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Science news digest – 16th April 2013

In the science news this week, kidney grown in lab is transplanted for the first time, archaeologists find thousands of artefacts from Roman London, and finally… map of the internet’s infrastructure could make it more secure.

Kidney grown in a laboratory is transplanted

For the first time, kidneys that have been grown in a laboratory have been transplanted into animals and have started to produce urine, reported the BBC.

Although this technique has been used to make more simple structures, this is the first time it has been used to create a complex organ, such as a kidney.

The engineered kidneys were a lot less effective than natural ones, but this research has huge promise and could be the first step towards replacing the need for donor organs.

Kidneys are the most in-demand organ, with incredibly long waiting lists in many countries around the world.

The technique works by taking an old kidney and stripping it of its cells, leaving a honeycomb-like scaffold. This is then used to build the new kidney on top of the scaffold with cells taken from the patient.

The benefit of this method over transplantation is two-fold. Firstly, the organ is made from the patient’s own cells so they would not need to take drugs to suppress their immune system for the rest of their life. This not only saves a huge amount of money from supplying a lifetime’s supply of drugs, but is also beneficial for the patient who will be able to have a fully functioning immune system.

And secondly, the number of available organs would also greatly increase, because even organs that would have been rejected under the current system could potentially be used as a scaffold.

The research was carried out at Massachucetts General Hospital in the US, and the next stage for the team is to improve the efficiency of the kidneys.

When tested in the laboratory, using a special oven to simulate the conditions inside a rat’s body, the kidneys managed to produce 23% of the urine that natural ones could.

However, when transplanted into an animal this effectiveness dropped to just 5%.

But the researchers remain positive. Dr Harald Ott, the lead researcher of the study, explained that even restoring a small fraction of normal function could be enough.

"If you're on haemodialysis then kidney function of 10% to 15% would already make you independent of haemodialysis. It's not that we have to go all the way.

"If you think about the United States alone, there's 100,000 patients currently waiting for kidney transplants and there's only around 18,000 transplants done a year.

"I think the potential clinical impact of a successful treatment would be enormous."

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Biggest haul of Roman London artefacts revealed

Archaeologists have recovered more than 10,000 objects from Roman London at a site near Queen Victoria Street, reported the Guardian.

The objects include writing tablets, amber, a well with ritual deposits of pewter, coins and cow skulls in it, thousands of pieces of pottery, pieces of leather, and other trinkets.

Sophie Jackson, of Museum of London Archaeology, said: "The waterlogged conditions left by the Walbrook stream have given us layer upon layer of Roman timber buildings, fences and yards, all beautifully preserved and containing amazing personal items, clothes and even documents – all of which will transform our understanding of the people of Roman London."

The site runs for seven metres along the buried Walbrook river, without which none of the items would have been so well preserved.

Up to 60 archaeologists from the Museum of London Archaeology worked at the site, digging through 3,500 tonnes of soil by hand and uncovering items that cover the entire Roman period in London, form very soon after the invasion to the 5th Century.

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And finally…

Internet map can make it stronger

For years, internet cartographers have tried to chart the extent of the physical workings of the world wide web - that is the fibre optic cables, servers and routers that span the globe – not only to understand ways to better manage the traffic in certain areas, but also to highlight any weaknesses.

On March 27, three scuba divers were arrested for attempting to cut the undersea cables near the coast of Egypt, where several critical cables come together in one of the internet’s “choke points”.

Two separate projects are now working to find a way to piece together a global map of the internet’s infrastructure, reported New Scientist.

Matthew Roughan, from the University of Adelaide, has created the Internet Topology Zoo – a growing collection of individual network maps.

And Paul Barford, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has built an Internet Atlas to build on this, adding in the relevant buildings and links between the networks.

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