Science News In Brief

Conor O’Donovan

Deputy Science Editor

Breakthrough in stem cell production

Japanese scientists have developed a novel and highly efficient method for generating induced pluripotent stem (iPS)-like cells from cells of various types, according to two joint papers recently published online in the journal Nature on 29th January. Following exposure of mouse cells from various tissues to external stress conditions, such as submersion in weak acids, a fraction of the surviving cells reverted to a state of extensive pluripotency – i.e. the ability to form all cell types of the body. By injecting the so-called stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP) cells into developing mouse blastocysts (pre-embryo structures), it was shown that the cells were able to integrate into all tissues of the developing mouse. This newly reported method for producing stem cells has a number of benefits, including producing cells in less time and with greater efficiency than previous methods.

“Ireland for CERN” campaign launched

The “Ireland for CERN” campaign launched with great energy at the Science Gallery on 30th January. A student-led lobbying group, it is campaigning for Ireland to apply for membership of CERN (home to the Large Hadron Collider). At present, Ireland has no official affiliation with the organisation. It is hence excluded from competing for an annual €500 million in commercial contracts, and is limited in the projects with which it can collaborate. Seán Kelly (Fine Gael MEP) and Dr Ronan McNulty (UCD academic and CERN collaborator), as well as industrial and economic representatives, threw their support behind the campaign, which is hoped to provide benefits to education, research, industry, and potentially other fields, such as health. The cost of associate membership (the lowest level) for Ireland has been estimated at about €1.2 million. The government (Seán Sherlock, Minister of State) has indicated that it is commissioning a review of the costs and benefits of membership, with the hope of changing its stance on the issue in the near future.

Prof David Nutt talks at Trinity: psychoactive drugs have undeserved stigma

Prof David Nutt, a psychiatrist and neuropsychopharmacologist at Imperial College London, spoke in Trinity’s Lloyd building on 30th January. Hosted jointly by College’s Neurosoc, the School of Psychology, and Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience (TCIN), Nutt spoke compellingly about his work on the personal and social harms of alcohol, the relative safety of other prohibited substances and his controversial dismissal from the UK Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs in 2009. He urged caution about the power of the alcohol industry to direct public sentiment towards illicit drugs, and the consequent unbalanced effect this has on public representatives and drug policy priorities. His talk then focused on his recent research on the effects of psychotropic drugs on the brain, and his navigation of the legal and regulatory barriers that researchers face in studying compounds of potential therapeutic use. He argued that these restrictions are not justified on the basis of sound estimates of associated drug harms. Following well-meaning questions and hearty applause, a wine reception was ironically well attended afterwards. His 2012 book, “Drugs without the hot air: minimizing the harms of legal and illegal drugs” is available for sale.