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This Week in Science 2018–01–21


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Medium (Humanist Voices)

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2018/11/21

“A team of researchers has taken a major step toward one of the hottest goals in cancer research: a blood test that can detect tumors early. Their new test, which examines cancer-related DNA and proteins in the blood, yielded a positive result about 70% of the time across eight common cancer types in more than 1000 patients whose tumors had not yet spread — among the best performances yet for a universal cancer blood test. It also narrowed down the form of cancer, which previously published pan-cancer blood tests have not.

The work, reported online today in Sciencecould one day lead to a tool for routinely screening people and catching tumors before they cause symptoms, when chances are best for a cure. Other groups, among them startups with more than $1 billion in funding, are already pursuing that prospect. The new result could put the team, led by Nickolas Papadopoulos, Bert Vogelstein, and others at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, among the front-runners.

“The clever part is to couple DNA with proteins,” says cancer researcher Alberto Bardelli of the University of Turin in Italy, who was not involved in the work. The researchers have already begun a large study to see whether the test can pick up tumors in seemingly cancer-free women.”


“A team of scientists studying ancient DNA may have solved the mystery of the horror-movie style deaths that wiped out most of the Aztec population in colonial-era Mexico.

Extraction and analysis of ancient DNA from a mass grave of victims during the epidemic found a deadly form of salmonella in many of the skeletons.

Salmonella enterica Paratyphi C, a pathogen that causes enteric fever, is a likely culprit, says an article published Monday in Nature Ecology and Evolution by researchers working from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Harvard University and the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History.”


“A slight creaking sound could be heard as the room sat silent, waiting for the door to open. No one knew what to expect. Would lives be changed forever? Anxiety amongst the group continued to grow.

We’ve all found ourselves in this circumstance at some point in our life. As children a teacher would enter the classroom. At work, the boss calls an impromptu all-hands-on-deck meeting. And, the worst of these situations is sitting in a hospital waiting room — waiting for a doctor to bust through the swinging doors with a status update of a loved one.

In this story, the group was waiting for their boss. She entered. She slowly walked to the front of the room, took a deep breath, and said, “I want to tell you all a story.””


“Science isn’t a monolithic endeavor, so there’s no way to create a single measure that captures global scientific progress. Instead, the NSF looked at 42 different indicators that track things like research funding, business investments, training of scientists, and more. All of these measures were evaluated for the globe, in order to put the US’ scientific activity in perspective.

Show me the money

Overall, science funding is on a good trajectory. In 2005, global R&D spending was just under a trillion dollars; by 2015, it had cleared $2 trillion. In total, 75 percent of that is spent in 10 nations; in order of spending, these are the United States, China, Japan, Germany, South Korea, France, India, and the United Kingdom. The US alone spends about $500 billion. China, which was at roughly $100 billion a decade ago, has now cleared $400 billion.

That growth is gradually shifting the focus of global science. At the start of this century, Europe and North America accounted for 65 percent of the global R&D spending. They’re now down to less than half.”


“Science groups are reacting with dismay to a partial shutdown of the U.S. government that began today after the U.S. Senate failed last night to advance funding legislation. Many scientists, meanwhile, are scrambling to determine whether or not they will be able to keep working.

The shutdown is “just deeply disappointing because Congress has had months to fund the government,” said Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in a statement. “Without a resolution the federal scientific enterprise will come to a screeching halt, potentially adding millions of dollars in costs and months of delay to taxpayer funded projects.”

The funding lapse “deals another serious blow to an already beleaguered American scientific enterprise,” said Rush Holt, chief executive officer of American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington, D.C. (publisher of ScienceInsider), in a statement. He suggested the shutdown will add to long-term funding strains that have reduced federal spending on research from about from 1.25% of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to 0.82%, “which is a near 40-year low.””



In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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