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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.

brexit: now what for science?

The UK voted to leave the EU in the referendum on 23 June, a decision that will have many consequences and mean many changes across all industries and professions. Science had voted overwhelmingly to stay within the EU, citing the benefits it provides to UK research including on funding and collaboration.

Three senior figures from the scientific community will be at the Science Media Centre to discuss what the Brexit might mean for UK science- what the reaction has been from researchers and institutions, what the challenges facing science will be, and what can be done to ensure the continued strength of UK research. read more

Professor Rod Smith on HS2

Professor Rod Smith FREng is Research Professor of Railway Engineering at Imperial College London and Chair of the Future Railway Research Centre. He was Chief Scientific Advisor to the Department for Transport from 2013 to 2015, and in 2011 he was President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. Prof. Smith is a strong supporter of HS2. But on 30 June he will make a major presentation at the High Speed Rail in the UK Conference in Birmingham where he will describe his serious concerns about the way it’s been designed, arguing that it is a recipe for high costs, low capacity and slow speeds. read more

the perception of statins and the impact of intense debate on statin use

In 2014 the UK went through what one commentator described as ‘statin wars’ after NICE recommended that this now cheap off patent drug be offered to people with a lower risk of heart disease. The frenzied debate that ensued was marked by claim and counter claim about ‘ over-medicalisation’ and the dangerous side effects of the drugs. So what impact did this public row have on patient attitudes to statins and to the take up of the drug? Two new studies which asked this question in different ways are published together. read more

Food safety & authenticity: Laboratory of the Government Chemist conference

The annual conference of the Laboratory of the Government Chemist (LGC), an independent company that carries out food testing and analysis, will take place on 21-22 June 2016. This meeting brings together scientists, regulators, enforcement agencies, industry, and policy makers to discuss food fraud, authenticity and safety. Ahead of the conference, a panel of experts came to the SMC to discuss these issues and update journalists on the progress made in food safety and authenticity in the years since the horse meat scandal. read more

latest research on the safety and efficacy of mitochondrial donation therapy

A team from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Mitochondrial Donation presented results from their research into the safety of efficacy of the IVF-based technique known as mitochondrial donation. Mitochondrial donation involves transplanting the nuclear DNA of a recently formed embryo into an embryo which contains the mitochondrial DNA of a donor woman. The technique was designed to reduce the risk of mothers passing on mitochondrial disease, which is devastating and often life-limiting, to their children. A vote in the House of Commons in February 2015 made the technique legal in the UK but the first license has not yet been issued to a clinic. read more

type 2 diabetes becomes an operable disease

A Joint Statement by leading diabetes organizations including the American Diabetes Association (ADA), Diabetes UK, International Diabetes Federation (IDF), Chinese Diabetes Society and Diabetes India and endorsed by 45 worldwide scientific societies, formally recognize surgery as a standard treatment option for type 2 diabetes. This development may be one of the biggest and most significant changes in diabetes care since the introduction of insulin in 1920s. Obesity guidelines have recommended for years bariatric surgery for people with severe obesity including many with associated diabetes. It is the first time, however, that diabetes guidelines recommend surgery as a treatment option for the management of the disease itself. read more

the regulation of medicines and devices and the EU referendum

The debate about the pros and cons of remaining – or leaving – the EU continues unabated. One important area that has not been publicly explored – or explained – are the benefits of membership of the EU when it comes to the regulation of drugs and devices. read more

Psilocybin – an option for treatment-resistant depression?

Psilocybin, the active component of magic mushrooms, is being seriously considered as a therapy for people with treatment-resistant depression. One in five people suffer from depression at some point in their lives – a significant proportion of whom cannot be helped with any current psychotherapy or drugs. In 2012 researchers published a paper which used fMRI scans to show the effects of psilocybin on the brain. A related paper, published at the same time, suggested that psilocybin could be a useful tool in psychotherapy. The researchers have now gone on to test the safety of psilocybin in a small group of patients with treatment-resistant depression. They are publishing their new findings, funded by the Medical Research Council, in The Lancet Psychiatry. read more

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

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