The magnificent science of 2013.


Two extremely bright stars illuminate a greenish mist in this and other images from the new GLIMPSE360 survey.

2013 was a wonderful year for science. Thousands of breakthroughs in medical science, in space science, in technology, and genetics changed human understanding of ourselves and the universe that we inhabit, forever. We are now far closer to treating disease, to understanding our evolutionary journey, and to exploring the cosmos on a scale far greater than we were just twelve months ago. Each breakthrough deserves articles for themselves, but I thought I’d present a few here in snippets, with links to articles that describe the astonishing scientific breakthroughs of 2013 in greater detail. Here is a brief year in science:

January:
After a severe gout infection in his hand, Mark Cahill became the first man in the UK to undergo a successful hand transplant. Here.

In early January a study from Caltech in Pasadena estimated that each star in the Milky Way galaxy alone, contains at least one planet. This further estimates that our galaxy is home to at least 100 billion planets. In just one galaxy. In 1999 the Hubble Space Telescope estimated that there exists 125 billion galaxies. Here.

Also in the UK, a team of experts cured blindness in mice. The treatment – which includes injecting light sensitive cells into the eye and rebuilding light sensitivity – could in future be the launching pad for treating retinitis pigmentosa in humans. Here.

In Bolivia, a team of researchers discovered that injecting certain engineered stem cells in the minutes immediately following a stroke, could significantly aid recovery. The discovery was made after rats suffering a stroke were found to regain completely normal brain function within two weeks, after stem cell treatment. Here.

February:
In early February, researchers made a significant breakthrough in the development of potential treatments for both Parkinson’s and Alzheimers, by finding a way to overcome the problem caused by the blood-brain barrier – a barrier between the blood and the brain that blocks drugs from entering blood tissue. This is a remarkable step forward for the treatment of neurological disorders in humans. Here.

Scientists from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh have managed to engineer 3D printing techniques to create stem cells. The researchers believe it could be the first step in creating brand new organs, without the need for organ donation. Here.

Nasa’s Curiosity Mars rover became the first human machine to drill a hole into the Martian surface, and recover samples for analysis in order to discover whether the planet ever held conditions for supporting life. In March, results showed that the rocks contain oxygen, carbon dioxide and water. A clear indication that life may have once existed on the Martian surface. Here.

Researchers at Barcelona’s Universitat Autonoma successfully cured type 1 diabetes in dogs using a method of gene therapy. To achieve this, a new gene is coded and used to replace a damaged gene. Here.

March:
My particular favourite – red wine makes you live longer. So if any of my readers appreciate me continuing to exist, you should send me red wine. Here.

In March, stem cells taken from mice and humans were successfully used to create new teeth to replace damaged teeth in mice, leading to the possibility of stem cells being used to create new teeth for humans in the future. Here.

In Leipzig, for the first time the full genome of Neanderthal was published, using a toe bone found in Siberia. By understanding Neanderthal’s genome, we get a clearer picture of the genetic divergence between modern humans, and our cousins. Neanderthal’s genome is a window into the history of humanity. Here.

The genetics of oesophageal cancer were more thoroughly understood, in March. Mutations in a number of genes were located that directly match those required for the development of the cancer. This is key to developing treatments to target the horrific disease that kills 400,000 World wide, every year. Here.

April:
Researchers discovered in April, the genetic mutation that can lead to the build up of certain proteins responsible for Alzheimer’s Disease. This discovery significantly aids researchers in developing treatments that target those areas of the brain with a view to understanding, treating and preventing Alzheimer’s on a far more targeted manner. Here.

Kidneys are the organ most in demand across the planet, for transplants. Scientists in April successfully created a lab grown kidney and transplanted it into animals, using stem cell technology. Whilst still in its early stages, this is a major breakthrough in stem cell research. Here.

A safer and easier technique of transforming bone marrow stem cells into healthy, functioning brain cells was produced by the Scripps Research Institute in April. This leads to far better treatment for stroke, and spinal injuries. Here.

May:
Energy efficiency in low grade silicon was improved greatly in 2013. UNSW in Australia developed a technique to better control hydrogen atoms, improving electrical efficiency from 19% to 23%. By October of 2013, the team was aiming at silicon solar cells with 29% targeted efficiency. This also helps to lower costs. Here.

Scientists at UC San Francisco successfully cured epilepsy in mice, opening the way for treatment for the prevention of the causes of epilepsy in humans. Here.

Fossils found in south west Tanzania seem to confirm earlier DNA analysis showing that monkeys and apes diverged 25 to 30 million years ago. By 25 million years ago, the fossils suggest old World monkeys and apes had separated. Here.

Neuroscientists at Lund University successfully prevented early symptoms of Huntington’s Disease in mice, by switching off a mutated protein in the brain. Treatments for Huntington’s is currently lacking, but this research provides the basis for future experiments and eventually treatments for Huntington’s in humans, by showing that symptoms can be controlled by dealing with the mutated protein. Here.

June:
In June the US Supreme Court ruled that a company could not patent genes. It sounds obvious. But that’s exactly what Myriad Genetics in Utah attempted to do. The company attempted to patent isolated DNA connected to ovarian and breast cancer, which in turn meant other groups had vital research frustrated and threatened. The Supreme Court rightfully ruled against Myriad, and research and treatment costs are now expected to fall. Here.

Researchers in London pioneered hologram technology to be used to lecture theatres across the World designed to make is easier for students to understand – through visuals – the huge amount of information they study. The effect is one in which a study subject – such as the kidney – appears to be floating in mid-air and can be manipulated for teaching purposes. Here.

The Israeli company NeuroDerm – a company supported by the Michael J.Fox Foundation – has developed a skin-administered treatment for Parkinson’s Disease, and initial reports are very promising. Here.

In June this year, Bristol-Myers Squibb working on therapies for metastatic melanoma and with a new drug, found that a third of patients were still alive three years later. This is a major breakthrough, because almost 100% of those suffering from the advanced disease in the past, do not survive. The therapy was said to lead to rapid regression of the tumour. Treatments are currently undergoing greater research into why it only seems to help around a third of patients. But the advancement in cancer immunotherapy was named the breakthrough of the year, in December this year. Here.

July:
The London Array. The World’s largest offshore wind farm – with 175 turbines – opens in the Thames estuary in London. It is set to reduce annual Co2 emissions by 900,000 tons; equivalent of 300,000 passenger cars. Here.

New research can now be opened for Down’s Syndrome, after US scientists managed to isolate and silence the chromosome that causes Down’s Syndrome, raising the possibility of future treatment for common symptoms. Here.

One in ten suffer from cat allergies. In July, researchers discovered a protein from cat dandruff that causes cat allergies in humans, and hope to develop a cure within five years. Here.

August:
Perhaps one of the biggest breakthroughs in 2013, came with the clearance of a simple skin patch that works to slowly feed a drug into the bloodstream and regulate blood pressure stability on a level never seen before. The patch has the potential to save millions of lives a year. Here.

Researchers have finally discovered certain processes that lead to mutational factors prevalent in most types of cancer, previously unknown. By understanding the genetic development of particular cancers, researchers in 2013 have opened the doors into future research for treatments. Here.

Using 3D printing technology for stem cells, researchers in Australia have developed lab-grown cartilage, leading to hopes that by 2025, brand new functioning, patient-specific organs will be produced in much the same way. Here.

September:
Scientists announced that a universal vaccine for flu could be available within five years. The flu virus mutates constantly and so is particularly difficult to immunise, but scientists have discovered what they term a ‘blue print’ that could eradicate all forms of the virus. Here.

The World’s first mind controlled prosthetic leg was developed in September. Here.

In New York, cotton-top Tamarins were observed and recorded making whisper-like behaviour The evidence suggests the Tamarins were investigating the threat level from the zoo supervisor, and communicating that information with other Tamarins via whisper. Here.

October:
Researchers at the Stem Cell Institute at the University of Cambridge, and the University of Copenhagen discovered gut stem cells that repair the damage caused by inflammatory bowel disease when transplanted into mice. Here.

A 17 year old girl in China with serious facial disfiguration due to terrible burns had a new face using pioneering technology that used tissue from her chest to craft a new face. She told reporters that the best part of this whole process, was that she could smile again. Here.

A huge leap in harnessing fusion for the benefit of unlimited energy was taken by US scientists in October. The amount of energy created by the reaction exceeded the amount used to cause the reaction. This is a World first. Here.

November:
A brand new way of scanning the heart for early signs of the causes of heart attacks was developed passed early tests. It highlights dangerous areas of the heart most at risk, in far greater detail than ever before. Here.

Researchers at Sheffield University discovered a method to reduce nuclear waste by up to 90%, and safely. Here.

December:
In Montreal, a team of researchers discovered a certain protein responsible for anxiety and emotional memory disorders in humans. They then tested drugs on mice and noted a significant improvement in those suffering with certain anxiety issues. Here.

New research using gut microbes taken from the human gut was found to help reverse behavioural issues associated with autism-like symptoms and reduce gastrointestinal issues that usually accompany autism, when tested on mice. The implication being a greater understanding of autism, and potential future treatment in humans. Here.

Researchers have found the most convincing evidence so far, that Neanderthal buried their dead in Europe, 50,000 years before modern humans came to the continent. Here.

New research found that a drug not yet approved for availability on the NHS is far more effective at preventing breast cancer than any others. The drug is said to halve the likelihood of those considered most at risk, from ever developing breast cancer. Here.

——- In truth, this is all really a very small sample of a few incredible scientific advancements and additions to the library of human knowledge provided by some of the World’s most wonderful minds over the past year. The magnificent science of 2013.

One Response to The magnificent science of 2013.

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