Developments to Watch
THE SHAPE OF TIDAL WAVES TO COME
FEW HARBORS ARE SAFE when a big storm blows in. In order to give boat owners plenty of time to batten down the hatches, the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa has developed a wave-forecasting software system called Sea 21 that is meant to ward off millions of dollars in damage that storms in ports can cause.
Weather bureaus provide forecasts of ocean conditions but cannot predict what will happen when waves move from deep water to shallow. By the time waves reach a harbor, they may not be so huge, but they can still cause considerable damage by sneaking up quickly and churning the confined waters. Sea 21 constantly assesses data received from local meteorological offices on wind and wave conditions in deep water, then combines the data into a chain of computational models using local winds, harbor shape, currents, ship motion, and other variables. The system not only signals a storm's approach but also calibrates its potential impact on a particular harbor or marina. Technion says the system is especially effective in predicting secondary waves that are not high-cresting and that tend to form in shallow water. Sea 21 has just been installed in the port of Haifa.EDITED BY CATHERINE ARNSTReturn to top
USING POISON FROM SNAKES TO STYMIE CANCER
THE DEADLY VIPER GOT A BAD rap from all those Tarzan movies where it played the bad guy. But maybe that wasn't fair. It seems the venom of Macmahon's viper, a serpent found in Afghanistan and Pakistan, can prevent the spread of cancer cells in mice. This discovery may help researchers develop cancer-fighting drugs that have the same properties.
The venom contains a protein called eristostatin that prevents an early step in blood-clotting and also reduces the number of tumor cells in mice. Mary Ann McLane, of the University of Delaware's Medical Technology Dept., and Dr. Stefan Niewiarowski, of Temple University Medical School, have developed a preliminary molecular portrait of the protein that may explain how it works. They compared eristostatin with a similar protein from another type of viper venom that is not effective against tumors. They discovered that just 3 out of the 13 amino acids that make up eristostatin are responsible for its ability to block the proliferation of cancer cells.EDITED BY CATHERINE ARNSTReturn to top
NEW ROBOTS TO SLICE AND SUTURE
THE SURGEON'S HOLY GRAIL IS AN OPERATION THAT CUTS open the patient as little as possible--a quest greatly abetted by the development of the endoscope, an optical tube connected to a video camera and light source. The endoscope is passed into the body, allowing the surgeon to view the site of the operation on a video monitor, where the image can be magnified up to 15 times. Surgery is performed with long instruments inserted through pencil-size incisions. But the endoscope must be held perfectly still, and the surgeon must rely on others to manipulate the device.
Computer Motion Inc. in Santa Barbara, Calif., has started marketing an improvement: a voice-activated robot, the Aesop 3000, that manipulates the endoscope in response to a doctor's voice commands. The robot acts as "a third arm," says Randall K. Wolf, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Christ Hospital in Cincinnati, returning control to the surgeon and providing a motionless image.
Computer Motion has not stopped there. The company is developing a surgical system called Zeus that has three "arms"--one to hold the endoscope and the other two to manipulate the surgical instruments while the surgeon gives directions from a console. At a conference in January of the American Thoracic Society, company researchers presented their results using Zeus for successful open-heart surgery on cows.EDITED BY CATHERINE ARNSTReturn to top