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Science
THE MATERIAL WORLD
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Thursday 16:30-17:00
Quentin Cooper reports on developments across the sciences. Each week scientists describe their work, conveying the excitement they feel for their research projects.
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Listen to 03 May
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QUENTIN COOPER
Quentin Cooper
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Thursday 03 May 2007
Ramses the Great
Ramses the Great ruled Egypt for 67 years -  it is thought he suffered from rheumatoid arthritis.

EGYPTIAN MEDICINE

Scientists are examining plant remains found in ancient Egyptian tombs in the Sinai to discover what plants and herbs they used as medicine.

Drs Jackie Campbell and Ryan Metcalfe from the KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology at the University of Manchester alongside the Egyptian Medicinal Plant Conservation Project in St Katherine's, Sinai have been checking out the plants and medical papyri.

DNA analysis of the ancient plant remains will hopefully pinpoint the exact species and sub-species of herbs and resins. Then researchers can determine if the ancient Egyptians cultivated important medical plants, used what was locally available or indeed traded with other regions.

Egyptologists have already discovered some of the ailments suffered by the Egyptians – haemorrhoids, lung disease, schistosomiasis and many fatal traumas, associated with construction work, were rife.

Many of the medical treatments used to treat such ailments are still being used today.

CYTOKINES

Cytokines are small proteins that act as messengers between animal cells. In humans they act a bit like hormones but on a very local – less than a millimetre - scale. They are however absolutely essential to the body’s immune response.

At this year’s European Inventor of the Year awards held in Munich two weeks ago, Professor Marc Feldmann of the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology received the Lifetime Achievement award for his work on cytokines and rheumatoid arthritis.

During the late 1980s he found that when the body’s immune system responds to infection, one cytokine in particular – known as TNFα – is the trigger for all the others. So in diseases like arthritis where the immune system is attacking the body itself, blocking the function of TNFα is enough to calm the system down and cure the arthritis.

He is joined by long time colleague Professor Fionula Brennan to discuss their decades of work and hopes for future treatments of virulent infections such as SARS and H5N1.

NEXT WEEK:  Cafés scientifiques and whatever happened to the polymaths…

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