Peter Higgs: I wouldn’t be productive enough for today’s academic system.


Physicist doubts work like Higgs boson identification achievable now as academics are expected to ‘keep churning out papers’
  • Peter Higgs: 'Today I wouldn't get an academic job. It's as simple as that'.
Peter Higgs: ‘Today I wouldn’t get an academic job. It’s as simple as that’. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

Peter Higgs, the British physicist who gave his name to the Higgs boson, believes no university would employ him in today’s academic system because he would not be considered “productive” enough.

The emeritus professor at Edinburgh University, who says he has never sent an email, browsed the internet or even made a mobile phone call, published fewer than 10 papers after his groundbreaking work, which identified the mechanism by which subatomic material acquires mass, was published in 1964.

He doubts a similar breakthrough could be achieved in today’s academic culture, because of the expectations on academics to collaborate and keep churning out papers. He said: “It’s difficult to imagine how I would ever have enough peace and quiet in the present sort of climate to do what I did in 1964.”

Speaking to the Guardian en route to Stockholm to receive the 2013 Nobel prize for science, Higgs, 84, said he would almost certainly have been sacked had he not been nominated for the Nobel in 1980.

Edinburgh University’s authorities then took the view, he later learned, that he “might get a Nobel prize – and if he doesn’t we can always get rid of him”.

Higgs said he became “an embarrassment to the department when they did research assessment exercises”. A message would go around the department saying: “Please give a list of your recent publications.” Higgs said: “I would send back a statement: ‘None.’ ”

By the time he retired in 1996, he was uncomfortable with the new academic culture. “After I retired it was quite a long time before I went back to my department. I thought I was well out of it. It wasn’t my way of doing things any more. Today I wouldn’t get an academic job. It’s as simple as that. I don’t think I would be regarded as productive enough.”

Higgs revealed that his career had also been jeopardised by his disagreements in the 1960s and 70s with the then principal, Michael Swann, who went on to chair the BBC. Higgs objected to Swann’s handling of student protests and to the university’s shareholdings in South African companies during the apartheid regime. “[Swann] didn’t understand the issues, and denounced the student leaders.”

He regrets that the particle he identified in 1964 became known as the “God particle”.

He said: “Some people get confused between the science and the theology. They claim that what happened at Cern proves the existence of God.”

An atheist since the age of 10, he fears the nickname “reinforces confused thinking in the heads of people who are already thinking in a confused way. If they believe that story about creation in seven days, are they being intelligent?”

He also revealed that he turned down a knighthood in 1999. “I’m rather cynical about the way the honours system is used, frankly. A whole lot of the honours system is used for political purposes by the government in power.”

He has not yet decided which way he will vote in the referendum onScottish independence. “My attitude would depend a little bit on how much progress the lunatic right of the Conservative party makes in trying to get us out of Europe. If the UK were threatening to withdraw from Europe, I would certainly want Scotland to be out of that.”

He has never been tempted to buy a television, but was persuaded to watch The Big Bang Theory last year, and said he wasn’t impressed.

 

Morning-after pill ‘fails in obese’


MorningA French pharmaceutical company has warned a morning-after contraceptive pill may be ineffective in heavier women, following a Scottish study.

Norlevo, made by HRA Pharma, was less effective in women over 11st 3lb (75kg) and ineffective in women over 12st 8lb (80kg), the study suggested.

The US is reviewing guidance as the active ingredient in Norlevo is used in other brands of morning-after pill.

It is thought the drug is absorbed by fat, lowering the dose in the blood.

The study by the University of Edinburgh in 2011 investigated Norlevo’s active ingredient, levonorgestrel.

It indicated obese women taking the emergency contraceptive were four times more likely to become pregnant than women taking the drug who were a normal weight.

The report’s authors recommended other emergency contraceptives were used in overweight and obese women, such as devices that could be implanted into the womb.

Frederique Welgryn, HRA Pharma’s head of women’s health, said the results were “surprising” and had led to “a lot of discussions” about the effectiveness of levonorgestrel.

The labelling on Norlevo is expected to be changed in 2014.

The development has raised concerns about other morning-after pills.

The US regulator, the Food and Drug Administration, said it was “currently reviewing the available and related scientific information on this issue”.-after pill ‘fails in obese’.

Scan predicts heart attack risk


A new way of scanning the heart can identify those who may be at high risk of a heart attack, early tests suggest.

It can identify dangerous plaques in the arteries which nourish the heart. If a fatty plaque ruptures, it can lead to a clot, blocking the flow of blood.

Scientists at the University of Edinburgh said an effective tool for predicting a heart attack would make a “massive difference” to patients.

Experts said it was an exciting start.

More than 100,000 people have a heart attack in the UK each year and disease of the arteries around the heart is the leading cause of death in the world.

Light up

The researchers used a radioactive tracer which can seek out active and dangerous plaques. This was combined with high resolution images of the heart and blood vessels.

The overall effect is a detailed picture of the heart with the danger zones clearly highlighted. The technology is already used to detect tumours in cancer patients.

The first tests of the technique for danger spots in the heart were on 40 patients who had recently had a heart attack.

The scan highlighted the plaque which caused the heart attack in 37 of the patients according to a study published in the Lancet medical journal.

It is the first time a scan has been able to identify danger zones but further tests are needed to see if detecting dangerous plaques before, rather than after, a heart attack has the potential to save lives.

“I suspect not all plaques detected will cause a heart attack, but it could be useful for identifying high risk patients who need aggressive therapy,” cardiologist Dr Marc Dweck told the BBC.

This could include drugs such as statins or aspirin, drastic lifestyle change or even inserting stents into the arteries to keep them open.

Scan
The scan shows a cross-section of the heart and the high risk plaque in orange

‘Massive difference’

The researchers will look at high risk patients, including those about to have surgery, to see if the scan can save lives.

Dr Dweck said if this scan or similar ones proved successful it would make a “massive difference”.

He said: “Heart attacks are the biggest killer in the Western world and there is no prior warning, the first time people know about heart disease is when they have a heart attack.

“If we can treat and stabilise the plaques then we might be able to prevent heart attacks and stop people dying.”

Prof Peter Weissberg, the medical director of the British Heart Foundation, said: “Being able to identify dangerous fatty plaques likely to cause a heart attack is something that conventional heart tests can’t do.

“This research suggests that PET-CT scanning may provide an answer – identifying ‘ticking time bomb’ patients at risk of a heart attack.

“We now need to confirm these findings, and then understand how best to use new tests like this in the clinic to benefit heart patients.”

Prof Andrew Morris, the chief scientist for health in Scotland, said: “These are exciting data – being able to prospectively identify patients at the highest risk of a heart attack and provide treatment to prevent this would be a significant step forward.”

Li-Fi to replace Wi-Fi in China?


Chinese scientists have successfully developed a new cheaper way of getting connected to internet by using signals sent through light bulbs instead of radio frequencies as in Wi-Fi, a move expected to radically change process of online connectivity.

Four computers can be connected to internet through one- watt LED bulb using light as a carrier instead of traditional radio frequencies, as in Wi-Fi, said Chi Nan, an information technology professor with Shanghai‘s Fudan University.

Under the new discovery dubbed as ‘Li-Fi‘, a light bulb with embedded microchips can produce data rates as fast as 150 megabits per second, which is speedier than the average broadband connection in China, said Chi, who leads a Li-Fi research team including scientists from the Shanghai Institute of Technical Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The term Li-Fi was coined by Harald Haas from the University of Edinburgh in the UK and refers to a type of visible light communication technology that delivers a networked, mobile, high-speed communication solution in a similar manner as Wi-Fi.

With Li-Fi cost-effective as well as efficient, netizens should be excited to view 10 sample Li-Fi kits that will be on display at the China International Industry Fair that will kick off on November 5 in Shanghai.

The current wireless signal transmission equipment is expensive and low in efficiency, Chi said.

“As for cell phones, millions of base stations have been established around the world to strengthen the signal but most of the energy is consumed on their cooling systems,” she said.

“The energy utilisation rate is only 5 per cent,” state-run Xinhua news agency quoted her as saying.

Li-Fi was touted as a boon to China netizen community, the highest in the world with about 600 million connections.

Compared with base stations, the number of light bulbs that can be used is practically limitless.

Meanwhile, Chinese people are replacing the old-fashioned incandescent bulbs with LED light bulbs at a fast pace.

“Wherever there is an LED light bulb, there is an internet signal. Turn off the light and there is no signal,” Chi said.

However, there is still a long way to go to make Li-Fi a commercial success.

“If the light is blocked, then the signal will be cut off,” Chi said.

More importantly, according to the scientist, the development of a series of key related pieces of technology, including light communication controls as well as microchip design and manufacturing, is still in an experimental period.

MS damage repair treatment looked at by Edinburgh researchers.


New treatments that could help slow the progression of multiple sclerosis could be a step closer due to research by Edinburgh University.

In MS patients the protective layer around nerve cells in the brain, known as myelin, is broken down.

Scientists have discovered that immune cells, known as macrophages, help trigger the regeneration of myelin.

The researchers hope their work could eventually lead to the development of new drugs.

The sheath around nerves cells, made of myelin, is destroyed in MS, leaving the nerves struggling to pass on messages.

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This leads to problems with mobility, balance and vision. There is no cure but current treatments concentrate on limiting the damage to myelin.

‘Stripped away’

Now the team at Edinburgh University has found that the immune cells, known as macrophages, can release a compound called activin-A, which activates production of more myelin.

Dr Veronique Miron, from the Medical Research Council Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the university, said: “In multiple sclerosis patients, the protective layer surrounding nerve fibres is stripped away and the nerves are exposed and damaged.

 “Start Quote

We look forward to seeing this research develop further”

Dr Susan Kohlhaas MS Society

“Approved therapies for multiple sclerosis work by reducing the initial myelin injury – they do not promote myelin regeneration.

“This study could help find new drug targets to enhance myelin regeneration and help to restore lost function in patients with multiple sclerosis.”

The study, which looked at myelin regeneration in human tissue samples and in mice, was funded by the MS Society, the Wellcome Trust and the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada.

The findings are published in Nature Neuroscience.

Scientists now plan to start further research to look at how activin-A works and whether its effects can be enhanced.

Dr Susan Kohlhaas, head of biomedical research at the MS Society, said: “We urgently need therapies that can help slow the progression of MS and so we’re delighted researchers have identified a new, potential way to repair damage to myelin.

“We look forward to seeing this research develop further.”

Source:BBC

 

 

 

 

Children of obese mothers ‘have higher heart risk’.


Children born to obese and overweight mothers are more likely to die early of heart disease, a study has found.

Scottish research showed a 35% higher risk of dying before the age of 55 in adults whose mothers were obese in pregnancy.

It is not known how much of the link is down to genetics, influences in the womb or later lifestyle.

But the authors say their findings, in the British Medical Journal, are of “major public health concern”.

One woman in five in the UK is obese at their antenatal booking appointment.

Continue reading the main story

“Start Quote

This study emphasises the need for everyone, but in particular pregnant women, to try to eat healthily and be active”

Doireann MaddockBritish Heart Foundation

Premature deaths

The analysis included 28,540 women whose weight was recorded at their first antenatal check-up and their 37,709 children now aged between 34 and 61.

One in five mothers was classed as overweight with a body mass index (BMI) between 25 and 29.9 and 4% were obese with a BMI above 30.

There were 6,551 premature deaths from any cause and heart disease was the leading contributor.

The risk of premature death was 35% higher among people born to obese mothers compared with those whose mothers had had normal weight in pregnancy. This was after adjusting the results for factors such as the mother’s age at delivery, social class and infant birthweight.

The results also revealed that children born to obese mothers went on to be at 42% increased risk of being treated in hospital for a heart attack, stroke or angina.

Appetite control

Study leader Prof Rebecca Reynolds, of the University of Edinburgh, said the results highlighted the importance of current advice to maintain a healthy weight, eat sensibly and keep active during pregnancy.

She added that more work was needed to unpick the reasons for the increased risk and to look at the impact of weight gain over pregnancy.

“It would be nice to know how much of this risk is modifiable.”

Previous research has shown a link between obesity in pregnancy and changes in appetite control and metabolism in children.

Prof Sir Stephen O’Rahilly, of the University of Cambridge, warned that obesity runs in families.

“Obese people are at higher risk of heart disease, so it is very likely that the people in this study whose mothers were obese were fatter than those whose mothers were lean.”

‘Eat healthily’

The researchers did not measure or account for this.

The Royal College of Midwives said it was important for women to start their pregnancy at a normal weight.

But Louise Silverton, RCM director for midwifery, said not all pregnancies are planned and midwives work hard to support women avoid excess weight gain and lose weight sensibly after birth.

Drastic dieting is not recommended.

Doireann Maddock, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, which part-funded the study, said: “This study emphasises the need for everyone, but in particular pregnant women, to try to eat healthily and be active.”

Source: BBC

 

Life created from eggs made from skin cells.


Stem cells made from skin have become “grandparents” after generations of life were created in experiments by scientists in Japan.

The cells were used to create eggs, which were fertilised to produce baby mice. These later had their own babies.

If the technique could be adapted for people, it could help infertile couples have children and even allow women to overcome the menopause.

But experts say many scientific and ethical hurdles must be overcome.

Healthy and fertile

Stem cells are able to become any other type of cell in the body from blood to bone, nerves to skin.

Last year the team at Kyoto University managed to make viable sperm from stem cells. Now they have performed a similar feat with eggs.

They used stem cells from two sources: those collected from an embryo and skin-like cells which were reprogrammed into becoming stem cells.

The first step, reported in the journal Science, was to turn the stem cells into early versions of eggs.

A “reconstituted ovary” was then built by surrounding the early eggs with other types of supporting cells which are normally found in an ovary. This was transplanted into female mice.

Surrounding the eggs in this environment helped them to mature.

IVF techniques were used to collect the eggs, fertilise them with sperm from a male mouse and implant the fertilised egg into a surrogate mother.

Dr Katsuhiko Hayashi, from Kyoto University, told the BBC: “They develop to be healthy and fertile offspring.”

Those babies then had babies of their own, whose “grandmother” was a cell in a laboratory dish.

Devastating blow

The ultimate aim of the research is to help infertile couples have children. If the same methods could be used in people then cells in skin could be turned into an egg. Any resulting child would be genetically related to the mother.

However, Dr Hayashi said that was still a distant prospect: “I must say that it is impossible to adapt immediately this system to human stem cells, due to a number of not only scientific reasons, but also ethical reasons.”

He said that the level of understanding of human egg development was still too limited. There would also be questions about the long-term consequences on the health of any resulting child.

Dr Evelyn Telfer, from the University of Edinburgh, said: “It’s an absolutely brilliant paper – they made oocytes [eggs] from scratch and get live offspring. I just thought wow! The science is quite brilliant.”

However, she warned that this had “no clinical relevance” as there were still too many gaps in understanding about how human eggs developed.

“If you can show it works in human cells it is like the Holy Grail of reproductive biology,” she added.

Prof Robert Norman, from the University of Adelaide, said: “For many infertile couples, finding they have no sperm or eggs is a devastating blow.

“This paper offers light to those who want a child, who is genetically related to them, by using personalised stem cells to create eggs that can produce an offspring that appears to be healthy.

“It also offers the potential for women to have their own children well past menopause raising even more ethical issues.

“Application to humans is still a long way off, but for the first time the goal appears to be in sight.”

Dr Allan Pacey, from the British Fertility Society and the University of Sheffield, said: “What is remarkable about this work is the fact that, although the process is still quite inefficient, the offspring appeared healthy and were themselves fertile as adults.”

Source:BBC

 

 

Researchers create the first atlas of gene activity in the human brain.


An international team of researchers has created a high-resolution, 3-dimensional map of gene expression in human brains, using donated, whole brains from two males and a single hemisphere from a third man’s brain, according to a new study published last week (September 19) in Nature.

The researchers, led by Michael Hawrylycz of the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, created the atlas by assembling transcription data—collected using DNA microarrays—from around 900 precisely cut brain pieces and overlaying them on MRI brain scans of the donated brains taken before dicing. The maps—freely available online—could help scientists test hypotheses of brain function, disease, and evolution.

“By themselves these data do not hold all of the answers for understanding how the brain works,” Ed Lein, a neuroscientist at the Allen Institute and co-author of the study, told LiveScience. “However, we hope they serve as a catalyst in human brain research for understanding the brain’s complex chemistry and cellular makeup.”

For example, scientists studying particular disorders could use imaging techniques, such functional MRI, to assess brain areas involved, then consult the new atlas to evaluate the genes expressed in those regions, which are displayed by a simple, color-coded guide to show the relative level of gene expression. Currently researchers rely on piecemeal studies of mouse brains for such expression information.

Coauthor Seth Grant of Edinburgh University told BBC News that for brain research to progress it is “essential to understand how it makes all of the genes and where they are expressed in the human brain.”

Source: http://the-scientist.com