Two species bounced back from extinction in the UK, scientists reported a ‘cure’ for leukaemia, and Belgian workers won the right to disconnect, plus more stories of progress
The first patients to be treated with a pioneering leukaemia therapy are still in remission after 11 years, scientists reported this week. The findings raise the prospect that a cure for some blood cancers has been found.
The treatment in question is CAR-T therapy. It involves genetically engineering an individual’s T-cells, which play a central role in the body’s immune response, to identify and destroy cancer cells.
CAR-T therapy is already used to treat some forms of blood cancer. However, until now the long-term effects had not been studied.
“We can now conclude that CAR-T cells can actually cure patients with leukaemia,” said Carl June, from the University of Pennsylvania, who led work on the technique.
Image: National Cancer Institute
Research published this week suggests that a single test, based on cervical screening, could help doctors predict the risk of women developing ovarian and breast cancer. Such a scenario could lead to earlier interventions, thus improving patient outcomes.
Those behind the research stressed that the tests do not detect cancer. However, they do indicate genetic, lifestyle and environment risk factors associated with them, and may be able to predict future risk.
Image: Sarah Cervantes
Four centuries after it was wiped out in the UK, the common crane has had a record breeding season – yet another sign that the plucky bird is bouncing back.
Figures released this week revealed that 40 chicks fledged in 2021, the highest number since cranes returned to the UK in 1979. The population is now thought to stand at more than 200.
Cranes – the UK’s tallest bird – have slowly recolonised England since reintroducing themselves to the Norfolk Broads. In 2010, a project launched to improve the bird’s wetland habitat, work that now appears to be paying off.
“The recovery of the UK crane population, now at its highest level since the 17th century, showcases that conservation action can make a real difference,” said Andrew Stanbury of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
A butterfly that disappeared from England in 1976 has established a stable population in Northamptonshire, it was announced this week.
The chequered skipper has been the subject of a furtive reintroduction programme, the location of which was kept secret to avoid enthusiasts descending on the site.
However, this week conservationists revealed that the population in Fineshade Wood is now stable enough for the public to visit. It follows extensive habitat management to ensure the woods are suitable for the insects.
“We are delighted to be able to reveal their location so that butterfly enthusiasts can come and enjoy spotting them in the wild in England for the first time in more than 40 years,” said Dr Dan Hoare of the charity Butterfly Conservation.
Image: Butterfly Conservation
Turtles, sharks and rays are among the species that could benefit from an experimental technique designed to prevent bycatch in fishing nets.
Research published in Current Biology, a scientific journal, found that attaching green lights to nets significantly reduces the amount of unintentional marine life that gets tangled up in them, without impacting fish catches.
The lit nets were trialled off the coast of Baja California in Mexico, where they were found to bring in 63 per cent less bycatch than unlit nets; including 51 per cent fewer turtles and 81 per cent fewer squid.
The research adds to a growing body of evidence that supports the effectiveness of lit fishing nets. A 2019 study by the University of Exeter found that lights on fishing gear reduced turtle bycatch by 70 per cent. A separate study noted an 85 per cent reduction in seabird bycatch when nets were lit.
Image: Gerald Schombs
France has passed a law banning conversion therapy: a controversial and discredited ‘treatment’ that claims to be able to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
The positive news was announced by the National Assembly on Tuesday. Lawmaker Laurence Vanceunebrock said the legislation will target “all those who equated an identity or a sexual orientation with sickness”.
France is one of only six countries – Brazil, Canada, Ecuador, Germany and Malta being the others – that have outlawed conversion therapy.
Can restaurant menus help save the climate? Two lots of research out this week reckon so.
The first, by the World Resources Institute, trialled the effects of positive messaging on people’s food choices.
Participants who read the message: “Each of us can make a positive difference for the planet. Swapping just one meat dish for a plant-based one saves greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the energy used to charge your phone for two years” chose a vegetarian dish 25 per cent of the time – more than double the rate of those who were shown no message.
A separate trial found that when three out of four meal options on a menu were vegetarian, 48 per cent of diners chose a vegetarian meal, compared to just 12 per cent when three meals were meat-based.
According to the UN, adopting a plant-based diet is one of the most impactful things people can do to tackle climate change.
Image: Jessie Mccall
A record number of people took part in Veganuary this year, organisers announced this week.
Almost 630,000 people from 228 countries and territories attempted to go vegan in January. Tajikistan and North Korea were the only countries whose citizens didn’t take part.
“It is incredibly inspiring to see Veganuary taking hold around the world, especially in countries such as Argentina, Brazil and the US, where per capita meat consumption is amongst the highest in the world,” said Veganuary’s Toni Vernelli.
“As more people become aware of the incredible impact our food choices have on the health of our planet, attitudes towards veganism are changing everywhere.”
Image: Tangerine Newt
There was good news for Belgian civil servants this week. On Tuesday, a law was passed that means they are no longer expected to answer calls or emails out of work hours.
The ‘right to disconnect’ law will impact 65,000 public sector workers. There are plans to extend the right to workers in the private sector.
There is growing interest in the right to disconnect in Europe. In 2021, the European parliament called on the European Commission to draft an EU-wide law to protect workers who wished to unplug after they clock off.
Image: Helena Lopes
Main image: David Troeger