In Brief


September 01, 2006


European craft to crash on moon

Europe's first mission to the moon is due to crash-land in a cloud of dust and rock early Sunday, ending a three-year voyage that gathered data about the lunar surface and tested a new engine intended to propel future spacecraft to Mercury and other planets.

The European Space Agency's SMART-1 should hit its target on a volcanic plain called the Lake of Excellence at 1:41 a.m., orbiting lower and lower as it makes its final approach at 4,475 mph.

Observatories on Earth will try to capture images of the impact and the resulting debris cloud, and European space officials hope it will provide information about the minerals present at the impact site.

Even before the mission ends, however, the ESA is already celebrating the main goal - a successful test of the ion engine it hopes to use for future interplanetary missions.

Instead of burning rocket fuel, the PPS-1350 engine from French aerospace firm Snecma generates a stream of electrically charged atoms called ions. That creates minuscule amounts of thrust - roughly enough to hold up a postcard.

If the debris cloud from SMART-1 rises more than 12 miles and reaches sunlight, it may appear as a bright spot against the darkness visible using an amateur telescope or binoculars.



Basis found for painkiller in mint

Mint is great for sweet kisses or for covering up that lunchtime burger with onions, but, as herbalists have long known, the menthol within its oils also soothes and cools the skin. Now scientists have discovered the basis for that property, known scientifically as cool-induced analgesia, and are working on new therapies for alleviating pain.

In the journal Current Biology, researchers from the University of Edinburgh reported that cooling mint oil compounds act through a newly discovered receptor found in some nerve cells. The receptor, called TRPM8, is activated by the chemicals and stops pain messages from being sent to the brain.

Newly developed topical drugs could help people with arthritis or chronic pain from nerve damage. Clinical trials of cooling compounds will begin soon.



Bleeding disorder linked to caves

The most extensive genetic study conducted on an outbreak of a bleeding disorder in Africa adds to evidence that the disease is linked to caves and possibly the bats that live there.

People living in two villages unwittingly carried the lethal illness, called Marburg disease, from the gold mine where they worked to their homes, said Robert Swanepoel, a South African epidemiologist and co-author of the study in the New England Journal of Medicine. The outbreak occurred in the Democratic Republic of the Congo from 1998 to 2000.

The study of the two-year outbreak that killed at least 125 people is helping researchers better understand rare viral hemorrhagic fevers.

Marburg's connection to caves may soon place it among a number of diseases, including the lethal Ebola, Nipah, Hendra and SARS viruses, that are believed to be carried by bats before spreading to people, Swanepoel said.



Southern states are most obese

The United States continues to get fatter, with Mississippi and other Southern states leading the way, according to a report issued Tuesday by the advocacy group Trust for America's Health.

The report found 29.5 percent of Mississippi residents were obese. Nine of the 10 states with the highest rates of obesity were in the South, according to the report.

At the other end of the spectrum, Colorado was the leanest state, with only 16.9 percent of its residents obese - still above federal guidelines, which call for a maximum obesity rate of 15 percent.

Maryland ranked 29th in adult obesity at 21.7 percent. It ranked 33rd in the United States in highest rate of obese and overweight adults combined at 58.5 percent.

The states with the highest rates of obesity are also those with the highest rates of hypertension and diabetes, which are typically associated with fat.



FDA wants to ban OTC skin lighteners

The Food and Drug Administration wants to ban over-the-counter sales of skin-lightening products, saying possible health risks cannot justify their being sold without a prescription.

The creams typically contain a drug called hydroquinone, a possible carcinogen also linked to a skin-disfiguring condition, the FDA said. While the actual risk of the drug is unknown, the agency said the products should be restricted to prescription use under medical supervision.

Under the rule the FDA proposed this week, all skin-bleaching products - prescription and over-the-counter - would be considered new drugs requiring FDA approval and a prescription.

An estimated 65 companies in the United States sell roughly 130 different skin-bleaching creams and other products that contain hydroquinone, the FDA said.

Studies on rodents show only "some evidence" that hydroquinone may cause cancer. However, the drug's link to a disfiguring condition called ochronosis has been widely documented since 1975 in black women and men in South Africa, Britain and the United States.

In 1990, the FDA declared that another skin-bleaching drug, ammoniated mercury, was not "generally recognized as safe and effective."


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