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April 14, 2010 at 5:44 PM
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NASA robot to become member of ISS crew

WASHINGTON, April 14 (UPI) -- NASA scientists say they will launch the first human-like robot into space later this year to become a permanent resident of the International Space Station.

Called "Robonaut 2," or R2, the 300-pound unit was developed jointly by NASA and the General Motors Co. through a cooperative agreement to develop a robotic assistant that can work alongside humans, whether they are astronauts in space or workers at GM manufacturing plants on Earth.

NASA said R2 -- consisting of a head and a torso with two arms and two hands -- will be launched on space shuttle Discovery as part of the STS-133 mission planned for September. Once aboard the station, engineers will monitor how the robot operates in weightlessness.

R2 will be confined to operations in the station's Destiny laboratory, but NASA said future enhancements and modifications might allow it to move more freely around the station's interior or outside the complex.

"This project exemplifies the promise that a future generation of robots can have both in space and on Earth, not as replacements for humans, but as companions that can carry out key supporting roles," said John Olson, director of NASA's Exploration Systems Integration Office. "The combined potential of humans and robots is a perfect example of the sum equaling more than the parts. It will allow us to go farther and achieve more than we can probably even imagine today."

Guillain-Barre rate low post-H1N1 vaccine

TORONTO, April 14 (UPI) -- Incidence of Guillain-Barre syndrome, linked to the swine flu vaccine used in 1976, has been low after last year's H1N1 vaccination, Canadian researchers said.

An analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Food and Drug Administration Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System found there were 35 reports of Guillain-Barre syndrome nationwide by the end of last year -- or 3.5 per 10 million people vaccinated with H1N1.

Guillain-Barre syndrome incidence was slightly higher for last year's seasonal flu vaccine -- 57 reports of were received by Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, or an estimated rate of 7.3 cases per 10 million vaccinations.

Study author Dr. Nizar Souayah of the New Jersey Medical School in Newark said Guillain-Barre syndrome is a rare disorder in which the body's immune system attacks the nervous system, creating weakness of the arms and legs.

It is unclear what causes the disorder, but two-thirds who had it contracted it after being sick with diarrhea or respiratory illness. The rate of Guillain-Barre in the general population is estimated to be between 1-4 cases per 100,000 persons per year, Souayah said.

Except for the swine flu vaccine in 1976, no other influenza vaccine has been clearly associated with Guillain-Barre syndrome, Souayah said.

The findings were presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 62nd annual meeting in Toronto.

World's deepest volcanic vents discovered

SOUTHAMPTON, England, April 14 (UPI) -- British scientists say they have discovered the world's deepest known undersea volcanic vents in the Cayman Trough in the Caribbean Sea.

The researchers from Britain's National Oceanography Center said the vents, known as "black smokers," were discovered at a depth of 3.1 miles by a remotely controlled deep-diving vehicle. The scientists said they found slender spires made of copper and iron ores on the seafloor, erupting water hot enough to melt lead.

Deep-sea vents are undersea springs where superheated water erupts from the ocean floor. They were first seen in the Pacific three decades ago. Most are found at a depth of one to two miles.

"Seeing the world's deepest black-smoker vents looming out of the darkness was awe-inspiring," said marine biologist Jon Copley of the University of Southampton, who led the research. "Superheated water was gushing out of their two-story high mineral spires, more than three miles deep beneath the waves."

The Cayman Trough is the world's deepest undersea volcanic rift, running across the seafloor of the Caribbean.

The team includes students from the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany and Trinidad, as well as scientists from the University of Durham, the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, the University of Texas and Norway's University of Bergen.

Daily updates of the research, which continues through Tuesday, are available at the expedition Web site at http://www.thesearethevoyages.net/.

Study finds potential breast cancer target

MELBOURNE, April 14 (UPI) -- Australian scientists say they've found breast stem cells are very sensitive to female hormones -- a finding that might lead to new breast cancer treatments.

Associate Professors Jane Visvader and Geoff Lindeman at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research said their discovery explains decades of evidence linking breast cancer risk to female hormone exposure.

Visvader and Lindeman, who led the research, said sustained exposure to estrogen and progesterone was a well-established risk factor for breast cancer.

"There is a clear evidence that the more menstrual cycles a woman has the greater her breast cancer risk," Visvader said. "There is even an increase in breast cancer risk in the short-term following pregnancy. However the cellular basis for these observations has been poorly understood."

Using mouse models, the scientists showed that when the ovaries were removed or the animals were treated with hormone inhibitors, breast stem cell numbers dropped and the cells appeared to become dormant.

Lindeman, who is also a medical oncologist, said that finding helped explain why the effects of "chemoprevention" -- a treatment aimed at breast cancer prevention -- continued long after anti-estrogen tablets have been stopped.

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

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