en español: El Innovador de Texas
A gene that helps animals hibernate could help keep people alive after brain injuries or heart attacks, according to research by the University of Texas Medical School at Houston.
The research, by Cheng Chi Lee, an associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, could help doctors lower a patient’s body temperature.
“During surgery or trauma situations, a lower body temperature will help to minimize damage to healthy cells and organs,” Lee said.
A molecule called 5-prime adenosine monophosphate (5’-AMP) induces a hibernation-like state in mice that causes their body temperatures to drop from 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit to about 78.8 degrees.
All mammals, including humans, have AMP, Lee said. The molecule can also be chemically synthesized.
“The major goal of my research is to determine how widely applicable this technology to reduce body temperature is in the animal kingdom,” he said. “The ultimate goal is to eventually provide the scientific foundation for this technology where humans can benefit from it.”
For more information, contact Cheng Chi Lee,
Mr. Roboto goes to school
A new robot system allows children hospitalized or homebound for long periods of time to stay connected to their school classrooms. The system, called PEBBLES, consists of two child-sized robots, one placed with the child in his or her hospital room and one placed in the child’s regular classroom. The units use an Internet connection to transmit video, audio and documents to one another.
“With PEBBLES, a child has a virtual presence in the classroom,” said Michael McHale, president of Telbotics, the Canadian company that developed the system in cooperation with Ryerson University and the University of Toronto.
PEBBLES enables a child to watch teacher presentations in real-time; ask questions by raising the classroom robot’s hand; interact with the teacher and other students; and turn in and receive handouts by a scanner/printer system built into the robots.
Conneticut-based nonprofit The Learning Collaborative Inc. manages the PEBBLES project initiative, <http://pebblesproject.org>, which helps distribute PEBBLES units to hospitals in the United States using a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Telbotics also sells the robots for $70,000 a pair.
For more information, contact Michael McHale,
Drivers hoping to avoid traffic tie-ups can soon use new cell phone technology to pinpoint congested roads and help them pursue alternate routes.
Georgia-based IntelliOne Technologies developed the TrafficAid system, which turns anonymous cell phone location information into a traffic map that identifies traffic patterns as they happen. The system tracks the untraced signals all cell phones produce as they seek cell phone towers, said Greg Reynolds, a spokesman for IntelliOne. Drivers will access the information through a navigational system installed in their car.
TrafficAid’s servers do not identify whose phones they are monitoring, only that particular phones at certain locations are moving at certain speeds, Reynolds said. The system monitors cell phone locations to produce average speeds and travel times for all roads with cell coverage.
“With live speed and travel times, you always have the best information and the best chance of getting to your destination on time and with the least amount of traffic stress,” said Ron Herman, CEO of IntelliOne.
IntelliOne is collaborating with wireless carriers to market the technology and expects TrafficAid to be available in the largest urban markets, including Houston, New York City and Los Angeles, by the end of 2007.
For more information, contact Greg Reynolds,
Two men suffering from late-stage melanoma, a particularly virulent and deadly form of skin cancer, are now free of the disease in one of the first real-world triumphs of gene therapy in the battle against cancer.
“The successful use of gene therapy for metastatic melanoma is a new approach to the treatment of patients with cancer, using the body’s own defenses,” said Dr. Steven A. Rosenberg, chief of the National Cancer Institute’s Surgery Branch and leader of the research team.
Rosenberg’s team used patients’ own white blood cells to attack the disease. White blood cells are the body’s defenders against infection, but they typically cannot distinguish between cancer cells and normal ones.
The researchers took normal white blood cells and infected them with a retrovirus carrying genes that enabled the cells to recognize and attack melanoma. The genetically altered cells then were returned to the patient to take up the battle.
The researchers caution that this was only a first step. While the method achieved a cure for two patients, 15 others showed no improvement.
“We hope that with continued research, we can refine and perfect this approach to treat more patients with different types of cancers,” Rosenberg said.
For more information, contact Dr. Steven A. Rosenberg,
When a 400-foot freighter ran aground of a coral reef in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary in 1984, it wiped out nearly 5,000 square feet of coral. Though researchers recreated an artificial structure in 2002, there has been no new hard coral growth, according to researchers with the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Researchers hope to restore the reef by developing “test-tube coral babies” from coral eggs and sperm they will collect during coral spawning, an annual reproductive period.
“From that stage, we hope we have embryos,” said Margaret Miller, lead researcher. “It’s a fairly labor-intensive process over several days of siphoning off waste products and providing them fresh sea water for weeks.”
Researchers will place the larvae inside fine mesh enclosures around the existing reef and hope they will attach to the reefs to become the foundation of a coral colony.
“There’s millions and millions of eggs our team is able to collect,” Miller said. “If we can learn how to enhance the survivorship of larvae to settle and become new corals on reefs, that is huge potential.”
For more information, contact Margaret Miller,
Snuffing the habit
As the number of smoking bans increases, the number of butts piling up on city sidewalks is adding up.
To combat this new problem, about 50 cities are looking to change the mindset, and the habits, of smokers by passing out portable ashtrays that allow smokers to neatly pocket their butts and keep them off the streets.
“Traditionally, people who smoke aren’t litterers, but they don’t think of their habit as producing litter when they throw it down on the ground,” said Jim Pavel, who is heading up the cigarette prevention program in Buffalo, N.Y.
The palm-sized ashtrays have a metal sliding door and compartment that allows a few cigarettes to be easily snuffed and stored.
Volunteers in Buffalo gave away 1,000 ashtrays during the first few weeks of the program in August 2006 as part of the citywide campaign to raise awareness that cigarettes are not biodegradable. Each city’s program is a part of the Keep America Beautiful campaign.
For more information, contact Jim Pavel,
Researchers at England’s Bristol University developed a new way to see inside fossilized eggs without having to open them. Synchrotron-radiation X-ray tomographic microscopy (SRXTM) technology uses a synchrotron as an X-ray source and massive batteries of magnets to focus the X-rays and allow them to pass through a fossil, according to Phil Donoghue, a researcher with the project.
Computer software and a digital camera help produce visible images, which yield great resolution with no broken fossils, Donoghue said.
“The results we’ve obtained have been truly astonishing—details on the very frontiers of fossilization,” he said. “[It shows] details of embryology of animals hundreds of millions of years old and also of the bugs that helped to fossilize them.”
The group published some results in the journal Nature, and Donoghue says each use of SRXTM is as much about learning about the technology as it is about looking at fossils.
“We spend as much time trying to fix glitches in software, motors, optics, cameras, tuning X-ray beams and exploring absorption problems as studying fossils,” he said. “It’s certainly not the kind of paleontology you saw on ‘Jurassic Park!’”
For more information, contact Phil Donoghue,
Liver cancer, the fifth most common cancer in the world, kills almost all patients it invades within a year, according to <www.medicinenet.com>, a Web site operated by WebMD.
But U.S. researchers have identified a pattern of gene activity that can help predict whether the cancer will spread to other parts of the liver or body.
“While it is less emphasized, prognosis is always an essential element in medicine,” said study leader Xin Wei Wang, head of the liver carcinogenesis unit at the National Cancer Institute.
Prognosis provides two essential components, which include choosing the most suitable treatment method and personal decision-making by patients, according to Wang.
The unique gene pattern found in the study could help doctors identify patients who would benefit from a post-surgery treatment that may help prevent a relapse, Wang said.
For more information, contact Xin Wei Wang,
A low-fat vegan diet can help lower blood sugar and spur weight loss in people with type 2 diabetes, according to researchers at the George Washington University School of Medicine. In a 22-week study, scientists assigned patients to either a vegan diet, cutting out all meat and dairy products, or a diet following American Diabetes Association (ADA) guidelines. The vegan dieters lost an average of 14 pounds each, while those on the ADA diet lost an average of seven pounds each.
For more information, contact Dr. Neal Barnard,
George Washington University School of Medicine, firstname.lastname@example.org
Adding to a long-standing debate about infant intelligence, a team of scientists found that babies as young as 6 months old can detect mathematical errors, according to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences publication. By observing 24 infants, researchers found that babies exhibit similar brain activity to that of adults when given correct and incorrect mathematical solutions.
For more information, contact Michael Posner,
Researchers assessed the memory skills of 1,836 Seattle residents every two years for up to 10 years, and found that three servings of fruit or vegetable juice a week can lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 76 percent, according to a Vanderbilt University Medical Center study.
For more information, contact Jerry Jones,
Editor: Ann Holdsworth
Contributing to this issue: Angela Freeman, Magdalena Hamner, Karen Hudgins, Greg Mt.Joy, Edd Patton, Clint Shields, Suzanne Staton, Bruce Wright and Laura Zvonek