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NASA announces change in shuttle schedule

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., April 27 (UPI) — NASA says it is planning some changes in the launch dates for the last two scheduled space shuttle flights, pushing the date for the final flight to November.

Space agency managers said the decision to extend International Space Station operations until at least 2020 will necessitate some changes to the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer that will be installed at the space station.

Scientists said they want to make sure the magnet in the particle detector experiment is capable of working much longer than planned to accommodate the extension of space station operations.

The experiment is designed to study the formation of the universe by searching for evidence of dark matter and antimatter by measuring cosmic rays.

Because of the magnet change and the time required to facilitate it, NASA said space shuttle Endeavour’s STS-134 mission — which will carry the experiment to the station and was targeted to launch July 29 — now is expected to launch no earlier than mid-November. An exact target launch date has not yet been set.

“Space shuttle Discovery’s STS-133 mission currently remains targeted for its Sept. 16 launch date, but managers will continue to assess its readiness for flight and make changes as appropriate,” the space agency said in a statement. “The next shuttle flight, Atlantis’ STS-132 mission targeted for launch May 14, remains on track with no changes.”

The Atlantis launch will mark the final scheduled mission for that space shuttle.

Vitamin D improves elderly mobility

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C., April 27 (UPI) — Elderly study participants with the highest levels of vitamin D had better physical function and mobility than others, U.S. researchers found.

Dr. Denise Houston of the Sticht Center on Aging at Wake Forest University and colleagues studied vitamin D status and physical function in a group of relatively healthy seniors, mean age 75, in Memphis and Pittsburgh.

The study tracked 2,788 seniors for four years and assessed vitamin D status by analyzing each person’s blood for 25-hydroxyvitamin D — a precursor activated vitamin D.

The researchers looked at how quickly each participant could walk a short distance about, six yards, and rise from a chair five times, as well as balance tests.

The study found physical function declined during the study period, but it remained significantly higher among those with the highest vitamin D levels at the beginning of the study.

However, Houston said it is possible those with better physical function had higher vitamin D because they were able to go outside more often and get the vitamin through exposure to sunshine.

The findings were presented at the American Society for Nutrition at the Experimental Biology meeting in Anaheim, Calif.

Scientists create molecular computer

HOUGHTON, Mich., April 27 (UPI) — A team of U.S. and Japanese researchers says it has created the first brain-like organic molecular layer that can solve complex problems.

The researchers from Michigan Technological University and Japan’s National Institute of Information and Communication Technology said their achievement marks the first time an “evolutionary circuit” has been created.

The scientists said the world’s fastest supercomputer can only process bits one at a time in each of its channels. But they said the newly created organic molecular layer allows instantaneous processing of approximately 300 bits.

They said the processor not only can produce solutions to problems for which algorithms on computers are unknown, such as predictions of natural calamities and outbreaks of disease, but the molecular processor is capable of healing itself if there is a defect by using the self-organizing ability of the molecular monolayer.

The work that included Associate Professor Ranjit Pati of Michigan Technological University and Anirban Bandyopadhyay, the study’s lead author, at the National Institute for Materials Science in Japan, appears in the journal Nature Physics.

New diabetic macular edema therapy found

BETHESDA, Md., April 27 (UPI) — U.S. scientists say they’ve found a combination of eye injection and laser therapy has better outcomes than laser treatment alone for diabetic macular edema.

The National Institutes of Health-supported study by the Diabetic Retinopathy Clinical Research Network showed ranibizumab (Lucentis) eye injections combined with laser treatment result in better vision than laser treatment alone for diabetes-associated swelling of the retina.

The researchers said although laser treatment alone has been the standard care for 25 years, nearly 50 percent of patients who received the new treatment experienced substantial visual improvement after one year, compared with 28 percent who received the standard laser treatment.

“These results indicate a treatment breakthrough for saving the vision of people with diabetic macular edema,” said Dr. Neil Bressler, chief of the retina division of the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins University. “Eye injections of ranibizumab with prompt or deferred laser treatment should now be considered for patients with characteristics similar to those in this clinical trial.”

The researchers said diabetic retinopathy is the most common cause of vision loss in working-age Americans. The condition damages small blood vessels in the eye’s retinal tissue. That results in blood vessel leakage and causes swelling that can lead to vision loss if left untreated.

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

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