Image for What went right this week: medical breakthroughs, restored species, and more

What went right this week: medical breakthroughs, restored species, and more

Scientists had an Alzheimer’s breakthrough, Tahiti claimed the ‘biggest ever’ species reintroduction, and there was good news for a giant fish, plus more

Scientists had an Alzheimer’s breakthrough, Tahiti claimed the ‘biggest ever’ species reintroduction, and there was good news for a giant fish, plus more

This week’s good news roundup

Good news
A new drug offered an Alzheimer’s ‘breakthrough’

Could this be the beginning of the end for Alzheimer’s? That’s the hope after a second drug in six months was found to slow the disease. 

Donanemab works by clearing the amyloid protein that builds up in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. Eli Lilly is the firm behind it. It’s yet to publish detailed findings of its phase three trial, but says more than 1,700 people took part and that the drug slowed cognitive decline by 29 per cent. 

As ever, there are caveats. The drug is not suitable for people with advanced Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia. And in the trial, 1.6 per cent of participants experienced dangerous brain swelling, with two deaths attributed to it.

More research is needed and it will be some time before Donanemab is available on prescription. Nonetheless, it marks significant progress in tackling a disease that has stumped scientists for decades.

“We’re now on the cusp of a first generation of treatments for Alzheimer’s, something that many thought impossible only a decade ago,” said Dr Susan Kohlhaas, executive director of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK. “People should be really encouraged by this news, which is yet more proof that research can take us ever closer towards a cure.”

Image: Unsplash

Good news
Speaking of breakthrough drugs…

A vaccine that could save thousands of lives has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. 

Arexvy was developed to protect people from respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) – an illness that kills up to 10,000 mostly elderly people every year in the US alone.

A study by GSK, the UK firm behind the jab, reports a vaccine efficacy of 82.6 per cent. Approval from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is needed before Arexvy can be made available.

Image: Markus Spiske

Good news
Six Indigenous reserves were created in Brazil

Swathes of the Amazon rainforest are now protected from mining and commercial farming after the Brazilian president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, created six new Indigenous reserves in the country.

The move effectively puts 620,000 hectares (1.5m acres) in the hands of Indigenous groups – a proven solution to deforestation, rates of which soared under previous president Jair Bolsonaro. 

Indigenous groups welcomed the decision, but said more reserves were needed. According to the BBC, the government previously pledged to create 14 such sites. 

Efforts to halt deforestation have stepped up in Brazil since ‘Lula’ was re-elected. In February, troops were sent into the jungle to oust illegal miners. It follows a pledge by the president to halt tree loss. He has form: deforestation rates fell by 68 per cent during his previous stint as president.

Image: Deb Dowd

Climate plaintiffs prepared to have their day in court

Communities impacted by climate change in the US will now be able to hold fossil fuel firms to account, after the supreme court rejected big oil’s attempts to move climate litigation cases to federal courts.

State courts are considered more lenient towards plaintiffs than federal courts. Attempts to challenge where cases could be heard were seen as a delay tactic by big oil. 

Some communities have been waiting almost a decade to hold fossil fuel firms accountable for climate damage. Now they can, after the supreme court rebuffed ExxonMobil and Suncor Energy’s appeal to change the venue for law suits. The firms will now likely face litigation in Rhode Island, Colorado, Maryland, California, Hawaii and other states.

“The supreme court’s decision is a significant victory for climate justice,” said Dr Delta Merner, lead scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “The decision sends a powerful message to fossil fuel companies: evading responsibility will not be tolerated.”

Image: Matteo Catanese

Good news
A ‘15-minute window’ kept Ukrainians warm

A window that takes 15 minutes to build is helping Ukrainians repair and insulate their bomb-damaged homes.

Designed by engineer Harry Blakiston Houston from the University of Cambridge, England, the window uses ‘triple-glazed’ polyethylene to protect against the cold and costs around £12 per square meter.

Houston is the founder of Insulate Ukraine, a project to keep people in the war-ravaged country warm. His design has been used in liberated areas, following Russian retreats.

“Part of Putin’s war is about trying to make people in Ukraine cold and miserable,” said Houston. “We’ve come up with a solution that makes a real difference.”

Image: Insulate Ukraine

The world’s ‘largest’ species reintroduction took place

Scientists are calling it the largest ever wildlife reintroduction. Its subject? The Polynesian tree snail, a mollusk roughly the size of your little finger nail. 

Some 5,500 of the animals have been reintroduced to Tahiti over the last month. The species is endemic to the island but was eaten to extinction by invasive snails. It lived on in captivity. 

With its predators under control, the Polynesian tree snail has been returned to Tahiti, as part of a joint effort by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, and Saint Louis Zoo in the US. 

“This collaborative conservation initiative… shows the conservation power of zoos to reverse biodiversity loss,” said Paul Pearce-Kelly, senior curator of invertebrates at ZSL. “With nature across the world increasingly under threat, these little snails represent hope for the world’s wildlife.”

Image: ZSL

Good news
Speaking of bringing species back…

Plans are afoot to bring a giant fish back to UK waters.

Sturgeon were once a common sight in the country’s rivers, but overfishing and dam construction caused numbers to crash. Now they are critically endangered.

But not for much longer, perhaps. This week the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) launched its UK Sturgeon Conservation Strategy and Action Plan, which outlines what needs to happen to turn the fish’s fortunes around.

According to ZSL, restoring migratory routes is key to boosting numbers. The society will now work with UK landowners to identify and restore habitats to help the fish recover. It follows similar projects in France and Germany. 

“These ancient fish outlived the dinosaurs,” said Hannah McCormick, a conservation project officer for ZSL. “But after pushing them to the very brink of extinction, all 26 sturgeon species are under threat of being lost forever. [Our strategy] offers a solid, evidence-based way forward to restore the species.”

Image: Blue Marine Foundation

Good news
The race to recycle car batteries stepped up a gear

The rollout of electric vehicles is solving one environmental problem (tailpipe emissions) and creating another (a dash for precious minerals used to make batteries). But solutions are on the horizon. 

A race is underway to scale up recycling technology so the materials in car batteries can be broken down and reused. One US firm, set up by a former Tesla executive, just announced plans to expand into e-bike battery recycling too. 

Meanwhile, rival facilities are springing up in Canada and the UK. Read the full story here. 

Image: Martin Katler

‘Lost’ UK lidos prepared to welcome back swimmers

A clutch of old lidos are reopening across the UK, as people rediscover the joys (and health benefits) of outdoor swimming. 

The UK’s open-air pools were built predominately for working-class communities in the 1930s, but the second world war, successive economic crises and cheaper holidays abroad led to many pools closing. 

But in this Wim Hof epoch, lidos are having a moment again. Old ones are reopening – often thanks to the efforts of local communities – and new ones are in the pipeline.

Read the full story here.

Image: Casey Ryder
Main image: Halfpoint/iStock

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What went right previously