Just because it’s Christmas doesn’t mean the news stopped this week: here it is, your news roundup for December 25, 2016!
The top of the news this week is the great news out of an international partnership including researchers from the WHO, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the University of Cape Town, and half a dozen others: a “100% effective” Ebola vaccine. In the two parts of the trial, nobody who had the vaccine got Ebola after ten days (how long it takes for the vaccine to take effect), whereas 37 did get the disease who did not have the vaccine or who had the vaccine after a 21-day delay.
There were two parts of the trial: in the first, 2119 people — described as “contacts” or “contacts of contacts” of people who had contracted Ebola — were given the vaccine immediately, and 2041 waited 21 days. Starting the count at day 10, after 84 days, 16 of the latter had contracted the disease, but none of the former had. In the second part 1667 received the vaccine immediately, and 439 were either delayed or didn’t take it at all, and of those the latter group had 21 cases (again, counted after day 10 and until day 84). It also appears to be relatively safe: out of all those vaccinated (including the delayed group) 3149 (or 53.9%) experienced an adverse reaction, but of those, 87.5% were just headache, fatigue, or muscle pain, basically what you get from having a flu shot. Out of all 3149, only 80 reactions were considered serious, and only two were actually judged to be a result of the vaccination (one high fever and one serious allergic reaction) and a third was judged to be “possibly related” to it, being an ‘influenza-like” reaction. All three recovered just fine, and moreover, they didn’t get Ebola. So effective and relatively safe are both things you can say about this vaccine.
The vaccine consists of a “replication competent” (read: live) virus called vesicular stomatitis that’s relatively harmless to humans (it can give you flu-like symptoms) but has been altered to express a protein on its surface that “tastes like” Ebola to the immune system. Once your body recognizes that protein, it can then target Ebola. The results are a reaffirmation of early reporting by the same group in The Lancet from back in July of last year, with this week’s article spelling out that indeed, the vaccine is really very effective. The 2014 West Africa outbreak killed over 11,000 people, so this is extremely encouraging news indeed. You can read the article over at The Lancet.
Scientists got an exciting peek into antimatter this week with the publishing of new results by CERN’s APLHA team in the journal Nature. ALPHA, a project at CERN’s antiproton decelerator, have basically managed to collect anti-hydrogen atoms — an antiproton with a single positron orbiting it — and shine a laser at it to see what happens. Every element in the universe absorbs light at specific wavelengths, called their “absorption spectra.” We use these to, for instance, determine the composition of distant stars, or the composition of the atmospheres of distant planets. And we expect, thanks to relativity and the standard model, that antimatter elements will act the same way, but until now we haven’t had the ability to check. Getting enough antimatter in one place is hard enough, since coming into contact with regular matter destroys it, but also you can’t just run a charge through it the way you can with regular matter. “Running a charge through it” usually means electrons, and, in the parlance of the internet, “this kills the antimatter.” So instead the researchers at ALPHA made antimatter (no mean feat in itself), then magnetically captured it, then shone a laser at it at exactly the wavelength they’d expect to see interact with regular hydrogen — and so far the results are the same. It’s not as settled as the hydrogen reaction (see the video below) but it’s very close, and it’s very cool to have gotten this far. You can read the results in the journal Nature.
Ledger Volume 1
As I reported earlier this week (shameless self-promotion time) the first journal devoted to cryptocurrency and blockchain technology went live this week, hopefully bringing another kind of voice to the discourse surrounding Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Volume one of the journal Ledger (of which, full disclosure, I’m the deputy managing editor) contains ten peer-reviewed journal articles. They’re not all about Bitcoin, either: Monero, Ethereum, and even a proposed new cryptocurrency dubbed “Autonocoin” all make appearances. It’s yet to be seen how the notoriously echo-chambered various online communities react, but I remain hopeful about at least the potential for the new journal to offer a sober (if slower) means of presenting and vetting ideas on the topic. You can read the journal here (it’s free and open to all) or check out my thoughts on the process of putting it together here.
In case you missed the (few) things we got up to this week, here you go:
- On Tuesday, I talked about a profoundly antisemitic kind of antiscience quackery
- On Thursday, I talked about my experiences of and hopes for Ledger, and
- On Friday, Elle talked about things you can do to endure Christmas at this trying time in history
If you missed any of them, go check them out!
Best of the Rest
And here it is, your weekly linkspam:
- NPR explained how NORAD’s “Santa Tracker” got started
- The folks behind Doctor Who made a nice little festive music video
- Tesla put two more easter eggs in its latest software update
- DistractedElf talked publicly about her transgender transition on the gaming media platform Twitch, and
- Gizmodo explained how a passing star might mess with our solar system in a million years
Now go, enjoy the rest of your day, and if you haven’t seen it, watch the trailer for Blade Runner 2049. It does look pretty promising.
That’s all for today folks, thanks for reading! Except for the very *very* occasional tip (we take Venmo now!), I only get paid in my own (and your) enthusiasm, so please like This Week In Tomorrow on Facebook, follow me on Twitter @TWITomorrow, and tell your friends about the site!
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Richard Ford Burley is a human, writer, and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as Deputy Managing Editor at Ledger, the first academic journal devoted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, feminism, and futurism here at This Week In Tomorrow.