scientists have won the prize. read more

UK science and the EU Referendum

The Referendum on whether Britain should remain a member of the EU is undoubtedly the biggest political issue and news story of 2016. It is likely to be announced that the Referendum will be held around June of this year, and many interested parties and groups are already fighting to make sure their voices are heard. Where does the scientific community stand on the EU? The UK has a very strong science base, and part of that strength has come through close ties to other EU member states and their scientists and resources. The impact of leaving the UK could have profound effects on science in the UK, especially funding, movement of researchers, collaboration on projects, access to data, and regulation. read more

mefloquine and mental health in the armed forces

Mefloquine (also known by the trade name Lariam) is an anti-malarial drug that has been in use for over thirty years and is on the World Health Organisation’s List of Essential Medicines. It is the primary anti-malarial drug prescribed to members of the armed forces in the UK, but recent controversy about psychiatric side effects have led some to call for it to be replaced with a different anti-malarial treatment. While potential psychiatric side effects from mefloquine use have been documented for many years, the extent to which psychiatric issues in the armed forces may be due to the drugs is complicated and unclear due to the elevated risk of certain psychiatric conditions within this group. The Ministry of Defence has opened into an inquiry into the use of mefloquine in the armed forces, and is currently hearing evidence from various experts and individuals. read more

the future of gas in the UK

Gas is sometimes seen as a bridging fuel between dirty coal and a low carbon future. But is that really true for the UK, and what future does it have in our energy mix? How much gas can we permit ourselves to use and still meet emission targets? And how damaging was the Chancellor’s withdrawal of support for carbon capture and storage? read more

historic air pollution exposure and long-term health and mortality risks

Exposure to air pollution has been associated with numerous health conditions including respiratory diseases, cardiovascular disease, and death. However, investigating the precise impact of air pollution exposure on health outcomes is challenging, particularly when taking historic pollution levels into account. Nonetheless the subject of air pollution, especially in the UK’s major cities, is still a cause of great concern for doctors, policy makers, and the wider population. read more

concussion: a blockbuster issue?

Next week the UK will see the launch of Concussion, a Hollywood blockbuster starring Will Smith and Alec Baldwin, which tells the true story of how the sports-related brain trauma CTE was first discovered in former NFL players. This weekend, the Six Nations will kick off almost a year to the day after George North, the Welsh winger, was twice knocked unconscious in his side’s opening match against England but was controversially allowed to continue playing. Unlike America, the UK is only now waking up to the potential long-term consequences of concussion in contact sports. read more

have national smoking bans worked in reducing harms in passive smoking?

Passive smoking has long been known to pose a health risk to non-smokers, and efforts to reduce levels of second-hand smoke have seen bans on indoor smoking in public and work places introduced in a number of countries, states, and regions. A previous Cochrane Review in 2010 examined whether these smoking bans had actually reduced the levels of smoke in public places, and now an updated review has looked at evidence into the effects of the bans on passive smoking. The most robust evidence yet, published in the Cochrane Library, suggests that national smoking legislation does reduce the harms of passive smoking and that populations benefit from reduced exposure to passive smoke. read more

Zika virus – what do we know?

The Zika virus outbreak in Brazil continues, and three UK travellers have been diagnosed with the virus, having travelled to Colombia, Suriname and Guyana. Zika is a mosquito-transmitted virus – the specific vector is the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is found in tropical and subtropical regions. Although most people that contract Zika have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, there is the suggestion that the increase in Zika case numbers in Brazil is associated with an increase in cases of babies born there with microcephaly (small head and underdeveloped brain). In the US the CDC has advised pregnant women to avoid travelling to infected countries. It is an emerging situation in Brazil and there is still a lot we don’t know about Zika. There is currently no vaccine and no treatment. read more

Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust, gives his views on a comprehensive new report into our resilience to pandemics in the wake of Ebola

Thursday 14 January could see the WHO declare Liberia free from Ebola virus transmission – marking the first time all of the three worst-affected West African countries are free from infection since the outbreak began. As the world continues to learn difficult lessons from the crisis and the failures that occurred during the response, a landmark report spells out what must be done to increase our resilience to such outbreaks in future. The report of the Commission on Creating a Global Health Risk Framework for the Future highlights infectious diseases as one of the biggest risks facing humankind and estimates the annual expected cost from potential pandemics at more than £40bn. It says £3bn a year must be spent to make the world safer against potential pandemics, and recommends several key reforms to the WHO and other health systems to help deliver this capability. The Director of the Wellcome Trust, Jeremy Farrar, an infectious diseases expert who was on the International Oversight Group for the Commission, came to the SMC to give his take on the report and its recommendations. read more

first UK scientist to apply for license to use genome editing techniques on human embryos meets the media

It was reported last year that a scientist at the Francis Crick Institute had become the first UK-based researcher to apply for a license to use new genome editing techniques on human embryos. Kathy Niakan’s research seeks to understand aspects of the basic biology of early human embryo development and the role of specific genes, which has significant clinical implications for infertility, miscarriages, developmental disorders and therapeutic application of stem cells. As Kathy explained to the Guardian and Independent last October she applied to the HFEA to extend her existing license when she realised that exciting new genome editing techniques including Crispr/Cas 9 could help in her work. In advance of any decisions on the success of her application the SMC invited Kathy to talk to journalists about her research, explain how genome editing in human embryos could advance that research, and answer questions about the future direction of her work. She was accompanied by her close colleague Robin Lovell-Badge who has taken a lead in the UK and global debates on human genome editing, and was on the organising committees of both the recent Hinxton and Washington global meetings on the science and ethics of this exciting new frontier in science. read more

the science behind the floods

As flood waters start to subside those affected, politicians and the media start to ask how we can prevent such flooding events in future, could more have been done and what are the longer term solutions. Four of the UK’s leading flooding experts from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology came to the SMC to speak to journalists. read more

Show More
Show 100 More

{this may take a while}

in this section

filter Briefings by year

search by tag