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Research triggers conflict concerns

Booming private industry serves drug companies and government clients

By SUSANNE RUST and CARY SPIVAK
srust@journalsentinel.com
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.

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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.

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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."

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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 www.IPDR.mcw.edu . 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.

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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.

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Emotions, science collide in cloning

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

By BILL GLAUBER
bglauber@journalsentinel.com
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.

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Scientists try to harness architecture of microscopic diatoms for commercial ventures

By HARVEY BLACK

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.

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Stem cells not only golden goose for WARF

DAVID WAHLBERG
608-252-6125
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.

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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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New solar panel design traps more light

By GREG BLUESTEIN, Associated Press Writer

Sunlight has never really caught fire as a power source, mostly because generating electricity with solar cells is more expensive and less efficient than some conventional sources.

But a new solar panel unveiled this month by the Georgia Tech Research Institute hopes to brighten the future of the energy source.

The difference is in the design. Traditional solar panels are often flat and bulky. The new design features an array of nano-towers — like microscopic blades of grass — that add surface area and trap more sunlight.

"It allows more opportunities for the photon to hit the part of the cell that creates electricity," said Jud Ready, the senior research engineer who invented the panel.

And that has resulted in a big jump in current generated. Ready said the three-dimensional panels produce about 60 times more than traditional solar cells.

But current is only half the equation. To generate electricity, a cell has to churn out voltage as well.

And so far, that's where Ready's invention has fallen short. There's still too much resistance within the cell to produce the type of electricity that's needed. But he said he'll now focus on reworking the interface to smooth out the kinks.

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Diabetics cured by stem-cell treatment

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FSU's magnet lab to build world's strongest magnet

By Susan Ray

The Hahn-Meitner Institute in Berlin has contracted with the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory and Florida State University to build an $8.7-million hybrid magnet for "neutron scattering" experiments.

When finished in 2011, the new, high-field magnet, which is based on the magnet lab's Series-Connected Hybrid concept, will be housed at the Berlin Neutron Scattering Center. The magnet will produce a magnetic field between 25 tesla and 30 tesla—more than half a million times stronger than the Earth's magnetic field. It will be the world's strongest magnet for neutron experiments, eclipsing the 15-tesla system presently at the Hahn-Meitner Institute (HMI).

The magnet lab's Magnet Science & Technology division has been working with Hahn-Meitner since the summer of 2005, recently completing a design study. The results of that study were strong enough to convince the review committee of the German Helmholtz Association and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research that the investment in the new technology was worth the cost.

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Ethanol research looks at soybean

NATHAN LEAF 608-252-6126
Over the past few years, ethanol plants have sprung up all over Wisconsin and much of the Midwest as the biofuel has been touted as the solution to America's energy woes. And so far, corn has been the undisputed king.

 

C5-6 Technologies of Middleton is working to change the landscape of the biofuel industry. It plans to do this with newly developed enzymes - proteins that catalyze chemical reactions - that will not only make production of corn ethanol more efficient but also expand the raw materials, or feedstocks, that can be used to create the fuel.

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Failure during Cern magnet test

A vital component in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) particle accelerator at Cern has suffered a serious failure.

The giant underground laboratory on the French-Swiss border is designed to probe the limits of physics.

It is the world's biggest facility of its type, and will collide sub-atomic particles in a 27km-long ringed tunnel.

One of eight magnet assemblies placed at points around the LHC failed in a test ahead of the lab's scheduled start-up in late 2007.

The magnet assemblies, called "inner triplets", consist of three "quadrupole" magnets that are cooled using superfluid helium at 1.9 Kelvin (-271C) inside a vacuum vessel.

One inner triplet is located on either side of the four major detector experiments at the LHC.

The magnets focus particle beams prior to collision at each of these four interaction points around the accelerator ring.

A statement from Fermilab, which built the inner triplet magnet assemblies, said that a structure holding the magnets in place broke during the test.

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UW patents jeopardized

DAVID WAHLBERG 608-252-6125

The federal government has preliminarily rejected three controversial stem-cell patents held by UW-Madison, saying discoveries by researcher James Thomson were "obvious to one of ordinary skill."

 

The decision could greatly affect the university's prominence in the burgeoning field and stop the millions of dollars the patents are bringing in.

Critics of the patents, who say they stifle research, said the decision will likely kill the patents. But UW-Madison officials said they will appeal, a process that could take months or years. During that time, the patents will remain active.

"Although these patents aren't dead, they have been diagnosed with severe cancer," said Dan Ravicher, executive director of the New York-based Public Patent Foundation. "The chilling effect caused by (UW- Madison's) aggressive pursuit of these patents could be over and people could be free to do research."

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Heart valve grown from stem cells

British scientists have grown part of a human heart from stem cells for the first time.

Heart surgeon Sir Magdi Yacoub, who led the team, said doctors could be using artificially grown heart components in transplants within three years.

His researchers at Harefield hospital managed to grow tissue that works in the same way as human heart valves.

Sir Magdi told the Guardian newspaper a whole heart could be produced from stem cells within 10 years.

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International Study Finds Ways to Maximize Effective Responses After Terrorism Incidents

A new international study led by faculty at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, has identified ways to maximize the effectiveness of responses to terrorist attacks that use explosive devices on civilian populations. The study, “Blast Related Injuries from Terrorism: an International Perspective,” will be published in the April 1, 2007 issue of Prehospital Emergency Care (volume 11 issue 2).

A multi-disciplinary panel of blast-related injury experts from eight countries that have recently experienced terrorist attacks examined and discussed their emergency medical response to blast events and identified common issues that could be used by others to enhance preparedness. The represented countries included: Colombia, Indonesia, Iraq, Israel, United Kingdom, United States, Spain, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. The study was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through the National Association of Emergency Medical Service Physicians.

According to lead author, E. Brooke Lerner, Ph.D., assistant professor of emergency medicine at the Medical College, “Learning from nations that have experienced conventional weapon attacks on their civilian population is critical to improving preparedness worldwide. Our study found that there were a number of commonalities among these terrorist events, even though they occurred in different countries under vastly different circumstances. These commonalities can be used by all nations in their preparedness efforts.”

The disaster paradigm—Detection; Incident Command; Scene Security & Safety; Assess Hazards; Support; Triage & Treatment; Evacuation; and Recovery—which can be applied to all types of mass casualty events, was selected as a framework to study responses in these different countries. In each area similarities were found. For example, it was determined that detecting an attack has occurred, such as the Madrid bombings in 2004, was not difficult but frequently the initial reports to the 9-1-1 system were misleading in terms of the scope and location of the event. This could lead to insufficient resources responding to the scene or to providers not taking the appropriate precautions against a secondary device. In discussing incident command and triage, it was found that regions that had a pre-defined command structure and triage guidelines that their providers practiced regularly were able to successfully and quickly respond to events. For example, in London they practice “Triage Tuesdays,” where every Tuesday responders triage every patient as if they were involved in a mass casualty event.

An important part of Scene Security is ensuring that people are who they say they are and are not a threat to the responders or bystanders. A hospital that received the bulk of patients from a bombed housing complex in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, found this was very difficult, since members of the staff were showing up at the hospital without their identification badges leaving security guards to make difficult decisions about who to let in.

Support requires additional trained human resources for all incidents, but they are needed in a controlled manner. Many speakers stated that it took time to recall staff and that they needed to consider how to maintain medical systems for hours and days after the initial incident, not just to meet the initial demand. For example, as the trauma hospital in Darwin, Australia, prepared to receive patients from the Bali, Indonesia, night club explosion, they used the media to ask people not come to the emergency department unless they had a true emergency. However, this request did not significantly decrease the number of patients that came to the emergency department for care.

In considering evacuation, it was important to consider that many terrorist bombings occur in remote tourist communities in developing countries such as Turkey and Indonesia. This complicates the response since hospitals in tourist communities do not typically have the resources to attend to many severely injured casualties. Therefore, patients need to be stabilized and moved to larger hospitals that are some distance away. Another complication is that incidents in resort towns typically involve foreign nationals. This creates a situation where governmental agencies need to be involved in the response and arrangements need to be made to move patients back to their home countries. This may require specialty transport services depending on the nature of the injuries and the care required during transport.

An important component of recovery is informing the general public of the extent of the event, where they can receive assistance if needed, whether there are continued risks and how to mitigate them. Further, community awareness and notifying authorities if something seemed out of the norm was found to be important, particularly by the Israelis who feel that their population is always alert and reports anything that seems suspicious.

“This project provides an initial framework for learning lessons for preparing for terrorist events. However, the next steps are to identify best practices in response to a blast-incident and to develop a research agenda that will guide research priorities,” Dr. Lerner says.

Continue reading "International Study Finds Ways to Maximize Effective Responses After Terrorism Incidents" »

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