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  Graphic element SPACE, SATELLITES: Cluster celebrates a year of excellence (27/07/01)
    Space scientists are celebrating the first anniversary of the European Space Agency's Cluster mission to explore near-Earth Space and study the interaction between the Sun and Earth.
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  Graphic element CLIMATE, EVENTS: Meeting of minds in a heated debate (27/07/01)
    Just prior to the Kyoto Protocol talks, 1 800 climate scientists from 100 countries met in Amsterdam and warned that climate change will have previously unimagined effects.
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  Graphic element MEDICAL, GENETICS: Genes implicated in recurrent miscarriage (27/07/01)
    Researchers in Austria have identified a gene that contributes to the cause of recurrent unexplained miscarriages.
 
  Graphic element CHINA, S&T : China prepares for closer research cooperation with Europe (23/07/01)
    The recent launch of the CECO shows the way forward for increased cooperation between EU researchers and their Chinese counterparts.
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  Graphic element MEDICINE, APPROVAL: Oxbridge pioneers new treatment for leukaemia (23/07/01)
    It has been 21 years in the making, but recent approval by the EC of a pioneering drug is good news for leukaemia sufferers in Europe.
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  Graphic element MEDICAL, HEART DISEASE: What's the score on heart disease? (23/07/01)
    A new simple scoring system, using routinely available information, can help predict the risk of cardiovascular disease.
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  Graphic element MEDICAL, SPACE: Medical research that's out of this world! (13/07/01)
    Persistent knee problems may be cured thanks to research into artificial cartilage planned by the European Space Agency on the International Space Station (ISS).
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  Graphic element ENERGY, PHYSICS: Harnessing the storm (13/07/01)
    A Franco-German collaborative research project plans to hurl lightning bolts back up to the sky.
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  Graphic element PARTICLE PHYSICS, ENGINEERING: A subtle matter (13/07/01)
    An international team of physicists has discovered a new fundamental difference between matter and antimatter.
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  Graphic element SPACE, SATELLITES: Mapping out the origins of the universe (06/07/01)
    NASA's MAP satellite, launched on 30 June, will lead the way for the first European space mission to study some of the key details of the Big Bang.
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  Graphic element MEDICAL, POLICY: Human stem cell research - clarification on a critical issue (06/07/01)
    Stem cell research holds great promise for treatment of many chronic human diseases. A policy briefing paper published by the European Science Foundation (ESF) explores the scientific uncertainties and ethical dilemmas involved.
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  Graphic element LIFE SCIENCES, REPRODUCTION: Breakthrough in ovarian tissue research (06/07/01)
    French scientists have succeeded in using previously frozen ovarian tissue to produce live offspring in large mammals for the first time.
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graphical element SPACE, SATELLITES: Cluster celebrates a year of excellence (27/07/01)
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  Space scientists are celebrating the first anniversary of the European Space Agency's Cluster mission to explore near-Earth Space and study the interaction between the Sun and Earth.
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Since its launch from Kazakhstan one year ago, the Cluster mission has been carrying out the most comprehensive exploration of the Earth's environment ever undertaken. The four spacecraft in the Cluster mission fly in a close tetrahedral formation and as such are able to provide small-scale and three-dimensional views of the magnetosphere - the magnetic bubble that surrounds the Earth. This magnetic field is subject to fluctuations caused by solar winds, and the new three-dimensional view from Cluster reveals a fast moving, complex surface, in contrast to the motionless snapshots provided by previous spacecraft measurements. Cluster has also provided the first confirmation of waves along the magnetopause - the outer limit of Earth's magnetic field. To date, these plasma waves only existed in computer simulations, but Cluster has 'surfed' these waves and their speed has been estimated at around 70 km per second.

Best still to come
Recently, Cluster has begun to explore the elongated magnetotail which stretches far beyond the Moon. Over the coming months, new light will be cast on this region where storms of high-energy particles are generated. When these particles arrive on Earth they can cause power cuts, damage satellites and disrupt communications. More than 200 scientists across the world are currently analysing the data gathered by this mission. Philippe Escoubet, a Cluster project scientist from ESA commented: "As we pass Cluster's first launch anniversary we are all looking forward to even more exciting results in the months ahead; the best is yet to come."

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Source: Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council press release

Contact: gill.Ormrod@pparc.ac.uk

More information on this subject:
http://sci.esa.int/cluster

 
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graphical element CLIMATE, EVENTS: Meeting of minds in a heated debate (27/07/01)
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  Just prior to the Kyoto Protocol talks, 1 800 climate scientists from 100 countries met in Amsterdam and warned that climate change will have previously unimagined effects.
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Climate scientists present at the 'Challenges of a Changing Earth' conference in Amsterdam on 10-13 July warned that many of the predictions of standard climate models, which assume steady warming and gradual responses from the ecosystem, could turn out to be wrong. Using the Sahara as an example, Victor Brovkin of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany commented: "The Sahara has two potentially stable states: desert and heavily vegetated. It could flip between the two as the result of only a small increase in rainfall." Meanwhile, heat and drought could turn the Amazon rainforest into a desert, with new evidence revealed by Peter Cox of the British Meteorological Office showing that dying forests would release billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide into the air.

Severe consequences
Human activities could at any time "trigger changes with severe consequences for Earth's environment and its inhabitants," warned the scientists in a declaration at the close of the conference.
This timely warning prepared the ground for the adoption on July 23 of the Kyoto Protocol by the world community of 186 states, with the exception of the United States. This deal now puts enormous pressure on the White House to come up with its own promised proposals to tackle climate change. Japan, Canada and Australia were won over by EU concessions which made their greenhouse gas reduction targets easier to reach. Although these concessions mean that cuts in greenhouse gases by 37 of the world's richest and most developed countries will be a marginal 1%-3%, it is a vital step along the right road.

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Source: New Scientist

Contact: claire.bowles@rbi.co.uk

More information on this subject:
http://www.sciconf.igbp.kva.se

 
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graphical element MEDICAL, GENETICS: Genes implicated in recurrent miscarriage (27/07/01)
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  Researchers in Austria have identified a gene that contributes to the cause of recurrent unexplained miscarriages.
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New research results show that women with a certain variation in a gene which controls the functioning of blood vessels, have a 60% increased risk of recurrent miscarriage. Nearly a fifth of all pregnancies end in miscarriages, but up to 2% of women suffer recurrent miscarriages, i.e. three or more consecutive pregnancy losses before they reach 20 weeks. Professor Clemens Tempfer and colleagues from the University of Vienna School of Medicine have found evidence that a variation in a gene - NOS, which is known to be involved in synthesising nitric oxide - could be at least partly to blame.
The research team compared a group of 105 women who had all suffered recurrent unexplained miscarriages with a control group of 91 postmenopausal women who had never had a miscarriage and who had given birth at least twice.


Making the link
"Nitric oxide has been implicated in blood vessel disease and damage, and nitric oxide synthase (NOS) is known to mediate vascular relaxation," said Professor Tempfer: "We found a significant difference in the genotype frequencies for one variation of the NOS3 gene between the study and control groups." He concludes: "Identifying a link between unexplained recurrent miscarriages and a specific variant of a gene involved in the regulation of placental function and the stability of the vascular 'environment' is going to give us further insight into this syndrome, and more information about susceptible women."

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Source: 'Human Reproduction' journal of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE)

Contact: beardh@humanreproduction.co.uk

More information on this subject:
http://www3.oup.co.uk/eshre/
press-release/aug101.pdf

 
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graphical element CHINA, S&T : China prepares for closer research cooperation with Europe (23/07/01)
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  The recent launch of the CECO shows the way forward for increased cooperation between EU researchers and their Chinese counterparts.
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The launch of the China-European Union Science & Technology Office (CECO) on 20 June in Beijing comes just over 18 months after the signing of a technology cooperation agreement between the EU and the Ministry of Science and Technology of China (MOST). The EU has opened its €15 billion Fifth Framework Programme to China on 22 December 1998. In return, the Chinese government would make the Chinese Basic and High-Tech Research Programmes, available to the EU under the principles of "joint research with shared costs and shared results".

Promoting awareness
At the science and technology steering committee meeting, which was also held in Beijing last month, it was noted that more Chinese partners are participating in EU projects under the scheme, although there is concern that more could be done to promote awareness of the CECO. Another issue discussed was how European partners could take advantage of those Chinese national research programmes now open to EU researchers. The General Director of MOST, Mr Wang Shaoqi, expressed concern that it might be difficult for Chinese projects to succeed without secured European partner funding. The steering committee agreed to look into ways of resolving this problem.

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Source: CECO press release

Contact: office@ceco.org.cn

More information on this subject:
http://www.ceco.org.cn/

 
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graphical element MEDICINE, APPROVAL: Oxbridge pioneers new treatment for leukaemia (23/07/01)
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  It has been 21 years in the making, but recent approval by the EC of a pioneering drug is good news for leukaemia sufferers in Europe.
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The announcement on July 13 of a new drug for the treatment of leukaemia in Europe brings what Professor Herman Waldmann, Head of Oxford's Dunn School of Pathology, describes as a labour of devotion, energy, vision and enterprise to a satisfactory completion. MabCampath humanised monoclonal antibody was developed jointly by Oxford and Cambridge Universities (Oxbridge) for the treatment of patients with B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, the most prevalent form of adult leukaemia. The antibody works by targeting a particular antigen in cancerous white blood cells, then clearing these cells from the blood, bone marrow and organs.

Healthy outlook
The approval in July of MabCampath by the Commission follows recent approval in the US, and is based on the outcome of three clinical trials involving 149 leukaemia patients showing evidence of resistance to available treatments. Thirty-three per cent of the study group recorded positive reactions to treatment with MabCampath. Groundwork for the treatment began back in 1981 when a technology conversion company acquired the concept before licensing it in 1997 to the present manufacturer, Millennium & ILEX Partners. Dr Mike Clark, lecturer in therapeutic immunology at Cambridge, and a member of the Oxbridge development team, said, "…this antibody will soon be used to help patients and its commercial development will also benefit to future research endeavours".

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Source: Oxford University press release

Contact: press.office@admin.ox.ac.uk

More information on this subject:
http://www.molbiol.ox.ac.uk/www/
pathology/tig/tac.html

 
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graphical element MEDICAL, HEART DISEASE: What's the score on heart disease? (23/07/01)
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  A new simple scoring system, using routinely available information, can help predict the risk of cardiovascular disease.
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A unique new scoring system for assessing a patient's risk of death from cardiovascular disease, including stroke and coronary heart disease, was revealed in the British Medical Journal, Volume 323. The system was created by a team of scientists from institutions in Belgium, France and the UK, and introduces a number of personal factors relevant to a patient's overall risk assessment. It is based on information from eight antihypertensive drug trials involving over 47 000 men and women across Europe and North America. A total of 11 risk factors are evaluated - including age, sex, blood pressure, cholesterol and creatinine concentration, height, smoking, and diabetes - to quantify and predict an adult's overall risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

Three score and ten…
Points are added for each of the 11 factors according to its association with health risk, and patients can be classified simply as high or low risk compared with others of the same age and sex. Take the example of an average-sized-66 year-old male who is a smoker, has reasonably high blood pressure and creatinine concentration, moderate cholesterol, but a history of heart problems. His score would be given as 61 points - or a 17% chance of fatal heart failure within five years. The authors of the research interpret this result as "an unusually high risk score for his age", especially considering his blood pressure is within reasonable bounds. Readers may wish to interpret the results as a timely reminder to stop putting off that check-up.

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Source: British Medical Association press release

Contact: ewilkinson@bmj.com or pressoffice@bma.org.uk

More information on this subject:
http://www.riskscore.org.uk/

 
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graphical element MEDICAL, SPACE: Medical research that's out of this world! (13/07/01)
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  Persistent knee problems may be cured thanks to research into artificial cartilage planned by the European Space Agency on the International Space Station (ISS).
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Every year, tens of thousands of people suffer knee injuries as a result of over-strenuous exercise or sports accidents. The ideal cure would be to replace the defective cartilage with a new material which has the same properties as human tissue, and which is readily accepted by the immune system.
Unfortunately, scientists are not yet able to produce artificial cartilage for implantation. Under the influence of Earth's gravity, human cells grow flat, rather than in the form of a sugar lump from which the right shape can be modelled. However, with the benefit of weightlessness, the necessary growth in all three directions might be achievable.

Three-dimensional theory

Scientists from Switzerland, Italy and Germany will try to test this theory in an experiment carried out on the International Space Station. Using a bioreactor, a device commonly used in laboratories on Earth but specially adapted for use in space, the team wants to investigate the factors that make human cells grow in three dimensions.
Following the investigations in space, the intention is to test the same mechanisms on Earth, and to use them for the routine production of human implants. The International Space Station is one of the greatest international projects of all time, on which Europe is cooperating with the US, Russia, Japan and Canada. Once completed, the 450-tonne ISS will have over 1 200 cubic metres of pressurised space - enough room for seven crew as well as a vast array of scientific experiments - orbiting at around 400 km above Earth.

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Source: ESA press release on AlphaGalileo news service

Contact: Marc.Heppener@esa.int

More information on this subject:
http://www.esa.int/export/esaCP/
Pr_7_2000_i_EN.html

 
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graphical element ENERGY, PHYSICS: Harnessing the storm (13/07/01)
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  A Franco-German collaborative research project plans to hurl lightning bolts back up to the sky.
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Damage caused to human lives and property by storms could soon be a thing of the past, if a new project carried out by four research institutes in Berlin, Jena, Lyon and Palaiseau proves successful. The central element of their research is a laser capable of reaching energy levels of a Terawatt, or the equivalent of a thousand nuclear power stations. The Teramobile system, which was built by French contractors, has just undergone initial testing in Berlin where it showed itself capable of provoking lightning-like electrical discharges from simulated clouds in an abandoned hangar.

Future perspectives

The laser's tremendous energy ionises the air along its path, creating a temporary equivalent of an electric wire in the sky, which serves as a pathway for accumulated electricity. This should allow the dangerous charges in cumulo-nimbus clouds to be conducted safely into the ground. With this sort of use in mind, the two-tonne Teramobile system is integrated in a fully autonomous standard shipping container equipped as a mobile laboratory. Project officials are awaiting further financing before taking the Teramobile out for a trial under real clouds. Nevertheless, there is much international interest in the project, notably from Canadian electric power officials whose pylons suffer costly damage each year. A further use of the Teramobile is its ability to detect pollutants in the atmosphere. Its technology will allow it to detect pollutants such as methane and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) present in the air.
Teramobile is financed jointly by the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the German National Research Council (DFG).

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Source: Sciences et Avenir

Contact:
woeste@physik.fu-berlin.de
wolf@hplasim2.univ-lyon1.fr

More information on this subject:
http://www.sciencesetavenir.com/actualites/
page7.html

 
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graphical element PARTICLE PHYSICS, ENGINEERING: A subtle matter (13/07/01)
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  An international team of physicists has discovered a new fundamental difference between matter and antimatter.
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The team, working on the detector known as BaBar at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) in California, has observed the intriguing effect known as direct Charge Parity (CP) violation in the disintegrations of heavy, short-lived subatomic particles called B Mesons.

At the birth of the universe, in the 'Big Bang', equal quantities of matter and antimatter should have been produced. Antimatter and matter mutually annihilate when they come into contact, so the equal quantities of the two forms of matter should have wiped each other out. However, we live in a matter-dominated universe. The existence of direct CP violation helps to explain Nature's preference of matter over antimatter and is a foundation for understanding why we are all here.

International collaboration

"This result determines directly for the first time the magnitude of the fundamental matter/anti-matter difference (or asymmetry) in Nature," explained Paul Harrison, Chair of the BaBar-UK Steering Committee.

BaBar is a sophisticated 1 200-tonne detector, built and operated by a team of more than 600 physicists and engineers from Canada, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Norway, Russia and the United States. The detector records subtle distinctions between decays of B mesons and those of their antimatter counterparts, called anti-B mesons. Both are more than five times as heavy as the more familiar proton and survive just over a trillionth of a second. "We are now poised for further discoveries that should open up new directions for particle physics," commented Stewart Smith, spokesman for the BaBar collaboration.

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Source: Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council press release

Contact: karen.davies@pparc.ac.uk

More information on this subject:
http://hepweb.rl.ac.uk/ppUK/PressReleases
/1996/pr_babar_bkg.html

 
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graphical element SPACE, SATELLITES: Mapping out the origins of the universe (06/07/01)
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  NASA's MAP satellite, launched on 30 June, will lead the way for the first European space mission to study some of the key details of the Big Bang.
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Several experiments, both on Earth and in space, are blazing the trail which will soon be travelled by ESA's Planck experiment in its search for the set of 'magic numbers' or cosmological parameters which define our universe.

Like Planck, MAP will observe the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) - the first light released after the Big Bang, which holds a wealth of information about the origins of the universe. By observing CMB data, scientists will be able to distinguish between competing cosmological models.

Filling the gaps

Questions still remain unanswered, such as why the universe accelerates as it expands, whether it went through a short period of very quick expansion during its first moments of existence, and the nature of so-called 'dark matter'.

Physicists have built various models to try to address these questions, but the parameters need to be very accurate in order to select the model which best fits our universe. CMB data provides one of the clearest and easiest ways to deduce these cosmological parameters. The main difference between Planck and MAP is the quality of the CMB data gathered. "It is useful to think of the pioneering COBE satellite as a first-generation experiment, MAP as a second-generation exploratory experiment, and Planck as the third and most sophisticated generation," explained Jan Tauber of ESA. The Planck satellite will be launched by an Ariane 5 satellite from French Guiana in 2007.

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Source: ESA press release

Contact: jan.tauber@esa.int

More information on this subject:
http://sci.esa.int/planck/

 
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graphical element MEDICAL, POLICY: Human stem cell research - clarification on a critical issue (06/07/01)
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  Stem cell research holds great promise for treatment of many chronic human diseases. A policy briefing paper published by the European Science Foundation (ESF) explores the scientific uncertainties and ethical dilemmas involved.
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Therapy using stem cells for diseases involving the degeneration of defined cell types, such as diabetes, Parkinson's disease or Huntington's chorea, could become available in the near future. This work is still at an early stage, but is already creating concerns over the ethical and moral issues involved. While the ESF is in favour of therapeutic cloning, under tightly controlled national regulations, it strongly endorses the prohibition of reproductive cloning. The ESF policy briefing recommends that research be carried out in parallel on stem cells derived from embryos, foetal tissues and adults, in order to see to what extent the different types of cell differ. For example, the ease with which they can be made to multiply in culture, the range and nature of the mature cell types they can be induced to make, etc.

Legislation and funding

Scientific advance is so rapid that regulations and legislation will need to be kept under continual review. Furthermore, since much of this research is currently being carried out within the commercial sector, it is essential for public confidence that funding be made available to ensure that the views of independent scientists are heard in the development of national policies. The ESF urges all European countries to introduce legislation and regulation to oversee and control the laboratories concerned, the scientists involved and the experiments that can be performed in this area.

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Source: European Science Foundation press release

Contact: jdegett@esf.org

More information on this subject:
www.esf.org/ftp/pdf/2001/Espb/ESPB14.pdf
(PDF file)

 
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graphical element LIFE SCIENCES, REPRODUCTION: Breakthrough in ovarian tissue research (06/07/01)
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  French scientists have succeeded in using previously frozen ovarian tissue to produce live offspring in large mammals for the first time.
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The research team, led by Professor Bruno Salle and Dr Jacqueline Lornage of the Hôpital Edouard Herriot in Lyon, addressed the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology annual meeting at Lausanne on 2 July. They reported that experiments conducted on six ewes resulted in four pregnancies and the birth of three live lambs, one lamb that died shortly after birth and two twins that died after a premature delivery. This is believed to be the first report of live births in large mammals using ovarian tissue taken from ewes, which was frozen and stored, then thawed and grafted back into the same sheep.

Hope for the future

"These four pregnancies give immense hope to women who become sterilised by cancer treatments. However, we are not yet ready to try this technique in women, as first of all the procedure has to be repeated by ourselves and other researchers, and secondly, we need to discover for how long the ovarian graft continues to function," explained Prof Salle.
The researchers removed one ovary from each ewe, cut it in half and froze each piece at -196°C. The sections were then stored in liquid nitrogen for between one and three months. When the team was ready to graft the ovarian pieces back into the ewes, the fragments were thawed, incubated for 30 minutes and then autografted.

None of the resulting births has shown any malformations, and Prof Salle believes that it was simply due to chance that three of the lambs died.

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Source: ESHRE Press Release

Contact: m.willson@mwcommunications.org.uk

More information on this subject:
http://www.eshre.com/trymain.asp?
Q=0&L=1&P=151&M=348&S=411&C=1978

 
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