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For The Smallest Valve, The Secret Is Balance


Developments to Watch

FOR THE SMALLEST VALVE, THE SECRET IS BALANCE

A MIGHTY MICROVALVE THAT CONTROLS THE FLOW OF GASES could open a flood of new products, from a higher-tech version of pump sneakers to airline seats that adjust to the contours of your body.

Invented by BCAM International Inc. of Melville, N.Y., the patent-pending valve is part machine, part computer chip. It is about one centimeter wide and is made of silicon. Production versions will have sensing and control circuitry etched into the surface. Its mechanism is a minuscule, flexible silicon plank that bends up to close off air flow and bends down to open it. The trick is that the air pressures pushing on the two sides of the plank are balanced, so it takes very little power--about 15 milliwatts--to keep the valve either open or closed. The main valve is nudged in either direction by opening or closing a flap that controls the pressure of air against the bottom of the plank. That flap is just 100 microns across--about the width of a human hair.

BCAM says its microvalve is smaller, consumes less power, and is potentially cheaper to manufacture than its main competitor, the Fluistor valve from Redwood MicroSystems Inc. of Menlo Park, Calif. Redwood, though, says its microvalves permit greater accuracy and can handle a wider range of pressures.

BCAM says the valve will probably be used first in footwear, including cushioned shoes for diabetics, who are prone to pressure sores. For the medical-equipment industry, a smart microvalve could be embedded in a disposable drug-inhalation device to ensure that patients receive the proper dose.Peter CoyReturn to top

SCIENTIFIC JOURNAL--OR VANITY PRESS?

ON MAR. 16, NYMOX PHARMACEUTICAL CORP., a small company in Montreal specializing in Alzheimer's disease research, claimed it had discovered a possible cause of the disease. It published its findings in the March issue of the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease. Publication usually confers legitimacy on scientific research--but maybe not this time.

The brand new Journal of Alzheimer's Disease was started in part with a grant from Nymox to the journal's publisher, IOS Press. The journal's editor, Dr. Carl R. Merril of the National Institutes of Health, is a consultant to Nymox. The journal's 23-member editorial board includes six people who either consult for Nymox or have published with its scientists, according to Nymox scientist Hossein Ghanbari.

Ghanbari and Nymox CEO Dr. Paul Averback both insist that they don't control the journal or its editorial board members. The publication is "absolutely independent," says Ghanbari.

Nymox says it has discovered tiny protein balls called "spherons" that swell and eventually explode in the brains of Alzheimer's sufferers. Before the article appeared in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, Nymox submitted it to the prestigious scientific journals Science and Nature, says Ghanbari. Both turned it down, and some scientists say there was good reason to do so. "That data is extremely weak," says Peter T. Lansbury Jr., a Harvard Medical School neurologist. "Any less data and there would be no data."

Scientists may have been skeptical, but not investors. Nymox' stock doubled, to $12.75, following the Mar. 16 release of the findings. But by Mar. 24, the stock was back to 6 21/32 on NASDAQ.

This isn't the first time Nymox has been accused of questionable practices. In 1996, it was criticized for running ads for a test it developed for Alzheimer's before publishing data to show whether the test worked. Nymox now says it is testing drugs to combat the problems "spherons" cause. Lab tests are under way, and human trials could follow.Joseph WeberReturn to top


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