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ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: Mon Jun 05 16:42:03 EDT 2006

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News Items in this Edition

Reverse strategy for early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer

A new approach to an imaging method for the early visualization of pancreatic cancer shows promise for avoiding problems that have stymied scientists in the past, Harvard Medical School researchers are reporting.

Development of an imaging method for the early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer has been difficult, in part, because many of the receptors found in abundance on tumors are found on normal pancreatic cells and cannot be used to image pancreatic cancer.

Lee Josephson and colleagues have developed and tested an imaging technique based on the opposite strategy ─ targeting magneto/fluorescent nanoparticles to a receptor found on normal pancreatic cells but missing on pancreatic tumors. Nanoparticles darken MR images of the normal pancreas, causing the tumor, which does not bind the particles, to appear brighter. Their research is scheduled for publication in the July 19 issue of Bioconjugate Chemistry.

Late diagnosis is a major reason why pancreatic cancer, the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the United States, is so difficult to treat. There are few specific early symptoms, and most of the 32,000 annual cases are diagnosed when the disease is advanced. The average survival time is barely 6 months.

Consumer’s delight: A practical way to make round salt

In what may be a boon to consumers and industry, a group of chemists in India is reporting the first practical method for making round salt. Round salt may sound like a candidate for science's list of wacky and absurd inventions. However, its debut represents a dream come true for researchers who have strived for years to smooth the shape of common salt. Likewise for anyone who knows the frustration of coping with a saltshaker in humid summer weather.

Table salt normally exists in those familiar cube-shaped crystals. Pushpito K. Ghosh, P. Dastidar and colleagues describe a way of producing large quantities of salt in a nearly round, or spherical, form. Their research is scheduled for publication in the July 5 issue of Crystal Growth & Design.

Round salt's big advantage is the ability to flow freely, without caking. Humid summer weather often frustrates diners, as table salt cakes and sticks inside saltshakers. Round salt may ease that frustration.

A bigger market may be industries that store and use sodium chloride by the ton to make everything from bulk chemicals to dyes, fertilizers, paper and pharmaceuticals. For these companies, non-caking salt can be a boon that keeps the sodium chloride flowing freely onto the production line.

The research group, from the Central Salt & Marine Chemicals Research Institute in Bhavnagar, India, is developing the new free-flowing table salt in collaboration with a major food company in India.

Reduced risk of plutonium escaping from nuclear waste sites

Michael F. Rubner, Robert Cohen and colleagues at the Massachusetts If plutonium escapes from underground repositories like the one proposed for Yucca Mountain in Nevada, there is substantially less risk that it would contaminate underground water supplies than previously thought, according to a study scheduled for the June 15 issue of Environmental Science & Technology.

Brian A. Powell, of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, and a group of colleagues have found that plutonium interacts with manganese minerals present in many soils. The interaction changes plutonium into a form that is less mobile than previously expected, and less likely to migrate into groundwater beneath a repository or disposal site.

Yucca Mountain has been in the news because future growth of commercial nuclear power depends on finding ways to deal with tons of highly radioactive spent fuel that must be regularly removed from reactors. However, there have been persistent concerns about possible leakage and contamination of groundwater used for drinking and irrigation.

“Overall, this research lends itself to a new conceptual model describing plutonium geochemistry that can be used to more accurately predict the risk associated with the disposal of plutonium-containing waste,” the researchers said.

Branching out to a new delivery system for nitric oxide

Nitric oxide’s unmasking as a medical marvel in the 1990s has engendered an ongoing search for a practical way of storing and releasing NO in a controlled fashion in the body. A suitable packaging system could enable scientists to apply NO’s far-ranging effects more broadly in medicine. Those effects go way beyond the genitals (exploited in Viagra and other erectile dysfunction drugs), to regulate function of the immune system, brain, lungs, liver, kidneys, stomach, intestines and other organs.

Mark H. Schoenfisch and Nathan A. Stasko at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill have identified a promising NO delivery technology based on dendrimers. Dendrimers are big, tree-like molecules with tendrils that branch out from a central core. The unique architecture of dendrimers and dendritic polymers invites applications in new pharmaceuticals and diagnostic products.

Schoenfisch and Stasko report preparation of the first nitric oxide-releasing dendrimer in an article scheduled for publication June 14 in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. Compared to small molecule NO donor prodrugs being eyed for pharmaceutical use, dendrimer scaffolds offer distinct advantages for the storage and controlled delivery of NO. Their dendrimers, for instance, are capable of releasing large quantities of NO for extended periods and have the future ability to be multi-functionalized to target NO-release to cancer cells or other tissue specific sites elsewhere in the body.

Unforeseen consequences of sweeping new White House risk assessment proposal

A well-intended White House plan to introduce a standardized risk assessment process for all federal agencies could have far-ranging negative consequences, according to an article scheduled for the June 5 issue of Chemical & Engineering News.

The plan, prepared by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), is intended to set minimum standards for the scientific quality of agency assessments of risks to human health, safety or the environment. It would apply to risk assessments involving everything from the approval of new drugs to flights of the space shuttle.

Written by Cheryl Hogue, the article describes concerns expressed at the first public meeting of a National Research Council committee convened to review the OMB plan. OMB’s proposed guidelines could, for instance:

  • Deter the U. S. Food and Drug Administration from promptly warning the public about serious side effects of a drug.
  • Hamper the U. S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s ability to issue informational bulletins about potential workplace hazards.
  • Force NASA to ditch years of work spent in developing risk assessment procedures that are highly specific to space missions.
  • OMB likely will revise the risk assessment guidelines in light of these and other concerns, Hogue reports.

Journalists’ Resources

  • Biotechnology
    With biotechnology one of the hottest topics in science, don’t miss a once-a-year opportunity for spot news, features and background galore. It is the third annual World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioprocessing July 11-14 at the Toronto Westin Harbour Castle Hotel. The conference will attract top experts from around the globe in industrial biotechnology, chemical and agricultural industries as well as government officials and academics to explore how biological processes can replace chemical processes in manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, biofuels and other energy production, pulp and paper, and add value to industries converting to biotech processes.
  • Hosts include the Biotechnology Industry Organization, American Chemical Society, National Agricultural Biotechnology Council, Agri-Food Innovation Forum, Chemical Institute of Canada, BIOTECanada and EuropaBIO.
  • Advance media registration is now available online until June 30 at http://www.bio.org/worldcongress.

Mark Your Calendars

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.