Cancer treatments that are personalised to an individual’s tumour cells or body clock, a boost to the hunt for dark matter using new findings from Large Hadron Collider data, and long-distance communications enhanced by augmented reality are just some of the scientific breakthroughs expected by researchers this year.
Horizon asked a selection of scientists featured in the magazine last year which major developments they foresaw for 2017.
Personalised cancer drugs
Professor Hans Clevers from the Hubrecht Institute in the Netherlands foresees personalised cancer treatment which is targeted at someone’s particular tumour cells. ‘Since the 1950s, bacteria are isolated from individual infectious disease patients, grown in a dish and exposed to a panel of antibiotics. The antibiotic that is best at killing the bacteria in the dish is then given to the corresponding patient. In 2017, the first results will appear demonstrating that the same approach can be followed for cancer patients: cancer cells taken from individual patients are cultured in a dish and exposed to all existing cancer drugs. The individual patient will then receive the drug that is best at killing his or her tumour cells.’
Dark matter hunt boosted by new Large Hadron Collider data
Professor Paraskevas Sphicas from the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) and the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece, says that 10 times more data was collected in 2016 by experiments operating at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN compared to 2015, meaning that we should see new analysis results in 2017. ‘The discovery of a Higgs boson in 2012 has signalled a new era in particle physics,’ he said. ‘And 2016 has been a spectacular year for the LHC and its experiments, which collected roughly 50 % more data than originally planned. This will be a major boost to the sensitivity of all the ongoing searches for new physics, from supersymmetry and dark matter all the way to exotic new possibilities. There are ample reasons to stay tuned.’
Human-centred applications for augmented reality
Professor Gaetano Cascini at the Politecnico di Milano in Italy is looking forward to a new era of interactive meetings and long-distance communication enabled by augmented reality (AR). ‘It’s now time for developing human-centred applications of augmented reality, easy to set up and transparent for the user. I’m expecting AR (to be) supporting collaborative sessions where teammates discuss around physical objects from distant places in a much more fruitful interaction than a slideshow on a screen. And even grandmas will have richer calls with their nephews living abroad, playing with a pet or shaping together a clay model.’
Improved measurements of Arctic conditions
Professor Karin Lochte of the Alfred Wegener Institute for polar research in Germany is looking forward to new measuring technologies that she believes will advance Arctic science. ‘It is anticipated that the extent of sea ice in the Arctic will be at a record low next year,’ she said. ‘It is a major challenge to understand the processes that accelerate the loss of sea ice and its impact on weather patterns. This requires coordinated measurements across the Arctic Ocean and improvements of the coupled ocean-atmosphere models. It will be a major breakthrough … when the new automated measuring technologies as well as internationally coordinated measurements provide the crucial data to improve predictive models.’
Entry-level home solar power systems
Dr Michael Gera, chief executive of venture capitalist firm Energy Access Ventures, which invests in companies bringing electricity to sub-Saharan Africa, says that he is looking forward to cheap solar power systems for the home. ‘The innovation I would like to see in 2017 is the availability of a high-quality, reliable entry-level solar home system for around USD 40 (EUR 35) retail. This could go a long way to opening up this market in sub-Saharan Africa.’
Multiple signals of a binary-neutron star merger
Professor Mark Hannam from Cardiff University, UK, would like to see a gravitational-wave signal from the merger of two neutron stars, the smallest and densest stars known to exist, along with an independent electromagnetic signal from the same event. ‘Gravitational-wave detectors are likely to observe more systems of binary black holes, which will surely allow us to do a huge amount of science. But that was last year's breakthrough. A binary-neutron-star merger, with an electromagnetic counterpart, is what would now class as a breakthrough – it would give us strong evidence that short gamma-ray bursts are produced by neutron-star mergers. So far this is what people think is the mechanism, but there is no compelling evidence as yet. It would also establish multi-messenger astronomy – that is, standard electromagnetic astronomy along with gravitational wave astronomy – as an active field.’
Surfaces to support molecular machines
Dr Christian Joachim from CEMES-CNRS Toulouse in France is expecting to see the first atomic-scale surface technology to emerge in the year to come for supporting and encapsulating molecular machines and atom circuits. ‘For molecule-machines, a single molecule motor, and a synchronised large ensemble of them, will have to be anchored on a semi-conductor or an insulating surface. Those mechanical molecule-machines will be used for energy harvesting, minute power production and possibly to deliver computing power in extreme environment.’
Time-adjusted cancer treatments
Professor Francis Levi from Warwick Medical School, UK, who also treats cancer patients at the Paul Brousse Hospital in Villejuif, France, is expecting a breakthrough in cancer chronotherapy, which would mean that treatments such as chemotherapy are given at the most effective time for that patient’s body clock. ‘Coupling cancer chronotherapy algorithms to the circadian clocks in individual patients through a systems medicine approach would expectedly reduce adverse events up to five fold while improving median survival by several months,’ he said. ‘This is now within reach.’
Global spread of vehicular wifi networks
Professor Susana Sargento from the University of Aveiro, Portugal, and co-founder of technology company Veniam, co-developed the world’s largest pilot of vehicular networks, which allow cars, buses and lorries to connect to each other over wifi, in the city of Porto, Portugal. She believes these networks will expand beyond the current ones in Porto, Singapore and New York City, US, to spread all over the world. She expects that self-driving vehicles will be able to respond to their surroundings more efficiently by taking in information from sensors in the vehicles and in the roads, traffic signs and lights, bicycles and people. ‘They will provide services such as traffic management, integration between vehicles and traffic lights, and signs and emergency communications,’ she said.
Evidence that enhancing biodiversity increases profits
Professor David Kleijn of Wageningen University in the Netherlands says that he would like to see proof that improving biodiversity makes farming more profitable. ‘Right now we have increasing evidence that biodiversity can provide agronomic or economic benefits. However, these studies rarely take the costs of enhancing biodiversity into account and generally don’t apply to whole farming systems. For farmers, the net benefits at the farm level are what matters. Evidence that having more on-farm biodiversity results in better financial margins will go a long way in convincing large numbers of farmers to adopt this type of management and will therefore contribute significantly to making farming more sustainable.’
If you liked this article, please consider sharing it on social media.
The world’s pressing need is a vaccine to fight the current threat of Covid-19, but ultimately we may be able to develop a pan-coronavirus vaccine, Sunetra Gupta, a professor of theoretical epidemiology at the University of Oxford, UK, said at the European Commission’s annual research event.
Recent advances are bringing cancer vaccines much closer to reality, giving patients another weapon in their arsenal of cancer treatments, according to Dr Madiha Derouazi, CEO of Amal Therapeutics and one of three winners of the 2020 EU Prize for Women Innovators.
European governments need to provide investment on a ‘wartime footing’ to stimulate a post-coronavirus economic recovery, but also need to redefine economic success to incorporate climate and social goals, the European Research and Innovation Days conference has heard.
The Covid-19 crisis provides an opportunity to reshape Europe’s economy, conference heard.
'Frontier research' scientists share how they are fighting Covid-19.
Dr Kate Rychert studies ocean plate structures.