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A glimpse into the future VI

RobertTurner_LightBulbThis week’s look into the world of cutting edge research:

  1. Herbal extract inhibits the development of pancreatic cancer. An herb appears to inhibit development of pancreatic cancer as a result of its anti-inflammatory properties, according to researchers from the Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson who presented their work at the 100th meeting of the American Association of Cancer Research.  Thymoquinone, the major constituent of the oil extract from a Middle Eastern herbal seed called Nigella sativa, exhibited anti-inflammatory properties that reduced the release of inflammatory mediators in pancreatic cancer cells, according to Hwyda Arafat, M.D., Ph.D.  “Not only patients with chronic pancreatitis could benefit from this, but also several other groups with risk of development or recurrence of pancreatic cancer, such as high-risk family members and post-surgical patients. These potent effects show promise for the herb as a potential preventive and therapeutic strategy for pancreatic cancer,” Dr. Arafat said.
  2. Reversible generation of high capacity hydrogen storage material demonstrated. Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Savannah River National Laboratory have created a reversible route to generate aluminum hydride (alane), a high capacity hydrogen storage material. This achievement is not only expected to accelerate the development of a whole class of storage materials, but also has far reaching applications in areas spanning energy technology and synthetic chemistry.  For years, one of the major obstacles to the realization of the hydrogen economy has been hydrogen storage. Solid-state storage, using solid materials such as metals that absorb hydrogen and release it as needed, has many safety and practicality advantages over storing hydrogen as a liquid or gas.  Alane possesses the desired qualities but until now, had been considered impractical because of the high pressures required to combine hydrogen and aluminum to reform the hydride material.
  3. ‘Designer’ immune cells created with the help of microscopic ‘beads’ ignore transplanted organs. The future of organ transplantation could include microscopic beads that create “designer” immune cells to help patients tolerate their new organ, Medical College of Georgia researchers say. The degradable microparticles deliver the most powerful known form of HLA-G, a natural suppressor of the immune response, straight to dendritic cells, which typically show the immune system what to attack. The microparticles are given right after a transplant, just as dendritic cells are giving the immune system a heads up to get busy attacking the new organ. Unlike current anti-rejection drugs that generally suppress the immune system – leaving patients vulnerable to infections, cancer and more – HLA-G offers specific “tolerance.” Marked microparticles also have treatment potential in diseases where the immune system attacks normal tissue, such as arthritis, multiple sclerosis and inflammatory bowel disease.
  4. New approach to scrambling light may lead to sharper images, wider views. When photographers zoom in on an object to see it better, they lose the wide-angle perspective — they are forced to trade off “big picture” context for detail. But now an imaging method developed by Princeton researchers could lead to lenses that show all parts of the scene at once in the same high detail.  The new method could help build more powerful microscopes and other optical devices.  This method addresses the shortcomings of small apertures by taking advantage of the unusual properties of substances called nonlinear optical materials. In conventional lens materials such as glass or plastic, rays of light pass through without interacting with one another. In nonlinear materials, light rays mix with each other in complex ways.  The image from a nonlinear lens would therefore be rich in detail once the information is unscrambled, which is what the researchers have been able to accomplish.
  5. Physical reality of string theory demonstrated. String theory has come under fire in recent years. Promises have been made that have not been lived up to. Leiden theoretical physicists have now for the first time used string theory to describe a physical phenomenon. Their discovery has been reported in Science Express.  Electrons can form a special kind of state, a so-called quantum critical state, that plays a role in high-temperature super-conductivity.  Super-conductivity only seemed possible at very low temperatures close to absolute zero, but more and more examples are coming up where it also occurs at higher temperatures.  However, no one had managed to explain this phenomenon.  The quantum-critical state occurs in a material just before it becomes super-conductive at high temperature, where the electrons exhibit the same behavior at small quantum mechanical scale or at macroscopic human scale.  An aspect of string theory has been used by the Leiden physicists to shed light on this phenomenon.
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