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Bypasses in the heart and other places

“Heart bypasses” got to the Pesquisa cover this month at the last minute. The consistency and soundness of a study in the field under the coordination of Professor José Eduardo Krieger, along with the huge interest always aroused amongst those that monitor  news at the cutting-edge of science for any new knowledge or technical progress linked to longevity and the workings of the heart (as well as of the brain), left little room for doubt as to which of this edition’s articles should enjoy pride of place. The reader, however, may conduct his own assessment from page 16 on, the clear and elegant narration by our science editor, Ricardo Zorzetto, about this work that aims at discovering why some heart bypasses become clogged and last only about 10 years, while most remain functional for as much as three, four and even more decades.

The article discusses in detail the experiments on rats and human blood vessels that the research team under Krieger have been conducting at InCor, the Heart Institute, in an attempt to identify the physical factors that, triggered by this process of grafting a saphenous vein and making it function as an artery, end up reprogramming the cells in this blood vessel. This search has resulted in the identification of several proteins that are candidates for this role, and perhaps one or more of them may be used as indicators of  the durability of saphenous vein bypass operations in the future, or as therapeutic targets. In short, perhaps one may know ahead of time whether someone who gets a saphenous vein bypass will live with it for the rest of his life, or whether there is a substantial likelihood that he will have to have surgery again within a decade, more or less.

Another article I want to highlight concerns a certain academic “squabble” in the field of archeology between those who advocate that the Brazilian Amazon Region was home, in the very remote past, to considerably culturally sophisticated societies, and those who argue that this environment whose soils are poor in nutrients made intensive farming impossible and that therefore the formation of large, advanced populations in this area was equally impossible. To clarify this divergence regarding a hypothetical Amazonian Eldorado, the starting point of our humanities editor, Carlos Haag, is the book Cotidiano and poder na Amazônia pré-colonial [Daily life and power in the Amazon Region in pre-colonial days], by Denise Cavalcante Gomes (Edusp). However, he resorts to a number of international studies that also pore over the issue, including those mentioned in the book The lost city of Z, by David Grann, due to published in Brazil in July (Companhia das Letras publishing house). In this book, archeologist Michael Heckenberger, revisiting the history of the fated expedition of British colonel Percy Fawcett to Xingu, reinforces the Eldorado myth, attacking Betty Meggers’ skepticism. This confrontation is old and promises to extend well into the future. And it is very interesting to track the reasons from each side.

Articles like the one that discusses the isolation of the swine flu virus in Brazil or that pore over the work of the Brazilian astronomer connected with Nasa, an expert in extra-terrestrial volcanoes, or, also in the technology section, the one that talks about a hydrogen-powered bus that will soon be driving through the São Paulo streets, or another, on further antipollution advantages of alcohol-fuelled cars would all merit specific references here. However, this time I will be more economical in regard to the production of the Pesquisa FAPESP team, to be able to dedicate a few lines to Sir John Maddox, a physics and chemistry graduate, but a journalist by trade, “the man who reinvented scientific journalism,” as stated in the Economist, in the obituary dedicated to this man in its 5 May 2009 issue. Maddox, who died on April 12, was the person who, upon arriving at Nature in 1966, after a decade at the Guardian, transformed what was then a parochial British journal, devoid of any prestige, “into a scientific giant with global influence.” Peer reviews, the bold choice of the subjects worthy of publication and the very demanding standards where text quality was concerned were only some of the novelties that he introduced to put the British journal on an equal footing with Science. According to the Economist, he wanted Nature to be similar to a newspaper, in a way: a publication to be judged, among other things, by its speed in publishing scientific news. “The manuscripts were also edited – believe it or not! – to have style and readability, in addition to accuracy.” Maddox trained a legion of professionals that spread to the New Scientist, Times, Wired and other publications, consolidating the fine bridges he built between science and journalism; bridges designed to disseminate scientific knowledge within society.