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ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: April 11, 2007

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News Items in this Edition

Toward A Noninvasive Diagnostic Test for Women at High Risk of Preterm Birth

With pre-term births a major international health problem, scientists are reporting an advance toward developing a much-needed, noninvasive test for predicting when pregnant women are about to deliver early. Oregon Health Science University’s Srinivasa R. Nagalla and colleagues there and at the University of Washington in Seattle, report the discovery of protein biomarkers that could lead to such a test. The work is reported in the April 9 issue of ACS’ Journal of Proteome Research, a monthly publication.

In the report, researchers explain that spontaneous preterm births (before 37 weeks of pregnancy) have increased steadily during the last 25 years and now account for 70 percent to 80 percent of neonatal deaths. Development of a rapid diagnostic test for pre-term labor thus would be a major advance, they added.

The researchers analyzed cervical-vaginal fluid from 18 women, including six with spontaneous preterm birth, six with preterm labor, and six controls. They identified proteins that were present in women with preterm deliveries that could eventually serve as biomarkers for the condition. While emphasizing that the finding should be confirmed in a larger group of women, the study terms it an important step toward identifying women at high risk for preterm birth.

A New Test to Screen Fish for 25 Drug Residues at the Same Time

Amid growing concern about the accumulation of pharmaceutical and personal care products (PPCPs) in fish and other aquatic organisms, scientists in Texas are reporting development of the first method that can screen fish for several different groups of drugs at the same time. The research is scheduled for publication in the April 15 edition of ACS’ Analytical Chemistry, a semi-monthly journal.

In the report, C. Kevin Chambliss and colleagues note that previous tests for detecting PPCPs in water, sediment and other environmental material could identify only individual medications or classes of medications, such as antibiotics. And there were just a few methods for measuring certain drug residues in fish tissue.

“We report the first multi-residue screening method for pharmaceuticals representing multiple therapeutic classes in fish tissue,” the report states. It involves a way of preparing samples that is simpler and less-time consuming than existing methods and can simultaneously monitor fish for 25 drugs.

The researchers describe use of the method to identify drug residues in fish from the sunfish family (which includes popular pan fish such as bluegills) in a Texas creek composed almost entirely of effluent from a sewage treatment plant. The drugs included three medications never before identified in fish — diphenydramine (an over-the-counter antihistamine also used as a sedative in non-prescription sleep aids), diltiazem (a drug for high blood pressure) and cabamazepine (an anticonvulsant).

Cell Phones Qualify As Hazardous Waste, Say Researchers

The cell telephones that consumers in the United States discard by the millions each year classify as hazardous waste, according to a study published in the current (April 1) issue of the ACS’ Environmental Science & Technology, a semi-monthly journal.

Oladele A. Ogunseitan and colleagues at the University of California at Irvine cite long-standing concerns about the quantity of consumer electronics products that wind up in dumps and landfills. They estimate that more than 700 million cell phones already have been discarded or are stockpiled awaiting disposal, with 130 million cell phones trashed in 2005 alone.

In the new study, researchers used standard lab procedures to analyze chemicals in simulated cell phone “leachate” — the liquid that dribbles out into the soil from cell phones in dumps and landfills. Lead in the leachate was high enough to make cell phones classify as hazardous waste under Federal regulations, the study found. Lead-free phones, however, still are classified as hazardous waste under California regulations due to high levels of copper, nickel, antimony and zinc in the leachate.

The findings have “profound implications” for the ultimate disposal of cell phones, the researchers said. “These data demonstrate that electronics manufacturers who seek to design products exempt from current hazardous waste classifications will need to address not just lead, as the current wave of responses to European and Japanese regulations has shown, but also nickel, antimony and zinc, and most importantly, copper content.”

Rapid, One-Step, Ultra-Sensitive Detection of Food Poisoning Bacteria and Biothreats

A new mosquito-sized biosensor can detect amazingly small amounts of disease-causing E. coli bacteria in food in a single-step process that takes only minutes, compared to hours required with conventional tests for that common food poisoning agent, researchers in Philadelphia are reporting. The sensor also can quickly detect proteins important in medical diagnostic testing and very low levels of biothreats such as anthrax, according to the study, published in the current (April 1) edition of ACS’ Analytical Chemistry, a semi-monthly journal.

In the study, Raj Mutharasan and colleagues point out that rapid measurements of very low concentrations of pathogens and proteins could have wide application in medical diagnostic testing, monitoring for biothreat agents, detecting contaminated food products and other areas. Existing tests for low-level pathogens, however, take time because they require a step to boost the concentration of microbes in a sample. No direct test currently exists for low-levels of proteins, the report adds.

The study describes use of the biosensor to detect E. coli in ground beef and other materials at some of the lowest concentrations ever reported. At the heart of the new biosensor is a vibrating cantilever, with a tiny beam supported at one end and coated with antibodies at its other, free-moving end. The antibodies are specific to the material being detected, such as E. coli, anthrax or proteins that are biomarkers for disease. When that antigen is present in a sample flowing through the biosensor, it binds to the cantilever and alters the frequency of vibration in a way that can be detected electronically.

Bisphenol A on Trial

Bisphenol A (BPA), a weak synthetic estrogen used in a variety of consumer products ranging from baby bottles to resins that line food and beverage containers, has been linked in some studies to adverse health effects in rodents, including obesity, cancer and insulin resistance. There is growing concern that the chemical may cause similar adverse effects in humans, particularly in babies and young children. But there are vast discrepancies in the findings of government-funded and industry experiments that have explored the health effects of BPA, according to an opinion piece article scheduled for the April 16 issue of Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), ACS’ weekly newsmagazine.

Among government-funded experiments on lab animals and tissues, 153 found adverse effects and 14 did not, the magazine reports. The majority of those that reported no harm were funded by chemical corporations, the story notes. C&EN senior editor Bette Hileman highlights a number of potential sources of bias behind these inconsistent study outcomes, including the use of strains of rats that are insensitive to estrogen and choosing batches of animal feed that vary widely in their estrogenic activities.

Bias is even evident in the National Toxicology Program’s assessment of BPA, the writer notes. A panel chosen to review the data was selected with help from Sciences International, an outside contractor with ties to two BPA manufacturers. The panel’s review omitted critical studies and misclassified some of the studies, according to the article. Only an unbiased panel with appropriate expertise can resolve apparently conflicting results of these health studies, Hileman says.

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
    Visit the following resources to access news, features, background and sources from the ACS National Meeting, March 25-29 in Chicago.
    ACS Chicago National Meeting News Page
  • ACS Chemical Biology
    Highlights from the American Chemical Society journal, ACS Chemical Biology, are now available on EurekAlert!, the online science news service for reporters. ACS Chemical Biology is a monthly journal exploring cellular function from both chemical and biological perspectives. In addition to research papers and reviews, the journal also publishes “Spotlight” — current research in chemical biology from other journals; “Profile” — experts in the field; and “Points of View” — comments from leading scientists. The journal’s Web site is updated weekly with new content, and features a WIKI and an “Ask the Expert” section.

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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.

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.