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Painkiller May Kill Cancer Cells

LA JOLLA, Calif., June 18 (UPI) — A painkiller may be capable of causing cancer cells to kill themselves, U.S. researchers suggest.

Researchers at the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., say the link between taking anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin and lower incidences of some types of cancer led them to determine how one anti-inflammatory used to treat pain and fever — called Sulindac — could initiate cell death, apoptosis, in cancer cells.

The study, published in the journal Cancer Cell, indicates Sulindac binds to RXRa — a protein that carries a signal into the nucleus and turns genes on or off.

“Nuclear receptors are excellent targets for drug development,” senior author Xiao-kun Zhang said in a statement. “Thirteen percent of existing drugs target nuclear receptors, even though the mechanism of action is not always clear.”

RXRa normally suppresses tumors, Zhang said, but many types of cancer cells produce a truncated form of this nuclear receptor that does just the opposite.

Zhang said the study shows shortened RXRa enhanced tumor growth by stimulating other proteins that help cancer cells survive, but Sulindac could combat this deviant RXRa by turning on apoptosis.

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Scientists Discover 45 New Radioisotopes

TOKYO, June 9 (UPI) — Japanese scientists using the world’s most powerful beam of heavy ions say they have discovered 45 new radioisotopes.

The researchers at the Riken Nishina Center said they and their international collaborators uncovered 45 new neutron-rich radioisotopes in a region of the nuclear chart never before explored.

“In only four days, a team of researchers at the Riken Nishina Center for Accelerator Based Science have identified more new radioisotopes than the world’s scientists discover in an average year,” officials said, explaining radioactive isotopes — or radioisotopes — are unstable chemical elements with either more or fewer neutrons than their stable counterparts.

The researchers said the newly discovered radioisotopes not only expand our knowledge of nuclear physics, they also provide essential clues about the origins of atoms in the universe.

Riken scientists said further improvements at the accelerator facility promise to dramatically boost heavy-ion beams to more than 1,000 times their current intensities, “unleashing thousands of new radioisotopes and heralding a new era in high-energy nuclear physics.”

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Program Debugs Nuclear Test Simulations

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind., June 3 (UPI) — U.S. scientists say they have created an automated program designed to “debug” the nation’s nuclear test computer simulations.

Purdue University researchers, working with scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, said their program, called AutomaDeD (pronounced like automated), finds errors in computer code for complex “parallel” programs.

Because international treaties forbid the detonation of nuclear test weapons, certification is done using complex simulations. The researchers said such simulations, which may contain as many as 100,000 lines of computer code, must accurately show reactions taking place on the scale of milliseconds, or thousandths of a second.

“The simulations take several weeks to run, and then they have to be debugged to correct errors in the code,” said Associate Professor Saurabh Bagchi. “The error might have occurred in the first hour of operation, and if you had known about it you could have stopped it then. The idea is to use AutomaDeD as the simulation is running to automatically monitor what’s happening.

“If things start going wrong, AutomaDeD would stop and flag which process and which part of the code in the process is likely anomalous.”

Recent research findings show AutomatDeD was 90 percent accurate in identifying the time “phase” when bugs occurred, 80 percent accurate in identifying the specific tasks involved and 70 percent accurate in identifying the interference faults.

The research will be presented June 30 in Chicago during the 40th Annual IEEE/IFIP International Conference on Dependable Systems and Networks.

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Parasite to Host Plant Gene Transfer Found

YOKOHAMA, Japan, May 27 (UPI) — Japanese scientists say they’ve discovered the first evidence of nuclear genetic transfer from a host to a parasite plant species.

Researchers at the Riken Plant Science Center in Yokohama said their discovery suggests a greater role for horizontal gene transfer in plant evolution.

The scientists said the transfer of genetic material between non-mating species, known as horizontal gene transfer, is viewed as a powerful mechanism for genetic evolution. While common in bacteria, such genetic transfer is less well understood in plants, with evidence largely confined to its role in the transfer of mitochondrial genes, the scientists said.

The research team wanted to determine whether such horizontal gene transfer occurs between parasite and host plant species, where implications for evolution would be particularly profound. Using large-scale gene analysis, they said they combed 17,000 genes of the parasite witchweed Striga hermonthica — a source of devastating damage to sorghum and rice crops in Africa — for traces of transfer from host species.

They said they discovered one gene, ShContig9483, exhibited a high similarity to genes in sorghum and rice, yet no relation to genes from Striga hermonthica’s own family of flowering plants (eudicots). The team then traced ShContig9483′s origins to sorghum genes, strongly suggesting recent horizontal transfer from host to parasite.

The research is detailed in the journal Science.

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Protein Spurs Prostate Cancer Spread

PHILADELPHIA, May 21 (UPI) — A prostate cancer cell protein — Stat5 — might be key to the cancer’s spread, U.S. researchers said.

Researchers from the Kimmel Cancer Center at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia found Stat5 — a protein already found to play a role in prostate cancer survival — also helped spread the disease to other parts of the body by rearranging prostate cancer cell structure and suppressing proteins binding cells to one another.

The study, published in Endocrine-Related Cancer, not only found nuclear Stat5 led to prostate cancer spread in the laboratory and but also in an animal model. They found human prostate cancer cells that over-expressed Stat5 readily spread to the lungs when injected into mice.

“Until now, we thought that Stat5 was involved in primarily promoting tumor growth, but this study indicates it could be one of the key players in pushing prostate cancer to spread,” study researcher Dr. Marja Nevalainen said in a statement.

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Kerry, Lieberman offer climate bill

WASHINGTON, May 12 (UPI) — U.S. Sens. John Kerry and Joe Lieberman introduced a compromise energy and climate change bill they hope will find bipartisan support needed for passage.

Kerry, D-Mass., and Lieberman, Ind-Conn., couched their argument for passage in terms of national security and potential economic growth.

“The American Power Act will finally change our nation’s energy policy from a national weakness into a national strength,” Kerry said in a statement announcing the measure. “We can finally tell the world that America is ready to take back our role as the world’s clean-energy leader. This is a bill for energy independence after a devastating oil spill, a bill to hold polluters accountable, a bill for billions of dollars to create the next generation of jobs, and a bill to end America’s addiction to foreign oil and protect the air our children breathe and the water they drink.”

Kerry noted the House has already passed its version and support has been growing in the Senate.

Lieberman called this version “fundamentally different” from previous energy and climate bills.

“Our bill will create jobs and transform the American economy; make our country more energy independent, which in turn will strengthen our national security; and improve the quality of the air we breathe,” he said.

The Washington Post said the Kerry-Lieberman bill differs from the House bill in several ways, including provisions for carbon reductions from specific sectors of the economy rather than a nationwide cap and greater incentives for new new nuclear power and offshore oil drilling.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who had bailed on the effort to write a bipartisan bill, said in a statement on his Web site that while he hadn’t seen the changes Kerry and Lieberman had made, he looks forward to reviewing the bill.

“We should move forward in a reasoned, thoughtful manner and in a political climate which gives us the best chance at success,” Graham said. “The problems created by the historic oil spill in the gulf, along with the uncertainty of immigration politics, have made it extremely difficult for transformational legislation in the area of energy and climate to garner bipartisan support at this time.”

Biofuel combustion research needed

LIVERMORE, Calif., May 12 (UPI) — U.S. scientists say they’ve embarked on needed research into the chemistry of biofuel combustion.

Researchers at Lawrence Livermore and Sandia national laboratories in California say a better understanding of the key elements of biofuel combustion will be important in developing the next generation of alternative fuels.

Sandia researcher Nils Hansen and Lawrence Livermore scientist Charles Westbrook lay out the diverse and complex chemical reactions of biofuel combustion in a paper published in the May 10 edition of the journal Angewandte Chemie.

Hansen and Westbrook point out that while bioethanol, biobutanol and biodiesel are gaining interest as alternatives to oil-based transportation fuels, little research has been done on what happens in biofuel combustion.

In their paper, the pair examine, for the first time, the characteristic aspects of the chemical pathways in the combustion of potential biofuels.

With funding from the U.S. Energy Department, the researchers, along with colleagues in Germany, China and the United States, used a combination of laser spectroscopy, mass spectrometry and flame chemistry modeling to explore the decomposition and oxidation mechanisms of certain biofuels, and the formation of harmful or toxic emissions.

“To understand the associated combustion reactions and to identify recurring reaction patterns, it is important to study prototypical variants of potential biofuels,” Westbrook said.

Expert: Dispersants don’t solve problem

SOLOMONS, Md., May 12 (UPI) — Large-scale use of chemicals to disperse the massive Gulf of Mexico oil slick creates pollution trade-offs, a University of Maryland expert says.

So far, at least 325,000 gallons of dispersants have been added to the gulf waters to help break up the 5,000 barrels of crude oil that have leaked into the gulf each day since the April 20 explosion that sank the Deepwater Horizon oil rig.

But dispersants don’t eliminate the pollution problem, says Carys Mitchelmore, an environmental chemist at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science in Solomons. While less toxic than earlier generations of dispersants, the chemicals only succeed in changing which marine and other wildlife are affected — fewer animals on the beaches and more in other parts of the ocean and at the sea floor, Mitchelmore says in the journal Nature.

“It’s a trade-off, and no one will tell you using dispersants won’t have an effect,” said Mitchelmore, co-author of a 2005 U.S. National Academies report on dispersants. “You’re trading one species for another.”

In a yet-to-be published study, for example, Mitchelmore and her colleagues found soft corals exposed to crude oil and the Corexit 9500 dispersant currently in use experienced significantly lower growth rates.

“The long-term effects are really unknown,” Mitchelmore said. “The dispersant has inherent toxicity. And these oil droplets tend to be the same sort of size as food particles for filter-feeding organisms.”

While dispersants had been applied primarily at the ocean surface, robots are being employed to inject them as the oil leaks from the ocean floor a mile deep, a method never tried before and one the Environmental Protection Agency says will have a “still widely unknown” impact on the environment, the Nature article reports.

Genomes may help chart human migrations

COPENHAGEN, Denmark, May 12 (UPI) — Breakthroughs in genetic science will, before too long, help researchers chart the migration patterns of ancient humans, experts in Denmark and elsewhere say.

Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen says researchers are comparing ancient genomes with those of modern-day humans to gain insights into human evolution and migration.

“For the first time, ancient and modern genetic research is going hand in hand,” Willerslev said in an article published in the journal Nature. “It is really a fantastic time.”

Jeffrey Long of the University of Mexico in Albuquerque says the hope is ancient-modern genome comparisons can one day be used to chart splits in human populations and correlate them with climatic changes.

“I call this molecular stratigraphy,” Long said of the effort to trace prehistoric migration routes. “I then want to use this relative chronology of genetic events to compare to the palaeoclimate of Earth’s biomes.”

Willerslev said genomes will allow researchers to test theories that have been debated for a century.

“In the next five years, we will see a whole spectrum of discoveries,” he said.

“I honestly believe this new era will change our view of human evolution.”

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Neanderthals and Humans: Genetically Alike

COLD SPRING HARBOR, N.Y., May 6 (UPI) — U.S. and German genomic scientists say they have determined Neanderthals and humans differ much less than had been expected.

The researchers from the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, led by Professor Gregory Hannon, and from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, led by Svante Paabo, said they have, for the first time, re-sequenced large parts of a nuclear genome using ancient DNA.

They said their study accomplished two things: They obtained important genomic information from a tiny quantity of highly contaminated Neanderthal DNA from Spain and amplified and sequenced only those portions that code for proteins.

The scientists said they were able to use the results to determine the extent to which Neanderthals differ from modern humans at the level of the proteins produced by their full set of genes.

The researchers said their study showed Neanderthals and humans differ so much less than expected, it left them wondering if the differences are really functionally significant.

Hannon calls the findings “a major scientific event of historic significance.”

The research is reported in the online issue of the journal Science.

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England may face more severe winters

READING, England, April 19 (UPI) — British and German scientists say a link between low solar activity and Atlantic jet streams might explain Europe’s colder than usual past winter.

Scientists at the University of Reading, the U.K. Science and Technology Facilities Council and the Max-Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany said people living in regions northeast of the Atlantic Ocean might need to brace themselves for more frequent cold winters in coming years. The researchers said the sun is moving into an era of lower solar activity, which is likely to result in winter temperatures in that area more like those seen at the end of the 17th century.

“This year’s winter in the U.K. has been the 14th coldest in the last 160 years and yet the global average temperature for the same period has been the 5th highest,” Lecturer Michael Lockwood of the University of Reading said. “We have discovered that this kind of anomaly is significantly more common when solar activity is low.”

Lockwood said the trends do not guarantee colder winters, but they do suggest colder winters will become more frequent.

The study appears in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

Routine kidney test not cost-effective

HERSHEY, Pa., April 19 (UPI) — U.S. researchers recommend discontinuing the use of a routine kidney test done by pediatricians for decades.

Researchers at Pennsylvania State College of Medicine in Hershey say the screening urine dipstick to diagnose chronic kidney disease in healthy children is not cost effective. They found the cost of finding one case of diagnosed chronic kidney disease per 800 screening tests came to $2,997.50.

“The American Academy of Pediatrics made the recommendation to discontinue screening urine dipsticks in healthy children to test for chronic kidney disease in 2007,” Deepa Sekhar says in a statement. “However, the practice has still been in use.”

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, concludes the test is not effective, especially since it has not been shown early detection alters a child’s course from chronic kidney disease to end-stage renal disease.

Sekhar and colleagues used data on screening urine dipsticks from 8,954 healthy school children ages 8-15, of whom 1,264 children — 14.2 percent — had abnormal results so the dipstick test was repeated. Only 319 of the repeated tests had an abnormality, with 11 of the 8,954 children — 0.1 percent — found to have some form of chronic kidney disease.

Brain implant essentially melts into place

PHILADELPHIA, April 19 (UPI) — U.S. medical researchers say they have developed a brain implant that essentially melts into place, snugly fitting onto the brain’s surface.

Dr. Brian Litt of the University of Pennsylvania, an associate professor of neurology, said the silk-based implant he and his team developed can hug the brain like shrink wrap, collapsing into its grooves and stretching over its rounded surfaces.

“The focus of our study was to make ultrathin arrays that conform to the complex shape of the brain, and limit the amount of tissue damage and inflammation,” Litt said.

He said the technology could pave the way for better devices to monitor and control seizures, and to transmit signals from the brain past damaged parts of the spinal cord.

The scientists said their findings show the ultrathin flexible implants can record brain activity more faithfully than thicker implants embedded with similar electronics.

Besides its flexibility, the researchers said silk was chosen as the base material because it is durable enough to undergo patterning of thin metal traces for electrodes and other electronics. It can also be engineered to avoid inflammatory reactions, and to dissolve at controlled time points, from almost immediately after implantation to years later.

The research that included Professor John Rogers at the University of Illinois and Professors David Kaplan and Fiorenzo Omenetto at Tufts University appears in the early online edition of the journal Nature Materials.

Proteins linked to ovarian cancer outcomes

BETHESDA, Md., April 19 (UPI) — U.S. government scientists say they’ve found a link between the presence of certain proteins in ovarian cancer tissues and poor survival rates.

Nuclear Factor- kappa Beta family. Researchers said the NF-kB proteins control many processes within the cells, including survival and proliferation, inflammation, immune responses and cellular responses to stress.

“This study sheds light on the distinctive genetic features of the NF-kB pathway and may provide targets for the development of novel therapies for ovarian cancer,” said Dr. Christina Annunziata, who led the study at the National Institutes of Health facility.

The study is reported in the early online edition of the journal Cancer.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Solar Energy: Enormous Ontario Potential

KINGSTON, Ontario, April 19 (UPI) — Canadian scientists say solar power production in southeastern Ontario can potentially produce nearly the same amount of power of all U.S. nuclear reactors.

The findings from the two Queen’s University studies led by Professor Joshua Pearce are the first to explore the region’s solar energy potential.

One study, accepted for publication in the journal Computers, Environment and Urban Systems, discovered that if choice roof tops in southeastern Ontario were covered with solar panels, they could produce five gigawatts, or about 5 percent, of all of Ontario’s energy.

“To put this in perspective, all the coal plants in all of Ontario produce just over six gigawatts. The sun doesn’t always shine, so if you couple solar power with other renewable energy sources, such as wind, hydro and biomass, southeastern Ontario could easily cover its own energy needs,” Pearce said.

The second study, published in the journal Solar Energy, looked at land in southeastern Ontario that could be used for solar farms. The study found land with little economic value — barren, rocky, non-farmable areas — has the potential to produce 90 gigawatts.

“Nuclear power for all of the United States is about 100 gigawatts. We can produce 90 on barren land with just solar in this tiny region, so we are not talking about small potatoes,” Pearce said.

Pearce and students Ha Nguyen and Lindsay Wiginton conducted the studies to provide solid numbers on solar energy potential, as well as possible solar farm locations.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Proteins Linked to Ovarian Cancer Outcomes

BETHESDA, Md., April 19 (UPI) — U.S. government scientists say they’ve found a link between the presence of certain proteins in ovarian cancer tissues and poor survival rates.

Nuclear Factor- kappa Beta family. Researchers said the NF-kB proteins control many processes within the cells, including survival and proliferation, inflammation, immune responses and cellular responses to stress.

“This study sheds light on the distinctive genetic features of the NF-kB pathway and may provide targets for the development of novel therapies for ovarian cancer,” said Dr. Christina Annunziata, who led the study at the National Institutes of Health facility.

The study is reported in the early online edition of the journal Cancer.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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