In a year when science has become both our rescue from a global pandemic and a target for political experts, it could be a good time to look back on all the good science has done for us in recent years .
Whether it’s making discoveries that can change small aspects of our daily lives, or finding cures for diseases that have haunted humanity, scientists have worked hard to drive us into a better future.
10 Current scientific breakthroughs and discoveries
8th mRNA vaccines
Although most people know that DNA is the genetic material in our cells, the role of mRNA may be less known. The DNA contains instructions that guide our cells in the production of the required proteins. Because DNA is so important, the one copy of the DNA that we have in every cell cannot be damaged.
To avoid damage, our cells make many copies of the DNA sections that they need to control their protein production. These copies are called mRNA copies. If they are damaged, they are simply thrown away.
With this in mind, scientists have found a way to use mRNA to create a new type of vaccine. Viruses infect human cells by injecting their DNA into the cells and forcing our cellular machinery to produce viral proteins using that DNA.
With most vaccines, whole or inactivated viruses or parts of the viruses are taken and injected. This teaches our body how to make antibodies against the virus.
A new vaccine in clinical trials eliminates viruses in the vaccine. Instead, the new Moderna vaccine aims to fight the virus that causes COVID-19 by injecting us with a small piece of mRNA that teaches our cells how to make a spike protein that is outside the virus. When our cells make this protein, our immune system attacks it by producing antibodies, which gives us the same level of protection that we would get from exposure to the virus.
This method has greatly simplified the vaccine development process, which typically takes over 10 years. It took a little over two months from the planning phase to the first clinical trial of Moderna’s vaccine. If all goes well, it may be the vaccine that ends the coronavirus pandemic.
7 Thought-controlled prostheses
In 2016, a team from the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) and the University of Chicago gave a man the gift of his life. Paralyzed after a car accident in 2004, Nathan Copeland lost full use of his body from the chest down. Amazingly, he can only feel and control a prosthesis with his mind.
This great scientific leap was made possible by the implantation of electrodes in the areas of the Copeland brain that control movements and sensations of touch. When Copeland thinks about moving his arm, these electrodes interpret the activity of his brain cells to move the robot arm. When something touches the robot hand, sensors send electrical signals that stimulate Copeland’s brain to feel the touch.
The National Institutes of Health are providing $ 7 million to Pitt, UPMC and Chicago to continue the research.
6 Understand autism
Autism has long been a misunderstood disorder because the cause is difficult to determine. This has led to an influx of theories ranging from the scientific approach to suggesting a genetic disorder to Facebook groups and bloggers blaming vaccines for it. People with autism generally have no social and verbal communication skills or show repetitive behaviors. The extent of the symptoms can vary widely, making it a spectrum disorder.
Scientists at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto have made an important discovery by analyzing the DNA of autistic children against the DNA of their parents. There are regions of DNA in the body called tandem repeats. They are a pattern of the DNA sequence that is repeated several times.
These Toronto scientists discovered that autistic children often have twice or three times as many tandem repetitions as their parents. The larger these tandem repeats are, the more they affect the function of the gene. In autistic children, tandem repeats have been found in genes related to brain function.
By identifying this strange phenomenon, scientists may have a new way to diagnose autism. In addition, this provides a clearer understanding of the causes of autism, which means that new treatments may be in sight. Some scientists also believe that a similar type of tandem repeat expansion can cause epilepsy and disorders such as schizophrenia.
5 A treatment for Alzheimer’s disease
In the brain, the tau protein contained in neurons helps hold their axons together. Neurons are nerve cells and send signals through their axons. By sending these signals we experience sensations like touch.
In people with Alzheimer’s disease, tau proteins become involved in the nerve axons. This prevents signals from traveling down the axons and leads to problems with brain function. In addition, the build-up of another protein called beta-amyloid forms clumps between neurons, which also limits the function of neurons.
In 2019, NeuroEM Therapeutics, Inc. tested a portable cap that sends electromagnetic waves through the brain to break down the structure of these proteins. The first clinical study in eight patients found that some cognitive function returned in seven patients. More extensive studies are being carried out to confirm these results.
Independent laboratories conducted similar experiments on mice and found that exposure to electromagnetic waves improved cognitive function. Although this treatment is still in its infancy, it can be a glimmer of hope for people with Alzheimer’s. So far, drug treatments for Alzheimer’s disease have slowed their progression little, but slightly. Therefore, it is always exciting to find new approaches to this problem.
Top 10 scientific breakthroughs of the month (March 2019)
4th Universal flu vaccines
We have to do flu shots every year because the flu virus strains change every year. Flu vaccines produce an immune response against the head of a protein on the flu virus. (The protein is called HA).
The problem is that the HA head changes frequently because it can mutate quickly. Therefore, we need new flu shots every year to ensure immunity to the new HA head.
This problem can be solved soon. It turns out that the head of the HA protein that is holding the head does not change. It is relatively constant among flu strains.
A new vaccine developed by scientists at the NIAID Vaccine Research Center has just been clinically tested and is targeting this strain rather than the head. If successful, a single vaccine would make us immune to most strains of flu for a much longer period of time. It will likely be a while before we know the effectiveness of this vaccine. But it is a big step to find a universal one-time flu shot.
3rd The Medusavirus discovery
A new virus isolated from a hot spring in Japan has been called the “medusa virus”. This name comes from the mythical monster Medusa that turned its victims to stone when they looked into their eyes. Similarly, the Medusavirus turns its amoeba hosts into stone by hijacking their cellular machines.
Fortunately, this virus cannot infect humans. But it has a pretty interesting set of proteins called histones. They are used to package DNA into the cell nuclei. However, viruses have no cores, and the Medusa virus is no exception.
Scientists believe that this could give an insight into the emergence of eukaryotic life. Eukaryotes are cells with nuclei that form our body. When viruses infect host cells, they tend to leave traces in the DNA of the surviving host cell. The virus sometimes also takes up DNA sequences from the host. Basically, the host and the virus develop together.
If we can find out how the Medusavirus obtained these histone proteins, we can get an insight into how early cells have developed into today’s complex modern cells.
2nd Metal-eating microbes
Scientists and engineers have been wondering for years why lumps of manganese oxide accumulate on the sea floor and why this compound appears to accumulate in water pipes. Caltech scientist Jared Leadbeater finally answered some of these questions when he soaked glassware with manganese carbonate in his sink during his work trip.
When he returned, the normally cream-colored manganese carbonate had turned into black manganese oxide. After repeating the situation in an experiment with sterilized and non-sterilized glasses, Leadbeater found that only the non-sterilized glasses had turned black. This means that some kind of microbe caused the reaction.
After further testing, Leadbeater and his team narrowed the list down to two microbes. They discovered that these bacterial cells can eat the electrons in manganese to generate their own energy. This leaves manganese oxide.
It is the first time that scientists have found microbes that can use manganese as an energy source. This discovery can help us understand how manganese, a very common element, has helped shape the development of the planet.
1 A cure for Ebola
Although we are in the middle of a new coronavirus pandemic, it wasn’t that long ago that pandemic fears focused on Ebola. This viral disease begins with fever and tremors. This can lead to uncontrolled bleeding and organ failure.
This often fatal disease has been researched for years. In 2019, a clinical trial identified a new drug therapy that reduced the mortality rate from 75 percent without treatment to 29 percent with the new therapy. If Ebola is treated very early, the mortality rate drops to 6 percent.
This new drug from Regeneron contains a mixture of antibodies made by our immune cells to remove infections from our body. These antibodies specifically target the Ebola virus.
Antibodies are difficult to produce in a laboratory because they have to work in the human body without being attacked by the immune system. In addition, the Ebola virus can change its shape. For this reason, a mixture of different antibodies must be used in the treatment. This new therapy is currently being tested and could soon become a life-saving tool.
Top 10 scientific breakthroughs of the month (May 2019)
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