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Wisconsin scientists discover a master key to microbes' pathogenic lifestyles

Wisconsin scientists discover a master key to microbes' pathogenic lifestyles

MADISON - For some microbes, the transformation from a benign lifestyle in the soil to that of a potentially deadly human pathogen is just a breath away.

Inhaled into the lungs of a mammal, spores from a class of six related soil molds found around the world encounter a new, warmer environment. And as soon as they do, they rapidly shift gears and assume the guise of pathogenic yeast, causing such serious and sometimes deadly afflictions as blastomycosis and histoplasmosis.

But how these usually bucolic fungi undergo such a transformation to become serious pathogens has always been a puzzle. Now, however, a team of scientists from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health reports the discovery of a master molecular sensor embedded in the spores of the fungi that triggers the transformation. The finding is reported in the April 28 edition of the journal Science.

The discovery could lead to new treatments, and possibly vaccines for the diseases caused by these Jekyll and Hyde microbes, says Bruce Klein, a UW-Madison professor of pediatrics, internal medicine and medical microbiology and immunology, and the senior author of the new study.

"These microbes have to undergo an extreme makeover to survive in a host," says Klein, an authority on fungal diseases. "The million dollar question is was what controls this change? "

Klein and colleagues Julie C. Nemecek and Marcel Wuthrich identified a molecular sensor that is conserved in these six related dimorphic fungi found worldwide. The sensor, says Klein, is like an antenna situated in the membrane of the fungi's spores. It senses temperature, and when a spore finds itself at a comfortable 37 degrees Celsius, the body temperature of a human or other animal, it kick starts a genetic program that transforms the fungi into pathogenic yeasts.


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Biopolitics: Can't We All Just Get Along?

Biopolitics: Can't We All Just Get Along?

by Nigel M. de S. Cameron | posted 04/27/2006 10:00 a.m.

For years, some of us have been saying that the issues raised by advances in biotechnology will dominate the 21st century—not just because new technology is always fascinating, but also because they will become the key issues in our culture and our politics. Think of the culture war over abortion, and then think much, much bigger. We will move from taking human life to making and finally faking human life—by design.

The cloning/stem-cell debates have been a forerunner of that enlarged culture war. Yet it's important to make some things clear. Those of us who would be seen as "social conservatives" are not Luddites. We are not opposed to technology. We may be more skeptical than some as to its benefits or its harmlessness, because we tend to take a Judeo-Christian view of human nature. It is flawed; humans can do wonderful things, but they can also do incredibly evil things, and new technology always gives us the power to do more than we could have before. Furthermore, because we are flawed and finite, our technologies are flawed. Space shuttles explode. Microsoft Windows crashes. My PDA rearranged my schedule one day. We all have our own stories.

At a conference in Washington recently, the Center for American Progress made a push for "progressive" bioethics and against "bioconservatives." This is curious, because one of the most striking facts of our time is that just as economic and social "conservatives" have disagreed on key biopolicy issues, so also "progressives" are thoroughly divided. Many of them side with "conservatives" on a wide range of bioethics issues, from cloning to germline (inheritable) changes to the need for reform in the patenting of human genes.

Part of the problem lies with BIO, the trade group of the biotechnology industry. Many of their efforts are estimable: Biotech will lead to cures for many diseases, and we will welcome them. But the organization, which brought together nearly 20,000 people at a conference in Chicago this April, has for obscure reasons decided to take sides in the great debate about embryonic stem-cell research and cloning.

There are many reasons why their decision is strange. For one thing, whatever hype we may read in the press, the private investment in embryonic stem-cell research is tiny, and stem cells do not feature on standard lists of "10 most promising bio developments." Moreover, Pharma—the far larger group that represents drug manufacturers—has deliberately stayed out of the debate and takes no official line on the issue.

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Imago raises $3.4 million

Imago raises $3.4 million
Funds will support company's new British acquisition
By KATHLEEN GALLAGHER
kgallagher@journalsentinel.com
Posted: April 27, 2006

Just two weeks after announcing its first acquisition, Imago Scientific Instruments said it has raised $3.4 million of funding.

The Madison nanotechnology toolmaker will use the money to support the increase in operations that resulted from the acquisition and accelerate product line development at the company it acquired, said Timothy Stultz, Imago president and chief executive officer.


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Human organs for sale

Human organs for sale
By Debra Saunders

Two years ago, The New York Times ran a story about a 48- year-old Brooklyn woman who, facing death after years of dialysis treatments and failing health, received a kidney from a Brazilian peasant who was paid $6,000 for the organ. The chilling story bared the human misery that surrounds the black market on human parts.

Some donors faced ill health and even (unlike the recipients) prosecution. The kidney recipient talked to the Times reporter, but felt enough shame that she did not want her name in the newspaper.

Last week, The San Francisco Chronicle ran a story by reporter Vanessa Hua about a San Mateo, Calif., man who flew to Shanghai and paid $110,000 for a liver - with nary a thought about human- rights activists' contention that China has executed prisoners in order to harvest their organs. Not only was Eric De Leon's name in the paper, he even has a blog about his Shanghai transplant. The man clearly is not ashamed.

Last year, the Chinese deputy health minister admitted, as he promised reform, that the organs of executed prisoners were sold to foreigners. This month, the South China Morning Post reported that a leading Chinese transplant surgeon estimated that more than 99 percent of transplanted organs in China came from executed prisoners.


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Doyle signs order to market state as research center

Stem cell boost
Doyle signs order to market state as research center
By KATHLEEN GALLAGHER
kgallagher@journalsentinel.com
Posted: April 25, 2006

John Lough and his colleagues have been working with mouse embryonic stem cells for about two years, trying to create beating cells that might someday be used to fix ailing hearts.

Now the Medical College of Wisconsin researcher says he and his team are in the process of switching to human embryonic stem cells because they proliferate much faster when implanted into rat hearts than the mouse cells do.

"That could be one advantage of many," said Lough, a professor of cell biology and anatomy. "They're human cells and that's what we're about - human disease."

Lough was among the Medical College scientists and others who watched Gov. Jim Doyle sign an executive order Tuesday directing the state Department of Commerce to spend at least $5 million over an indefinite period of time to encourage more stem cell companies in Wisconsin.


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Embryonic stem cell research in Wisconsin isn't just about science — it raises complex moral issues.

An ethical dilemma
Embryonic stem cell research in Wisconsin isn't just about science — it raises complex moral issues.
By SUSANNE RUST and KATHLEEN GALLAGHER
srust@journalsentinel.com
Posted: April 24, 2006
Madison - Third of three parts

Susan Armacost and Ed Fallone are passionate about the morality of human embryonic stem cell research. They are also worlds apart.

Armacost, legislative director of Wisconsin Right to Life, says the destruction of embryos necessary to obtain the cells is murder. Her organization has added embryonic stem cell research to its traditional issues of abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Fallone, president of Wisconsin Stem Cell Now Inc., says it's wrong to put limits on research that many believe has the potential to cure diseases, including the juvenile diabetes that afflicts him, his father and his son. He formed his group to advocate for stem cell research in the state after President Bush was re-elected.

Here in Wisconsin - the cradle of human embryonic stem cell research, with no laws promoting or restricting it - the political and ethical conflicts on this issue are moving into the spotlight.

Human embryonic stem cells were first isolated in the lab of University of Wisconsin-Madison researcher James Thomson in 1998. Armed with critical patents and a planned research hub at UW that will encourage stem cell researchers from all walks of science to mingle with private industry, Wisconsin offers a hospitable environment for entrepreneurs in this field.

But whether human embryonic stem cell technology has a long-term future in the state depends on more than an agreement between science and industry. The deciding factor is a political consensus on what, if any, kind of embryonic stem cell research is morally and ethically acceptable - a consensus that Armacost and Fallone each claim their side already has, citing different polls that say 70% of the public supports their respective positions.

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From UW-Madison labs to the marketplace

From UW-Madison labs to the marketplace
Scientists, entrepreneurs and financiers are working to turn stem cell research into marketable products. A key aim of the effort: Cultivating new companies, and good jobs, right here in Wisconsin.
By KATHLEEN GALLAGHER and SUSANNE RUST
kgallagher@journalsentinel.com
Posted: April 23, 2006
Second of three parts

Madison - For years, two of Wisconsin's least-known exports have been among its most valuable: the intellectual and investment capital that help power the economic engines of states such as California and New York.

The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, among this country's most successful university patenting and licensing organizations, has licensed most of the University of Wisconsin-Madison's life sciences technologies to out-of-state companies.

The State of Wisconsin Investment Board - the 25th biggest pension fund in the world, managing $76 billion - has used firms that focus on places such as Boston and the Silicon Valley to make virtually all of its venture capital investments in young businesses.

Now human embryonic stem cells, first isolated in UW research labs, are providing a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change that dynamic.

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Deleting data violates law

Deleting data violates law
By David Ziemer
Wisconsin Law Journal

March 15, 2006

What the court held

Case: International Airport Centers, L.L.C., v. Citrin, No. 05-1522.

Issue: Does an employee violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act by erasing all the data from a laptop loaned to him by his employer?

Holding: Yes. Using a secure-erasure program is a "transmission" that damages the computer, and is thus, within the ambit of the Act.

The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act’s (CFAA) prohibition on transmitting a program, in order to damage a computer, includes erasing all the data from a laptop.

The Seventh Circuit’s Mar. 8 opinion also held it doesn’t matter whether the perpetrator has physical access to the computer or damages it from a remote location.

According to the complaint, Jacob Citrin was employed by International Airport Centers, L.L.C. (IAC), a real estate company, to identify properties that IAC might want to acquire, and to assist in any ensuing acquisition. IAC lent Citrin a laptop for his use.

Citrin decided to quit IAC and go into business for himself, in breach of his employment contract. Before returning the laptop, however, he deleted all the data in it, including data that purportedly would have revealed improper conduct on his part to IAC.

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Stem cell work crosses boundaries

Stem cell work crosses boundaries
UW scientists aim to make Wisconsin the epicenter of a medical revolution
By SUSANNE RUST and KATHLEEN GALLAGHER
srust@journalsentinel.com
Posted: April 22, 2006

First of three parts

Madison - The work of Wisconsin stem cell scientists is re-emerging as some of the most promising in the world, eight years after the era of human stem cell research dawned in a lab here.

The focus on fundamental research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has been eclipsed at times by the quest for dramatic breakthroughs and massive government funding elsewhere.

But private companies trying to leapfrog to a clinical breakthrough have yet to turn a profit, South Korea's program fell from grace when its leading scientist was caught fabricating his findings, and a court battle looms over California's $3 billion stem cell initiative.

Meanwhile, UW-Madison has quietly built a critical mass of scientists across a wide range of disciplines, creating a tight-knit research hub unlike any other institution in the world. Those scientists have seized the opportunity to work with stem cells in unexpected ways.

In departments as diverse as pediatrics and electrical engineering, researchers tinker with human embryonic stem cells: growing them in vials and on plates, immersing them in vats of liquid nitrogen, twisting and stretching them with high-tech vacuums. They work not only to understand the fundamental biology of these cells, but also to build the tools and perfect the protocols that others will use to bring these cells into the clinics and hospitals of the future.

As world-class scientists thrive in an atmosphere of academic openness, Madison's stem cell technology has spread across campus, building a solid infrastructure for a nascent industry. Supporters hope their efforts will deliver embryonic stem cell research into a clinically successful future, adding billions to the state's economy.

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Judge OKs legality of California's $3 billion stem cell institute

Judge OKs legality of California's $3 billion stem cell institute

By PAUL ELIAS

The Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO

California's novel, $3 billion stem cell research institute is a legitimate state agency and two lawsuits challenging its constitutionality have no merit, a state judge ruled Friday.

The ruling came a month after a four-day trial in which lawyers with connections to anti-abortion groups claimed the country's most ambitious stem cell research agency violated California law because it wasn't a true state agency and its managers had a host of conflicts of interest.

But Alameda County Superior Court Judge Bonnie Lewman Sabraw handed the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine an unambiguous victory, writing that the lawsuits failed to show the voter-approved law that created the agency in 2004, "is clearly, positively and unmistakably unconstitutional."

Lewman Sabraw's ruling becomes official in 10 days unless the losing attorneys come up with new and dramatically different arguments.

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