What science events to watch in 2023

(ORDO NEWS) — 2023 is marked by a large number of important scientific events, writes Nature. Next-generation vaccines, the publication of a “wanted list” of priority pathogens, CRISPR gene therapy, and the launch of the world’s first nuclear waste repository are just some of the events that will set the tone for science in the coming year.

New generation vaccines

After the successful development of new drugs during the coronavirus pandemic, scientists began to create new mRNA vaccines.

BioNTech in Mainz, Germany, is expected to begin the first human trials of an mRNA vaccine against malaria, tuberculosis and genital herpes in the coming weeks.

And in collaboration with New York-based Pfizer, BioNTech will test an mRNA-based drug to fight shingles. Moderna, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is also developing mRNA vaccines against genital herpes and shingles.

In November, BioNTech and Pfizer began phase-one trials of an mRNA vaccine to protect against both COVID-19 and the flu.

The combination vaccine contains mRNA strands encoding the binding proteins of SARS-CoV-2, Omicron BA.4/BA.5, and four strains of influenza.

Other scientists are exploring the prospect of delivering coronavirus vaccines through fast-acting nasal sprays. They have already proven their effectiveness in animals, but human trials may not take place soon.

Advanced Stargazing

The first images from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) have left the world in awe. Some of the JWST’s conclusions about the early universe were published this year, and astronomers will continue to share the latest data and discoveries about the evolution of galaxies.

The Euclid Space Telescope, the brainchild of the European Space Agency (ESA), will be operational for six years. It will take photographs for a 3D map of the universe and will launch in 2023.

Like the X-ray imaging and spectroscopy mission of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, this satellite in Earth orbit will detect X-rays from distant stars and galaxies.

The Vera Rubin Observatory in Chile will also begin taking images in July 2023. A specially designed telescope with three mirrors and a camera with more than three billion pixels of solid-state detectors will be able to scan the entire southern sky in just three nights.

Finally, the world’s largest steerable telescope, the Qitai Radio Telescope in Xinjiang Province (QTT), will begin operation.

Thanks to a fully steerable 110-meter antenna, it will be able to observe 75% of the celestial stars at any given time.

“Wanted list” of pathogens

The World Health Organization is expected to publish an updated list of priority pathogens. 300 scientists will review data on more than 25 families of viruses and bacteria and determine which ones are most likely to cause future outbreaks.

The R&D roadmaps for each pathogen will map existing knowledge gaps, set research priorities, and coordinate the development of vaccines, treatments, and diagnostics.

Lunar missions

As soon as NASA‘s Orion unmanned capsule landed on December 11, three more missions followed: the Rashid lunar rover from the United Arab Emirates, NASA’s Lunar Flashlight laboratory, and the Japanese HAKUTO-R mission, which will attempt a soft landing in April.

In addition, Chandrayaan 3, the third mission of the Indian Space Research Organization, will land near the South Pole in mid-2023.

Finally, next year will see the first commercial trip to the moon: eleven people will embark on a six-day space voyage aboard a SpaceX Starship launch vehicle.

And in April, ESA will launch the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) mission to study the environment of the gas giant Jupiter and its three icy moons.

CRISPR Gene Therapy

CRISPR genome-editing technology, which has shown promising results in clinical trials, may be approved next year. In particular, the CRISPR-Cas9 system has been used to treat genetic blood diseases such as beta-thalassemia and sickle cell anemia.

Exagamglogen autothemcel (exa-cel) treatment was developed by Boston-based Vertex Pharmaceuticals of Massachusetts and CRISPR Therapeutics of Cambridge.

This method harvests human stem cells, “edits” the faulty gene using CRISPR-Cas9 technology, and reinjects them.

Vertex is expected to file an application with the US Food and Drug Administration in March for the treatment of beta thalassemia, or sickle cell anemia.

Loss and Damage Fund

The Loss and Damage Fund agreement reached at the 27th UN Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt last month was a milestone on the road to climate justice.

The implication is that rich countries with historically high emissions will pay financial compensation to poor countries that have been hit hard by climate change. However, its details are yet to be worked out.

A “transitional committee” is expected to meet before the end of March and issue recommendations on how best to organize the funds that delegates from around the world will receive at the next UN conference (COP28) in Dubai next November.

Beyond the standard model

Physicists published the first data from the Muon G-2 experiment in April this year, and it is expected that the refined results will come in 2023.

The experiment studies how unstable short-lived particles muons behave in magnetic fields and creates a sensitive test of the Standard Model of particle physics.

The Jiangmen Underground Neutrino Observatory in southern China is also exploring physics beyond the Standard Model, using a detector at a depth of 700 meters to accurately measure the fluctuations of neutrinos, electrically neutral subatomic particles.

Another long-awaited event in particle physics will be the discovery of the European Source-based splitting (ESS) near Lund, Sweden.

The pan-European project will generate intense neutron beams to study the structure of materials using the most powerful proton linac in history. Next year, the installation will receive the first researchers.

Medicines for Alzheimer’s disease

In early January, U.S. regulators will announce whether a new drug that has successfully slowed the rate of cognitive decline in clinical trials will become available to Alzheimer’s patients.

Lecanemab, from pharmaceutical company Eisai and biotech company Biogen, is a monoclonal antibody that clears the beta-amyloid protein that accumulates in the brain.

Clinical trials involving 1,795 early-stage Alzheimer’s patients showed that lecanemab slowed mental decline by 27% compared to placebo.

At the same time, some scientists believe that the benefits were very modest, while others are concerned about the safety of the drug.

Another Alzheimer’s drug, Blarkamesin from New York-based Anavex Life Sciences, will continue its clinical trials. Blarkamezin activates a protein that improves the stability of neurons and their ability to connect with each other.

Spent fuel storage

The world’s first nuclear waste storage facility is due to open next year on the island of Olkiluoto, off the southwest coast of Finland.

In 2015, the government gave the green light to the construction of an underground deep storage facility for the safe disposal of spent nuclear fuel.

In total, up to 6,500 tons of radioactive uranium will settle into copper containers, after which they will be covered with clay and buried in tunnels of granite rock at a depth of 400 meters.

The nuclear material will remain tightly sealed for several hundred thousand years, by which time the radiation levels will be safe.

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