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ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: Wed May 02 16:42:03 EDT 2007

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News Items in this Edition

Exposure to Depleted Uranium from Military Action May Pose Health Threats

Exposure to particles of depleted uranium (DU), the source of growing international concern as a potential health hazard, may increase the risk of genetic damage and lung cancer, scientists in Maine conclude in a report scheduled for the May 21 issue of ACS’ Chemical Research in Toxicology, a monthly journal.

DU is the material remaining after removal or depletion of the U-238 isotope of uranium. With a density about twice that of lead, DU is ideal for use in military armor and munitions, John Pierce Wise, Sr., and colleagues point out in the new study. DU dust produced in combat creates potentially frequent and widespread exposure for soldiers and non-combatants, who may inhale DU dust particles, the researchers note.

However, there have been few studies on the health effects of lung exposure to DU, they add. In the new study, researchers tested the effects of DU on cultures of human lung cells. “This is the first article on the cytotoxicity and clastogenicity [chromosome damaging potential] of particulate and soluble DU in human bronchial cells,” the study states. “These data suggest that exposure to particulate DU may pose a significant genotoxic risk and could possibly result in lung cancer.”

New Process Boosts Levels of Heart-Healthy Compounds in Cocoa Powder

Scientists in Spain are reporting development of a new process to make cocoa powder with higher amounts of the healthful chemical compounds linked to chocolate’s beneficial effects. The study is scheduled for publication in the May 30 issue of ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Juan Carlos Espin de Gea and colleagues report that the new cocoa powder contains levels of some flavonoids 8 times higher than conventional cocoa. They achieved the higher flavonoid content by omitting the traditional fermentation and roasting steps used in the processing of cocoa beans. Those steps destroy some flavonoids, which are natural antioxidants.

Researchers used the flavonoid-enriched cocoa powder in a clinical trial to determine whether the compounds were bioavailable — in a form that humans can absorb. In the trial, six healthy volunteers consumed a milk drink made with flavonoid-enriched cocoa. The same volunteers later drank chocolate milk made from traditional cocoa. Blood and urine tests established the bioavailability of flavonoids in the enriched-milk drink, showing that people do absorb higher levels of the compounds. Based on the results, researchers suggest further clinical trials on the health benefits of flavonoid-enriched cocoa powder.

Skin Patch Tests May Miss Patients Allergic To Common Fragrance

Skin patch screening test for allergy to fragrances — second only to nickel as the most common cause of contact dermatitis in the Western world — may not detect some cases of allergy to a widely used fragrance chemical, Swedish scientists are reporting.

In a study scheduled for publication May 8 in ACS’ Chemical Research in Toxicology, Ann-Therese Karlberg and colleagues focus on geraniol, a chemical in Fragrance Mix I (used for allergy skin patch testing). Because of its fresh, floral scent, geraniol is widely used in household products, underarm deodorants and cosmetics, the report states. Geraniol has been regarded as a weak allergen, responsible for only about 5 percent of positive patch test responses to the fragrance allergens used for screening of fragrance allergy in dermatitis patients.

The new research, however, shows that geraniol oxidizes during exposure to air, changing into a more potent allergen. “Cases of allergy to the oxidation products of geraniol will not be diagnosed unless patients are tested with the air-exposed material,” the report states. “Thus, our observations once more emphasize the need for testing with the right material for screening contact allergy.”

New Antifreeze Protein Gives Cold Shoulder to Its Natural Counterpart

In another illustration of chemistry’s knack for improving on Mother Nature, scientists in Canada and the United States are reporting that a synthetic version of a natural antifreeze protein — with numerous potential applications — is far superior to the natural product. The study is scheduled for publication in the May 14 issue of ACS’ Biomacromolecules, a monthly journal.

The University of Ottawa’s Robert N. Ben and colleagues report on a synthetic version of the antifreeze glycoproteins (AFGPs) that enable Arctic and Antarctic fish to survive in freezing-cold waters. AFGPs, they note, have applications ranging from prevention of freezer burn in frozen foods to preservation of human organs donated for transplantation. Barriers to those uses include the scarcity and high cost of natural AFGPs.

In the new study, researchers found that their artificial AFGP, which can be produced in large quantities, also appears safer in laboratory cell culture tests. A natural AFGP caused cell damage that could substantially limit its use as an organ preservative, for instance, while the synthetic compound showed no such toxicity. The researchers term their results “exciting,” and describe the synthetic AFGP as “an extremely valuable lead compound for the development of novel cryoprotectants.”

“Venture Philanthropists” Fill a Gap in Funding Early Stages of Drug Discovery

With traditional venture capital firms shying away from investments that traditionally sustained the early stages in drug discovery among biotechnology start-up firms, “venture philanthropists” have quietly stepped up to fill the gap, according to an article scheduled for the May 2 issue of Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN) ACS’ weekly newsmagazine.

In the article, C&EN associate editor Lisa Jarvis describes how venture capital firms have shifted away from investment in early-stage drug development, which provides “seed money” for start-up firms to begin work on promising new drugs. Those firms now are putting cash into the later stages of drug development and commercialization, where risks are smaller and marketable products are more likely to result.

The shift in priorities has resulted in emergence of the venture philanthropy movement,in which non-profit organizations, such as the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, have become an important source of money for early-stage drug discovery. At that stage, academic scientists, entrepreneurs and start-up companies are seeking money for research to validate ideas for new drugs. Jarvis surveys the venture philanthropy landscape, and explains how disease advocacy groups have become major players in the for-profit world of biotech startups.

Journalists’ Resources

  • General Chemistry Glossary
    The General Chemistry Glossary can be found here.
  • Science Elements: ACS Audio Clips
    Listen to Science news podcasts from the American Chemical Society.
  • News, Features, Background, Sources from ACS National Meeting
    News media resources from the March 25-29 meeting in Chicago include more than 9,000 abstracts of technical presentations and more than 1,000 non-technical summaries in a searchable database, plus press releases, podcasts, and other material. If you are researching or sourcing stories on chemistry-related topics, this resource can be a treasure trove accessible by the following:
    ACS News Service’s National Meeting Press Book page

    ACS Chicago National Meeting News Page

    ACS Press Center
  • Green Goals for the Pharmaceutical Industry
    The ACS Green Chemistry Institute Pharmaceutical Roundtable has developed a list of priority research areas where “green” alternatives to conventional reactions are needed to develop medications with minimal impact on the environment. Their review paper, describes and prioritizes research needs. It can be a valuable resource for journalists writing about green chemistry. Although the paper focuses on pharmaceuticals, it includes reactions and processes used by the broader chemical enterprise.
  • Instruments of Art
    At first glance, laboratory equipment may seem as beguiling to look at as washing machines or toasters. Hidden in the workshops of scientific research, however, are functional ensembles of geometry, texture, color, and contour that also carry aesthetic values. Fitting his digital camera with a special lens, C&EN managing editor Ivan Amato captured the art hidden inside chromatography columns, glassware, and other laboratory instrumentation displayed in McCorkmick Place’s exposition hall during the March ACS National Meeting in Chicago. Here is a special 3-page photo spread in which C&EN lifts the veil on this unseen world.

Mark Your Calendars

ACS Regional Meeting, May 16-19, Philadelphia

The Philadelphia Section, American Chemical Society, and Ursinus College will host the 39th ACS Middle Atlantic Regional Meeting.

11th Annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference, Washington, DC

This pioneering conference on one of the hottest topics in chemistry will be held June 26-29, 2007 at the Capital Hilton hotel in Washington, DC.

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.