Could Sponge-Like Properties Be The Key To A Greener Future?Read More
Global warming is a vast and complex issue that needs to be tackled. The climate is changing across our planet, largely due to human impacts. Advances in science and technology are the key to combatting this climate change. The UK has environmental targets to reduce greenhouse gases by 80 % by 2050. The main greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide (CO2), which is why the UK has legally binding carbon budgets.
The majority of carbon emissions are from fossil fuel-based power plants. Therefore a promising solution is carbon capture in the power plant’s chimneys. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a technique which removes CO2 from gas and coal power plants and transports it to be stored underground. It has been implemented in four of the world’s power plants. CCS is featured heavily in the governments ‘Carbon Plan’, suggesting that all coal and gas-fired power stations should be fitted with CCS technology. The US government has invested $3.4 billion in CCS technology. Therefore it is important to make the most efficient and economically viable systems for a sustainable future.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) states that CCS could reduce global CO2emissions by 19%, and that fighting climate change could cost 70% more without CCS. However, compressing the CO2 for transport and storage is expensive and energy intensive. CO2 is an important feedstock to make commercially viable products such as bio-oils, fertilizers and fuels. Therefore this idea could be implemented in carbon capture and utilization (CCU).
There are many challenges with carbon capture, such as separating the CO2 from a mixture of gases including oxygen and nitrogen. The material used must also have a tolerance to water vapour and acidic conditions. Excellent CO2 absorbers such as zeolites and metal organic frameworks are very sensitive to water and acid, therefore they are not ideal for use in power plants. However, scientists have discovered a new material, which acts differently to the existing rigid materials, as it swells to absorb CO2, in the same way a sponge absorbs water. It is a hyper-cross-linked polymer made from benzene molecules, which are knitted together to form a porous network. This means that it has a much higher selectivity for CO2 molecules, it is also robust, especially to water but it can even withstand concentrated acid. The CO2 can be removed by pressure changes and therefore can be controlled and easily reused. This technology is still in the early stages of development, but it is an exciting step forward as an economically viable option for carbon capture in the future.
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How Botox Could Save Your LifeRead More
The Botulinum toxin protein is produced by Clostridium botulinum bacterium, and it is the single most acutely lethal toxin known to man. The commercially available, Type A form of this is more commonly referred to as ‘Botox’. It’s known as a rejuvenating treatment that works by blocking synaptic acetylcholine transmission, paralysing the facial muscles and preventing the development of wrinkles. It is a non-invasive procedure growing in popularity in the UK; it was given 45,464 times in the UK in 2011, which is 26% higher than the previous year. Its interest is not exclusive to the UK however, as Botox was performed over 3 million times worldwide in the same year.
This cosmetic use of Botox is what it’s best known for, but it is also used medically, to reduce muscle activity in the management of a wide variety of medical conditions including strabismus, hyper-salivation and movement disorders. Recently it has been suggested that another medical use for Botox could be in the treatment of stomach cancer.
Stomach cancer is the fourth leading type of cancer and the second highest contributor to cancer mortality worldwide. With the raising rates of obesity and reflux disease increasing the occurrence of certain types of gastric cancer, this figure is only rising. The idea behind this suggestion is that if the Botox were targeted at the vagus nerve (leading from the brain to the digestive system) then it would disrupt nerve function, stopping the growth of the tumour and therefore making it easier to kill using chemotherapy. So it is being looked at to use in conjunction with current therapies, to make them more effective.
A supporting study by a research team from Columbia University Medical Center was published in Science Translational Medicine. They performed vagatomies (cut the vagal nerve) on different mouse models of cancer. The results showed slowed tumour growth and increased survival, supporting the idea that nerves could be critical in the progression of stomach cancer. This success was emulated when they blocked the transmission pharmacologically by injecting the mice with Botox.
Although these findings were promising, it doesn’t tell you about the effect in humans, whether the success would be replicated. To investigate this, the team conducted a study using 37 patients who still have reoccurring stomach cancer many years after surgery. Of these patients, 13 were given a vagotomy and 24 were not. The results showed that with a single exception all the patients who underwent a vagotomy didn’t develop tumours in the area of the digestive system that had been surgically denervated. In contrast all 24 of the control patients developed tumours in the same region of their stomach
A criticism of these studies has been that they have only been conducted on early stage and localised cancers. This is an issue as it doesn’t consider effectiveness with more advanced and invasive forms of cancer which may have separated from the main tumour mass. This is particularly relevant with gastric cancer as it’s a ‘silent cancer’ that is often not even noticeable until it is advanced.
Despite this the findings are still promising, particularly for patients who can no longer respond to chemotherapy, or have an inoperable form of cancer. This research has lead to the possibility of finding these growth connections with other tumours such as prostate cancer. The researchers behind the original study are now following up their work with phase 2 clinical trials with patients in Norway.
It is too early to say anything conclusive about this treatment, particularly as tumourshave the ability to out-evolve any single agent, but it is still a potentially viable target to look into for the future.
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Is It Safer Not To Shake On It?Read More
The practice of handshaking has been around since the times of Ancient Greece; it was originally thought of as a gesture of peace, offering your open hand to show that you were not concealing a weapon. Its purpose has since evolved, now it’s habitually used as a respectful greeting in both social and professional environments.
Recently the necessity of this gesture has been brought into question, particularly in regards to the healthcare environment. Studies have shown that due to the prolonged skin-to-skin contact, handshakes greatly heighten the risk of passing communicable diseases, most notably during flu pandemics and in the spread of superbugs. These findings have even prompted a call for a ban on the handshake in hospitals. After all, is there any need for a doctor to greet a patient with an open hand to prove that they’re not holding a weapon?
If this ban were to be put into place an alternative greeting would need to be proposed to avoid doctors appearing disengaged or disinterested. In many cultures direct contact is not necessary to greet someone respectfully, for example the Namaste greeting performed in South Asian countries, or bowing in Japan.
However, would this make it more difficult for doctors to reassure their patients and instil them with confidence? A team at UCLA have suggested a possible compromise proposing that doctors reduce the risk by lowering the surface area and duration of direct contact. They have suggested using the ‘fist bump’.
This popular social greeting is not yet widespread professionally but has become more commonplace in recent years, with even Barack Obama opting for the fist bump on many occasions.
A pilot study published in the Journal of Hospital Infection supports the case for the fist bump, showing that bacteria on the contacted skin was 4 times lower than after a handshake. There is now also an online ‘Stop the Handshake’ movement encouraging followers to wear their signature badge reading ‘no offence, it just makes sense’ as a polite way of declining a handshake.
The controversy may have made it a popular issue online, but infection control experts have suggested that the results of such a ban may not be as impactful as it first appears. The ban doesn’t go far towards preventing the large amount of bacteria transfer from hospital surfaces and door handles. The obvious solution seems to be encouraging healthy hand hygiene but this is notoriously difficult among doctors, patients and visitors.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that there is currently only a 40% compliance rate to hand hygiene programs among doctors, with a similarly low level among patients and visitors too. So, although in theory this is the simplest solution it has proven difficult to achieve.
It seems more appropriate to look into a solution that does not require day-to-day compliance or human intervention. For example, replacing the current surfaces in hospitals with copper-alloy surfaces could be highly effective, as copper has shown to have an anti-microbial effect.
When in contact, the copper places bacteria in a deficit of electrical charge, leading to its death. Scientists have suggested that copper-alloy surfaces could kill 99.9% of bacteria in a matter of hours. A study published in the Journal of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology found that putting a copper-alloy surface onto 6 regularly touched objects in ICU rooms lowered the risk of hospital-acquired infections by more than 50% at all the sites in the trial.
Switching to copper-alloy surfaces would be costly, however hospital-acquired infections add 19 days on average to a patient’s time in hospital. So this appears to be a cost-effective idea in the long-term, and therefore, perhaps a more realistic campaign to get behind.