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

Posted 5th May 2023 • Written by •

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

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.”

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.

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.

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.”

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