select search filters
briefings
roundups & rapid reactions
factsheets & briefing notes
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.

alzheimer’s treatments – what now?

Following the failure of the recent solanezumab trial the question now is where does Alzheimer’s research go from here? We have brought together four top experts to discuss:

Is the solanezumab trial a complete failure? Can we learn anything from it?

Is this the end for the amyloid hypothesis? Could we be going about this all wrong? Is Tau the answer?

What other drugs are in the pipeline? Do the solanezumab results lower our hopes for their success?

Are there other non-drug therapies on the horizon that might offer success?

Will we not progress until we get better at detecting and diagnosing this disease?

Do we think we will ever find a treatment? Is our only hope to reduce lifestyle risks as much as possible? read more

nice draft guideline on outdoor air pollution and health

Air pollution has been in and out of the headlines recently due to the diesel emissions scandal and proposed Heathrow airport expansion. We’ve heard that the UK has been exceeding EU limits for nitrogen oxide emissions, and we’ve heard estimates of the numbers of people in the UK whose deaths are partly attributable to particulate air pollution.

NICE are publishing a draft guideline on road-traffic-related air pollution. The guideline aims to improve air quality and therefore prevent illnesses and deaths related to air pollution. The draft guideline will outline recommendations to government and local authorities.

read more

report of fourth hfea independent science review panel on mitochondrial donation

After Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of allowing mitochondrial donation last year the UK regulatory process for this new treatment has moved on. The Newcastle based scientists ready to offer the treatment have answered more of the scientific questions raised and the HFEA commissioned a fourth independent science panel to review this and other research. Meanwhile stories emerge of babies being born around the world with the same technique but under very different regulatory oversight.

Now this incredible treatment takes a very significant step closer to the clinic as the science review panel delivers its fourth and possibly final report on the state of the science and makes recommendations as to whether it is safe and effective in order to proceed to treating patients.

read more

The Science of Polling

The pollsters got it wrong in the general election, the Brexit vote and now the US election leading some commentators to declare election polls as dead. So what is going on? Did the polls get it wrong because of innate weaknesses in polling or is something else going on here that can’t be fixed by pollsters? Is polling finished or can it be reformed for a new world? What, if anything, would society lose if we say goodbye to poll. read more

UK Energy Policy

The UK energy system is going through a period of rapid change. The implications of the vote to leave the EU and subsequent changes within government are largely unknown. Uncertainties about the future of the energy system were already high; these changes have compounded them. The UK Energy Research Centre has produced an evidence-based commentary – addressing heat, transport, electricity, gas, and other major components of the energy system – which aims to take stock of UK energy policy ahead of the Autumn Statement, the Industrial Strategy and the Emissions Reduction Plan, and make recommendations for action by government. read more

GM wheat for increased yield

Scientists from Rothamsted Research, the University of Essex and Lancaster University provided an update on a new research project with GM wheat plants that have been engineered to carry out photosynthesis more efficiently. This trait has the potential for increased yields. read more

The state of the climate

This time last year, climate scientists came to the SMC to brief journalists ahead of the Paris negotiations. As the next COP meeting in Marrakesh approaches, those same scientists talked about the latest in climate science. What do the most recent observations show and has anything significantly changed? What trajectory are we on, and is the policy response in step with the science? What are scientists expecting to happen to temperatures and the earth’s response to greenhouse gases? And are we moving fast enough with clean energy technologies? read more

Testing a ‘controversial’ treatment for CFS/ME in children

In England up to two in 100 children have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS/ME), the illness means they are unable to go to school or do other activities for more than three months. In fact 1% of secondary school children miss a day a week or more because of it. Unfortunately controversy rages around the illness and the treatment. Most children will recover if they receive specialist treatment; however, there is very limited specialist care in the UK and approximately 90% of children live too far away to receive the treatment they need. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is known to be effective for children and a very successful trial in the Netherlands showed it can be delivered over the internet, meaning children can be helped wherever they live. However, we do not know if the results can be replicated in the UK so researchers, amidst rising tension from some people who do not support treatments such as CBT or Graded Exercise Therapy, are now starting a large clinical trial to test whether this treatment would work in the UK and should be available on the NHS. read more

A treatment for autism

Autism is a severe developmental disorder that affects 1 in 100 children. The core difficulties in social communication, which can mean children not even being able to communicate verbally, and the rigid and repetitive behaviours usually have a profound effect on development into adulthood and result in estimated £1-1.5 million lifetime societal costs per child. Despite many claims and previous research, there has to date been no treatment for the condition that has succeeded in improving these core developmental symptoms over the long-term. Now, however, researchers are reporting the long-term results of an intervention with families early in development that may begin to change our expectations. read more

Higher Education and Research Bill

There are some things that the scientific community are generally agreed on. That we need a stronger voice for science in government, most especially after Brexit, that what government spends on science is still too low (0.49% of GDP compared to the EU average of 0.67%) and that decisions about what research is conducted need to be free from government interference. But is the new U.K. Higher Education and Research Bill going to deliver all these goals? Unusually the scientific community is divided with Paul Nurse and the Royal Society believing that the bill presents the best chance of achieving some of the changes desperately needed, while others think it poses new risks. A strongly worded leader in Nature this week called on scientists to oppose the bill on the grounds that it opens the door to political interference and called on the scientific community to address the issues in public as well as negotiating behind closed doors. read more

Childhood cancer incidence around Dounreay and Sellafield

Childhood leukaemia is rare, affecting approximately 500 children every year in the UK. There have been numerous studies and reports on the possible risks of childhood leukaemia in the vicinity of nuclear installations and there are acknowledged historical clusters of childhood leukaemia around both Sellafield and Dounreay nuclear sites. Recent reports of raised thyroid cancer incidence following reactor accidents in other countries have led to increased interest in the possible consequences of the 1957 Windscale fire. The Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (COMARE) is publishing its 17th report, ‘Further consideration of the incidence of cancers around the nuclear installations at Sellafield and Dounreay’ – a comprehensive review of the incidence of leukaemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) and other cancers among young people around the Sellafield and Dounreay nuclear installations, updating its previous work. COMARE is a Department of Health Expert Committee providing independent advice to all government departments and agencies. read more

Genome editing: an ethical review. Preliminary findings from the Nuffield Council on Bioethics

Genome editing techniques such as the CRISPR-Cas9 system are transforming biological research and hold the key for our expectations and ambitions for addressing global challenges such as food and energy production and disease prevention. The Nuffield Council on Bioethics is publishing the first findings of its programme of work looking at the recent and potential impact of advances in genome editing. The Council’s review identifies, defines and prioritises the ethical issues and questions that genome editing gives rise to in relation to its possible applications including in human reproduction, biomedicine and agriculture. read more

making embryos from a non-egg cell

In a discovery that challenges two centuries of received biological wisdom, scientists at the University of Bath have for the first time used sperm to fertilise non-egg cells – resulting in live mammalian births. Eggs can be tricked into developing into an embryo without fertilisation, but the embryos, called parthenogenotes, die after a few days. Scientists at Bath have developed a method of injecting mouse parthenogenotes with sperm so that they can go on in many cases to become healthy pups. read more

interpreting the evidence on the risks and benefits of statins

The public row about statins has had an impact on patient attitudes and the take up of the drugs, but patients, doctors and the wider public are still left confused about the absolute harms and benefits of statins. A major review, published in The Lancet, brings together all evidence to date on statins to clarify what the risks and benefits are in order to help doctors, patients and the wider public make informed decisions about their use. read more

Cochrane review of evidence on vitamin D as a treatment for asthma

The relationship between vitamin D levels and asthma has been a frequent topic of research, and low levels of the vitamin have been linked to an increased risk of asthma attacks in both adults and children. However, the evidence for the potential role of vitamin D in managing asthma symptoms and attacks has not been fully evaluated until now. A new Cochrane Review has investigated whether vitamin D supplements can prevent asthma attacks or improve control of symptoms. The review has evaluated nine trials including both adults and children, and judged the studies included to be of high quality. read more

CBT – does it really work?

Many people are concerned about over-medicalisation and the use of pharmaceutical therapies such as antidepressants. This concern has coincided with a rise in the use of psychological therapies, particularly Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). However, do we know how strong the evidence for CBT actually is? Is it really just talking, or would that even matter as long as it works? Is the evidence only strong for certain disorders and can it cause harm, even when used correctly? read more

long-term impact of traumatic brain injuries in young people

Concerns over the long-term impacts of head injuries have frequently made the news, but the focus has largely been on professional sports players. Researchers have now assessed the long-term impact of traumatic brain injury (TBI) in young people and looked at the effect on early death, educational attainment, welfare requirements and need for psychiatric care. The study, published in PLOS Medicine, involved a large number of Swedish people who recorded a TBI (including concussion) before the age of 25 and compared them to siblings and others who had not had these injuries. read more

impacts of neonicotinoid use on long-term population changes in wild bees in England

Neonicotinoid insecticides have been implicated in the decline of bees, yet the evidence is derived from short-term laboratory studies on honeybees and bumblebees. Scientists from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology have investigated the long term, large scale impact of neonicotinoids on 62 wild bee species across England and are publishing in Nature Communications on August 16th. read more

new findings on badgers and cattle

As the government prepares to announce the widespread rollout of badger culling, intended to protect cattle from bovine tuberculosis (TB), new research, carried out by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and Imperial College London and published in Ecology Letters, has looked into how often badgers and cattle meet. Badgers clearly contribute to the cattle TB problem, but how the disease transmits between the two species has remained a mystery. Using cutting-edge technology to track large numbers of badgers and cattle simultaneously, the team looked into whether and how often badgers came close enough to cattle to transmit TB directly, and whether there may be other means of transmission through contamination of the environment. read more

liquid biopsies for cancer

To give cancer patients the best treatment, doctors need important information about the genetic and molecular make-up of their cancer. Tissue biopsies are often used but they do not always give a comprehensive view of the cancer, they can be invasive, and it may not be possible to repeat them very often. With major changes in the ease and cost of DNA sequencing, scientists are now working on the possibility of ‘fishing’ out genetic material from tumours via the blood in order to get information about the make-up of the patient’s cancer. The aim is for these ‘liquid biopsies’ to give a comprehensive view of the way a cancer progresses, which can help identify which treatments to give, and may spot when the cancer is becoming resistant to its current treatment. The tests can also give valuable information to cancer researchers that could develop treatments in the future. Already some UK patients on clinical trials are being given these liquid biopsies as part of their treatment. read more

Show More
Show 100 More

{this may take a while}

in this section

filter Briefings by year

search by tag