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Businessweek Archives

A Planet Is `Reborn'

Developments to Watch


THE UNIVERSE SEEMED TO get a little friendlier in 1995 when a planet was discovered circling a star in the constellation Pegasus. Discovered by Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz of the Geneva Observatory, it was the first normal-size planet found orbiting a sun-like star, and, although too close to its sun to support life, raised hopes that more hospitable bodies might be out there. But skeptics refuted its existence.

Now the planet has a new lease on life, thanks to its harshest critic. In the Jan. 8 issue of Nature, David F. Gray, an astronomer at Canada's University of Western Ontario, admits that "a planet may indeed be the best explanation" for the clues spotted by the Swiss astronomers. Before, Gray produced evidence that those clues--variations in light indicating a rotating gravitational force such as a planet--were caused by huge tidal surges, common occurrences between stars. Now, Gray admits his evidence has vanished.

The new planet doesn't follow conventional theories of planetary formation, in that it seems too massive to have formed so close to a star. Its existence could mean that planetary systems are more common than previously thought. Even if not, astronomers still expect to find scores of stars with planets in the next few years. Maybe one of these planets will support life.By Otis Port EDITED BY CATHERINE ARNSTReturn to top


LINKING UP TWO OR MORE home PCs and printers in a local-area network is no picnic. If one PC is in the study and another is in the kid's room, the bill for network gear and stringing special cables through the house can run over $2,000.

Starting in March, however, home LANs could get a lot cheaper and easier to set up. A device called PASSPORT from Intelogis Inc. of American Fork, Utah, will let printers and PCs running Windows 95 communicate through the home's electrical wiring. There's no need for special cables. And once the LAN is up and running, PCs can be placed in any room that has an electric outlet.

Each PC and printer requires a soapdish-size PASSPORT box, which Intelogis bundles with the necessary software. The box connects to the parallel port of the PC, and then plugs into an outlet. When the PC boots up, a Win95 feature called Network Neighborhood recognizes Intelogis' software, and sends signals throughout the home to locate other PASSPORT boxes. As long as one PC is hooked up to cyberspace by phone or cable modem, the other PCs can surf the Net. The cost to link up two PCs and a printer in any room of the house? About $250.By Neil Gross EDITED BY CATHERINE ARNSTReturn to top


ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE IS THE LEADING CAUSE OF dementia and the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. But there is no way of telling whom it might strike. Although researchers have found a genetic predisposition in some families, most patients have little or no family history of the disease. And because there is no easily administered test for Alzheimer's, doctors are left to guess whether warning signs such as short-term memory loss or emotional changes are early symptoms of the disease or mere aging.

Recent clinical trials, however, have found that a new urine test is very accurate in detecting the disease in its early stages. The test, from Nymox Pharmaceutical Corp. in Rockville, Md., measures a type of neural thread protein (NTP) that accumulates in the brain tissue and spinal fluid of Alzheimer's victims at levels up to 10 times higher than normal. In a study in the December issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation, the researchers reported that the Nymox test found elevated NTP levels in 89% of early Alzheimer's cases, compared with 11% in elderly people with no neurological disease. Nymox plans to start marketing the test later this year.EDITED BY CATHERINE ARNSTReturn to top

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