Redeeming Role for a Common Virus: Ability to Kill Cancer
ScienceDaily (Nov. 14, 2010) — A common virus that can cause coughing and mild diarrhea appears to have a major redemptive quality: the ability to kill cancer. Harnessing that power, researchers at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of Georgetown University Medical Center, are conducting a clinical trial to see if the virus can target and kill certain tumor types.
By the age of five, most people have been exposed to the virus, called reovirus. For some, it can trigger brief episodes of coughing or diarrhea while many other don’t develop any symptoms. The body simply overpowers the virus. But what scientists have discovered is that the virus grows like gangbusters inside tumor cells with a specific malfunction that leads to tumor growth. That finding led researchers to ask: Is it possible to use the virus as a treatment?
At Lombardi, researchers are collaborating with other institutions to look for an answer by conducting a phase II clinical trial for people with advanced or recurrent non-small cell lung cancer with a specific tumor profile.
“With reovirus, we’re able to accentuate the positive and attenuate the negative,” says the study’s lead investigator at Lombardi, Deepa Subramaniam, MD, interim-chief of the Thoracic Medical Oncology Program. In other words, researchers have genetically altered the virus so that it won’t replicate in a healthy cell (attenuated), which is what makes a person sick. “What’s left is a virus in search of a host, and reovirus loves the environment inside a specific kind of cancer cell,” explains Subramaniam.
That specific kind of cancer cell is one with malfunctioning machinery called KRAS or EGFR mutation.
“These mutations leave the cancer vulnerable to a viral take-over. Once it’s in, the reovirus exploits the cell’s machinery to drive its own replication. As a result, the cell is filled with virus particles causing it to literally explode.”
Volunteers in the clinical trial will receive reovirus (REOLYSIN®) in addition to paclitaxel and carboplatin. The physicians will watch to see if the cancer shrinks while also seeing if this combination of drugs causes serious side effects.
“This is a subset of cancer where we haven’t had many successes in terms of finding drugs that extend life after diagnosis,” says Subramaniam. “This trial represents an attempt to seek and destroy cancer by choosing a treatment based on specific tumor characteristics. Preliminary data from the study should come quickly.”
Researchers are also studying the effect of reovirus in other cancer types.
Editor’s Note: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment
Bacteria can distinguish “self” from “other,” and between their relatives and strangers. They can communicate, prey in packs, and have social intelligence.
Strictly by the numbers, the vast majority — estimated by many scientists at 90 percent — of the cells in what you think of as your body are actually bacteria, not human cells. In fact, most of the life on the planet is probably composed of bacteria.
These facts by themselves may trigger existential shock: People are partly made of pond scum. But beyond that psychic trauma, a new and astonishing vista unfolds. In a series of recent findings, researchers describe bacteria that communicate in sophisticated ways, take concerted action, influence human physiology, alter human thinking and work together to bioengineer the environment. These findings may foreshadow new medical procedures that encourage bacterial participation in human health. They clearly set out a new understanding of the way in which life has developed on Earth to date, and of the power microbes have to regulate both the global environment and the internal environment of the human beings they inhabit and influence so profoundly.
Bacteria use chemicals to talk to each other and to nonbacterial cells as well. These exchanges work much as human language does, says Herbert Levine of the University of California, San Diego’s Center for Theoretical Biological Physics. With colleagues from Tel Aviv University, Levine proposed in the August 2004 Trends in Microbiology that bacteria “maintain linguistic communication,” enabling them to engage in intentional behavior both singly and in groups. In other words, they have “social intelligence.”
Tablets reveal Babylonian math skills
Before Pythagoras: The Culture of Old Babylonian Mathematics displays thirteen Babylonian tablets which show that people of the region were math experts more than 1,000 years before Greek mathematicians were even born.
Held at the New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (ISAW), the event exhibits tablets dating from the Old Babylonian Period (ca. 1900-1700 BCE) along with supplemental documentary material.
“It has long been widely recognized that many of the critical achievements of Western Civilization, including writing and the code of law that is the basis for our present-day legal system, developed in ancient Mesopotamia,” Artdaily quoted ISAW director for exhibitions and public programs Jennifer Chi.
“By demonstrating the richness and sophistication of ancient Mesopotamian mathematics, Before Pythagoras adds an important dimension to the public knowledge of the history of historic cultures and attainments of present-day Iraq,” she added.
The tablets, collected from the Columbia Rare Book and Manuscript Library, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and the Yale Babylonian Collection, will be on display until December 17, 2010.
“The evidence we have for Old Babylonian mathematics is amazing not only in its abundance, but also in its range, from basic arithmetic to really challenging problems and investigations,” said exhibition organizer Alexander Jones.
The modern knowledge of Babylonian mathematics is based on the work of scribes, who were young wealthy men formally trained in reading and writing.
The scribes learned and practiced mathematics while working in fields such as accounting, building-project planning, and other professions in which mathematics is essential.
“Since the documents are the actual manuscripts of the scribes… we feel as if we were looking over their shoulders as they work,” said Jones.
“We can even see them getting confused and making mistakes.”
The exhibited tablets are in cuneiform script and cover the full spectrum of mathematical activity from arithmetical tables copied by scribes-in-training to sophisticated work on topics today classified as number theory and algebra.
Many of the solutions used by scribes to solve the mathematical problems depended on principles that were believed to have been discovered by Greeks in the sixth century BCE and later.
NASA’s explanation: We are better rocket scientists than accountants. Management and others did not notice that major costs for the James Webb Space Telescope were omitted during a major program review in July 2008, officials said.
The study says in the best case scenario, it will now cost about $6.5 billion to launch and run the powerful, new telescope. And that can happen only if NASA adds an extra $500 million in the next two years over current budget plans. If the agency cannot get the extra money from Congress, it ultimately will cost even more and take longer to launch the telescope.
Before now, the cost of the telescope had ballooned from $3.5 billion to $5 billion.
NASA officials said they had not done a good job of figuring out the confirmation cost for the massive telescope. The report said the budget in 2008 “understated the real requirements” and managers did not realize how inadequate it was.
“We were missing a certain fraction of what was going on,” NASA associate administrator Chris Scolese said in a late Wednesday afternoon teleconference.
The Webb telescope, “we hope is just an aberration,” Scolese said, but suggested there may be other budget-busting projects. He said the agency is now reviewing all its projects, not just to find extra money for Webb but to see if there are similar cases of poor budgeting.
The costs are not because of problems with the technology, design or construction of the instrument. NASA said, technically, it is in good shape. It is designed to look deeper in the universe to the first galaxies. A collaboration with the European Space Agency, the telescope is being built by Northrop Grumman and will be run out of Baltimore, Md., like Hubble.
The fault “lies with us, no question about it,” Scolese said.
Launch delayed 8 years
The Webb telescope is already late. When first announced more than a dozen years ago, it was supposed to launch in 2007. That eventually was delayed until 2014. The new report, issued at the request of the Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski, says the earliest launch date now would be September 2015.
Scolese said technically the telescope was not confirmed as a project until 2008 — even though many millions of dollars had been spent on it and NASA had been promoting it since 1998. In 2008, NASA said it would cost $5 billion and that’s the number to use for how over budget it is, Scolese said. But previous numbers that NASA provided said it would cost $3.5 billion.
This follows the well-worn path of the Hubble telescope. In current dollars, it cost NASA $4.7 billion to build and launch Hubble and then another $1.1 billion to fix it in orbit.
Astronomer Garth Illingworth, a professor at University of California, Santa Cruz and a member of the internal study team, said Webb will be worth the money.
He said the Webb “is hugely more powerful than Hubble, 100 times more powerful at least.”
Internet Reception Reaches Summit of Mount Everest
(AFP) – Climbers at the top of Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak, will now be able to make video calls and surf the internet on their cell phones, a Nepalese telecom group claimed Thursday.
Ncell, a subsidiary of Swedish phone giant TeliaSonera, said it set up a high-speed third-generation (3G) phone base station at an altitude of 17,000 feet (5,200 meters), near Gorakshep village in the Everest region.
“Today we made the [world’s] highest video call from Mount Everest base camp successfully. The coverage of the network will reach up to the peak of the Everest,” Ncell Nepal chief Pasi Koistinen said in Kathmandu.
The installation will also help tens of thousands of tourists and trekkers who visit the world’s highest mountain every year.
Climbers who reached its 29,029-foot peak previously depended on expensive and erratic satellite phone coverage and a voice-only network set up by China Mobile in 2007 on the Chinese side of the mountain.
“This is a great milestone for mobile communications, as the 3G high-speed internet will bring faster, more affordable telecommunication services from the world’s tallest mountain,” said Lars Nyberg, chief executive of TeliaSonera, which owns 80 percent of Ncell.
The 3G services will be fast enough to make video calls and use the internet, said the company, which also claims the world’s lowest 3G base — at 4,595 feet below sea level in a mine in Europe.
Despite the installation in Everest, telecom services cover less than one-third of the 28 million people of Nepal, one of the poorest countries in the world.
TeliaSonera said it planned to invest $100 million in the next year to ensure that cell phone coverage increases to more than 90 percent of the Himalayan nation’s population.
The 3G network on Everest puts TeliaSonera ahead of state-controlled Nepal Telecom, Indian-owned United Telecom and China Mobile.
Around 3,000 people have climbed to the Everest summit since Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first people to conquer the peak in 1953.
Copyright 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.
Nasa unveils bold plans to send humans ‘one-way to Mars to colonise planet’
Humans could be sent one-way to Mars under ambitious plans being investigated by Nasa to permanently colonise other planets in space.
Space agency officials confirmed feasability studies were under way to asses whether astronauts could be permanently sent to the red planet, or its moons, to establish human colonies.
The multi-billion pound mission, titled Hundred Years Starship, is being spearheaded by the Ames Research Centre, one of Nasa’s main research centres, based in Moffett Field, California.
Early estimates put the cost of such a mission, which has “just started” at more than £7 billion and could be achieved by 2030.
Scientists have been given £600,000 government grant – including £100,000 from Nasa – to start research into the idea, according to US reports.
The world’s billionaire’s, including Larry Page, Google’s co-founder, have been asked to help fund the project.
Pete Worden, the Ames director, confirmed the plans to a conference in San Francisco at the weekend.
“You heard it here. We hope to inveigle some billionaires to form a Hundred Year Starship fund,” he told the Long Conversation event at the Contemporary Jewish Museum.
“The human space program is now really aimed at settling other worlds. Twenty years ago you had to whisper that in dark bars and get fired.
“Within a few years we will see the first true prototype of a spaceship that will take us between worlds.”
Such a space journey would take up to nine months with volunteers embarking on the mission knowing they would never return to earth.
This is because the cost of returning astronauts to earth would make the project prohibitively expensive. Supplies would be sent to make them self-sufficient.
Such a mission would be gruelling for humans with forbidding conditions including sub-zero temperatures and a thin atmosphere.
Mr Worden said Mr Page was keenly interested in the project.
“Larry asked me a couple weeks ago how much it would cost to send people one way to Mars and I told him $10 billion and his response was, ‘can you get it down to 1 or 2 billion’,” he said.
“So now we’re starting to get a little argument over the price.”
But he admitted that he did not know how such a mission would work in reality.
“How do you live in another world? I don’t have the slightest idea,” he said.
“If you’re a conservative, you worry about it killing us; if you’re a liberal, you worry about us killing it.
“I think things like synthetic biology have lot of potential for that. I think rather than make an environment on Mars like Earth, why don’t we modify life … including the human genome … so it’s better suited to [Mars]?”
A DARPA spokesman later confirmed details of the mission.
“A key element of the study is exploring models by which sustained co-investment by the private sector in these areas can be incentivised,” he said.
“The study is currently in the early formulation stage, but will be entirely open and unclassified, with more details forthcoming in early 2011.”
It comes as researchers claimed such a human mission was technologically feasible and was cheaper returning astronauts to earth.
Their new study, in the Journal of Cosmology, found the costs of safely returning a crew would eat up the majority of such a mission’s budget.
Dirk Schulze-Makuch, from Washington State University and Paul Davies, from Arizona State University, said four volunteer astronauts could undertake the first mission to permanently colonise Mars.
“A one-way human mission to Mars would not be a fixed duration project as in the Apollo program, but the first step in establishing a permanent human presence on the planet,” they said.
“There are many reasons why a human colony on Mars is a desirable goal, scientifically and politically.
“The strategy of one-way missions brings this goal within technological and financial feasibility.”
They added: “Nevertheless, to attain it would require not only major international co-operation but a return to the exploration spirit and risk-taking ethos of the great period of Earth exploration, from Columbus to Amundsen, but which has nowadays being replaced with a culture of safety and political correctness.”
Such a mission would come with natural “ethical considerations”, they admitted.
The Chinese made Tianhe-1A system has 1.4 times the horsepower of the current top computer, which is at a national laboratory in Tennessee, the US, a newspaper reported.
Although the official list of the top 500 fastest machines, which comes out every six months, is not due to be completed next week, Jack Dongarra, a University of Tennessee computer scientist who maintains the official supercomputer rankings, said the Chinese computer “blows away the existing No. 1 machine”.
“We don’t close the books until November 1, but I would say it is unlikely we will see a system that is faster,” he said.
Officials from the Chinese research centre, the National University of Defense Technology, are expected to reveal the computer at a conference in Beijing Thursday.
Tianhe-1A, which is housed in a building at the National Supercomputing Center in Tianjin, can perform 2.5 times 10 to the 15th power mathematical operations per second that is 29 million times faster than one of the earliest supercomputers, built in 1976, the newspaper report said.
The race to build the fastest supercomputer has become a source of national pride as these machines are valued for their ability to solve problems critical to national interests in areas like defence, energy, finance and science.
For decades, the US had a clear edge, developing most of the underlying technology that goes into the massive supercomputers. Some of the top US systems simulate the effects of nuclear weapons, while others predict weather and aid in energy research.
In 2002, the US lost its crown as the supercomputing kingpin for the first time in a stunning fashion when Japan unveiled a machine with more horsepower than the top 20 American computers combined.
The US government responded in kind, forming groups to plot a comeback and pouring money into supercomputing projects. The US regained its leadership status in 2004, and has kept it, until now, says the report.
Over the last decade, the Chinese have steadily inched up in the rankings of supercomputers. Tianhe-1A stands as the culmination of billions of dollars in investment and scientific development, as China has gone from a computing afterthought to a world technology superpower.
“What is scary about this is that the US dominance in high-performance computing is at risk,” said Wu-chun Feng, a supercomputing expert and professor at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
Modern supercomputers are built by combining thousands of small computer servers and using software to turn them into a single entity. In that sense, any organisation with enough money and expertise can buy what amount to off-the-shelf components and create a fast machine.
The Chinese system follows that model by linking thousands and thousands of chips made by the American companies Intel and Nvidia. But the secret sauce behind the system – and the technological achievement – is the interconnect, or networking technology, developed by Chinese researchers that shuttles data back and forth across the smaller computers at breakneck rates, Dongarra said.
“That technology was built by them,” Dongarra said. “They are taking supercomputing very seriously and making a deep commitment.”
Airborne laser fails 2nd shootdown test in row
From http://www.reuters.com WASHINGTON | Thu Oct 21, 2010 2:10pm EDT By Jim Wolf
(Reuters) – A converted Boeing Co 747 equipped with a powerful laser failed to shoot down a mock enemy ballistic missile, the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency said on Thursday, the system’s second botched flight test in a row.
Preliminary indications are that the so-called Airborne Laser Test Bed tracked the target’s exhaust plume but did not hand off to a second, “active tracking” system as a prelude to firing the high-powered chemical laser, said Richard Lehner, an MDA spokesman.
“The transition didn’t happen,” he said. “Therefore, the high-energy lasing did not occur.”
Boeing produces the airframe and is the project’s prime contractor, while Northrop Grumman supplies the high-energy laser and Lockheed Martin Corp has been developing the beam- and fire-control systems.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates scaled back the program into a research experiment last year.
About $4 billion has gone into it since the Boeing-led team won the contract for it in 1996. The system is designed to focus a super-heated, basketball-sized beam on a pressurized part of a boosting missile long enough to cause it to fail.
For fiscal 2011 that began October 1, President Barack Obama asked Congress for $98.6 million for all of the Defense Department’s directed energy research, including the Airborne Laser Test Bed.
Previously, the flying raygun had been under development as a potential part of a layered U.S. ballistic missile shield against weapons that could be fired by countries such as Iran and North Korea. Pentagon planners initially envisaged using the aircraft to shoot down ballistic missiles near their launch pads.
“The reality is that you would need a laser something like 20 to 30 times more powerful than the chemical laser in the plane right now to be able to get any (safe) distance from the launch site to fire,” Gates told the House of Representatives Appropriations Defense subcommittee last year after scaling it back.
The technology is now being tested for other potential missile-defense applications.
The United States has been spending about $10 billion a year to build a bulwark against missiles that could be tipped with chemical, biological or nuclear warheads.
The MDA said in a statement on its website that officials would investigate the cause of the Airborne Laser system’s “transition failure” in the test that took place late Wednesday off the Southern California coast.
“The intermittent performance of a valve within the laser system is being examined,” the statement said. A spokeswoman for Boeing’s directed energy program, Elizabeth Merida, referred calls to the MDA.
The Airborne Laser system successfully shot down a target ballistic missile in February in the first such test of a flying directed-energy weapon.
The initial success demonstrated the potential use of directed energy against enemy ballistic missiles shortly after they are launched, Pentagon and Boeing officials have said.
Dolphins in the wild are teaching themselves to “walk” with their tails along the surface of water, biologists have claimed.
Dolphin tail-walking has no known practical function and has been likened to dancing in humans.
WDCS researcher Dr Mike Bossley, who has observed Adelaide’s Port River dolphins for the past 24 years, said he had documented spectacular tail walking in two adult female dolphins, known as Billie and Wave.
Now four other individuals have been recorded perfecting their walking techniques – Wave’s calf Tallula, Bianca and her calf Hope, and calf Bubbles.
Tail walking is very rare in the wild and in thousands of hours of observation only one other dolphin has ever been observed tail walking in the Port River, and then only once.
The Port Adelaide dolphins are now said to be tail walking many times each day.
It is thought the mammals may have learned the remarkable skill from Billie – who spent a short period at a visitor attraction 22 years ago.
Dr Bossley said that the spread of tail walking appeared to be motivated by “fun”, but it was also linked to a serious and fascinating cultural aspect previously unseen in the species.
He said: “Culture in the wider sense of the term, defined as ‘learned behaviour characteristic of a community’, is now frequently on show in the Port River. This cultural behaviour is of great significance for conservation.
“Cultural behaviours in animals have been identified in several species, particularly chimpanzees. However, most if not all the cultural behaviours described to-date have been of a utilitarian nature, mainly to do with obtaining food.
“A well known chimpanzee example is using a twig to extract termites from a nest in the Gombe Stream reserve.
“The only dolphin example seen up to now is in Shark Bay, West Australia, where a small group of dolphins habitually carry a sponge on the end of their jaw while fishing to protect them from fish spines.
“As far as we are aware, tail walking has no practical function and is performed just for fun – akin to human dancing or gymnastics. As such, it represents an internationally important example of the behavioural similarities between humans and dolphins.”