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September 2008

New technique sidesteps stem cells

Posted: Aug. 27, 2008

After more than a decade of trying to harvest the promise of embryonic stem cells, scientists have hit on a fascinating new approach that sidesteps them entirely. By adding genes to targeted cells in the body they have been able change the basic makeup of those cells, turning them into potential disease-curing cells.

The feat, which was performed in mice, involved reprogramming cells in the pancreas that normally do not produce insulin so that they began producing the sugar-regulating hormone, opening the door to a potential new approach to treating diabetes.

While stem cells long have been prized as potential replacement cells in treating various diseases, the new method, accomplished by Harvard University scientists, suggests that ailments such as diabetes, Parkinson's disease and heart disease could be treated using the patient's own cells.

The paper opens a whole new field of experimentation for a variety of diseases, said Story Landis, head of the stem cell task force at the National Institutes of Health.

The accomplishment, turning one cell type into another is something that scientists have talked about for decades," Landis said. "It's pretty spectacular."

Indeed, if the technique can be perfected, it would represent one of the Holy Grails of medicine, said Robert Lanza, chief scientific officer at Advanced Cell Technology.

Full story.

WiCell Research Institute starting stem cell bank

It will distribute lines beyond the 21 eligible under federal law

Posted: Aug. 21, 2008

The WiCell Research Institute in Madison is starting its own stem cell bank to distribute cell lines beyond the 21 eligible by law for federal funding.

The institute, a private, not-for-profit supporting organization with the University of Wisconsin-Madison, operates the National Stem Cell Bank, which distributes the federally supported lines of embryonic stem cells.

But the new bank will offer cells the national bank does not, including the next generation — skin cells reprogrammed back to the embryonic state.

The first lines being made available were created through reprogramming, a technique that does not involve the destruction of a human embryos. However the institute may also distribute lines of human embryonic stem cells that are not among those approved by the Bush administration.

Full story.


Medical College Physician and Bioethicist Arthur R. Derse Honored By American Society for Bioethics and Humanities

Arthur R. Derse, M.D., J.D., director of medical and legal affairs and associate director of the Center for the Study of Bioethics at the Medical College of Wisconsin, is this year's recipient of the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities' (ASBH) Distinguished Service Award.

ASBH is the professional organization of scholars who teach bioethics and medical humanities in universities and professional schools and those who engage in clinical ethics consultation.

Dr. Derse is also director of the medical humanities program and professor of bioethics and of emergency medicine at the Medical College.  He is chairman of the ethics committee of the American College of Emergency Physicians and the Veterans Health Administration's National Ethics Committee, a member of the American Bar Association's Commission on Law and Aging, and senior consultant for academic affairs at the American Medical Association's Institute for Ethics.

He serves on the advisory board and as faculty for the Education in Palliative and End-of-life Care Project.  He is co author of Practical Ethics for Students, Interns and Residents, 3rd Edition and the Code of Ethics of the American College of Emergency Physicians.

Compressor-free refrigerator may loom in the future

  Thursday, August 7, 2008

University Park, Pa. -- Refrigerators and other cooling devices may one day lose their compressors and coils of piping and become solid state, according to Penn State researchers who are investigating electrically induced heat effects of some ferroelectric polymers.

"This is the first step in the development of an electric field refrigeration unit," says Qiming Zhang, distinguished professor of electrical engineering. "For the future, we can envision a flat panel refrigerator. No more coils, no more compressors, just solid polymer with appropriate heat exchangers."

Other researchers have explored magnetic field refrigeration, but electricity is more convenient.

Zhang, working with Bret Neese, graduate student, materials science and engineering; postdoctoral fellows Baojin Chu and Sheng-Guo Lu; Yong Wang, graduate student, and Eugene Furman, research associate, looked at ferroelectric polymers that exhibit temperature changes at room temperature under an electrical field. These polarpolymers include poly(vinylidene fluoride-trifluoroethylene) and poly(vinylidene fluoride-trifluoroethylene)-chlorofluoroethylene, however there are other polarpolymers that exhibit the same effect.

Conventional cooling systems, -- refrigerators or air conditioners -- rely on the properties of gases to cool and most systems use the change in density of gases at changing pressures to cool. The coolants commonly used are either harmful to people or the environment. Freon, one of the fluorochlorocarbons banned because of the damage it did to the ozone layer, was the most commonly used refrigerant. Now, a variety of coolants is available. Nevertheless, all have problems and require energy-eating compressors and lots of heating coils.

Zhang's approach uses the change form disorganized to organized that occurs in some polarpolymers when placed in an electric field. The natural state of these materials is disorganized with the various molecules randomly positioned. When electricity is applied, the molecules become highly ordered and the material gives off heat and becomes colder. When the electricity is turned off, the material reverts to its disordered state and absorbs heat.

Full story.

LED street lights expand Ruud Lighting’s market

Posted: Aug. 5, 2008

Sturtevant - Energy-saving lighting that could help cities in Alaska to Australia save on the cost of electricity in street lights is creating global growth opportunities for Ruud Lighting Inc.

Ruud Lighting on Tuesday celebrated a new energy-saving street light fixture coming off the assembly line. The street light fixtures will soon be installed on several streets in Racine, Mayor Gary Becker said.

Ruud Lighting’s Beta Lighting division is seeing increased interest in LED technology because of demands to reduce costs through energy efficiency and to avoid the use of hazardous materials, such as mercury, in energy-efficient light fixtures, said Alan Ruud, company president.

Full story.

Medical College Graduate Student Receives NIH Grant to Study Sickle Cell Disease

                  Timothy C. Flewelen, B.S., a graduate student in biophysics at the Medical College of Wisconsin, has received a pre-doctoral fellowship grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to study blood vessel dysfunction in sickle cell disease.

Sickle cell disease is one of the most commonly inherited blood disorders among persons of Mediterranean, Hispanic and African descent. The disease is characterized by sickled shaped red blood cells. The shape is due to a mutation in the genes that make hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying protein in red blood cells. Those affected with sickle cell disease suffer from extreme bone and joint pain, chronic infection, stroke and pulmonary hypertension.

Flewelen is mentored by Neil Hogg Ph.D, associate professor of biophysics, and by Cheryl Hillery M.D., professor of pediatrics in the division of hematology/oncology. The grant will provide up to five years of support totaling $31,000 per year.