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IN DEVELOPMENT / KATHLEEN WIEGNER

THE CUTTING EDGE: COMPUTING / TECHNOLOGY / INNOVATION : Tustin Firm Joins Attack on Cancer

October 18, 1995|KATHLEEN WIEGNER

Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, the cancer of the lymph glands that caused Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis' death, is one of the fastest growing cancers in the United States, ranking behindlung cancer in women and skin cancer. The American Cancer Society says that more than 50,000 new cases of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma will be reported this year in the United States alone.

Tustin-based Techniclone International Corp. hopes to add a speck of protein to the conventional weapons against lymph cancer--radiation, chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants. The protein enters the body armed with radioactive iodine and blasts the malignant white blood cells called B cells.

Techniclone's Lym-1 monoclonal antibody is about to begin the third and final phase of Food and Drug Administration testing at 19 cancer centers in the United States. Like smart missiles, Techniclone's monoclonal antibodies, which are patterned after human antibodies that fight disease, deliver powerful agents like radioisotopes and drugs directly to the tumor site without affecting healthy tissues. If approved by the FDA, Lym-1 may be the first monoclonal antibody product for cancer therapy. The Phase III trial is being funded by Alpha Therapeutics Corp., a subsidiary of Green Cross of Japan.

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Throwing Light on Fraud: A University of Arizona optical science professor, a U.S. Air Force researcher and a University of Connecticut engineer have come up with another weapon in the war on the $600-million a year credit card fraud industry. They have developed an optical encryption system that works by changing properties of light illuminating a clear plastic film affixed to a credit card.

The film contains tens of thousands of pixels--tiny mirrors--packed into only a few millimeters. Each mirror bends the light striking it, reflecting it into an an optical scanner where it is verified. Nasser Peyghambarian of the University of Arizona developed the inexpensive polymer film used in the process. A University of Connecticut engineer came up with the encryption technique that evolved from his work with the Pentagon on optical signal processing and pattern recognition techniques to identify and track objects, such as missiles. The group believes that the low cost of the clear plastic film makes it attractive for many applications, such as driver's licenses.

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'Peppier' Rice: Like people, most plants undergo a midday letdown. This "midday depression" in photosynthesis protects plants from the brunt of the sun's intensity. But a former student at the University of Georgia crossed two varieties of rice--one from the United States, the other from China--to create one that suffers only a small midday letdown. By avoiding the strong inhibition of photosynthesis during this time, the rice produces more than 20% higher yields than the average of the parent varieties.

Zeng-Ping Tu bred the hybrid while in China with the idea of producing a rice plant that could grow in a wide range of environments. But the increased photosynthetic ability came as something of a surprise. The hybrid avoids midday depression because it contains a greater amount of carotenoids--yellow pigments that are able to absorb light energy and dissipate it without the formation of harmful products--than its parents.

Last year, the hybrid crop set near record yields of 208 bushels per acre in Arkansas, where rice farmers usually expect half that amount. The hybrid is available in China, and several companies in the United States are interested in field testing it for possible marketing.

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Room to Operate: Endoscopic surgery, which involves inserting a tube through a narrow slit in the body, then performing surgery guided by video images from within the body, has traditionally been used primarily in the abdomen and chest. That's because other areas of the body--the hands and face, for example--lack any space within which surgeons can see with their cameras and manipulate the instruments.

But in advances that hold the potential for quicker plastic and orthopedic reconstructive procedures with minimal scarring, surgeons at Duke University Medical Center are taking advantage of the virtually bloodless planes between layers of tissues to perform this surgery on other parts of the body.

The surgeons create the spaces they need by inserting an instrument known as a balloon dissector into the spaces between muscle and skin or muscle and muscle known as faci clefts. Few blood vessels and nerves cross this space, so the separation is virtually bloodless. After inflation, the balloon is deflated and removed, leaving an optical space for the video camera. The new technique has been used successfully for muscle flap transfers, face and neck lifts and breast augmentation.

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