December 5, 2021

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

Themes from the last fortnight have been mosquito diseases, inflammation in disease and graphene ...


Themes from the last fortnight have been cutting mosquito diseases, the role of inflammation in disease and the graphene gimmick.

Cutting mosquito diseases

Dengue fever is transmitted by mosquitoes and affects 50 million people around the globe but a new prevention method is being tested in Bahia, Brazil. The country recently became the first to approve the use of genetically modified (GM) insects and a large swarm of male GM mosquitos are being reared to try and crash population numbers. The GM mosquitoes have a defect that prevents their offspring from reproducing and trials have shown that adding them to the ecosystem can lead to a 79% drop in numbers, although there are some concerns that further lab studies should be carried out before the new insects are released into the wild.

If the trial is successful it may also help to neuter other mosquito-transmitted diseases like malaria.  World Malaria Day last week highlighted how over 200 million still suffer clinical episodes from the disease per year while over half the world’s population live in affected areas. This year’s headline programme for World Malaria Day was the Europe funded Nanomal, headed by Professor Krishna, a Section Editor for BMC Infectious Diseases. He explains in a BioMed Central video how a new malaria diagnosis device could become affordable, accurate, durable and user friendly.

The Big Push campaign is aiming for a future where no death is caused by a mosquito bite and, according to the website, we’re closer than you might think.

Inflammatory causes

Because inflammation is a normal body response to damage, it seemed to be below the radar in the search for Alzheimer’s treatments. In fact, it could hold the key – inflammation around the body may hasten the onset of Alzheimer’s by sending the brain’s immune system into a hyperactive state during which it starts disposing of healthy neurons. Trials are underway to see how Etanercept, an anti-inflammatory drug already used to help suffers of rheumatoid arthritis, might slow the onset of Alzheimer’s.

The good news couldn’t come at a better time. A piece in the Huffington Post examined the rising problem of Alzheimer’s in America, including how it affects one in ten above 65 years old, and 50% of people over 85. An article in Wired said it has the potential to bankrupt the country. But it’s not just Alzheimer’s that inflammation can affect. A recent article on Live Science explained how the inflammation that occurs during rheumatoid arthritis also increases the risk of osteoporosis, depression and heart attack. Maybe our native inflammation-response system needs a bit of help when we reach old age.

The graphene gimmick

Kitchen blenders were all over the news this fortnight but this wasn’t a PR stunt by Kenwood Limited. The big sensation is that graphene can be made in a simple kitchen blender. The New Scientist ran with the headline “Make graphene in your kitchen with soap and a blender” then much later in the article warned that under no circumstances should you attempt to make graphene in your kitchen with your blender. The BBC totally missed the point of the story and neglected to include both the problem the young graphene industry is currently facing, and how the new research might help solve it. Instead, their piece dwelt on how a kitchen blender works, and how wonderful graphene may soon give us thinner condoms.

So, for those of you who missed it: It’s hard to make large amounts of very high quality graphene. An Irish-UK team have found a new technique. The new technique could upscale to a 10,000 litre tank that, calculations show, might produce 100g of high quality graphene per hour – a big improvement. Finally, the new technique involves shearing (like wot a kitchen blender dus).

For more on why graphene is awesome, check out this fun video produced by the European Graphene-Flagship initiative.

Image from shuttershock.