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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.

Ebola – what next?

The current Ebola outbreak in West Africa is unprecedented in its size and spread. We’ve heard how the WHO plan to tackle it, about the potential of various treatments and vaccines, but that it is unlikely to be brought under control before the end of 2014. But where are we now, is enough being done, and what is expected to happen next? read more

expert encounter: Prof Sir Michael Marmot and Dr Angela Donkin, Institute of Health Equity

The gap in life expectancy between affluent and deprived areas in England has been growing year on year. In February 2010, Professor Sir Michael Marmot launched his government review on inequalities in health for England. ‘Fair Society, Health Life’ or The Marmot Review demonstrated that in order to reduce health inequalities, action is required on the social determinants such as education, housing, employment.

A year later, Sir Michael published a set of indicators that have been used to monitor health inequalities. Those indicators, which show national averages and regional/local variations, were updated the following year. This year’s indicator set, for the first time, is able to evaluate the effect of policies implemented by the coalition government on the social drivers of health inequalities (the social determinants of health). read more

Icelandic volcanoes

The ongoing eruption of the Icelandic volcano Bárðarbunga continues to raise concerns from the public. read more

proton beam therapy

The SMC hosted a briefing with five experts about Proton Beam Therapy: what it is, how it works, who it’s appropriate for and under what circumstances. Proton beam therapy has been brought to the attention of the public and the media through the case of Ashya King, a child with medulloblastoma, and two UK centres aim to treat patients with proton beam therapy by 2018. Panellists were not able to answer questions specifically about Ashya King’s care programme, but spoke more generally about the effectiveness of PBT. read more

e-cigarettes: a critique of the WHO reports

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently published two reports calling for further regulation and the banning of e-cigarette use indoors. Experts critiqued the evidence behind the claims in a report published in the journal Addiction. read more

radiation dose from CT scans

The Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (COMARE) published its report investigating the impact of the increased use of CT scans in the UK. read more

Genomics England: 100,000 genomes project

A background briefing on the 100,000 genomes project being held to coincide with a number of big investment announcements being made by government and other funders on the same day. read more

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

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