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Aug. 5, 2008 at 5:44 PM
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The FDA approves 2008-09 flu vaccine

WASHINGTON, Aug. 5 (UPI) -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the 2008-09 seasonal influenza vaccine that includes strains likely to cause flu in the United States.

The six vaccines and their manufacturers are: CSL Limited, Afluria; GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals, Fluarix; ID Biomedical Corp. of Quebec, FluLaval; MedImmune Vaccines Inc., FluMist; Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics Limited, Fluvirin, and Sanofi Pasteur Inc., Fluzone.

"This season's vaccines contain three strains of the influenza virus that disease experts expect to be the most likely cause of the flu in the United States," the FDA said in a statement. "Each season's vaccines are modified to reflect the virus strains most likely to be circulating. The closer the match between the circulating strains and the strains in the vaccines, the better the protection."

The FDA changed all three strains for this year's influenza vaccine -- an unusual occurrence, as usually only one or two strains are updated from year to year.

A list of the strains included in the 2008-2009 vaccine is available at http://www.fda.gov/cber/flu/flu2008.htm.


NASA analyzes Martian soil data

WASHINGTON, Aug. 5 (UPI) -- U.S. space agency scientists say they've found both Earthlike and non-Earthlike facets in Martian soil samples analyzed by the Phoenix Mars Lander.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration said two samples analyzed by the spacecraft's Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer, or MECA, suggest one soil constituent might be perchlorate, a highly oxidizing substance.

Researchers had been waiting for results from the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer, or TEGA, which also is capable of detecting perchlorate, NASA said. But the results from Sunday's TEGA experiment, which analyzed a sample taken directly above the ice layer, found no evidence of perchlorate.

"This is surprising since an earlier TEGA measurement of surface materials was consistent with, but not conclusive of, the presence of perchlorate," said Peter Smith, Phoenix's principal investigator at the University of Arizona-Tucson. "While we have not completed our process on these soil samples, we have very interesting intermediate results. Initial MECA analyses suggested Earthlike soil. Further analysis has revealed un-Earthlike aspects of the soil chemistry."

Since landing May 25, Phoenix has been studying Martian soil with MECA's wet chemistry lab, two microscopes, a conductivity probe, TEGA's ovens and two cameras.


Earlier MS diagnosis may be possible

HEIDELBERG, Germany, Aug. 5 (UPI) -- German scientists say they've discovered a new magnetic resonance imaging medium that might enable the early diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.

Neuroradiologists and neurologists from University Hospitals of Heidelberg and Wurzburg said that in an animal model of multiple sclerosis, they have used a new contract medium -- Gadofluorine M -- to visualize inflammatory tissue damage, most of which had previously remained unrecognized.

Drug treatments are most effective during the early stage of the disease, the researchers noted. But, up to now, an early diagnosis could not be frequently established with certainty, especially if no or very few inflammatory lesions are present on an MRI scan.

"With this new contrast medium, we were able to visualize five to 10 times more foci of inflammation in comparison to conventional MRI images and contrast media", said Professor Martin Bendszus, medical director of the Department of Neuroradiology at the University Hospital of Heidelberg.

The research appears in the online edition of the journal Brain.


U.S. military use of robots increases

ST. LOUIS, Aug. 5 (UPI) -- Military robots are no longer only science fiction, with the U.S. Army planning to have 30 percent of its forces composed of robots by 2020.

Washington University Assistant Professor Bill Smart and doctoral student Doug Few said the Army's robots won't resemble robotic soldiers from movies such as "Star Wars" and "I, Robot."

"When the military says 'robot' they mean everything from self-driving trucks up to what you would conventionally think of as a robot," said Smart, codirector of the university's Media and Machines Laboratory. "You would more accurately call them autonomous systems rather than robots."

All of the Army's robotic force is teleoperated, meaning someone operates the robot from a remote location.

"It's a chain of command thing," said Smart. "You don't want to give autonomy to a weapons delivery system."

While movies display robots as intelligent beings, Smart and Few aren't necessarily looking for intelligent decision-making in their robots. Instead, they're working to develop an improved, "intelligent" functioning robot.

"It's oftentimes like the difference between the adverb and noun," said Few. "You can act intelligently or you can be intelligent. I'm much more interested in the adverb for my robots."

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