New treatment could combat deadly chemical agents

An enzyme treatment which could neutralise the effects of lethal chemicals responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people across the world has been developed by experts at the University of Sheffield.

Organophosphorus agents (OP) are used as pesticides in developing countries and acute poisoning is common because of insufficient control, poor storage, ready availability, and inadequate education amongst farmers.

It is estimated about 200,000 people die each year across the world from OP poisoning, through occupational exposure, unintentional use and misuse, mostly in developing countries like India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka and through deliberate terrorist activities.

OPs include compounds like Tabun, which was developed in 1936 by German scientists during World War II, Sarin, Soman, Cyclosarin, VX, and VR.

Using a modified human enzyme, scientist Professor Mike Blackburn from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology collaborated in a consultancy role with Professor Alexander Gabibov of the Shemyakin-Ovchinnikov Institute, Moscow, and Professor Patrick Masson of the Département de Toxicologie, Centre de Recherches du Service de Santé des Armées, to create a “bioscavenger” which was found to protect mice against the nerve agent VR and showed no lasting effects.

In studies performed at the Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry in Pushchino, Russia, a total of eight mice were treated with the new enzyme after being subjected to enough of the VR agent to kill several of the animals – about 63 mg – and all survived.

Professor Blackburn said: “This current publication describes a novel method to generate a bioscavenger for the Russian VR organophosphorus agent with the key property of being long-acting in the bloodstream.

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via University of Sheffield

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The Dawning of Domestic Drones

The drones are coming to a neighborhood near you.

The unmanned aircraft that most people associate with hunting terrorists and striking targets in Pakistan are on the brink of evolving into a big domestic industry. It is not a question of whether drones will appear in the skies above the United States but how soon.

Congress has ordered the Federal Aviation Administration to quickly select six domestic sites to test the safety of drones, which can vary in size from remote-controlled planes as big as jetliners to camera-toting hoverers called Nano Hummingbirds that weigh 19 grams.

The drone go-ahead, signed in February by President Obama in the F.A.A. reauthorization law, envisions a $5 billion-plus industry of camera drones being used for all sorts of purposes from real estate advertising to crop dusting to environmental monitoring and police work.

Responding to growing concern as the public discovers drones are on the horizon, the agency recently and quite sensibly added the issue of citizens’ privacy to its agenda. Setting regulations under the Fourth Amendment guarantee against unlawful search is of the utmost importance. But since the F.A.A.’s primary mission is safety, Congress should take the matter in hand by writing privacy safeguards for the booming drone industry.

The anticipated market includes tens of thousands of police, fire and other government agencies able to afford drones lighter than traditional aircraft and costing as little as $300. Several surveillance drones are already used for border patrol, and the F.A.A. has allowed a few police departments to experiment narrowly, as in a ceiling of 400 feet for surveillance flights over the Everglades by the Miami Police Department.

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via The New York Times


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An innovative idea to eradicate polio

A UB clinical professor is one of five winners of an international crowdsourcing contest held to develop new approaches to polio vaccination that finally will rid the planet of the disease.

Crowdsourcing harnesses the “wisdom of the crowd” to solicit innovative ideas to society’s most intractable problems from beyond the boundaries of the professionals traditionally tasked with solving them.

Harvey Arbesman, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Dermatology, School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and a winner of other high-profile biomedical challenges, was one of five solvers whose ideas for how to eradicate polio were chosen as the best for implementation.

Following the success of this initial challenge, BeyondPolio, the organization that sponsored the challenge, is investigating ways to accelerate development and testing of the proposed ideas.

“The challenge was to come up with new opportunities for an inexpensive way to accomplish mass polio vaccination that have been overlooked by major organizations, such as the World Health Organization,” Arbesman says.

The goal is to create an inexpensive, injectable vaccine for use in low- and middle-income countries that would be ready for use by 2017, with all immunizations in the world complete by 2020.

Right now, Arbesman explains, vaccination programs in these countries use the oral polio vaccine; because it consists of live polio virus, two out of every million children who are vaccinated will develop polio, providing a reservoir for the virus.

By contrast, the injection only uses dead virus, which would allow polio to be completely eradicated from the planet.

But it’s still too expensive.

“My idea used my knowledge of dermatology and the skin to combine some things that were already out there but that might have been overlooked by the polio-vaccine research community,” Arbesman says. His proposal recommended using an immune stimulating patch that is easily applied to the skin after injection of the vaccine. This approach theoretically could decrease the cost of the polio vaccine significantly, while maintaining or even increasing its effectiveness.

It was a winner.

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University at Buffalo – ELLEN GOLDBAUM

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Cup of herbal tea could help fight breast cancer

Scientists at Aston University and Russells Hall Hospital have discovered that an extract from a common plant in Pakistan may help cure breast cancer.

The plant, Fagonia cretica, and known as Virgon’s Mantlem, is commonly used in herbal tea. It has been traditionally used to treat women in rural Pakistan who have breast cancer, but up until now this treatment has been regarded as something of a folklore remedy. However, patients in Pakistan who have taken the plant extract have reported that it does not appear to generate any of the serious common side effects associated with other cancer treatments, such as loss of hair, drop in blood count or diarrhoea.

Now, scientists at Aston University in Birmingham and Russells Hall Hospital in Dudley have undertaken tests of the plant extract and proved that it kills cancer cells without damage to normal breast cells in laboratory conditions.

Professor Helen Griffith and Professor Amutul R Carmichael who lead the study are now aiming to identify which element or elements of the plant are responsible for killing the cancer cells with a view to eventually begin trails with human cancer patients.

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