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A long-awaited moment has arrived: the World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended that a malaria vaccine be distributed widely across Africa. RTS,S is the first proven vaccine against the shape-shifting malaria parasite, but it has its limits: it prevents only roughly 30% of severe cases in children, and it requires 4 injections over 18 months. It’s also relatively expensive, despite manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline offering a discount, following a three-decades-long, multimillion-dollar development programme. The approval demonstrates how valuable any bulwark is against the parasites, which kill an estimated 260,000 young children in Africa every year and are unusually good at evading the immune response. "We've been looking for a malaria vaccine for over 100 years now,” Pedro Alonso, the director of the WHO Global Malaria Programme, told the BBC. “It will save lives and prevent disease in African children.”
The director of a pioneering Malawi–UK research partnership, who stepped aside from his post after being investigated for bullying, returned to the role last week. Respiratory-diseases specialist Stephen Gordon is the director of the Malawi–Liverpool–Wellcome (MLW) Trust Clinical Research Programme, a collaboration between institutions in Malawi and the United Kingdom, and the UK funder Wellcome. But some staff are not happy with the way the case was handled.
Research at a hospital in the United Kingdom suggests that portable HEPA air filters effectively remove SARS-CoV-2 virus particles from the air — the first such evidence in a real-world setting. The results indicate that air filters might be an affordable and overlooked tool to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission in hospitals.
Features & opinion
To truly understand how the brain works, neuroscientists need to know how each of the roughly 1,000 types of cell thought to exist in the brain speaks to the others in their different electrical dialects. That is the ambitious goal of the multibillion-dollar Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, launched by the United States in 2013. Now results are coming in, including in a series of papers published this week that catalogue the diverse cell types in human, monkey and mouse brains. It’s an important step on the way to a complete, finely contoured map that could begin to explain the networks that drive how we think and behave.
Read more: Introduction to a series of papers published this week that catalogue the cell types in the brain (Nature | 6 min read)
In a new book, a former head of the European Research Council urges critical thinking about the algorithms that shape our lives and societies. What happens, Helga Nowotny asks, when we deploy artificial intelligence (AI) without interrogating its effectiveness, simply trusting that it ‘works’? Data can be inaccurate, of poor quality or missing. And technologies are, Nowotny reminds us, “intrinsically intertwined with conscious or unconscious bias since they reflect existing inequalities and discriminatory practices in society”. It is a fascinating and timely meditation, writes reviewer and data ethicist Reema Patel.
Infographic of the week
Changing the hues used in scientific graphics can make a huge difference to people with colour vision deficiencies. Try it yourself by generating the plots in R using this code, available on GitHub.
Read more: Colour me better: fixing figures for colour blindness (Nature | 8 min read)
Today, I’m enjoying imagining that I can spot the James Webb Space Telescope making its way through the Panama Canal, but not really, because pirates.
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