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ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: Mon Jul 03 16:42:03 EDT 2006

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News Items in this Edition

Toward a three-in-one early diagnostic test for cancer

In an advance toward clinical use of a potential super-sensitive early diagnostic test for cancer, scientists are reporting the first evidence that the “bio-barcode assay” can detect minuscule levels of several cancer biomarkers at the same time. Chad A. Mirkin and colleagues describe using the assay to detect biomarkers for prostate specific antigen (PSA, a prostate cancer biomarker), human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG, a testicular cancer marker) and alpha-fetoprotein (AFP, a liver cancer marker). Their study is scheduled for the July 5 issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

The assay is a non-enzymatic way of detecting protein disease targets with the sensitivity of a technique such as the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). The barcode method also allows detection of DNA and protein targets all on one platform.

“The results presented here validate the multiplexing capabilities of the barcode method and open new avenues for developing highly selective panel assays for early detection of a wide range of diseases,” the researchers state. Two of the biomarkers ─ AFP and HCG ─ also are used in screening for Down's syndrome. Although multiplexing was the focus of this work, previous work has demonstrated the bio-barcode's ability to detect a mere handful of molecules thus offering the prospect for earlier detection of those congenital diseases and many forms of cancer, the researchers add.

Vintage 1940s technology nets a Holy Grail of science

In a classic, back-to-the-future example of old science rediscovered, researchers have prepared one version of an artificial lotus leaf ─ the Holy Grail of scientists questing for ultra water repellent surfaces ─ using two cheap polyester textiles and vintage 1945 water repellency technology. The lotus is revered as the symbol of purity in some Asian religions because of its self-cleansing nature. Emerging from muddy waters, the sacred Lotus’s leaves unfold untouched by the pollution.

An extreme water repelling (hydrophobic) surface accounts for the effect. Materials scientists and engineers have tried to mimic this “lotus effect” for waterproof garments and other applications for years. The efforts usually involve costly materials and complex, time-consuming processes for applying surface coatings.

In a report scheduled for the July 4 issue of the ACS journal Langmuir, Thomas J. McCarthy and Lichao Gao reproach those researchers for ignoring scientific know-how first reported in the 1940s. “We stress that ‘superhydrophobicity’, as it is now called, was well-known in the 1940s, particularly by the textile industry and that imparting water repellent properties to textiles is an established and seldom referenced technology. To illustrate the point, McCarthy and Gao created the artificial lotus leaf by dipping scraps of polyester into a chemical solution first described 60 years ago.

Potential new medicines from a toxic lake

A toxic lake in Butte, Montana, is living up to expectations hinted at by previous research that its poison-laden water could become the source of life-saving new medications. Chemists are reporting discovery of a substance in Berkeley Pit Lake that shows activity against ovarian cancer cell lines used to screen chemicals for anti-cancer action.

Andrea A. Stierle, Donald B. Stierle and Kal Kelly describe the substance, which they named berkelic acid, in the July 7 edition of the ACS Journal of Organic Chemistry. It is among several unusual compounds that scientists have discovered in the abandoned open-pit copper mine.

More than a mile wide and 1,800 feet deep, Montana’s Berkeley Pit Lake is part of the nation's biggest Superfund site and contains more than 30 billion gallons of acidic, metal-contaminated water. Scientists once believed that nothing could live in such a hostile environment. However, dozens of extremophiles ─ fungi, bacteria and other microbes adapted to harsh environments ─ have been found. A species of Penicillium fungi, found living in surface waters of the pit, produces berkelic acid.

A recipe for growing nano-scale sea creatures

It may look like a sea urchin, but the new nanostructure scheduled for unveiling in the July 11 issue of the ACS journal, Chemistry of Materials, is so small that a dozen would fit onto a space the width of a human hair. Vladimir Lavayen and colleagues describe a simple process for making the spiny nanostructure, which they term a “nano-urchin.”

The structures actually are “grown” from vanadium oxide layers in a process that takes seven days. Nano-urchins are the densest nanostructures produced so far in this red-hot new field of science. “Our most recent results have shown that other shapes can also be obtained from these materials, resembling other sea-related creatures including sea stars, sea sponges and so on,” said Lavayen. “This is why we like to use the analogy to sea animals and hence the term ‘nano-urchin’.”

Nano-urchins are more than a curiosity. Many of the unusual chemical, physical, mechanical, electrical and optical properties of nanostructures depend on size and symmetry. The pointed spines offer many possibilities for functionalizing, or custom-tailoring, nano-urchins for specific applications, the researchers said.

New techniques for raising the red flag for drug toxicity

Drug researchers are developing and refining a range of advanced techniques to predict drug toxicity and understand how such effects occur, according to an article scheduled for the July 3 issue of Chemical & Engineering News. Written by Stu Borman, the article explains that unexpected drug toxicity is a major pitfall in the costly, time-consuming process of moving new drugs from lab to pharmacy shelves.

In most instances, toxic effects appear during drug development. In a few notable instances, however, toxicity surfaces after a drug has gone into widespread clinical use. The arthritis drug, Vioxx, withdrawn from the market, is one example cited in the article.

Borman describes tools such as toxicogenomics and metabonomics, in which studies on gene expression or body fluids can identify biomarkers of drug toxicity and probe the underlying processes by which drugs cause undesired effects. A goal for the field is to develop an accurate and inexpensive general screening test for drug toxicity.

Journalists’ Resources

  • Green bullets? Green sneakers?
    How about the U. S. debut of a green insect repellent? Tune into the ACS News Service’s new weblog for those and other news-grabbers from the 10th annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference, held last week in Washington, DC.

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232nd ACS National Meeting in San Francisco

September 10-14 is one of the year’s biggest and most influential scientific conferences – the 232nd ACS national meeting in beautiful San Francisco.

The American Chemical Society – the world’s largest scientific society – is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.