Headline Science: Viruses ‘more dangerous in the morning’

Which headline is more likely to grab your attention?

‘Viruses ‘more dangerous in the morning”


‘Sleep cycle time of infection affects the growth of viruses in mice and cells’


Even as a scientist I’m more likely to follow a link from the first line. Snappy headlines do an important job, they capture our interest, but they don’t always give us the full story. This is the start of a regular post looking at the science behind an some of the eye catching headlines. To be clear, I’m not criticising the science reporting in these pieces.  The original article for this week’s headline explains the study it is based on and possible consequences clearly and reasonably. Catchy headlines have their place drawing our attention to interesting research. This is just a chance to take a deeper look at the science surrounding the words of the headline, and a fun check on whether you should be rushing to change your day to day habits. So on to this week’s headline…

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Cells at the Final Frontier

Nobody likes being ill at work. Waking up with a fever, many of us would just take the day off. But what if your work happens to be 220 miles above the earth’s surface, and you live there too?International_Space_Station_after_undocking_of_STS-132 This is the reality for astronauts at the International Space Station. Space flight affects the human body in many different ways, from loss of muscle and bone mass on long journeys to motion sickness, and it looks like it affects the immune system too. The team of astronauts which returned from the International Space Station this week, including British astronaut Tim Peake, brought with them data and samples which could help us understand this effect.

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Smashing up Smartphones: is there a better way?

Your immune cells are part of a powerful and complex coordinated system. You could think of it like a shiny new smartphone, all the pieces working together to respond when required. If your smartphone developed a fault and kept ringing or buzzing, refusing to turn off, what would you do?

Autoimmune diseases are caused by your immune system reacting when it shouldn’t. Cells and proteins that would normally be seen as safe are instead viewed as dangerous invaders, and attacked and destroyed. This leads to problems like type 1 diabetes, caused by your immune system attacking the cells which make insulin and keep blood sugar steady ,  multiple sclerosis, caused by attacks on nerve cells leading to muscle weakness, or rheumatoid arthritis, where misplaced inflammation causes joint pain and swelling.

So how do you fix the smartphone? Read More »

Outrunning cancer?

Today I actually managed to drag myself out of bed for a run in the early morning sunshine. I spotted quite a few fellow runners braving the cold, but it’s not just humans who’ve been pacing it out lately. Researchers at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark and other institutions have been running mice on wheels to try to understand how exercise can help to fight cancer, and it looks like the immune system is at play again.

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A crystal ball for making vaccines?

syringes-and-vial-1307461-1280x960Did you have the flu vaccine this winter? Did you feel a bit under the weather afterwards? What if there was a way to predict how you would respond to a vaccine before it was given to you?

Vaccines work by creating an immune memory without you ever having the disease. By treating you with a killed version or pieces of the pathogen we want to vaccinate against, we trigger a small immune response. This makes memory antibody producing B cells which kick into action when you encounter the real pathogen and stop it from taking hold.

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