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  Graphic element ECOLOGY, AGRICULTURE: Organic practices benefit poorer farmers (22/02/02)  
    Farmers in developing countries are reaping the benefits of adopting 'green' agricultural practices far more than their western counterparts, suggests a recent report published by Cardiff University.  
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  Graphic element ENGINEERING, ELECTROCHEMICALS: 'Electronic tongue' - a taste of the future (22/02/02)  
    The agriculture and food industries are showing keen interest in the first ever 'electronic tongue' being developed at the Swedish Sensor Centre (S-Sence).  
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  Graphic element ENGINEERING, INDUSTRY: Honest - It's really stainless steel (22/02/02)  
    Stainless steel is supposed to be anticorrosive, isn't it? This would explains why it is used in everything from Formula one car engines to surgical equipment. But recent research published in Nature reveals why stainless steel has been cheating all these years.  
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  Graphic element SPACE, CLIMATE: CryoSat - breaking the ice in polar monitoring (18/02/02)  
    The ESA Director of Earth Observation, José Achache, has recently signed a contract confirming that Astrium will build CryoSat, the new European environmental and climate satellite.  
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  Graphic element EVENT, E-COMMERCE: 'Web Services' - reviving the internet (18/02/02)  
    Researchers, standards developers and ICT service providers gathered recently at the European Commission's Second Diffuse Conference, to address the question: 'Will Web Services revolutionise e-commerce?'  
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  Graphic element MEDICINE, PHYSICS: An 'enlightening' research network (18/02/02)  
    On 12 and 13 February the members of a new European network for research into cancer therapy met at CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research.  
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  Graphic element BIOLOGY, BIODIVERSITY: Lifou 2000 - discovering the underwater world (08/02/02)  
    The results of a scientific study have revealed more of the wonders of coral reefs and stimulated the imagination of zoologists and ecologists across the world.  
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  Graphic element FINANCE, TECHNOLOGY: Defining the euro's distinguishing features (08/02/02)  
    The euro is fast integrating into the lifestyles and pockets of its European users. However, protection measures against forgery remain a key issue. The Fraunhofer Institute in Germany is on the case.  
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  Graphic element ENVIRONMENT, POLLUTION: A natural remedy for mine water pollution (08/02/02)  
    In an innovative project, scientists from Newcastle University (UK) are using llama droppings to counter the environmental effects of leaking mine water in the Bolivian Andes.  
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  Graphic element INNOVATION, POLITICS: Boosting innovation in Europe (01/02/02)  
    The Economic and Financial Council (Ecofin) which co-ordinates economic policy in the EU, has given its backing to a new report emphasising the importance of R&D investment to the future of Europe.  
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  Graphic element BIOLOGY, DRUGS: Locking the cancer cells (01/02/02)  
    Researchers at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory have made an important discovery about the workings of a molecule linked to leukaemia.  
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  Graphic element HEALTH, GRANTS: Universities to tackle Parkinson's disease (01/02/02)  
    Three European universities have teamed up to carry out advanced research into Parkinson's disease after securing a €1.6 million grant from the European Commission.  
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graphical element ECOLOGY, AGRICULTURE: Organic practices benefit poorer farmers (22/02/02)
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  Farmers in developing countries are reaping the benefits of adopting 'green' agricultural practices far more than their western counterparts, suggests a recent report published by Cardiff University.
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Photo: Organic practices benefit poorer farmers

The report - launched at the Biofach 2002 Conference in Nuremburg, 14 February - outlines the extent and success of organic and agro-ecological farming techniques being practised by developing countries especially in southern regions of the world.
"The Real Green Revolution shows how organic farming can significantly increase yields for resource poor farmers," says Nick Parrott, author of the report. "Agro-ecological approaches improve food security and both sustain and enhance the environmental resources on which agriculture in the South depends."

Case studies

Several case studies presented at the conference showed the benefits of organic farming for poorer farmers. In Madhya Pradesh (India), for example, average cotton yields on farms participating in the 'Maikaal Bio-Cotton' project are 20% higher than on neighbouring conventional farms. In Brazil, the use of green manures and cover crops has increased yields of maize by between 20% and 250%. While in Tigray (Ethiopia) a move away from intensive agrochemical usage in favour of composting has resulted in an increase in yields and in the range of crops grown. And the list goes on.
Increased funding and research to develop the organic sector would promote knowledge transfer between local producer groups in developing regions. The International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movement says, "The report shows that well adapted organic agriculture is making a real difference for the poor of the world."

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Source: Cardiff University press release

Contact: LewisD4@Cardiff.ac.uk

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graphical element ENGINEERING, ELECTROCHEMICALS: 'Electronic tongue' - a taste of the future (22/02/02)
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  The agriculture and food industries are showing keen interest in the first ever 'electronic tongue' being developed at the Swedish Sensor Centre (S-Sence).
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Several years ago an 'electronic nose' was developed at Linköping University (Sweden) using gas sensors programmed to distinguish between different air-borne substances. Now, the approach has been adapted to create a sensor for fluids, which the researchers have aptly named an 'electronic tongue'.
The tongue 'tastes' by using electrodes placed in the fluid being tested. The response of each electrode varies depending on the electro-magnetic properties of the liquid and the charged particles it contains. Better understanding of the responses enables researchers to monitor quality levels in the production of fluid products.
Researchers at S-Sence, a centre of excellence where university scientists and industrial entrepreneurs pursue joint research projects, have tested the electronic tongue on liquid washing detergent and on cultured milk. For the best results, they had to find the right combination of electrodes of various materials - such as copper, gold and iridium - and use appropriate metering methods.

First, the taste test

Before the 'tongue' can be used in full-scale industrial applications, further development needs to be carried out - for example, electrodes can build up deposits of particles in the fluids which could affect the detection process. But industry is already showing interest, and a variant of the 'tongue' is being tested at a dairy in the Swedish province of Skåne.

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Source: The Swedish Research Council press release

Contact: ingbj@info.liu.se

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graphical element ENGINEERING, INDUSTRY: Honest - It's really stainless steel (22/02/02)
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  Stainless steel is supposed to be anticorrosive, isn't it? This would explains why it is used in everything from Formula one car engines to surgical equipment. But recent research published in Nature reveals why stainless steel has been cheating all these years.
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Unlike regular rusting, stainless steel corrosion is highly localised and until recently thought to be random. Tiny holes called 'pits' can drill through even thick steel in a relatively short time. The pits can cause leaks or - similar to the process of scoring glass before breaking it - act as a starting point from which cracks form.
"Stainless steel is used in countless engineering applications and generally has very good resistance and performance, but it is susceptible to pitting. Now that we've worked out the sequence of events that cause it, we can fix it," says one of the British researchers behind the discovery, Dr Mary Ryan of Imperial College.

Attack of the 'impurity particles'

'Stainlessness' is created by alloying iron with chromium. Sometimes, when the steel ingot cools, tiny sulphur-rich impurities form and act as a virus which, according to Dr Ryan, "trigger the main attack". Using a hypersensitive microscope, the researchers from Imperial College and University College London found a region around these 'impurity particles' which has significantly less chromium than the rest of the steel. They noted during cooling that the impurity particles suck chromium out of the steel around it, thus creating a miniature nugget of steel that is in effect 'not' stainless.
Altering the way stainless steel is made could cure the problem without having to use expensive low sulphur steels. Another alternative, say the researchers, is to use heat treatments after the steel is processed to replenish the chromium automatically.

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Source: Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine press release

Contact:
t.miller@ic.ac.uk

m.p.ryan@ic.ac.uk
d.e.williams@ucl.ac.uk

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graphical element SPACE, CLIMATE: CryoSat - breaking the ice in polar monitoring (18/02/02)
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  The ESA Director of Earth Observation, José Achache, has recently signed a contract confirming that Astrium will build CryoSat, the new European environmental and climate satellite.
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Photo: © ESA
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Plans are underway for an April 2004 launch of CryoSat. Its mission: to measure changes in the thickness and circumference of the polar ice sheets and sea-ice cover. From a 720 km high polar orbit the satellite's radar will provide climate researchers with the type of accurate data previously not available from these uninhabited regions. It will be the first of ESA´s 'Living Planet' programme's 'Earth Explorer Opportunity' missions, which aim to address critical scientific questions using technology currently available in industry. The industrial contract, worth some €70 million, involves a number of European partners.

Precision and flexibility

Until now, radar satellites have had only one antenna, however CryoSat's double radar will enable it to scan the upper ice surface at an average accuracy of one to three centimetres. Such precise measurements require constant monitoring of the orbiting altitude of the satellite. To allow this to be determined precisely, the satellite is equipped with the 'DORIS' signal transmission system developed by CNES - the French space agency. A laser retroreflector on CryoSat´s outer side can also reflect laser beams sent from ground stations, allowing the altitude of the satellite to be determined by the transit time. The radar altimeter's ability to function regardless of daylight and cloud cover makes it particularly suited to research on large polar ice sheets, which rise up to 4000 metres above sea level and are often covered by cloud.

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Source: ESA press release

Contact: mark.drinkwater@esa.int

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graphical element EVENT, E-COMMERCE: 'Web Services' - reviving the internet (18/02/02)
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  Researchers, standards developers and ICT service providers gathered recently at the European Commission's Second Diffuse Conference, to address the question: 'Will Web Services revolutionise e-commerce?'
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Web Services have been described as the third phase of the Internet. In the first phase, Internet communications were mainly through static content. The second phase brought dynamic content creation and in the upcoming third - Web Services - phase, the Internet itself should become
a programming platform to support real time, customised service creation and development. As a business proposition this is a relatively new concept, and the technology and standards necessary for seamless and transparent
e-commerce have yet to be defined. The Second Diffuse Conference set out to explore the technical approach, developments, implementation, and likely impact of Web Services from the perspective of those who need to develop, implement and use products and services based on standards and specifications.

E-nabling commerce

"The Commission's aim is to create a friction-free environment to enable e-business research and development," explains Bror Salmenin, Head of the Electronic Commerce Unit of
the Information Society Directorate General. However without agreed standards and legislation, the goal of fully automated, machine-to-machine communication - essential to building
e-commerce trust relationships - is unattainable. Mr Salmenin explained that Europe's challenge now is to become a leader not just in e-commerce but in 'e-commerce for all' - supporting research and development into web services which are accessible, personalised, mobile, and cross-cultural.
The Enterprise DG has set up an online consultation on the
e-Economy in Europe at http://ec.europa.eu/
enterprise/ict/policy/e-economy.htm.
This consultation is open from 1 February to 31 March 2002, and the feedback will be reflected in the agenda being prepared by the Commission for the Council of Industry Ministers on 6 June 2002.

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Source: European Commission

Contact: helena.roine-taylor@tieke.fi

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graphical element MEDICINE, PHYSICS: An 'enlightening' research network (18/02/02)
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  On 12 and 13 February the members of a new European network for research into cancer therapy met at CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research.
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ENLIGHT - the European Network for Research in Light Ion Therapy - will coordinate several European projects in the field of 'light ion therapy,' a form of radiation therapy that uses beams of nuclei from lightweight atoms. Radiation therapy aims to deliver the largest possible destructive dose to a tumour while preserving the surrounding healthy tissue. However, conventional treatment with X-rays and gamma rays is less effective for concentrating the dose on deep-seated tumours. In these cases beams of protons or light ions are best as they diffuse less on their way through the body, depositing most of their energy where they stop. "CERN can play an important supporting role in this activity," says Hans Hoffmann, Director for Technology Transfer and Scientific Computing. "The work of our laboratory is based on a vast expertise in physics and engineering essential for this type of therapy."

Exchanging expertise

By bringing together experts from the various existing and proposed facilities to discuss the physics and engineering of the particle accelerators and beam systems, the ENLIGHT network offers a cost-effective way to increase the clinical effectiveness and reliability of light ion therapy methods. The GSI (Gesellschaft für Schwerionenforschung mbH) in Darmstadt, Germany has already treated about 100 patients over the past four years with a new carbon-ion beam, and in Japan the Heavy Ion Medical Accelerator Centre (HIMAC) in Chiba has been operational for six years. ENLIGHT's members are: ESTRO (European Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology); EORTC (European Organization for Research in Treatment of Cancer); ÉTOILE (Espace de Traitement Oncologique par Ions Légers Européen), Lyon; Karolinska Institutet, Sweden; GHIP (German Heavy Ion Project), Heidelberg; Macarena, Spain; Med-Austron, Vienna; TERA (Fondazione per Adroterapia Oncologica), Italy;and CERN.

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Source: CERN press release

Contact: Christine.Sutton@cern.ch

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graphical element BIOLOGY, BIODIVERSITY: Lifou 2000 - discovering the underwater world (08/02/02)
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  The results of a scientific study have revealed more of the wonders of coral reefs and stimulated the imagination of zoologists and ecologists across the world.
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Photo: PIERRE LABOUTE © IRD
PIERRE LABOUTE © IRD

LIFOU 2000 which brought together an international team of
35 scientists was organised and led jointly by the French Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle (MNHN) and the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD) with the support of TotalFina Elf Foundation. The survey was conducted at Lifou island in New Caledonia during October and November 2000. The reefs of the island are home to an extraordinary profusion of species, representing one of the most complex ecosystems in the world's oceans.
The scientists used several collection approaches, including diving, drag-netting and harvesting specimens at low tide. The richness of the area's marine biodiversity can be appreciated by the fact that the researchers discovered around 3 000 species of mollusc living in an area of just
5 000 ha, which is one and a half times as many as can be found in the entire Mediterranean sea. Moreover, a large proportion of these species are considered to be very rare.

Untold wealth

The Lifou study is actually the first ever to have made an exhaustive quantified inventory of the species richness of an entire site. While the samples are currently being studied by an international network of 120 taxonomists, under the co-ordination of the MNHN, many more years of investigation will be needed before they yield all their secrets.
These results could influence future coral reef conservation strategies, whereby organising several protected sites into networks might be an alternative to the current system of independent and isolated protected areas.
The Lifou 2000 survey team is now planning a similar campaign in South-East Asia, at the heart of the 'Golden Triangle' of reef biodiversity.

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Source: IRD press release

Contact: deval@paris.ird.fr

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graphical element FINANCE, TECHNOLOGY: Defining the euro's distinguishing features (01/02/02)
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  The euro is fast integrating into the lifestyles and pockets of its European users. However, protection measures against forgery remain a key issue. The Fraunhofer Institute in Germany is on the case.
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We are all aware that euro banknotes incorporate features such as holograms and watermarks and that the coins also have distinguishing features such as the use of different metal alloys and milled edges which allow even the visually impaired to easily recognise each piece. However, cash, ticket and vending machines also need to be able to verify the authenticity of the new coins and bank notes. Since many machines are only able to identify coins on the basis of simple factors such as thickness, weight and diameter, the ability to identify surface features would greatly increase accuracy. The Fraunhofer Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology is currently developing digital image processing software to identify foreign and counterfeit coins. A mini computer with a new software can make a type of 'fingerprint' of the coins by checking their colours, edges and features.

Sophisticated system

Mario Köppen, the project leader, outlines the challenge: "The embossed areas need to be identified while the coin is still rolling down the chute. The computer recognises the outlines of figures, such as the date of the mint stamp, and compares them instantaneously with the patterns stored in its memory." According to Dr. Bertram Nickolay, head of the security systems department, the digital identification system should also function when the coins are falling freely and the new system must be robust enough to cope with the fact that many such machines are installed outdoors. "Our computer-controlled "all-seeing eye" needs its own power supply and has to be small enough to fit into any vending machine or parking meter. Only then will we be able to mass produce it," he explains.

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Source: Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft press release

Contact: bertram.nickolay@ipk.fraunhofer.de

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graphical element ENVIRONMENT, POLLUTION: A natural remedy for mine water pollution (08/02/02)
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  In an innovative project, scientists from Newcastle University (UK) are using llama droppings to counter the environmental effects of leaking mine water in the Bolivian Andes.
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The Newcastle University project, led by Professor Paul Younger, uses waste materials to treat polluted mine water. The researchers developed their technique to assist former mining communities in North East England anxious to protect their environment from polluted water draining from disused mines.

Mine water's high acid content has very negative consequences for the ecology of the surrounding areas. Professor Younger's team created `low-tech` bioreactors constructed in the form of wetlands with substrata of compost and limestone. Bacteria living in compost and limestone can use dissolved sulphate, common in mine water, as an energy source, resulting in the production of iron sulphide which can then be trapped in the compost bed. This process also raises the pH in the water and generates alkalinity.

Adapting to local needs

This technique is now being tailored for similar problems in other countries. In the Cordillera Real in the Andes, continuous drainage from abandoned tin and silver mines pollutes the main water supply of the capital city, La Paz. Some of this extremely polluted water is then used untreated for domestic and agricultural purposes. Professor Younger worked together with a local engineer to assess the feasibility of applying his technique. However, several hurdles needed to be overcome due to harsh climate conditions and the lack of compost materials similar to those used in the UK. The researchers noted that llama droppings were abundant in the region, although no data exists on their performance in acid mine drainage remediation systems`. Professor Younger and his colleagues constructed a series of tanks in which limestone gravel was buried beneath layers of llama droppings and a continuous flow of acid drainage was directed through the tanks over a five-month period.
The results show that the llama droppings can promote the activity of sulphate-reducing bacteria, the average pH of the water rising from 3.2 to 6.3 on passing through the four tanks. As a result of his research, Professor Younger and his team have been asked to help the European Commission draft its law on the regulation of pollution from mines.

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Source: University of Newcastle press release

Contact: melanie.reed@ncl.ac.uk

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graphical element INNOVATION, POLITICS: Boosting innovation in Europe (01/02/02)
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  The Economic and Financial Council (Ecofin) which co-ordinates economic policy in the EU, has given its backing to a new report emphasising the importance of R&D investment to the future of Europe.
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At their last meeting in Brussels on 22 January, members of the Ecofin Council together with Commissioners Solbes (monetary affairs), Bolkestein (internal market), and Schreyer (budget), endorsed a report stressing the need for concrete improvements to help innovation and R&D in Europe. The report, which was presented by the Economic Policy Committee, made several recommendations, including the need to develop and promote broad intellectual property protection at Community level; the important role to be played by the EU's Sixth Framework Programme in promoting networking and researcher mobility; and the need for improved frameworks to encourage and aid innovation at national and European levels.

Looking ahead

The report also targets Member States directly, drawing their attention to the need to improve the effectiveness of their publicly funded research, analyse a mix of instruments and incentives to stimulate private R&D and forge stronger links between industry and research. The importance of facilitating early-stage investment and introducing support measures for SMEs is also underlined. At a conference on the European Research Area in London on the same day, Commissioner Busquin emphasised many of these same points and went on to propose that the EU should raise its R&D spending to 3% of GDP if it is to keep pace with scientific performance in the United States and Japan. The report will be forwarded for discussion at the forthcoming Barcelona Council in March.

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Source: Council of the European Union

Contact: Nicolas.Kerleroux@ue.eu.int

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graphical element BIOLOGY, DRUGS: Locking the cancer cells (01/02/02)
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  Researchers at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory have made an important discovery about the workings of a molecule linked to leukaemia.
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Photo: Maj Britt Hansen EMBL Photo: Maj Britt Hansen EMBL

Many effective drugs have been discovered accidentally by scientists observing that they attach themselves to a particular molecule in a cell thereby blocking part of its activity - acting like a clamp on a light switch. Building on this observation, scientists now aim to design drugs capable of blocking specific 'switches', by studying detailed technical diagrams of cancer-causing molecules. The Italian researcher Giulio Superti-Furga and his colleagues at the EMBL have produced a diagram of a cancer-causing molecule called Abl which is produced in all human cells. Some people develop a defect in the genetic blueprint for this molecule, which can result in certain forms of leukaemia. The Abl molecule transmits messages from proteins to other molecules, but when it malfunctions it either fails to pass on these messages or it passes them on repeatedly without having been instructed to do so. The main danger of this is that it can send repeated signals to cells to divide, thus leading to cancer.

Key discovery

"Abl needs to be switched off, and one of the chief questions that people have had is whether other molecules are needed to throw the switch or whether Abl can turn itself off," says Giulio Superti-Furga. A key discovery by the EMBL researchers has been that the clamp which holds everything in place is actually located quite far from the signal transmission part of the Abl molecule. The researchers discovered this by monitoring artificial versions of Abl with certain elements missing. When a cap section connected to two major substructures of the molecule was removed they noted that Abl could not be shut down. Even when this cap structure was present the other molecules could interfere with it and break the internal switch. Identifying the important role played by this switch is a crucial step towards designing new drugs to fight leukaemia.

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Source: EMBL press release

Contact: info@embl-heidelberg.de

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graphical element HEALTH, GRANTS: Universities to tackle Parkinson's disease (01/02/02)
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  Three European universities have teamed up to carry out advanced research into Parkinson's disease after securing a €1.6 million grant from the European Commission.
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The University of Northumbria, UK, the University of Leuven in Belgium, and the Vrije University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands are taking part in a collaborative project called RESCUE (Rehabilitation in Parkinson's disease; strategies for cueing). The RESCUE team aims to understand, develop and evaluate the uses of cues - or rhythmic stimuli - as a rehabilitation strategy to improve mobility.
People suffering from Parkinson's disease use cues to improve their quality of movement. For example, cues may be associated with light or sound, or thinking through how an action should be carried out.

Helpful strategies

Little is known about the suitability of different cues for different people, how they are used over the long term, or whether they are being used to their best advantage.
The research team aims to develop the best possible package of cueing strategies for rehabilitation and self-management. A prototype cueing device, designed to supply an appropriate cue to help movement in a variety of settings, will be developed. Other work will include testing the results of initial work in a randomly controlled trial using cueing strategies with 145 patients in the three countries involved.

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Source: Alphagalileo news service

Contact: katrina.mulligan@unn.ac.uk

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