Brits at their Best.com: British History, Culture & Sports, History of Freedom, Heroes, Inventors

The Ingenious Timeline

21st Century

2000 to

Nanotechnology creation at Sheffield

Nanotechnology could be used to eradicate disease, improve agriculture, and create easily available sources of energy for
cars and low-cost materials for everything from
computers and electronic devices to wound dressings. Semiconductor development at the University of Sheffield represents some of the most industrially advanced areas of nanotechnology.

Photo: Sheffield University

SOLVING MYSTERIES,
MOLECULAR BIOLOGY, HUMAN GENOME,
DESIGNING iPODS,
CURING GI ULCERS,
BUILDING
NANOTECHNOLOGY,
HEALING NERVES

Beautiful young woman listens to ipod

Apple's Jonathan Ive designs the pocket-sized, ultralight,
and user-friendly i-Pod to be music to ears and eyes.

Photo: online.wsj.com/.http://www.britsattheirbest.com// ipod

2000 - 2012 BRIT JONATHAN IVE DESIGNS FOR APPLE - iMacs, iPods, iPhones, iPads

In 1998, Jonathan Ive revolutionized computer design by creating the iMac, an Apple computer whose successive incarnations inside coloured and translucent 'televisions' seize the imagination of designers and consumers.

Later Ive starts to explore how Apple can engineer a computer hard drive that will play thousands of your favourite songs in a box that fits inside your back pocket or purse. Collaborating with manufacturing, software, hardware and electronic teams, he does just that, and creates the iconic, best-selling iPod. In 2005, he designs Apple's iPod nano, and in 2007, the iPhone.

From there it was on to the iPad, and in 2012, a knighthood for his contributions to design.

Ive drives an Aston Martin, and loves music and machines that solve problems in a calm and serene way. "It's all about music," he says.

The huge Falkirk Wheel, looking like a series of battleaxes

Called "a sublime fusion of form and function," the
Falkirk Wheel smoothly transfers huge boats 80 feet
through the air from one canal to another.

Photo: StuartBlyth@istockphoto.com

2002 BRITISH WATERWAYS SCOTLAND BUILDS THE FALKIRK WHEEL, WORLD'S FIRST ROTATING BOAT LIFT

Connecting the Union Canal with the Forth and Clyde Canal which lies 80 feet below it, the Falkirk Wheel transfers large ships between canals. It's also beautiful to watch, and amazing to experience. The Wheel has two pairs of "axes" holding two 55-ton gondolas, or caissons, revolving on a central axle, and can raise 330 tons of water and a boat in under five minutes by using just enough electricity to power two kettles.

With extraordinary daring, British Waterways scrapped an earlier design, and brought in 20 architects, steel designers, and engineers for three weeks of brainstorming. They were told to bring nothing to meetings but a blank piece of paper and a clear head. The result is the Wheel.

Union Canal was extended by nearly a mile, to include a 550-foot tunnel and a 340-foot aqueduct that leaps out high above the lower basin. "It is an incredible feeling to be chugging out along this aqueduct, with its hooped arches overhead and its gorgeous views of the Scottish Lowlands.

When you finally enter the Wheel, it seems as if you are teetering on the very edge of a precipice. Then, ever so slowly, you start to move out to the side, the great Celtic axe heads tilt overhead, and you realize that it's not just a wheel – it's a remarkable piece of modern, moving sculpture," reports Bill Coles of the Wall Street Journal in 2006.

2002 BRENNER AND SULSTON RECEIVE NOBEL PRIZE FOR CONTRIBUTIONS TO MOLECULAR BIOLOGY

One cold day in the 1950s Sydney Brenner drives from Oxford to Cambridge to look at what Watson, Crick, Wilkins, and Franklin have discovered about DNA. It was, he would say later, “like a curtain being lifted". Now he clearly saw what he had to do.

Brenner goes on to make seminal contributions to the emerging field of molecular biology. He elucidates the triplet code of protein translation through the Crick, Brenner et al. experiment of 1961, which discovers frameshift mutations. This insight is an early illumination of the genetic code.

After decades of work, he shares the Nobel Prize with fellow Brit John Sulston and American Robert Horvitz for their discoveries about genetic regulation of organ development and programmed cell death. According to the Nobel Committee, “The discoveries are important for medical research and have shed new light on the pathogenesis of many diseases.”

Brenner wryly notes that the humble nematode was a great gift to his research: “Having chosen the right organism turned out to be as important as having addressed the right problems to work on.”

2003 CONSORTIUM TRIUMPHANTLY MAPS THE HUMAN GENOME AHEAD OF SCHEDULE

Led first by James Watson and then by Francis Collins, the Human Genome Project has been working since the 1990s to map 30,000 human genes, each gene with a string of thousands of basic building-block molecules. The consortium of nations working on the project includes the UK, the US, Japan, France, Germany, and China. The UK Wellcome Trust increases output by a factor of over 100, and is the leading contributor of finished gene sequences.

The project is successfully completed ahead of time with high hopes that medical treatments for genetic diseases may be developed as a result. The work continues as researchers worldwide investigate the function of each gene and groups of genes. (See 2005 below for positive advances in the field of cancer research.)

It is worth stating that the same gene may produce different traits in different people. Genes do not lead inevitably to traits because of the variable known as "life". Recently, evidence suggested a link between the short form of a gene called MAOA and aggression. People with the short form did not break down brain chemicals as efficiently as those with the long form, and the result was thought to be higher rates of violence. However, further research showed that only men who had the short form and childhood abuse or neglect became violent. Two-thirds of Japanese people carry the short form, but their child-rearing practices apparently defuse the gene. Sharon Begley, whose Wall Street Journal story is the source for this information, concludes, "Figuring out how experiences reach down into the double helix is this field's next big challenge."

2004 ST GEORGE'S HOSPITAL SCIENTISTS GROW VACCINES IN PLANTS

St. George’s Hospital Medical School, London, is working with a pan-European consortium to grow vaccines against rabies and Aids in genetically modified plants. (Edward Jenner who invented the world's first vaccine, against smallpox, attended St. George's.) Many vaccines have had remarkable success in fighting disease, but they are expensive to manufacture – often prohibitively expensive. It is hoped that the new technology will drastically reduce the costs.

Millau viaduct

Foster + Architects design the world's highest bridge, a white viaduct standing on seven huge masts, that swings traffic across the Millau valley between Paris and the Mediterranean.

2004 PRESIDENT OF FRANCE HAILS FOSTER'S BRIDGE AS MARVEL OF ART AND ENGINEERING

On a cloudy day, the Foster tour de force appears to sail across the clouds. Its scale appears astral rather than human. Admirers of architecture call it a marvel. It would be interesting to know what the French people living below it think.

2005 SCIENTISTS DISCOVER POKEMON, MASTER SWITCH FOR CANCER

An international team of British, American, and Japanese, scientists believes it has found a master switch for cancer. They announce the discovery of a gene they dub "Pokemon" (for POK erythroid myeloid ontogenic factor) in the British journal Nature. The Pokemon gene apparently triggers other cancer-causing genes, leading to tumour formation. Their discovery means that they may have identified an important new target for an anti-cancer drug.

The Pokemon gene is necessary for other genes to function. It is implicated in human lymphoma, and probably in prostate, breast, lung, and bladder cancers. Unlike other oncogenes which affect cell growth, Pokemon enhances a cancer cell's ability to resist ageing and death. This is the trait that makes tumours difficult to treat. Pokemon's involvement means one drug could be developed to treat a variety of cancers.

Researcher at Wellcome Trust's genetics headquarters

The Wellcome Trust's Sanger Institute presses forward
with cancer gene research. Another genetic breakthrough, in Copy Number Variations is announced in 2006.

Photo: http://www.sanger.ac.uk

2005 BRITS WIN BACKING FOR CANCER GENE MAP

British writer John Derbyshire explains that genes are “those tremendously long strings of quite simple chemicals . . . found in the nuclei of living cells, which encode the inherited physical properties of whatever organism – a bacterium, a tree, a fish, a human being – the cells belong to.” Brits working on the £36 million Cancer Genome Project at Wellcome's Sanger Institute, near Cambridge, are data-mining and mapping the genes that cause tumours. They are so successful that the world’s largest sponsor of cancer research funds their hunt for the genetic roots of the disease. The United States National Cancer Institute (NCI) is backing the Brits with $1.35 billion (£725 million) over nine years to trace the DNA mutations that may help to trigger the fifty most common forms of cancer.

The resulting database will transform the search for new treatments for cancer. Identifying the genes that malfunction and turn healthy cells cancerous will create potential targets for the development of new drugs.

The Sanger team, headed by Mike Stratton, had previously worked on a small budget, but had managed to identify more than 100 genes linked to cancers. Among the genes they identify is one called BRAF, which mutates in the majority of deadly skin cancer cases.

2005 STEM CELL BREAKTHROUGH AS KINGSTON UNIVERSITY SCIENTISTS AND NASA MULTIPLY STEM CELLS FROM UMBILICAL CORD BLOOD

Stem cells from human embryos can be used to develop into any tissue in the body. Their importance for tissue regeneration is clear, but ethical concerns over using them remain troublesome. Equally troubling, embryo-derived cells often cause multiple tumours.

Now Brits at the UK's Kingston University are using microgravity technology developed by NASA to multiply stem cells from umbilical blood in large enough quantities to be used to regenerate human tissue. The primitive stem cells in the umbilical cord blood resemble those from human embryos, but there are no ethical concerns about their use. They are called "cord-blood-derived embryonic-like stem cells" or CBEs.

Brits have progressed from discovering the cells, extracting 10,000 of them, using a micro-bioreactor to generate millions more, and creating liver tissue with them. They are working to reproduce nerve tissue.

2005 MANCHESTER SCIENTISTS DISCOVER UNKNOWN MATTER

A team of British and Russian scientists at the University of Manchester discover a new class of previously unknown materials which are one atom thick and exhibit properties never seen before.

The new materials are ultra-thin, but can be ultra-strong, highly-insulating or highly-conductive. The discovery opens up fascinating possibilities – clothing that insulates but is lighter than gossamer; extremely light and strong computers made from materials with only one atom.

2005 YORKSHIRE CANCER RESEARCH MOVES TOWARD PROSTATE CANCER CURE

Working at the Yorkshire Cancer Research Unit (YCR) at the University of York, Norman Maitland and Anne Collins extract and grow prostate tumour stem cells. This is an exciting development in creating a therapy for eliminating cancer cells. Existing treatments typically reduce the number of cancer cells, but do not eradicate them. Now that tumour stem cells have been grown, specific therapies for killing them can be developed.

2005 AUSSIE SCIENTISTS WIN NOBEL FOR DARING DISCOVERY OF BACTERIUM THAT CAUSES GASTRITIS AND PEPTIC ULCER DISEASE

People who suffer from gastrointestinal distress or peptic ulcers know how painfully debilitating they can be. In 1982 Australian doctor Robin Warren is studying a number of stomach biopsies, and notices a connection between the severity of inflammation in stomachs and the number of bacteria present.

Working with doctor trainee Barry Marshall, the two men try to culture bacteria from the stomach biopsies without any success. Then serendipity occurs – a set of plates is allowed to incubate three times as long as specified, and the microbe now known as Helicobacter pylori grows and flourishes.

But does the bacterium cause stomach inflammation or does inflammation allow bacteria to grow? There is only one way to find out.

Marshall chugs down a culture of bacteria. He develops gastritis, and undergoes endoscopy and stomach biopsy. H pylori is present, proving it has inflamed the stomach, and a cure - antibiotics - clears it up.

Child peering into mysterious future

Nanotechnology develops materials, structures, devices, and systems at the atomic, molecular, or macromolecular range of approximately 1 to 100 nanometers. Biotechnology pioneer Pat Mooney has compared nanotechnology to "a technological tsunami, unseen until it is upon us."

Photo: RMAX@istockphoto.com

2006 RESEARCH INTO NANOPARTICLES ACCELERATES

An international team led by University College London scientists at the London Centre for Nanotechnology has unravelled the properties of a novel ceramic material that could help pave the way for new designs of electronic devices and applications.

Working with researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), Zurich, the University of Tokyo, and Lucent Technologies, USA, they reveal in Nature that the complex material, an oxide of manganese, functions as a self-assembled or 'natural' layered integrated circuit. By conducting electricity only in certain directions, it opens up the possibility of constructing thin metal layers, or racetracks, insulated from other layers only a few atoms away.

Other researchers in the UK have found that gold nanoparticles are extremely effective detectors of biological toxins. The particles reveal the presence of poisons far faster than existing techniques. Led by Professor David Russell, a team at the University of East Anglia have refined manufacturing methods so that large numbers of particles can be made quickly. For their research they are using gold nanoparticles that are only 16 nanometres in diameter - roughly 1/5000th the width of a human hair. The particles are then coated with sugars. The biological toxins bind to the sugar, and reveal their presence by changing the properties and colour of the gold nanoparticles. Among many possible uses, nanoparticles can indicate whether water is clean enough to drink and analyse the sweat left at crime scenes to help detect criminals.

2006 'ENGINEERING WONDER' CARRIES OIL

Buried underground to avoid the unwelcome attentions of terrorists, slithering through 1,100 miles of mountain ranges and 1,500 waterways to avoid political turmoil, the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline is being called an engineering wonder.
The oil slides through 150,000 pipes, taking about a year to travel from Azerbaijan to its terminal. Built for £2.4 billion by a British Petroleum consortium and 22,000 workers, the pipeline pumps a million barrels of oil a day from the Caspian Basin through Georgia to Turkey and then to the Mediterranean, where the oil is shipped to the European market.

The pipeline has been criticised on environmental grounds. This is always a problem with oil. It does increase the diversification of Europe's energy sources.

2006 JOHN INNES CENTRE CRACKS MYSTERY OF WHEAT

The John Innes Centre cracks a wheat-breeding mystery with life-giving implications for farmers facing drought in Africa and Asia. Graham Moore of Innes' crop genetics department has created the scientific tools to develop new varieties of cereals. For the first time commercially-grown high-yielding wheat varieties are being crossed with wild varieties that have tolerance to drought or extreme conditions. It is expected that these new varieties will help feed people around the world.

2006 BRITS USE JUICE FROM MAGGOTS TO SPEED HEALING OF WOUNDS

Maggots have been deliberately applied to wounds to get rid of dead tissue and kill bacteria by eating it. Now, according to The Telegraph, "Scientists from Bradford University have discovered an extra benefit: the secretions produced by the maggots actually speed up the body's healing process." They expect that within three years they will have bandages infused with maggot juice to speed the regeneration of injured flesh.

Young girl surfing in ocean

Australian doctors discover that inhaling salt water can help Cystic Fibrosis sufferers.

Photo: Susan_Stewart@istockphoto.com

2006 AUSSIES DEVELOP PROMISING TREATMENT FOR CYSTIC FIBROSIS

Cystic Fibrosis is a genetic disease that often kills children. It attacks all parts of the body, filling it with mucous that breeds disease and makes digestion and breathing increasingly difficult. Genetic research indicates that CF originates because of sodium transfer issues at the cellular level.

Doctors in Australia trying to treat CF patients noticed that avid surfers have better pulmonary health than non-surfers. Sodium is a key element of salt, so they theorize that inhaling salt water has a positive effect on the lungs. They create a hypertonic saline solution. (We have yet to determine the names of those who deserve credit.)

In memory of their son, who fought valiantly against CF, and died when he was 12, Joe O’Donnell, a successful Boston businessman, and his wife Kathy, started the Joey Fund to support research and treatment. Joey’s Fund comes to the aid of the Aussie researchers, and funds their studies, which find that the hypertonic saline does improve lung function tremendously by keeping lungs moist. For those who benefit, it is a new, life-saving measure.

2006 BRITISH AND AMERICAN RESEARCHERS RESTORE SIGHT TO BLIND USING CELL TRANSPLANTS

British and American researchers are using cell transplants to restore sight to blind mice, and hope “it may be possible for doctors to treat conditions that cause irreversible blindness, such as age-related macular degeneration and diabetic eye damage” for hundreds of thousands who have lost their sight. According to the Times,

In a breakthrough called ‘stunning’, the researchers implanted immature retinal cells into the eyes of the mice which then developed into fully functioning photoreceptors. Photoreceptors are the pixel-like light-sensitive cells in the retina that make it possible to see.

. . . Dr Robert MacLaren, a member of the team from Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, said: ‘This research is the first to show that photoreceptor transplantation is feasible.’

The plan is to use stem cell-like retinal cells from the affected patient. The research was published in the magazine Nature.

2006 BRITISH AND AMERICAN SCIENTISTS REPORT ASTONISHING NEWS ABOUT HUMAN GENOME

British scientists at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute near Cambridge and Americans report that the genetic variations between individuals are ten times greater than previously believed because genetic variation is due not only to differences in the sequences of the individual "letters" of the genome, but to multiple copies of some key genes that make up the human genome. These are called copy number variations (CNV).

According to Dr Matthew Hurles, one of the project's leaders at the Wellcome Trust quoted in The Telegraph, "Each one of us has a unique pattern of gains and losses of complete sections of DNA, and one of the real surprises of these results was just how much of our DNA varies in copy number. The copy number variation that researchers had seen before was simply the tip of the iceberg, while the bulk lay submerged, undetected."

CNVs have a role in disease, particularly the diseases of old age. Of the approximately 3,000 genes that vary in copy number from their predicted two copies, 285 are already known to be associated with disease.

2006 GEOFF RAISMAN DISOVERS PROPERTIES OF NOSE’S OLFACTORY CELLS AND AIMS TO USE THEIR POWERS OF REGENERATION TO HEAL NERVE INJURIES

Despite scientific belief to the contrary, as early as 1969 Raisman saw that the brain and central nervous system had an astonishing capacity to reorganise themselves after loss or trauma. His theory of neuroplasticity is finally accepted, and leads to advances in treating dyslexia and victims of stroke. However, while nerve cells do branch out to fill the gap left by dead nerve cells, they cannot seem to connect through the scar tissue that forms after an injury. This means that injured patients are left paralyzed, blind, or speechless.

Raisman realises that the regenerating olfactory cells in the nose have no problem making these connections. He conducts meticulous experiments and trials with the olfactory cells, and learns that they form conduits in the brain that guide the new growths of nerve fibres to their proper destinations. Could these cells do the same thing elsewhere? In the miraculous human body, in which a cell can take on different functions, the answer is yes.

Olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs) belong to a class of cells known as glials (“gluey” cells). The glials owe their guiding potential to their tiny, porous canal-like shape. . . “through which the new nerve fibres grow and seek their corresponding partners across the gap or injury site.”

Grafting them to the site of an injury, “persuades the cells of the scar to open up, making room for the new pathway.” In a spinal-cord injury, the 'road' has been washed away. Raisman intuits that a graft of OEC cells in the spinal cord or in nerve-damaged shoulders could help to rebuild them. Quotes and description in this graph and below from “The Miracle Worker” by John Cornwell, Times »

“Raisman never forgets the day he first realised that his pathway hypothesis had worked - ‘It was in the depths of winter. I had gone to examine my rat model at 2am. My breath was like steam in the frozen night air.’ The rat, with an artificially induced lesion preventing movement of its left paw, had been treated with a graft of nasal glial cells from its own nose. ‘I offered it some food, and could hardly believe my eyes. It put its left paw forward. For a moment we looked at each other in shocked surprise. Then it took the food.’

Raisman has built a research team of scientists from around the world. He is now working under the auspices of the Institute of Neurology and University College London. Over the next three years he will work with UCL’s neurosurgical team to graft autologous OEC cells in injured patients to restore normal sensation and movement.

2006 INSCENTINEL TRAINS BEES TO DETECT EXPLOSIVES

Inscentinel's Managing Director, Stephen James, was aware that honey bees have an exquisite sense of smell. He understood that a bee will extend and wave her proboscis, the trunk she uses to suck up nectar, when she smells something she likes. He did not expect it would take a mere ten minutes to train a bee to recognise and identify explosives by feeding her sugar water.

Inscentinel's ingenuity has impressed America's Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency. Trained bees in boxes linked to a video camera and computer programme that tracks their responses is expected to be operational in a year at an airport near you.

2007 BRITISH RESEARCH TEAM GROWS HEART VALVE FROM STEM CELLS

A British research team led by Sir Magdi Yacoub, a professor of cardiac surgery at Imperial College London and one of the world's leading heart surgeons, has grown part of a human heart from stem cells for the first time. If trials scheduled for later this year prove successful, replacement tissue could be used in transplants for hundreds of thousands of people suffering from heart disease within three years. Since the stem cells are not embryonic, and can be supplied by the person who needs the heart, no immune-rejection problems occur.

2007 BRITS RECEIVE NOBEL PRIZE FOR CONTRIBUTIONS TO MEDICINE

"The Nobel prize for medicine was shared by Mario Capecchi, Martin Evans and Oliver Smithies for their work on stem cells and genetic manipulation.

Sir Martin's work has helped in studying cystic fibrosis and in testing the effects of gene therapy, where genes are transplanted to treat disease.

Smithies has worked on gene targeting for cystic fibrosis and the blood disease thalassaemia as well as hypertension and atherosclerosis, the process that clogs arteries.

2009 A CHAMPION OF SCIENTIFIC INTEGRITY

ii_rennie_drummond.jpg

Drummond Rennie, MD, has fought to defend unbiased scientific information.

Image: James C. Harris, MD

Doctors depend on medical journals to update them on the best new treatments and drugs. They need the facts - and so do you if you are a patient. The British-born Deputy Editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, Drummond Rennie is honoured as a champion of intregity.

Veteran JAMA editor Drummond Rennie, MD, has received the Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in recognition of his advocacy for the free exchange of unbiased scientific information.
Rennie speaks bluntly about the dangers to science -
There seems to be no study too fragmented, no hypothesis too trivial, no literature too biased or too egotistical, no design too warped, no methodology too bungled, no presentation of results too inaccurate, too obscure, and too contradictory, no analysis too self-serving, no argument too circular, no conclusions too trifling or too unjustified, and no grammar and syntax too offensive for a paper to end up in print.

The AAAS calls the Cambridge-educated Rennie a "visionary in safeguarding the integrity of how scientific information is gathered and communicated." The award cites his "career-long efforts to promote integrity in scientific research and publishing" as well as his "outspoken advocacy for the freedom of scientists to publish in the face of efforts to suppress their research."

 

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