Monthly Archives: January 2008

Targeted Gene Therapy Provides Relief For Chronic Pain

Targeted Gene Therapy Provides Relief For Chronic Pain

Researchers in the Department of Medicine and Department of Neurosciences at Mount Sinai School of Medicine have discovered that chronic pain can be successfully treated with novel targeted gene therapy. In an effort to find a more effective treatment for chronic pain, researchers at Mount Sinai developed a gene therapy technique that simulates the pain-killing effect of opiate drugs. In the new study researchers suggest that gene therapy for pain might in the future become a treatment alternative for patients with severe chronic pain.

“Fifty million Americans suffer from chronic pain. Chronic pain patients often do not experience satisfactory pain relief from available treatments due to poor efficacy or intolerable side effects like extreme sleepiness, mental clouding, and hallucinations,” said Dr. Andreas Beutler, MD, principal investigator of the study and Assistant Professor of Medicine/ Hematology And Medical Oncology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

Mount Sinai researchers designed a viral vector to carry the prepro-b-endorphin gene into primary sensory neurons in order to activate opiate receptors selectively, in a rat model. The agents were delivered directly into the spinal fluid of rats via a lumbar puncture, or spinal tap with only one injection. Results showed that the rats remained symptom-free for an extended period of time.

Let A Thousand Genomes Bloom

Let A Thousand Genomes Bloom

Genetic researchers in China, Britain and the United States are teaming up to unravel the full genetic code of at least 1,000 people around the world – an unprecedented scientific project that could cost tens of millions of dollars and eventually reveal the roots of hundreds of diseases.

“The 1000 Genomes Project will examine the human genome at a level of detail that no one has done before,” Richard Durbin of Britain’s Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, who is the project consortium’s co chair, said in today’s announcement. “Such a project would have been unthinkable two years ago. Today, thanks to amazing strides in sequencing technology, bioinformatics and population genomics, it is now within our grasp.”

The project will build on the foundation created for HapMap, a similarly international gene-decoding effort. HapMap charted genetic differences between various geographical populations by looking at variations in “letters” of genetic code, known as single nucleotide polymorphism or SNPs. This time, researchers will analyze the full volume of human genetic information – which runs to a length of 3 billion letters, or roughly the entire English-language content of Wikipedia.

Using HapMap and other genetic databases, researchers already have identified about 100 regions of the genome that are associated with increased risk for diseases ranging from cancer and diabetes to cystic fibrosis and Huntington’s disease. But in order to track down exactly what goes wrong and how to fix it, researchers generally have to go through another circuitous round of genetic sequencing.

Startup Says It Can Make Cheap Alternative Fuel

Startup Says It Can Make Ethanol for $1 a Gallon, and Without Corn

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A biofuel startup in Illinois can make ethanol from just about anything organic for less than $1 per gallon, and it wouldn’t interfere with food supplies, company officials said.

Coskata, which is backed by General Motors and other investors, uses bacteria to convert almost any organic material, from corn husks (but not the corn itself) to municipal trash, into ethanol.

“It’s not five years away, it’s not 10 years away. It’s affordable, and it’s now,” said Wes Bolsen, the company’s vice president of business development.

The discovery underscores the rapid innovation under way in the race to make cellulosic ethanol cheaply. With the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 requiring an almost five-fold increase in ethanol production to 36 billion gallons annually by 2022, scientists are working quickly to reach that breakthrough.

Nanotechnology To Be Used For Oil And Gas Recovery

Nano-Prospecting

Could nanotechnology help squeeze more oil and gas out of the ground? That’s the hope of a consortium of energy companies that is putting millions of dollars into the development of new micro- and nanosensor technologies.

The seven companies that make up the Advanced Energy Consortium (AEC), which includes Halliburton Energy Services, BP America, and ConocoPhilips, will put up $21 million in total to fund the research. The aim is to develop subsurface sensors that can be used to improve both the discovery and the recovery of hydrocarbons.

“It’s been a long time coming,” says Wade Adams, director of the Richard E. Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology at Rice University, in Houston, a technical partner to the consortium. “It’s the first time the energy companies have got together to fund this kind of research, so it really is a big deal,” he says.

Currently, even with the most advanced recovery techniques, only about 40 percent of the oil and gas in reservoirs can be recovered. The hope is that by injecting novel sensors into these reservoirs, it will be possible to more accurately map them in 3-D, increase the amount of fuel extracted, and minimize the environmental impact.

Massive Solar Power Installations Planned For Near Future

Can Stirling Engines and a Record-Holding Company Deliver Massive Solar Power Gains?

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Phoenix-based Stirling Energy Systems plans to begin construction in 2009 on two $1 billion solar power farms on federal land in California’s Mojave Desert northeast of Los Angeles and in the Imperial Valley east of San Diego, reports USA Today. When finished the farms will be among the world’s largest solar energy deployments.

The plants would nearly double the amount of solar energy produced in the U.S., would power 1 million Southern California homes, and would be around the equivalent of two dirty coal plants.

State and federal regulators still have to approve the plans. But, in 2005, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric, two of the state’s biggest utilities, signed contracts enabling them to buy all of Stirling’s solar power for 20 years. The utilities have pledged to buy 800 megawatts annually with the possible addition of 950 more. Although the contract prices haven’t been revealed, Stirling officials say they are competitive with other sources for peak power. Observers say that’s likely to be more expensive than coal energy, but less than many current forms of solar.

So how does Stirling plan to harvest the sun’s rays? The company already has a 40-foot test dish in place. It uses a mirror to track the sun like a sunflower, and focuses the heat to drive an engine, which makes electricity. This makes it a solar thermal process, as opposed to solar electric, in which solar panels convert energy directly into electricity. Stirling hopes to deploy 70,000 similar solar thermal dishes on the two sites.

Experts point out that solar thermal is likely to be the next high-growth renewable power. Nearly 5,000 megawatts may go online by 2020, according to Cambridge Energy Research Associates, more than 10 times the amount produced today.

Cloning Said To Yield Human Embryos

Cloning Said To Yield Human Embryos

Scientists at a small biotechnology company say they have used cloning to create human embryos from the skin cells of two men.

The work represents a step toward the promise of creating personalized embryonic stem cells that could be used for medical treatments. Although the embryos grew only to a very early stage, the work could also theoretically be seen as a step toward creating babies that are genetic copies of other people.

Scientists at the company, Stemagen, which is based in San Diego, said Thursday that they were the first to use human adult cells to create cloned embryos that advanced to the stage known as a blastocyst, from which embryonic stem cells typically are extracted.

However, the researchers did not derive embryonic stem cells. That left some experts skeptical.

Robot to Mix Chemotherapy Drugs at U.S. Hospital

Robot to Mix Chemotherapy Drugs at U.S. Hospital

The University of Colorado Hospital is about to start using a robot to mix chemotherapy drugs for patients, which its developers say will eliminate human error and protect technicians from potentially dangerous drugs.

This is the first time the chemotherapy compounding robot will be used in the United States, according to Shawn Riley, vice president of Primus Innovations Inc., which is collaborating with robot developer Health Robotics to distribute the technology. He noted that the technology is being used in Europe.

“The robot eliminates calculation errors,” said Nancy Stolpman, director of pharmacy at the University of Colorado Hospital in Denver, which administers chemo to 80 to 100 patients a day. “[Mistakes] happen. Pharmacists and technicians are no different than any other human. They make errors. Just one decimal point [off in calculation] can be a 10-fold overdose for a patient. It can be very dangerous,” she said.

Electronic Contact Lenses for Better Vision

Electronic Contact Lenses for Better Vision

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Researchers at the University of Washington managed to embed an electronic circuit and LEDs directly into contact lenses, which seemed to look good on rabbit eyes. Though the circuit is not functional and the lights don’t light up, the development shows that future applications like direct video to the eye may indeed be possible.

The prototype contact lens does not correct the wearer’s vision, but the technique could be used on a corrective lens, Parviz said. And all the gadgetry won’t obstruct a person’s view.

“There is a large area outside of the transparent part of the eye that we can use for placing instrumentation,” Parviz said. Future improvements will add wireless communication to and from the lens. The researchers hope to power the whole system using a combination of radio-frequency power and solar cells placed on the lens, Parviz said.

Scientists develop computer that can ‘translate’ a dog’s bark

Scientists develop computer that can ‘translate’ a dog’s bark

What would a dog say if it could talk? “Stranger”, “fight”, “walk”, “alone”, “ball” and “play”, according to scientists who have developed a computer programme to translate dog barks.

The special programme analysed more than 6,000 barks from 14 Hungarian sheepdogs in six different situations.

In a series of tests the team of scientists, from Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary led by Csaba Molnár, discovered that a computer could recognise whether a dog was in a stranger, fight, walk, alone, ball or play scenario.

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Aren’t they friggin’ cute?