Latest leaps in Science

By Susannah Radford

It’s been a great week for scientific advances with steps made towards the cure for the common cold, an eye implant that brings shape recognition to the blind and a gel contraceptive that presents an alternative to the pill.

Photo courtesy of BBC

The German University of Turbingen joined forces with Retina Implant AG to develop a chip to be inserted in the eye behind the retina.  Miikka Terho, from Finland, was one of three patients to be fitted with this chip and saw the most improvement.  Within days he could distinguish letters of the alphabet, a clock face and shades of grey.  He could also independently move around the room.

Three or four days after the implantation, when everything was healed, I was like wow, there’s activity,” he told the BBC from his home in Finland.

Charities have not been as enthusiastic. David Head, of the British Retinitis Pigmentosa Society saying “it’s really fascinating work, but it doesn’t restore vision. It rather gives people signals which help them to interpret.”  However a UK Clinical Trial is set to begin next year at Kings College Hospital next year.

Viruses kill more people than cancer so news that Cambridge Laboratory of Molecular Biology have progressed towards defeating the virus for the common cold is welcome relief for the number of people who suffer from them.  The laboratory have found that antibodies produced by the body actually “piggyback” on the virus as it enters the cell.  A protein called TRIM21 recognises the antibodies as foreign and release a machine that effectively destroys the virus.

“This is the last opportunity a cell gets because after that it gets infected and there is nothing else the body can do but kill the cell,” Dr Leo James, team leader said.

It is hoped that this approach could be applied to the viruses that cause winter vomiting and severe diarrhoea, ensuring the lives of children in developing countries.

A new gel could challenge the supremacy of the contraceptive oral pill which over 3 million women in the UK use.  Recently tested on a small number of women, the gel, which is applied directly to the skin has had very positive results with no pregnancies occurring in the test group.  Charities agree that a wider choice of contraceptives for women.

Simon Blake, chief executive of sexual health charity Brook, said: “Obviously this is still in the very early stages of development but anything that can help young women has got to be a good thing.  Clearly what young women need is more choice.”

And on the subject of contraceptives, in a nice twist of irony new newspaper i followed their lead on an emergency contraceptive pill now being available on internet with the backlash over Stephen Fry’s comment that “women don’t like sex”.  While Fry commented that his words have been taken out of context obviously there’s still a need for the contraceptive pill.