Discoveries

DISCOVERIES

September 02, 2005

RESEARCHERS SEE LIGHT WITH FISH

Taiwanese researchers say they have developed an alternative to laboratory mice for testing new medicines -- using fluorescent fish to show the impact of experimental drugs on cancerous tumors.

Wu Jen-leih of Taipei's Academia Sinica headed a team that took a gene that makes jellyfish fluoresce and transplanted it into the livers of zebra fish that were later implanted with cancer cells for testing. The gene highlighted the cancerous tissue with a special tint.

This allowed the scientists to monitor cancer development in the fish's liver through a special microscope and evaluate the impact of drugs.

Wu said this week that fluorescent zebra fish can test experimental drugs for cancers in less time and at less cost than conventional laboratory mice.

He said zebra fish were chosen because the structure and function of their internal organs resemble those of humans, and they react similarly to cancerous tissue.

Wu claimed that his team was the first in the world to use zebra fish in such a way. Two years ago, a U.S. team used the fish to isolate lymphoma, he said.

It takes about 68 weeks to implant liver cancer in a mouse, he said, but only six weeks in zebra fish. In addition, Wu said, a zebra fish can lay hundreds of eggs in a week, compared with a dozen or two by a mouse -- producing a larger test sample in a shorter amount of time.

"The fish works better than mice in the laboratories," he said. "Real time images enable us to monitor how the internal organs grow, are affected by tumors and heal after treatment."

But Wu maintained fluorescent zebra fish can only be used for prescreening the impact of drugs. He said drugs found effective in the fish will then be tested on mice to comply with requirements by most countries.

-- Associated Press

Power packing

Quick Takes

If you're planning your last summer escape, take a look at these packing picks from some of the world's expert travelers.

In the September issue of National Geographic Adventure, the seasoned traveling staff gives its thumbs-up for the best buys in day-trip packs and weekend getaway bags.

One trend emerges: Hardly anyone is packing for anywhere without pockets for laptops, cell phones and other techno-gear.

Two day-tripping favorites include: Detour 2.0 ($100, www.timbuk2.com), with a padded and lined laptop compartment; and Ground Latitude Brief ($60, www .groundwear.com), with a port for MP3 headphones.

For longer trips, Adventure selects as its top choice JanSport's Modus Soft Convertible Carry-On ($170, www.jansport.com), which has an outside pocket for your iPod. Another pick for the outdoor enthusiast is the Ortlieb Shuttle ($200, www.ortlieb.com), which mounts directly onto a road bike.

Bottom Line: If you're looking to upgrade your gear, check in with the experts at Adventure -- nationalgeographic.com / adventure.

-- Mary Beth Regan

Did you know...

A hurricane contains spiral bands of thunderstorms spinning around a still center called the eye. The air pressure in the eye is so low that, over sea, water bulges upward. If the hurricane hits land, the bulge turns to a mass of water that floods the coast in a storm surge.

-- E.encyclopedia.science

In Brief

Cell phones again cleared

Mobile phone users have yet another reason to breathe easy. A British study has found no evidence of a link between the ubiquitous gadgets and brain tumors.

Conducted by the London-based Institute of Cancer Research, and published this week on the British Journal of Cancer Web site, the study found no increased risks of a rare benign tumor in the nerve that links the ear to the brain.

It echoed the findings of a similar study by Swedish investigators last year and of scores of other studies investigating a possible link between the use of cellular phones and brain cancer.

Researchers questioned 678 patients already diagnosed with the tumor -- acoustic neuroma -- and 3,553 who did not have it, about their cell phone use. There was no increased risk of tumor associated with using the phones for at least 10 years.

Previous studies, using more rigorous methods, have likewise failed to turn up evidence that the phones pose a health risk. However, scientists have said it may not be a good idea for children to use the phones for long periods because their brains are still developing. Also, it is too early to tell what the effects of long-term use will be on adults.

A boost in growth

The Food and Drug Administration has approved the first drug to treat children who have a condition that prevents them from growing, the drug's manufacturer says.

Until now, growth hormones have been the only treatment option for children short in stature because of hormone deficiencies, said Dr. Philippe Backeljauw of Cincinnati Children's Hospital. He was a researcher in the trial for the new drug, Increlex.

The drug, Backeljauw said, helps children whose growth failure is linked to abnormally low levels of a hormone called IGF-1. About 6,000 children in the United States are afflicted by the condition, according to Increlex's manufacturer, Tercica, of Brisbane, Calif.

In the trial, which involved 71 patients, children given Increlex gained an additional inch per year compared with their previous growth patterns, the company said. Side effects included low blood sugar and skin lumps, but the company said no patients withdrew from the trial because of them.

Tercica began U.S. operations in 2002 after licensing exclusive rights to develop the growth drug from the biotech company Genentech, according to Tercica's Web site.

-- From wire reports

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