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Lab Times



Photo: EMLab

ings of plants and flowers? Arthur Harry

Church’s ‘English Iris’ from 1907 might do

the job. And those who like it a bit more

morbid can hang the 16


century illustra-

tion ‘Humani corporis ossium ex latere de-

lineatio’ by Andreas Vesalius (pictured on

pg. 8) on their walls.

The service is not free of charge, of

course, but the prices are moderate. A sim-

ple print on art or photo paper will set you

back £17.50 (ca. €23) for the smallest size.

Tucking the image into a wooden frame

(colour options: black, dark brown, white,

silver or natural), will cost you £45 in total.

The website even offers a “hanging guide”

with scientifically accurate advice on how

to best present your newly-purchased art

piece, such as “determining the correct po-

sition for your hook or nail”.

Thus, when properly positioned, your

science-art-optimised home will never look

boring again.

Ebola outbreak support

European Help

Since the beginning of the year, the largest

Ebola outbreak, since the virus’ first appear-

ance in 1976, has been raging in West Afri-

ca. As of early September, authorities an-

nouncedmore than 1,900 deaths. The virus,

which together with the Marburgvirus, be-

longs to the Filoviridae family, is transmit-

ted through contact with diseased animals,

such as chimps, gorillas, forest antelopes or

porcupines. Natural hosts for the virus are

believed to be the fruit bat species,


nathus monstrosus


Epomops franqueti


Myonycteris torquata


On August 8


, the World Health Or-

ganization declared the current outbreak a

“global health emergency of international

concern”. Timed to perfection, the Europe-

an Union, also on August 8


, promisedmore

help. Already, the initial identification of the

virus strain responsible for the present, dev-

astating epidemic had been done on Euro-

pean soil. Scientists at the Institut Pasteur

in Lyon sequenced the virus and found, not

a close match but a striking resemblance

(98% homology) to the Zaire ebola virus.

“These results demonstrate that we are fac-

ing the emergence of a new ‘form’ of this vi-

rus in Guinea,” explained Hervé Raoul, Di-

rector of the BSL4 Inserm JeanMérieux lab-

oratory in Lyon.

Now, the EU is chipping in €8 million

more, increasing the European financial aid

to €11.9million. The money will support the

actions of the WHO, Médecins Sans Fron-

tières (MSF) and the International Federa-

tion of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

(IFRC). But that’s not all the EU has to give.

Also human help is on its way toWest Africa.

The European Mobile Laboratory (EMLab),

an initiative funded by the European Com-

mission with partners in Germany, France,

Italy, Hungary, Slovenia, Switzerland and

the UK, sends specialist teams to outbreak

epicentres, providing local researchers and

doctors with assistance in diagnostics and


At the end of July, for instance, a team

consisting of scientists from the Philipps

University Marburg, Germany, the Nation-

al Center for Epidemiology, Hungary, and

the Robert-Koch-Institute, Germany, arrived

in Guéckédou, Guinea. In their carry-on lug-

gage: 15 rugged, dust and waterproof trans-

port boxes filled with tents, small genera-

tors as well as PCR cyclers, an ELISA plate

reader, centrifuges, biosafety cabinets, mi-

croscopes and, of course, all necessary rea-

gents for diagnostic tests.

“In this grave situation it is essential that

we all cooperate together in a spirit of soli-

darity. I am confident that together, with the

support of people in the affected countries

and our own citizens that the present out-

break will be successfully contained,” says

an optimistic European Commissioner for

Health, Tonio Borg.

Statin paper correction

The Right Call

Besides the STAP cell drama, the statin de-

bate is perhaps the second big scientific ex-

citer of the year, so far. In autumn last year,

two articles, from Canadian and British re-

searchers, appeared in the

British Medical


, saying that popping cholesterol-

lowering statins is not a very good idea for

people, who are at low risk for developing

cardiovascular disease. In fact, it would do

them more harm than good.

As could be expected, a huge media

storm followed and a scientific debate start-

ed rolling. British cardiovascular epidemi-

ologist, Rory Collins, from the University

of Oxford, a proponent of statin use, even

called for the retraction of the two papers.

There’s a “need to rectify the harm that has

been caused – perhaps resulting in large

numbers of unnecessary deaths, heart at-

tacks and strokes among patients at elevat-

ed risk – by misleading doctors and the pub-

lic with gross over-estimates of the rates of

side-effects with statins”, he wrote to


editor, Fiona Godlee.

What led to the overestimation was the

misinterpretation of a paper by Chinese and

US-American scientists, looking at the role

of “statin-related events in routine care set-

tings”, referenced by both papers’ authors


Ann Intern Med,

158(7):526-34). In this

study, almost 20% of patients had to dis-

continue the drug due to serious side ef-

fects like myalgia or nervous system disor-

ders. But, the authors only documented the

cases and did not establish a causative link

between statin use and the observed side

effects. Consequently,


, in accordance

with the Canadian and British scientists, is-

sued a correction on May 15


. But was that

the right call, wondered Fiona Godlee and

set up an independent panel to look into the

issue. The seven panellists met five times

between May and July and announced their

final verdict in early August.

The panel found that the Canadian pa-

per’s “only unequivocal error (…) is the

misrepresentation of the Zhang

et al.


per and considered this to be insufficient to

justify retraction of the whole article. Noth-

ing in the paper suggested that the authors

had acted malevolently or fraudulently”.

Similarly, the panel judged the commen-

tary piece by British cardiologist, Aseem

Malhotra: “Nothing in the paper suggest-

ed misconduct or that the author had act-

ed malevolently or fraudulently. Strong and

iconoclastic opinions are expected in opin-

ion pieces and can enhance open scientif-

ic debate.”

The report closes with a very important

point: “The panel strongly believes that the

current debates on the appropriate use of

statins would be elevated and usefully in-

formed by making available the individu-

al patient-level data that underpin the rel-

evant studies.”

Packed and ready to go –

the European Mobile Laboratory.