Diabetes trial, food security and Stop Bluebird!

Media bulletins

This is my occasional bulletin for journalists with an interest in science stories.


  • Geelong researchers are trialling a drug that may stabilise adult onset diabetes. It’s an old drug reborn – it was used for many years to treat eye disease. Why Geelong? Apparently “Geelong is developing a global reputation as a good area in which to undertake clinical trials.”
  • Next week the ABC launches an interactive, alternate reality drama titled Bluebird. While the whole experience is fictional, Bluebird is founded on real science and will look at how practical, effective, dangerous or realistic geoengineering can be.
  • Look out for biodiversity – it’s the UN Year of Biodiversity. Yesterday the Rudd government announced a major program to promote the year and encourage community organisations to get involved. The $300,000 program is being coordinated by the Council of Australasian Museum Directors.
  • If you’ve written some great science or environmental stories consider nominating for one of the $10,000 Eureka Prizes for Journalism.
  • And next Wednesday science commentator and communicator Julian Cribb will be in Melbourne discussing food security. He fears that food crises’ could be the cause of major international conflicts and mass refugee movements in the near future.

More on all of these below.

Eye drug finds new life in Geelong diabetes trial

Modern drugs can stabilise adult onset diabetes but with some serious side effects. A Geelong-based company, Verva Pharmaceuticals, has a new approach – a drug used for many years to treat eye disease. In animal testing, the drug restored sensitivity to insulin. But will it be effective and safe in people?

Verva is collaborating with Deakin University, and physicians at the Geelong and Box Hill Hospitals to conduct a clinical trial. They are looking for 80 people with adult-onset diabetes (also called type-2 diabetes) who are not currently being treated with diabetes medication. Other hospitals are likely to join the trial in the coming months.

The clinical trial builds on work at Deakin University’s Metabolic Research Unit (MRU) which has developed a technique for rapidly screening compounds as potential diabetes treatments. Their tests found that a compound used in the 1970s as therapy for eye disease could re-sensitise tissues to insulin.

Many experts say diabetes is reaching epidemic proportions. Its incidence is increasing dramatically worldwide, in concert with the growth of obesity. The number of patients with diabetes in Australia is expected to double in the next 20 years. According to business information company Datamonitor, the multi-billion dollar worldwide market for diabetes therapy is expected to double faster than that—in only seven years.

“Geelong is internationally known as a particularly good area in which to undertake clinical trials,” Wacher says. “It is the right size and diversity, and serves as a therapeutic hub for a regional population from which we can recruit trial participants. Geelong Hospital has good facilities, and the investigators and clinical team with whom we work have extensive laboratory and clinical experience with large international pharmaceutical companies.”

For further information: Niall Byrne, +61 (3) 9398-1416, niall@scienceinpublic.com.au and at www.vervapharma.com. For interview: Vince Wacher PhD, CEO Verva Pharmaceuticals, +61 (448) 871 479, vwacher@vervapharma.com

ABC’s Bluebird project revealed

Blowing sulphur particles or reflective materials into the atmosphere, releasing iron into the ocean, burying carbon deep in rock—how practical, effective, dangerous or realistic is geoengineering? Will it save or destroy the world? Should we try? Who decides?

That’s exactly what the ABC is about to explore in a new form of interactive storytelling using online, social media and an alternate reality story—and we thought you would like to know about it. While the whole experience, entitled Bluebird, is fictional, it is founded on real science.

And the science issues will be explored by Robyn Williams on the Science Show.

More information will be revealed over the next two weeks.

You can start to explore the project at http://abc.net.au/bluebird

For further information:  Niall Byrne, +61 (3) 9398-1416, niall@scienceinpublic.com.au or Carolyn MacDonald, Head Marketing, ABC Innovation on 03 9626 1982 or Macdonald.Carolyn@abc.net.au.

Look out for biodiversity – $300,000 for a year of activity

Yesterday the Parliamentary Secretary for Innovation and Industry, Richard Marles announced a $300,000 grant from the Rudd Government to help raise awareness of Australia’s biodiversity during the United Nations International Year of Biodiversity.

The Council of Australasian Museum Directors (CAMD) is using the funds to establish a national framework to support local International Year of Biodiversity action. This will include a national website, marketing and promotional activities and project officers to stage and support events.

CAMD will also support local awareness projects, ranging from walks and water-borne excursions, to performance and web-based activity through small grants rounds.

The first five projects from Victoria, Tasmania, New South Wales and South Australia were launched yesterday.

Look out for more on this initiative in the coming weeks.

Media contacts:  Pauline Braniff, Marles’ Office, 0419 664 016; Graham Durant, Questacon, 02 6270 2801, 0409 321 413

Journalism prizes

Several of the $10,000 Eureka Prizes are open to journalists especially for science and environmental reporting.

Entries for the 2010 Australian Museum Eureka Prizes close midnight AEST Friday 7 May.

Of the 19 prizes on offer, the following recognise journalism and communication:

  • Advancement of Climate Change Knowledge – awarded to an individual, group or organisation for work that demonstrates achievements in deepening the broader community’s understanding of climate change, its impacts and the need for action.
  • Environmental Journalism – awarded to a journalist(s) or communicator(s) whose work is assessed as having most effectively communicated environmental issues to the public.
  • Promoting Understanding of Science – awarded to an individual or group of up to four people for an outstanding and innovative program of science outreach delivered within the past 2 years.
  • Science Journalism – awarded to a journalist(s) or communicator(s) whose work is assessed as having most effectively communicated scientific and/or technological issues to the public.
  • Science Photography – awarded to an Australian/s over the age of 18 for a single photograph taken in the past 2 years that most effectively communicates an aspect of science.

For further information and a full listing of prizes please go to http://eureka.australianmuseum.net.au/enter or contact us at eureka@austmus.gov.au or on 02 9320 6483.

The Coming Famine: Risks and solutions for global food security

In coming decades, the world faces the risk of major regional food crises leading to conflicts and mass refugee movements.

So says Julian Cribb and he’ll be in Melbourne next week talking about the key factors in emerging global food insecurity: emerging scarcities of all the primary resources – land, water, oil, fertilizer and R&D – required to produce food, at a time of changing climate.

Julian will also propose some solutions. He is speaking next Wednesday 28 April at the Elisabeth Murdoch Theatre, The University of Melbourne.  For more information contact Julian: julian.cribb@work.netspeed.com.au, Seminar information at: www.landfood.unimelb.edu.au/info/seminars/2010/juliancribb.html