Author Archives: brian-lawrence-owensgmail-com

Study by proponent of neck vein-widening therapy for MS finds treatment ineffective

The controversial “liberation therapy,” which aims to treat Multiple Sclerosis (MS) by widening narrowed veins in the neck and chest, has been dealt a blow by its main backer.

large-scale randomized clinical trial of venous percutaneous transluminal angioplasty (PTA) found that it is ineffective in treating the neurological condition. The study, published in JAMA Neurology, was led by Dr. Paolo Zamboni — the Italian vascular surgeon who first suggested, in 2009, that narrowed veins in the head and neck, a condition he dubbed chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency (CCSVI), could be a cause of MS and that widening them could treat the diseaseRead more in CMAJ.

The microscope makers

A small community of scientists has taken a do-it-yourself approach to microscopy: when the right tool for the job doesn’t exist, make it.

While pursuing a bioengineering PhD at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Wesley Legant ran into a frustrating roadblock: he had ideas, but the equipment to carry them out didn’t yet exist.

With an interest in cell mechanics and motility, Legant was developing tools to measure the forces that cells exert on their environment. He embedded fluorescent beads in the material surrounding a growing mammalian cell so that as the cell moved, it would deform the material, moving the beads. By measuring how much the beads moved, Legant could calculate the forces exerted by the cell. Still, he had difficulty getting accurate data. “The tools were successful, but I was quickly coming up against limitations in available microscopes,” he says. Read more in Nature.

Obsession with novelty sidelines deeper learning

Too much focus on generating new ideas in science is driving the replication crisis.

An overemphasis on novelty has meant that funders and journal editors are neglecting the equally important work of revisiting old problems, says molecular biologist, Barak Cohen, at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “If we always have to be finding something new to get funding or credit, it’s harder to pursue something in depth.”

Cohen set out his case in an opinion article in the journal eLife this year, calling for a renewed emphasis on research that validates existing ideas, deepens understanding, and improves predictive power. Read more in Nature Index.

Will Passengers Ever Fly on Pilotless Planes?

The technology is progressing quickly, but the main challenge may be overcoming our fears.

Autonomous cars from companies like Google, Uber and Tesla will soon become commonplace on our roads, according to some experts, and aircraft manufacturers are betting that it will only be a matter of time before the skies are filled with autonomous planes as well. Read more in Inside Science.

Nature Outlook: Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a devastating disease with poorly understood causes and no known cure. But research is slowly beginning to bring hope to those affected. This Outlook discusses topics such as: how genetic and epidemiological research are beginning to reveal the secrets of ALS; new drugs and other treatments that are finally becoming available; and the lessons that the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge offers for funding disease research. Read more in this Nature Outlook I edited.

Automated software saves researchers valuable hours

Online tools are lightening the load for authors and journal editors.

An international partnership is developing online tools that could save authors and journal editors hours in manuscript checking, while ensuring, with the help of peer review, that published science is high-quality, replicable, and useful. Read more in Nature Index.

Canada names new chief science adviser

Mona Nemer, a cardiology researcher and vice president of research at the University of Ottawa, has been named Canada’s new chief science adviser by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“Scientists need to have a voice,” Trudeau said, making the announcement in Ottawa today.

Nemer’s office will have a CA$2 million budget, and she will report to both Trudeau and Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan. Her mandate includes providing scientific advice to government ministers, helping keep government-funded science accessible to the public, and protecting government scientists from being muzzled.She will also deliver an annual report to the Prime Minister and science minister on the state of federal government science. Read more in Science.

A budding cannabis research cluster in Fredericton

The city’s two universities create new research chairs related to cannabis.

A new research cluster will soon be sparking to life in Fredericton as the city’s two universities each begin their search for a researcher to fill a new chair in cannabis research, reportedly the first two such chairs in the country.

St. Thomas University’s new chair will focus on the social impact of cannabis, both as a medicinal and recreational drug, while the University of New Brunswick’s chair will tackle the pharmacology and biochemistry of cannabis. Read more in University Affairs.

Canada’s New Arctic Research Facility Prepares to Open

The Canadian High Arctic Research Station in Cambridge Bay will serve as a base for scientists studying everything from the region’s changing cryosphere to how to best deploy renewable energy projects in northern communities.

THIS OCTOBER, AS winter begins to draw near in the Canadian Arctic, a new research facility will finally open its doors.

The Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS) in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, has been 10 years in the making. First announced by the government in 2007, construction on the C$200 million (US$165 million) facility began in 2014 and should be completed by next year – but the official grand opening is set for October, to coincide with Canada’s 150th birthday year. Read more in Arctic Deeply.