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Do These Critters Hold The Key To Viable Frozen Eggs?


Some female cancer patients freeze their eggs so they can try to have children if their treatments leave them infertile. But current cryopreservation techniques are so disruptive that only 1% to 5% of eggs develop to term when fertilized. For help, scientists at the Medical College of Georgia are turning to so-called water bears that grow to about 1 millimeter in length. Similar to brine shrimp sold in toy stores as "sea monkeys," they produce a sugar that lets them shut down in time of drought and revive when water is available. The scientists injected mouse eggs with the same sugar, froze them, then thawed them. When fertilized, the eggs produced healthy mouse babies at the same rate as nonfrozen eggs in a control group.

Carmakers are readying a new generation of plug-in hybrids, which come with big battery packs that can recharge at night from a regular outlet. On the road, plug-ins promise up to 100 mpg--the first 50 miles or so on the battery, and then on gas until the next recharge. Still, critics worry that a boom in plug-ins might overload the grid. And since most electricity comes from coal, they note, a switch might lead to more smokestack pollution than is eliminated from cars' tailpipes.

Not to worry, says a new study from Pacific Northwest National Labs. Without any major changes, today's grid could meet about 84% of new demand if the U.S. fleet were switched to plug-ins. Most of the additional power would flow at night, when generators have spare capacity. And with less tailpipe exhaust, air quality in congested cities and suburbs would steadily improve. True, coal-plant emissions will rise, but it's easier to capture pollution at a single stack than from millions of cars. And growing power sales should help utilities finance cleaner plants.

Even with helmets, an estimated 40% of pro hockey players get at least one concussion each season. Cascade Lacrosse has a new helmet that increases protection in both hockey and lacrosse. In tests, it reduces the shock sustained by the brain by 40% or more, compared with current helmets. Instead of standard plastic foam, there's a honeycomb-like material under the shell. The honeycombs are mounted to distribute an impact over a wider area. "We get significant absorption in a very small space," explains Cascade's Bob Colburn. -- Genentech's (DNA) blockbuster drug Avastin, worth nearly $2 billion last year, kills tumors by choking off blood vessels that feed them. But cancers sometimes develop resistance to such medicines, so scientists at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (REGN) are taking the opposite approach. They're testing a molecule that triggers rampant growth of blood vessels, which wind up functioning poorly and starving the tumors. Early results suggest this approach works for tumors resistant to Avastin.

-- In 2000, Case Western Reserve University professor Bryan Roth helped identify the cellular mechanism that caused heart-valve problems in patients who took the diet drug fen-phen. At the time, he predicted that other drugs were likely to trip the same switch. Two studies in the January 4 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine vindicate his warning. This time, the heart troubles afflict patients who take certain drugs for Parkinson's disease. But there's also some good news. Roth, now a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, says knowing the mechanism let's you avoid it. Since fen-phen was withdrawn from the market in 1997, scientists have tested similar drugs that bypass the biological hot button. Arena Pharmaceuticals has one such obesity drug in late-stage clinical trials. Drugs for Parkinson's and other ailments could follow the same strategy.


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