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Science news digest – 8th May 2014

In the science news this week, a simulation of the Universe has been created that supports the theory of dark matter, young blood rejuvenates old mice, a pregnancy hormone could become a treatment for MS, and finally… Professor Colin Pilinger dies.

Universe evolution recreated in the lab

The most complete visual simulation of how the Universe evolved has been created by an international team of researchers, reported the BBC.

The computer model shows how the first galaxies formed billions of years ago around clumps of dark matter. It is the most comprehensive model of the Universe’s evolution ever created.

The model is based on the theories of Professor Carlos Frenk from Durham University, which suggest that dark matter played a pivotal role in early galaxy formation.

This isn’t the first computer simulation that has been used to investigate the evolution of the Universe. However, this simulation came out with a Universe that looks a lot like the real one.

Dr Mark Vogelsberger of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who led the research, explains that the simulation lends support to many of the current theories of cosmology, and in particular, the theory that dark matter is the invisible scaffold that holds all other matter together.

"Many of the simulated galaxies agree very well with the galaxies in the real Universe. It tells us that the basic understanding of how the Universe works must be correct and complete.

"If you don't include dark matter (in the simulation) it will not look like the real Universe," Dr Vogelsberger said.

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Ageing mice rejuvenated by young-blood transfusions

US research from three separate studies has demonstrated old mice receiving a blood transfusion from their younger counterparts, reverses age-related health declines.

As reported in The Guardian, the chemicals found naturally in young blood may be able to reverse age-related degeneration in the brain, heart and muscles, in turn improving memory and learning, muscle strength and stamina.

18-month old mice were used in the experiment which is equivalent in age to a 70-year-old human. The mice were conjoined to three-month-old mice in order for them to share their blood supply. Age-related degeneration in the brains of the older mice was reversed as neural connections in the hippocampus became stronger.

From across the research, two proteins, growth differentiation factor 11 (GDF11) and Creb which are found in young blood have been identified as being behind the reversal effects. It is hoped that these findings may open new therapeutic opportunities for age-related degenerative conditions.

Clinical trials for human use are hoped to begin in the next three to five years.

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Pregnancy hormone could be potential treatment for MS sufferers

A hormone released during pregnancy could be used as a treatment for multiple sclerosis, reported New Scientist.

The trial was carried out by Rhonda Voskuhl and her colleagues at the University of California, Los Angeles, where they gave 86 women with MS who weren’t pregnant eight milligrams of oestriol on a daily basis along with their normal medication.

Oestriol is thought to suppress the mother’s immune system during pregnancy to stop it attacking the foetus.

All of the women in the trial had the most common form of MS – relapsing-remitting MS – which is characterised by periodic flare-ups of the symptoms followed by recovery.

After the first year in the trial, Voskuhl found that the women taking the hormone had 47 per cent fewer relapses compared to the control group that took a placebo.

After the second year, the relapse rate was 32 per cent lower than in the control group, suggesting the results had plateaued. "We think the oestriol group had bottomed out, and there was nothing left to improve," Voskuhl said.

The women given the hormone treatment also scored higher in cognitive tests after a year in the trial, suggesting that damaged brain cells may have been repaired.

However, the team have warned against anyone self-medicating with oestriol before full-scale studies can be conducted. "I understand why women might want to try, but I can't support it till the effects are proven," Voskuhl said.

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And finally…

Planetary scientist Colin Pilinger has died

Professor Colin Pilinger has died at Addenbrooke’s Hospital after suffering a brain haemorrhage at his home, in Cambridge.

Tributes have been led by Dr David Park, chief executive of the UK Space Agency, who has told the BBC that Prof. Pilinger inspired “young people to dream big dreams”.

Praise of Prof. Pilinger’s contribution to planetary science and science advocacy work has also been echoed by his many supporters on Twitter.

Colin Pilinger is survived by his wife, Judith and his two children, Shusanah and Nicolas.

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