UPI NewsTrack Health and Science News

Feb. 25, 2010 at 5:44 PM
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New fuel cell technology is introduced

SUNNYVALE, Calif., Feb. 25 (UPI) -- A U.S. energy company has unveiled a fuel cell that it says can transform the nation's current system of grid-distributed power into localized energy sources.

The Bloom Energy Corp. of Sunnyvale, Calif., says its "Bloom Energy Server" -- or "Bloom Box" -- is a solid oxide fuel cell that can use a variety of fuel sources to provide "a cleaner, more reliable and more affordable alternative to both today's electric grid, as well as traditional renewable energy sources."

Bloom says its device generates enough power to meet the needs of approximately 100 average U.S. homes or a small office building in approximately the footprint of a parking space. For more power, multiple servers can be installed side by side.

"Customers who purchase Bloom's systems can expect a 3-5-year payback on their capital investment from the energy cost savings," the company said. "Depending on whether they are using a fossil or renewable fuel, they can also achieve a 40-100 percent reduction in their carbon footprint as compared with the U.S. grid."

Company co-founder and CEO K.R. Sridhar told a Wednesday news conference: "We believe that we can have the same kind of impact on energy that the mobile phone had on communications. Just as cell phones circumvented landlines to proliferate telephony, Bloom Energy will enable the adoption of distributed power as a smarter, localized energy source."

Hospitalization linked to cognitive drop

SEATTLE, Feb. 25 (UPI) -- Older patients hospitalized for acute care or critical illness are more likely than others to experience cognitive decline, U.S. researchers found.

Dr. William J. Ehlenbach of the University of Washington, Seattle, and colleagues analyzed data from a study that conducted cognitive testing on older adults. The researchers examined administrative data to determine whether hospitalizations for acute illness or critical illness were associated with cognitive decline and dementia.

The study included data from 1994 through 2007 on 2,929 individuals age 65 and older without dementia at the beginning of the study. Cognition was measured with the Cognitive Abilities Screening Instrument every two years at follow-up visits, and those with scores below a certain point underwent a clinical examination for dementia.

During an average follow-up of 6.1 years, 1,601 participants had no hospitalizations while enrolled in the study; 1,287 study participants were hospitalized for non-critical illness; and 41 participants were hospitalized for a critical illness.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that after adjusting for various factors, patients hospitalized for a non-critical illness had a 40 percent higher risk of dementia.

Genome of the pea aphid is sequenced

CORAL GABLES, Fla., Feb. 25 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists say they have sequenced the entire genome of the pea aphid -- the first sap-sucking insect to be sequenced.

The research involving the horticultural and agricultural pest revealed a close genetic collaboration of the aphid host with its bacterial symbiont, which scientists said might account for some of the extraordinary characteristics of the pea aphid -- including its ability to reproduce both sexually and asexually.

Aphids are among the first insects to appear in early spring on crops where they live by sucking the juices of plants and causing plant death.

"The most important direct benefits to society from this project will come from the way the project increases our ability to understand the ways that aphids interact with their host plants, the plant viruses they transmit, and their bacterial symbionts (Buchnera aphidicola)," said University of Miami Assistant Professor Alex Wilson. "We found that the interaction of the pea aphid with its bacterial symbiont is far more intimate than anyone had previously envisioned.

"We hypothesize … gene loss between the two partners is so extensive that neither one can live without the other," she added.

She said the research findings concerning aphid biology can directly impact food supply and pesticide use.

The study is detailed in the early online edition of the journal PLoS Biology.

Modified immune cells found to fight HIV

PHILADELPHIA, Feb. 25 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists say a genetic modification of immune cells significantly reduced the number of infected cells in HIV patients who stopped antiviral treatment.

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and the VIRxSYS Corp. of Gaithersburg, Md., said they investigated the effects of Lexgenleucel-T, a product made by the company to treat HIV infection. Lexgenleucel-T genetically modifies a class of immune cells called CD4 T-cells.

The scientists said they took white blood cells from patients with human immunodeficiency virus infections. CD4 T-cells are then isolated and genetically modified to inhibit replication of HIV. Those modified CD4 T-cells are then put back into the patient.

In their study, the researchers said they gave infusions of Lexgenleucel-T modified CD4 T-cells to 17 HIV-infected patients who had been using the standard regimen of highly active antiretroviral therapy, or triple-cocktail drug therapy.

Six weeks after the final infusion, patients discontinued the antiretroviral therapy to evaluate counts of virus-infected cells and changes in CD4 T-cell count. Of the eight patients who could be evaluated, the scientists said seven showed a decrease in viral load set point. High viral load set points are associated with more rapid disease progression to AIDS.

The study that included scientists from the Jacobi Medical Center in New York was presented last week in San Francisco during the 16th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections.

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