HomeScience and NatureNews at a glance: A new malaria vaccine, a Parkinson’s test, and editors resign

News at a glance: A new malaria vaccine, a Parkinson’s test, and editors resign

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Early test for Parkinson’s disease
A large study has shown that a test can indicate a person has Parkinson’s disease before they start having symptoms. The chronic degenerative disease currently lacks a definitive biochemical test. A research team recruited 1123 participants, some of whom had symptoms of Parkinson’s, and used spinal taps to measure their levels of a protein called alpha-synuclein, which clumps and damages brain cells in people with the disease. Study participants whose alpha-synuclein clumped to an extent above a threshold level were deemed to have Parkinson’s. In 88% of the subjects, the test accurately indicated whether they had the disease, researchers reported last week in The Lancet Neurology. The new approach is likely too costly and invasive to be used widely for screening but may inform research into treatments, scientists say.


Ghana OKs new malaria vaccine
Although results from clinical trials are still pending, Ghana has become the first country to approve a new malaria vaccine, which will likely be less expensive than an existing vaccine. The new vaccine, called R21/Matrix-M, is unlikely to be used widely before the World Health Organization (WHO) endorses it, which would enable international funders to purchase the vaccine. R21/Matrix-M showed promising results in a preliminary trial involving 450 children, but researchers have yet to report final results from a trial with 4800 children in four countries. Ghana is already using the first malaria vaccine, endorsed by WHO and called Mosquirix; more than 450,000 children had received at least one dose by December 2022. R21/Matrix-M will likely require at least four doses per child at $3 a dose, and global health experts caution that vaccines should be weighed against cheaper malaria-control tools, such as insecticide-treated bed nets.

It put kids at risk, there was false hope for families.

University of California, Davis, cell biologist Paul Knoepfler
in Vice, about a recently ended Duke University program that gave autistic children unproven stem cell treatments. Allowed under FDA’s “compassionate use” rules, it charged parents up to $15,000.


Editors bolt over author fees
More than 40 academic editors at NeuroImage and an affiliated journal resigned this week to protest the fee that the owner, publishing giant Elsevier, charges to make papers open access. In a statement, they decried as “unethical and unsustainable” NeuroImage’s $3450 sum, billed to authors to provide papers free to read upon publication. NeuroImage has published all articles open access since 2020. A companion journal, NeuroImage: Reports, was introduced in 2021. The departing editors say they asked Elsevier to reduce NeuroImage’s fee, and it refused. Now they plan to launch a new, open-access journal—which they hope will “replace NeuroImage as the top journal in our field”—to be published by the nonprofit MIT Press. An Elsevier spokesperson says the publisher set NeuroImage’s fee below the market average for publications of similar quality.


U.S. wields light touch on fusion
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) decided last week to regulate future fusion power plants under standards used for particle accelerators and radioactive medical technologies, not the more stringent rules it requires for nuclear fission power plants. The Fusion Industry Association (FIA) had sought the decision, contending that fusion power generation will be less dangerous than fission plants and shouldn’t be regulated as tightly. Operators of fusion plants will need to handle small amounts of tritium—a short-lived radioactive isotope of hydrogen—and safely dispose of low-level waste consisting of reactor parts made radioactive by fusion reactions. The hazards are similar to those of particle accelerators, according to FIA. Although a commercial fusion reactor remains possibly decades away, the NRC decision “will give fusion developers the regulatory certainty they need to innovate,” FIA says.


India to build gravitational wave detector

LIGO-India will deploy a set of ultraprecise, 40-kilogram mirrors left over from the U.S. LIGO project.LIGO

After more than a decade of planning, India this week approved building a gargantuan detector to sense ripples in space and time called gravitational waves, extending an international network of such devices. Expected to be operational by the decade’s end, the new detector, near Aundha in western India, will be nearly identical to those in the Laser Interferometric Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) in Louisiana and Washington state. Each of those detectors is an L-shaped optical device called an interferometer with arms 4 kilometers long that make ultraprecise measurements of space in perpendicular directions. LIGO-India will use a spare set of LIGO mirrors and lasers. India will spend $320 million to construct the vacuum chamber and buildings to house the device. Since 2015, LIGO and Italy’s Virgo detector have detected the fleeting signals of gravitational waves from 90 high-energy celestial events in which two massive objects such as black holes collided. Adding another detector should enable scientists to more precisely pinpoint sources in the sky.


Roll-up space telescope mirrors
Researchers have developed a technique to produce flexible, high-quality mirrors for space telescopes. The mirrors could be rolled up and stored compactly in rockets and enable more-powerful orbiting observatories. A team at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics created prototypes up to 30 centimeters wide and plans to make larger ones. The mirrors are made by rotating liquid in a vacuum chamber as a parabolic “mold,” onto which chemical vapors are deposited to form a polymer layer. A reflective metal layer is then added. They described the work in Adaptive Optics.


Black doctors are Rx for longevity
Black people who reside in U.S. counties with at least one practicing Black physician live longer than those elsewhere—and their longevity increases with the number of Black doctors, a study has found. The analysis is among the first to show that increasing diversity among physicians can help lessen persistent racial disparities in mortality. But researchers from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration found that only half of the more than 3000 U.S. counties had even one Black physician in at least one of 3 years included in the study—2009, 2014, and 2019. The findings about longevity may reflect that some Black people seek care from Black doctors based on shared culture, the team wrote last week in JAMA Network Open. But medical care should not be segregated, and all physicians should increase their “cultural competency,” tailoring care to patients’ cultural needs, the authors wrote.


Roman emperors played winemaker for a day

A ceremonial winery for Rome’s nobility featured wine fountains and private rooms, perhaps for dining.S. CASTELLANI; FROM DODD, FRONTONI, GALLI 2023

In ancient Rome, wine mattered so much that the emperor himself opened each year’s wine grape harvest by cutting a symbolic cluster of grapes. Now, archaeologists have discovered that an elaborate facility just outside Rome probably was built specially for this occasion. They excavated the unusual, 1000-square-meter space in 2017 and 2018 and dated it to about 240 C.E. The facility was like a dude ranch, where the nobility played winemaker for a day. It featured high-end imported red marble on which workers squashed grapes; juice flowed through marble-lined channels into fermentation vats beneath a decorated floor. The slippery floor material, unusual in a Roman winery, suggested the facility was designed for showing off, not efficiency, the research team writes this week in Antiquity.


El Niño’s return predicted
An El Niño climate shift is likely to begin this year for the first time since 2019, raising global temperatures and triggering wet and dry extremes around the world, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) Climate Prediction Center said last week. The chance that the phenomenon—marked by warming water in the eastern Pacific Ocean—will start by July is 62% and by fall, 80%, NOAA said. Global ocean and land temperatures have continued to climb despite a La Niña’s persistent cooling trend in the Pacific since 2019.

Source : ScienceMag

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