Gel possible treatment for chronic illnesses

Agency for Science, Technology and Research researchers have developed a gel which slowly releases small amounts of drugs when injected into a person's body, which they say could potentially be a new form of treatment for people with chronic diseases such as hepatitis C - a liver disease - where current treatment can cause much discomfort for patients.

Treatment for hepatitis C includes a weekly injection of a protein drug called Pegylated interferon, which is time-consuming and can cause depression and fatigue.

The new gel allows for long-term drug delivery - lasting for some two months - and reduces the side effects from frequent drug administration.

"We hope that our solution can improve the treatment and well-being of patients suffering from chronic diseases such as hepatitis C," said Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology executive director Jackie Ying.

A study by the researchers found that a one-time administration of the hydrogel containing the hepatitis C medication was as effective as eight injections, and that the hydrogels degrade naturally and are eliminated from the body once the drugs are fully released.

Me a Neanderthal? You could be right

You may not know it, but you probably have some Neanderthal in you.

For people around the world, except sub-Saharan Africans, about 1 to 3 per cent of their DNA comes from Neanderthals, our close cousins who disappeared roughly 39,000 years ago.

Scientists say a jawbone unearthed in Romania of a man who lived about 40,000 years ago boasts the most Neanderthal ancestry ever seen in a member of our species.

The finding also indicates that interbreeding with Neanderthals occurred much more recently than previously known, said geneticist Svante Paabo of Germany's Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

"We show that one of the very first modern humans that are known from Europe had a Neanderthal ancestor just four to six generations back in his family tree. He carries more Neanderthal DNA than any other present-day or ancient modern human seen to date."

Harvard Medical School geneticist David Reich said 6 to 9 per cent of this individual's genome came from a Neanderthal ancestor.

The study, published in the journal Nature, indicates that our species interbred with Neanderthals in Europe as well, not just in the Middle East as previously thought, Professor Paabo said.

Previous research suggested this interbreeding occurred 50,000 to 60,000 years ago, before our species, arising in Africa, trekked into Europe, Asia and beyond.

The lower jawbone was found in 2002 in Oase Cave in south-western Romania. Previous attempts to extract DNA were unsuccessful but recent technological advances facilitated the new findings.


Compiled by Samantha Boh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 28, 2015, with the headline 'IN BRIEF'. Print Edition | Subscribe