Sit ‘n Spit: NIH spearheads salivary diagnostics research

The National Institutes of Health is partnering research on new saliva tests offering multiple and rapid analysis of salivary secretions for use at home and in the dentist’s office, calling for “more sensitive assays” useful in fighting terrorism or war. Oral fluids recently have shown “great diagnostic potential” in a variety of clinical situations, for detection of HIV and monitoring drug use (see the Spectrum Series report on saliva). But progress on this front hasn’t always kept pace with expectations. Now, says the NIH, the technology is ripe and the time at hand for simultaneous multi-analyte detection of markers for disease and exposure to environmental, occupational or abusive substances including agents dispersed by bioterrorists.

Scientists Use Light to Determine Structure of Heterogeneous Surfaces

Scientists have refined a technique that uses very intense light to determine the structure of chemically heterogeneous surfaces with a submillimeter resolution. The description of the technique and its application to the study of varying densities of surface-bound molecules – each about one thousand times smaller than the diameter of a human hair – appears as the cover story of the January 13, 2003, issue of Applied Physics Letters. “Surfaces with gradually varying structures are being investigated by academia and industry for their potential uses in creating cleaner energy sources, designing chemical and biological sensors, and creating molecular patterns,” said Jan Genzer, a chemical engineer at North Carolina State University in Raleigh and the lead author of the study. “By determining the chemical structure of surfaces covered with films as thin as a few billionths of a meter, scientists and engineers can improve their properties and performance.”

Baby milk manufacturers are violating international marketing code

Manufacturers of formula milk are violating the international code of marketing of breast milk substitutes in west Africa, say researchers in this week’s BMJ. Two survey teams monitored compliance with the code, adopted by the World Health Assembly in 1981 to ensure the proper use of breast milk substitutes. The study involved health facilities, sales outlets, distribution points, and the news media in Togo (a country without legislation on the marketing of breast milk substitutes) and Burkina Faso (which has such legislation).

Smart surface switches properties reversibly

MIT engineers and colleagues from the University of California are reporting a unique design of a “smart surface” that can reversibly switch properties in response to an external stimulus. The work paves the way for systems that could, for example, release or absorb cells and chemicals from surfaces on demand. In the Jan. 17 issue of Science, the researchers describe an example of their new approach in which they engineered a surface that can change from water-attracting to water-repelling with the application of a weak electric field. Switch the electrical potential of that field from positive to negative and the surface reverts to its initial affinity for water.

Bringing bandwidth to the battlefield

Anyone who does information technology will tell you that integrating different software packages is notoriously tough–there are lots of unintended consequences when you try to run different applications together–and even commodity hardware like PCs can break. If you’re in an ordinary workplace, you call the “help desk.” But what if you’re a combat Sailor or a Marine in the front lines? How can Navy warships and Marine riflemen use the American information advantage in the wet, mucky, and dangerous arena that is their workplace?

NASA, universities to launch nanoelectronics institute

In an effort to help create spacecraft that can think, NASA and a group of six colleges led by Purdue University today are meeting in West Lafayette, Ind., to officially launch the NASA Institute for Nanoelectronics and Computing. Institute scientists and engineers will collaborate to work on methods to make electronics measured in nanometers — much smaller than today’s components. A nanometer is roughly 100,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. Purdue scientists will work with researchers at Northwestern, Cornell and Yale universities, the University of Florida and the University of California at San Diego.

Growing Human Antibodies in Algae is Inexpensive, Fast

A group of scientists at The Scripps Research Institute have used algae to express an antibody that targets herpes virus, describing the work in an upcoming issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This antibody could potentially be an ingredient in an anti-herpes topical cream or other anti- herpes treatments, but more importantly the algae expression technology that the TSRI team used could facilitate production of any number of human antibodies and other proteins on a massive scale.

Human lymph disease could tail off thanks to gecko

Many lizards shed their tails, and then regrow them, as a survival mechanism – and now researchers from the University of Adelaide in Australia believe understanding this act could also help them treat a lymphatic condition in humans. The University of Adelaide research team have had their findings summarised in the latest edition of New Scientist. They are examining how a lizard’s lymphatic network responds when it loses its tail, and how this could be applied to the human condition of lymphoedema (the swelling of limbs due to the body’s lymphatic system being impaired). Secondary lymphoedema is a common side effect associated with mastectomies and other similar forms of radical surgery.

Tiny Cell-Based Chemical Detectors Have Protection Potential

A highly sensitive, inexpensive “lab-on-a-chip” that provides warning within seconds of even trace amounts of toxic chemicals in water was designed and demonstrated recently by National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) scientists and collaborators. The prototype sensor system monitors the natural response of bacterial cells bound within the microscopic channels of a plastic microfluidics device — a miniaturized chemical and biochemical analysis system. In the presence of certain chemicals, the cells eject large amounts of potassium, which is detected with an optical sensor that changes color. The prototype was demonstrated as part of an early warning system for industrial pollutants that interfere with sewage treatment, but it also has potential homeland security applications.

Report calls for immediate creation of marine reserves throughout U.S.

A network of fully protected reserves should be established immediately in all major marine habitats of the coastal United States, according to a sweeping new report on the future of America’s oceans. “The term ‘marine reserve’ refers to an area in which no extractive use of any biological or mineral resource is allowed,” said Stephen R. Palumbi, a professor of biological sciences at Stanford University who authored the January report. “That means all commercial and recreational fishing, as well as oil and gas exploration, would be off limits.”

Human heart tissue generated from embryonic stem cells

Human heart tissue has for the first time been created in the laboratory. Generated from embryonic stem cells, the tissue could be used for testing and creating new drugs, for genetic studies, for tissue engineering and for studying the effects of various stresses on the heart. “Everyone imagines the possibilities of embryonic stem cells in repairing broken hearts, but stem cell technology offers even more — and it offers it much earlier,” said Dr. Lior Gepstein of the Technion Faculty of Medicine who headed the study. “Currently, we test drugs on animals, but we would get more reliable results if we tested them on the actual human tissues.”