Forget Atkins and South Beach -- the next big weight-loss craze might be "the invisible diet." Using nano-scale particles -- about a billionth of a meter in size -- researchers at Utah State University aim to trick the body into feeling sated by stimulating receptor proteins on cells in the small intestine. When stimulated, the cells send chemical signals to the brain indicating that fat has been ingested. But in some overweight people, these fat receptors may not be sensitive enough, causing them to eat more fatty foods.
The nano approach could cut willpower out of the diet equation. "People will be dieting, but they won't really be thinking 'I have to stop eating now,"' says Tim Gilbertson, the Utah State biology professor overseeing the study. His lab is working to identify a nanoscale drug that will target the fat receptors and speed up production of the missing chemical signals.
Here's Something else to worry about: Air pollution may be increasing deadly health risks three times more than experts had thought.
Earlier studies looking at health and air pollution analyzed samples from several cities and correlated the findings with patterns in published health statistics. In a new study, published in the journal Epidemiology, a team of Canadian and U.S. researchers compared two decades' worth of data on air-particle pollution just within Los Angeles, then matched the findings with information on 22,905 Angelenos studied by the American Cancer Society from 1982 to 2000. After controlling for factors such as smoking and diet, they found that, for each increase of 10 micrograms of pollution per cubic meter of air, the risk of premature death from any cause rose 11% to 17%, compared with a 4% to 6% rise in the inter-city studies.
Last Fall, Amgen (AMGN) abruptly halted tests on a Parkinson's disease treatment -- a protein-based drug known as GDNF -- because animal studies indicated it could cause permanent harm to humans. Now scientists at biotech startup Ceregene think they may have found an alternative: a growth factor called neuturin that is a first cousin of GDNF.
Ceregene researchers have begun a yearlong study of 12 advanced-stage Parkinson's patients at the University of California at San Francisco and Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. Each patient received four injections of a genetically modified virus designed to deliver therapeutic genes to the brain.
The researchers hope that the drug, developed at Washington University in St. Louis, will revive dopamine-producing nerve cells that are needed for smooth bodily movement but that are destroyed by the progressive, crippling illness. In earlier tests of neuturin on primates, tremors began diminishing within three months, says Jeffrey Ostrove, Ceregene's CEO.
-- Get ready to hail an air taxi. The small Eclipse 500 twin-engine jet has passed its next-to-last major hurdle to full certification by the Federal Aviation Administration. Eclipse Aviation, founded in 1998 to launch a new era of on-demand travel with jets that can serve little airports, expects a final FAA thumbs-up next March. The company now has orders for nearly 2,300 of its $1.3 million Eclipse 500 planes, including a contract for 239 jets from startup DayJet, which plans to trot out Eclipse air taxis next year.
-- NASA will roll out the next-generation of Martian rovers, K-9 and Gromit, in early October at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. Following the success of Spirit and Opportunity, two mobile robots still exploring the Red Planet, the new models will be both more self-reliant and collaborative. Improved artificial intelligence should help the rovers make navigation and other work decisions with less assistance. Smarter AI could also help the 'bots collaborate with humans on earth -- or astronauts on Mars -- to explore, survey landing sites, or even help build structures for human habitation.