Developments to Watch
Getting Big Pictures from Small Screens
Within about three years, "third-generation" (3G) cell phones will let people cruise the wireless Internet at six or seven times the speed of dial-up modems in homes today. That's fast enough to download images and large text files. But how will people view all of this on tiny telephone screens? Some phone makers are opting for larger displays. But that will mean bigger, heavier phones and a shorter battery life.
Displaytech Inc. in Longmont, Colo., thinks the solution is a minuscule display-on-a-chip, magnified by a special viewing lens. The company has patented techniques for mounting high-definition liquid-crystal displays on fingernail-size integrated circuits, which Samsung has built into its expensive, high-definition television sets. These TVs create images by bouncing light off a set of red, green, and blue chips onto the back of the television screen.
Cameras and camcorders could be next. On a digital camera, the typical 1.8-inch LCD could be replaced with a chip-mounted display measuring just a quarter of an inch diagonally. (It will appear larger through the magnifier.) The camera could then shrink down to the size of a deck of cards. Wireless Web phones will go the same route, says Displaytech, which will start shipping 200,000 screens a month by yearend.Edited by Neil GrossReturn to top
On the Trail of Rogue Proteins
Most experts in mad-cow disease now accept the idea that this illness, along with its human variants, is caused by rogue proteins known as prions. This realization that proteins can act as infectious agents has led, in turn, to new ways of looking at Alzheimer's and Huntington's diseases, cystic fibrosis, familial ALS, and other neurodegenerative disorders. All these ailments, like mad-cow disease, involve the toxic aggregation of proteins in cells. And in all of them, scientists have observed the workings of regulatory proteins known as molecular "chaperones."
The latest effort to establish links among these diseases comes from the laboratory of Richard I. Morimoto, a Northwestern University biologist. In a study on genetically modified C. elegans worms, described in the May 23 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Morimoto showed that aggregates of amino acids called polyglutamines cause cell damage. To be sure, mutant genes also play a role in the disease process. But Morimoto showed that when unhealthy proteins reach a certain concentration in a cell, they cause otherwise normal proteins to glom together in toxic aggregates.
Morimoto and his team also demonstrated that the growth of polyglutamine aggregates can be suppressed by molecular chaperones, or "heat shock proteins," whose role is to police other proteins and keep them properly folded. This could have important therapeutic implications. "If you could increase the production of these proteins, or modify their behavior, you might be able to delay the neurodegenerative process," Morimoto says.Edited by Neil GrossReturn to top
Laser Surgery for the Farsighted
Eyeglasses are slowly disappearing from the noses of the myopic, or nearsighted, thanks to the growing popularity of laser surgery. This summer, the Food & Drug Administration is expected to approve the first laser surgery method to treat 77 million Americans who suffer from the opposite condition: hyperopia, or farsightedness.
Hyperopia occurs when the cornea flattens, resulting in blurry vision both at a distance and close up. To correct the problem, Sunrise Technologies International of Fremont, Calif., developed a process called Hyperion LTK. It uses a laser to zap 16 spots around the periphe-ry of the cornea. The heated tissue contracts, reshaping the eye to improve focusing power. Unlike laser surgery for myopia, no tissue is cut from the eye.
Last January, an FDA advisory panel recommended approval of Hyperion for farsighted patients aged 40 and older. But the panel noted that there is not enough data to determine how long the correction will last. Sunrise says that it has only collected five years' worth of patient data, but in that time the patients' corneas have remained stable.By Catherine Arnst; Edited by Neil GrossReturn to top