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ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: Wed Oct 31 16:42:03 EDT 2007

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News Items in this Edition

New fluorescent label sheds light on brain diseases

In an advance that may speed progress toward new diagnostic tests for Alzheimer's disease (AD) and Parkinson's disease (AD), scientists in New York are reporting development of the first direct method for measuring a key enzyme implicated in both of those chronic brain disorders. The study is scheduled for the Nov. 21 issue of ACS' Journal of the American Chemical Society, a weekly publication.

Dalibor Sames and Mary K. Froemming point out that the enzyme — 17B-HSD10 — has stirred excitement among researchers as a potential biomarker that could be used to diagnose AD and PD and chronicle the effectiveness of treatments. Other studies have found that PD patients have reduced levels of the enzyme, while increased levels seem to protect laboratory mice from the disease. 17B-HSD10 also attaches to the abnormal brain protein in AD, perhaps contributing to the loss of brain cells. "Despite the importance of this emerging physiological and pathological marker, there are no agents for direct imaging of 17B-HSD10 in living cells and tissues," the report states.

In the new study, researchers describe development of a compound with all the required properties for serving as such an agent. In laboratory tests on human cells, they showed that the new imaging agent lit up in the presence of 17B-HSD10 to permit non-invasive, real-time monitoring of the enzyme's activity. "This new imaging agent will be used to elucidate the biological functions of this important physiological marker," the study reported.

Government plan to revive "Dead Zone" in Gulf of Mexico could backfire

The potential revision to the government's approach for rejuvenating a huge "Dead Zone" in the Gulf of Mexico is potentially dangerous and should be reconsidered, scientists in Michigan are reporting in a study scheduled for the Dec. 1 issue of ACS' Environmental Science & Technology, a semi-monthly journal.

In the study, Donald Scavia and Kristina A. Donnelly point out that the Gulf of Mexico has one of the largest hypoxic, or oxygen-depleted, areas in the world. Fish and plants in this 6,000 square mile "Dead Zone" have been devastated, leaving the waters incapable of sustaining many types of aquatic life. In response, an intergovernmental task force gave the U. S. Congress and the President a so-called Hypoxia Action Plan in 2001, which aimed to reduce the size of the Dead Zone. That original plan called for reducing nitrogen loads to the Gulf, but recent assessments are considering phosphorous as the limiting factor in controlling the algae blooms that deplete oxygen from the Gulf water, and focusing on reducing sewage discharges and other inputs of phosphorous.

The new study concluded that pollution control efforts must continue to focus on nitrogen even if phosphorus controls are added. It found that a phosphorus-only approach is potentially dangerous. Using mathematical model estimates and real-world data from other hypoxia reduction experiences in North Carolina and Hong Kong waters, the researchers suggest that a phosphorous-only approach could possibly enlarge the Dead Zone, extending it into the western portion of the Gulf. "The prudent approach would be to address both nitrogen and phosphorous," the researchers said.

New insights into how natural antioxidants fight fat

Scientists in Taiwan are reporting new insights into why diets rich in fruits and vegetables reduce the risk of obesity. Their study, scheduled for the Oct. 17 (current) issue of ACS' Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a bi-weekly publication, focuses on healthful natural antioxidant compounds called flavonoids and phenolic acids.

In the study, Gow-Chin Yen and Chin-Lin Hsu point out that large amounts of those compounds occur in fruits, vegetables, nuts and plant-based beverages such as coffee, tea, and wine. Scientists long have known that flavonoids and phenolic acids have beneficial health effects in reducing the risk of heart attacks, cancer, obesity, and other disorders. However, there has been uncertainty about exactly how these compounds affect adipocytes, or fat cells.

The researchers studied how 15 phenolic acids and six flavonoids affected fat cells in laboratory cultures of mouse cells. Their results showed that fat cells exposed to certain antioxidants had lower levels of an enzyme that forms triglycerides and accumulated lower levels of triglycerides — fatty materials which at high levels increase the risk of heart disease. The findings suggest that these compounds could be effective in improving the symptoms of metabolic syndrome, a cluster of symptoms like obesity and high blood sugar that increase the risk of heart disease, the researchers said.

A faster, more sensitive method for detecting anthrax

Amid continuing concerns that anthrax might be used as a bioterrorism weapon, government researchers report development of a faster, more sensitive blood test for detecting the deadly toxins produced by the anthrax bacterium, Bacillus anthracis. The test produces results in only 4 hours and could save lives by allowing earlier detection of infection, they say. Their study is scheduled for publication in the Nov. 22 issue of ACS' Analytical Chemistry, a semi-monthly journal.

Standard identification of anthrax (Bacillus anthracis) infection relies on a combination of time-consuming steps, including cell culture and gene amplification, which can take several days to provide a diagnosis and have limitations for detecting early stages of infection. Early diagnosis is critical for effective treatment of pulmonary or inhalation anthrax, the most deadly form.

John R. Barr and colleagues in a multi-center team effort used a form of mass spectrometry to detect the presence of 'lethal factor,' the key toxin produced by the anthrax bug, in the blood of monkeys with inhalation anthrax. The method took only four hours to identify the toxin and detected it at very low levels, demonstrating its potential for early detection of infection, the researchers say. The new method also shows promise as a research tool for providing a better understanding of the anthrax infection cycle and for evaluating the effectiveness of different therapies and methods to fight infections.

Medical plastics industry on the rebound

In the wake of Dow Corning's bankrupting experience with silicone gel breast implants, the medical plastics industry is now undergoing a renaissance. Medical plastics are a $1 billion a year market and demand is growing at 10 to 20 percent a year. Driving this growth are the demands of an aging population for implantable medical devices, such as artificial hips and knees, according to an article scheduled for the November 5 issue of Chemical & Engineering News, ACS' weekly newsmagazine.

The demand continues to rise for devices incorporating plastics such as artery-opening stents, heart pacemakers, and other products that improve quality of life for an aging population. To meet this growing need, medical device makers are creating new types of implants with novel properties, writes C&EN senior correspondent Marc S. Reisch. New legal protections for plastic material makers that weren't available a decade ago also fuel the industry's growth, he notes.

In the article, Reisch interviews both new and established companies about the current state of the medical plastics industry. He finds that some larger companies are still reluctant to enter the medical device market because of its potential legal risks, while some smaller companies are aggressively forging ahead to tap into its promises. Others see great opportunities in providing the raw materials for making the devices without becoming directly involved in their manufacture. Nevertheless, the medical plastics industry appears to be on a big rebound.

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Journalists’ Resources

ACS co-hosts conference on industrial biotechnology and bioenergy Nov. 14-16, 2007 in Honolulu, Hawaii Reporters are invited to register for the Pacific Rim Summit on Industrial Biotechnology & Bioenergy, which takes place Nov. 14-16, 2007, at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort in Honolulu. The Summit will focus on latest cutting-edge developments in industrial biotechnology, including ethanol and cellulosic ethanol, bio-butanol and other advanced bioenergy production, biobased products and renewable chemicals, food ingredients, nanotechnology, and marine biotechnology and bioprospecting. The conference is co-hosted by the American Chemical Society, Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), and the State of Hawaii, with support from BIOTECanada, AusBiotech, and the Chemical Institute of Canada. The theme of this year's conference is "developing partnerships and new value chains across the Pacific Rim."

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