Tuesday 26 August 1997
US researchers have worked out how the tuberculosis bacterium and leprosy, its biological cousin, invade cells - a finding that could open the way to new treatments. In Science, Washington University in St Louis reported that the bacteria hijack a protein left over from the natural breakdown of part of the immune system. They then use this to piggyback into macrophages - the "scavengers" of the immune system - where they eventually kill them. A vaccine or an antibiotic could introduce an antibody to block the connection between the complement breakdown protein, called C2a, and the bacteria. Tuberculosis currently infects one-third of the world's population, and kills 3 million a year. It is spreading once again in industrialised countries.
Among cancer researchers, the p53 tumour suppressor gene is a byword. But now they have found a close relation, p73. Reporting in Cell, a team led by Frank McKeon of Harvard Medical School report that p73 is found on the very tip of chromosome 1 - an area missing in many cancer cells. The discovery of p73, which also seems to be a tumour suppressor, could be significant in developing gene therapies.
New Labour, new House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology - and almost all have science or engineering qualifications. Included are five PhDs, a former ICI R&D manager, a food and biotechnology consultant and a former computer programmer - the Lib Dem Nigel Jones. In the past, the committee tended to include lawyers rather than scientists - reflecting the demographics of MPs rather than the population.
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