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Technology Bulletin 1214
January 9, 1995
8 Min Read
Better living through biomedical polymers
At The Polymer Technology Group, Inc., surface-modifying end groups (SMEs), chemically bonded to a base polymer during synthesis, help develop a new family of biomedical polymers. Among the polymers currently being evaluated for long-term use: an electrically actuated ventricular assist device. "We have also used the SME approach to enhance a protein-permeable, immuno-isolation membrane and a hybrid artificial pancreas," says Robert S. Ward, the group's president. The biomedical polymers do not have permanent pores, making their surface much smoother than that of a typical microporous membrane. This feature is important, Ward adds, when one considers tissue reaction to the implanted material. FAX James Smith at (510) 547-5435.
Images produce windows into human thought
Neurologists at The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions hope to collect unprecedented, direct measurements of human brain activity, then produce images of the flow of thought from one part of the brain to another. Using electrocortical spectral analysis (ESA), doctors can directly monitor changes in the electrical activity of millions of brain cells. Other methods, such as positron emission tomography or functional magnetic resonance, can only monitor changes in brain blood flow. New ESA data should help scientists fine-tune maps of brain activity, and perhaps reveal how separate parts of the brain work together to solve mental tasks. "We're very interested in whether one part of the thought process, such as associating a picture with a thought, has to finish its work before another can take over, such as getting the mouth to say that word," says Nathan Crone, a Hopkins neurologist. FAX (410) 955-4452.
IBM software lets engineers 'enter' CAD models
Engineers can now "walk through" 3-D computer models of aircraft, engines, and other complex designs, thanks to new 3D Accelerator software from IBM. By manipulating a mouse or Spaceball, users can control their view of a computer design initially created in CATIA, AutoCAD, or Pro/ENGINEER. Possible viewing options: 2-D or 3-D monitors, projection screens, and an immersive head-mounted display. "Imagine how much time and money a manufacturer could save by electronically inspecting highly complex mechanical assemblies before they are built," says H. Richard Pears, vice president of IBM's manufacturing unit. The ultimate goal of a life-like walk-through: eliminating expensive, time-consuming mock-ups, thus cutting the design cycle. FAX 1-800-IBM-4FAX and request document number 2153.
Wheelchair pusher gets a power assist
Japan's Asahi Technical Laboratory has marketed an electric-powered supplementary wheel to help make pushing a manually operated wheelchair easier. The device mounts on the rear of most makes of wheelchairs, according to company officials. The ancillary wheel significantly eases the effort of propelling the chair, they add, especially on a sloping road, gravel walk, or on uneven surfaces. The 7-kg device comes with a battery that lasts about eight hours per charge. It retails for $1,443. PHONE +81 053-586-8831.
More durable hydride makes its debut
A scientist at the Savannah River Technology Center (SRTC) has patented an improved composition for longer-lived hydrides, those porous materials that can absorb, store, and release isotopes of hydrogen. The patent, awarded to Leung K. Heung, involves a new composition made by reducing the size of the hydride particles to less than 10 microns in diameter, oxidizing them, then blending the particles with a porous component and ballast metal. The mixture can be compressed into pellets and calcined. The fabrication technique is available for licensing. FAX Caroline Teelon at (803) 725-5103.
Ablation devices treat enlarged prostate
VidaMed, Inc. has started human trials in the U.S. of its TransUrethral Needle Ablation (TUNA(TM)) system for treating benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), more commonly known as enlarged prostate. If approved commercially, TUNA could provide a less invasive alternative to surgery. It could also reduce the complications associated with the standard surgical treatment, transurethral resection of the prostate (TURP). The system includes a catheter with two needle electrodes, insulating shields, and built-in temperature sensors. Other components include: a radio frequency generator and a fiber-optic system for positioning and viewing. A surgeon advances the catheter up the urethra opposite the prostate, and positions the needle into the gland. Energy is applied to selectively eliminate tissue, while the shield protects the urethra. Fax Kathleen Daly at (415) 328-8784.
Superfast DNA sequencing on the horizon
Developments in the O.J. Simpson case illustrate the importance of obtaining fast, reliable DNA tests. But deciphering the 100,000 or so genes that make up human DNA can be taxing. Hyseq, Inc. thinks it has a better way to perform the tests. It entails sequencing about 3 billion information blocks, called "base pairs," whose unique linear order determines the function of each gene. Hyseq will couple its patented sequencing-by-hybridization (SBH) technology with a "superchip'' technology invented at Argonne National Laboratory. This allows the SBH to be done on a 1-inch-square plate that can identify the chemical sequence of genes 1,000 times faster than gel sequencing. It should also prove far less expensive. Don't look for the system to be on the market for four years. FAX Lewis S. Gruber at 408-524-8141.
Chip texts genes for disease-causing flaws
Hyseq is not the only company hoping to solve the DNA dilemma. Scientists at Affymetrix and partner Molecular Dynamics have found a way to cram one million tiny fragments of genetic DNA onto a disposable microchip less than a half-inch square. This, too, promises to speed up the diagnosis and treatment of cancer and AIDS. The lab-on-a-chip marries techniques used to make semiconductors with ones used to engineer genes. Squirting a component of a patient's blood on the chip reveals specific knowledge about the individual's health or genetic makeup. Affymetrix intends to start with four diagnostic chips--ones for cystic fibrosis, a common cancer gene, drug resistance in AIDS patients, and human identification. The DNA chips are already in production. FAX (408) 481-0422.
DNA fingerprinting to track zebra mussels
Taking DNA testing to yet another level, fingerprint experts at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute will try to catch pesky zebra mussels before the freshwater mollusks clog industrial pipelines. By synthesizing a protein found in the mussels, then trying to dectect it through fluorescent microscopy, microbiologist Sandra Nierzwicki-Bauer and her researchers will create tagged DNA probes to test for any pre-adult mussels in and around New York's Lake George. The lake lies near Lake Champlain and the Hudson River, which have large "mussel beaches." The data collected also could provide vital information on natural factors, such as pH and calcium levels, that might daunt colonization, says Nierzwicki-Bauer. FAX (518) 277-2825.
Computer-designed drugs take on cancer
BioNumerik Pharmaceuticals will enter a beta site agreement for new supercomputer systems from Cray Research, Inc. designed to speed the development of cancer and heart-disease drugs. BioNumerik will use the supercomputers to optimize its proprietary computer-aided, drug-design software. "This trial is different from previous rational drug design methods, where computers have been used to analyze, but not optimize existing substances for potential use as drugs," says BioNumerik CEO Dr. Fred Hausheer. Current work includes preclinical development of several drugs aimed at treating lung, breast, colon, prostate, and pancreas cancers. FAX (210) 614-1701.
Artificial intelligence outmatches physicians
A computer has taught itself to predict if a patient has prostate cancer--before a surgeon performs a biopsy. The program also predicts whether a patient will experience disease recurrence. That's the prognosis of investigators at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. In a pilot study, the investigators entered medical information into a computer about patients, with the outcome already known. The artificial intelligence system predicted prostate biopsy results with 87% accuracy, and prostate cancer recurrence with 90% accuracy. Physician judgment, largely based on prostate cancer screening tests, can predict biopsy results with only 35% accuracy. FAX Susan M. Killenberg at (314) 935-4259.
Researchers 'super express' attention shift
A team at the Cambridge Basic Research (CBR) facility has found a way to dramatically reduce the time it takes a person to shift attention from one thing to another. Team leader Dr. Shinsuke Shimojo, a professor at the University of Tokyo and visiting CBR scientist, discovered the "Super Express Attentional Shift." It involves having people shift their attention from one point to another as soon as the second point appears. It can happen, for instance, when a warning light goes on. Such conditions, according to Shimojo, allow people to shift their attention up to 40% faster than normal. The discovery could have applications in the design of intelligent displays. FAX (310) 516-7967.
CAD/CAM, CAE software revenues to hit $4 billion
CAD/CAM, CAE software revenues should top $4.1 billion in 1994, according to Daratech, Inc. That figure represents a growth of 8.5% over 1993. Parametric Technology, Cadence Design Systems, Synopsys, Autodesk, and other growth leaders account for the strong revenue showing, according to the forecast. "Parametric's unique technological vision is finding worldwide acceptance, as more than half of the company's 306 new customers added during the quarter ended September 30, 1994 are outside the U.S.," the report notes. Fax Bruce L. Jenkins at (617) 354-7822.
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