Top Science News

Mental Health Care – The New (Virtual) Reality

The use of virtual reality to treat mental health disorders has seen a recent surge in interest after a twenty-year slump. This has been helped by the widespread commercialisation of virtual reality hardware for video games, as it made the technology affordable enough for clinical services.


The use of VR headsets is now being reviewed as a potential therapy for mental health disorders, including anxiety disorders, phobias, psychosis, and schizophrenia. The ability to convincingly simulate scenarios, whilst measuring a patient’s response, is a massive step forward in understanding how mental health issues can impact everyday interactions. The new technology can be used to develop new coping strategies and treatments that seem to have a lasting effect. Additionally, recent studies into the use of virtual reality to increase awareness of mental illness might enable members of the public to soon be able to share experiences with mental health patients, increasing empathy and contributing to reducing stigma around mental illnesses.

Gut Bacteria in Cancer Treatment

Recent studies into what role bacteria play in cancer have identified that up to one in five cancer cases are caused by microorganisms. Research into how this new knowledge can be used to possibly prevent cancer and improve treatments is particularly focusing on the complex microenvironment in our gut.


Recent research suggested that the efficacy of immunotherapy drugs (drugs that use the immune system to kill cancer cells) can be boosted by altering the make-up of the bacterial habitat in the gut. This can be particularly useful in preventing and treating gastrointestinal, prostate and even breast cancers; all of which have been linked to bacterial diseases. For personalised cancer treatments to be efficient in the future, more research is required to understand how each patient’s gut microbiome differs, but it’s a promising step forward in the fight against cancer.

The Sun’s Not as Constant as We Thought

We see our sun as an unchanging constant, but new evidence shows that its size changes by about four kilometres in width every eleven years. Scientists have known for years about turbulences on its surface caused by sun spots and bursts known as flares, but this new discovery challenges preconceptions of its size and the impact this has on the solar system. Not only does its size change but the area of our local galactic neighbourhood that is affected by solar winds is not spherical like the sun itself, as previously assumed.


Solar winds are the charged particles that the sun releases, creating a magnetic field that affects nearby planets (including our own). The field created fluctuates, over a period of 2-3 years, shorter than expected, due to the sun’s ever-changing size and temperature. Despite what some Hollywood productions would have you believe (looking at you 2012), solar fluctuations don’t spell the end of days. Increasing our knowledge of the sun’s cycles and the solar system in general, however, allows for improved planning of missions into space to further expand our current knowledge of the universe.


Written by Dave Ayland


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