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The Correct Answer To Spinal Jeopardy?


Researchers at Purdue University have devised an unusual method for healing spinal injuries in dogs and enabling them to walk again, a development that raises hope that the same technique might be adapted for human use. The key is polyethylene glycol (PEG), a liquid polymer similar to antifreeze.

Working with injured dogs brought to two veterinary hospitals by their owners, the researchers injected 19 paraplegic animals with PEG within 72 hours of injury. The dogs also received the standard treatment of steroids, surgery, and physical rehabilitation. They were compared with 24 dogs that received only standard therapy. The researchers reported in the December issue of the Journal of Neurotrauma that more than half the dogs in the PEG group walked within two weeks of treatment, and 13 were able to walk within 8 weeks. Only 25% of the dogs in the control group ever reached the same level of mobility.

Dr. Richard B. Borgens, director of Purdue's Center for Paralysis Research, says PEG works by fusing cell membranes together. In the future, he would like to test the compound on injured humans.

Genetically engineered crops may be controversial, but they're well entrenched around the world. Only eight years after the first biotech crops were commercialized, they are now grown in 18 countries and are the target of research in an additional 45, according to a new report. Titled "The Global Diffusion of Plant Biotechnology," the report was funded by the industry group Council for Biotechnology Information.

Worldwide, biotech crops are now worth about $44 billion a year. While the U.S. accounts for half of the total, the fastest growing adopters are developing nations. China, for example, is second only to the U.S. in supporting biotech crop research.

In addition to popular target crops maize, cotton, soybeans, and canola, some 57 other engineered crops are under development. Asia, Latin America, and parts of Africa are expected to increase plantings in coming years.

Tuberculosis kills 2 million people each year, and every year about 300,000 cases are found to be resistant to the antibiotics used in treatment. Yet there has not been a new TB drug in over 40 years.

Scientists at Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) hope to end that drought with a novel antibiotic that blocks the energy source of the bacterium. When tested on TB-infected mice, the drug, called R207910, worked better and faster than existing treatments. It also proved safe for healthy humans in early clinical trials. Currently, TB is treated with a cocktail of three antibiotics that must be taken for six to nine months. The research team, reporting on Dec. 9 in the online version of Science, said that in tests on mice the new drug cut treatment time in half when added to the cocktail. After two months on the drug, no TB bugs could be detected in the lungs, a finding the team called "unprecedented." It was also effective against all multidrug-resistant strains of TB tested.

-- Should we start worrying about "the Big One?" Two scientists at the University of California at Berkeley have detected deep tremors along the San Andreas Fault in Central California that may be harbingers of a large quake. The tremors are near the epicenter of the huge Fort Tejon earthquake of 1857, one of the biggest ever recorded in the U.S. The researchers report in the Dec. 10 Science that 110 tremors were measured over three years ending in December, 2003.

-- But try not to lose sleep over earthquakes -- you could end up obese. Two studies released on Dec. 6 found that lack of sleep alters the levels of two appetite-regulating hormones. The result: an increase in hunger and a craving for high-carb foods. A study in the Public Library of Science Medicine examined the sleep of 1,024 volunteers. Compared with eight-hour-a-night sleepers, participants who slept only five hours had a 14.9% increase in ghrelin, which triggers hunger, and a 15.5% drop in leptin, which suppresses appetite. A separate report in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that 12 volunteers who slept four hours a night for two nights had a 28% hike in ghrelin and an 18% drop in leptin.


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