Developments to Watch
From Everest to Yale, a Test of Telemedicine
ON APR. 23, A 15-MEMBER TEAM OF MOUNTAINEER-PHYSICIANS FROM YALE UNIVERSITY ventured to Mt. Everest's base camp, 17,500 feet above sea level, to study how the body responds in such a harsh environment. Throughout the experiment, the team will be linked with doctors back home through a communications network that can transmit voice, video, and numerical data from base camp in Nepal to Yale in real time.
It's an extreme test of telemedicine--the use of a hybrid video and communications technology to transmit complicated medical images over high-speed networks for assessment by doctors elsewhere. In the past, shuttling such images was inefficient and yielded low-quality results. Now, five different providers--including Totally Remote Communications and Lucent Technologies Inc.--have teamed up to transmit the info three-quarters of the way around the world in less than half a second. Millennium Healthcare Solutions Inc. of Raritan, N.J., is coordinating the project.
The expedition's success could have an impact closer to home, says James J. Tuchi, Millennium's CEO. Telemedicine has the potential to help the chronically ill as well as people in remote locations. "If this can be done from the top of the world, thousands of miles away, then it can be done anywhere," says Tuchi.EDITED BY ELLEN LICKINGReturn to top
A New Superdrug to Take on the Superbugs
VARIATIONS ON JUST NINE BASIC CHEMICALS have given rise to more than 100 antibiotics. But these days, with the rise of micro-organisms impervious to every class of antibiotic, that may not be enough. New superdrugs are needed to fight off the superbugs. Cubist Pharmaceuticals Inc., a biotech company in Cambridge, Mass., thinks it has one. The company just started the first of two pivotal clinical trials on an antibiotic it calls daptomycin. The drug appears effective against a broad range of bacteria resistant to other antibiotics.
Daptomycin, which Cubist acquired from Eli Lilly & Co. in 1997, works by binding to a bacterium's cell wall and triggering the organism's destruction. The drug is so potent that a single dose suffices to reduce microbes in the bloodstream by a factor of 1,000 in just 2 hours. Scientists at Cubist say daptomycin's killing power makes it tough for bacteria to survive long enough to develop resistance to it. The company is currently using an intravenous version of the drug to treat skin and soft-tissue infections, as well as infections of the blood. They hope to market it by mid-2001.EDITED BY ELLEN LICKINGReturn to top
Electroshock Therapy for Cancer-Causing Pollution
TRICHLOROETHYLENE SOUNDS NASTY, AND IT IS--THERE'S EVIDENCE IT MAY INCREASE the incidence of cancer. Still, it's widely used in the dry cleaning, plastics, and rubber industries. In years past, it often leaked out or got dumped on the ground around industrial sites, gradually building up to hazardous levels in the soil.
At an Energy Dept. plant in Paducah, Ky., for example, trichloroethylene contamination in the soil reached levels of 300 parts per million (PPM). Energy planned to reduce the concentration to at least 5 PPM. Using traditional methods--excavating and incinerating the contaminated soil--this could cost $200 and up per cubic yard. But a "shock therapy" developed by Monsanto, General Electric, and DuPont did much better, slashing trichloroethylene to as little as 0.2 PPM, and for a fraction of the cost. The new treatment costs only $45 to $80 per cubic yard.
To administer the shock therapy, metal rods are driven into deep holes packed with iron particles and clay. When the rods are charged with electricity, contaminated water carries the trichloroethylene toward the rods, where the iron filings break down the chemical and produce nontoxic residues.EDITED BY ELLEN LICKINGReturn to top