A Test For Metastatic Cancer

Cancer patients often don't realize the disease has spread until a secondary tumor grows big enough to show up on an X-ray or CT scan. Battelle Medical Device Solutions now has a patented test that could detect a recurrence much sooner using only a routine blood sample.

Battelle says its approach, developed by Thomas Haubert of its Columbus (Ohio) research lab and Dr. Stephen Wardlaw of Yale University School of Medicine, can find a single cancerous cell in as little as 10-cc's of blood. The system doses the sample with a fluorescent tag that sticks to abnormal cells, which are then separated out in a centrifuge for identification.

Boeing (BA) will soon push the green envelope in the skies over Spain, testing the first manned plane powered only by a fuel cell and batteries. The single-engine prop plane, with a wing span of 53.5 feet, will cruise at a leisurely 62 mph drawing only on its fuel cell. The lightweight lithium-ion batteries will kick in during the takeoff and climb.

Will commercial airplane passengers soon be whisked across continents by fuel cells and a bed of batteries? Not likely, observes Francisco Escarti, managing director of Boeing's R&D lab in Madrid. But experiments like this will help "pave the way for potentially using this technology in small manned and unmanned air vehicles," he says.

Fuel cells convert hydrogen and oxygen to electricity without combustion, and water is the only by-product. Energy is consumed—somewhere—to produce the hydrogen, of course; even so, if planes like these ever become practical, they'll be far cleaner than any existing propeller or jet planes.

In online communities such as Second Life, people create digital doppelgangers of themselves—avatars who shop, go to conferences, and even procreate. Researchers at the University of Manchester in Britain say the same technology is helping amputees suffering from phantom limb syndrome, a common complaint among soldiers returning from Iraq.

The patient learns to conquer the pain that persists in the location of a lost limb by placing a motion-capture glove or sock on his healthy hand or foot, then manipulating virtual versions of both the existing and missing limbs on a computer screen. It's not clear why this relieves pain, but the technique seems to work, says researcher Steve Pettifer.

At the Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Wash., virtual reality will help treat the effects of post traumatic stress disorder, including terrifying flashbacks to the battlefield. The troubled vets don virtual-reality helmets and roam through different battle scenarios, navigating via joysticks. The effect is therapeutic, doctors say, because the simulation reexposes soldiers to the sources of their terror—only this time, in small doses, so they can gradually become desensitized to the memories.

— Doctors may have gained a keen new insight into why lithium is an effective treatment for patients with bipolar disorder: It increases the amount of gray matter in several key regions of the brain, say neuroscientists at the University of California, Los Angeles. The scientists observed the increases using high-resolution MRI and a technique called cortical pattern-matching. There was no evidence the changes persisted when lithium treatment was halted.

— Health experts have long known that complications of Type 2 diabetes, such as heart failure, heart attack, and stroke, take a financial as well as a human toll, but the real cost has been difficult to quantify. Now there's a number: A new report from the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists estimates the U.S. spent $22.9 billion treating such complications in 2006. Per capita, that's about three times the cost of treating non-diabetic Americans.

— Eco-friendly ideas don't always require trade-offs in cost or performance. Scientists at NEC (NIPNY) in Japan have developed a plant-based plastic reinforced by carbon fiber that diffuses heat more effectively than steel or other materials. If used as housing on devices packed with microcomponents—laptops, cell phones, and the like—the bioplastic could conduct heat away from delicate circuits better than standard plastics or metals, and thus prolong the life of a product.

Toyota's Hydrogen Man
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