en español: El Innovador de Texas
Computer keyboard manufacturers are keying into a disturbing fact: keyboards are one of the most unsanitary pieces of equipment in an office environment.
“Keyboards are a lunch counter for germs,” said Charles Gerba, a researcher at the University of Arizona. Gerba’s research since 2001 has found that desks, and keyboards in particular, contain more germs than elevator buttons, buttons on communal microwaves, office water fountains or even toilet seats.
That’s bad enough in a regular office environment, but in a medical environment, it can be a serious health concern. A recent study by researchers at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago found that patients could contract infections from hospital workers who use computers.
A number of keyboard manufacturers are working to decrease the germ count with specially designed medical keyboards.
Medical keyboards feature sealed or low-profile keys that are less likely to trap food or other substances that promote bacteria and are more durable for cleaning. Some, such as the ones manufactured by Austin-based iKEY Ltd., can withstand cleaning using a hospital bleach solution. Maryland-based Man and Machine developed a line of waterproof, latex-free rubber keyboards and mice that it claims can stand up to cleaning with alcohol, bleach solution or just plain soap and water.
For the millions of computer users on regular keyboards, Gerba suggests frequent hand-washing and using disinfecting wipes daily on keyboard surfaces.
Freedom from cancer
A team of Italian scientists has found a new cancer fighter in a plant once used for war paint by Britons and Celts. The dye comes from woad, a member of the mustard family. Woad contains Glucobrassicin, a chemical similar to one in broccoli that also fights cancer.
The scientists found that woad contains 20 times more of the cancer-fighting chemical than broccoli. That would make it a cheaper option for consumers.
“There have been many studies on Glucobrassicin looking at its role in preventing breast cancer, however, only small amounts can be recovered from broccoli,” said Lisa Richards of the Society of Chemical Industry in London. “The Italian team managed to extract nearly 65 times more of this compound from the woad.”
The discovery will likely lead to more in-depth studies of how the chemical acts in the human body, Richards said.
“I assume this could lead to possible drug developments and cancer treatments.”
For more information, contact Lisa Richards, firstname.lastname@example.org
Good fat for diabetes
The “bad” fat in many foods can go straight to the gut or hips. The “good” fat, however, can help treat diabetes, according to Professor Jack Vanden Heuvel of Penn State University’s Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Science.
Studies have shown that one type of healthy fat, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), decreases fasting blood sugar and reduces body weight and a hormone that regulates fat levels, Vanden Heuvel said.
“The research we have done thus far was with dietary supplements,” he said. “I think it is important to note that you can get a significant amount of the CLAs from meat and dairy products.”
More studies are needed to determine the amount necessary to treat diabetes, he said. CLA supplements, however, would be cheaper and have fewer side effects than the drugs now used to treat diabetes, he said.
“Many companies are working on CLA-enriched foods, and the supplements have been available in health food stores for years,” he said.
For more information, contact Jack Vanden Heuvel, email@example.com, 814-863-8532
Fruit flies from space
No, it’s not a meteor shower of alien mangoes. It’s Drosophila Melanogaster, the humble fruit fly that buzzes around your kitchen bananas. Fruit flies hitched a ride to outer space on the July 2006 flight of the space shuttle Discovery. Scientists hope the fruit flies will shed light on how space travel affects the immune system.
Scientists often use fruit flies in genetic research labs because they reproduce rapidly, and scientists can quickly study genetic changes over several generations. Fruit flies’ immune systems are also similar to those of humans, said Sharmila Bhattacharya, a biologist with the NASA Ames Research center.
“About 61 percent of known human disease genes have a recognizable match in the genetic code of fruit flies, and 50 percent of fly protein sequences have mammalian analogues,” Bhattacharya said.
On a space voyage, astronauts are exposed to several gravitational forces typically not felt on Earth, and traveling to other planets, such as Mars, would introduce yet another change in gravity, according to NASA researchers.
By studying how these forces affect fruit flies’ immune systems over nine generations, researchers hope to understand where to look for genetic changes in human immune systems, Bhattacharya said.
For more information, contact Sharmila Bhattacharya, firstname.lastname@example.org
A new weapon in the fight against AIDS lets patients take a single pill to keep the virus in check. Atripla is the first “cocktail” in the U.S. that combines three treatments into a single pill.
“This new product offers a welcome option for prescribers who follow the recommended initiation of HIV-1 treatment with at least three highly active antiretroviral drugs, a regimen that has the potential to significantly improve the condition of many patients and help them adhere to their regimen to help minimize the development of viral resistance,” said Dr. Steven Galson, director of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.
The new pill combines Viread, Emtriva and Sustiva, all of which are already on the market, into a single treatment.
Approved by the FDA in July 2006, the drug will help the 1 million Americans who are HIV positive, according to the World Health Organization. Along with simplifying the HIV and AIDS treatment, Atripla could slow the emergence and transmission of drug-resistant strains of the virus, which can evolve when patients skip pills.
For more information, contact Dr. Steven Galson, 1-888-463-6332
Worms cut waste
Thousands of hungry new guests checked into the Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town, South Africa this summer.
The hotel established an on-site worm farm to process leftover food and other organic matter. In addition to getting rid of hotel table scraps, the worms produce an end product called vermicast that is rich in nutrients and provides fertilizer and soil conditioner for the hotel’s nine-acre garden.
The worms chomped on more than 400 pounds of scraps from the breakfast buffet and afternoon tea, or 20 percent of the hotel’s usable organic waste. The hotel hopes that by 2007 the worm farm will process all of the hotel’s organic waste.
Each night the hotel’s worm farmer feeds the waste to the earthworms, who are housed in a custom–designed farm built out of recycled crates. Mary Murphy, an environmental consultant, helped the hotel develop the farm.
“Earthworms are amazing creatures,” Murphy said. “They are able to process their own weight in food waste everyday, turning it into the finest soil conditioner.”
In a few days, earthworms are able to convert food waste into earthworm compost, Murphy said.
For more information, contact Mary Murphy, email@example.com
A 2001 accident left Matthew Nagle paralyzed from the neck down. He has new reason to celebrate, however, after a sensor implanted in his brain allowed him to control objects by thought alone, according to a study published in the journal Nature. Nagle was able to open simulated e-mail, play a computer game, adjust a television’s volume and pinch a prosthetic hand’s fingers using only his thoughts.
The Nature article showcases this advance in neuroscience, which was accomplished by Cyberkinetics, a Massachusetts-based company that created and tested the sensor device called BrainGate. Brown University faculty and students created the company based on technology developed in the laboratory of professor John Donoghue, a Brown neuroscientist who is also a co-founder and chief scientific officer of Cyberkinetics.
“It is encouraging to see that neurotechnologies, such as the one being tested in this study, may be able to help people with paralysis,” said lead researcher Dr. Leigh Hochberg, a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and associate investigator at the Providence VA Medical Center. “But we still have a lot more to learn, and this trial is, I hope, an important step in that process.”
For more information, contact Dr. Leigh Hochberg, firstname.lastname@example.org
Scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture Research Service (USDA-ARS) found that an old-time Southern folk remedy really does make mosquitoes and other biting insects keep their distance.
Generations of Mississippians used crushed leaves from the American beautyberry to drive away ‘skeeters, ants and ticks, and according to USDA-ARS, they were on to something. Researchers found that the plant contains at least three chemicals—callicarpenal, intermedeol and spathulenol—that repel insects. The scientists aren’t sure why beautyberry generates these chemicals, but theorize that the plant may be protecting itself against bugs.
ARS already filed for a patent to use callicarpenal as a repellant, but it must face numerous hurdles before a beautyberry-based product hits the market. They must develop a commercial process for creating the product, and registering it with the Environmental Protection Agency would be a complex and expensive procedure.
In the meantime, keep rubbing on the leaves of a beautyberry bush.
For more information, contact Charles Cantrell,
Two separate studies revealed evidence that regular helpings of fish in a person’s diet can help prevent macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in old age. The U.S. study included 681 elderly American men who had a 36 percent lower risk of macular degeneration with fish in their diet twice a week. A previous, five-year study of more than 2,300 Australian men and women showed a 40 percent reduction in risk when subjects ate fish once a week.
The National Eye Institute plans a larger U.S. study within five years.
For more information, contact Johanna Seddon,
Alzheimer sufferers may have new hope, according to a June 2006 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Dr. Yoh Matsumoto and his team at the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute for Neuroscience developed and tested a new, gene-based vaccine on mice with an animal form of the disease and discovered that their new vaccine treats Alzheimer’s without causing certain side effects such as brain inflammation seen in other trials.
For more information, contact the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute for Neuroscience,
A plant in Carthage, Mo. is turning pig fat and waste from a turkey processing plant into fuel oil. Solid remnants become high-quality fertilizer. The process, which can make oil out of almost any organic waste, is attracting particular attention in Europe, both because it produces renewable energy and because it may be able to destroy prions, the cause of “mad cow” disease.
For more information, contact Changing World Technologies Inc.
Editor: Angela Freeman
Contributing to this issue: Magdalena Hamner, Ann Holdsworth, Karen Hudgins, Greg Mt.Joy, Edd Patton, Clint Shields, Suzanne Staton, Bruce Wright and Laura Zvonek