CRISPR therapy and vaccine cocktails: what I'm looking forward to in 2023
From vaccines to space exploration: a list of scientific breakthroughs we will be talking about in 2023.
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought a revolution in medicine. Where mRNA vaccines used to be primarily an experimental solution, now they have become mainstream. In 2023, BioNTech will begin the first human trials of mRNA vaccines against malaria, tuberculosis and herpes. Moderna is developing mRNA vaccines against viruses that cause genital herpes and shingles.
Recently, BioNTech and Pfizer began the first phase of testing a combined mRNA vaccine designed to protect against both Covid-19 and influenza, with more developments likely to follow in 2023.
CERN will reduce the Large Hadron Collider research program due to the energy crisis in Europe, but experiments will continue anyway. Plus, physicists still analyse the data collected earlier, so it is worth waiting for new particle discoveries and a better understanding of those already known.
The Jiangmen Underground Neutrino Observatory (JUNO) in China, which aims to accurately measure neutrinos' fluctuations (neutral subatomic particles), will begin operation. And physicists are awaiting the start of the European Spallation Source (ESS) in Sweden. It will become the most powerful source of neutrons to help study materials' structures. With these experiments, scientists will test physical theories and better understand how the world works.
In 2023, researchers working in the South African Kromdraai cave plan to publish descriptions of newly discovered fossils of ancient members of the Homo genus more than 2 million years old.
It is a very impressive age: the earliest Homo fossils found in East Africa date 2.7 million years ago. When exactly did early Homo cross the continent, and how did they interact with other species? Analysing these and other South African fossils will help scientists understand the history of our ancestors.
Since 2012, CRISPR, a technology that allows targeted genome editing, has become a familiar tool for scientists. Now it's the medical professionals' turn. In 2023, the first approval by regulators of CRISPR therapy for the treatment of genetic blood diseases is on its way.
Vertex Pharmaceuticals and CRISPR Therapeutics have developed a treatment for beta-thalassemia, or sickle cell anaemia, using human stem cells. CRISPR's genetic scissors cut out the defective gene, and cells are introduced back into the patient's body. Clinical trials have shown that a single therapy relieves most patients of severe pain and the need for blood transfusions.
It is easy to predict future space news: all launches are planned for years — sometimes even decades — ahead.
Barring any force majeure, the first orbital flight of the SpaceX fully-reusable super heavy-lift launch vehicle will take place in 2023. Starship should open a new era of exploration by becoming an affordable tool for sending cargo and people into orbit. In addition, this reusable rocket will come in handy for flights to the Moon and Mars.
Launched last year, the James Webb Space Telescope will continue to send data back to Earth about exoplanets and other objects in the universe. It will be accompanied by the European space telescope Euclid, designed to study dark matter and dark energy. Its launch is scheduled for 2023.
This year, scientists will be keeping a close eye on the Moon. The Japanese HAKUTO-R will land on the Moon in April, and the Indian Chandrayaan-3 will launch in June 2023.
The European Space Agency will send the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer robotic interplanetary station in April (JUICE), which will search for oceans under the surface of Jupiter's moons Ganymede, Europa and Callisto.
In addition, we should expect good news from Mars, where several vehicles are operating, including the Perseverance rover, which analyses geological samples. Perhaps thanks to these scientific tools, in 2023, humanity will finally receive evidence of life on other planets.
Elia Kabanov is a science writer covering the past, present and future of technology (@metkere)
Illustration: Elia Kabanov feat. MidJourney.