Science: The looming epidemic that may prove worse than Aids

theoretically ...
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The Independent Online
Hepatitis C, the lingering liver disease, could become a bigger killer than Aids over the next two decades, according to medical experts.

"Hepatitis C has emerged from obscurity as a disease familiar to only a few experts to being recognised as a major public health problem world- wide," said Dr Adrian Di Bisceglie, professor of internal medicine at the University School of Medicine in St Louis, Missouri. He and others believe deaths from hepatitis C will triple in the next 20 years. Presently it causes 8,000-10,000 deaths annually.

There is no vaccine, though treatment with interferon can lead to remission. Between 1 to 2 per cent of the population in most developed countries is infected with the virus but the numbers are much higher in some parts of eastern Europe and Africa. In Egypt the rate appears to be around 15 per cent.

Start early for perfect pitch

Do you want your child to have perfect pitch? Then line up the violin or piano early on, and hope that your genes are right. Perfect pitch - the ability to hear a tone and identify it at once as C sharp or B flat - takes a combination of genes and early musical training, according to a survey of more than 600 musicians.

In the research nearly all those with perfect pitch had started their music training by the time they were six; the older they were when they began, the less likely to have it. Of those who started before the age of four, 40 per cent had the gift, while only 3 per cent of those who started after 12 did.

But the survey by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, also found that musicians who reported having perfect pitch were four times more likely than other musicians to say they had a relative with the ability. That suggests a genetic contribution which runs in the family, the researchers say in a report of their findings published in this month's issue of the American Journal of Human Genetics.

Go-ahead for animal transplants

Stop xenotransplants? No, there's no need, said the US Food and Drug Administration, which has rejected calls for a moratorium on clinical trials of animal-to-human transplants. There would have to be safeguards and strict supervision, an FDA representative said, but it would not go along with an article suggesting such transplants should wait, which appears in this month's Nature Medicine. In the UK, there is presently a moratorium on xenotransplants, with no set end-date.

Minister ashamed

No, not Robin Cook, but Baroness Blackstone, minister in the Department for Education and Employment. Giving evidence to the Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology, she said she had frequently been "ashamed" of the conditions under which university researchers worked, and said unsatisfied people would move abroad unless facilities improved. That, in turn would mean there would be fewer higher-quality people at the cutting edge of research - so "we would lose out in terms of exports and general prosperity".

The Baroness was previously master of the University of Birkbeck College, London.

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