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  Graphic element GMOS, REGULATIONS: Harmonising healthier food (21/12/01)  
    A new report has examined the differences between EU and US regulations for 'healthy' genetically modified food products.  
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  Graphic element MEDICAL, CHOLESTEROL: Early-warning system (21/12/01)  
    Swedish researchers believe they have identified a new and effective way to identify people most at risk of having serious heart attacks.  
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  Graphic element FOOD, ADDITIVES: Freshen up! (21/12/01)  
    German scientists have discovered a new natural food additive which is 35 times more cooling than menthol but which is totally flavourless.  
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  Graphic element ASTRONOMY, POLICY: ESO - united stars of Europe (17/12/01)  
    The United Kingdom is set to be the latest welcome addition to the member states of the European Southern Observatory.  
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  Graphic element ENLARGEMENT, R&D: Estonia embraces an innovative future (17/12/01)  
    The Estonian Parliament has given a boost to innovation by adopting an ambitious research and development strategy for 2002-2006.  
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  Graphic element MEDICAL, DISABILITY: Eye-opening advances (17/12/01)  
    German scientists have made severed optic nerves grow again in a research project that offers hope for major breakthroughs in nerve regeneration.  
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  Graphic element PARLIAMENT, CLONING: Green light for stem cell research funding (07/12/01)  
    A European Parliament vote against a ban on human cloning has cleared the way for EU investment in stem cell research over the next five years.  
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  Graphic element INTERNET, DEVELOPMENT: Bridging the information divide (07/12/01)  
    A new website will help deliver the latest news on advances in science and technology to the developing world.  
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  Graphic element AIDS, ENLARGEMENT: HIV/AIDS epidemic on the rise in Eastern Europe (07/12/01)  
    The latest annual report published by UNAIDS and the World Health Organisation points to an alarming increase in the incidence of HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe.  
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graphical element GMOS, REGULATIONS: Harmonising healthier food (21/12/01)
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  A new report has examined the differences between EU and US regulations for 'healthy' genetically modified food products.
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RIKILT
RIKILT

The report is the result of a joint project in the Netherlands between Plant Research International and RIKILT - the State Institute for Quality Control of Agricultural Products - both organisations are part of Wageningen University & Research Centre. Their study focused on 'gentech' food products, i.e. food crops and medicinal plants which have been genetically modified to create extra health-promoting ingredients. Since these gentech plants straddle the line between food and medicine, they not only have to meet the general requirements for genetically modified organisms, but also the specific requirements related to the production of the particular medicinal or health compounds. In order to guarantee consumer safety, and properly regulate the production processes, a variety of guidelines and regulations exist in the EU and USA for both the GM technology and the production of health foods and medicinal articles.

No more confusion

The plants in question can also be broken down into various categories, such as food product, ingredient, supplement, etc. In turn, food applications can include whole foods and food ingredients on one-hand and food additives on the other. Both categories are differently regulated. In the EU, genetically modified organisms are regulated as a specific category for use as novel foods or novel food ingredients but not for use as food additives, colorants, or flavourings. The report aims to throw some light on the current regulations that exist in the EU and the US and also to highlight where harmonisation is needed. RIKILT is an active player in the field of gentech food safety research, while Plant Research International is also very involved in the ecological safety of gentech crops and the development of new plants through genetic modification.

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Source: RIKILT press release

Contact: e.j.kok@rikilt.wag-ur.nl
w.j.r.m.jordi@plant.wag-ur.nl

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graphical element MEDICAL, CHOLESTEROL: Early-warning system (21/12/01)
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  Swedish researchers believe they have identified a new and effective way to identify people most at risk of having serious heart attacks.
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Goran Walldius from AstraZeneca and his fellow researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, investigated whether measuring levels of lipid components called apolipoproteins could be a more dependable indicator of heart-attack risk than checking people's cholesterol. The study focused on exploring whether concentrations of apolipoprotein B (apoB) and apolipoprotein A-I (apoA-I) were better predictors of acute heart attack than total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. The research was based on tests carried out on approximately 175 000 Swedish people to measure their levels of apoB, apoA-I, total cholesterol, and triglycerides, as well as concentrations of LDL-cholesterol and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.

Pinpointing the risk

The tests were all followed up around five and a half years later, with the results showing that a total of 864 men and 359 women had died from heart attacks in the meantime. Total cholesterol, triglycerides, apoB and a high apoB/apoA-I ratio were intrinsically linked to increased risk of fatal heart attack in both men and women. Higher concentrations of apoA-I appeared to have had a protective effect while apoB turned out to be a better predictor of risk than LDL-cholesterol for both sexes. Commenting on the findings of his study, Goran Walldius said, 'Although LDL-cholesterol and HDL-cholesterol are known risk factors, we suggest that apoB, apoA-I and apoB/apoA-I should be regarded as highly predictive in evaluation of cardiac risk.'

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Source: The Lancet

Contact: goran.walldius@astrazeneca.com

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www.thelancet.com

 
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graphical element FOOD, ADDITIVES: Freshen up! (21/12/01)
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  German scientists have discovered a new natural food additive which is 35 times more cooling than menthol but which is totally flavourless.
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The discovery by researchers at the German Research Centre for Food Chemistry in Garching, Munich, may bring a new 'cool' lease of life to a whole range of products such as beer, bottled water, citrus drinks, chocolate and confectionary. The fact that the substance feels much more cooling on skin than mint, means it could also be used in the manufacture of cosmetics such as anti-perspirants. Thomas Hoffman who has led the research project said, 'We've found the world's most powerful natural cooling agent without a mint odour.' The researchers extracted the substance - which belongs to the family of chemicals called cyclic alpha-keto enamines - from roasted dark malt which has traditionally been a key element in beer and whiskey brewing.

Nerve-tingling

Like menthol, this natural additive acts on nerve endings, and since beer and whiskey drinkers have already consumed it for centuries, the researchers believe it is unlikely to pose a health risk. The cooling effect occurs when the substance activates trigeminal receptors which register temperature in the mouth, cheeks and throat, with effects lasting for around half an hour. Although it will probably not take over from the traditional use of menthol in chewing gum, mouthwashes or toothpaste, it should prove useful in adding a freshly chilled element to many other products, with the added advantage of conserving their original flavour. In Hoffman's opinion, we could see the first 'supercooled' products on supermarket shelves within the next two years.

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Source: The New Scientist

Contact: claire.bowles@rbi.co.uk

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graphical element ASTRONOMY, POLICY: ESO - united stars of Europe (17/12/01)
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  The United Kingdom is set to be the latest welcome addition to the member states of the European Southern Observatory.
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Paranal
Paranal

The Councils of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) and the UK Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) have approved the terms for UK membership of ESO. If the formal accession procedure is completed according to plan, then the UK will become ESO's tenth member state in July 2002 - joining Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden and Switzerland. ESO has two major observatories in the Chilean Atacama desert and operates the world's leading optical/infrared telescope - the Very Large Telescope at Paranal. Membership will give British astronomers the opportunity to participate alongside their European colleagues in various global projects. It will also allow them access to some of the world's most powerful and technologically advanced astronomical instruments in the course of their research activities.

Mutual benefits
When ESO was created nearly 40 years ago, the UK was working closely with Australia on developing facilities in the southern hemisphere, and decided not to join its European neighbours. However, ESO Director-General, Dr. Catherine Cesarsky points out, 'ESOs emergence as a prime player on the European research scene has convinced our UK colleagues of the great advantages of presenting a united European face in astronomy through ESO.'
This is an important step towards the implementation of the European Research Area and will help encourage exchange of experience between scientists across Europe. The UK has strong astronomical and engineering expertise and is home to one of Europe's most active research communities. As well as making the standard financial contribution to ESO, the UK will also hand over its VISTA infrared survey telescope - which is being built in the UK for a university consortium - to ESO for integration into the Paranal Observatory.

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Source: ESO press release

Contact: rwest@eso.org

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graphical element ENLARGEMENT, R&D: Estonia embraces an innovative future (17/12/01)
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  The Estonian Parliament has given a boost to innovation by adopting an ambitious research and development strategy for 2002-2006.
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On 6 December, the Estonian Parliament adopted measures to help shape Estonia into a knowledge-based society. Estonia today has a stable monetary system and macroeconomic environment and has been very successful in attracting foreign investment through the opening up of markets and privatisation. This in turn has led to new intensive and economical production methods. In order to ensure continued economic growth, the next step is to create a business environment which can adequately support new up-and-coming technologies and business ideas. Information society technologies, biomedicine and material technologies will all be areas into which research funding will be channelled, and efforts will also be made to strengthen links between industry and science and promote an international outlook.

Ambitious targets
This development means that Estonia has taken a step closer to meeting the conditions set down at the European Council Summit in Lisbon, whereby Europe should aim to become 'the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world'. However 1999 figures show that current R&D expenditure in Estonia is in the region of only 0.76% of GDP. The long-term goal of the "Knowledge-based Estonia" strategy is to increase gross expenditure on research and development to 1.5% GDP by 2006. A strong R&D and innovation policy will be an essential factor in ensuring the country's socio-economic cohesion with the European Union.

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Source: Archimedes Foundation press release on AlphaGalileo news service

Contact: marek@tan.ee

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graphical element MEDICAL, DISABILITY: Eye-opening advances (17/12/01)
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  German scientists have made severed optic nerves grow again in a research project that offers hope for major breakthroughs in nerve regeneration.
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A team of neurologists led by Solon Thanos at the University of Münster in Germany has managed to make severed nerves in rats grow again by up to 14 millimetres - more than three times further than previous attempts. The breakthrough is being hailed as one of the most significant advances in nerve regeneration in the last decade. This is the first time that such an experiment has been successful in mammals, and may help reverse certain types of blindness in people as well as help to treat people suffering from spinal cord injuries.

Looking ahead
The complex nervous system of mammals naturally produces proteins to inhibit axons - the part of a nerve cell that conducts signals - growing in scar tissue. After the researchers had reconnected the severed nerve ends to repair the connective tissue sheath surrounding the nerve, they made lesions in the lenses thus releasing proteins called crystallins. While these proteins are known to slow down the process of cell self-destruction, the researchers also believe they aid re-growth in axons. Three months after surgery, about 30% of the nerve fibres were renewed, including those transmitting colour and contrast information from the eye to the brain. "Even 10% is sufficient for residual sight," pointed out Thanos. The regenerated nerves also carried normal electrical signals, although the connections were a bit scrambled. Research will continue into whether these findings can be applied to other parts of the nervous system.

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Source: The New Scientist - Experimental Neurology (vol 172)

Contact: claire.bowles@rbi.co.uk

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graphical element PARLIAMENT, CLONING: Green light for stem cell research funding (07/12/01)
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  A European Parliament vote against a ban on human cloning has cleared the way for EU investment in stem cell research over the next five years.
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European Parliament picture
European Parliament

After a heated debate, MEPs rejected the recommendations of the report they had commissioned on the ethical, legal, economic and social implications of human genetics. While individual Member States are themselves responsible for decisions in this policy area, a European ban on human embryo experiments could nevertheless influence the future shape of EU funding. The decision taken on 29 November now means that €200-300 million can be channelled into stem cell research - an outcome that will be warmly welcomed by scientists pursuing research into therapeutic cloning, but will be a disappointment for those who completely oppose work on human embryos.

Advancing knowledge
The report resulted from a special parliamentary committee set up on human genetics which consulted scientists on both sides of the debate over an 11 month period. Had it been adopted in its original form it could have hindered EU plans to invest €2.15 billion over the next five years in health-related genetic research within the Sixth Framework Programme. Supporters of embryo research argue that stem cells taken from embryos have massive potential in curing illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Opponents say the technique is an immoral exploitation of living human matter. Speaking on behalf of the European Commission, Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin, pointed out that the latest developments in this area underlined the urgent need for a balanced approach to genetic research taking account of ethical considerations. The Commission is organising a major conference on stem cell research in Brussels on 18-19 December 2001.

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Source: European Parliament press release

Contact: press-en@europarl.eu.int

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graphical element INTERNET, DEVELOPMENT: Bridging the information divide (07/12/01)
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  A new website will help deliver the latest news on advances in science and technology to the developing world.
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A free-access website, named 'SciDev.Net' was launched in London on 3 December with the aim of providing news, views and information on the role of science and technology in helping meet the needs of developing countries. Although access to computers is still a problem in these countries, Internet has the power to cross all national boundaries and deliver the right information to the right people, regardless of where they are in the world. SciDev.Net sets out to address the gap between the 'knowledge-rich' and the 'knowledge-poor' nations of the world, and to encourage discussion on some of the most topical science and technology issues. An important element of the site will be 'dossiers' on key topics with a particular focus on their relevance to developing countries. There will also be plenty of opportunity for feedback and interactivity, and a network of correspondents in developing countries will report back on local scientific and technological developments.

Leading the way
In the words of its founding director, David Dickson, "We hope that this website will therefore make a fundamental contribution both to the creation of knowledge-based development strategies, and to informed debate about the directions in which these strategies should lead."
Backing for the website has come from the leading science journals - Nature and Science, as well as from the Third World Academy of Sciences which encompasses more than 80 scientific academies throughout the developing world. Financial support is provided by the UK Department for International Development, the Swedish International Development Co-operation Agency, and the International Development Research Centre in Canada. In keeping with its commitment to represent the voice of the developing world, the majority of trustees come from southern countries - three from Sub-Saharan Africa, two from India, two from Latin America and one from China.

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Source: SciDev.Net press release

Contact: info@scidev.net

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graphical element AIDS, ENLARGEMENT: HIV/AIDS epidemic on the rise in Eastern Europe (07/12/01)
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  The latest annual report published by UNAIDS and the World Health Organisation points to an alarming increase in the incidence of HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe.
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The findings show that the reported HIV infection rates in the Russian Federation have increased by 15-fold in just three years and the actual number of cases may in fact be much greater. The worst affected country in the region is the Ukraine, where over one per cent of the population are now HIV positive. While three-quarters of the cases in Eastern Europe are due to needle sharing amongst drug addicts, the number of cases due to unsafe sexual behaviour is also on the increase. Syphilis is now almost 40 times more prevalent in Russia today than it was in 1987. Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS - the Joint UN programme on HIV/AIDS - goes straight to the point: "HIV is spreading rapidly throughout the entire Eastern European region. It is unequivocally the most devastating disease we have ever faced and it will get worse before it gets better." In Poland, however, AIDS incidence is very low. This is largely due to the country's active promotion of needle exchange schemes and condoms - quite an avant-garde approach for such a strongly Catholic country.

Slowing the spread
While the number of people infected with HIV is estimated at 1 million for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, this is far below the figures for Sub-Saharan Africa where 28 million of the global total of 40 million HIV-positive cases are concentrated. Meanwhile, in Swaziland, Botswana and some parts of South Africa, over 30% of pregnant women are HIV positive. However, the news is not all bad, and in Uganda and Cambodia the number of new AIDS cases are on the decrease. To help reduce the speed at which the epidemic is spreading, the report calls on countries to rapidly implement effective prevention programmes, particularly to slow HIV spread amongst young people. At the same time, the need for expanding access to treatment and care remains critical to the success of any efforts to fight AIDS.

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Source: UNAIDS/WHO press release

Contact: desantisd@unaids.org

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