Breakthrough stem cell find in Madrid

It’s a scientific breakthrough.
Researchers in Madrid have successfully reprogrammed adult cells in living animals, creating stem cells that have the ability to grow into any tissue found in the body. Until now, these stem cells – known as pluripotent stem cells – have only ever been created in a lab after being removed from the animal. However, researchers at the National Cancer Research Centre in Madrid were able to create them in the bodies of living mice. They found that they could reprogram adult cells from the mice using a cocktail of so-called “reprogramming factors”.
“It’s something we never expected, it was a surprise and it opens up the chance to create more efficient cells than those generated in vitro,” says head team researcher Manuel Serrano.
Cells in the rodents’ kidney, stomach, intestine and pancreas all showed signs of being reprogrammed back to an extremely versatile and powerful state, like embryonic stem cells. The technique confirms that reprogramming can be done in living tissue and not just in the lab dish.
“In multiple tissues and in many places the cells lose their identity. For example liver cells are no longer liver cells, the same goes for bowel cells etc… they become embryonic stem cells,” said Dr Serrano.
The technique overcomes the difficulties inherent in making cells outside the body, grafting them into people, and then of potential rejection. It opens up a whole world of new clinical opportunities, according to the researchers.
However, therapeutic applications, such as repairing damaged spinal cord or creating new insulin-producing cells, are still distant. Clinical trials on humans are unlikely to start before 2018, according to Dr Serrano.
The researchers in Madrid were inspired by a technique invented by Nobel prize-winner Shinya Yamanaka. His team created embryonic stem cells of a new type by reprogramming adult cells in a lab dish with a combination of four genes. This procedure turned their clock back to an immature stage where they could become any sort of specialist cell. This was done in a lab, however, not in a living animal.
The researchers in Madrid did something quite different: they bred genetically engineered mice with the same cocktail of four reprogramming genes – and switched them on by adding a particular drug to the animals’ drinking water. After a few weeks, embryonic stem cells appeared in multiple tissues and organs. The researchers extracted these cells and demonstrated through various tests that they were similar to those in a new embryo. Embryonic cells made in so-called “reprogrammable mice” also survive in culture dishes outside the animals.
“Being able to manipulate them in the laboratory will allow us to get to know them better and find out how far they can develop,” said researcher Maria Abad.
The next step is to find out whether these new stem cells can efficiently generate different kinds of tissue such as pancreas, liver or kidney tissue.
It may all sound like science fiction. And so far, it is. But sci-fi could soon become reality. The first trial of stem cells produced from a patient’s own body has been approved by the Japanese government. Researchers will use the cells to attempt to treat a form of age-related blindness. And the Spanish discovery plays a crucial role in developing this new kind of therapy.

Aviation: from scrap to eco-design

What happens to a plane after it touches down for the very last time? After millions of air miles, the workhorses of the sky become simply a mass of junk material that needs to be disposed of.
The challenges are many and varied. Recyclable materials must first be identified and then incorporated into the greener aircraft design of the future.
A European research initiative is looking at ways to make the process economically viable.
Ayçe Çelikel, from the AIMERE Project and president of Environmental and Economic Research for Transportation, said: “With regards to the alloys and metals recovered,we have to localise the titanium, which is more valuable than aluminum. It concerns the whole life cycle of the plane and the aim is to design aircraft without these problems. The approach to recycling will influence future aircraft design.”
The number of aircraft in use globally is continuing to grow. In Europe some 6,000 planes will reach the end of their flying days over the next 20 years. Therefore the necessity to develop profitable disposal techniques is essential and the impact on the environment is of major concern.
Martin Fraissignes, Executive Director of Chateauroux airport in France, believes the industry is now on track to develop a systematic dismantling process: “The end of life management for aircraft has only recently become a concern for the industry. So we have to define a code of conduct and best practices, to dismantle and recycle the materials, under strict environmental guidelines.”
Having been cleansed of hazardous liquids and radioactive components the dismantling process can begin.
At this stage the identification of recyclable materials is important. So a systematic search for re-usable components gets underway.
Olivier Dieu from Valliere Aviation, explained the process:“We recover all valuable parts, landing gear, engines and avionics, air conditioning etc. that can be sold on to a second market.”
A plane is made up of 60 percent aluminum, 15 percent steel and 10 percent precious metals such as titanium.
Discussions about the profitability of some aspects of the process are ongoing and solutions will be found, according to Torsten Müller from the Fraunhofer Institute for Chemical Technologies: “The biggest problem is the recycling procedure, because the profit margins are too small to make the process profitable, especially for plastic material. A legal framework and a precisely mapped dismantling procedure is the best solution.”
Finding a second wind for these aging birds is crucial to a greener flying future.

Giant airline merger grounded in USA

The US Justice Department, the District of Colombia and six states have joined forces to block the mega-merger of American Airlines and US Airways, which would have created the world’s biggest carrier.
The Justice Department said it would be a bad deal for the American consumer, leading to higher prices and less choice and competition. The merged company would, for example, control 69 percent of flights out of Washington.
The deal, worth over 8.25 billion euros, was announced in February and immediately attracted flak, but after ceding landing and takeoff slots in London and Philadelphia the EU granted approval.
Both companies’ shares fell on the news.
They could be in for a long and bruising courtroom battle against seasoned lawyers if they choose to keep fighting.
Several experts in competition law say that the aggressive stance taken by the Justice Department in the suit it filed in US District Court in Washington signals a sincere intention to block the deal, not just a mere negotiating ploy to get concessions before possible future approval.

Egypt faces tourism crash

Tourism is a lifeblood for the Egyptian economy; it accounts for 12% of GDP, but tour operators and governments are queuing up to warn people to stay away.
The Italian government on Sunday warned its nationals to stay in their resorts and not book holidays; the UK said the same along with Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, Russia, France, and Spain.
“We aren’t accepting any departures until August 20. Some other tour operators have stopped bookings until 15 September. This is the case in Germany, to a certain extent in France, and in Russia where they will stop travelling for a while,” says tour operator Fabio
Catafei at Rome airport.
Most deemed at risk are the Red Sea resorts, Cairo and its pyramids, and the Nile cruises. Europe’s largest tour operator, Germany’s TUI has cancelled all its domestic client’s trips until mid-September.
The Mugada resort was the scene of a big pro-Brotherhood demonstration in the town on Saturday, as the unrest spread from the capital.

Eurozone business expands, retail sales weak

There was mixed news for the eurozone where business expanded for the first time in 18 months in July, albeit very slightly. But at the same time we learned that retail sales declined again in June.
Surveys of thousands of companies in the 17 countries using the euro, suggested the region’s economy is slowly starting to stabilise – even if healthy growth still looks to be a long way off.
That supports the European Central Bank’s hopes for a gradual overall improvement later this year, which is likely to be driven mainly by exports and low interest rates.
The ECB did cut its main interest rate to a record low of 0.5 percent in May and has said it will keep rates low for an extended period, in part to boost weak consumer spending.
“Cusp of recovery”
“Granted, the euro area has experienced false dawns before, but the improvements in confidence and other forward-looking indicators warrant at least some optimism for the outlook this time around,” said Rob Dobson, senior economist at PMI compiler Markit.
“The real sparks which will hopefully ignite the recovery are the increasing signs of stabilisation in domestic markets. This not only aided manufacturers, but also pulled the service sector right back to the cusp of recovery.”
German business activity rebounded in July, while the downturns in the euro zone’s next three biggest economies – France, Italy and Spain – eased.
Retail dip
However, highlighting how fragile the bloc’s recovery is retail sales fell broadly for the first time in three months in June linked to depressed household spending from the long recession and record high unemployment.
Fuel sales rose, but spending on food, drink and tobacco was down 0.6 percent from the previous month and there was a 0.2 percent decrease in purchases of electronics and clothing and items bought over the internet.
Retail sales in the largest economy Germany fell 1.5 percent while France, the second largest, saw a 0.6 percent increase.
One positive interpretation of the numbers came from Peter Vanden Houte, chief eurozone economist at ING, who said: “The negative retail sales growth figure in June is probably just a correction after the strong increase in May and not the start of a renewed downward trend.”
The EU’s statistics office Eurostat did issue a revised 1.1 percent rise for May.