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Why I Don't Feel Your Pain

Developments to Watch

Why I Don't Feel Your Pain

PAIN PERCEPTION CAN VARY ENORMOUSLY AMONG INDIVIDUALS: One person's sore arm is another's debilitating anguish. But don't assume that sufferers should just "put up and shut up." Their pain sensitivity could be genetic.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University and the National Institute on Drug Abuse say they have discovered variations in a single gene responsible for the molecule that binds with the body's own painkilling chemicals. They report in the July 16 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that those variations are probably responsible for differences in pain sensitivity. And because the molecule also binds with morphine, the gene variations could explain why the level of relief from the same dose of morphine differs so much from patient to patient.

The researchers studied the so-called mu opiate receptor gene in different strains of mice and discovered differences in the number of opiate receptors. Furthermore, the quantity of receptors predicted how the mice would respond to a mildly painful stimulus: The fewer the receptors, the more pain the lab animals felt. Also, the mice with sparse receptors required more morphine.

After the mouse studies, the scientists turned to human subjects. They found that the number of mu receptors can differ dramatically among individuals as well. "People have long been skeptical that pain has a genetic basis," says Johns Hopkins neurologist Dr. George R. Uhl. The new finding, he says, could result in painkillers that are tailored to genetic sensitivities.By Catherine Arnst; Edited by Otis PortReturn to top

CDs That Deliver Way More Than Music

WHY SHELL OUT FOR A COMPACT DISK WHEN YOU CAN GET so much free music on the Internet? Atlantic Recording Corp., a subsidiary of Time Warner Inc., thinks it can give music lovers a reason. It's a multimedia enhancement called HyperCD, developed by HyperLock Technologies in Skokie, Ill. The new disks cost the same as ordinary CDs and contain standard music tracks. But when you put the disk in a personal computer and register at Atlantic's Web site (, you can unlock video clips hidden on the disk or get on mailing lists for news on concert tours. Some day, you may also be able to interact with bands on restricted areas on Atlantic's Web site.

Preempting the free-music movement is only part of the rationale for Atlantic. The company learns who its customers are, what music they like, and how often they listen. It can mine that information for insights on trends. And ultimately, Atlantic plans to market music directly to individuals.

Atlantic Co-Chairman Val Azzoli says HyperCDs have been selling well since their debut in May. That's no surprise, because the latest recordings from such acts as The Gufs, Collective Soul, and Edwin McCain are available only in this format. But Azzoli has evidence that customers also like the value-added features: A surprisingly high 20% of Collective Soul purchasers have registered on the Atlantic site.Neil Gross; Edited by Otis PortReturn to top

A Sensor to Catch Nuclear Thieves

THE ECONOMIC MELTDOWN IN RUSSIA may pose dangers beyond its borders. Since 1992, there have been seven thefts of Russian uranium products suitable for use in weapons, according to a congressional study. Experts worry that Russia's inability to pay for security measures or even to provide regular paychecks for the guards means Russia's uranium stockpile could be purloined by terrorists and rogue nations.

As part of a U.S. Energy Dept. initiative to help Russia control its nuclear materials, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory now has come up with a device to track uranium or plutonium. A team led by materials scientist Mary Bliss has developed an inexpensive glass-fiber sensor for detecting radioactivity. Unlike ordinary glass fibers that merely transmit light, these produce light. Called Puma (from plutonium measurement and analysis), the fibers contain special compounds that, when zapped by neutrons or gamma rays, emit sparks--analogous to the ticking from a Geiger counter.

Puma fibers could be embedded in roads at border crossings and around sites where nuclear weapons and uranium are stored, Bliss says. A prototype detector has just been installed at a checkpoint on the German-Austrian border. Canberra Industries Inc. of Meriden, Conn., will make the fibers.Edited by Otis PortReturn to top

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