The RNA revolution

Ribonucleic acid (RNA) are flexible molecules that convert the information stored in our DNA into proteins. Messenger RNA (mRNA) molecules, that carry instructions from our DNA to our cells, have recently been used to make some of the successful vaccine candidates for Covid-19. Writing for The Conversation website, biologist Oliver Rogoyski explains other medical uses of RNA currently being investigated.

First, Rogoyski describes how scientists are investigating the use of RNA in medical diagnostics. The measuring of RNA in liquid biopsies (fluids such as blood) may lead to common diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease being diagnosed at an earlier stage. It may also allow doctors to avoid more invasive biopsy procedures using tissue from the skin, organs or bone.

Second, Rogoyski explains how RNA is being used in the development of cutting-edge drugs and pharmaceutical treatments. Research published in medical journal Nature Reviews: Drug Discovery shows that investment in RNA drug technology increased 94.2% from 2015 to 2020. Scientists have also designed interventions that target the RNA molecules in several rare diseases, including Huntington’s disease. These interventions, known as RNA interference (RNAi), aim to reduce the amount of protein being made in the gene that causes the disease. With increased funding and renewed interest following mRNA’s use in Covid vaccinations, Rogoyski is looking forward to a new generation of medical techniques and interventions driven by RNA.

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Legal action on climate change

The Urgenda Climate Case brought legal action against the Dutch government on the grounds that a failure to reduce carbon emissions would violate the government’s human rights obligations under international law. The Dutch Urgenda Foundation is a non-profit foundation established in 2007 that aims to encourage states to enforce international and European environmental treaties and agreements. In 2015, in response to Urgenda’s case, the Hague ruled the Dutch government must cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% (compared to 1990 levels) by the end of 2020. This decision was upheld by the Dutch supreme court.

The ruling was cited as the first in the world to establish a government’s legal duty to prevent dangerous climate change, underpinned by international human rights law. It inspired further legal cases of a similar nature across the globe.

Writing for the Oxford Human Rights Hub, Margaretha Wewerinke-Singh takes a closer look at the lessons learned from the Urgenda case. She argues that the case did not go far enough in its emissions targets. Part of the reason for this, the author argues, is the case’s focus on current Dutch residents, instead of the rights of future residents and the residents of vulnerable overseas territories where climate change is already causing harm.

Wewerinke-Singh argues that future generations are likely to be greatly impacted by climate change, and thus require specific legal representation in cases such as Urgenda. In addition, the author believes the case fails to properly address the rights of citizens of overseas territories, such as the Dutch Caribbean. These nations have often been hit with climate-related emergencies over recent years, with natural disasters such as hurricane Irma claiming many lives.

The author states that the ruling’s focus on Dutch residents means that the “greatest burden of action [falls] on the most vulnerable states which tend to be the least responsible for causing climate change.” She cites this as evidence of a “blind spot” in legal cases regarding climate change, “which perceives the hazardous consequences of climate change as remote.”

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