Revolutionary heart-thymus combined transplant success

US doctors say a young boy called Easton has made medical history by becoming the first person in the world to receive a combined heart and thymus transplant. The pioneering procedure was done to save his life, but could also revolutionise the field of organ transplantation, they hope. The donated thymus tissue should help stop his body rejecting the new heart.

Months on from the surgery, tests reveal Easton is progressing well. The thymus tissue is working, meaning his body is building critical immune cells which might ultimately reduce or even eliminate the need for him to take lifelong anti-rejection drugs.

One of his doctors, Joseph Turek from Duke University Hospital, said: “We are very excited about it. This concept of tolerance has always been the holy grail in transplantation, and we are now on the doorstep.

Deaf dog learns sign language after losing hearing

A deaf rescue dog is learning canine sign language before he heads to a new home. Rocco found himself in care for a second time in just a few years after one of his new loving owners died and the other had health issues.
When RPSCA staff found the Staffordshire bull terrier had lost his hearing from an infection, they were “incredibly sad” and set about teaching him a new way to understand commands. So far, he’s learning the signs for “good boy”, “go for a walk” and “go wee”.

Sally Humphries, of Llys Nini Animal Centre, Swansea, said: “Most dogs are more in tune with our body language than our constant chitter chatter so it’s not that tricky for a deaf dog to learn.”

Rose Ayling-Ellis: Strictly star inspires sign language lessons surge

The first deaf contestant on Strictly Come Dancing has inspired a surge in people learning British Sign Language. The director of one firm offering BSL courses told Radio 1 Newsbeat enrolments have gone up by more than 2,000% since Rose Ayling-Ellis has been on the show. Google Trends, which analyses online search data, also suggests more and more people are interested in learning.

Rose, 26, is best known for playing Frankie Lewis in EastEnders. But she’s made headlines throughout this year’s Strictly competition as she repeatedly brings attitudes towards disability into the spotlight.

Russell Fowler, director of the website BSL Courses, says there are always “spikes” in people signing up to learn sign language following new episodes of Strictly. “On one Saturday we had over 1,000 and another time we received 778,” he says. “In August we were averaging around 20 to 30 enrolments a day, but by November, we were receiving an average of 400.” These stats are backed up by digital PR researchers Molly Jordan, 21, and Maddie Peacey, 23.

The pair, who are both from Oxford and describe themselves as Strictly super fans, have been monitoring Google Trends since the series began. “When I was first watching it, I thought I’d love to learn sign language myself and I wondered if other people were thinking the same thing,” Molly says. She found that search for the terms “learn sign language” and “sign language course” had increased by 300% and 222% since November 2020, respectively. Molly and Maddie both decided to sign up for lessons. ‘I feel so proud’ “With people wearing masks it’s an even better time to start learning,” says Maddie. “We’ve learnt the basics and how to say ‘good luck, Rose’. “Molly adds: “It’s exciting and you feel so proud when you’ve achieved something and you’re able to communicate it. “We’re also trying to teach it to friends and colleagues, so it spreads.”

Sixth form student Daisy Bennett, 16, says her sign language lessons will help her goal to become a child psychologist. “I’ve always been intrigued by BSL and how deaf people communicate and after watching Rose on Strictly, I felt like it was time to take it up,” says Daisy, who lives in Essex. “So far I’ve learnt the whole alphabet and some basic communication, so like ‘hello, goodbye, my name is’, as well as basic objects around the house.”

The college student says sign language is different to other languages she’s had lessons on in the past because “a lot of the signs are similar and you don’t include every word like you do when you speak”. Eventually, Daisy wants to be able to “have a full conversation with someone who uses sign language”. ‘It’s crazy’

Jason Tennant, 29, is a BSL teacher, in Margate, Kent. He is profoundly deaf and has used BSL to communicate all of his life.
During lockdown, Jason noticed he was getting more sign-ups, with people wanting to “be better allies to the deaf community”. But he says Rose’s Strictly appearance has accelerated things further. “We’re getting enquiries for courses beginning in September 2022. That’s crazy because we usually start new classes in September or January, but that might change with all the new demand.” Learning sign language isn’t as difficult as people might think, Jason says, adding that most of his students “achieve the basics” within about 20 weeks. “You’d be amazed with how much you already employ BSL by yourself. There are universal signs out there that we use already in our everyday life.” Jason has known Rose for a few years and says “she’s a lovely presence to be around”. He says he’s loved watching her throughout the series, and was particularly moved by hers and Giovanni’s Couple’s Choice dance which featured a “silent moment” in tribute to the deaf community. “When the music cut, it felt like our world was on show for a brief moment,” Jason says. “I was sat on the floor, tears streaming down my face. I tried to talk to my partner but my emotions got the better of me, so he just came and hugged me and we just watched Rose be herself.” “I’m still bowled over that someone like me could be on [Strictly], such a massive institution.”

Bird songs bump stars off Australian music chart

An album made up entirely of the tweets and squawks of endangered Australian birds has debuted in the top five of the country’s Aria music charts.

Songs of Disappearance is surpassing the likes of Abba and The Weeknd – not to mention Christmas favourites Michael Bublé and Mariah Carey. Created by BirdLife Australia, the album features the birdsongs of 53 of Australia’s most threatened species. Some sounds took hours of waiting in the bush to record one short tweet.

David Stewart, a wildlife sound recordist, has spent more than 30 years collecting often rarely heard sounds of Australia’s wildlife. It is his bird recordings that have been used on the album. When it was released on 3 December, a social media campaign was launched to get the album into Australia’s Aria music sales charts – and it worked. Songs of Disappearance has made history by becoming the first album of its kind to chart in the top five. Proceeds from the sales will go towards BirdLife Australia’s conservation projects.

“This album is a very special record with some rare recordings of birds that may not survive if we don’t come together to protect them,” BirdLife Australia CEO Paul Sullivan told The Music Network.
“While this campaign is fun, there’s a serious side to what we’re doing, and it’s been heartening to see bird enthusiasts showing governments and businesses that Australians care about these important birds,” he added.

One in six Australian birds are now threatened, according to a study by Charles Darwin University – that is, 216 out of 1,299 species. The study, which included input from more than 300 bird experts, found that climate change was pushing species closer to extinction. The massive bushfires of 2019 and 2020 devastated their habitat, and BirdLife Australia estimates that the number of threatened bird species has increased by as much as 25%.

Harvey Milk: US Navy launches ship named for gay rights leader

The US Navy has launched a ship named after a gay rights activist forced to resign from the service because of his sexuality in the 1950s. The USNS Harvey Milk was launched in San Diego on Saturday in a service attended by Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro and Milk’s nephew, Stuart. It is one of six new ships to be named after famed US civil rights leaders. Others include former Chief Justice Earl Warren and slain presidential candidate Robert Kennedy.

Milk served as a diving officer and Lieutenant aboard the submarine rescue ship USS Kittiwake during the Korean War. But he was forced out of the service following two weeks of interrogation about his sexuality in 1955. He later became one of America’s first openly gay politicians, elected in 1977 to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. But a year later he was shot and killed by Dan White, a former city supervisor with whom he had frequently clashed.

Speaking at the ceremony, Secretary Del Toro said that it had been wrong that Milk had been forced to “mask that very important part of his life” during his time in the Navy. “For far too long, sailors like Lt. Milk were forced into the shadows or, worse yet, forced out of our beloved Navy,” Del Toro said. “That injustice is part of our Navy history, but so is the perseverance of all who continue to serve in the face of injustice.”

‘I feel free’ – LGBT Afghan refugees arrive in UK

I feel like “a human being for the first time” in my life, a gay Afghan man has said after arriving in the UK with 28 others from the LGBT community. The man – who the BBC is not naming for safety reasons – fled Afghanistan, fearing for his life under the Taliban. The hard-line Islamist group returned to power in August, after US-led troops left at the end of a 20-year presence. On Friday, a Taliban spokesman told Reuters news agency that the group would not respect gay rights. “Everything collapsed after the fall of Kabul,” the man told the BBC. “I was very depressed. I was counting my days to die. “Even I was a stranger in my own home and my bed. I felt I was a stranger in my hometown, Kabul.”

The man’s escape was only possible with the help of international LGBT organisations. An initial attempt to leave on evacuation flights out of Kabul airport – past the “terrifying” Taliban guards – failed. But almost two months on, having made it to a third country to wait for a visa, the man arrived in the UK.

Officials explained that the UK foreign secretary and UK and Canadian organisations Stonewall and Rainbow Railroad intervened to help the first 29 people. More members of Afghanistan’s LGBT community are expected to leave in the coming months. Their arrival comes as a spokesman for the Afghan finance minister said human rights would be respected within the framework of Islamic law, but not gay rights. “LGBT… That’s against our Sharia law,” Ahmad Wali Haqmal said.

For the refugees, it is the start of a new life. “Britain is a new home for me,” says the man. “Everything is new to me here. A new lifestyle, a new language and culture. I am a bit nervous about my future, and I am trying to figure out where to start my new life, but man, I feel safe and free! “This is amazing.”

Gene silencing medicine transforms crippling pain

An innovative type of medicine – called gene silencing – is set to be used on the NHS for people who live in crippling pain. The drug treats acute intermittent porphyria, which runs in families and can leave people unable to work or have a normal life. Clinical trials have shown severe symptoms were cut by 74% with the drug. While porphyria is rare, experts say the field of gene silencing has the potential to revolutionise medicine.

Prof David Rees, the director of the King’s College Hospital National Acute Porphyria Service, told the BBC: “To find a drug that really does transform people’s lives is extraordinary.” However, acute intermittent porphyria is rare. Only around 17 people are diagnosed in the UK each year. “[But] if we can control genes and switch them on and off when we want to, then almost anything is possible in terms of treating diseases including Alzheimer’s and cancer and everything else,” Prof Rees said. Gene-silencing has already proven effective in other rare genetic diseases such as amyloidosis. Its ability to tweak how DNA works in the human body, without permanently altering it, has already seen it used as a twice-a-year cholesterol busting jab. Tara Moore, a professor of personalised medicine at the University of Ulster, said gene silencing had the potential to be as big as antibiotics. She told BBC Radio 4’s Inside Health: “It will be, it’s a very powerful tool, it is so specific, it’s really phenomenal. “There’s really nothing to stop us targeting so many different diseases from cancer to cardiovascular disease to cholesterol problems.”

California to enforce ‘gender neutral’ toy aisles in large stores

California has become the first US state to require large retailers to display toys and childcare items in gender-neutral ways. The new law, signed by Governor Gavin Newsom on Saturday, does not ban boys and girls sections in shops. But large stores must have also have a separate, gender-neutral section. These must display “a reasonable selection” of toys and childcare items, regardless of whether they’ve been marketed towards a particular sex. Companies will face a $250 (£184) fine for their first violation, and $500 (£368) penalties for others.

The new law was passed by California’s state legislature last month, and will come into effect in 2024 now it has been signed by Governor Newsom. It will apply to retailers with 500 or more employees across their California stores. Clothing will be unaffected, but the law will affect toys and any “childcare items” intended to aid sleep, relaxation, feeding, teething or sucking. In its wording, it said the changes would help consumers spot “unjustified differences in similar products” and tackle gender bias in children’s products.

Pope Francis launches mass consultation on Church reform

Pope Francis has launched what some describe as the most ambitious attempt at Catholic reform for 60 years. A two-year process to consult every Catholic parish around the world on the future direction of the Church began at the Vatican this weekend. Some Catholics hope it will lead to change on issues such as women’s ordination, married priests and same-sex relationships. Others fear it will undermine the principles of the Church. They say a focus on reform could also distract from issues facing the Church, such as corruption and dwindling attendance levels.

Pope Francis urged Catholics not to “remain barricaded in our certainties” but to “listen to one another” as he launched the process at Mass in St Peter’s Basilica. “Are we prepared for the adventure of this journey? Or are we fearful of the unknown, preferring to take refuge in the usual excuses: ‘It’s useless’ or ‘We’ve always done it this way’?” he asked.

The consultation process, called “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission”, will work in three stages:

• In the “listening phase”, people in parishes and dioceses will be able to discuss a wide range of issues. Pope Francis said it was important to hear from those who were often on the fringes of local Church life such as women, pastoral workers and members of consultative bodies

• The “continental phase” will see bishops gather to discuss and formalise their findings.

• The “universal phase” will see a month-long gathering of the bishops a the Vatican in October 2023

The Pope is expected then to write an apostolic exhortation, giving his views and decisions on the issues discussed. Discussing his hopes for the Synod, Pope Francis warned against the process becoming an intellectual exercise that failed to address the real-world issues faced by Catholics and the “temptation to complacency” when it comes to considering change.

Vegan food blogger wins World Porridge Making Championships

A vegan food blogger from the Netherlands has won the World Porridge Making Championships. Miriam Groot, 25, who runs a blog call The Veggie Reporter, beat competitors from around the world. She used pinhead oatmeal, mushrooms and vegan cheese to create Oatmeal Arancini – deep fried balls of risotto, rolled in breadcrumbs and deep fried in oil.

The annual competition, traditionally held in Carrbridge in the Highlands, has been run online since last year. Competitors were asked to submit a video of themselves making their favourite oaty dish. They were judged on appearance, execution, originality, flair and virtual taste – reflecting which dishes the judging panel most wanted to try.

Coinneach MacLeod – better known as the Hebridean Baker – and Aaron Leung, a video producer from New Jersery, were joint runners up. Mr MacLeod’s Baked Oat Alaska was made with honey, oat and raspberry sponge, topped with pinhead oatmeal brittle ice cream and chocolate ice cream, all encased in a baked meringue. Meanwhile, Mr Leung’s savoury Japanese fusion Golden Omuoats dish included a spicy pork and oatmeal mince, served under an omelette and topped with a curry sauce which included chocolate.

Charlie Miller, from Carrbridge Community Council which organises the competition, said: “While we were disappointed that we couldn’t have the competition in person again this year, the response was amazing, with the highest level of international interest we’ve ever had.

“The judging was very close, with only six points separating the top 10. Congratulations to our top 10, and especially to Miriam, Aaron and Coinneach for your excellent entries. We hope to see you all in Carrbridge this time next year.” The top 10 included two Americans, one Canadian, two Australians, one each from Germany and the Netherlands, two from England and one from Scotland. Other dishes included a cranachan ice cream sundae, banana oat pancakes, an oatmeal banana split, and a dessert porridge inspired by the Sacher Torte chocolate cake. They each won a hand-carved commemorative spurtle.