Cancer Cure?

The deadly ‘mother cells’ that drive the growth of tumors have been pinpointed for the first time – a breakthrough which could help in the development of a ‘real cure’, scientists say.

In three separate studies on different cancers, researchers have shown the growth and life of a tumor to be dependent on one small group of cells.

These cells, known as cancer stem cells, are also thought to fuel the disease’s spread around the body – the most common cause of death in cancer patients.

They are believed to be resistant to radiotherapy and chemotherapy and so to be to blame for cancers coming back after treatment.

But, until now, no one had proved them to exist in tumors.

The breakthrough, reported simultaneously in the prestigious journals Nature and Science, raises the prospect of better treatments for cancer.

Some scientists liken the killing of cancer stem cells to pulling dandelions out by the roots, rather than merely removing their heads.

They say that combining a drug that attacks these cells with current treatments could lead to a cure.

Ben Simons, of Cancer Research UK’s Cambridge Research Institute, said that knowing just which cells to target ‘might be a much better strategy to effect a real cure and prevent relapse’.

Professor Simons’s study tracked the development of skin cancer in mice. By tracking individual cells, it showed a small number of them drive the growth of the tumor.

A second study identified a group of cells that allow the most common type of brain tumor to regrow after chemotherapy.

This recurrence and resistance to treatment is blamed for the poor prognosis of glioblastoma, with patients living an average of just a year after diagnosis.

University of Texas researcher Luis Parada showed that killing the stem cells, with the help of genetic wizardry, stopped the brain tumors from growing any further in mice.

The third study showed the importance of cancer stem cells in early-stage stomach cancer.

The experiments are important because they tracked the progress of individual cells in tumors as they appeared. This makes the results more reliable than those of previous experiments, which have used more artificial scenarios.

In time, the work could lead to new drugs that home in on and destroy the ‘mother cells’. Options could include combining these with standard therapies to mop up cancer cells left behind by traditional treatment.

However, the work is still in the early stages and any patient benefits are likely to be many years away.

Hurdles include finding a drug that kills cancer stem cells without harming essential healthy stem cells.

Dr Michaela Frye, a Cancer Research UK scientist based at the University of Cambridge, said: ‘Their results add even more weight to the theory that cancers are driven by a distinct group of cells called cancer stem cells.’

Attribution: Mail Online

Stars and Stripes Forever

Four decades after the last astronauts landed on the moon and planted an American flag in lunar soil, scientists wondered: ‘Does that star spangled banner yet wave?’

Finally new images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) have given proof in the night, that the flags are, indeed, still there.

All but one of the six flags left by American astronauts remain standing, according to an analysis of the shadows they cast on the surface of the moon.

During each of the six American moon landings, astronauts left American flags behind as symbols of their nation’s scientific and engineering achievement.

The first was the monumental July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 landing — in which Neil Armstrong declared on live television, ‘one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.’

The final mission was Apollo 17 on December 14, 1972.

Scientists used new, detailed images from NASA’s lunar camera to determine that the flags were casting shadows that circled them as the moon moved in its normal orbit — proving that they were still standing on their poles.

‘From the LROC images it is now certain that the American flags are still standing and casting shadows at all of the sites, except Apollo 11,’ Mark Robinson, an investigator with the lunar satellite program, wrote on Friday.

‘Astronaut Buzz Aldrin reported that the flag was blown over by the exhaust from the ascent engine during liftoff of Apollo 11, and it looks like he was correct!’

The American missions to the moon remain the only manned flights to touch down on a heavenly body.

Dr Robinson wrote that one of the most common questions he and his team have received since the launch of the lunar orbiter in 2009.

‘Personally I was a bit surprised that the flags survived the harsh ultraviolet light and temperatures of the lunar surface, but they did,’ he wrote.

‘What they look like is another question (badly faded, perhaps?).’

The conditions on the surface of the moon are harsh. Temperatures swing between 250 and -280 degrees Fahrenheit

Attribution: Daily Mail

Blind Mice…No More

An injection into the eye could one day restore sight to the blind, scientists say.

The jab has already been found to repair sight in blind mice, leading to hopes for new treatments for human patients.

The molecule is injected into the eyes and acts as a ‘photoswitch’ that turns on light sensitive cells.

It allowed genetically programmed sightless animals to temporarily see. The researchers are now working on a better compound that could eventually cure people with degenerative blindness.

It could help those with the genetic disease retinitis pigmentosa – the most common inherited form of blindness – as well as AMD (age-related macular degeneration).

In both diseases the light sensitive cells in the retina – the rods and cones – die, leaving the eye without functional photoreceptors.

Professor Richard Kramer, of California University in Berkeley, said the chemical called AAQ acts by making the remaining, normally ‘blind’ cells in the retina sensitive to light.

AAQ (acrylamide-azobenzene-quaternary ammonium) is a photoswitch that binds to proteins on the surface of retinal cells. When switched on by light AAQ activates brain cells in much the same way as rods and cones are triggered.

Prof Kramer said: ‘This is similar to the way local anaesthetics work – they embed themselves in ion channels and stick around for a long time so you stay numb for a long time.

‘Our molecule is different in that it’s light sensitive so you can turn it on and off and turn on or off neural activity.’

Because the chemical eventually wears off it may offer a safer alternative to other experimental approaches for restoring sight – such as gene or stem cell therapies – which permanently change the retina. It’s also less invasive than implanting light-sensitive chips in the eye.

Prof Kramer said: ‘The advantage of this approach is it is a simple chemical which means you can change the dosage, you can use it in combination with other therapies or you can discontinue the therapy if you don’t like the results.

‘As improved chemicals become available you could offer them to patients. You can’t do that when you surgically implant a chip or after you genetically modify somebody.’

Co-researcher Dr Russell Van Gelder, an ophthalmologist at Washington University in Seattle, said: ‘This is a major advance in the field of vision restoration.’

The blind mice in the experiment had genetic mutations making their rods and cones die within months of birth and inactivated other photopigments in the eye.

After injecting very small amounts of AAQ into their eyes, light sensitivity was restored because the mice’s pupils contracted in bright light.

The mice showed light avoidance – a typical rodent behavior, impossible without the animals being able to see some light.

Prof Kramer whose study is published in Neuron is hoping to conduct more sophisticated vision tests in rodents injected with the next generation of the compound.

Dr Van Gelder said: ‘The photoswitch approach offers real hope to patients with retinal degeneration.

‘We still need to show these compounds are safe and will work in people the way they work in mice but these results demonstrate this class of compound restores light sensitivity to retinas blind from genetic disease.’

The current technologies being evaluated for restoring sight include injection of stem cells, gene therapy to insert a photoreceptor into blind neurons to make them sensitive to light and installation of electronic prosthetic devices to stimulate blind neurons.

Prof Kramer said several dozen people already have retinal implants and have had rudimentary, low vision restored.

Eight years ago his researchers developed an optogenetic technique to chemically alter potassium ion channels in blind neurons so a photoswitch could latch on.

Potassium channels normally open to turn a cell off but with the attached photoswitch they were opened when hit by ultraviolet light and closed when hit by green light – activating and deactivating the neurons.

Prof Kramer said new versions of AAQ now being tested activate neurons for days rather than hours using blue-green light of moderate intensity.

These photoswitches naturally deactivate in darkness so a second color of light is not needed to switch them off.

He said: ‘This is what we are really excited about.’

‘However, clearly it is still at an early stage and more extensive trials are needed to confirm the safety and effectiveness of this kind of treatment.’

EPA Wears Jack Boots

EPA could thwart mineral mother lode and sets dangerous precedent

The Environmental Protection Agency is employing a disturbing strategy to evaluate a major new mine project by passing judgment on whether it will damage the environment before the company even determines how the venture will work.

The Pebble Limited Partnership wants to mine a deposit in southwest Alaska that holds

The EPA is coming for You!

one of the largest concentrations of copper, gold and molybdenum in the world—at least 80 billion pounds of copper, 100 million ounces of gold, and five billion pounds of molybdenum.

The mother lode of minerals is estimated to be worth $200 billion to $500 billion. Copper is a mineral considered critical to the nation’s economy and is used in computers; molybdenum is used in steel production.

While the unelected bureaucracy of the EPA is trying to stall or block the mining of critical elements, which the U.S. mostly imports from China, Congress passed legislation last week to speed up the mine permit approval process from five years to less than two years in order to advance U.S. self-reliance in obtaining those minerals.

Airlifting outhouses

Pebble has been conducting its own environmental studies for five years and has spent more than $100 million to monitor water, soil and wildlife. While the studies are under way, Pebble removes all of the human waste from the study site by helicopter—including the outhouses, which along with other trash are airlifted to Anchorage—so mine employees don’t add an extra burden to the local treatment facility.

Researchers hired by Pebble have donned dry suits to snorkel through the arctic streams to study spawning habitat and count fish, adding some 7,000 pages of investigative work to another 20,000 pages of environmental reviews the mine company has so far produced.

“It’s one of the most comprehensive environmental studies of a mine project in Alaska, and probably nationwide,” said Mike Heatwole, vice president of public affairs for Pebble.

The problem is that the studies have not been completed or analyzed, and the actual mine plan has not been finalized.

But that hasn’t stopped the EPA from jumping the gun to write its own assessment of the mining operation’s effects on the surrounding 20,000 square mile area and on the salmon population and other species in Bristol Bay—120 miles away from the proposed mining operation site.

The EPA is collecting public comments on their draft report until July 23 and will then submit it for a peer review process in August. If the EPA determines that mining operations are a risk to the water supply, it can use its authority under the Clean Water Act to shut down the mine before its final conception is submitted to the State of Alaska for approval.

Pebble officials say the EPA’s preemptive actions set a dangerous precedent.

“What’s really a concern to us is that the EPA has never stepped into this kind of preemptive space … before we’ve even defined development scenarios for the mine,” Heatwole said. “The EPA is being asked by environmentalists and a number of native Alaskan tribes to potentially take action against us before we have even defined our project and submitted an application.”

Pebble officials say they expect the project to employ 4,000 construction workers over the next four years, plus create another 1,000 jobs for year-round mine operations.

Alaska questions EPA actions

In a series of letters between the EPA, Alaska Attorney General Michael Geraghty, Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell and members of Congress that were obtained by Human Events, the legality of the EPA’s actions have been questioned and condemned.

“EPA has shared little information about its purported legal authority to conduct the watershed assessment,” the attorney general said in a March 9 letter.

The EPA says in its response to the attorney general that its assessment will look at the potential impacts of hypothetical mining alternatives, which the attorney general countered is in conflict with several laws, including the Alaska Statehood Act, Clean Water Act, and National Environmental Policy Act.

“The state selected lands with natural resource potential to provide for the economic welfare of the residents of Alaska,” Geraghty said. “A premature decision could thwart those objectives, as established by both Congress in the Alaska Statehood Act and the Alaska Legislature in a myriad of state laws.”

Dennis McLerran, EPA Region 10 administrator, responded on April 5: “EPA has not initiated any regulatory action under (the Clean Water Act), or any authority. Many of your legal concerns would only be relevant and can only be addressed in the context of a specific regulatory action. Should the EPA move forward with a (Clean Water) action, we will address your legal concerns at that time.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski is not taking a position on the mine until a proposal is actually submitted, but her spokesman Robert Dillon said there are serious concerns about the EPA’s interference.

“Will this preempt all mines, regardless of its size or scope? It’s turned the entire process on its head and raised a lot of questions,” Dillon said. “We keep getting told to trust the EPA, but there’s not a lot of trust of the EPA in Alaska.”

Attribution: Audrey Hudson

Jurassic Oyster

A 145million-year-old oyster fossil trawled up by fishermen off the south coast of England, could contain the mother of all pearls.

Experts used medical MRI scanning technology to analyze the fossil to discover if there was a rare gem inside.

And their results showed up a mysterious smooth object about the size of a golf ball.

If it were removed and identified as a pearl, it could be worth a small fortune.

But experts will not explore the contents any further because it would mean the fossil would have to be destroyed.

The oyster – which measures about 7in across – remains at the Blue Reef Aquarium in Portsmouth, UK, where it is kept securely and brought out only for lectures.

Lindsay Holloway, from the aquarium, said: ‘It was discovered in the nets of a fishing boat which was dredging here in the Solent.

When the fishermen came back to port they thought it was real, but when they picked it up, cleaned it, and had a closer look they could tell it was a fossil. It had completely turned to stone.’

Jewelry expert Geoffrey Munn said: ‘To have a pearl the size of a golf ball would be exceptional. The biggest that have been recorded are about half that size.’

Following news of the discovery a company in Cheltenham called Cobalt, which provides state of the art scanning services to the NHS and private patients, volunteered to scan the oyster to see what was inside.

Lindsay Holloway added: ‘A member of the public called and informed us it was on display at a local fishmongers so we called them and they gave it to us to have in the aquarium.

‘Oysters can be aged by annual growth rings on their shells and we have counted more than 200 rings on this oyster making it an extremely long-lived individual.

‘It’s obviously a million-to-one chance that it would contain anything but, if you were to go purely on the dimensions of the shell then you’d be looking at a golf ball-sized pearl.’

Droning On

FAR from the airplane-sized craft that are the face of cutting-edge warfare, a much smaller revolution in drones is under way.

Micro-aerial vehicles (MAVs) with uncanny navigation and real-time mapping capabilities could soon be zipping through indoor and outdoor spaces, running reconnaissance missions that others cannot. They would allow soldiers to look over hills, inside buildings and inspect suspicious objects without risk.

Unlike their larger cousins, whose complex navigation systems let them fly autonomously for hours or even days, MAVs are not known for their smarts. They typically rely on a GPS signal to tell them where they are, and on human operators for nearly everything else, such as where to go, what to look for and where to land.

Now researchers led by Roland Brockers at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, have developed a MAV that uses a camera pointed at the ground to navigate and pick landing spots. It can even identify people and other objects. The system enables the drone to travel through terrain where human control and GPS are unavailable, such as a city street or inside a building.

A human operator needs to tell the drone only two things before it sets off: where it is and where its objective is. The craft figures out the rest for itself, using the camera and onboard software to build a 3D map of its surroundings. It can also avoid obstacles and detect surfaces above a predetermined height as possible landing zones. Once it selects a place to put down, it maps the site’s dimensions, moves overhead and lands.

In a laboratory experiment, a 50 centimeter by 50 centimeter quadrotor craft equipped with the navigation system was able to take off, travel through an obstacle-filled indoor space and land successfully on an elevated platform. Brockers’s team is now testing the system in larger, more complex environments. The system was presented at the SPIE Defense, Security and Sensing conference in Baltimore, Maryland, in April.

Vijay Kumar of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia says that autonomous navigation and landing capabilities are unprecedented in a drone of this size. “Typically the information required to locate a landing site and stabilize a vehicle over it is coming in at a 100 times a second,” he says. “No one else has been able to design a system so small with this kind of processing power.”

With such capabilities making their way into ever smaller craft, it may not be long until the PD-100 Black Hornet (pictured right), which is set to become the world’s smallest operational drone, gets an upgrade as well.

As it stands the PD-100, which has been in testing by Norwegian manufacturer Prox Dynamics since 2008, can navigate autonomously to a target area using onboard GPS or fly a pre-planned route. It can also be controlled by a human from up to a kilometer away, has an endurance of up to 25 minutes, can hover for a stable view, and fly both indoors and out.

At just 20 centimeters long and weighing about 15 grams, the PD-100 makes the drone created by Brockers’s team look like a behemoth. And while it may look like a toy, Prox Dynamics claims it can maintain steady flight in winds of up to 5 meters per second. This has attracted the attention of the UK Ministry of Defence, which last year issued a request for the vehicle under the name “Nano-UAS”.

Attribution: New Scientist

Crank Up the Volume

Forget blasting out your favorite tunes, you could now use speakers to put out a fire. A new video from the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) shows how to extinguish burning fuel by trapping it in an acoustic field generated by surrounding speakers.

By using specific frequencies, a fire is killed in a two-pronged attack. First, sound increases the air speed, thinning the layer where combustion occurs and thus making it easier to disrupt the flame. But the acoustics also disturb the surface of the fuel which increases vaporization, widening the flame and cooling its overall temperature.

Whereas typical firefighting techniques disrupt chemical reactions involved in combustion, DARPA has been looking at approaches like this one that exploit physics. Previously, they’ve used an electric field to blow out a flame by creating an ionic wind. They hope to develop these alternatives to help put out fires in military environments, for example in confined spaces, like cockpits and ship holds.

Attribution: New Scientist

Around the World in Many Cables

You almost certainly use it every day, but until now nobody has really known what the internet actually looks like.

However, Fortune magazine and graphic designer Nicolas Rapp teamed up with telecom data and infrastructure company GeoTel Communications.

The company maps fiber optic cables and geographic information systems (GIS) that connect people all over the world, which were used to create the stunning image below.

It shows the key locations for fiber optic cables, the high speed connections that form the backbone of the internet.

It also reveals that much of the online world is actually underwater, and under the world’s largest oceans.

These cables transfer data in the form of light to and from power repeaters in major cities — such as Hong Kong and New York — in a matter of milliseconds.

‘If the internet is a global phenomenon, it’s because there are fiber-optic cables underneath the ocean,’ said the designer of the images Nicolas Rapp.

He explained how the cables are used.

‘Light goes in on one shore and comes out the other, making these tubes the fundamental conduit of information throughout the global village,’ he said on his blog.

‘To make the light travel enormous distances, thousands of volts of electricity are sent through the cable’s copper sleeve to power repeaters, each the size and roughly the shape of a 600-pound bluefin tuna.

‘Once a cable reaches a coast, it enters a building known as a “landing station” that receives and transmits the flashes of light sent across the water.

‘The fiber-optic lines then connect to key hubs, known as “Internet exchange points,” which, for the most part, follow geography and population.

The idea of the maps was to explain how the internet works in an easy to understand manner.

“Most people have no clue what the world’s communication infrastructure looks like,” Dave Drazen of GeoTel told Mashable.

“When they open this [article] up, they’re astonished. You’re actually mapping the Internet right here.”

Attribution: Daily Mail

So it’s not the Millennium Falcon?

I published a report last month of a strange undersea finding. Click here to read it.

Here is the follow up.

Divers exploring a ‘UFO-shaped’ object in the Baltic sea say that the strange, curved object might be a Nazi device lost beneath the waves since the end of the Second World War.

Sonar scans have shown that the device, raised 10ft above the seabed and measuring 200ft by 25ft, could be the base of an anti-submarine weapon.

The weapon was built with wire mesh which could have baffled submarine radar, leading enemy craft to crash – much in the same way as turning out a lighthouse could be used as a weapon against shipping.

But now former Swedish naval officer and WWII expert Anders Autellus has revealed that the structure – measuring 200ft by 25ft – could be the base of a device designed to block British and Russian submarine movements in the area.

The huge steel-and-concrete structure could be one of the most important historical finds in years.

Autellus claims it would have been built of double-skinned concrete and reinforced with wire mesh to baffle radar – which could explain why the dive team’s equipment repeatedly failed near the mystery object.

‘The area was vital to the German war machine because most of the ball bearings for its tanks and trucks came from here. Without them the German army would have ground to a halt,’ explained one expert.

‘This device dwarfs anything ever found before and is an important weapons discovery,’ they added.

Explorer and professional diver Stefan Hogeborn – who is studying the images for the Ocean X diving team – agreed: ‘It is a good candidate for the answer to this mystery. The object lies directly underneath a shipping route.’

‘It would be of enormous weight in steel and concrete. Other Nazi anti-sub anchoring devices were nowhere near as large,’ he added.

While the Ocean Explorer team is understandably excited about their potentially earth-shattering find, others are slightly more sceptical and are questioning the accuracy of the sonar technology.

The Swedish team exploring the structure have been plagued with problems.

The divers exploring the ‘UFO-shaped’ object at the bottom of the Baltic Sea said that team their equipment stops working when they approach within 200m.

Hogeborn said some of the team’s cameras and the team’s satellite phone would refuse to work when directly above the object, and would only work once they had sailed away.

He is quoted as saying: ‘Anything electric out there – and the satellite phone as well – stopped working when we were above the object.

‘And then we got away about 200 meters and it turned on again, and when we got back over the object it didn’t work.’

The object was first found in May last year, but because of a lack of funding and bad timing, they have were not able to pull a team together to see for themselves – just the strange, metallic outline, and a similar disk-shaped object about 200 metres away.

During their visit, the team saw a 985-foot trail that they described ‘as a runway or a downhill path that is flattened at the seabed with the object at the end of it’.

As it was before the recent dive, the story behind the object is anyone’s guess, from a ‘plug to the inner world’ to the Millennium Falcon ship from Star Wars.

In the past, such technology has confused foreign objects with unusual- but natural – rock formations.

Part of the trouble they face, however, is that they have no way of telling what is inside the supposed cylinder- whether it is filled with gold and riches or simply aged sediment particles.

They’re hoping for the former, and history seems to be in their favor.

The Baltic Sea is a treasure trove for shipwreck hunters, as an estimated 100,000 objects are thought to line the cold sea’s floor.

The company have created a submarine that they hope will appeal to tourists and wannabe shipwreck hunters who will pay to take a trip down to the bottom of the Baltic Sea to see for themselves.

A further dive will take place in the coming weeks.

Attribution: Mail Online

Global Warming Causes Everything

By Michelle Malkin

Good news: The Waldo Canyon fire, which forced 32,000 residents (including our family) to flee, claimed two lives and destroyed 347 homes, is now 100 percent contained. Bad news: Radical environmentalists won’t stop blowing hot air about this year’s infernal season across the West.

Al Gore slithered out of the political morgue to bemoan nationwide heat records and pimp his new “Climate Reality Project,” which blames global warming for the wildfire outbreak. NBC meteorologist Doug Kammerer asserted: “If we did not have global warming, we wouldn’t see this.” Agriculture Department Undersecretary Harris Sherman, who oversees the Forest Service, claimed to the Washington Post: “The climate is changing, and these fires are a very strong indicator of that.”

And the Associated Press (or rather, the Activist Press) lit the fear-mongering torch with an eco-propaganda piece titled “U.S. summer is what ‘global warming will look like.'”

The problem is that the actual conclusions of scientists included in AP’s screed don’t back up the apocalyptic headline. As the reporter acknowledges under that panicky banner:

“Scientifically linking individual weather events to climate change takes intensive study, complicated mathematics, computer models and lots of time. Sometimes it isn’t caused by global warming. Weather is always variable; freak things happen.”

So, this U.S. summer may or may not really look like “what global warming looks like.” Kinda. Sorta. Possibly. Possibly not.

Furthermore, the AP reporter concedes, the “global” nature of the warming and its supposed catastrophic events have “been local. Europe, Asia and Africa aren’t having similar disasters now, although they’ve had their own extreme events in recent years.”

A more hedging headline would have been journalistically responsible, but Chicken Little-ism better serves the global warming blame-ologists’ agenda.

More inconvenient truths: As The Washington Times noted, the National Climatic Data Center shows that “Colorado has actually seen its average temperature drop slightly from 1998 to 2011, when data is collected only from rural stations and not those that have been urbanized since 1900.”

Radical green efforts to block logging and timber sales in national forests since the 1990s are the real culprits. Wildlife mitigation experts point to incompetent forest management and militant opposition to thinning the timber fuel supply.

Another symptom of green obstructionism: widespread bark beetle infestations. The U.S. Forest Service itself reported last year:

“During the last part of the 20th century, widespread treatments in lodgepole pine stands that would have created age class diversity, enhanced the vigor of remaining trees, and improved stand resiliency to drought or insect attack — such as timber harvest and thinning — lacked public acceptance. Proposals for such practices were routinely appealed and litigated, constraining the ability of the Forest Service to manage what had become large expanses of even-aged stands susceptible to a bark beetle outbreak.”

Capitulation to lawsuit-happy green thugs, in others, undermined “public acceptance” of common sense, biodiversity-preserving and lifesaving timber harvest and thinning practices.

Local, state and federal officials offered effusive praise for my fellow Colorado Springs residents who engaged in preventive mitigation efforts in their neighborhoods. The government flacks said it made a life-and-death difference. Yet, litigious environmental groups have sabotaged such mitigation efforts at the national level — in effect, creating an explosive tinderbox out of the West.

Stoking global warming alarms may make for titillating headlines and posh Al Gore confabs. But it’s a human blame avoidance strategy rooted in ideological extremism and flaming idiocy.