This week in science – Oct. 15

Mark Hendricks, Science & Tech Editor Ω

Potential malaria vaccine could see use in as little as three years

African countries could see a malaria vaccine as early as 2016 according to researchers from PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative (PATH MVI), who are engaged in the largest and longest malaria vaccine test to date.

The researchers plan to submit the vaccine to the European Medicines Agency in 2014, which would slate approval for 2015, according to David Kaslow, vice president of product development at PATH MVI. Approval for use in African nations is expected for 2016.

The vaccine was tested on two groups, babies aged six to 12 weeks and toddlers aged five to 17 months.

The vaccines resulted in a 56 per cent decrease in malaria cases for the toddler group and a 31 per cent decrease in malaria cases for the baby group.

Researchers predict that the vaccine could prevent 941 cases of malaria per year for every 1,000 toddlers vaccinated and 444 cases per year for every 1,000 babies vaccinated.

Find out more: http://www.newscientist.com/section/health

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New discovery the first-ever case of preventing neurodegeneration

The research being done at the University of Leicester could prevent neurodegeneration, and could lead to an eventual cure for many neurological diseases. _DJ_/Flickr Commons

The research being done at the University of Leicester could prevent neurodegeneration, and could lead to an eventual cure for many neurological diseases. _DJ_/Flickr Commons

Scientists at the University of Leicester have discovered a compound that prevents neurodegeneration in mice.

Neurodegeneration is the loss of function or death of neurons in the brain. It has never before been prevented and is linked to numerous diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease.

The compound completely prevented the neurodegeneration in mice, and although the compound would need to be altered for use in humans, it’s the first proof that neurodegeneration can be halted, and serves as a starting point for future research.

The compound does, however, have side effects. It caused damage to the pancreases of the mice, giving them a mild form of diabetes.

Find out more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health/

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Self-assembling robotic cubes

One of the self-assembling cubes at MIT with the sides taken off and the flywheel removed. M. Scott Brauer/MIT

One of the self-assembling cubes at MIT with the sides taken off and the flywheel removed. M. Scott Brauer/MIT

The creation of robotic cubes that can reconfigure themselves into various shapes without any outside interference may seem like science fiction, but researchers at MIT have successfully done just that.

The cubes rely on an internal flywheel for movement, and magnets on their outsides for guidance. The results are cubes that can move and lock on to each other’s faces. Because of the flywheel, they can even jump from cube to cube without climbing over each individual cube.

They currently operate by receiving instructions broadcast from a computer.

The ultimate goal is to create algorithms inside the cubes which will allow them to make their own decisions about the shape they form. An order to construct a specific shape would be given, and the cubes would decide the best way to make the shape before autonomously forming it.

Find out more (and watch a cool video demonstration): http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/

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Pulling metal apart to put it back together

Sometimes we have to do the opposite of what our instinct tells us to in order to get the desired result; braking when your vehicle is sliding on ice is a surefire way to lose control, for example.

Researchers at MIT found the same situation when they discovered that attempting to pull apart a crack in a piece of metal actually fused it back together.

Most metals are a series of crystalline grains that arrange in specific ways causing varying degrees of strength. Researchers explained that by subjecting the metal to stress the crystalline grain boundaries began to change causing the crack to heal itself.

The metal used during the experiment was nickel, a common material in high quality alloys, and the fracture was a very specific type called a disclination. Disclinations are cracks that spread partway into a grain but not through it.

The future goal of the research is to construct metal alloys which will heal themselves under the stresses that they would usually encounter in their given application, whatever that application may be.

Find out more: http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/