Technology Bulletin 499

DN Staff

June 10, 1996

8 Min Read
Technology Bulletin

'Superglue' mends wounds without stitches

A "superglue for skin" has been developed that sticks together wounds without involving needles and stitches. The Indermil adhesive, developed by the Biomedical division of Loctite UK, reduces scar formation, making it particularly suitable for facial surgery. It also seals the wound, which may reduce infection. The transparent glue, applied through a fine pen-like applicator, features a delivery system that allows surgeons to select the rate at which minute droplets of the adhesive are released using a foot switch. Due to the transparency of the adhesive, wound management can become a much simpler procedure, and may not require changing the dressing, according to Loctite officials. FAX John Tennant at +44 (0) 1707 821152.

Lab-on-a-chip analyzes DNA in a droplet

Researchers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have engineered a microchip for analyzing DNA, the blueprint for life. Mike Ramsey and a colleague in the Chemical and Analytical Sciences Div. developed the MicroBioLab, which uses liquid samples "10,000 times smaller than those used in conventional analytical instruments." The chip is said to require less labor because it is computer controlled. And it's faster, performing a DNA analysis using enzymes in only five minutes instead of an hour, as required by most conventional techniques. The process could be used to screen for people carrying genes that predispose them to getting breast cancer or having future children with cystic fibrosis. As thin as a microscope slide, the glass microchip was etched to form interconnected chambers and channels just beneath the surface. Charged molecules in the tiny liquid sample are mixed in a chamber and "pumped" through the hairlike channels by an electrical field applied by electrodes near the chip. In the process, called electrokinetic transport, the charged molecules react with a fluorescent dye to give off a light when a laser beam shines on them. A computer sorts through the signal from the separated molecules to provide a sample analysis. FAX (423) 574-0595.

Imaging technique promises early breast-cancer detection

A marriage between Hubble Space Telescope astronomers and cancer researchers has produced an image-processing technique that promises early breast-cancer detection. Employing techniques used to correct the blurry images sent by Hubble prior to the 1993 servicing mission, this method detects microcalcifications, an early sign of breast cancer. A group of astronomical and medical researchers from the Space Telescope Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University, and the Lombardi Cancer Research Center is testing the procedure. In the tests, STScI researchers used a three-part imaging process to identify calcifications in four separate test cases, two of which were blind. The key step involved variance normalization, a technique the astronomers had advanced much farther than the medical researchers. The conventional method for detecting lesions is through "eyeball" inspections, which carry the risk of human error. The Hubble technique should lead to a more unbiased detection of smaller lesions, according to the researchers. E-mail [email protected] .

Smart molecules may enhance medical images

In medicine, a good picture is often worth more than a thousand words. For that reason, physicians have invested heavily in high-tech systems to image the body's interior by means of X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and positron emission tomography (PET). To enhance MRI's ability to track biological activities as they happen, Thomas J. Meade, a chemist at the California Institute of Technology, has under development what he refers to as "smart contrast agents." From the agents, Meade hopes to make injectable compounds that can light up specific biological actions during MRI. The prototype contrast agents use gadolinium atoms encased in molecular shells tailored to trigger a specific enzyme. Inside the body, the enzyme takes a bite out of the shell. This enzymatic chomp exposes the gadolinium atom within, enabling the MRI to pinpoint enzymatic activity. FAX (818) 449-5163.

'Active' wheelchair seat prevents pressure ulcers

A battery-powered pneumatic seat helps eliminate ulcers from occurring in persons confined to wheelchairs. A cooperative effort involving Sandia National Laboratories, the University of New Mexico, and two companies, the cushion rests on the regular seat of a wheelchair. It features four pairs of air bladders that are cyclically inflated and deflated by the battery-powered pistons. This prevents sustained pressure on any one area, which can retard blood flow and oxygen exchange and cause tissue to become weakened. In the right environment of moisture and temperature, bacteria can start to attack vulnerable tissue and lead to pressure ulcers. Early work on an "active" concept was done by a group of researchers at UCLA and the Sepulveda Veterans Medical Center in Los Angeles. Together with a small company called Numotech, they developed an active pneumatic seat to use in a clinical setting to heal pressure ulcers nonsurgically. While effective, the device was too large and clumsy to use in a home environment. The researchers contacted the New Mexico Technology Deployment Pilot Project for help in reducing the size, power, and weight of the unit. E-Mail Julie Clausen at [email protected] .

'Revolutionary' design creates intense X-ray instrument

A collaborative effort by NASA, industry, and university researchers has resulted in an instrument that can generate the "world's most intense source of commercial X-rays." Involved in the development were NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center; X-Ray Optical Systems, Inc., Albany, NY; and the Center for X-Ray Optics of the State University of New York at Albany. Capable of generating beams that are more than 100 times the intensity of other conventional X-ray sources, the new instrument could lead to improvements in biotechnology research, and have a wide variety of uses for medical, scientific, and industrial applications. At the heart of the instrument is a new type of optics called "capillary optics." The X-rays are controlled by reflecting them through tens of thousands of tiny curved channels or capillaries, similar to the way that light is directed through fiber optics. FAX Steve Roy at (205) 544-5852.

Lithium system could help detect, delay cataracts

Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have developed a system that may allow eye doctors to see more clearly who will develop cataracts--and take steps to delay the process. Studies of photoluminescence induced in the lens of the eye by visible light have helped psychologist Gillary Kandel and physicist John Schroeder reach their new understanding of cataracts. The researchers found evidence that cataract formation is similar to denitrification, a phenomenon in which glass becomes opaque as molecules break down. Based on this understanding, they developed a quick, harmless way to measure cataract precursors in the lens during the cataracts' latent period. Earlier, Schroeder had identified substances that can help repair submicroscopic defects similar to those that lead to cataracts. This led him and Kandel to prove in lab tests on donated eyes that one of the substances, lithium, can delay the formation of cataracts. If treatment with this or a similar drug were to delay cataract formation for 10 years, the researchers feel it could reduce the number of cataract operations in the U.S. by up to half a million a year. E-Mail [email protected] .

Supercomputer launches attack on Medicare fraud

Los Alamos National Laboratory will turn its supercomputers against a new national enemy: perpetrators of Medicare fraud. Under a two-year, $6 million contract with the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA), the lab will use its modern computer techniques to analyze Medicare transactions and recommend improvements. At present, the business of paying Medicare claims is handled by as many as 70 different private contractors. These contractors operate independently to receive claims from health-care providers, process the claims, decide whether the claims are appropriate, pay the claims, and then ask the HCFA for reimbursement. All this information could help spot fraudulent claims, but the agency's multiple computer systems make it difficult to pull together these databases. To make this tracking easier, Los Alamos scientists will use their own supercomputers to combine the agency's and the private vendors' diverse systems into one. E-mail Jim Danneskiold at [email protected] .

Laser scanning microscope images behavior of single cells

Medical researchers who want to study the microscopic distributions of key proteins, DNA, messenger signals, metabolic states, and molecular mobility have a new tool at their disposal. A microscope technology developed at Cornell University uses pulsed lasers and fluorescent markers to detect and image cellular activity. The technique can recognize tens of individual molecules in focal volumes as small as 1/10th of a millionth of a millionth of a sugar cube. It works like this. A scanned laser in the 700- to 900- nanometer range fires very short pulses focused by the microscope so that two or three photons arrive at the same time at a molecule. This action excites the fluorescence of the molecule relevant to biological activity. The sample emits the fluorescence photons, producing a 3-D image. The photons are collected and the resulting digital image can be viewed and analyzed on a computer monitor. E-mail at [email protected] .

Hand-held electrode screens for breast cancer

A simple breast screening technique that could detect tumors in women of all ages is undergoing trials in hospitals in Israel, France, Italy, and the U.S. TransScan Research and Development, an Israel-based company, believes the technology could improve the early detection of cancer when used in conjunction with mammography. The technique, called TransSpectral Impedance Scanning, uses a sensor to measure low-level electrical current generated by an electrode held in the patient's hand. This endeavor allows the electrical impedance of the underlying breast tissue to be calculated and displayed on a monitor. Changes in the cell membrane structure and water content associated with cancerous tissue can be detected, since they alter the electrical flow. FAX +972 6546044.

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