The top three news stories of the week, as chosen by our resident students. This week’s top stories include a new treatment for nerve pain, the effect of starvation on sexual development and how video games can help tackle climate change.

By Will Hawkes

Cure for the Itch

The treatment of pain has always been at the forefront of medicine. The issue is that different forms of pain require different treatments, but no accurate tool exists to diagnose the source of pain. A new finding by researchers in the US identifies a micro RNA, miR-30c-5p, as a key player in causing nerve pain. Micro RNAs help control the production of proteins by interfering with messages instructing the cell to make more protein. They have an important role in normal functioning cells and have also been identified to play a role in certain cancers and disease.

The study found that rats with a nerve injury had higher levels of miR-30c-5p in their spinal fluid and bloodstream. Injecting this micro RNA into the brain caused in an increased sensitivity to pain and suppressing the action of miR-30c-5p also resulted in a reduction of pain; clearly indicating this micro RNA as important in nerve pain. However, miR-30c-5p has many important roles within the body and developing drugs to block the role of this micro RNA isn’t a viable option. However, the finding could give clinicians an important tool to help identify specific types of pain in patients, enabling them to correctly prescribe the right medication to manage the pain.

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You’re not you when you’re hungry!

There is something to be said about doing anything on an empty stomach. It turns out that, like me, worms aren’t themselves when they are hungry. A group at Columbia University found that starving young male worms could fundamentally change their neural circuitry and prevent them from reaching sexual maturation. The study also found that the response was also controlled partly by serotonin, a hormone linked to depression in humans.

Studying the simple neural circuitry of worms enables the researchers to evaluate the effect of different stressors on neuronal development and provides insights into neural disease and development. Although the human brain is much more complicated than that of the worm, the findings published by this group show how significant the impact of stress during development can be.

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Gaming our way to a cleaner planet?

Education has always been considered to be the key to solving the issue of climate change. Campaigns such as the polar bear sitting on its tiny, solitary island of ice, or the current social media campaign against plastic pollution, while powerful are thought to be failing in their ambition to actually promote change. Perhaps a different approach is needed and a group of scientists believe they have a better way to get the message across; video games.

Thousands of young people were asked to play World Climate where they are asked to play the role of UN delegates, tasked with reducing greenhouse emissions. Players have to decide how they will reduce emissions and the game feeds back the social and political impacts of their decision. After the game, players reported an increase in their knowledge on climate change and a greater willingness to act, which was consistent with multiple groups in different countries. The question remains of how effective this will be in the long term but the low cost and rapid effect this game had on its players is a promising result in the fight against climate change.

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