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Hold It Right There, Or I'll Snare You!


Developments to Watch

HOLD IT RIGHT THERE, OR I'LL SNARE YOU!

NEW YORK CITY COPS ARE set to borrow a page from Spider-Man comic books. Next month, a couple dozen officers will each carry a fat pistol that can bring down fleeing suspects without harming them. It fires a shell containing a net--make that NET, for nonlethal entanglement technology. "If the New York police like it--and I'm sure they'll have some suggestions for changes--this could be a hot item for police departments," says Arnis Mangolds, NET project manager at Foster-Miller Inc. in Waltham, Mass.

Foster-Miller developed the concept for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. DARPA wanted a weapon to stop enemy vehicles with something, perhaps a supersticky film. "Once we had the basics down," says Mangolds, "imaginations could run wild." Lots of other applications were dreamed up. One was instant deployment of camouflage nets. That triggered the NET idea, which will now get its first test in the field.

An even more potent electrified net is in the works. It snares people and stuns them with jolts of electricity. But stun guns are illegal in many states, so the stun NET will be a military item.EDITED BY OTIS PORTReturn to top

ATTACKING CANCER BY USING ONE OF ITS STRENGTHS

RESEARCHERS HAVE LONG sought to kill cancer cells by smothering them--depriving them of the oxygen they need to survive and grow. But tumor cells are remarkably tolerant of low-oxygen conditions, thanks to genes that switch on when the rogue cells are threatened by oxygen starvation. Now, a team of British researchers has devised a way to fight fire with fire.

The idea is to deliver an anticancer substance via a virus that has been modified by adding the same genetic "switch" that enables tumor cells to resist being smothered. Thus, the virus lives long enough to release lethal amounts of its toxin, even when a rapidly-growing cancer is consuming almost all of the available oxygen. According to a report in the May 1 issue of the journal Nature Medicine, the technique is proving to be effective in mice, shrinking or killing cancers in a significant percentage of the tumors.

The low-oxygen survival gene was identified by a team headed by Adrian L. Harris at the Molecular Medicine Institute at Oxford University. This so-called hypoxia-responsive element, or HRE, has been licensed to Oxford BioMedica PLC, a 1995 spinout from the university. Clinical trials with breast cancer patients could start as early as late next year, according to Oxford BioMedica.EDITED BY OTIS PORT Heidi DawleyReturn to top

FIRST AID FOR FLAWED FUSELAGES

THE THIN SKINS OF AIRLINers take a beating. Vibrations, bumpy landings, and rapid temperature changes when zooming from ground-level warmth to the frigid skies five miles up all cause stress. Eventually, hairline cracks appear in the aluminum. The cracks are currently patched with metal plates. But this requires rivets that puncture the plane's skin--and the holes can lead to more problems. The patching process can also ground the plane for a day, which means $80,000 or more in lost revenues.

Now, the Federal Aviation Administration has given thumbs-up to a new remedy: a high-tech Band-Aid. It consists of thin layers of boron-fiber-reinforced epoxy film. Bonded to the aluminum and cured with heat, this polymer composite is up to three times stronger than aluminum. And the patching can be done overnight, so the plane is ready to fly again in the morning.

Developing this first-aid treatment took three years. The project involved composites-supplier Textron, Lockheed Martin, Delta Air Lines, and the FAA and was led by Sandia National Laboratories. The next goal, according to Sandia researcher Dennis P. Roach, is winning FAA approval for using the technique on bigger projects, including the repair of fuselage joints.EDITED BY OTIS PORTReturn to top


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