Developments to Watch
You Must Be 12 or under to Enter
Remember, long ago, getting carded when you tried to order a beer at the local bar? A New Jersey startup called CyberSmart! wants to turn the tables on grownups and let children do the carding at safe, "kids-only" chat rooms and content areas on the Net.
The idea is to thwart both sexual predators and overeager product marketers by giving each child a unique "digital certificate." Developed by VeriSign Inc., these e-chits would identify the bearer as a child but would not disclose other personal details--such as name, age, or address--unless child and parents wished to do so. Kids-only domains would automatically read the certificates and admit the bearers when they clicked to enter.
Web sites could still gather information on young visitors and customize their experiences online through personalized news, calendars, product promotions, games, and the like. But before doing so, Web site operators would first have to contact the parents and receive permission.
CyberSmart!'s scheme dovetails with the privacy rules that the Federal Trade Commission unveiled on Oct. 20. After April, e-mailed parental consent for chat-room participation by children must be authenticated with technology such as digital certificates.Edited by Neil GrossReturn to top
A Lucky Break in Fighting Psoriasis
At Seattle Biotech Startup Corixa Corp., CEO Steven Gillis' main goal is to develop vaccines that can boost the immune system's attack on cancer and other diseases. Oddly enough, some of the same technology also seems to bestow benefits when the immune system becomes overactive and starts to attack the body's own organs. Corixa's first target in this category is psoriasis, a disfiguring and hard-to-treat skin condition afflicting more than 6 million Americans.
One key to a successful cancer vaccine is finding adjuvants--chemicals that boost the immune system's disease-fighting response to vaccines. Corixa scientists found that one such potential adjuvant, derived from a harmless soil bacterium, has an unusual effect. It activates one specific type of immune cell that then suppresses another type involved in inflammation. The scientists realized that bacterial extracts might thus be a useful therapy for diseases, such as psoriasis, thought to be caused by those suppressed cells in an overactive state.
Corixa moved into high gear after a noted Filipino skin specialist became aware of the adjuvant work being done at the company's Philippines-based primate lab and asked Gillis to test the bacterium in people. The results of the first human clinical trial are impressive. In half of the 20 patients, the psoriasis disappeared completely after two injections. Moreover, biopsies showed that the offending immune-system cells disappeared from under the subjects' skin and were replaced by normal cells.
Corixa is now planning to conduct additional trials in the Philippines, Brazil, and the U.S.By John Carey; Edited by Neil GrossReturn to top
Sounding Head Injuries by Sonar
Head-injury patients pose special challenges for emergency-care workers. Recommendations for treatment vary depending on the amount of bleeding and swelling, which can cause pressure to build up and block blood flowing through the brain. But the only way to get a clear reading is to transport the patient to a hospital, perform CAT scans, and surgically implant sensors to monitor pressure and swelling.
This takes time, and sudden movement may not be advisable. So Tuan Vo-Dinh and his colleagues at the Energy Dept.'s Oak Ridge National Laboratory hope to provide emergency teams with an additional diagnostic tool: a portable, low-frequency ultrasound device that will give a quick on-site assessment of potential brain damage. Traditional ultrasound hasn't been useful in such situations because the high-frequency waves--used to create sharp images of a fetus in the womb--can't pass through the skull. Low-frequency sound waves don't produce pretty pictures, says Vo-Dinh. But they have no trouble passing through bone. "This may sound like a step backwards because we don't get images," says the scientist, "but we are actually getting more signal data." ORNL's prototype uses a PC to analyze signals from sensors on the patient's head. But in time, all the components will be integrated in a simple headband.Edited by Neil GrossReturn to top