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ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: Mon May 15 16:42:03 EDT 2006

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News Items in this Edition

Boosting the Supply of Key Breast Cancer Stem Cells

The key to developing more effective ways to diagnose and treat breast cancer will probably involve targeting Breast Cancer Stem Cells (BrCSCs), a small population of tumor cells that resemble adult stem cells. Scientists long have thought that all the cells in a malignant tumor divide abnormally — a hallmark of cancer. However, recent evidence strongly suggests that only a small population of cells, including BrCSCs in breast cancer, is endowed with that ability.

Research has been hampered, however, because BrCSCs are scarce in tumors. Scientists have been unable to obtain enough BrCSCs for many analytical studies. Leo A. Behie and colleagues from Canada are reporting the development of bioreactor technology that could dramatically expand the supply of BrCSCs for research. Behie's group is with the University of Calgary and his collaborator, John Hassell, with McMaster University. Their report is scheduled for publication in the June 2, 2006, issue of Biotechnology Progress.

BrCSCs originally were grown in simple laboratory flasks. The Canadian researchers have developed and tested on mouse cells a method that produces 20 times more BrCSCs in a controlled and reproducible environment. It involves use of a bioreactor, an advanced tissue culturing apparatus similar to those used in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals. "This provides a viable means of addressing the issue of BrCSC scarcity and facilitates the development of therapeutic strategies that specifically target these cells for the treatment of breast cancer," the researchers report.

New Process for Making Lighter Metal Foams

Metals that float on water? A relatively new group of materials — metal foams — do exactly that, defying the conventional notion of metals as heavy and solid. In comparison, metal foams are mere wisps, consisting of more than 80 percent air. Having very high surface areas and continuous open cell porosity, they are finding applications in catalysis, surface enhanced Raman scattering (SERS), heat transfer, insulation and other areas.

Bryce C. Tappan and colleagues at the Los Alamos National Laboratory are reporting development of a new and simpler technique for making metal foams. Their report is scheduled for publication in the May 24 issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Technology for making metal foams has been limited mainly to aluminum and a handful of other metals. It produces either relatively heavy, dense foams or low-density foams with very large cell sizes. The new Los Alamos technique produces "unprecedented ultra-low density" foams with very small cell sizes from metals that could not be foamed in the past.

Some of the metal foams are lighter than Styrofoam™. Researchers used the technology to make foams from iron, cobalt, copper and silver. "This new technique shows promise for being a flexible, general approach to the formation of a wide range of new nanoporous metals not currently accessible by state-of-the-art nanoscience," they stated.

Bourbon on the Briquettes

Charcoal, that well-known ingredient for summer cookouts, also is the secret ingredient for making whiskey. Charred wood on the inside of whiskey barrels changes freshly distilled spirits from a colorless, harsh-tasting, yuk! into that familiar sipping-smooth beverage. Charcoal also finds use — counterproductively, in fact — to filter and clarify cloudy whiskey. (You’d get a more flavorful beverage if distillers skipped that for-aesthetics-only step and marketed cloudy whiskey.)

No wonder that efforts are underway to fine-tune the process for carbonizing wood — making charcoal — so that each batch works its magic as desired. A research group headed by Nicole Labbe at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, describe an advance in that pursuit in a report scheduled for the May 31 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Labbe and colleagues describe how a chemistry laboratory technique termed mid infrared spectroscopy can be a boon to the whiskey industry. They used the instrument to check how temperatures used to carbonize various woods affects the composition of the resulting charcoal and barrel char that determines so much of whiskey’s character.

New Drug Nanocarriers for Nanomedicine

The great promise of nanomedicine in opening a new era in diagnosis and treatment of disease depends heavily on the availability of versatile nanocarriers. The ultra-small counterparts of hypodermic syringes and IVs, nanocarriers are the containers that will carry and deliver nanodiagnostic and nanotherapeutics to their targets inside the human body.

Paras N. Prasad and colleagues at the University of Buffalo have developed a new genre of nanocarriers that not only hold their contents well, but can be guided to target tissue magnetically. Their report is scheduled for publication in the June 5 issue of Molecular Pharmaceutics. Prasad's group used the polymer-like molecule aggregates (polymeric micelles) to co-entrap magnetic nanoparticles and photodynamic therapy (PDT) drugs. A promising treatment for cancer and other conditions, PDT uses drugs that concentrate in diseased tissue and generate toxic molecules when exposed to laser light.

The nanocarriers, which are nanoscale clusters of polymeric molecules, magnetic nanoparticles and a PDT drug, demonstrated magnetic controllability and stability under physiological conditions and were efficiently taken up by living cells during in vitro experiments; magnetic guidance enhanced the uptake. The carriers' abilities to tightly encapsulate PDT drugs and target the diseased tissues with the magnetic guidance may minimize side effects that are a major drawback of PDT.

Profiling Muscle Loss in Aging

The age-related loss of muscle mass and strength called sarcopenia is getting more attention as the first of 76 million baby boomers turn 60 this year. A slow, barely noticeable loss of muscle begins around age 30. The rate increases sharply around age 60. As sleek, firm muscle disappears, older people become more vulnerable to falls and disabling hip fractures, and are less able to perform everyday tasks and continue living independently.

Cecilia Gelfi and colleagues are reporting the first use in human muscle research of a powerful technology (2-D DIGE) for studying large numbers of the proteins responsible for muscle contraction. In the June 2 issue of the Journal of Proteome Research, Gelfi describes use of the technique to profile and compare muscle proteins in younger and older but relatively physically active human volunteers.

Gelfi’s group found that elderly volunteers had a total loss of key proteins responsible for muscle strength, and other changes that could contribute to declines in muscle performance. “Elderly people should carry out both aerobic (endurance) and anaerobic (power) training in order to prevent sarcopenia,” Gelfi said. She predicted that 2-D DIGE will become a valuable tool in future studies of muscle loss in aging, neuromuscular diseases, and the microgravity conditions that astronauts experience in space.

Security Gaps Loom Large Years after the 2001 Terrorist Anthrax Attacks

A rare case of inhalation anthrax in February underscores just how much work remains before the United States is secure from terrorist attacks. That’s the conclusion of an article on the Vado Diomande incident, scheduled for publication in the May 15 issue of Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN).

Diomande, 44, an African dancer and drum maker, was the first naturally infected U. S. case of inhalation anthrax since 1976. The source of the infection: Untanned goat skins, which Diomande brought into the U. S. on a commercial flight from his home in Ivory Coast.

Written by Lois R. Ember, the C&EN article uses the incident to showcase gaps in security and preparedness for dealing with terrorist attacks. It points out, for instance, that the U.S. has fallen dangerously behind in efforts to develop mobile field hospitals for use in terrorist attacks. The Department of Homeland Security, which is responsible for developing a prototype hospital, has failed to do so. U.S. ports and borders remain porous to sources of anthrax and other possible terrorist weapons. And rapid tests for definitive diagnosis of anthrax are still unavailable.

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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.