_ Inoculating Africa

Edinburgh Medalist Manuel Patarroyo

Scientists don‘t go into research for the money; usually it‘s the companies marketing products based on their findings that make a fortune. and nowhere is that more true than in the billion pound pharmaceuticals industry. That’s why the story of Manuel Patarroyo, winner ofthis year‘s Edinburgh Medal for a scientific contribution to society. is so refreshing.

Quite simply, Patarroyo. a Colombian immunologist. thinks he‘s close to finding a vaccine for malaria. and after years of scepticism. the scientific community is beginning to believe him. But rather than auction his potentially lucrative findings to the highest- bidding drug multinational. Patarroyo turned his work over to the World Health Organisation. This means that if the vaccine. known as SPf66. proves to be effective. WHO will be able to distribute it widely in the countries where malaria is most prevalent. Malaria kills over a million children in Africa each year. but it is likely that a commercially developed vaccine would be aimed, at least initially. at western travellers.

Patarroyo's early trials of the vaccine on monkeys were criticised as unscientific because he did not use a “control sample’ to allow a direct comparison between those who took the drug and those who didn’t. Some scientists also dismissed his work because he tested the vaccine in South America where malaria is less virulent; properly conducted trials in Africa were needed to convince the sceptics. That's what WHO did and earlier this year it reported that the results were very encouraging.

The final phase of trials is now underway which will measure the

_ impact of vaccinating over 600 young children. If the tests show the vaccine reduces the likelihood of contracting malaria, WHO could be distributing it widely by 1998. (Eddie Gibb)

Manuel Patarroyo will accept the 'medal and give a lecture about his work on Monday 1] April at 7. 30pm in the Royal College of Physicians.

:— Cyberspace cadet

Graham K. Whitehead is probably the closest you‘ll come to finding a cyberpunk employed in a major UK corporation. He works for BT. his

business card reads ‘advance concepts manager“ and his specialist subject is communication of the future. (Note the middle initial surely a reference to sci-fi guru Philip K. Dick?)

Ask Whitehead a silly question like ‘what exactly is virtual reality'?‘ and he says: ‘What we‘re looking at is taking enormous data sets and turning them into coloured pictures; human beings

3 are very good at interpreting coloured

l i l 1 I

pictures' It sounds so simple and that‘s the idea. Just as you don't need to know about the workings of the internal combustion engine to drive a car. you won‘t have to understand terms like ‘vinual reality’ or ‘tele-presence’ to use them. BT wants to generate future

demand for its communications

network and selling the idea that hi- tech is for everyday folk is part ofthe process.

VR is best known as a games system that gives the player the illusion of entering a three-dimensional world by

showing each eye a slightly different image on a tiny video screen. The Victorian stereoscope worked on the same principle; the difference being that virtual reality needs a megabyte computer to make the pictures move. .But the real future for VR is its business applications. Already it is being used by architects to give clients an idea of how a building will look before it's built and Boeing has designed an aeroplane in virtual reality.

This kind of technology is a little way off finding a domestic use. but perhaps not as far as you might think. HT is

testing video—on-dcmand later this year.

Tele~presence, a close cousin of virtual reality. which is being developed by 81

which will give 2000 people in Colehester access to video films down a phone line. The next step will be home shopping in a computer- generatcd shopping mall. That isn‘t exactly domestic virtual reality. but we‘re getting closer.

‘lt's either very exciting or very frightening. depending on how you look at it.‘ Whitehead says. excitedly. (Eddie Gibb)

(Ira/tum ll’hite/lead talks about VR applieatimts and related technology developed by 13'] on ll'r-‘dtiesday 20 April at 6pm in Old ('ollege.

Science of superheroes


Some of the best brains in Britain are gathered in Edinburgh for the Science Festival, but the talk won’t all be of cold fusion or a cure for cancer. When a bunch of them get together in the same room, there’s a good chance the subject of superheroes may come up. Even the festival director Bruce Curie has been known to flick open a Marvel comic during lunch breaks.

This comes as no surprise to John Morton, a biochemist at the Univeristy of Buckingham and self-confessed comic nut (favourite character:

Superman - ‘the first and still the best’). He believes that kids who read comic books are liker to be fired with an enthusiasm for the technology of the future which leads to a career in science. ‘The main point is, that although in science fiction the ’science is speculative and not terribly accurate, it does give a wonderful sense of the possibilities,’ Morton explains. ‘It gets kids thinking about the way things might work. My three- year-old daughter wants to go to the moon and who knows, she may well do

IVE/{R - 5/”? TH SPACE, ON THE SH/iDOW 5/05 or me 75P/l'1/Nfl70/QRHC/NC mom 04v 70 NIGHT. ..

Marvel Comics 1994) it.’

So don’t knock the nerdy comic reader of today; he or she could be inspired to become tomorrow’s rocket scientist. (Eddie Cibb)

John Morton talks about the Science in Comics, illustrated with slides of his favourite characters, on Sunday 10 April at 2.30pm in Adam House Theatre. Work by the comic book- inspired artist Erro is at the Fruitmarket Callery until Saturday 14 May.

72 The List 8—21 April 1994