Life during a global pandemic takes on a surreal quality. The ubiquitous presence of social media and a constant fire hose of coronavirus news can make it particularly hard if you’re already feeling anxious.
So, we’ve put together a little round-up of recent science news that we find inspiring, encouraging, and worthy of note in these trying times.
1. CRISPR has been used to attempt a cure for genetic blindness for the first time
In a world first, surgeons at Oregon Health & Science Institute have used the CRISPR gene-editing technique to attempt a cure for Leber congenital amaurosis, a rare genetic condition that causes blindness in early childhood.
While we await results on how this experiment worked out, this achievement joins a list of other medical uses of the technique, including the search for a Huntington’s disease cure, herpes, HIV, and immunotherapy for some types of cancer.
Living at a time when medical researchers have this powerful tool at their disposal is certainly a good news item in our books.
2. 60,000 more seed samples have been added to the Arctic seed vault in Svalbard
In February, a huge stock of 60,000 seed samples was added to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault nestled inside a mountain in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, including the first-ever heirloom seed deposit by an indigenous US tribe.
Increasing deposits to this safehouse of crops reflect growing worldwide concern about potential loss of biodiversity and food security – but these actions also demonstrate a beautiful commitment to our future generations.
3. A potential universal flu vaccine has passed an important set of clinical trials
The virus strains that cause influenza are shapeshifters, constantly moving beyond our ability to immunise against them – hence, we need annual flu shots to stay ahead of the disease. A ‘universal’ flu vaccine would give us a huge advantage in this race, and there’s now a truly promising candidate on the cards.
The vaccine, called FLU-v, has successfully passed phase I and phase II clinical trials, demonstrating its safety in human subjects; it’s been found to induce immune responses that last at least six months. We can’t wait to see the results of the next phase of trials.
4. Scientists have invented contact lenses that can correct red-green colour blindness
A new type of contact lens could restore the colour spectrum limitations in people whose eyes struggle to tell apart green and red hues.
This brilliant technology already exists in some cleverly designed sunglasses; soon, people might also have access to it in the highly convenient form of contacts, thanks to a team of engineers at Tel Aviv University.
5. A patient has been declared ‘cured’ of HIV – and it’s not even the first time
Researchers have announced that for the second time ever, a patient carrying the HIV virus has been declared cured, with no trace of infection in his blood 30 months after he stopped traditional treatment, undergoing a specialised type of stem cell therapy.
The achievement doesn’t constitute a generalised cure, because the patient also had a type of lymphoma that enabled him to receive this experimental treatment; but it demonstrates a real breakthrough in medical science, showing scientists are able to push the boundaries like never before.