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ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: Wed Oct 11 16:42:03 EDT 2006

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News Items in this Edition

Development of new polymer delivery vehicles for gene therapy

MIT scientists are reporting synthesis and laboratory tests of a promising new group of degradable polymer delivery vehicles for gene therapy. The polymers are improved versions of materials first described in 2000 that deliver genes efficiently to specific cells.

The lack of a safe, efficient delivery system for DNA has been a major barrier to clinical use of gene therapy. Viruses and various polymer materials have been used in efforts to insert therapeutic genes into diseased cells. However, those systems have disadvantages. Some of the polymer materials, for instance, insert genes into only a small percentage of cells and do not degrade in the body.

Robert Langer and colleagues used laboratory experiments to show that the polymers can deliver DNA to human liver cancer cells. Their report is scheduled for the current (Oct. 15) issue of the weekly Journal of the American Chemical Society.

One polymer has potential for carrying genes to the supply of tiny blood vessels that enables cancer cells to grow and spread. “We are currently testing the targeting effects of this polymer on endothelial cells, and it is envisioned that this delivery system could permit localization and transfection of the tumor vasculature for cancer therapies,” the report states.

New microscope reveals deadly secret life of malaria parasites inside human cells

Scientists at Georgetown University are describing the first use of a new microscope technology to capture images of live malaria parasites inside human red blood cells. They say the advance could be important in efforts to understand the malaria parasite’s deadly tendency to become resistant to anti-malaria drugs and in developing new drugs and vaccines for the disease.

Malaria kills about one million people worldwide each year. About 90 percent are in Africa and 70 percent are children under the age of five.

Georgetown University researcher Paul D. Roepe and colleagues explain that the malaria parasite’s unusual biology makes it difficult to visualize these organisms while they are alive and active inside human cells. In order to overcome the limitations of existing imaging techniques, the researchers modified a spinning disk confocal microscope (SDCM).

They describe the SDCM and its initial uses in two papers scheduled for publication in the current (Oct. 17) issue of the weekly ACS journal, Biochemistry. The modified SDCM captured unprecedented images of live malaria parasites, which Roepe and colleagues publish for the first time in one of the papers.

Identifying a new generation of byproducts from water disinfection

California scientists have identified a “new generation” of by-products of the disinfection processes used to purify drinking water at municipal water treatment plants. Such compounds, which wind up in drinking water, are termed disinfection byproducts (DBPs). The U. S. Environmental Protection Agency currently regulates some as potential health risks.

Stuart W. Krasner and colleagues tested water from 12 treatment plants specifically chosen for waters high in DBP precursors and natural organic matter in order to facilitate detection of DBPs. They tested the water for levels of regulated DBPs and 50 unregulated DBPs regarded as posing the greatest health risks. Their report is scheduled for the Dec. 1 issue of the semi-monthly ACS journal, Environmental Science & Technology.

Some treatment plants have switched from chlorine to alternative disinfectants such as ozone, chlorine dioxide and chloramines to minimize formation of DBPs. The alternative disinfectants minimized formation of some regulated DBPs. However, researchers found higher levels of other regulated and unregulated DBPs in water from plants using alternative disinfectants.

The researchers also found 28 previously unreported DBPs. Toxicity studies are needed to help determine the health implications of these emerging DBPs, researchers indicated.

Organic farming has little, if any, effect on nutritional content of wheat

Organically grown wheat may have different labeling and a higher price in stores, but it contains essentially the same profile of amino acids, sugars and other metabolic substances as wheat grown with conventional farming. That’s the conclusion of a German study, which produced perhaps the most comprehensive metabolic profile of wheat from organic and conventional agriculture.

Christian Zorb and colleagues did the research, scheduled for publication in the Oct. 18 issue of the biweekly ACS Journal of Agricultural & Food Chemistry. They were careful to use an approach that avoided some of the shortcomings of past studies.

“The statistical analysis of the data shows that the metabolic status of the wheat grain from organic and mineralic farming did not differ in concentrations of 44 metabolites,” they report. “This result indicated no impact or a small impact of the different farming systems. In consequence, we did not detect extreme differences in metabolite composition and quality of wheat grains.”

Zorb and colleagues said organic agriculture is at least an alternative to conventional agriculture, noting that it uses less fertilizer and no herbicides or pesticides, while providing the same nutritional quality.

What to do supplants why in shifting climate change debate

As the effects of global climate change becomes more visible and its threat becomes firmly etched in the public’s mind, why it is happening is becoming a less important scientific question than what can be done about it, according to an article scheduled for publication in the Oct. 16 issue of Chemical & Engineering News, the ACS’s weekly newsmagazine.

Reporting on the recent Washington Summit on Climate Stabilization, senior editor Bette Hileman found the tone of the climate debate is shifting almost as rapidly as glaciers are melting in Greenland. Amid discussion of the latest evidence that climate change may be accelerating, government and business leaders participating in the conference also outlined measures they have taken to reduce greenhouse gases ― the major cause of rapid climate change ― and religious and campus groups described efforts to mobilize individuals to take concrete steps to reduce their impact on the atmosphere.

While noting that there are substantial signs that the U.S. business community is moving to help solve the problem, Crispin Tickell, former British ambassador to the United Nations warned, “We are now at a point where mitigation will not solve all the problems. Some adaptation to climate change will be necessary.”

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