Previous month:
August 2006
Next month:
October 2006

From zero to a billion electron volts in 3.3 centimeters

From zero to a billion electron volts in 3.3 centimeters
Highest energies yet from laser wakefield acceleration

BERKELEY, CA -- In a precedent-shattering demonstration of the potential of laser-wakefield acceleration, scientists at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, working with colleagues at the University of Oxford, have accelerated electron beams to energies exceeding a billion electron volts (1 GeV) in a distance of just 3.3 centimeters. The researchers report their results in the October issue of Nature Physics.

By comparison, SLAC, the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, boosts electrons to 50 GeV over a distance of two miles (3.2 kilometers) with radiofrequency cavities whose accelerating electric fields are limited to about 20 million volts per meter.

The electric field of a plasma wave driven by a laser pulse can reach 100 billion volts per meter, however, which has made it possible for the Berkeley Lab group and their Oxford collaborators to achieve a 50th of SLAC's beam energy in just one-100,000th of SLAC's length.

This is only the first step, says Wim Leemans of Berkeley Lab's Accelerator and Fusion Research Division (AFRD). "Billion-electron-volt beams from laser-wakefield accelerators open the way to very compact high-energy experiments and superbright free-electron lasers."

In the fall of 2004 the Leemans group, dubbed LOASIS (Laser Optics and Accelerator Systems Integrated Studies), was one of three groups to report reaching peak energies of 70 to 200 MeV (million electron volts) with laser wakefields, accelerating bunches of tightly focused electrons with nearly uniform energies.

Continue reading "From zero to a billion electron volts in 3.3 centimeters" »

Researchers Report Growing Stem Cells From Dead Embryos

Researchers Report Growing Stem Cells From Dead Embryos

By Rick Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 23, 2006; Page A03

Researchers reported Thursday that they had cultivated a colony of human embryonic stem cells from an apparently dead embryo, a strategy some have suggested might be less controversial than conventional approaches that require the destruction of living embryos.

But other stem cell scientists and ethicists quickly raised a host of reasons that the advance may have little practical impact on the stormy research field. Among them are concerns that cells from dead embryos may be genetically abnormal, and the lack of a definitive test for proving that an embryo has no lingering potential for life.

"How do you know when an embryo is dead?" asked Eric M. Meslin, director of the Indiana University Center for Bioethics.

The work, reported in the online journal Stem Cells, was led by Miodrag Stojkovic of Sintocell in Serbia and the Centre for Stem Cell Biology and Developmental Genetics at England's University of Newcastle upon Tyne.

The team started with 13 embryos that had been created in a fertility clinic by in vitro fertilization (IVF) and had stopped developing after a few days. When those "arrested" embryos showed no progress after 24 hours, the team deemed them "generally regarded as dead," dissected them and cultivated their cells.

The hope was that a few cells might still have the potential to grow, even if the embryo as a whole did not -- just as viable organs can be retrieved from dead people. And it worked: From those cells, one healthy colony of stem cells grew.

"Usage of arrested embryos offers an attractive option," especially in countries where research on live embryos is restricted, the team concluded.

Many IVF embryos fail to develop, suggesting that the approach might boost the supply of stem cells for study, some experts said. But many of those embryos have abnormalities -- the very reason they stopped developing -- and so would be of questionable value in research, several said.

Full story.

Stem cell breakthrough turns out to be a lot less than first advertised

Stem cell breakthrough turns out to be a lot less than first advertised
Carl T. Hall, Chronicle Science Writer

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Some fuzzy statements to the press have landed the stem cell field back in the soup just when researchers appeared to be winning new public acceptance.

Missouri polls signal a probable win in November for a pro-research ballot initiative. Stem cell advocacy has become a wedge issue all over the country for Democrats angling to retake Congress. In California, the Proposition 71 effort finally has some real money to throw around after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger loaned $150 million to get the lawsuit-entangled program running.

Then came word that a biotech company, Advanced Cell Technology, which has moved its headquarters from Massachusetts to Alameda to take advantage of Prop. 71's $3 billion grant program, had produced stem cell lines a new way, by manipulating single cells, known as blastomeres, taken from embryos at the very early stage when they typically have only eight cells.

This was big news all over the world because it meant that human embryonic stem cells might be produced without destroying embryos.

Single blastomeres are taken all the time from eight-cell embryos in order to diagnose disease genes prior to in vitro fertilization, a technique known as pre-implantation genetic diagnosis. Even with only seven cells remaining, the biopsied embryos appear to be capable of developing normally once they are implanted in the womb.

Scientists say stem cells made this new way could have some interesting properties. But the seeming ethics breakthrough isn't so clear-cut.

Advanced Cell Technology's scientists were trying to work out a nondestructive recipe for producing stem cells, but the initial stage of the work still required the sacrifice of some embryos. In fact, the company used 91 cells from 16 donated embryos to get the first two stem cell lines. None 0f those embryos, of course, could be implanted afterward -- all were destroyed.

Full story.

Is it time to lift the nuclear ban?

Is it time to lift the nuclear ban?
Aging nuclear plants generate one-fifth of the state’s electricity. But new facilities are outlawed. Coal faces environmental worries. Natural gas prices are soaring. And demand keeps growing.
Posted: Sept. 23, 2006

Worldwide, 28 nuclear power plants are under construction. In the United States, where the last new reactor was completed in 1996, 16 plants are on the drawing board, mostly in the South.

In Wisconsin, which relies on nuclear power for one-fifth of its electricity, the state's two nuclear plants are aging, both more than 30 years old.

With concerns growing about the greenhouse gases released by coal-fired plants and about the tripling of natural gas prices in recent years, and with electricity demand growing at 2% a year, is it time for Wisconsin to overturn its ban on new nuclear plants and consider plans to build a new one here?

"There will come a day, sometime in the next five to eight years, when I think the state will have to have the debate (on a new plant)," said Gale Klappa, chairman, president and chief executive of Wisconsin Energy Corp., the state's largest utility.

The moratorium itself already is being debated. A legislative committee assessing the role of nuclear power in Wisconsin's future will tour the Point Beach nuclear plant this week. The radioactive issue is also entering the political arena as the Nov. 7 election nears: Gov. Jim Doyle and Republican challenger Mark Green are divided over whether Wisconsin should explore new nuclear plants.

Full story.

UW is ninth in biotech patents

UW is ninth in biotech patents
MARV BALOUSEK 608-252-6135

The University of Wisconsin System ranks among the top 10 universities worldwide in biotechnology patents but falls behind several other Big Ten universities in transferring that technology to commercial uses, according to a study released today by the Milken Institute of Santa Monica, Calif.

Local biotechnology officials, however, dispute the study's findings on technology transfer.

Full story.

Cardiologist's 'living chip' changes science of disease monitoring

Cardiologist's 'living chip' changes science of disease monitoring

For patients living with heart failure and other health conditions, blood draws and diagnostic tests are commonplace in order to evaluate their condition. Often, though, chemical or physiologic changes silently cause damage that is not detected until much later.

But what if in the future a tiny device, one the size of a nickel or significantly smaller, could be implanted in the patient to monitor and detect abnormalities, and could then relay data to physicians, or provide therapy on the spot, in real time?

It may sound like science fiction, but this concept is moving toward reality at Physiologic Communications LLC, a biotech company founded by University of Rochester Medical Center cardiologist Spencer Rosero, M.D., who specializes in heart rhythm disorders. The company is developing implantable biosensors – integrating living cells with electronics – to create a "biological chip." When implanted, this chip can detect physiologic and chemical changes with faster, improved accuracy. These more accurate results, retrieved without invasive testing, allow for better and timely response and, the hope is, a healthier patient.

How it works Ultimately, cells specific to the patient can be engineered to live on and function as part of the miniature electronic chip. The wireless biosensor is placed within and around blood vessels and nerves to provide detection and stimulation of the surrounding tissues or organ systems, with the ability to detect changes. A change triggers a message to a wireless device to alert the patient early on about a problem. The patient can then contact their physician.

For a patient with heart failure, for example, the biosensor could detect a change in blood protein levels at an early stage, prompting the physician to alter medications to correct the problem. Currently, without blood work being done, the patient or physician would not suspect an issue until the patient began having symptoms or underwent pre-scheduled testing at a routine visit. Catching the problem earlier means the patient remains healthier, and greatly lessens the chance of a hospital stay.

The initial application for this technology is expected to involve pharmaceutical companies, which could use the biological chips to test potential drugs in the lab more quickly and accurately. In later generations, the chip ultimately could command implanted devices – for example, a wireless defibrillator/pacemaker or an insulin pump – to take action to correct a detected abnormality. The device would communicate with the living chip in real time, making adjustments as a direct result of the chip's ability to detect changes.

Full story.

UC Santa Barbara and Intel develop world's first Hybrid Silicon Laser

UC Santa Barbara and Intel develop world's first Hybrid Silicon Laser
Chip that emits and guides light could drive silicon photonics

SANTA BARBARA, Calif., Sept. 18, 2006 – Researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) and Intel Corporation have built the world's first electrically powered Hybrid Silicon Laser using standard silicon manufacturing processes. This breakthrough addresses one of the last major barriers to producing low-cost, high-bandwidth silicon photonics devices for use inside and around future computers and data centers.

The researchers were able to combine the light-emitting properties of Indium Phosphide with the light-routing capabilities of silicon into a single hybrid chip. When voltage is applied, light generated in the Indium Phosphide enters the silicon waveguide to create a continuous laser beam that can be used to drive other silicon photonic devices. A laser based on silicon could drive wider use of photonics in computers because the cost can be greatly reduced by using high-volume silicon manufacturing techniques.

"This could bring low-cost, terabit-level optical 'data pipes' inside future computers and help make possible a new era of high-performance computing applications," said Mario Paniccia, director of Intel's Photonics Technology Lab. "While still far from becoming a commercial product, we believe dozens, maybe even hundreds of hybrid silicon lasers could be integrated with other silicon photonic components onto a single silicon chip."

"Our research program with Intel highlights how industry and academia can work together to advance the state of science and technology," said John Bowers, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at UC Santa Barbara. "By combining UCSB's expertise with Indium Phosphide and Intel's silicon photonics expertise, we have demonstrated a novel laser structure based on a bonding method that can be used at the wafer-, partial-wafer or die-level, and could be a solution for large-scale optical integration onto a silicon platform. This marks the beginning of highly integrated silicon photonic chips that can be mass produced at low cost."

Full story.

Biotechs see big danger in patent rules changes

Biotechs see big danger in patent rules changes
East Bay Business Times - September 15, 2006by Marie-Anne Hogarth

Neal Gutterson, president of Hayward-based Mendel Biotechnology Inc. is more than a little worked up about a U.S. Patent and Trademark Office proposal.

The proposal to limit a key portion of the patent application process, aimed at reducing the patent office's backlog of more than 700,000 cases by limiting continuations, could go into effect before the end of the year and has raised the ire of biotech and agri-technology companies.

Continuations allow companies to apply for protection of different aspects of the same invention without risking having old claims cited against them in a patent search.

Many biotech - and other tech companies - rely on continuations because they may not know for years what eventual form their products will take.

"The reason this is potentially negative is that the big breakthroughs are not how the tech economy runs," said attorney Gregory Scott Smith, who runs GSS Law Group, a patent prosecution firm in Newark. "The tech economy runs on constant incremental improvement and this would hinder that ability."

The patent office, which is reviewing public comment on the rules, says the continuation measure could improve productivity by 5 percent. It faces a growing backlog of cases, which is expected to increase by 100,000 this year.

"Some companies have had conversations about legal avenues for potentially an injunction," Gutterson said. "One of the questions is whether the U.S. PTO has full scope to make the changes, since the continuation practice is part of the patent law."

Industry groups, such as the Biotechnology Industry Organization and the Intellectual Property Owners Association, and companies, including Amgen Inc., Genentech Inc., GlaxoSmithKline and Mendel Biotechnology, have expressed their opposition through commentary on the patent office's Web site.

Groups including BIO, which, according to The Center for Responsive Politics, spent more than $2.8 million in 2005 on lobbying activities, are talking to White House and patent officials.

"It is quite possible it will be up for a court to decide if the patent office will limit continuation practice," said Kenneth Goldman, an attorney with Berkeley-based Dynavax Technologies Corp.

Although biotech companies have overwhelmingly opposed the rule change, that sentiment is not as strong in other industries.

Full story.

RedPrairie chief slams city, state

RedPrairie chief slams city, state
Business environment 'going downhill,' he says
Posted: Sept. 15, 2006

Software executive John Jazwiec on Friday continued his blunt talk about Wisconsin and Milwaukee, telling a business group that "our state and our city are going downhill."

But state Commerce Secretary Mary Burke took issue with Jazwiec, saying his well-publicized views are those of one person and are not representative of the business community as a whole.

Jazwiec, the top executive with Waukesha's RedPrairie Corp., got the ear of business and civic leaders in June when he said the fast-growing software firm was considering leaving Wisconsin.

Among his stated reasons: high taxes, high crime, difficulty persuading talented people to move here and difficulty finding homegrown talent.

In short, Jazwiec contended Friday, Milwaukee is ill-equipped to attract or hold the creative people who he said now drive the economy.

"This is not about handouts," he told a meeting of the Independent Business Association of Wisconsin. "I want everybody to start admitting that our state and our city are going downhill. We have a brain drain."

Full story.

For 1st Woman With Bionic Arm, a New Life Is Within Reach

For 1st Woman With Bionic Arm, a New Life Is Within Reach

By David Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 14, 2006; Page A01

The first time Claudia Mitchell peeled a banana one-handed, she cried.

It was several months after she lost her left arm at the shoulder in a motorcycle accident. She used her feet to hold the banana and peeled it with her right hand. She felt like a monkey.

"It was not a good day," Mitchell, 26, recalled this week. "Although I accomplished the mission, emotionally it was something to be reckoned with."

Now, Mitchell can peel a banana in a less simian posture. All she has to do is place her prosthetic left arm next to the banana and think about grabbing it. The mechanical hand closes around the fruit and she's ready to peel.

Mitchell, who lives in Ellicott City, is the fourth person -- and first woman -- to receive a "bionic" arm, which allows her to control parts of the device by her thoughts alone. The device, designed by physicians and engineers at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, works by detecting the movements of a chest muscle that has been rewired to the stumps of nerves that once went to her now-missing limb.

Mitchell and the first person to get a bionic arm -- a power-line technician who lost both arms to a severe electric shock -- will demonstrate their prostheses today at a news event in Washington. The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago is part of a multi-lab effort, funded with nearly $50 million from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), to create more useful and natural artificial limbs for amputees.

Full story.