Good News Blog

Science & Technology

Thursday, Nov. 20, 2008

World’s First Functional Computer Made Out Of Wood

Computers were once thought to be a clean technology. Everything virtual! No more paper!

That turned out to be an illusion. Computers produce some of the most toxic waste.

But that’s all about to change with the introduction of the world’s first completely biodegradable computer. Yes, you read that right: biodegradable.wooden computer

The computer is made from wood panels which have been manufactured from waste products from the lumber industry.

The panels themselves have been impregnated with seeds. This means that once the computer reaches the end of its lifecycle it can be planted so that new trees will grow!

”One advantage of Iameco is that when the components are buried in landfill the wood gets wet, breaks down and new plants begin to grow from old computers.

There’s no mercury, lead or plastic in the machine, and it has three times the lifespan of other computers.”

It’s about $250 more expensive than a regular computer and runs any software.

Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2008

Sister donates ovary to sister – baby born!

A mother in British Columbia, Canada, has donated an ovary to her twin sister.

It’s a remarkable gift of life in this November 11 or sister made medical history by giving birth to a baby produced with the egg of her sister’s transplanted ovary.

Born circa nine years ago in Hamburg, Germany, only Tilly was able to conceive naturally. Tilly is the mother of two children; Johanna and Lars.

Her sister, suffering from osteoporosis, given up the hope of bearing children.

Groundbreaking work in fertility Center of St. Louis, Missouri, made an ovary transplant possible.

“The doctor told my sister, ‘You and your twin sisters are ideal candidates for this surgery.’

My major driving factor was to help her.

After the surgery, it was kind of weird knowing that part of me was travelling overseas.

It’s the gift of life. My sister is super-happy. It’s just amazing the attention she’s getting from around the world. It gives a whole new meaning to Remembrance Day.”
— Tilly Buscher

Even then the chance of conceiving was considered to be very small.

The birth of the girl has been a miraculous result no one dared to hope for and has made headlines worldwide.

Mammoth could be resurrected!

In what can only be described as a miracle mammoths could soon be roaming the earth again.

This is because researchers have been able to reconstruct the complete DNA of amendments. This is a world breakthrough. Similar DNA reconstruction is now possible for disappeared species such as the dodo and Neanderthal man.

The scientists believe that that is possible to implement the reconstructed DNA into the egg of an African elephant; the closest relative to the moments. This will effectively resurrect the species that died out more than 4500 years ago.

“By deciphering this genome we could, in theory, generate data that one day may help other researchers to bring the woolly mammoth back to life by inserting the uniquely mammoth DNA sequences into the genome of the modern-day elephant.

This would allow scientists to retrieve the genetic information that was believed to have been lost when the mammoth died out, as well as to bring back an extinct species that modern humans have missed meeting by only a few thousand years.

Our dataset is 100 times more extensive than any other published dataset for an extinct species, demonstrating that ancient DNA studies can be brought up to the same level as modern genome projects.”
— Professor Schuster

“This would allow scientists to retrieve the genetic information that was believed to have been lost when the mammoth died out, as well as to bring back an extinct species that modern humans have missed meeting by only a few thousand years

Scientists at Pennsylvania State University were able to reconstruct the DNA after extracting some DNA from the hairs of two mammoths which had been buried in snow for more than 20,000 years.

Although the extreme cold has helped preserve most of the DNA, the passage of time damaged part of it.

By comparing the DNA with the DNA of the close relative the African elephant, the 99.7% match, they were able to fill in the gaps.

Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2008

3-year-old’s rare liver disorder cured

Doctors from the Indraprastha Apollo Hospital in Delhi have cured a three year old girl from a rare disease which prevented her from leading a normal life.

Fatima suffered from Crigler Najjar Syndrome (CNS), a rare and fatal liver disease.

Her only means of staying alive was phototherapy. Undressed she would be exposed to specific wavelengths of light for 10-16 hours a day, every day.

Dr Subhash Gupta (liver transplant expert) and Dr Anupam Sibal (paediatrician) transplanted a part of Fatima’s father’s liver. That has brought the bilirubin level to normal heights.

“Very high levels of bilirubin can cause permanent brain damage. The main therapy for patients with this disease is phototherapy. Greater the surface area of the body that is exposed to light and greater the intensity of light falling on the skin, higher is the efficacy of phototherapy.

Fatima was living in agony, spending 10 to 14 hours every day under phototherapy since birth. This was severely restricting her lifestyle. Even travelling and vacations were a great problem.

Since the defect was with the liver, we decided to transplant part of the healthy liver of Fatima’s father into her. She will not require any more phototherapy. She will only have to be on medicines all her life, the dosages of which will lessen as she ages.

Both Fatima and her father are doing well. Her eyes and skin are no more yellow in colour.”
Dr Gupta

Cured, Fatima has returned to her family in the Middle East and can start a normal life.

Monday, Jul. 14, 2008

Tomatoes may harbour Alzheimer’s cure

Besides making pasta’s curry tangy, the plump and red tomato has far more serious benefits – the humble fruit can be a suitable carrier for an oral vaccine against Alzheimer’s disease, says a group of researchers.

The study, conducted by HyunSoon Kim from the Korea Research Institute of Bioscience and Biotechnology (KRIBB) in Korea and colleagues from Digital Biotech Inc. and the Department of Biological Science at Wonkwang University, is currently in the early stages.

However, it is a promising first step towards finding an edible vaccine against the neurodegenerative disease.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia and it progresses over a long period of time.

It is thought to be caused by the accumulation of human beta-amyloid, a toxic insoluble fibrous protein in the brain, which leads to the death of neurons.

Reducing the accumulation of beta-amyloid may inhibit the degeneration of the nervous system and therefore prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. One approach is to stimulate the immune system to reduce beta-amyloid in the brain.

In the study, the researchers’ aim was to develop a plant-derived vaccine against Alzheimer’s disease, since beta-amyloid is toxic to animal cells.

Tomatoes are an attractive candidate as a vaccine carrier because they can be eaten without heat treatment, which reduces the risk of destroying the immune stimulation potential of the foreign protein.

In the study, the scientists inserted the beta-amyloid gene into the tomato genome and measured the immune responses to the tomato-derived toxic protein in a group of 15-month-old mice. They immunized the mice orally with the transgenic tomato plants once a week for three weeks, and also gave the mice a booster seven weeks after the first tomato feed. Blood analyses showed a strong immune response after the booster, with the production of antibodies to the human foreign protein.

The authors conclude: “Although we did not reveal a reduction of existing plaques in the brain of mice challenged with tomato-derived beta-amyloid…this study represents a unique approach in which transgenic plants expressing beta-amyloid protein are used to produce a vaccine.”

Thursday, Jul. 10, 2008

Wife’s medical miracle helps husband survive heart attack

The fact that John Seville can tell this story is incredible.

“Once I found out I did die, it was extremely terrifying,” the 41-year-old New Jersey police officer said.

Seville was in his garden three months ago when he felt something terribly wrong.

“My legs felt cold. It felt like I had snow blindness,” he said.

Minutes after arriving at this hospital, Seville went into cardiac arrest; he flat-lined, no heartbeat.

“At that particular point in time, he’s dead. The question is: Is he going to remain dead,” Morristown Memorial Hospital Heart Dr. James Slater said. “He’s fallen off the cliff. We reach, we grab, we pull him back.”

Injecting medications started Seville’s heart again. However, doctors discovered another emergency: A deadly tear in his aorta, the major blood vessel in the body. A five-and-a-half hour operation repaired that blood vessel, but by now, many of his organs were failing, including his brain.

Three days after the surgery, the patient was only minimally conscious, paralyzed on his left side and making a little progress.

“He was on a ventilator, and I was afraid he would never be off of it,” Seville’s wife, Connie, said.

That’s when Connie 40 weeks pregnant with their second child went into labor. In that very same hospital, two floors down Levi Seville was born. Within hours, Connie decided this baby might hold the key to her husband’s recovery.

“The nursery brought the baby down with Connie and held him up to his face,” nurse Vicky Dunn said. “And he just cracked the biggest smile on his face. The unit got quiet, and then you just heard people crying. It was a beautiful sight. Then we just knew: He’s gonna make it.”

For the next several weeks, John’s recovery amazed even his doctors. Day by day, he gained strength and lost most of the paralysis.

Finally, it was time to head home. With a “thank you” to his doctors and nurses the Sevilles were soon back together again.

“Just to be able to come home and hug them, and just say ‘I love you,'” John said. “For a while there, you never know if you’re going to have that opportunity. It ‘s incredible.”

Wednesday, Jul. 9, 2008

Antibiotics may cure shyness

Young people and adults who experience social anxiety may benefit from a revolutionary new study being carried out at the University of Sydney.

The study’s lead researcher, Dr Adam Guastella from the University of Sydney’s Brain & Mind Research Institute, said the treatment involves a combination of cognitive-behaviour therapy and d-Cycloserine (DCS), an antibiotic commonly used to treat tuberculosis.

“What is so exciting about this research is that this radical new method of treatment uses DCS to help patients learn to overcome fear faster so that it is less likely to return,” Dr Guastella said. “We use the medication in combination with the best psychological therapy approaches we have to create a top of the line treatment.

“This trial will test how effective DCS is for the everyday mental health professional, and the likelihood that DCS will revolutionise anxiety treatments for the general community.”

Dr Guastella recently led the largest and most comprehensive trial of this medication to treat social anxiety in university clinics, with a team of UNSW and Macquarie researchers. Published in Biological Psychiatry, it is the first international study to provide strong and comprehensive evidence for the benefits of DCS.

“We gave 56 adults either the medication or a placebo immediately before a therapy session. Those who took DCS with psychological treatment showed greater and faster improvement in total wellbeing,” he said.

Dr Guastella said social anxiety typically develops between the age of 12 and 27, and his new treatment trial is aiming to target sufferers from 12 years to 65. “We are hoping to develop a more effective treatment that is likely to have the greatest impact on reducing long-term disability across the lifespan.”

He said research has found that social anxiety in early adulthood can contribute to long-term social isolation and other mental health problems later in life. In the early stages social anxiety often appears as shyness or a fear of being perceived negatively by others.

Monday, Jul. 7, 2008

Irish twins saved by miracle operation in womb

The parents of baby twins who defied death due to groundbreaking surgery in the womb have thanked the hospital that saved them.

Fidelma and Paul Greene, from Swords, Dublin, said yesterday their daughters, Lauren and Sophie, were thriving three months after being born.

Their unborn children had been given almost no chance of survival when Rotunda Hospital medics discovered they suffered from a rare medical condition.

Doctors diagnosed them with Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome (TTTS) when their mother was 21 weeks pregnant.

The condition means one baby gets too much blood and the other too little. In almost all cases it leads to death of both twins, if it’s not treated.

Consultant obstetrician, Professor Fergal Malone, decided the foetuses had to be operated on while they were still inside their mother’s womb if they were to have any chance of surviving.

He performed the life-saving procedure in the hospital’s new foetal operating theatre on January 10 this year. The operation involved the obstetrician and his team inserting a camera, less than an eighth of a inch thick, and other tiny surgical instruments, into the womb.

The camera helped the team identify abnormal blood vessels, which were then repaired using laser therapy.

The girls were born by caesarean section three months later on April 7.

Lauren and Sophie are among the first children in Ireland to survive the pioneering surgery. It also saved the lives of twin boys Ryan and Dylan Kershaw, who were born in March last year.

The radical surgery was previously available in only a handful of clinics in Europe and North America.

Mr and Mrs Green said their babies would not have survived without Professor Malone and his team and thanked them for their care. “Paul and I are absolutely delighted that this story has had such a happy ending,” said Mrs Green (43).

“We would like to thank all the staff in The Rotunda for their excellent care and professionalism. Lauren was discharged home with me after five days and Sophie joined us at home nine days later. Now the girls are three months old and are thriving.”

Professor Malone said almost a third of all twin pregnancies were identical, and up to a quarter of identical twins could develop Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome.

“When one considers that up until recently survival for these babies was so poor, it is gratifying to see the Irish health service investing in new technology that provides such an immediately apparent benefit to our patients.”

Thursday, Jun. 12, 2008

Study: Alligator Blood May Cure Humans

Proteins in alligator blood could lead to new drugs that fight the super infections that plague humans, Louisiana researchers say. Mark Merchant of McNeese State University in Lake Charles, La., noticed that alligators often get banged up in battles over territory or food, but they never seem to get infected, despite slimy living conditions in bacteria-filled swamps.

“These alligators tend to get into tussles and fights,” says Lancia Darville, a researcher at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge and a study co-author. “They have torn limbs and scratches that are exposed to all of this bacteria in the water, yet they are never infected.”

In a study, presented last week at the American Chemical Society meeting in New Orleans, Merchant and other experts explained why.

When researchers exposed 23 species of bacteria to the serum from alligator blood, all of the bugs were destroyed. Humans typically can defeat only eight of the bacteria.

“That was a good indication that alligators must have some other additional proteins or some proteins that are overly expressed in their system that are either not present in ours or not overexpressed in ours,” Darville says.

The study was the first to explore the anti-microbial activity of alligator blood in detail, according to the American Chemical Society. Previous studies by Merchant found that alligators, unlike humans, who need to be exposed to a bug for their immune system to gear up to fight it, are born with what is called an innate immune system.

“They don’t need to be exposed to any microorganism such as bacteria, viruses, fungi for their bodies to respond against them,” Danville says.

The findings may lead scientists to new drugs that can fight some of the most stubborn infections in humans, such as the “superbugs” that resist antibiotics.

If scientists can identify and then mimic the alligator’s microscopic defenders, Darville says, they might be able to make stronger bug-fighting pills or creams that could be applied to burns to fight infections.

“Ultimately, we would like to determine what the chemical structure is,” Darville says. “Once we can do that, we could eventually develop these into different anti-bacterial and anti-fungal drugs.”

Wednesday, Jun. 11, 2008

Alzheimer’s breakthrough is welcomed

A breakthrough in research into Alzheimer’s Disease has been welcomed by those dealing with the condition.

Dr Calum Sutherland and colleagues at Dundee University’s Ninewells Medical School identified an enzyme which partially reverses the development of nerve clumps and tangles in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s.

The enzyme acts on a protein called CRMP2 which plays a key role in the formation of the clumps.

Drugs developed from the discovery could slow down their growth.

Dr Sutherland said: “One of the hardest tasks in Alz-heimer’s research is finding the abnormal biochemical pathways among the cascade of reactions taking place in the healthy brain, and working out how to repair them without causing unwanted side-effects.

“The new work highlights part of the natural process that could be harnessed to fully reverse the abnormal CRMP2 structure.”

Rebecca Wood, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Research Trust which funded Dr Sutherland’s work, said such findings are crucial to understanding the condition.

“A better understanding of the changes that occur in the brain at the onset of Alzheim-er’s, and how the disease progresses, could enable scientists to develop effective treatments for slowing or stopp-ing the disease,” she said.

“With 700,000 people in the UK living with Alzheim-er’s and other dementias, we desperately need to find an effective treatment to help these people.”

The discovery has been welcomed by Alzheimer’s Scotland which supports sufferers and their families.

Gabrielle Colston-Taylor, service manager for the charity in Dundee, said there is some pride that the discovery has been made in the city.

“It’s really exciting that this has happened in Scotland and more so that it’s in Dundee,” she said.

“But with all these things it will take time for it to be turned into a usable medicine for treatment.”

Monday, Jun. 9, 2008

Earthquake prediction breakthrough close

Scientists at the United States space agency NASA say they could be on the verge of a breakthrough in their efforts to forecast earthquakes.

Researchers say some of the biggest earthquakes, such as the recent one in China, seem to be preceded by disturbances high up in the earth’s atmosphere.

They think rocks which are about to break become positively charged with electricity at the earth’s surface.

The electrical effect is then transferred 100 kilometres into the ionosphere, where it can be picked up by satellites.

Wednesday, Jun. 4, 2008

Scientists make bird flu breakthrough

A HONG Kong research team has successfully tested a new drug combination that could help tackle the deadly bird flu virus in humans, scientists said in a paper due to be published tomorrow.

The use of three drugs together dramatically increased the survival rate of mice who had been infected with the deadly H5N1 virus, the University of Hong Kong team said in a paper to be published a United States-based journal.

And the treatment could help improve the survival chances of people infected with the deadly virus if the success can be replicated in humans, the paper said.

“Triple therapy offers some hope for surviving the devastating consequences associated with a pandemic influenza outbreak,” the 13-person team said in a paper to be released in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The team tested the drug combination on mice injected with lethal doses of the bird flu virus. They found that the drug combination increased survival rates from 13.3 per cent to 53.3 per cent when given after a delay of 48 hours.

The mortality of people infected with bird flu varies between 45 and 81 per cent, the paper said.

Several major pharmaceutical companies have been working on a vaccine to prevent the disease, which has killed more than 240 people, mainly in Asia, since 2003, according to the World Health Organisation.

She’s a walking miracle

DODDINGTON Rector Val Fernandez is walking tall after under-going a miracle during a recent Christian conference.
The sixty-year-old reverend had suffered with one leg being shorter than the other for 50 years after injuring her left limb in an accident at the age of 10.

But when a group of people at the New Wine Conference in Harrogate started to pray for Val for help with arthritis in her ‘good’ leg she started to feel something happening.

Although the prayers were being said for the pain in her ‘good’ right leg Val started to feel discomfort in her shorter left leg.

“It felt like my leg wanted to go somewhere and there was no room for it. Someone suggested taking my shoes off and it felt better,” explained Val, who also noticed she could put her heel on the floor.

“My left leg had been one-and-a-half inches shorter since the accident. I fell off my bike and a few days later I started to have a lot of pain. I went to the doctor and was told I should try to use my leg as much as possible – which I did.

“Unfortunately this caused awful damage. My leg ended up being shorter and I had to wear special built-up shoes on my left foot to compensate.

“I have had two hip replacements as a result of the damage caused and I walked with a limp despite the special shoes,” said Val.

But after the prayer experience at the conference Val was convinced her shorter leg had grown.

“I didn’t say anything much to anyone. I told a few close friends, but I wanted to have it confirmed first.

“I knew I had a hospital appointment to get some new shoes built up so when I went for this appointment I told the man responsible for organising the building up of my shoes that I thought my leg had grown.

“He asked me to walk with my shoes on and off and, although I still walked with a limp, there was no real difference between how I walked with or without my shoes. He said my leg had grown an inch.

“It is still half-an-inch shorter but he told me your body can naturally compensate for this and he said I didn’t need the raisers in my shoes any more.

“That was two weeks ago. I’m picking up my shoes this week and they will have had the raisers removed.

“I have just bought myself a dainty pair of pink shoes and for the first time I can choose whatever shoes I like without having to worry whether they are suitable to be built up.

“God does heal people. It is not just stories in the Bible, he is still doing things to help people,” said Val, who firmly believes she has undergone a miracle thanks to the power of prayer.

“There is no other explanation for what has happened. The man at the hospital could not explain it. I still limp slightly, but it is something and nothing,” she concluded.

She has contacted the conference organisers who have congratulated Val on her ‘fantastic news’.

Tuesday, Jun. 3, 2008

Mother’s gamble works: Boy whose skin can’t attach is healing

Two-year-old Nate Liao has spent his young life swathed in bandages from head to toe.

Nate has a rare and deadly genetic disease that prevents his skin from attaching to his body. The slightest friction against his skin, such as the rubbing of the seam from his shirt, gave him blisters the size of water balloons. Swallowing anything but baby food tore his esophagus.

Yet today, seven months after an experimental therapy at the University of Minnesota Children’s Hospital Fairview, the New Jersey toddler is eating Oreos. He’s slurping chicken noodle soup, cleaning his bowl and holding up his spoon for more. He’s wearing a regular T-shirt. And, for at least a few hours a day, some of his bandages are coming off.

For the first time, doctors say, they appear to have cured the disease Nate has, called epidermolysis bullosa.

“Every now and then, you really feel like you’ve done something great,” says John Wagner, a hematologist at the University of Minnesota Medical School who oversaw Nate’s therapy, a bone marrow transplant from his healthy 3-year-old brother, Julian. Doctors did the transplant to give Nate a vital protein that he was born without. That protein, collagen VII, glues the outermost layer of skin to the underlying layer, Wagner says.

The goal was for stem cells from the transplanted bone marrow to travel to Nate’s skin and begin to make collagen VII once they arrive, says Angela Christiano of Columbia University, who identified the gene for Nate’s disease and collaborated on his therapy.

The procedure, like all bone marrow transplants, was risky. Before they delivered the healthy bone marrow, doctors first administered intensive chemotherapy to kill off Nate’s immune system and prevent his body from rejecting his brother’s cells. A child like Nate, who has so many open wounds, would be left especially vulnerable to infection.

But Nate was lucky, Wagner says. His brother’s blood was a perfect match, which cut the risk of rejection.

Nate recovered from the surgery and even gained weight, says his mother, Theresa Liao, who has met with many researchers over the years to push for a cure.

Best of all, tests show that Nate’s body is making collagen VII. The transplant, Wagner says, seems to have cured the underlying genetic mistake that causes Nate’s disease.

But doctors don’t need lab tests to see the difference in Nate.

Nate today looks like a different child, Wagner says. His face has plumped up, and he has fewer blisters. Nate’s skin, which once looked like cellophane, now looks more normal, his mother says. Nate is even tough enough to bounce back after being hit by Julian with a toy train.

“They’re horsing around like brothers, instead of everyone saying, ‘Don’t hurt the baby,’ ” Liao says.

Wagner says he hopes Nate’s body will continue to make more collagen VII over time.

The protein won’t erase Nate’s scars, Wagner says. But, as the boy grows, his scars should appear proportionally smaller. With fewer wounds, Nate should have a lower risk of infection. He will become better nourished as cells lining his digestive system heal. And, most of all, doctors hope Nate will be spared from the aggressive skin cancer that kills many patients in their 20s.

Now, Nate’s parents and doctors are hoping for a second miracle. His 5-year-old brother, Jake, who has the same rare disease, is undergoing a transplant at the University of Minnesota. Jake faces tougher odds, Wagner says. Doctors couldn’t find a perfectly matched donor, so he’s receiving a match from an unrelated donor.

And because Jake is older, he has suffered far more scarring. He has lost the tips of his fingers, and his fingers have fused together. If the transplant cures his disease, surgeons will try to repair the damage, Wagner says.

Right now, Julian, Jake, Nate and their mother are in Minneapolis as Jake receives treatment. The father, Roger Liao, remains in New Jersey with a fourth son, who is healthy.

Scientists around the world will pay close attention to a news conference today as doctors present their research for the first time. If Nate has benefited from the transplant, other doctors will try to offer them, as well.

“It’s extremely exciting,” says Dennis Roop, a stem-cell expert at the University of Colorado-Denver Anschutz Medical Campus.

Jonathan Vogel, a senior investigator in dermatology at the National Cancer Institute, cautions that other patients may not respond as well as Nate. Experiments in mice — performed before doctors tried the therapy on Nate — cured only three of 13. Doctors also may want to wait before declaring Nate cured, to see if his condition continues to improve, he says.

But the boys’ mother says the therapy is an answer to a prayer. Ever since her first son was born with this disease, she says, “I made him a promise, to do whatever I could to make him better or make this go away. I’m doing my best to keep that promise.”

Monday, Jun. 2, 2008

Baby Miracle heading home

A deformed Samoan baby girl banned from entering New Zealand is heading home after extensive medical treatment in the United States.

Nine-month-old Miracletina (Miracle) Julie Nanai was born to her parents Sefulu and Mikaele Nanai in Falelatai, near Apia, with extreme deformities, notably around the face. Medical authorities had not expected her to survive.

The parents had been told the child would die within hours if not fed. Her family refused to let her die and secretly fed her.

Family backer To’oa Kristin Taylor has written to media organisations in Samoa saying Miracle was heading home.

She has been in Miami Children’s Hospital for extensive surgery.

“All of this work has been worth every second,” Taylor wrote.

“To learn to live your faith to the point of exhaustion, in the face of criticism, in the depth of financial need and when all is seemingly hopeless … is a gift few will realize unless they believe in ‘Miracles’.”

They say they will be back in Samoa this week.

The hospital donated many of the services while fund raising in Australia, New Zealand and Samoa raised $100,000 to send the child to Starship children’s hospital in Auckland but she was refused a visa to enter New Zealand.

The then head of Immigration, now suspended, Mary-Anne Thompson, declared last September that treatment was not advisable and “will not benefit Tina’s quality of life.”

Having now undergone surgery at Miami Children’s Hospital, Miracle could live a “long, long” time, chief of plastic surgery S. Anthony Wolfe said.

Tuesday, May. 13, 2008

A possible cure for pre-eclampsia

A condition which affects one in every ten pregnancies and is responsible for 1,000 baby deaths in Britain each year may have a genetic cause.

Scientists in the United States say they have discovered in studies with mice, a gene which may be linked with pre-eclampsia in some women.

The researchers from Harvard Medical School found mice, genetically-engineered to be deficient in an enzyme called COMT (catechol-O-methyltransferase), developed pre-eclampsia.

The research team say low levels of COMT are also seen in pregnant women with the condition which presents dangers for both mother and baby.

The discovery could lead in the future to a diagnostic test for the condition and possibly some form of preventative treatment.

Of all premature deliveries in the UK, pre-eclampsia accounts for 15% of them because the only way to safely deal with pre-eclampsia is to deliver the baby.

It causes rapid rises in blood pressure and if the condition is untreated it can lead to convulsions, kidney failure, serious liver problems and death.

Pre-eclampsia is triggered by oxygen starvation caused by leaky blood vessels in the placenta and the researchers examined the proteins possibly involved in pre-eclampsia by affecting the level of oxygen delivered to the placenta.

Dr. Raghu Kalluri, the study leader says if a gene is responsible for pre-eclampsia in some families then it could be a useful genetic test.

COMT is an enzyme involved in the development of new blood vessels and a compound it produces called 2-methoxyoestradiol (2-ME), normally increases during the last three months of human pregnancy.

They realised that mice without any COMT also failed to produce 2-ME, but when the COMT was restored the pre-eclampsia was cured.

The researchers say as well as the potential for a genetic test to identify women at risk, this has important implications for a potential treatment.

They say it is possible to measure 2-ME in blood or urine, which could identify those who need more close monitoring, and those at risk can be treated with a supplementary pill.

Dr. Kalluri says this would give the mothers back what is missing.

A large clinical trial to look at the effect of COMT in women is now on the cards and experts say even though all women are closely monitored for signs of pre-eclampsia a good test would remove that need and would be very useful.

Friday, May. 9, 2008

Allergy expert: cure for peanut allergy in five years

The announcement by an American expert that within the next five years some form of immunotherapy will be available to treat peanut allergy, will bring relief to many concerned parents.

Allergies to peanuts has become increasingly common but the reasons for the rise in prevalence remains unclear with experts suggesting a number of possibilities.

Among them is the hygiene hypothesis, which suggest that not enough exposure to infectious agents in early childhood can increase susceptibility to allergic disease, also suggested is that the presence of peanuts in the mother’s diet before birth could be risk factor for developing the allergy – none however have been proven.

The problem has become a major health concern worldwide, particularly in developed countries, and affects around 1% of children under the age of five years – research in the U.S. shows that peanut allergy prevalence in young children doubled from 0.4% in 1997 to 0.8% in 2002.

The allergy occurs because the immunoglobulin E part of the immune system connects with antibodies which causes the release of inflammatory molecules such as histamines when peanuts are ingested and reactions can range from a minor irritation to a life-threatening, whole-body allergic response called anaphylaxis.

Initial reactions usually involve the skin, approximately half involve the respiratory tract, and a third the gastrointestinal tract and children are usually diagnosed by about 14 months of age.

Symptoms occur after the first known peanut ingestion in 75% of those children eating peanuts for the first time.

Professor Wesley Burks, from Duke University Medical Center, in Durham, North Carolina says because of the potentially severe health consequences of peanut allergy, those suspected of having had an allergic reaction to peanuts deserve a thorough evaluation.

Professor Burks says all patients with peanut allergy should be given an emergency management plan, as well as epinephrine and antihistamines available at all times.

He says patients and their families should be taught to recognise early allergic reactions to peanuts and how to implement appropriate peanut-avoidance strategies and it is vital that severe, or potentially severe, reactions be treated promptly with the drugs.

Professor Burks believes patients who have had such a reaction should be kept under observation in a hospital emergency department or equivalent for up to four hours because of the possible development of the late-phase allergic response.

A number of approaches are currently being examined to reduce the impact of the condition such as the development of transgenic plants to produce hypoallergenic peanuts, but Professor Burks says as several peanut proteins are involved in the allergic response, the resulting product could be a peanut which is no longer a peanut.

Professor Burks says future treatments are all focused around curbing the immune response or inducing the immune system to tolerate a specific food allergen, possibly by introducing engineered peanut proteins as immunotherapy, where the food is ingested in increasingly larger amounts on a regular basis.

Professor Burks who is a food allergy expert, believes in the next five years that there will be some type of immunotherapy available for peanut allergenic individuals.

Professor Burks comments are published in the Lancet.

Wednesday, May. 7, 2008

Brazilian researchers announce breakthrough in developing dengue vaccine

A group of Brazilian researchers said Sunday they have obtained a protein that could help block the transmission of the dengue virus in animals.

The research, carried out by scientists in the State of Ceara University’s (UECE) Human Biochemistry Laboratory, holds great promise for the prevention of four different kinds of dengue, UECE’s Dengue Virus Project Coordinator Maria Izabel Florindo Guedes said.

“In animals the protein triggers the production of antibodies that block, at least in the lab, the dengue virus,” said Guedes.

“If we had support, we would be able to produce the vaccine in five years or less.”

Guedes added that the university needs 300,000 U.S. dollars to have an adequately equipped lab to develop the vaccine.

Currently the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro faces the worst dengue epidemic in history and so far this year some 121,586 people have been infected with the disease, and 103 people have died from it.

The dengue-related death toll could be higher since officials are still investigating if 106 other suspicious deaths may have been caused by the disease.

Seven-year-old medical miracle

He’s a medical miracle. A local seven-year-old boy was dead for at least 12 minutes, but you would never be able to tell.

“I asked for a donut when I had heart surgery,” Cameron Knowles said nonchalantly. Cameron suffered a devastating heart condition on March 26th.

He’s not shy to show off the scar that covers most of his body. “Big scar,” exclaimed Cameron as he lifted up his shirt. “Woo hooo!”

The first grader is full of energy, but Cameron wasn’t so lively the morning of March 26th. “It was horrible,” said father Mark Knowles. “It’s a nightmare that we’re living over and over again every time we go to bed at night.”

Cameron’s parents Mark and Rebecca Knowles still aren’t sleeping at night. “I went him to check him, and he was gone,” said Mark with tears welling up in his eyes.

His son had suffered sudden cardiac arrest. “I reached down to feel a pulse, and I couldn’t find it,” Mark added. He screamed for Rebecca. She couldn’t find a pulse either.

Both have careers in the medical field. Mark is an EMT and dispatcher with Ridge Road Fire District. Rebecca works for a cardiologist. She immediately started CPR.

“Anything after five minutes and you start to lose significant brain function,” Rebecca said. Even if her son recovered, she knew the outlook wasn’t good. Cameron had been dead for at least 12 minutes. No one knew Cameron had Long QT syndrome. It’s a heart rhythm disorder that can cause sudden death.

“It can happen to anybody, and it can happen to any child,” warned Rebecca. “It’s more than a miracle,” Mark said of his son’s complete recovery. “He’s here for a reason.”

Friday afternoon, Cameron’s classmates at Holmes Road Elementary School honored him in their “Jump Rope for Heart” program. The kids raised $10,000 for the American Heart Association. “They made me better,” said Cameron of his classmates. Because of their encouragement, the quick response by his parents, first responders and doctors – Cameron is alive.

“I thank everybody,” Cameron said. And we found out this medical miracle also has a lucky lady. Her name is Katana Noble. We asked how long they’ve been dating. “Ten years,” exclaimed Cameron. “But you’re only seven,” said reporter Nikki Rudd. “I don’t care!” was Cameron’s smiling response. Katana later told us they’ve actually been dating for five years.

“We play together and sit next to each other in lunch,” Katana said quietly but with a beaming smile. Cameron says he’s lucky to have her and his smile says it all.

“He’s here for a reason,” said Rebecca. “He’s here to tell a story, and he’s here to put a face to Long QT syndrome.”

Cameron was on medication for ADHD before this happened. Some studies show those medications can cause Long QT syndrome. His parents want everyone to watch for the signs which include fainting.

Monday, May. 5, 2008

Miracle $1 pill can save 100.000 lives

A NEW wonder “poly-pill” could prevent 80 per cent of heart attacks and strokes in the over-55s.

It’s claimed the miracle five-inone pill could halt over 100,000 premature deaths each year.

And one in three people could live an extra 20 years without a heart attack or stroke.

UK researchers say the pill would have a greater impact on the prevention of disease in the Western world than any other medical intervention.

They want it to be available for just $1 a day.

Government heart disease chief Professor Roger Boyle has given the drug his support and wants it prescribed on the NHS.

He said: “It would certainly have a big impact.

“We need to remember that one-third of deaths are due to cardiovascular disease.”

The pill contains folic acid to help reduce heart attacks, three types of medicine to reduce high blood pressure and a cholesterol-reducing statin.

Inventor Professor Nicholas Wald said: “I am delighted that we have reached this milestone.

“Now we want to get it out there so people can use it.”

It’s hoped the pill will be prescribed in the UK in two years.

Wednesday, Mar. 26, 2008

Breakthrough Cancer Surgery Saves Terminal Patient

A Florida woman with a golf ball-size tumor in her abdomen who risked a cutting-edge surgery to save her life is now on her way to a full recovery.

Brooke Zepp, 63, was told that her tumor was inoperable because it was buried so deep inside her abdomen and that she had only months to live.

After receiving a diagnosis of leiomyosarcoma, a rare cancer in her abdomen, Zepp had tried radiation and chemotherapy but neither had worked.

Desperate for help, Zepp found a team of surgeons willing to perform an unprecedented operation. The tumor was buried underneath half a dozen major organs.

“I wanted to prove that there is hardly any such thing as inoperable cancer,” Zepp said.

It took seven surgeons more than 15 hours, in which they removed her stomach, pancreas, spleen, liver and large and small intestines, while keeping Zepp alive. Once they cut out the tumor, which was wrapped around a major artery, they painstakenly put all the organs back in her body.

In other words, it was like taking the engine out of a car to repair it while the car is still running.

“This is definitely one of the most difficult surger[ies] that we’ve ever done,” said Dr. Tom Kato, who led the team of surgeons that operated on Zepp at the University of Miami Jackson Memorial Hospital.

Zepp’s organs were outside of her body for approximately 90 minutes, during which time they were kept refrigerated.

Zepp says she never believed her tumor was going to kill her.

“For anybody out there that is being told that they have cancer that can’t be operated on, keep looking, keep looking,” said Zepp. “I am an all or nothing kind of person. I want a real life. … I don’t want to live a half of a life and I feel free now.”

Doctors are releasing Zepp from the hospital in Miami today and believe she is now free of cancer.

Tuesday, Mar. 25, 2008

The dose of worms that could cure MS

Could drinking a cocktail of worm eggs help patients with multiple sclerosis? It sounds like medieval witchcraft, but the Food and Drug Administration, which vets all drug trials in the U.S., has just sanctioned a study to see if the gruesome mixture can ease the symptoms of the disease.

Once the eggs are inside the body, they will hatch into worms that live in the gut. It is hoped they will then stimulate the release of a certain type of immune system cell that will allow the body to heal the damage done by MS.

The trial was given the go ahead after a study last year in Argentina revealed that MS patients who had parasitic worms living in their intestines suffered significantly fewer relapses in their condition than a separate group that was worm-free.

Multiple sclerosis affects an estimated 85,000 people in the UK and is incurable. The disease appears to be caused by a chemical found naturally in the body, called interferon gamma.

Under normal circumstances, this chemical helps to activate the immune system to attack foreign invaders, such as viruses and bacteria. But for reasons which remain unclear, in people with MS, the chemical can also cause the immune system to turn against the very body it is supposed to protect.

As a result, the immune system goes into overdrive, attacking nerves in the brain and spinal cord. Gradually, the protective coating which shields these nerves – called the myelin sheath – starts to break down and the transmission of signals between nerve cells slows down and becomes irregular.

As the nervous system begins to be destroyed, the first symptoms to appear are usually a loss of balance, blurred vision and bouts of paralysis. Eventually, most patients end up paralysed and in a wheelchair.

Drugs that suppress the immune system are often used to treat the condition. But these are not always successful and work only in certain forms of the disease.

The worm cocktail has already been tested in the U.S. for other ‘auto-immune’ conditions – diseases that arise when the immune system turns on itself.

Trials on patients with gut disorders such as Crohn’s have shown promising results.

The key is how the parasitic worms – called whipworms – trigger the release of T-cells, a vital part of the body’s defence mechanism.

When a healthy body is under attack, the immune system calls up a certain type of T-cell, known as Th2. This launches a targeted attack on the invading virus or bacteria, but leaves healthy tissue alone.

In MS, the immune system calls up a different type of Tcell, known as Th1. These cells attack and destroy healthy tissue, triggering the symptoms of MS.

Parasitic worms, such as whipworms, seem to trigger the relatively mild Th2 immune system response, stopping the release of Th1 cells. The response is also focused on the worms rather than the tissues – allowing the body gradually to repair some of the damage done by the previous Th1 cells.

As part of the trial, five MS patients will take a worm-egg cocktail every two weeks for three months. Each drink, which will be in the form of a flavoured sports drink to make it more palatable, will be packed with 2,500 whipworm eggs.

The eggs, which are taken from pigs and are not thought to harm humans, hatch into larvae that are no bigger than an eyelash.

They then stick to the inside of the gut. Because the worms are eventually destroyed by the immune system, the patient needs to take another dose.

If the worm trial succeeds, then a bigger study will take place next year.

This is not the only treatment using creepy-crawlies to be used in modern medicine. Last year a British lorry driver avoided losing his leg when leeches were used to help it heal after surgery.

Maggots, meanwhile, are being used to help wounds infected with the hospital superbug MRSA to heal in just three weeks – compared with 28 weeks with conventional treatment.

Dr Laura Bell, from the MS Society, warned that this treatment would not be a quick result: “There is some research to show parasites may offer protection in MS but this investigation is at a very early stage.”

1-in-10,000 Wonder Boy

A Little boy who, just 18 months ago, was unable to move and was given a one-in-10,000 chance of survival, is now clambering about.

Matthew Frost’s parents have described their son as a “little walking miracle” because of his remarkable progress.

The three-year-old was born with a heart complaint called tetralogy of Fallots and contracted an infection after heart surgery when he was 18 months old. The infection left him on a life-support machine for five days and caused him to lose a leg and some of his fingers. At one stage, he was given only a 0.01 per cent chance of survival.

But Matthew’s recovery has been incredible and his parents say it is nothing short of a miracle.

Mum Claire Frost said: “He is a little walking miracle. Everyone cannot believe how much he has come on. Eighteen months ago, he could only move his eyes and we were told he would never be able to walk.

“Yet now he is crawling and climbing up on the settee.”

Dad Mark Frost, 34, said there had been “some very dark times”, including periods when they were told their only child at the time could be left deaf, dumb and brain damaged, or that he could even die.

Mr Frost said: “In September 2006, scans showed signs of brain damage but that seems to have corrected itself and he has been discharged from the brain clinic. If you ever want to see a miracle, then here is one. It’s just incredible from where we’ve been to where we are now.”

Matthew has regular check-ups and physiotherapy sessions at Derbyshire Children’s Hospital.

He was recently given a “whizzy bug”, an electrically-powered vehicle to help him get around.

The Frosts, of Benner Avenue, Ilkeston, have been talking to doctors at Nottingham City Hospital about Matthew having a false limb fitted.

Last year, the Frosts began fund-raising as a gesture of thanks for the medical care that Matthew had received from five hospitals in the region, including Derbyshire Children’s.

They have now raised £10,297 for Heartlink, a charity that supports the parents of children with heart defects.

The charity, based at Glenfield Hospital, in Leicester, is raising £161,000 for a 4D ultrasound scanner, which is able to show highly detailed images of the heart.

The Frosts also feel thankful to medics for another reason.

Their second son, Richard, who will be one next month, was born with Erb’s palsy, a condition that is caused by a traumatic birth and affects movement and feeling in one arm.

But Mr Frost said that, although Richard did not have full movement in his right arm, his condition had massively improved with the help of Derbyshire Children’s Hospital.

Study finds we’re happy to share

It’s worth noting that human science recently confirmed in a small way the profound teaching that it is more blessed to give than to receive.

The results of a study, reported Friday in the journal Science, indicate that people who give to others are happier than those who do not. The amount given — or even whether the gift involved money — was irrelevant. What matters is a sense of having made a difference to others.

The researchers tried three experiments. First, they asked a group to rate themselves on a happiness scale and then looked at how they spent their money, dividing it into “personal” and “prosocial” — which included buying gifts for others and giving to charity. The proportion of prosocial spending was small compared to personal spending. But the rewards were not.

“Personal spending was unrelated to happiness,” they found, according to the Associated Press report on the study. “But higher prosocial spending was associated with significantly greater happiness.”

Then they looked at a group of employees about to receive bonuses of varying amounts. In talking to them afterwards, the researchers found they could predict who would be happier with the extra money based on how they planned to spend it — on themselves or others — and not the amount they received.

The researchers then gave a group of students envelopes of money, varying in amount from $5 to $20, and told some to spend it on themselves and some to spend it on others. At the end of the day, the happiest were those who spent it on others, even if they had gotten only $5.

This helps to explain why people who win fortunes in the lottery later report being no more happy than before, and often less so, as they squander their millions on big houses, fancy cars and other luxury goods. It’s also why we see celebrities who “have it all” spiral into substance abuse, loneliness and depression when, we think, they should be happy.

The Sentinel publishes stories every week about the good works and acts of kindness people in our community perform for others. Whether it’s elementary school students donating their hair for sick children through the Locks of Love program, volunteers at Project SHARE or organizers for the multitude of fundraisers that occur for various causes year-round, they all have something in common, we find: high energy, usually punctuated with a smile.

It’s easy to think such people get involved because of their energy, but we are inclined to think the cause and effect are the other way around — the energy comes from the involvement.

You can see a similar sparkle at Christmas time, as hundreds put a few bills or coins in the Salvation Army kettles, in the fall when they sign United Way pledge cards, in the spring when they turn out for the Day of Caring and in the summer they lend a hand with Habitat for Humanity projects.

What we don’t see are the thousands of others who just take the time to check on an elderly neighbor, share a bountiful harvest from the garden with co-workers, stop to help a stranded motorist or say a silent prayer for those in need.

Another study cited in the AP report, published in 2006 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that the section of the brain that produces the good feeling we experience when we receive a reward is the same part that lights up when we give to someone else.

In other words, we were made to give to others.

The important lesson from the new study is that not much is required. We don’t have to donate the billions of a Warren Buffet or Bill and Melinda Gates to know the rewards of helping others. We don’t have to devote every leisure minute to charity work.

It is enough that we give.

Thursday, Jan. 17, 2008

Leukaemia Breakthrough: Twin Study Finds Stem Cells

A pair of identical twins from Kent could lead to a cure for leukaemia.

Doctors studying the girls – only one of whom has the blood cancer – have for the first time identified the abnormal stem cells that fuel the disease.

They now hope to develop smart drugs that are both more effective and lack the toxic side effects of current treatment.

Dr David Grant, of the charity Leukaemia Research, said: “Current treatment is very crude. If we know the target that we need to hit to cure this disease, then we can develop new treatments.

“This discovery is taking us a long way forward towards that goal.”

When four-year-old Olivia Murphy was diagnosed with leukaemia, doctors realised they had a golden opportunity to unravel the crucial early stages of the disease.

Her twin, Isabella, was genetically identical, yet remained healthy. So doctors compared their blood to find out why.

Both twins share pre-leukaemic cells that result from a genetic mutation while they were in their mother’s womb.

These pre-cancerous cells have remained dormant in Isabella.

But in Olivia, an unknown trigger, possibly a childhood infection, has caused them to be transformed into abnormal stem cells. The result is leukaemia.

The girls’ mother, Sarah Murphy, said the research had helped the family through the heartbreak of the diagnosis and treatment.

“Anything that would make the treatment less invasive on little ones would be fantastic. Any kind of result from this research would be very positive. I know any family will welcome less chemotherapy, because you just don’t want to see your child go through that.”

Current treatment cures 90% of children with leukaemia. But doctors know around half of sufferers don’t need all the drugs that are now routinely given. Some are so toxic that around 1% of the children are killed by the treatment itself.

Dr Phil Ancliff from Great Ormond Street Hospital, who is treating Olivia, said by monitoring the stem cells it should be possible to reduce the drugs given to children.

“What we would like to do is look at the leukaemia stem cells during treatment and see if they have gone,” he explained.

“If they disappear quickly, the child is likely to be cured. If they linger, the child will be at much higher chance of relapse.”

Monday, Dec. 10, 2007

High-tech Alzheimer’s breakthrough hailed

YORKSHIRE scientists are helping to develop the use of breakthrough technology that could transform the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.
Leeds University is working with computer giant Microsoft on the system, which replicates artificially pictures that the healthy human brain captures and stores as memories.

The images are then viewed to stimulate the patient’s brain, improving their natural powers of recall.

Researchers describe the project as “potentially very exciting”. Early trials have produced dramatic results, with patients experiencing up to 90 per cent of their normal memory restored after only two weeks.

A small camera is worn by the patient to record details of their life by taking a photo every 30 seconds. The camera is later plugged into a computer and thousands of pictures viewed at high-speed as a memory aid.

Regular use of the system appears to stimulate patients’ memory even when not looking at pictures as a “trigger”, according to researchers.

Trials have been conducted with Alzheimer’s patients, the most common disease causing memory loss, and others with similarly debilitating illnesses or conditions, such as age-related dementia.

A team of researchers at Leeds University led by Professor Martin Conway and Dr Chris Moulin has received part of a £250,000 funding package from Microsoft because of their department’s global reputation for work on human memory.

The device, called a SenseCam, is a small camera worn on a cord around the neck. It takes continuous pictures, which are then viewed via a computer.

The technology has been engineered so a whole day’s images can be reviewed at high speed, with a day’s events condensed into a few minutes’ viewing time.

That helps users to remember events which would otherwise be lost from their minds, and also to re-experience the emotions attached to events and conversations.

Over time, using the equipment repeatedly appears to stimulate their memory to recall the events without the technology.

The camera’s design is deliberately simple, using a fish-eye lens and sensors which detect changes in light, body heat and activity. It can store up to 30,000 images, enough to cover a fortnight’s use in typical circumstances.

The Leeds team will use their expertise to try to refine the system, using data already gathered from initial trials.

Those tests included a 63-year-old woman with memory loss resulting from a brain infection, who used a SenseCam whenever she anticipated a significant event.

She spent about an hour every two days reviewing the images, for a two-week period.

Without any other memory aids she typically forgot everything within five days. But during the test her memory steadily increased, and after two weeks her recall was at around 90 per cent. She continued to remember events over time.

“It’s potentially very exciting,” said Dr Moulin, a neuropsychologist. “Once people in the
early stages of Alzheimer’s or other conditions involving memory loss realise they can’t remember events, people and places they stop doing things because of the frustration of not being able to remember later.

“A great use for such a camera would be for such events – things out of the normal routine. Having the camera could mean that they can revisit not only the facts of such events, but the essential feelings that are so much part of memory.”

Prof Conway added: “SenseCam images are one of the most potent cues to remembering I have ever encountered.”

Microsoft says wider research and development are needed before the company can make any decision to commercialise the camera.

Thursday, Dec. 6, 2007

Ketchup Is Heart Cure

A DOLLOP of tomato ketchup a day can cut the risk of heart attacks and strokes, according to new research.

Volunteers who had ketchup with their breakfast, lunch and tea or drank a few glasses of tomato juice saw cholesterol levels drop in just three weeks.

Researchers in Finland said levels fell by just under six per cent and low-density lipoprotein levels – “bad” cholesterol – by almost 13 per cent.

Monday, Nov. 12, 2007

Global warming cure found by scientists

Worried? Be informed. Also read The deceit behind global warming and From a Rapt Audience, a Call to Cool the Hype

A “technical fix” that could stop global warming by taking billions of tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and save the coral reefs from being destroyed by acidification has been developed by scientists.

The process could be used on an industrial scale to remove excess carbon dioxide caused by the burning of fossil fuels from the atmosphere in “a matter of decades rather than millennia,” according to researchers from Harvard and Penn State universities.

The process relies on speeding up a process that happens naturally, whereby carbon dioxide dissolved in sea water breaks down volcanic rock and soils to make alkaline carbonic salts.

The water flows into the ocean and increases its alkalinity. Sea water containing more alkali can absorb more carbon, so more carbon from the atmosphere is “locked up” and becomes harmless bottom sediments, according to the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

Researchers estimate that it would take a cube of volcanic rock 10 kilometres across to return the concentration of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere to pre-industrial levels.

Unlike other proposed “technical fixes” that “sequester” carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, this one makes the sea more alkaline and therefore counteracts the other side effect of more carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere – the acidification of the sea.

The alkalinity of the sea has remained the same for 60 million years but the burning of fossil fuels has caused it to decrease.

It is feared that the drop in alkalinity will slow down the oceans’ take up of carbon dioxide – which accounts for half the Earth’s natural capacity for “scrubbing” carbon from the atmosphere.

It will also threaten animals whose bodies are made from calcium, which is alkaline, such as corals, shellfish and phytoplankton.

Scientists say the technique is adaptable to operation in remote areas, run on natural gas or geothermal energy.

“The technology involves selectively removing acid from the ocean in a way that might enable us to turn back the clock on global warming,” said Kurt House, a graduate student at Harvard University.

However, Prof Andrew Watson of the University of East Anglia, who was one of the authors of a Royal Society paper on the acidification of the sea, said the “fundamental problem” with dissolving rock into the sea was “the immense scale on which you need to do it to make any impact.”

He added: “We are producing 8 billion tons of CO2 a year and that takes the combined efforts of all coal mining, oil and gas production. If you want to make an impact on that you need a process of the same order of magnitude to make a difference.

“The local effect would be alkali pollution of the sea – but we are polluting the sea globally by putting carbon dioxide into the ocean. This method is expensive and therefore it’s not the first line of attack for the global warming problem.

“The first is energy conservation, the second the substitution of fossil fuels with solar energy or biofuels, and the third – and above dissolving rock into the sea – comes carbon capture and storage from power plants. We know what technology is needed for that and engineering companies can do it.”

Prof Watson, an expert on the carbon cycle and the oceans, said that dissolving rock was “worth considering” if the world got into a situation in which the oceans were dying because of acidity and we needed to alleviate the problem. “If you did it the right way you might be able to save the coral reefs from the worst effects. I would see it being done in areas where there may be another reason for doing it as well, such as this.

“There is no single ‘silver bullet’ for global warming.”

Other “technical fixes” for global warming have concentrated on seeding the oceans with iron filings or nitrogen to stimulate algal growth in the hope that this would then die and take the carbon the plankton contained to the sea bed.

Scientists make monkey cloning breakthrough

The prospect of being able to clone human embyros efficiently for medical treatments has been raised by a technical breakthrough that has enabled scientists to make dozens of cloned embryos from adult monkeys for the first time.

Although primates have been cloned before using old fashioned “embryo splitting” methods, attempts to use the more efficient Dolly cloning technique have faced technical problems and saw a major setback with the controversy over fraudulent research in South Korea.

The new technique promises to revolutionise the efficiency by which scientists can turn human eggs into cloned embryos for use in so called therapeutic cloning to grow replacement cells and tissues for a vast range of treatments, though some commentators pointed out that while it looks promising, the team has not yet provided enough evidence to weigh up the full significance of today’s work.

If confirmed, the research by Shoukhrat Mitalipov at the Oregon National Primate Research Centre in Beaverton marks the first time that scientists have been able to use the Dolly cloning method to create large numbers of cloned embryos from an adult primate – in this case a 10-year-old male rhesus macaque monkey.

The findings were presented in June to a meeting in Australia and will appear in a peer reviewed journal within weeks.

Dr Mitalipov and his team will also demonstrate that they have been able to extract what appear to be stem cells from some of the cloned embryos and that they have managed to encourage these embryonic cells to develop in the laboratory into what seem to be mature heart cells and brain cells, neurons.

The development, which has seen by most in the field as inevitable given the wide range of species that can now be cloned, will stir unease among opponents of cloning who will argue that the new technique of manipulating primate eggs to improve cloning efficiency will lead to increased attempts at creating – and destroying – cloned human embryos for research purposes.

Although going one step further is illegal in many countries, such as Britain, this advance will increase the chances of its being applied to produce a cloned baby.

However, the Oregon team is believed to have tried with colleagues in China to implant about 100 cloned monkey embryos into the wombs of around 50 surrogate rhesus macaque mothers but have not yet succeeded with the birth of any cloned offspring.

Scientists in South Korea reported in 2004 that they had created the first cloned human embryo but in 2006 their study was retracted after it emerged that its main author, Hwang Woo-suk, had committed fraud, though there is still debate about what his team actually achieved.

Newcastle University in the UK did produce a documented example of a cloned human embryo, but there has since been little progress in this field.

Dr Mitalipov said he was unable to comment on the study until it was published in the journal Nature.

But he told colleagues at the International Society for Stem Cell Research in Cairns, Queensland, earlier this year that he had made two batches of stem cells from 20 cloned embryos and tests had shown they were true clones.

Earlier cloning attempts in monkeys used ultraviolet light and dyes as a guide while the DNA was being removed from eggs before DNA from a donor – the animal to be cloned – was introduced.

The Oregon researchers believe this damaged the resulting embryos.

Instead, their technique uses polarised light to visualise the egg’s interior during the process of “nuclear transfer”. In this basic method, the DNA containing nucleus of a healthy, unfertilised egg is removed and another nucleus from the mature skin cell of an adult animal is placed inside the egg.

With careful timing and the use of electrical pulses, an embryo can be created which is a genetic clone of the skin tissue donor.

“It’s proof of principle for human therapeutic cloning,” said team member Don Wolf, also of the Oregon National Primate Research Centre.

The Oregon team has yet to show cells derived from the clones have all the characteristics of embryonic stem cells.

But already, other researchers are planning to try the same methods on human cells.

“The primate stuff really does give us renewed hope,” New Scientist was told by Renee Reijo Pera, who heads a team using therapeutic cloning at Stanford University in California.

Dr Simon Best, Chair of the UK BioIndustry Association, said that “this sounds promising and could well mark significant progress – Oregon is a highly respected lab.

“However, there is no evidence that the stem-cells created are pluripotent (cardio and neuro are default derivatives for many types of stem-cells ) and functional in any type of grafting/transplantation – and no evidence yet that the embryos are viable – some established pregnancies and a birth would be required to bolster this.”

Friday, Nov. 9, 2007

Miracle toddler doing well

Two-year-old Indian girl Lakshmi Tatma who underwent a complicated surgery to remove the extra limbs from her body has regained consciousness in what comes as a big relief for her parents, news reports and officials said on Friday.

“She is awake and is moving her arms and legs. She also smiled on seeing her mother,” Dr Y John, director of medical services at the Sparsh Hospital in the southern city of Bangalore told the PTI news agency.

The team of 30 doctors which on Wednesday concluded a 27-hour long breakthrough surgery on the girl born with two pairs of arms and legs, allowed her parents to meet her on Thursday night.

The doctors plan to slowly take Lakshmi off the ventilator in the coming days. They said that the toddler had shown signs of steady recovery on Thursday; she moved her toes and hands and opened her eyes for a brief while.

“She is doing well and all her essential parameters are stable, but she is still in the intensive care unit and her condition is being constantly monitored,” Mamatha Patil, coodinator for Sparsh Foundation, a charitable trust attached to the hospital, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa over telephone.

Lakshmi, has a very rare condition called ischiopagus, which occurs in less than 2% of conjoined twins, and develops when the twin embryo stops developing in the mother’s womb, and one foetus develops at the expense of the other.

She was born with a parasitic twin – she had one head but an extra pair of arms and legs joined to her torso that made it impossible for her to stand or walk.

The child was named after the four-armed Hindu goddess of wealth by her poor parents, Shambhu and Poonam, who both go by one name and come from the northern state of Bihar bordering Nepal.

Lakshmi started being revered in her village, her extra limbs being considered miraculous, as an incarnation of the goddess.

Her parents had initially taken Lakshmi to a hospital in New Delhi, but were forced to abandon their plans when they were approached by circus owners who wanted to buy Lakshmi.

Shambhu and his wife were praying for the quick recovery of their daughter who got a new lease of life on Friday, which also happens to be Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, when Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped.

“We all are praying that she gets well soon. We are happy to have got the operation done since the surgery was necessary for her future,” Shambhu told reporters.

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