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Businessweek Archives

Breathalyzers For Ulcers

Developments to Watch


SOON, BEING TESTED FOR an ulcer could be as easy as breathing. Three companies are seeking approval from the Food & Drug Administration for tests that use a breath sample to detect telltale products of Helicobacter pylori bacteria, an important cause of ulcers.

Here's how it works: H. pylori has an enzyme that breaks down a metabolic product called urea into ammonia and carbon dioxide. The doctor checks the patient's breath to get a baseline carbon dioxide reading. Then the patient downs a liquid containing urea that's enriched with a certain isotope of carbon. If that isotope shows up in heavy concentrations in later breaths, it means H. pylori is at work.

The technique is based on the patents of Barry Marshall, the Australian physician who linked gastric and duodenal ulcers to the presence of H. pylori. Marshall licensed Tri-Med Specialties Inc. in Lenexa, Kan., to develop a system using mildly radioactive carbon-14 isotopes and Houston's Meretek Diagnostics Inc. for nonradioactive carbon-13 isotopes. Both companies hope for FDA approval this year. Alimenterics Inc. in Morris Plains, N.J., which detects carbon-13 in breath samples by laser for the same purpose, says its system doesn't infringe on any patent, but it is in licensing talks with Meretek while conducting clinical trials.EDITED BY PETER COYReturn to top


JAY CARTER JR. IS BUILDING a hybrid airplane-helicopter so unusual that aeronautics experts, on first hearing of it, don't believe it can possibly live up to its claims. By late this year or in 1997, Carter says he will complete a CarterCopter capable of lifting off from a helipad in New York, flying nonstop at 400 mph to Los Angeles, and landing on a helipad there--door-to-door in 6 1/2 hours. All that in a five-person craft powered by nothing more than a V-6 race-car engine.

Helicopters usually can't go faster than 250 mph, because at that speed the tip of the forward-moving blade approaches the sound barrier and drag increases exponentially. Carter intends to overcome that limitation by slowing the rotor to about 100 rpm after the gyroplane reaches 200 mph. Wings will then supply the lift, while the rotor just goes along for the ride. Forward thrust will be supplied by a rear propeller. Most planes require big wings for takeoff and landing, but Carter gets away with swifter small wings because the lift at low speed will be provided by the rotor. Unlike a helicopter, the CarterCopter can't hover.

One believer is NASA, which awarded CarterCopters Inc. in Wichita Falls, Tex., a $70,000 research grant. Carter, the president and chief designer, says there's nothing too high-tech about his concept. "This could have been done 40 years ago if anybody had thought of it."EDITED BY PETER COYReturn to top


FROM BOTSWANA COMES A GASOLINE-DRIVEN BATTERY charger called the Nifty Fifty. From Croatia, 18 inventions ranging from an anticellulite cream to a method for producing poultry vaccines. People from 30 countries with 1,500 inventions were due to present their wares May 16-19 in Pittsburgh at the 12th edition of Inpex, which has become the premier event for small-time inventors with big-time ideas.

While few large companies have booths at Inpex XII, many roam the aisles as potential buyers, says one presenter, Bill Bresnahan, president of R-Visions Inc. of Lansdale, Pa. Bresnahan, a former member of the Philadelphia Police Dept.'s SWAT team, hit the big time himself this year with orders for 22 million pairs of foldable cardboard binoculars--the official binoculars of the Olympic Games in Atlanta. He says they cost about 50 cents to manufacture but sell at retail for $5 to $10.

Other inventions at Inpex: Catch-It Cap, a baseball cap that converts into a glove for fly balls, and Lawn Buddy, an animal statue that pops out of the lawn to light the way, speak a greeting, or take a message when a visitor approaches.EDITED BY PETER COYReturn to top

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