This issue of the American Chemical Society (ACS) News Service Weekly Press Package (PressPac) is a special edition with selections from scientific presentations scheduled for the ACS’ 238th National Meeting in Washington D.C. Our regular coverage of reports from ACS’ 34 major peer-reviewed journals and Chemical & Engineering News will resume with the August 26, 2009, edition.
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Good news for people fearful of needles and squeamish of shots: Scientists at the 238th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society report the design of a painless patch that may someday render hypodermic needles — as well as annual flu shots — a thing of the past. Lined with tiny “microneedles,” these patches could make treatment of diabetes and a wide range of other diseases safer, more effective and less painful. Used as tiny hypodermic needles, they could improve treatment of macular degeneration and other diseases of the eye.
EMBARGOED FOR RELEASE: Wednesday, August 19, 8:30 a.m., Eastern Time
“It’s our goal to get rid of the need for hypodermic needles in many cases and replace them with a patch that can be painlessly and simply applied by a patient,” says Mark Prausnitz, Ph.D. “If you can move to something that’s as easy to apply as a band-aid, you’ve now opened the door for people to self-administer their medicine without special training.
Prausnitz says that advances in the electronics industry in microfabricating very small objects like transistors enabled the development of microneedles. “We’ve built off those technological advances to address a need in medicine,” he explains. “We’re trying to bring the two worlds together.” Each needle is only a few hundred microns long, about the width of a few strands of human hair.
Prausnitz and his colleagues at the Georgia Institute of Technology suggest that the microneedle patch could, for instance, replace yearly trips to the doctor for flu shots. “Although it would probably first be used in a clinical setting, our vision is to have a self-administered flu vaccine patch. So instead of making an appointment with your doctor to get your flu shot, you can stop by the pharmacy or even get a patch in the mail and self-apply,” Prausnitz explains.
Chemists are preparing to play an important but often unheralded role in determining the success of one of the largest and most important scientific experiments in history — next year’s initial attempts at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) to produce the world’s first controlled nuclear fusion reaction. If successful in taming the energy source of the sun, stars, and of the hydrogen bomb, scientists could develop a limitless new source of producing electricity for homes, factories, and businesses. The experiment could also lead to new insights into the origins of the universe. A special two-day symposium addressing this topic, “Nuclear Diagnostics in Fusion Energy Research,” will be presented Aug. 19 and 20 during the 238th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).
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Scientists have been trying to achieve controlled nuclear fusion for almost 50 years. In 2010, researchers at the NIF at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California will focus the energy of 192 giant laser beams onto a pea-sized target filled with hydrogen fuel. These lasers represent the world’s highest-energy laser system. The scientists hope that their effort will ignite, or fuse, the hydrogen atoms’ nuclei to trigger the high energy reaction.
“Chemists will definitely play a role in determining whether nuclear fusion reactions have occurred during this NIF experiment, which is key to determining whether the experiment is a success,” says Dawn Shaughnessy, Ph.D., a scientist with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
“The idea is that the lasers will fuse hydrogen particles together, producing neutrons,” says Shaughnessy, one of many scientists who plan to analyze materials produced by the reaction. “We’ll collect and measure the materials produced from the ignition and hopefully be able to determine how many neutrons were made. More neutrons mean that more fusion has occurred.”
They say there’s no place like home. But scientists are reporting some unsettling news about homes in the residential areas of California. The typical house there — and probably elsewhere in the country — is an alarming and probably underestimated source of water pollution, according to a new study reported today at the 238th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society.
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In the study, Lorence Oki, Darren Haver and colleagues explain that runoff results from rainfall and watering of lawns and gardens, which winds up in municipal storm drains. The runoff washes fertilizers, pesticides and other contaminants into storm drains, and they eventually appear in rivers, lakes and other bodies of water. “Results from our sampling and monitoring study revealed high detection frequencies of pollutants such as pesticides and pathogen indicators at all sites,” Oki says of their study of eight residential areas in Sacramento and Orange Counties in California.
Preliminary results of the study suggest that current models may underestimate the amount of pollution contributed by homes by up to 50 percent. That’s because past estimates focused on rain-based runoff during the wet season. “Use of pesticides, however, increases noticeably during the dry season due to gardening, and our data contains greater resolution than previous studies,” Oki says.
Burning candles made from paraffin wax –– the most common kind used to infuse rooms with romantic ambiance, warmth, light, and fragrance –– is an unrecognized source of exposure to indoor air pollution, including the known human carcinogens, scientists reported here today. Levels can build up in closed rooms, and be reduced by ventilation, they indicated in a study presented at the 238th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).
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In the study, R. Massoudi Ph.D., and Amid Hamidi , Ph.D., said that that candles made from bee’s wax or soy, although more expensive, apparently are healthier. They do not release potentially harmful amounts of indoor air pollutants while retaining all of the warmth, ambience and fragrance of paraffin candles (which are made from petroleum).
“An occasional paraffin candle and its emissions will not likely affect you,” Hamidi said. “But lighting many paraffin candles every day for years or lighting them frequently in an un-ventilated bathroom around a tub, for example, may cause problems.“ Besides the more serious risks, he also suggested that some people who believe they have an indoor allergy or respiratory irritation may in fact actually be reacting to air pollutants from burning candles.
Scientists today reported use of a new X-ray imaging technique to reveal for the first time in a century unprecedented details of a painting hidden beneath another painting by famed American illustrator N.C. (Newell Convers) Wyeth. The non-destructive look-beneath-the-surface method could reveal hidden images in hundreds of Old Master paintings and other prized works of art, the researchers say. The scientists reported the research at the 238th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).
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Jennifer Mass, Ph.D., and colleagues note in the new study that many great artists re-used canvases or covered paintings with other paintings. They did this in order to save money on materials or to let the colors and shapes of a prior composition influence the next one, she says. Art historians believe that several of Wyeth’s most valued illustrations have been lost from view in that way. Some regard N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945) as the greatest American illustrator of the 20th century.
One of these so-called lost illustrations depicts a dramatic fist fight and was published in a 1919 Everybody’s Magazine article titled “The Mildest Mannered Man.” Using simple X-ray techniques, other scientists previously showed that Wyeth had covered the fight scene with another painting, “Family Portrait.” But until now, the fine detail and colors in the fight scene have been lost from view. Nobody has seen the true image except in black and white reproductions.
Scientists have discovered the secret to easing one of the great frustrations of the millions who use smart phones, portable media players and other devices with touch- screens: Reducing their tendency to smudge and cutting glare from sunlight. In a report today at the 238th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, they describe development of a test for performance of such smudge- and reflection-resistant coatings and its use to determine how to improve that performance.
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Steven R. Carlo, Ph.D., Paul Verghese, Ming Wu and colleagues note in the new study that consumer electronics companies value the appearance of their flagship devices just as much as their functionality. As a result, smudge, scratch and reflective resistant coatings have become standard on high-end touch-screen cell phones and MP3 players. These coatings are effective. However, their structure and mechanisms are poorly understood, so Carlo and colleagues developed a test to determine the chemical composition and effectiveness of smudge and reflective resistant materials. The test could also lead to a better understanding of the chemistry of these coatings and allow improved formulations and performance, Carlo says.
“Surfaces are particularly important in consumer products. This work investigates how products can be modified to reduce smudging and reflections. These modifications can offer improved resistance to fingerprints, anti-reflection properties or enhanced physical resistance,” Carlo explains.
In the first study to look at what happens over the years to the billions of pounds of plastic waste floating in the world’s oceans, scientists are reporting that plastics — reputed to be virtually indestructible — decompose with surprising speed and release potentially toxic substances into the water.
Reporting here today at the 238th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the researchers termed the discovery “surprising.” Scientists always believed that plastics in the oceans were unsightly, but a hazard mainly to marine animals that eat or become ensnared in plastic objects.
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“Plastics in daily use are generally assumed to be quite stable,” said study lead researcher Katsuhiko Saido, Ph.D. “We found that plastic in the ocean actually decomposes as it is exposed to the rain and sun and other environmental conditions, giving rise to yet another source of global contamination that will continue into the future.”
He said that polystyrene begins to decompose within one year, releasing components that are detectable in the parts-per-million range. Those chemicals also decompose in the open water and inside marine life. However, the volume of plastics in the ocean is increasing, so that decomposition products remain a potential problem.
Health-conscious people know that high levels of total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol (the so-called “bad” cholesterol) can increase the risk of heart attacks. Now scientists are reporting that another form of cholesterol called oxycholesterol — virtually unknown to the public — may be the most serious cardiovascular health threat of all. Scientists from China presented one of the first studies on the cholesterol-boosting effects of oxycholesterol here today at the 238th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society. The researchers hope their findings raise public awareness about oxycholesterol, including foods with the highest levels of the substance and other foods that can combat oxycholesterol’s effects.
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“Total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL), and the heart-healthy high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL) are still important health issues,” says study leader Zhen-Yu Chen, Ph.D., of Chinese University of Hong Kong. “But the public should recognize that oxycholesterol is also important and cannot be ignored. Our work demonstrated that oxycholesterol boosts total cholesterol levels and promotes atherosclerosis [“hardening of the arteries”] more than non-oxidized cholesterol.”
Fried and processed food, particularly fast-food, contains high amounts of oxycholesterol. Avoiding these foods and eating a diet that is rich in antioxidants, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, may help reduce its levels in the body, the researchers note.
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