Europe against GMO crops! Please, sign the Avaaz petition! I already did.
It's us who decide, not Monsanto!!!

Monday, 28 January 2008

Green light for cloned meat in USA

F.D.A. Says Food From Cloned Animals Is Safe

Thomas Terry/Associated Press
January 16, 2008

After years of debate, the Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday declared that food from cloned animals and their progeny is safe to eat, clearing the way for milk and meat derived from genetic copies of prized dairy cows, steers and hogs to be sold at the grocery store.

The decision was hailed by cloning companies and some farmers, who have been pushing for government approval in hopes of turning cloning into a routine agricultural tool. Because clones are costly, it is their offspring that are most likely to be used for producing milk, hamburgers or pork chops, while the clones themselves are reserved for breeding.

“This is a huge milestone,” said Mark Walton, president of ViaGen, a leading livestock cloning company in Austin, Tex.

Farmers had long observed a voluntary moratorium on the sale of clones and their offspring into the food supply. The F.D.A. on Tuesday effectively lifted that for clone offspring. But another government agency, the Agriculture Department, asked farmers to continue withholding clones themselves from the food supply, saying the department wanted time to allay concerns among retailers and overseas trading partners.

Animal breeding takes time, so even with Tuesday’s actions, it is likely to be several years before products from the offspring of clones are at the grocery store in appreciable quantity.

While acknowledging that consumer acceptance remains a hurdle, proponents of cloning technology say it could have a major impact on the livestock industry by providing meat and milk that is better and more consistent.

Consumer groups immediately lambasted the F.D.A.’s report, saying that the science remains inadequate and that many consumers oppose cloning for religious or ethical reasons. Some members of Congress had sought to delay a decision until further studies were completed.

But Stephen Sundlof, director of the F.D.A. Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said food from cloned animals was “indistinguishable” from that of conventionally bred animals.

“It is beyond our imagination to even have a theory for why the food is unsafe,” he said.

The F.D.A.’s approval extends to cloned cows, pigs and goats but not other farm animals like sheep; the agency cited insufficient data on cloned sheep. The F.D.A. said meat and milk from cloned animals and their offspring would not be labeled because it was the same as conventional food and did not pose a safety risk.

However, Representative Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut, has introduced legislation to require labels on cloned products, and consumer groups suggested that labeling would be a battleground in the near future.

It remains to be seen how widely the technology will be adopted. Interest from the food industry has been tepid, with some companies declaring that they will not sell milk or meat from cloned animals or their offspring. Other types of reproductive technology, such as artificial insemination, faced resistance on farms when they were first developed but eventually became widespread.

Tuesday’s decision means cloning technology could move into commercial use little more than a decade after the world learned of Dolly the sheep, the first mammal cloned from an adult cell, in Scotland.

To create Dolly, scientists took an unfertilized sheep egg and removed the genetic material. They then inserted the genetic material from an adult cell. Machinery within the egg somehow reset the clock on the adult genes, and the new cell, after implantation into a surrogate mother sheep, developed into Dolly.

This technique has since become routine in laboratories, with clones produced in numerous species. Cloning is simply the creation of an identical genetic copy.

The F.D.A. tentatively declared food from cloned animals safe in 2003 and then came to the same conclusion after a draft risk assessment at the end of 2006.

The agency said it received more than 30,500 comments on that risk assessment, many of them form letters. It took some of those comments into account and added data from new studies to come out with the final risk assessment issued Tuesday.

The agency said that while some cloned animals have birth defects, presumably because genes are turned on or off at the wrong times, the ones that survive past a few weeks appear to be as healthy as conventional animals. And whatever those genetic abnormalities are, it said, they are not passed on to the conventionally bred offspring of clones.

source:NY Times

My comment: I find this article pretty convincing. I don't think there is an actual health problem with cloned meat, because it really should be just a copy.

Where I find the problem is in the cloning of the animals. If farmers can clone their best animals for example, they will stop inseminate them in a sexual way. Which is dangerous, because sex provides a natural mechanism for selection and betterment of the specie. If people stop crossing different animals and just replicate the same one, we're loosing the chance to have an animal that is better than its parents.

Cloning presumes absolute qualities that will be reproduced over and over. And probably crossing or God forbids genetic modifications in the search of better ones. And the decreased quantity of crossing will decrease the quality- it's one to have 10 000 cows that cross and one to have 100 or 1000. Statistics is the tool of genetic progress and using clones, we're refusing to use it.

And not on last place, if cloning becomes the norm, we can expect many, and I really mean A LOT not so good cows to be slaughtered. I don't care about the cows so much, as they slaughtered anyway, but they are part of the gene pool. They may not be the perfect cows, but they contain the key to perfectness. And after we loose them, it will be very hard to make them come back, especially if the whole planet decides it's better to clone animals.

Not to mention that the milk we consume from a box comes from many and different cows which have similar but not equal mineral balance. If it comes from one cow (or many copies of it) it may be a problem for some people. Though I can't guarantee for that one.

My point is-I doubt the meat or the milk will be dangerous, though I firmly believe it should be labeled so that people keep their choice. I only fear that this could lead to massive loss of genetic material and ultimately, to a loss of quality. And the genetic pool of the planet should be preserved on any cost. Because mistakes in science are not so rare, we have to have a way to reset the things and start over.

Friday, 25 January 2008

After virus, let's learn more about cancer

Scientists Weigh Stem Cells’ Role as Cancer Cause

Within the next few months, researchers at three medical centers expect to start the first test in patients of one of the most promising — and contentious — ideas about the cause and treatment of cancer.

The idea is to take aim at what some scientists say are cancerous stem cells — aberrant cells that maintain and propagate malignant tumors.

Although many scientists have assumed that cancer cells are immortal — that they divide and grow indefinitely — most can only divide a certain number of times before dying. The stem-cell hypothesis says that cancers themselves may not die because they are fed by cancerous stem cells, a small and particularly dangerous kind of cell that can renew by dividing even as it spews out more cells that form the bulk of a tumor. Worse, stem cells may be impervious to most standard cancer therapies.

Not everyone accepts the hypothesis of cancerous stem cells. Skeptics say proponents are so in love with the idea that they dismiss or ignore evidence against it. Dr. Scott E. Kern, for instance, a leading pancreatic cancer researcher at Johns Hopkins University, said the hypothesis was more akin to religion than to science.

At stake in the debate is the direction of cancer research. If proponents of the stem-cell hypothesis are correct, it will usher in an era of hope for curing once-incurable cancers.

If the critics are right, the stem-cell enthusiasts are heading down a blind alley that will serve as just another cautionary tale in the history of medical research.

In the meantime, though, proponents are looking for ways to kill the stem cells, and say that certain new drugs may be the solution.

“Within the next year, we will see medical centers targeting stem cells in almost every cancer,” said Dr. Max S. Wicha, director of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“If this is real, it could have almost immediate impact,” said Dr. R. Allan Mufson, chief of the institute’s Cancer Immunology and Hematology Branch.

The cancer institute is financing the research, he said, and has authorized Dr. Mufson to put out a request for proposals, soliciting investigators to apply for cancer institute money to study cancer stem cells and ways to bring the research to cancer patients. The institute has agreed to contribute $5.4 million.

Proponents of the hypothesis like to use the analogy of a lawn dotted with dandelions: Mowing the lawn makes it look like the weeds are gone, but the roots are intact and the dandelions come back.

So it is with cancer, they say. Chemotherapy and radiation often destroy most of a tumor, but if they do not kill the stem cells, which are the cancer’s roots, it can grow back.

Cancerous stem cells are not the same as embryonic stem cells, the cells present early in development that can turn into any cell of the body. Cancerous stem cells are different. They can turn into tumor cells, and they are characterized by distinctive molecular markers.

The stem-cell hypothesis answered a longstanding question: does each cell in a tumor have the same ability to keep a cancer going? By one test the answer was no. When researchers transplanted tumor cells into a mouse that had no immune system, they found that not all of the cells could form tumors.

To take the work to the next step, researchers needed a good way to isolate the cancer-forming cells. Until recently, “the whole thing languished,” said Dr. John E. Dick, director of the stem cell biology program at the University of Toronto, because scientists did not have the molecular tools to investigate.

But when those tools emerged in the early 1990s, Dr. Dick found stem cells in acute myelogenous leukemia, a blood cancer. He reported that such cells made up just 1 percent of the leukemia cells and that those were the only ones that could form tumors in mice.

Dr. Wicha and a colleague, Dr. Michael Clarke, who is now at Stanford, reported finding cancerous stem cells in breast cancer patients.

Dr. Weinberg and others began pursuing the stem-cell hypothesis, and researchers now say they have found cancerous stem cells in cancers of the colon, head and neck, lung, prostate, brain, and pancreas.

But difficult questions persisted. One problem, critics say, is that the math does not add up. The hypothesis only makes sense if a tiny fraction of cells in a tumor are stem cells, said Dr. Bert Vogelstein, a colon cancer researcher at Johns Hopkins who said he had not made up his mind on the validity of the hypothesis.

But some studies suggest that stem cells make up 10 percent or even 40 percent or 50 percent of tumor cells, at least by the molecular-marker criterion. If a treatment shrinks a tumor by 99 percent, as is often the case, and 10 percent of the tumor was stem cells, then the stem cells too must have been susceptible, Dr. Vogelstein says.

Critics also question the research on mice. The same cells that can give rise to a tumor if transplanted into one part of a mouse may not form a tumor elsewhere.

“A lot of things affect transplants,” Dr. Kern, the Johns Hopkins researcher, said, explaining that transplanting tumors into mice did not necessarily reveal whether there were stem cells.

Cancer cells instead appear to be moving targets, changing from stem cells to non-stem cells and back again. The discovery was unexpected because it had been thought that cell development went one way — from stem cell to tumor cell — and there was no going back.

“There are a lot of unanswered questions, mind you,” Dr. Weinberg said. “Most believe cancer stem cells exist, but that doesn’t mean they exist. We believe it on the basis of rather fragmentary evidence, which I happen to believe in the aggregate is rather convincing.”

He said the moment of truth would come soon, with studies like the one planned for women with breast cancer.

The drug to be tested was developed by Merck to treat Alzheimer’s disease. It did not work on Alzheimer’s but it kills breast cancer stem cells in laboratory studies, Dr. Wicha says.

The study will start with a safety test on 30 women who have advanced breast cancer. Hopes are that it will be expanded to find out if the drug can prolong lives.

“Patient survival,” Dr. Wicha said, “is the ultimate endpoint.”

My comment: It makes a lot of sense to me. There must be a way to deal with that problem. I just can't believe we're doomed to stay in this lousy state in which we get cancer and die for absolutely no good reason. It's too much a wast of life for me. Way too much.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Nephilims today

Nephilims or the intelligent shoulder to evolution are one of my favourite subjects. I rarely discuss them directly here (for the obvious reasons), though some of the articles I put here have some hints for their existence. In this one, I'm gonna be more direct.

A little explanation on why I do believe in the nephilims (and to be clear, I do believe in the evolution also, I just think we never had the chance to evolve naturally on this planet, because of them).
So, I first met them in this book, "the 12th planet" by Zecharia Sitchin and it just clicked. I'm not very gullible, but still, it fitted in my mind. This book suggests that the human kind is a product of genetic manipulation done on the original evolving humans by aliens, the nephilims, that used the newly created humans as labour. With time they were lost in the history, but we have the following obvious presences: Sumer and Acad-the pictures of tall, white people in weird suites against the black-headed short and numerous people. Egypt and the pharaos (deified) that created absurd tombs and hided behind golden masks. Greek gods that came from the sea and had some very interesting properties-threw lightenings, controlled the weather, rode the air. Maya gods- white tall people that they mistook the spanish for. Very bad mistake for the guys, but still. And in the indian mythology- the tall, gods with lotus skins and with many bleeping and flashing devices on their hands. Of course, it all could go into the fantasy field, but as I can choose what to believe in, I choose to believe in that.

So, here are the things I found this week that speak of their presence here.

First, check the article on Chocolate on After The Pink Goat. As you can read there, ancient Mayan believed cocoa is a gift from the gods and sacrifices a chocolate dog every year. Funny enough, the same article tells us about the use of the compounds of cocoa that are still examined by the scientists.

The Pharao's Pharmacy we find a research on the medical capabilities of ancient Egypt.

According to Jackie Campbell at the KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology at the University of Manchester in the UK. Her research suggests that Asru's doctor probably consulted a handbook of remedies and prescribed something to soothe her cough, deaden the pain in her joints and perhaps even expel some of those worms (see "Cure of the mummy"). What's more, Campbell's findings indicate that Asru's doctor had more than a thousand years of pharmaceutical expertise to draw on. If she is right, the history of medicine needs rewriting. . . .

The key obstacle to establishing just what the Egyptians knew about pharmacy has been translation. While the Greeks left a vast legacy of medical texts in a familiar language, we know of only 12 from the time of the pharaohs - written on papyrus in a vanished language that scholars are still grappling with. From their descriptions of diseases and treatments, the texts have left little doubt that the ancient Egyptians had considerable medical skills, but weighing up their pharmaceutical knowledge has proved trickier: although the papyri include some 2000 prescriptions, doubts surround the identity of many of the ingredients listed. source

Ancient Egypt still holds many secrets and I'm quite sure its medicine wasn't the barbarian one we expect. Again, isn't it weird how we see ancient civilisations having surprising achievements in some fields that then get obliterated? My opinion-again nephilims are involved.

Ancient flood brought Gulf Stream to a halt

It was the biggest climate event of the last 10,000 years and caused the most dramatic change in the weather since humans began farming. And it may yet hold important lessons about climate change in the 21st century.
Just over 8000 years ago, a huge glacial lake in Canada burst, and an estimated 100,000 cubic kilometres of fresh water rushed into the North Atlantic. Researchers now say they know for sure that this catastrophic event shut down the Gulf Stream and cooled parts of the northern hemisphere by several degrees for more than a hundred years.
They say the findings show modelling studies are right to suggest that something similar could happen with equal abruptness as the planet warms under human influence. The film The Day After Tomorrow, which portrays such a scenario, may have exaggerated – but not by much.

Lake Agassiz was a giant lake that formed at the end of the last ice age as the huge Laurentide ice sheet melted . The lake occupied most of the modern-day Canadian Midwest between the Hudson Bay and the US border.
Climate historians have previously established that the lake burst suddenly, emptying down the Hudson Strait and into the Labrador Sea west of Greenland.
This is very close to a key point in the global ocean circulation system, where Atlantic water brought north on the Gulf Stream freezes, and dense, saline, leftover water plunges to the ocean floor.
Investigators have speculated that the huge slug of water from the emptying lake could have refreshed the ocean water so much that this plunging ceased, shutting down the circulation, including the Gulf Stream, which keeps countries around the North Atlantic warm.
That, they said, would explain why Greenland ice cores show temperatures in the area plummeting by up to 8 °C.
Now Helga Kleiven at the University of Bergen in Norway and colleagues claim to have found proof that this is exactly what happened. They carried out a detailed study of sediments on the floor of the Labrador Sea and found clear signs of major changes exactly when the lake emptied and the temperatures dropped.
The changes include a flood of fine sediment from the land, coinciding with a sharp drop in the amount of particles of magnetite normally carried to the area by deep ocean currents. The study also shows that the changes were abrupt, happening within a decade or so, in warm climate conditions not unlike those of today

My comment: 8000 years ago? How come all the fun things happened around this period? Oh, well, this is not a proof of any kind. It's simply interesting. Especially the reason for it. Because I didn't see a reason in the article.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

We're made of virus?

An interesting one one the viruses...

Its sour suite of symptoms is often referred to as “stomach flu,” but norovirus infection is distinct from the flu, which is caused by the influenza virus and targets not the gut but the lungs.
Well, not that distinct. Noroviruses, flu viruses, the rhino and corona viruses that cause the common cold, the herpes virus that causes the cold sore, all are active players in the wheezing ambient pleurisy of January.

As viruses, all of them are, by definition, infectious parasitic agents tiny enough to pass through a microfilter that would trap bacteria and other microbes, tiny enough to fit millions on board a single fleck of spit. All viruses have at their core compact genetic instructions for making more viruses, some of the booklets written in DNA, others in the related nucleic language of RNA. Our cells have the means to read either code, whether they ought to or not. Encasing the terse viral genomes are capsids, protective coats constructed of interlocking protein modules and decorated with some sort of docking device, a pleat of just the right shape to infiltrate a particular cell. Rhinoviruses dock onto receptors projecting from the cells of our nasal passages, while hepatitis viruses are shaped to exploit portholes on liver cells.
Their ergonomic specificity stems from the competition for a niche in a virus-packed world. Viruses very likely arose along with or possibly just before the appearance of the first living cells, nearly four billion years ago, and they have been jimmying cellular locks ever since. “Viruses are found everywhere, in every tree of life,” said Phillip A. Sharp of the Center for Cancer Research at M.I.T., “and every virus has to have a scheme.”
It’s easy to hate viruses for those freeloading schemes: nice trick, forcing me to throw up just so you can get out and mingle. How about if I name an entire class of computer problems after you? Yet viruses can seem almost tragic. Many strains, it turns out, are surprisingly delicate.
“Microbes like the anthrax bacterium can remain dormant in the soil for years” and still retain their power to kill, said Marlene Zuk, author of “Riddled With Life” and a professor of biology at the University of California, Riverside. “But viruses are really fragile, and they can’t survive outside their host for very long.” A few hours, maybe a couple of days left unclaimed on a cup or keyboard, and the average viral spore falls apart.
And they are so nakedly needy. They depend on our cells to manufacture every detail of their offspring, to print up new copies of the core instruction booklets, to fabricate the capsid jackets and to deliver those geometrically tidy newborn virions to fresh host shores. Through us, viruses can transcend mere chemistry and lay claim to biology. Many scientists view viruses, with their lack of autonomous means of metabolism or reproduction, as straddling the border between life and nonlife. But if there is ever a case to be made for the liveliness of viruses, it is when they are replicating and mutating and evolving inside us.
Yet viruses have not only taken; they have also repaid us in ways we are just beginning to tally. “Viral elements are a large part of the genetic material of almost all organisms,” said Dr. Sharp, who won a Nobel Prize for elucidating details of our genetic code. Base for nucleic base, he said, “we humans are well over 50 percent viral.”
Scientists initially dismissed the viral elements in our chromosomes as so much tagalong “junk DNA.” But more recently some researchers have proposed that higher organisms have in fact co-opted viral genes and reworked them into the source code for major biological innovations, according to Luis P. Villarreal, director of the Center for Virus Research at the University of California, Irvine.
Some genes involved in the growth of the mammalian placenta, for example, have a distinctly viral character, as do genes underlying the recombinant powers of our adaptive immune system — precisely the part that helps us fight off viruses.
In fact, it may well have been through taking genomic tips from our viral tormentors that we became so adept at keeping them at bay.
“Our bodies spontaneously recover from viruses more so than overwhelming bacterial infections,” said Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “Viral infections have shaped the nature of the human immune system, and we have adapted to mount a very effective response against most of the viruses that we confront.” Vaccines accentuate this facility, he added, which is why vaccination programs have been most successful in preventing viral diseases.

My comment: Isn't it interesting that we're so much worst in fighting bacteria than virus. The more life, the more desire to live, eh?

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Randy flies reveal how booze affects inhibitions

Fruit flies that develop homosexual tendencies when drunk may help reveal how alcohol loosens human sexual inhibitions, claim researchers.

Kyung-An Han and her colleagues at Pennsylvania State University in University Park used a voyeuristic chamber dubbed the "Flypub" to observe the influence of alcohol on the sexual behaviour of male Drosophila fruit flies.

The researchers got the flies drunk on the fumes of an ethanol-doused cotton pad placed at the base of the chamber, and filmed them using a camera held above the Flypub's transparent ceiling.

Male Drosophila will normally only court females, following them and vibrating their wings in a courtship "song", before attempting to copulate.

The first time they were exposed to alcohol, groups of male flies became noticeably intoxicated but kept themselves to themselves. But with repeated doses of alcohol on successive days, homosexual courtship became common.

From the third day onwards, the flies were forming "courtship chains" of amorous males.

Han argues that the drunken flies provide a good model to explore how alcohol affects human sexual behaviour. While the ability of alcohol to loosen human inhibitions is well known, it is difficult for scientists to study.

Han’s team used flies that were genetically modified so they cannot release dopamine in the brain unless the temperature exceeds 30 ºC, to test if the effects of alcohol were dependent on this brain chemical. Indeed they did show that the effect of alcohol on sexual behaviour depends on the presence of this neurotransmitter.

That makes sense, says Ulrike Heberlein, who studies the genetics of alcohol-induced behaviour at the University of California, San Francisco. She says dopamine is central to the neural reward circuits that evolved to motivate animals to seek food and sex, but which are also stimulated by drugs of abuse.

But do fruit flies really provide a good model for what happens in the inebriated human brain? Heberlein, who works on both flies and mice, believes they do. "What is cool is that there is such a similarity," she says. "I am surprised by the parallels."

Journal reference: PLoS ONE (DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0001391)


My comment: I find this survey very, very amusing. I asked on the site why they used male flies only and one guy replied that the males are the ones that initiate sexual behaviour, the female flies just give up to them, so maybe that could be the reason. I think it would be very interesting to do the same with female flies in the group and also only with female flies, to see what will happen. Anyway, thy study is funny. I don't know what it proves, probable that homosexuality could be a result from the environment, though as one guy pointed out, if the fly lives a month and you keep her in alcochol mix with other males for days, that's like 10% of its life. In human terms- around 6 years. If I'm (or anyone) deprived of sex and drunk for 6 years continually I doubt the gender would matter. :)

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Hospitals Look to Nuclear Tool to Fight Cancer

Marissa Roth for The New York Times

Medical centers are rushing to turn nuclear particle accelerators, formerly used only for exotic physics research, into the latest weapons against cancer.

Some experts say the push reflects the best and worst of the nation’s market-based health care system, which tends to pursue the latest, most expensive treatments — without much evidence of improved health — even as soaring costs add to the nation’s economic burden.

The machines accelerate protons to nearly the speed of light and shoot them into tumors. Scientists say proton beams are more precise than the X-rays now typically used for radiation therapy, meaning fewer side effects from stray radiation and, possibly, a higher cure rate.

But a 222-ton accelerator — and a building the size of a football field with walls up to 18-feet thick in which to house it — can cost more than $100 million. That makes a proton center, in the words of one equipment vendor, “the world’s most expensive and complex medical device.”

Until 2000, the United States had only one hospital-based proton therapy center. Now there are five, with more than a dozen others announced. Still more are under consideration.

Some experts say there is a vast need for more proton centers. But others contend that an arms race mentality has taken hold, as medical centers try to be first to take advantage of the prestige — and the profits — a proton site could provide.

Once hospitals have made such a huge investment, experts like Dr. Zietman say, doctors will be under pressure to guide patients toward proton therapy when a less costly alternative might suffice.

Similar cost concerns were expressed in the past about other new technology like M.R.I. scanners. While those have become accepted staples of medical practice, there is still concern about their overuse and the impact on medical spending.

Dr. Zietman said that while protons were vital in treating certain rare tumors, they were little better than the latest X-ray technology in dealing with prostate cancer, the common disease that many proton centers are counting on for business.

Proponents, however, are adamant that proton centers provide better treatment.

“It all comes down to the physics,” said Dr. Jerry D. Slater, the head of radiation medicine at Loma Linda University Medical Center in Southern California. “Every X-ray beam I use puts most of the dose where I don’t want it.” By contrast, he said, proton beams put most of the dose in the tumor.

Loma Linda built the nation’s first hospital-based proton center in 1990 and has treated about 13,000 patients. Its success has inspired others.

Some of the planned centers will be very close together, raising the odds of overcapacity. Two proton centers are planned for Oklahoma City, for example, and two more in the western suburbs of Chicago.

The institutions building the centers say there is a need for many more of them. The existing centers, which collectively can treat only several thousand patients a year, are turning people away. And patients who are accepted often have to spend weeks in a city far from their homes.

Proponents say that more than 800,000 Americans — representing nearly two-thirds of new cancer cases — undergo radiation therapy each year. If only 250,000 of them could benefit from protons, they would fill more than 100 centers.

X-rays, which are high-energy electromagnetic waves, pass through the body, depositing their energy all along the way, not just in the tumor. By contrast, protons — subatomic particles with a positive electrical charge — can be made to stop on the tumor and dump most of their payload there.

Tumors in or near the eye, for instance, can be eradicated by protons without destroying vision or irradiating the brain. Protons are also valuable for treating tumors in brains, necks and spines, and tumors in children, who are especially sensitive to the side effects of radiation.

When 10-year-old Brooke Bemont was about to undergo X-ray treatment for a brain tumor last summer, a doctor warned her mother, “Do not plan on your daughter ever going to Harvard.” The radiation would damage Brooke’s mental capacity, she said.

So the family, from St. Charles, Ill., spent five weeks in Boston as Brooke was treated with protons at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center. “If there was a potential to save even a little of her brain tissue, there was no question that we would do it,” said Christal Bemont, Brooke’s mother. She added that Brooke was now apparently cancer-free and doing fairly well.

Head, spine and childhood cancers are rare, though. Most people undergoing proton treatment are men with localized prostate cancer.

Proton therapy can help avoid the worst side effects, like impotence, by exposing the bladder and rectum of a prostate patient to less radiation than X-rays. The stray radiation, though, from the newest form of X-rays, called intensity-modulated radiation therapy, is already low, diminishing any advantages from proton therapy.

“There are no solid clinical data that protons are better” said Dr. Theodore S. Lawrence, the chairman of radiation oncology at the University of Michigan. “If you are going to spend a lot more money, you want to make sure the patient can detect an improvement, not just a theoretical improvement.”

An economic analysis by researchers at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia found that proton treatment would be cost-effective for only a small subset of prostate cancer patients.

Lack of data aside, men are flocking to proton treatment.

“I’m 67 years old, and the last thing I want to do is wear a diaper for the rest of my life,” said Pete Freeman of Spokane, Wash., who was undergoing treatment at Loma Linda.

At Loma Linda, prostate cancer treatment requires about two months of daily sessions. The actual irradiation, which the patient does not feel, takes only about a minute. Most men with early prostate cancer have no symptoms from their disease and many say the treatment has few immediate side effects, other than fatigue and an urgency to urinate.

“We go have our treatments, and we go out and play golf,” said Harold J. Phillips, an accountant from Tacoma who was being treated recently at Loma Linda.

Doctors are also learning how to use protons to treat lung and breast cancer. And over time, doctors say, costs should come down as the technology improves and it becomes more routine to build and operate proton centers. One company is trying to develop a $20 million proton system and has received orders from several hospitals.

On the horizon is therapy using beams of carbon ions, which are said to be even more powerful in killing tumors. Touro University says it will build a combined proton and carbon therapy center outside San Francisco, to open as early as 2011. The Mayo Clinic is also seriously considering one. Such centers will cost even more — as much as $300 million.
full article:NY Times

My comment: I like the comparison with MRI technology. It's normal to be little pessimist on a new and more expensive treatment, but whether we have to have it-hell, yeah! Being from a country where medical care is free(or close to it) I dislike all those money talks. It's not important how costly something it is, it's important to save lives. The internal politics of the hospitals is their own problem, but human lives are invaluable. And as the author mentions- with time and use, cost will decrease, it's just the way it always does. Besides, every use of "hard" physics in the society must be greeted. Science can make our society better. Even if sometimes, it's hard to see it immediately.

Friday, 4 January 2008

On the high-end of the technology-robots and self-healing composite

Mystery mechanism heals high-tech composite

Engineers have high hopes for composite materials that can repair small cracks in their structure. "When you have any damage induced by fatigue, there's usually nothing you can do except wait for catastrophic failure," says Jeffrey Moore, who led the research at the University of , Urbana, US.

Self-healing composites should change that. These materials contain capsules of a liquid adhesive which leaks out and repairs tiny cracks when they appear. (Watch a video showing how these materials might repair helicopter blades. Animation by the Beckman Institute Imaging Technology Group)

However, the adhesives usually require some kind of post-processing to make them set, such as curing with UV light or heating to high temperatures. What engineers would prefer, though, is a material that healed itself without any extra intervention.

In 2001, Moore's group developed just such a material that relied on the mixing of two different chemicals that set like a two-part epoxy.

The material contains two types of capsule: one containing a ring hydrocarbon called dicyclopentadiene and the other containing a ruthenium solvent that acts as a catalyst, causing the rings to break open and polymerise. Any crack causes the chemicals to mix and set, bonding the crack faces together.

But ruthenium is rare and that makes it impractical for most applications, so his team set to work looking for an alternative.

To their surprise, it worked almost as well. Moore says the solvent was probably dissolving the composite material, allowing it to mix and bond again, although he concedes the exact mechanism remains a mystery.

The group then tested another solvent, using a chemical called chlorobenzene. After fracture and self-healing, the composites containing chlorobenzene recovered up to 100% of their original strength – as good as new.

And, although toxic, chlorobenzene is a hundred times cheaper than ruthenium and is much more easily available.

However, Bond warns that the toxicity of chlorobenzene is likely to make the idea less industrially attractive. Moore's team, meanwhile, is testing a number of less toxic, more biodegradable solvents to do the same job.

Journal reference: Macromolecules (DOI: 10.1021/ma701992z)


Flexible-jointed robot is no pushover

If robots are going to work alongside humans, then they will need to stand up to accidental bumps and shoves, not to mention the occasional deliberate kick. (lol, on the deliberate kick )

That is why researchers in Japan have developed software that allows a life-size humanoid robot to stay on its feet no matter where on its body it is pushed. Theirs is the first full-size humanoid to show such steadiness – others of similar size inevitably topple over when nudged in the right spot. In experiments, the robot was subjected to repeated pushes. A virtual robot received much harder shoves.

Rebalancing should allow humans to interact more naturally with robots, letting them act as a physical guide, for example. If a controller tries to show other full-size humanoids how to perform a task by moving its limbs, there is a strong chance the thing will fall over.

The robot, made by US firm Sarcos and then developed by researchers at the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology in Japan, suffers no such unsteadiness, it can easily rebalance when its arms are pulled into different positions.

The robot's balancing ability depends on its joints. For one thing they are never kept rigid, even when standing still, meaning they yield slightly when the robot is pushed.

Force sensors within each joint also work out the position and velocity of the robot's centre mass as it moves around. Control software rapidly figures out what forces the robot's feet need to exert on the ground to bring it back into balance, and tells the joints how to act.

As well as keeping the robot steady as it moves itself around, the technique lets it readjust to sudden, external forces.

In cases when the robot's joints cannot quickly swing its centre of mass back into place, it ends up staggering – a bit like a boxer after a heavy punch. This constitutes several rounds of rebalancing, with each cycle shifting the centre of mass closer to its original balance point.

Some other humanoid robots rebalance themselves by measuring changes to the position of each joint. This requires very accurate knowledge of the magnitude of an applied shove, says ATR researcher Sang-Ho Hyon, which is difficult to achieve without covering the whole robot with force sensors.

Most robots lack such sensors, and so use a relatively simple trick to rebalance themselves. For example, Honda's ASIMO, shifts its hip joint in order to stay steady, which only works in some cases.

"This team is currently ahead of the pack in terms of having it work on a full robot," Pratt told New Scientist. "Making the robot more compliant instead of stiff plays a big part in that," he says, and the ability to measure and control the torque force at every joint is also crucial.

Pratt and colleagues are working on their own control strategy, which involves rebalancing with a single step. "Imagine you are crossing a pond and you can only step to one rock to rebalance," he says. The software will be tested next year after the team finishes building a suitable humanoid.

Journal reference: IEEE Transactions on Robotics (vol 23, p884)


Androids in pain and breast-feeding baby bots

Japan's premier robot event offers visitors the chance to find a high-tech ping-pong opponent, see an android dental patient twitch in pain, and to nurse baby robots in the same afternoon.

Showcasing around 1000 industrial and service robots, the International Robot Exhibition in Tokyo confirmed Japan's enthusiasm for robots, many of which manufacturers hope to adapt to the needs of an ageing population.

Employees of Yamazaki Educational Systems, for example, were busy nursing four baby robots who cried and burped enthusiastically. The $620 robots are meant to help teach soon-to-be parents how to care for infants.

"Opportunities to see kids in society are decreasing," says company representative Kaoru Nukui, referring to the sharp fall-off in births in Japan that means many families have only one child.

"The way students would touch a baby would be completely different once they have looked, touched, and experienced this 'baby'," he adds, before demonstrating a nipple-like sensor that can be used to "breast feed" each baby.

Nearby, a female android on a dentist's chair also drew the crowds. Simroid, a $635,000 android, was developed by Japanese company Kokoro as a dummy patient for dental students. See a video of Simroid in action here.

"That's painful!" Simroid says, twitching and blinking when a student pressed her teeth too hard with a tool. Her chest also rose and fell as if she was breathing.


My comment: I think the key to involve the technology all those institutes develop is to make it useful and practical. And here we have 3 examples for very practical devices. The problem with robots is that they are too far from a normal human environment-here we saw people are succeeding to change that. And the self-healing composite is absolute yayness. It's simply awesome. I guess there is much more to be done until we see it in everyday use, but just think how many catastrophes can be avoided with it. That's what this blog is! To report such awesome discoveries!