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G'day? Not With The Aussie Flu Bug

Developments to Watch

G'day? Not with the Aussie Flu Bug

'Tis the season for sharing. Unfortunately, if you are one of millions of Americans with the flu, you shared more than holiday cheer. Cases have been reported in all but a few states, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention in Atlanta. As of mid-December, 19 states, including Colorado, Ohio, and Washington, reported either widespread or concentrated regional flu activity. Last week, emergency rooms in Los Angeles County and New York City were forced to reroute patients to other medical centers while they dealt with rooms packed with flu patients.

The germ responsible for this year's spate of illnesses is type A Sydney, named for Sydney, Australia, where it first originated. It is a particularly robust strain: In the past, it has been associated with more deaths than other versions of flu. On average, influenza accounts for 20,000 deaths in the U.S. every year. The CDC says those numbers could be higher this year but cautions that it is too early to say for sure.

Even though the flu vaccine is only 70% effective, it is still the best bet to protect against that hit-by-a Mack-truck feeling. And health experts say that if you do succumb to the virus after vaccination, your symptoms may be milder. Even though the flu season is under way, it's still not too late to go get that shot--immunity builds up in about two weeks, according to Kristine Smith of the New York State Health Dept. If all else fails, try grandma's favorite remedy: chicken soup.Edited by Ellen LickingReturn to top

"Seeds" to Attack Prostate Cancer

University of Rochester Medical Center doctors are using mathematical equations to improve brachytherapy, a common treatment for prostate cancer.

In this procedure, several dozen radioactive particles, each about the size of a grain of rice, are implanted into the prostate. In a few weeks, these so-called seeds destroy the cancerous cells. To avoid killing nearby healthy organs and nerves, physicians must devise a detailed map of where to plant the seeds. This labor-intensive project is normally done several weeks before implantation--and that can be a problem. A patient's prostate often changes shape or size in the interim, which may complicate the procedure.

Yan Yu, a physicist at Rochester, wants to make the process faster and more precise. He has designed a computer program that automatically selects an optimal seed configuration by analyzing an ultrasound image of the patient's prostate. Yu's program chooses 64 seed patterns at random and evaluates them to find the safest and most effective ones. These patterns are put into the computer again, where they create even more powerful arrangements. Two hundred generations and just two minutes later, the program identifies the one likely to work the best. Yu, in conjunction with startup RTek Medical Systems, also in Rochester, is commercializing the technology.Edited by Ellen LickingReturn to top

Shedding Light on Solar Power

Engineers at Tennessee's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have developed a novel solar energy system that could prove far more efficient than today's commercially available photovoltaic cells. Current generators turn the sun's light into electricity, and then convert it back into light. Because 95% of the energy is wasted in the process, "it makes more sense to collect and distribute the light directly," says Jeff D. Muhs, a researcher in ORNL's Engineering Technology Div.

Muhs has designed a roof-mounted system with a mirrored light collector and a series of large optical fibers. When light hits the collector, it is piped through the optical fibers to a specially designed light fixture. The solar portion is equipped with sensors that measure sunlight levels. If the levels fall too far, the sensors turn on a fluorescent tube in the same light fixture to maintain a constant light output.

By directly harnessing the sun's energy in this way, the ORNL system is expected to reduce the amount of energy used for lighting by approximately one-third. And by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from electrical power plants, the technology would be environmentally friendly. A product could be on the market as early as 2002.Edited by Ellen LickingReturn to top

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