Developments to Watch
Click Here to Speed Genetic Science
It's no secret that many disorders, such as coronary artery disease and early-onset Parkinson's, have a genetic component. But figuring out which genes are responsible has been difficult, because doctors can't collect blood samples from enough people to be able to link symptoms to disease-causing genes. Dr. Hugh Y. Rienhoff Jr., founder and chief executive officer of biotech company DNA Sciences, based in Mountain View, Calif., thinks he can remedy that by using the Web to speed up patient recruitment.
By the end of July, the private company expects to launch the Gene Trust Project for consumers. It correlates disease symptoms with specific genetic variations. Participating in the project will be easy--just log on to the company's Web site, DNA.com. Once logged on, patients who suffer from any of 19 different diseases can volunteer to donate a blood sample for analysis by the company. To participate, a patient must first complete a profile that includes information both about his or her health and that of family members. If the patient is eligible, DNA Sciences arranges for the person's blood to be drawn at a local doctor's office.
Rienhoff believes the payoffs for medical research--and his company--could be huge. He expects the research effort to yield new and better predictive tests for many common diseases. Down the road, Rienhoff says, the findings could also be used to develop novel treatments. Before these benefits can be reaped, however, the company will have to convince the public that it has adequate security and privacy measures in place.By Ellen LickingReturn to top
Now, MRI Can Detect Land Mines, Too
Land mines continue to be a humanitarian nightmare. The U.N. estimates that there are more than 100 million land mines buried around the world and one explodes every 20 minutes--usually killing or maiming a civilian or animal. Now, a new detection method that makes use of a form of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may help solve the problem.
InVision Technologies Inc. of Newark, Calif., licensed the technology, called nuclear quadruple resonance, from the Navy. The system uses a radio-frequency magnetic pulse. When the pulse is aimed at the ground, it excites the molecules of any explosives present, generating a response that can be measured and identified by the system. In a field test reported earlier this year, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) reported that a prototype system detected 100% of a variety of different field mines containing TNT, with no false alarms. "We finally have a viable solution to a problem that has indiscriminately plagued soldiers and civilians for more than six decades," DARPA said at the conclusion of the tests.
InVision recently received a $13.4 million contract from the U.S. Army to develop its system and an additional $2.6 million in funding from DARPA, bringing its total land mine detection development purse to more than $26 million.Return to top
Setting Horses Free from an Old Parasite
American horses can breathe a little easier. The U.S. Agricultural Research Service (ARS) has developed a faster, more accurate test for two dreaded parasites that can cause piroplasmosis, a tick-borne equine disease not normally found in the U.S. This disease is not dangerous in animals routinely exposed to the parasites, but if an American horse becomes infected, it can become very ill or die. Consequently, all horses that enter the U.S. must be declared free of piroplasmosis, and American horses that travel to foreign countries must be retested before they return home.
The current test for the disease is far from satisfactory. The process can take several days and often gives false negative or positive readings. It also requires the horse to be injected with antigens to the disease obtained from infected horses.
To avoid using diseased horses, ARS veterinarian Donald P. Knowles and his team replicated the genetic material of the two parasites in bacteria. The team then developed antibodies that can detect the disease much more accurately. The new test is currently awaiting final approval from the U.S. National Veterinary Services Laboratory and could be commercially available in two years, says Knowles.Return to top