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The Cutting Edge: COMPUTING / TECHNOLOGY / INNOVATION : Reducing Risk in Organ Transplants

November 16, 1994|KATHLEEN WIEGNER

One of the biggest risks an organ transplant patient faces is that the body's immune system will treat the new organ as an intruder. If the immune system musters an army of proteins to attack the perceived invader, the transplant could be rejected.

A variety of drugs are used to block such reactions. They suppress the immune system's function, but this approach can lead to infections, and the drugs are not always successful.

Anthony Hunt, a professor of pharmacy and pharmaceutical chemistry at UC San Francisco, believes he has found a better way to deal with the problem: a drug designed to keep cells from making the undesirable proteins.

In a donated organ, the proteins most likely to be attacked are called major histocompatibility complex (MHC) proteins. The new drug, known as a "gene-regulating decoy," would keep the transplanted organ from displaying these telltale proteins on its cell surfaces and thus allow the "invader" to slip in under the body's defenses.

Bathing the donor organ with the new drug before it is implanted would eliminate all but a few of the proteins that would alert the immune system and trigger attack. So far, the decoy strategy has worked well in preventing MHC proteins from being made in cells grown in laboratory culture dishes.

An Auditory User

Interface: Renaissance geographer Gerardus Mercator gave the world the Mercator map projection and a way for seamen to navigate. Now a 20th-Century "Mercator" is helping the blind and visually impaired navigate the icons and graphics of computer screens.

Mercator is the name of an auditory interface system for Unix workstations, developed at the Georgia Institute of Technology with support from NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and Sun Microsystems.

For the sighted, graphics-based user interfaces are much easier to use than the old text-based, command-driven interfaces. Not so for those with impaired vision. To follow what the computer is doing, most of them currently rely on "screen reader" speech synthesizers that read them the command field.

In graphics user interfaces, this information flow includes a lot of image data that tells the screen how to display graphics--and it can't be understood by the screen reader. The Georgia Tech researchers have found a way to intercept data so that, as the user navigates the screen, certain sounds tell him what is going on.

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