UPI NewsTrack Health and Science News

March 17, 2009 at 5:44 PM
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Lasers may spread Internet to rural areas

MELBOURNE, March 17 (UPI) -- Australian researchers say they are experimenting with lasers as a way to boost the reach of existing high-speed Internet service to large rural areas.

Ka Lun Lee and colleagues at the University of Melbourne say high-speed digital subscriber line or cable Internet service is too expensive to use in rural areas, since they require extensive networks of equipment and lines. Other technologies, such as satellite and fixed wireless, offer wider coverage but are often unreliable and expensive.

The researchers found gigabit passive optical networks provide the lowest cost at higher bitrates. But Lee said the reach of that technology into rural areas is limited by the loss in signal strength along the optical fiber, with each line only capable of radiating approximately 19 miles from a central office.

To boost that reach, Lee and his team use a device called a Raman amplifier. Installed in the central office of a network provider, the high-powered laser feeds the optical signal that carries information as it heads out over a fiber. That, said Lee, increases the power and reach of the signal by a factor of nearly 10.

The scientists will present their research Monday in San Diego during the Optical Fiber Communication Conference and Exposition/National Fiber Optic Engineers Conference.

Molecular switch may prevent metastases

PHILADELPHIA, March 17 (UPI) -- U.S. medical scientists say they have identified a genetic master switch that might prevent cancer cells from metastasizing.

University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine researchers said the switch is a protein that, when in the "on" position, maintains the normal character of cells that line the surface of organs and body cavities. But when the switch is turned "off" or is absent, epithelial cells acquire characteristics of another cell type, called mesenchymal cells, thereby gaining the ability to migrate and move from the primary tumor.

The scientists said understanding how the switch works might lead to a drug that controls cancer cell metastasis and tissue fibrosis -- a hallmark of organ failure, as in liver cirrhosis or kidney failure.

The research by Assistant Professor Russ Carstens, Associate Professor John Hogenesch and graduate student Claude Warzecha appears in the journal Molecular Cell.

Nanotech might be used to detect anthrax

WASHINGTON, March 17 (UPI) -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says a proof-of-concept study shows nanotechnology might be able to detect anthrax after a bioterrorism attack.

"The FDA findings could form the basis of a test that allows earlier diagnosis of anthrax infection than currently possible," said Indira Hewlett, the senior author of the FDA study. "The earlier those infected with anthrax can be treated, the better."

A proof-of-concept study is an initial investigation that aims to determine if a new scientific idea or concept holds promise for further development.

The federal agency said the method used in its study relies on a nanotechnology-based test platform built from tiny molecular-sized particles.

The assay -- the Europium Nanoparticle-based Immunoassay -- was able to detect the presence of a protein made by the anthrax bacteria known as protective antigen, the FDA said. "Protective antigen combines with another protein called lethal factor to form anthrax lethal factor toxin, the protein that enters cells and causes toxic effects."

The researchers showed ENIA is capable of detecting protective antigen in quantities that are 100 times lower than current tests can detect.

The study that included Jiangqin Zhao, Mahtab Moayeri, Zhaochun Chen, Haijing Hu, Robert Purcell, Stephen Leppla and Harri Harma appears in the journal of Clinical and Vaccine Immunology.

Scientists work on rhinovirus vaccine

PROVO, Utah, March 17 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists studying the rhinovirus genome say they've discovered how and where evolution occurs in the genome and what that means for possible vaccines.

"There are a lot of different approaches to treating the cold, none of which seem to be effective," said Brigham Young University Professor Keith Crandall, a co-author of the study. "This is partly because we haven't spent a lot of time studying the virus and its history to see how it's responding to the human immune system and drugs."

The BYU team said it studied genomic sequences available online and used computer algorithms to estimate how the rhinovirus is related to other viruses.

The study's lead author, postdoctoral fellow Nicole Lewis-Rogers, said the rhinovirus is similar to the polio virus, but while the polio virus has just three subspecies, the rhinovirus has more than 100 subspecies, which continually evolve.

Crandall said the virus is evolving solutions against the immune system and drugs, adding, "The more we can learn about how the virus evolves solutions, the better we can rid the body of these infections."

The study that included undergraduate Matthew Bendall is reported in the April issue of the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution.

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