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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.

Nottingham Dollies

Just three weeks after the scientific world marked the 20th anniversary of the birth of Dolly the sheep, new research, carried out by The University of Nottingham and published in Nature Communications, has shown that four clones derived from the same cell line as Dolly reached their 8th birthdays in good health. Nottingham’s Dollies – Debbie, Denise, Dianna and Daisy – have just celebrated their 9th birthdays. They are part of a unique flock of cloned sheep under the care of Professor Kevin Sinclair, an expert in developmental biology, in the School of Biosciences. read more

Zika virus and the Rio Olympics

The 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, Brazil, will begin in early August. The Zika virus outbreak is ongoing in some parts of Brazil (among other countries in the Americas and the Pacific). read more

the future of cancer research – how can we outsmart cancer?

Cancer is the UK’s biggest killer, claiming around 160,000 lives every year. Survival rates have improved enormously in some types of cancer, but patients with other tumour types continue to do very poorly, and once the disease has spread round the body it is still often incurable. Researchers from The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and The Royal Marsden have been working over the last year to identify the biggest challenges we face in treating cancer, and come up with an action plan to overcome them. The ICR will be launching their action plan. read more

pause in Antarctic Peninsula warming

The rapid warming of the Antarctic Peninsula, which occurred from the early-1950s to the late 1990s, has paused. The stabilisation of the ozone hole, changing wind patterns and natural variability were significant in bringing about this change. Together these factors have caused the peninsula, which makes up 1% of the Antarctic, to enter a temporary cooling phase. Temperatures remain higher than measured during the middle of the 20th Century, so glacial retreat is still taking place. Scientists predict that if greenhouse gas concentrations continue to rise at the current rate, temperatures will increase across the Antarctic Peninsula by several degrees Centigrade by the end of this century. read more

annual Home Office statistics on animal research

On Wednesday 20th July the Home Office published its 2015 statistics on animals used in scientific procedures as well as the Animals in Science Regulation Unit (ASRU) annual report. Journalists came along to hear the latest figures from two Home Office officials, along with responses from three leading experts who have a broad overview of animal research and gave their thoughts on the reasons behind any rise or fall in the statistics or issues raised in the report. read more

the NHS weekend effect: what does the evidence say?

The observed ‘weekend effect’ in the NHS, where patients admitted to hospital over the weekend have worse outcomes than patients admitted during the week, has underpinned many rows and debates about how hospital services should be funded and structured. The move towards a ‘seven day NHS’ with equal levels of senior staffing across all days has become a hot political topic, but are the claims about the weekend effect accurate and evidence-based? It is a challenging area to research, but the emerging picture is that the weekend effect is much more complex than it appears. One key group conducting research in this field is the HiSLAC project, which is investigating the impact of specialist-led care on emergency admissions. read more

the science of fertility preservation

A woman from Edinburgh is the first in the UK to give birth following a transplant of her ovary tissue that had been frozen for 10 years. Experts from the University of Edinburgh came to outline the science of fertility preservation for female and male patients with cancer and other diseases where treatment threatens fertility, and gave details of this service that has been developed to help NHS patients to benefit from recent advances. read more

microplastics: what are they and why are they a problem?

There is growing concern about the environmental impact of microplastics in the ocean and waterways. They are widespread and persistent in the environment, and there is some emerging evidence that they may also pose a biological threat to a variety of organisms as well. Some concerns have even been raised that microplastics could potentially pose a threat to human health via the contamination of food. However, the exact impact of microplastics in this way is still unclear. Lots of attention has focused on plastic microbeads, used in cosmetic products, and many are calling for them to be banned in the UK, as they have been in the US. But what does the evidence show, are there other microplastics that are of even greater concern and what can we do about them? read more

pre-ESHRE (European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology) Conference briefing

The annual meeting for the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) takes place in Helsinki from 3-6 July. This briefing offered an opportunity for journalists to hear from four leading fertility experts familiar with the abstracts and who could answer questions on the studies, as well as offer comments on the significance or otherwise of the research, the strengths and limitations, and wider context and implications. read more

expert encounter with Prof Sir Ian Wilmut, creator of Dolly the sheep

Tuesday 5 July 2016 marks the 20th anniversary of the birth of Dolly the sheep at the Roslin Institute, University of Edinburgh. Dolly was the first mammal cloned from an adult somatic cell and became the world’s most famous sheep. On the day before the anniversary, one of Dolly’s creators (often referred to as the father of Dolly), Prof. Sir Ian Wilmut, came to answer journalists’ questions about Dolly, her creation, his work and the legacy of that work. read more

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

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