Sick American dogs get first shot at cancer drugs
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17 October 2009 | NewScientist | 7
through the debris plume created by the rocket impact.
Earthbound observers failed to see any sign of a plume, as had been hoped. Even the Hubble Space Telescope came up empty. NASA claimed a technical victory, but it will likely be remembered as an anticlimax. It was neither a failure, such as the loss of the Mars Polar Lander in 1999, or a great success, like the spectacular comet collision of the Deep Impact mission in 2005.
Still, the infrared flash of the impact, which appeared in LCROSS data, may reveal big clues about lunar ice in the coming weeks.
CONSERVATION biologists may be deluding themselves.
An analysis of the minimum number of individuals needed for a species’ long-term survival concludes that conservation practices underestimate the risk of extinction by not fully allowing for the dangers posed by the loss of genetic diversity. If correct, it means the number of individuals in endangered species are being allowed to dwindle too far.
Lochran Traill at the University of Adelaide, Australia, and colleagues found that for thousands of species, the minimum viable population size – where a species has a 90 per cent chance of surviving the next 100 years – comes in at thousands rather than hundreds of individuals. Many biologists, Traill says, work with lower numbers and unacceptably high extinction risks (Biological
Conservation, DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2009.09.001).
“If critically endangered species are not brought up to total population sizes of a few thousand, then we are simply managing for their short-term persistence,” Traill says. He hopes his work will “encourage greater focus of resources to populations that need attention now”.
IT’S pink, grows in China, and wild Asian elephants love it. The Yunnan banana (Musa iterans) is also the 24,200th wild plant species banked by the Kew Millennium Seed Bank Partnership. It marks the point at which the bank has reached its initial target of collecting 10 per cent of the world’s known wild plant species.
Set up in 2000, the seed bank at Kew Gardens in London is the world’s largest for wild plants. The idea is that the seeds can all be accessed in one place to help researchers hunt for potential
medicinal species and crops resilient to climate change .
“We have every reason to be proud, but there’s much left to be done,” says Paul Smith, head of the partnership. Its next target is to have banked one-quarter of
the world’s wild species by 2020. The other large collection is
the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway, which collects crops to preserve them in case of disease.
“The seed bank will help in the hunt for potential medicinal species or crops resilient to climate change”
PET dogs with cancer in the US are
now entitled to receive experimental
drugs – before the drugs are available
for humans. Twelve trials are under
way on groups of 15 to 60 dogs,
and in several of the animals cancers
“We’ve had dramatic remissions
in dogs with really aggressive
cancers,” says Chand Khanna, head
of the Comparative Oncology Trials
Consortium newly formed in
Bethesda, Maryland, by the US
National Cancer Institute.
Unlike mice and rats, dogs
experience cancer in a similar way to
humans. As in people, cancers in dogs
spread to form secondaries and can
become resistant to drugs. The
animals can also have relapses.
The consortium consists of
19 veterinary schools, and there are
plans to extend it to Europe. Owners
can opt for conventional drugs or
experimental ones, including some
that are untested in humans and
others that are already undergoing
trials, but that need additional animal
data – for example on dosing – before
they can proceed to the next stage
(PLoS Medicine, DOI: 10.1371/
As well as looking after their sick
dog, owners can help gather data for
the researchers. “They’re given
notebooks so that they can complete
assessments of quality of life,
appetite, demeanour and perhaps
even collect some specimens,”
Sick dogs get newest drugs
–Getting better all the time–
Ice to see youAt last, a temporary reprieve for
Arctic ice. Thirty-two per cent of
ice remaining at the end of the
2009 melt season was two years old,
compared with 9 per cent in 2008
and 21 per cent in 2007, according
to the US National Snow and Ice
Data Centre. This gives some hope
that the ice will thicken this winter
and stabilise for a few years.
Go long and prosperA proposal to visit asteroids and orbit
Mars has received a boost. NASA’s
future options for human space-
flight are being scored by a White
House panel, based on 12 criteria. An
early report puts the so-called “deep
space” option ahead of a return to
the moon, but that’s based on only
four criteria: schedule, cost, benefits
to science, and preserving workforce.
A full report is expected this month.
In deep waterThe government of the Maldives
will hold a cabinet meeting 6 metres
underwater on 17 October. Scuba
gear is the dress code for the event,
which seeks to raise awareness of
the rising sea-levels which could
devastate the atoll.
Abortions slashedFour million fewer abortions were
carried out worldwide in 2003 than
in 1995, mainly due to an increase
in contraception, reports the
Washington DC-based Guttmacher
Institute. The rate of unwanted
pregnancies also fell, from 6.9 to
5.5 per cent between 1995 and 2008.
Fetal cancer strikesIn a rare case of cancer being
transmitted from a mother to
a fetus, cancer cells seem to have
acquired mutations that allowed
them to avoid attack from the fetal
immune system. So say Takeshi
Isoda and colleagues at Tokyo
Medical and Dental University in
Japan, who analysed the DNA of
cancer cells in one such infant. Only
about 30 such cases are known.
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