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Vol. LXI, No. 20
October 2, 2009

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Electronic Nose Sniffs Out Toxins

Imagine a polka-dotted postage stamp-sized sensor that can sniff out some known poisonous gases and toxins and show the results simply by changing colors. Support for developing this electronic nose comes from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Such sensors are being generated as part of the NIH Genes, Environment and Health Initiative. The new technology, discussed in September’s issue of Nature Chemistry, could be useful in detecting high exposures to toxic industrial chemicals that pose serious health risks in the workplace or through accidents. While physicists have radiation badges to protect them at work, chemists and workers who handle chemicals do not have equivalent devices to monitor their exposure to potentially toxic chemicals. The investigators hope to be able to market the wearable sensor within a few years. The paper’s senior author, Dr. Kenneth Suslick of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and colleagues have created what they refer to as an optoelectronic nose—an artificial nose for detecting toxic industrial chemicals (TICs) that is simple, fast, inexpensive and works by visualizing colors. “We have a disposable 36-dye sensor array that changes colors when exposed to different chemicals,” Suslick said. “The pattern of the color change is a unique molecular fingerprint for any toxic gas and also tells us its concentration. By comparing that pattern to a library of color fingerprints, we can identify and quantify the TICs in a matter of seconds.”

Antimicrobial Resistance Is Focus of New Clinical Trials

Scientists are addressing the threat of antimicrobial drug resistance by launching two new clinical trials aimed at prolonging the effectiveness of currently available antibacterial drugs. The concept underlying both studies: Less is more. The 6-year contracts from NIAID are part of an initiative to help answer key questions about proper antimicrobial doses, treatment duration and whether antimicrobial treatment is necessary in all cases. Many infectious diseases are increasingly difficult to treat because bacteria and other microbes have developed resistance to commonly used antimicrobial drugs. Microbial drug resistance is driven by a variety of forces, including expanded use of antimicrobial drugs in human and animal health care. According to one estimate, between 5 and 10 percent of all hospitalized patients in the U.S. develop a drug-resistant infection of some kind, leading to an added $5 billion in annual health care costs. “Historically, development of new antimicrobials has moved at a much slower pace than the evolution of resistance to those treatments, so we need to look at preserving the usefulness of the drugs we have,” says Dr. Dennis M. Dixon of NIAID’s Bacteriology and Mycology Branch. “One way to reduce the risk of resistance, and therefore to preserve antimicrobials, is to reduce unnecessary use of these drugs.”

New Web Site Promotes Interoperable Newborn Screening Data

NLM recently launched the Newborn Screening Coding and Terminology Guide, a translator web site to help deal with current complexity and promote more efficient electronic exchange of newborn screening information.
NLM recently launched the Newborn Screening Coding and Terminology Guide, a translator web site to help deal with current complexity and promote more efficient electronic exchange of newborn screening information.

The National Library of Medicine recently launched the Newborn Screening Coding and Terminology Guide, an important step toward efficient electronic exchange of standard newborn screening data. The new web site was created in collaboration with the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, the Health Resources and Services Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—all components of HHS—as well as a number of professional organizations, to enable more effective use of newborn screening test results in assessing child health and improving lifelong health care. Newborn screening is an important part of public health, but use of test results is complicated by wide variations among states in the ways tests are conducted and results recorded—and by inefficient, paper-based communication. The current situation can delay rapid attention to a child’s health problems and it creates frustration and extra work for parents, health care providers and public health authorities. The new web site is a translator, to help deal with current complexity and to promote more efficient electronic exchange of newborn screening information in the future. The web site is designed to help states move toward the use of common terminology and coding standards, a key step in enabling electronic exchange of laboratory test information as well as readying newborn screening information for inclusion in electronic health records.—compiled by Carla Garnett

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