Scientific snippets from Australia

Published 18 May 2012
When browsing online news bulletins, Mark Tronson, Well-Being Australia Chairman, sometimes finds interesting articles on science and he has summarised three of them below.

He is impressed how often Australian scientists are cited, and wonders why Australians don't have more of a culture of philanthropy that would support research with long-term benefits. Like many Australians, he understands but questions the mass of funding to some of the 'instant feel-good' charities where there is no guarantee that the money will be used as intended.

Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy may be treated by a potential diabetes drug

There are several types of muscular dystrophy, a muscle-wasting disease that causes early death of the patient. Not all causes are known, and there is virtually no effective treatment. The particular type called Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), however, is known to be caused by a specific a genetic mutation.

If a woman has one faulty X chromosome and one normal X, she will not show symptoms but there will be a 50% chance she will pass on the faulty gene. If her husband has a normal X, a daughter of theirs will inherit one X from each parent and though she might be a carrier, she will not be sick. Boys, however, have only one X chromosome, passed on from their mother, and a Y from their father. So if this woman passes her faulty X to a son, he will have DMD and his muscle cells will not be able to naturally repair themselves. His body will start to deteriorate slowly from about the age of 5. (en.wikipedia.org)

A recent SBS news item (via the UK Channel 4) interviewed a sufferer, John Hastie, who has made a film about his life: (www.internationalmovietrailerfestival.com)

Some Australian scientists have found that a drug being trialled to help diabetics (but is not yet on the market) may prove to be a realistic therapy for DMD patients. (www.sciencedaily.com)

Their work on this fundamental understanding is so highly regarded by their international peers that it has been published in the famous journal, "Nature". (www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature10980.html)

Mark Tronson notes that it could take up to 10 years for all the trials to be ethically and accurately completed, so that any side-effects documented and alleviated, but this is a necessary start and a breakthrough that brings hope for the future of many.

A recent announcement of a breakthrough has been announced that might help sufferers of another form of this disease, such as Businessman Bill Moss, who started a Foundation to raise money to support research – and now it is paying dividends. (www.smh.com.au)

Australian chemist elected to two prestigious international organisations

A much-admired and respected academic from the University of New South Wales, Professor David Black FRACI, FAAS (Fellow of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute and Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science), has been elected as Secretary General of the International Council for Science Unions.

This is a non-government organisation with representation from scientific associations and unions from all over the globe. It plans and co-ordinates interdisciplinary research of relevance to peoples' lives, putting scientists from different countries in touch with others who have similar interests.

Professor Black is also the current Secretary General of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, which upholds standards and protocols for a range of matters pertaining to the practice, conduct and standards of the work of professional academic chemists (not pharmacists). (Report from 'Chemistry in Australia' magazine, Feb 2012, p.16)

More effective vaccines may follow from understanding the immune system

When our bodies are invaded by foreign particles or micro-organisms, the surfaces of certain cells of our immune system recognise the damage caused, and initiate our body's own immune response, and that helps us to overcome the infection.

Scientists from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne have shown how the proteins on the surface of these cells work to identify the 'invaders'. This knowledge could lead to more effective new vaccines against scourges such as HIV and malaria; and also enable current common vaccines to use much less of the active ingredients, reducing any side effects and enabling more specific, effective vaccines to be made. (www.sciencedaily.com)

Since completing this work, two of these scientists have accepted positions at the Burnet Institute in Melbourne. Named in honour of Australian Nobel Laureate, Sir Macfarlane Burnet, this not-for profit Institute seeks to benefit humankind by understanding and fighting diseases all over the world. It employs highly qualified scientists, providing jobs for our top 'brains' and also ensuring innovative research.

Philanthropic donations from the public are welcomed as part of the funding base for this Institute. (Burnet Institute: http://www.burnet.edu.au/ )

Mark Tronson says the Bible often talks about the value of supporting your own society. For example, 1 Timothy 5:8: "But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." His own Mission also relies on faith-funding from the community.

Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.

Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html

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