theoretically...

More money for BSE and CJD research. Last week the Medical Research Council and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council announced 23 new projects with funding of pounds 8m into bovine spongiform encephalopathy and its human equivalent, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. Among the projects are research into how closely the two diseases are related and how they are transmitted, as well as possible genetic predisposition and the chances of future treatments.

Britain's lead in research on global climate change is under threat, according to the Commons Science and Technology Committee. In a report published last week they said arrangements for co-ordinating research had been effective until now, but that pressure on the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Meteorological Office to become more market-orientated, and increasing pressure on NERC resources from the actions of other departments, may make it less effective in future. The committee warned that a wider range of responsibilities could see existing funds "spread more thinly and less effectively".

Still preliminary, but some new work on monkeys suggests that tiny capsules planted in the brain might fend off the disabling symptoms of Huntington's disease. The capsules pump out a substance that protects brain cells from the effects of the gene-linked disease, whose symptoms - such as problems with concentration, memory and then co-ordination - start appearing between the ages of 30 and 45. Work published in last week's Nature suggests that the capsules, which pump out a naturally occurring brain chemical called ciliary neurotrophic factor, help the survival of brain cells. A study on people will begin later this year to see if the capsules are safe.

Up, up and away: four rockets were launched last week and one is due to be launched today to study Comet Hale-Bopp, which is getting astronomers very excited indeed. Over the next two weeks the sub-orbital rockets will go up as far as 385 kilometres up and collect data about the comet's composition, including gas emissions and dust particles, which might give useful clues to its age and origin. "It's like a time machine going back 4.5 billion years," said Alan Hale, one of its discoverers, as he watched the first launches. Analysing the data could take several months.

Suspicion has been growing, and will be strengthened by recent findings, that a virus plays an important part in multiple sclerosis (MS). Danish researchers last week said a common type of herpes virus could be to blame. They were studying a cluster of eight people with MS living in a village of 74 families. The MS victims all went to the same elementary school for seven years, all had been scouts and four were related. Writing in The Lancet, they said this strengthened the theory that a virus might be to blame, and nominated Epstein-Barr virus - the herpes virus that causes glandular fever. MS is an incurable auto-immune disease, in which the body attacks the insulating myelin sheath around nerves in the brain and spinal cord. "Our group has previously put forward a dual infection hypothesis for MS, suggesting that infection with a more or less widespread MS retrovirus is a pre-requisite for development of MS, but MS develops only or especially in those who are infected with Epstein-Barr virus around puberty or later in life and who are genetically susceptible," they wrote. They are now testing the other villagers to see if they were infected with the virusn

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