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September 5, 2011 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

Recent Science Round-up!

For today’s column I thought it would be nice to celebrate a couple of the recent successes in science from New Zealand and around the world.

First up is a recent approval of a new drug to fight HIV. The drug, called tenofovir, is a vaccine. This means that it can help prevent you getting infected with the HIV virus in the first place—treating the disease once you have it is another job. The studies which led to the approval included almost ten thousand people in Kenya and Uganda, countries where HIV is a big problem, and found that those taking the drug daily had their chances of being infected with the virus reduced by between 62% and 73% compared to a placebo group. Earlier studies in different groups showed a 44% reduction. And that’s pretty big news! It actually represents a significant reduction in risk if you have exposure to HIV, and here’s the real kicker: the tablets are available for as little as twenty-five cents per tablet. That’s a price which could actually be achievable for a lot of people in poor countries where HIV is common.

This story was interesting to me not only because it is a development which will save a lot of lives, but also because AIDS has been one of the most challenging medical problems for humans to solve for over two decades. That we have made a breakthrough in such a difficult problem is an encouraging sign for the state of medical science. Perhaps effective heart disease and cancer treatments aren’t such a pipe dream after all!

My other story is another exciting medical breakthrough, this one made right here in New Zealand! Another unsolved problem in medicine has been how to effectively treat patients with severely damaged or underdeveloped intestines. Probably not something you think about every day, but your intestines are just as much a vital part of your body as your liver or kidneys – without functioning bowels you will die pretty quickly. Current treatment methods mostly are intestine transplants—which are a very tricky operation with a high risk of complication—or intravenous feeding, which you would have to repeat every day of your life. The team from Christchurch Hospital’s Department of Paediatric Surgery, led by Dr Atsushi Yoshida and Professor Spencer Beasley, have developed a method to successfully grow functioning human bowel muscle cells. This could lead to artificially grown replacements grown from the patient’s own cells, and therefore have very slim chances of rejection. A much better treatment!

What excites me the most about this story is seeing a discovery which will have such a huge impact on the entire world being made right here in New Zealand! Yet more proof that you don’t need to leave New Zealand in order to do world-leading science—which is good news for me!

I find that keeping up with the latest research is pretty exciting. There’s always something new to learn, and it continues to give me hope that tomorrow will be better than today.


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