Archive for October 18th, 2011

Malaria Vaccine

October 18, 2011

This is simply wonderful news from Reuters. The world’s first vaccine against malaria has been proven to be effective in clinical trials.

An experimental vaccine from GlaxoSmithKline halved the risk of African children getting malaria in a major clinical trial, making it likely to become the world’s first shot against the deadly disease.

Final-stage trial data released on Tuesday showed it gave protection against clinical and severe malaria in five- to 17-month-olds in Africa, where the mosquito-borne disease kills hundreds of thousands of children a year.

“These data bring us to the cusp of having the world’s first malaria vaccine,” said Andrew Witty, chief executive of the British drugmaker that developed the vaccine along with the nonprofit PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI).

While hailing an unprecedented achievement, Witty, malaria scientists and global health experts stressed that the vaccine, known as RTS,S or Mosquirix, was no quick fix for eradicating malaria. The new shot is less effective against the disease than other vaccines are against common infections such as polio and measles.

“We would have wished that we could wipe it out, but I think this is going to contribute to the control of malaria rather than wiping it out,” Tsiri Agbenyega, a principal investigator in the RTS,S trials in Ghana, told Reuters at a Seattle, Washington, conference about the disease.

Malaria is endemic in around 100 countries worldwide and killed some 781,000 people in 2009, according to the World Health Organization.

Control measures such as insecticide-treated bednets, indoor spraying and use of combination anti-malaria drugs have helped significantly cut the numbers of malaria cases and deaths in recent years, but experts have said that an effective vaccine is vital to complete the fight against the disease.

Allowing DDT to be used in Africa would also save a lot of lives. At any rate let’s hope that GlaxoSmithKline can get this vaccine to where it is needed most as fast as possible.

And, thanks to Instapundit for picking up this story.

Man Killed Trying to Steal Power Lines

October 18, 2011

Maybe you remember safety classes in school in which they told you to never, ever touch a downed power line. Apparently this man didn’t pay attention.

Authorities near Alton in southwestern Illinois are investigating the electrocution of a man whose body was found near snipped electrical power lines investigators believe he was trying to steal.

Madison County Coroner Stephen Nonn says 34-year-old Mark Becker of Granite City was found dead early Friday. Investigators believe he died Thursday night.

Nonn says evidence at the scene suggests that Becker made contact with charged overhead power lines after they had been cut from the utility pole.

The coroner says an investigation by Madison County sheriff’s deputies and interviews with witnesses “failed to reveal any legitimate or lawful activity in which (Becker) would be engaged involving the utility infrastructure.”

Nonn says an autopsy Friday confirmed that Becker was electrocuted.

This sounds like a successful applicant for the coveted Darwin Award.

 

 

Scientists Try to Explain the Fast-than-light Nutrinos

October 18, 2011

Since the apparent discovery of neutrinos that are moving at superluminal speeds, scientists have been trying to come up with explanations for these findings. The most obvious and likely explanation is measurement error.

Among the most recent ideas is a paper invoking Einstein’s supposedly challenged theory of relativity. The OPERA team used GPS satellites to accurately measure the 730-km distance between their detector and the CERN beam where the neutrinos were produced. Yet, according to special relativity, calculations will be slightly different when two observers are moving relative to one another.

Since the satellites were zipping around the Earth, the positions of the neutrino source and the detector changed. According to the paper, the movement would account for a 64 nanoseconds discrepancy, nearly exactly what the OPERA team observes.

A less likely explanation is that Einstein’s Theory of Relativity is wrong. In fact, both the theories of Special and General Relativity have been amply proved by experiments and observations. There is at least one good reason to suspect that neutrinos do not regularly travel faster than light.

One of the earliest objections to the faster-than-light interpretation came from an astrophysical observation. In 1987, a powerful supernova showered Earth with light and neutrinos. While neutrino detectors observed neutrinos arriving about three hours before the light, this was due to the lightweight particles getting a head start. Neutrinos, which hardly interact with matter, escaped the exploding stellar core with relative ease while photons, absorbed and re-emitted by the various elements, took longer to flee. If the effect from OPERA were as large as observed, scientists have calculated that the neutrinos should have arrived more than four years in advance of the light.

And we know that electrons do not travel faster than light.

Theoretical physicist Matt Strassler also noted on his blog that the Standard Model’s properties suggest that making neutrinos go faster than light requires electrons to do the same. But if electron neutrinos moved at the speed suggested by the OPERA experiment, then electrons should also travel faster than the speed of light by at least one part in 1,000,000,000, or one billionth. Experiments have established theoretical limits that electrons remain subluminal at a precision down to more than 5 part in a thousand trillion, effectively ruling this scenario out.

So, what is going on? We don’t know, yet. My opinion, which really isn’t worth much, is that if the observations are verified, than superluminal travel will be due to some unique property of the nutrinos, which are odd little particles anyway.

I suppose the consensus is measurement error. Too bad. No warp drive yet.


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