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Research triggers conflict concerns

Booming private industry serves drug companies and government clients

Posted: April 28, 2007

The medical research company hired by the federal government four years ago to update its list of carcinogens moved quickly to add a virus to the list while two of its clients were developing vaccines to combat that same virus.

Today those clients - Merck & Co. and GlaxoSmithKline - along with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are involved in a controversial push to have every adolescent girl in the nation receive the vaccine against the sexually transmitted human papilloma virus.

Industry analysts predict the vaccines will bring billions of dollars to the two drug manufacturers by 2010.

The federal carcinogen list was prepared by the Constella Group - a North Carolina firm with ties to former U.S. Health and Human Services secretary and Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson.

Constella has received more than $246 million from an array of federal agencies in the past seven years while also working for drug companies the government oversees, the Journal Sentinel found.

While Constella says it has internal controls to prevent conflicts of interest between its government duties and its work for drug and health companies, the government doesn't require corporate contractors to disclose their private-sector clients.

Full story.

TomoTherapy set to go public

Jeff Richgels

No date has been set, but TomoTherapy's initial public offering of stock could be drawing near.

The Madison-based tech company on Thursday filed an amended registration statement with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission indicating that it could raise up to $213 million in its IPO. The company has applied to be listed on the Nasdaq Global Market under the symbol "TTPY."

TomoTherapy says its "Hi-Art" cancer treatment system precisely delivers radiation with sub-millimeter accuracy to kill cancer cells while reducing radiation exposure to surrounding healthy tissue. The company has about 500 employees and has said it plans to add another 100 this year.

Full story.

Driving Biodiesel Through Wisconsin

With gasoline prices on the rise, a group of Madison biodiesel supporters headed to Evansville to voice support for alternative, plant-based fuels.

The caravan congregated at the Prairie Fire Bio-Fuels Co-op on East Washington Avenue in Madison, which sells bio-diesel. Bio-diesel can be processed locally from vegetable oil and runs on a standard diesel engine. Locally, biodiesel is processed most commonly from soybeans, a source that supports local farmers.

One Middleton woman said she even scrapped her plans to buy a hybrid vehicle, opting for a new diesel car instead.

"We are convinced that that's the next direction we are going to go as a family as well," said Susan Wiegel of Middleton. "We're convinced that we are going to have a diesel vehicle and that we can use biodiesel fuel."

Full story.

Neurognostics Installs fMRI System at Waukesha Memorial Hospital Demonstrating Adoption of fMRI in Clinical Setting

April 27, 2007 (Milwaukee/Waukesha, Wis.) - Neurognostics, a Milwaukee-based medical imaging company, recently installed their MindState Functional MR Imaging (fMRI) suite of products and services at Waukesha Memorial Hospital.  fMRI gives Waukesha Memorial Hospital the capability of mapping important brain functions prior to operating on patients with brain tumors and epilepsy.

"Functional MRI technology has a tremendous potential to improve patient care," said Neurognostics Vice President of Research and Clinical Operations, Cathy Elsinger, Ph.D. "Neurognostics has developed an integrated fMRI System for clinicians, making it simple and cost-effective to implement fMRI in their everyday practice.  Waukesha Memorial's adoption of this technology demonstrates the growing trend of fMRI's progression from research to a standard of care within the clinical setting."

Waukesha Memorial Hospital, a ProHealth Care hospital, is the leading provider of advanced healthcare services between Milwaukee and Dane counties.  The ProHealth Care Neuroscience Center provides services for problems affecting the brain and spine, from back and neck surgery to comprehensive stroke care and pain management.  The center will use Neurognostics' fMRI System to map patients' brain activity prior to undergoing brain surgery, giving surgeons improved treatment planning options and increased confidence, often helping to reduce surgical times and improving patient outcomes.

"Waukesha Memorial Hospital is one of the leading hospitals in the region for stroke, brain, and spine care," said Michael McCrea, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Neuroscience Center at ProHealth Care. "We look forward to using Neurognostic's fMRI System and Data Analysis services to provide the best care for our patients in the clinical setting.  Using fMRI as a presurgical tool has numerous benefits to the patient, including more effective, cost-efficient, and less invasive treatment.  We look forward to working with Neurognostics as we expand the use of their fMRI System to other clinical neuroscience areas and research programs in the near future."

"We are very excited to work with a leading healthcare institution such as Waukesha Memorial Hospital," added Elsinger. "We look forward to delivering improved patient care within Waukesha's neurosurgical setting, and partnering with them to broaden the use of fMRI technology into other clinical areas such as the identification, tracking, and management of neurological disorders such as Alzheimers, Parkinsons and ADHD."

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Milwaukee Team Develops Free, Searchable Genetic Database

To Speed Testing, Tracking of Emerging Influenza Virus Strains

A Medical College of Wisconsin and Children’s Research Institute team in Milwaukee has created a free website that will significantly improve diagnostic testing and genetic tracking of human and animal influenza viruses worldwide. The website, which is automatically updated weekly, will also facilitate rapid response as new virus strains emerge to cause either annual epidemics or the next pandemic.

In a striking example of translational, or bench-to-bedside, research the multidisciplinary team has created a searchable database containing all accessible genetic sequences of influenza A, B, and C, and integrated them into the website . The site was presented at two recent meetings: Seasonal & Pandemic Influenza, 2007 in Arlington, VA, and IX International Symposium on Respiratory viral infections in Hong Kong.

With the widespread availability of rapid genetic testing for influenza in clinics and laboratories, considerable resources are spent on bioinformatics annually by many researchers and funding agencies worldwide trying to improve influenza diagnostics, according to presenting author Kelly Henrickson, M.D., professor of pediatrics and microbiology at the Medical College.

Since the 1997 Hong Kong bird flu outbreak, the focus of the world and its scientific community has intensified on all aspects of influenza,” he says. “As a result, there has been a significant increase in the amount of genomic data for influenza, which is now greater than 46,000 genetic sequences and growing by hundreds monthly.”

Constantly updated to keep pace with emergence of new virus strains, this tool will also reduce the enormous resources being expended worldwide on duplicate efforts. The site’s simple, pop-up query screen, allows all 46,000+ sequences in its database to be searched, or probed, with a set of criteria including: gene segment, year, species, geographic location, and subtype. The unique feature of this website is that after quickly aligning the genetic sequences, it displays the consensus sequence with the percentage of match, mismatch and gap at each position for rapid identification of the strain being tested.

In addition, the website offers two other important tools: 1) a program that can automatically design primers and probes for the resulting consensus sequence and 2) a program that links the user and consensus sequence to a database containing the majority of published and already developed influenza primers and probes; displaying this data aligned to the consensus sequence using colored primer/probe sequences that when “clicked on” produces the complete reference for the user.

According to Dr. Henrickson, even though the NIH has funded improved bioinformatics for a number of infectious diseases, including influenza, the tools currently available have been limited and not as much help to clinicians and researchers working on molecular diagnostics for influenza.

Currently, this website only focuses on the influenza virus information. However, other pathogens which cause respiratory tract infections, such as RSV and parainfluenza virus, will be added to this website in the near future.

Other team members include: pediatric research technologist Michael E. Bose, M.S., assistant professor of pediatrics Jiang Fan, M.D.; bioinformatics center applications manager Andrew Patzer, physiology genetics data specialist Jack Littrell, and pediatric infections disease lab supervisor Andrea J. Kraft M.S. This work is partially funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Continue reading "Milwaukee Team Develops Free, Searchable Genetic Database" »

Rapid-fire pulse brings Sandia Z method closer to goal of high-yield fusion reactor

Revolutionary circuit fires thousands of times without flaw

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — An electrical circuit that should carry enough power to produce the long-sought goal of controlled high-yield nuclear fusion and, equally important, do it every 10 seconds, has undergone extensive preliminary experiments and computer simulations at Sandia National Laboratories' Z machine facility.

Z, when it fires, is already the largest producer of X-rays on Earth and has been used to produce fusion neutrons. But rapid bursts are necessary for future generating plants to produce electrical power from sea water. This had not been thought achievable till now.

Sandia is a National Nuclear Security Administration laboratory.

How does it work?

An automobile engine that fired one cylinder and then waited hours before firing again wouldn't take a car very far.

Similarly, a machine to provide humanity unlimited electrical energy from cheap, abundant seawater can't fire once and quit for the day. It must deliver energy to fuse pellets of hydrogen every 10 seconds and keep that pace up for millions of shots between maintenance — a kind of an internal combustion engine for nuclear fusion. That's so, at least, for the fusion method at Sandia National Laboratories' Z machine and elsewhere known as inertial confinement.

But, unable to produce fusion except episodically, the method has been overshadowed by the technique called magnetic confinement — a method that uses a magnetic field to enclose a continuous fusion reaction from which to draw power.

The electrical circuit emerging from the technological hills may change the balance between these systems. Tagged as "revolutionary" by ordinarily conservative researchers, it may close the gap between the two methods.

Full story.

Emotions, science collide in cloning

Some say it's breeding tool; others fear harm to food

Posted: April 15, 2007

Barron - Bob Schauf knows cows. He breeds them and shows them, washes, clips and primps them like models poised to strut down a Paris runway.

Yet in all his years, Schauf never saw a cow quite like Blackrose, a gentle giant, a prize-winning Holstein who was "tall, strong, upstanding and beautifully shaped."

"She's one of those once-in-a-lifetime cows," Schauf says.

Make that twice in a lifetime.

Blackrose died in 2001. But her clones live on.

Full story.

Scientists try to harness architecture of microscopic diatoms for commercial ventures


Special to the Journal Sentinel
Posted: April 15, 2007

They're dubbed "nature's nanotechnologists" - one-celled algae called diatoms that create exquisite and delicate patterns in their cell walls.

University of Wisconsin-Madison biologist Michael Sussman and his colleagues are struggling to understand these organisms, with the goal of using their designs in nanomanufacturing - producing sensors, drug delivery systems and computer chips.

These algae "make intricate designs with nano-sized features. We believe they are genetically controlled," said Sussman, a professor of biochemistry and director of the UW's Biotechnology Center. "What we are hoping is that we can genetically manipulate these designs to make patterns that we want to make rather than what the diatoms want to make."

Diatoms create their cell walls of silica, also known as silicon dioxide, by taking in silicic acid from their watery environment and transforming it into silica.

"The idea that we can use biology to improve technology is a very exciting prospect," said Virginia Armbrust, a University of Washington oceanographer.

She led a team of dozens of researchers that sequenced the genome of an ocean-dwelling diatom, T. pseudonana, in 2004.

Full story.

Stem cells not only golden goose for WARF

Stem cells get the publicity, but the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation's cash cow continues to be vitamin D.

The bone-enhancing nutrient used in fortified milk and several drugs brings in about two- thirds of the money at WARF, UW-Madison's tech transfer arm.

MRI scans and a "good fat" used in animal feed also rank high on the moneymaker list. Stem cells come in eighth, bringing in less than 1 percent of the revenue.

Full story.

NIH Grant Funds Medical College Study of Brain Mechanisms of Selective Hearing

            The Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee has received a three-year, $230K grant to study the brain mechanisms of selective hearing. The study, funded by the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders, may also help those with dyslexia or schizophrenia.

            Merav Sabri, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in neurology research at the Medical College, is principal investigator. This project will utilize simultaneous functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and electroencephalography to provide some of the first neuroimaging studies of the healthy adult brain mechanisms involved in selectively attending to sounds. Findings may also help identify and define the processing deficits that underlie auditory attention in schizophrenia and dyslexia, which may lead to development of improved diagnostic procedures as well as new treatments.

            In every day life, we are continuously exposed to incoming sensory information. Frequently we must pay attention to a particular environmental stimulus and ignore competing information. For example, listening to a dinner companion in a crowded and noisy restaurant.

            Since the 1950s, theorists have debated whether this selection occurs early or late during hearing. This project will examine the brain mechanisms that underlie processing of competing sounds while the difficulty and requirements of the ongoing task vary. The researchers hope to further our knowledge of the factors influencing successful and unsuccessful auditory selection.

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