Aducanumab: The Controversial Therapy for Alzheimer‘s Disease

In June of 2021, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted landmark approval to aducanumab – a biopharmaceutical developed by Biogen, targeted to treat  Alzheimer’s disease (AD). AD is the most common form of dementia, hallmarked by progressive cognitive decline and memory loss. 

Historically, AD therapies have focused on alleviating the symptoms rather than targeting the root cause of the disease. Aducanumab, however, is the first approved drug that could tackle one of the putative pathogenetic pathways of AD: the formation of amyloid-β plaques in the brain. Nevertheless, is this truly the root cause of AD? And was the aducanumab trial data robust enough to warrant FDA approval? Questions such as these fuel the controversy within the scientific community.

DNA-based digital data storage: how nature holds the key to the data storage problem

Digital data production is growing exponentially, but current storage technologies are not keeping up with demand. Some researchers are advocating for DNA-based data storage as an alternative. DNA can hold 9Tb per mm3 after considering practical system overheads, resulting in a storage density 115,000 times higher than current archival storage methods can provide. Additionally, DNA-based storage requires little to no maintenance and fewer resources than present storage technology, and it is unlikely to ever become obsolete. The DNA storage pipeline of going from bits to DNA bases and vice versa consists of the following steps: writing (encoding and DNA synthesis), storage, retrieval and reading (DNA sequencing and decoding). DNA synthesis is currently the major bottleneck for commercialising the technology due to its high costs and time consumption. This article discusses the principles of DNA-based storage, the current commercial position of DNA-mediated archival storage and technological improvements necessary for further upscaling.

Cancer treatment – thinking beyond CAR T-cell therapy

Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy is a type of immunotherapy which has gained a lot of attention in recent years. This therapy relies on a chimeric T-cell receptor first introduced in 1987. This discovery led to a development of the first generation CARs by an Israeli immunologist Zelig Eshhar in 1993. Since then, genetically engineered T-cells possessing this chimeric receptor have been used to develop an effective, targeted treatment for various types of cancer. This extensive research resulted in the first FDA-approved CAR T-cell therapy for B-cell lymphomas in 2017. However, this treatment is mostly effective for hematological cancers while solid tumours are particularly difficult to treat. Nevertheless, in recent years there have been many advantages in this field that aimed to modify this therapy for solid tumour treatment. Such methods involve either the combination of CAR T-cell therapy with other cancer immunotherapies, or the use of other types of immune cells, such as natural killer (NK) cells and macrophages. This review article first outlines the principle of CAR T-cell therapy and then discusses new developments in this field, with a particular focus on solid tumours.

How has industrialisation and animal domestication impacted the human gut microbiome

The gut microbiome consists of all microorganisms that are present in the gastrointestinal tract (GIT). The gut microbiota, more specifically, consists of all bacteria, both commensal and pathogenic that reside in the GI tract. It has gained increasing popularity due to its newly discovered important role in metabolism and immune protection against pathogens.

The Fantastical World of Hormones with Professor John Wass

In this documentary, Professor John Wass, Professor of Endocrinology at Oxford University, highlights the importance of key hormones and the stories behind their discoveries. Hormones, a term coined by Ernest Starling from the Greek “haumea”, meaning “to excite”, is a fitting name for molecules which act on target cells resulting in a specific function. To date, more than 80 hormones of varying types, such as amines, peptides and steroids, have been discovered in humans. Professor Wass places prominence on testosterone, thyroid hormones, adrenalin and oestrogen. Moreover, the role of the pituitary gland, pancreas and fat cells in maintaining hormone levels is revealed. The greatly accomplished Professor Wass is a fantastic orator and has delivered a memorable and educational documentary. 

Why Do Dogs Understand Human Body Language?

Science experiments do not get much more fun than playing with puppies – especially when there are almost 400 of them. Through the study of puppies, a team from the Arizona Canine Cognition Centre have been able to learn more about dogs’ ability to understand human body language.

Down your daily dose of exercise with a glass of water

Would an exercise pill be effective and is it a good idea? This article was inspired by a piece written in the New Scientist by Jo Marchant and summarises the research, concerns and hopes for exercise mimetic drugs that may help combat the health hazards of our increasingly sedentary lifestyles.

You and the Planet: Oceans

“You and the planet: oceans” is part of a series delivered by The Royal Society. Joined by two biologists, Diva Amon and Richard Thompson; Jahawi Bertolli, a professional wildlife film-maker; and Angela Hatton, a representative from the management team at the National Oceanography Center, this discussion is held to make the public aware of the true extent of issues concerning the oceans, and to educate us on what we should and can do to help the oceans recover. Here, I summarise a few main points from the session.