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The Tests Are Back From The Cd


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THE TESTS ARE BACK FROM THE CD

INVENTORS OF THE COMPACT-disk player hoped it would revolutionize audio, but did they figure on making waves in medical diagnostics? Gamera Bioscience Corp. in Cambridge, Mass., is using a modified CD system to create a portable laboratory dubbed the LabCD. The machine will simultaneously perform most standard blood tests plus DNA analyses, says Chairman Alec Mian.

The trick is deceptively simple: Use centrifugal force to move tiny amounts of fluid across the disk. That way, the system doesn't need costly micropumps to move samples. LabCD doesn't need pumps. A tiny drop of blood is placed in a small hole near the center of the CD, and its spinning motion separates the cells and pushes them into other receptacles containing chemicals that perform the tests or amplify DNA. Finally, sensors detect the results. "It's very good physics," says Marc J. Madou, a microfluidics expert at Ohio State University who consults for Gamera.

Mian predicts his LabCD will make medical tests more widely available and produce faster results than central diagnostic labs. Ambulance drivers could conduct blood tests for drugs and alcohol, for example. The device should be out by late 1998 for about $1,000, Mian says, and disks containing 10 to 20 tests will cost "a few dollars."EDITED BY OTIS PORT Geoffrey SmithReturn to top

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POWER-ASSISTED SQUIRMING

MOST LUXURY CARS LET the driver micromanage the seat position. But pushing all those little controls while driving can be distracting, and who really wants to be bothered? McCord Winn Textron Co., a division of Textron Automotive Co. in Troy, Mich., decided to build some decision-making right into the car seat. Its Active Surface Control Technology, or ASCT, employs a programmable microcontroller to interpret signals from sensors in 10 air cells in the seat, inflating and deflating them to provide the best support.

The seat never forces the driver into a rigid position. The chip simply reads inputs from the sensors and matches the results against a biomechanical model stored in its memory. It then gently injects air to ease awkward body twisting or slouching. It takes a fresh reading every four minutes and makes adjustments. If you don't like what it comes up with, you can hit an override button to turn it off.

Textron didn't invent adaptive seating. Similar technology has been used to help burn victims who need to redistribute their weight frequently while they are sitting. But Textron's approach is the first to go mainstream. Cadillac's engineers have designed it into the 1998 Seville. Coming next from Textron: ergon-omic easy chairs for the home and posh office chairs for execs who like to manage by the seat of their pants--or pant-suits.EDITED BY OTIS PORT Neil GrossReturn to top

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OPEN WIDE AND TAKE YOUR INSULIN

SOON, DIABETICS COULD CHUCK THEIR SYRINGES FOR PILLS, judging from the results of an international research team headed by Purdue University's Nicholas A. Peppas, a professor of chemical and biomedical engineering. At the recent American Chemical Society meeting in Las Vegas, Peppas reported that his method of administering insulin orally has proved consistently effective in tests with rats at Hoshi University in Japan.

What he didn't say in Las Vegas is that the Hoshi scientists have already progressed to tests with large animals--dogs. "If these tests continue to look as good as they do now," says Peppas, "I'm cautiously optimistic that we could go to human trials" next year.

The problem with insulin pills is that stomach acid destroys insulin. So Peppas developed a polymeric capsule that reacts to acids by shrinking. That closes the openings in the capsule's surface and protects the insulin. After it leaves the stomach, the capsule--a mix of polymethacrylic acid, the stuff used to make soft contact lenses, and polyethylene glycol--expands and releases the insulin. Purdue has filed for patents and is currently negotiating with three drugmakers.EDITED BY OTIS PORTReturn to top


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