Archive | February 2013

Novel Photon-Counting Technique Helps Measure EGFR Proteins

For scientists to improve cancer treatments with targeted therapeutic drugs, they need to be able to see proteins prevalent in the cancer cells. This has been impossible, until now.

Thanks to a new microscopy technique, University of Akron researcher Dr. Adam Smith, assistant professor of chemistry, has observed how clusters of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) — a protein abundant in lung and colon cancers, glioblastoma and others — malfunctions in cancer cells.

“We can directly observe protein clusters, in a living cell membrane, that are invisible to traditional methods. This opens up the possibility to directly measure the effect of drugs on the target proteins,” Smith says.

Smith’s work lies at the heart of current-day cancer research, which focuses on developing targeted drugs that kill cancer cells without the collateral damage associated with traditional treatments like chemotherapy.

Specifically, Smith used a cutting-edge photon-counting technique, which enables scientists to measure the cluster size of EGFR proteins. The technique represents a significant advancement from studying the cultures with a traditional microscope, which cannot visually capture objects as small as the EGFR clusters, according to Smith, a lead author of “Conformational Coupling across the Plasma Membrane in Activation of the EGF Receptor,” published in the Jan. 31 journal Cell, which highlights the technique.

“Another difficulty with studying EGFR is that it’s located in the cell membrane, which can be thought of as a fence line that defines the cell boundary, but in reality it is more like an untamed hedge row,” says Smith, explaining how the new laser-based microscope technique overcomes that obstacle and allows scientists to study, in real time, how EGFR works in healthy cells and also how it malfunctions in cancer cells.

Smith’s subsequent work studying the interaction of drugs with the targeted EGFR “will significantly improve drug discovery, which too often relies on indirect measure of efficacy,” he says.

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Excitement mounts at potential of proposed wind energy hub

THE multi-million pound proposal that brings Grimsby’s Royal Dock further into focus for the burgeoning offshore wind industry has been greeted with excitement in the sector.

And for one of the town’s early pioneers, today’s headlines are hugely satisfying, with all involved keen to see the vision become a reality, with contracts signed and firm commitments made in the weeks and months to come.

John Fitzgerald , Associated British Ports’ port director for Grimsby and Immingham, stands on a bridge that could soon make way for a new harbour entrance to support the offshore wind farm industry within Royal Dock.

As Danish Consul for South Humber and Lincolnshire, Kurt Christensen flies the flag for Denmark and Britain with equal measure, from his office at the stone’s throw from the Royal Dock itself, where he has brought in several project vessels.

With a strong background in fish, he is now at the forefront of the wind sector, with a fleet of crew transfer catamarans, and a strong agency arm looking after the boats used to build the turbines.

The recent recipient of a first class knighthood from his native country, state-owned Dong Energy is a company he is familiar with.

Mr Christensen, managing director of Windpower Support, said: “This plan we have got here has real potential. Any plans that Dong has for future investment in offshore wind are going to be of benefit. The fact they appear to have chosen Grimsby is great, it really is brilliant.

The march of the wind turbines continues in the European Union, with the total wind power capacity growing more than a tenth (12.3%) last year.

Total wind capacity in the region “breezed past” 100 GW in 2012, the statistics from EU-backed research group Eur’Observ’ER show.

Denmark leads the country for wind power per person charts – with 745.8kW for every 1,000 Danes – followed by Spain and Portugal, with 488.8kW and 429.2kW per 1,000 inhabitants respectively. The EU’s average per 1,000 people stands at 209.7kW.

The UK installed the third largest amount of wind power capacity out of the EU countries last year with more than 8,000 MW worth of turbines put up, behind the Germans with more than 31,000 and Spain which installed around 22,000.

Ex-pat hotspot Malta was the only EU country which installed no turbines, while just above the bottom of the wind power league table Slovenia and Slovakia each installed tiny amounts of wind power.

The “build-up” of British offshore wind installations should push up the EU’s wind energy production past the 200TwH threshold, stated the report.

“The Fish Docks has developed at pace. This is establishing Grimsby firmly as an operations and maintenance centre, and the one thing I really do like, is that Dong is looking to use this for both construction of the wind farm and the maintenance of it.

“When you get involved with the construction you get so many people coming in and out of the town, it is really good, a real shot in the arm. Make no mistake, Grimsby will have been in competition with a lot of other East Coast ports. People are realising what I have said for a long time. The sheer work ethic that exists in people in Grimsby, in the locality, the can-do attitude is helping to attract these people. You cannot take the strategic element out of it – geographically it is as good as it gets – but there are other areas that could be of interest. We have shown what we can do, first with Centrica and others following.”

Watches With Centuries-Old Craftsmanship Enjoy Revival

In recent years, several decorative crafts have enjoyed a growing popularity with Swiss watchmakers who have been applying age-old artistic skills on a miniature scale to adorn the dials of their high-end timepieces.

The art of guillochage — a hand-operated machine-turned engraving technique that produces precise, repetitive linear patterns — is one such traditional craft, first adopted in watchmaking by Abraham-Louis Breguet in the 18th century: Enameling is another. According to Carson Chan, Asia managing director for Bonhams, the first clock decorated with enameling probably dates back to the 16th century.

Mother-of-pearl and feathers became fashionable decorative materials for watch dials in the 1920s and 1930s, Mr. Chan said during an interview. Watchmakers have also embraced the use of straw and wood marquetry, although none of these have been as popular as enameling, he added.

The rising popularity of these techniques, known collectively as Metiers d’Art, was visible at an international fine watch convention, the S.I.H.H., last month in Geneva. Several brands took advantage of the platform to release collections that made rich use of these techniques, most notably enameling, marquetry and miniature painting.

“Metiers d’Art watches have been an important trend for several years,” said Christian Selmoni, artistic director at Vacheron Constantin. “And it seems that the interest from the public and our clients is still growing.”

Mr. Selmoni said that in addition to a strong network of collectors and connoisseurs in Asia, a region that has long appreciated enameling work, the demand for “Metiers d’Art” watches had become more global.

“We have clients from all main areas asking us about such timepieces,” he noted in an e-mail.

Pierre Rainero, the style, image and heritage director at Cartier, said Metiers d’Art watches generally appealed to customers because of their uniqueness.

“Even if these watches are made in a limited edition, each is still one of a kind, because of the slightly differences in colors and proportion,” he said by telephone. “Plus, there is also a real appreciation right now for high-quality work done by hand,” he added.

In January, Parmigiani Fleurier introduced its first watch dial in wood marquetry, a delicate technique that pieces together jigsaw-like slivers of wood to create an image — in Parmigiani’s case a stylized guitar and a flag, intended to evoke the spirit of music.

Cartier, not to be outdone, made extensive use of stone-setting, miniature painting on enameling and mother-of-pearl marquetry in the latest models of its ladies’ collection, Les Heures Fabuleuses, while Chaumet offered inlaid mother-of-pearl and miniature painting on several of the watches making up its whimsical collection, titled “Catch me if you love me. Precious.”

Van Cleef & Arpels also took advantage of the Geneva show to reveal some additions to its Extraordinary Dials collection, using a mix of techniques to decorate the watch faces with fairies, colorful butterflies and auspicious symbols like lilies of the valley, lotus flowers, dandelions and swallows.

In one example, the dial of the Lady Arpels Papillon Rouge Gourmand combined white mother-of-pearl with plique-à-jour, unpolished cabochonne and champleve enameling; in another, the Lady Arpels Cerf-Volant, miniature painting was overlaid on sculpted mother-of-pearl.

$2.2 billion project will overhaul Minnesota’s electrical grid

When it comes to big-dig construction projects, public attention over the last few years has focused on the publicly subsidized Vikings football stadium that will cost $975 million.

Meanwhile, a bigger, more critical, but less publicly electrifying project will complete about $1 billion worth of work this year alone. It’s the $2.2 billion overhaul of the state’s electrical transmission system and replacement of 1970s-vintage technology that dates to before the Metrodome was built.

Electrical transmission gets little respect.

“Rodney Dangerfield is the patron saint of transmission systems,” quipped Will Kaul, vice president of transmission at Great River Energy and chairman of the CapX2020 group of 11 Minnesota utilities involved in the 800-mile project.

The nine-year process has been marked by landowner disputes and several lawsuits. Regardless, the huge upgrade, to be completed by 2015, will mean a more reliable, efficient, cleaner way to power Minnesota.

Moreover, it will widen the electric highway to finally accommodate all the wind energy that has come on line in recent years and the ability to dispatch power as needed within the 11-state Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator (MISO). This network functions as a wholesale market for buyers and sellers of excess generation in the Midwest.

“There area a number of wind farms waiting for transmission lines in southwestern Minnesota and surrounding states,” said Beth Soholt, executive director of Wind on the Wires Minnesota, an industry trade group. “Transmission facilitates keeping the lights on … and cost-effective energy because it allows energy to flow back and forth in a more robust wholesale market. It creates more energy choices and lets Minnesota and the other states meet their multiyear renewable energy standards.”

In short, Minnesota, North Dakota and Iowa — among the biggest national wind generators — have been unable to sell all the wind power they generate because there is inadequate transmission capacity to wind fields such as those along the Buffalo Ridge in southwestern Minnesota.

“When this is done, you’ll have a lot more wind-generated transmission from South Dakota and North Dakota all the way to La Crosse, Wisconsin,” said Mike Gregerson, a veteran engineer who is a consultant to CapX2020. “No more notifications from MISO that the grid is too full and they can’t use your energy.’’

Gregerson said the project should lower the average cost of energy because MISO will be able to move around the cheapest energy better. “And in most cases, that’s wind because there’s no fuel costs,” he said.

Wind constitutes about 12 percent of the 10,000 megawatts of power typically generated in the 11-state MISO territory, including Manitoba, said John Lawhorn, a MISO official. Minnesota produces about 15 percent of its energy from wind. In fact, one day last November, MISO reported that wind generated a record 25 percent of output in its territory.

Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois and Ohio have legislative mandates to generate 25 percent of their juice from alternative energy, including wind, dams, garbage burners and solar, by 2025. And adjacent states generally are shooting for up to 15 percent.

Including the Minnesota overhaul, MISO predicts that its member utilities will spend more than $5.5 billion upgrading transmission infrastructure by 2015.

The final leg of the Minnesota projects — a 345-kilovolt, high-voltage power line through southeastern Minnesota, which starts just inside the eastern South Dakota border, was approved last spring by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. The five-segment project includes a span that is partly completed between St. Cloud and Fargo, N.D.

Smoking Machines

One of the new John Boehner sequestration talking points is that Republicans couldn’t possibly accept any new revenue, even the revenue he was publicly offering two months ago, because there are still wasteful government programs. As Boehner wrote yesterday, “no one should be talking about raising taxes when the government is still paying people to play videogames, giving folks free cellphones, and buying $47,000 cigarette-smoking machines.” Republicans today are repeating the cell-phone-video-game-smoking-machine line today. (“As long as wasteful programs like this exist, it’s going to be hard to convince people I represent that we have a revenue problem,” said Representative Martha Roby.)

Since Republicans actually seem to have decided to go with this argument, let’s give it some thought.

Does the existence of wasteful government programs mean that we can’t raise any new revenue, even by reducing the wasteful tax loopholes Boehner has been promising to eliminate? Does that prove that the long-term deficit must be closed entirely through expenditure cuts? After all, merely identifying a handful of wasteful programs hardly proves that there is enough waste to cover all the deficit reduction you want.

Second, in point of fact, even the handful of wasteful programs that supposedly justify the no-taxes line aren’t actually wasteful. Take the $47,000 smoking machine. Sound outrageous — government bureaucrats buying themselves an expensive piece of machinery to smoke cigarettes while regular folks like John Boehner have to light up by hand, like a sucker! In fact, it turns out to be a piece of medical research equipment used by the Veteran Administration:

“VA Researchers are using the smoking machine to cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in mice by the same mechanisms by which the disease occurs in Veterans and others who smoke cigarettes,” a VA official told HuffPost in an email.

“The cessation of smoking does not curtail the progression of the disease and there is currently no effective therapy for the treatment of the condition,” the official said. “Using this mouse model of COPD, VA researchers will test potential new treatments for the disease.”

You see, Mr. Speaker, if you want to study the effects of smoking, you could kidnap some unsuspecting person and force-feed him Marlboros. But the scientific community finds this approach unethical, so machines to test the effects of smoking on mice are considered a standard work-around.

Likewise, “paying people to play video games” is not some federal grant to mail checks to good-for-nothing slackers to lounge around playing their newfangled machines while honest God-fearing Americans go to work. It’s a grant from the National Science Foundation to test the hypothesis that some cognitive loss owing to old age can be slowed through certain video games. (“The theory is that the strategy, memory and problem-solving skills necessary for mastering certain games may translate to benefits in the real world, beyond a glowing computer screen.”)

The “giving folks free cell phones” program is real, pretty much. Free phone service for the poor has existed since 1984, and obviously moved from landlines to cell phones, on the theory that a phone is vital for things like being able to contact police or fire departments, get a job, and so on. Recipients get 250 free minutes a month — which, at less than ten minutes a day, doesn’t leave room for lots of chatting about Justin Bieber. The program did have loose eligibility criteria, but they have been tightened.

You could debate the merits of subsidized phone ownership, but this program, and the two others, actually disprove Boehner’s point. If this is the worst thing he can dig up in the federal budget, it proves not that Washington is brimming with waste but that it isn’t.

Incentives Push Massachusetts Residents to Go Solar

To be green, sometimes you need to spend a little green. That’s the lesson Massachusetts officials have learned by enticing homeowners to invest in renewable energy through tax breaks, rebates and other economic incentives.

Since 1979, Massachusetts has offered a $1,000, one-time tax credit to homeowners who install solar systems, but that incentive didn’t exactly push residents to invest in these relatively costly systems.

What really drove the solar energy market, according to Dwayne Breger, director of the Division of Renewable Energy at the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER), was the legislature’s passage in 2008 of the Green Communities Act. Among its most notable initiatives, the legislation established one of the nation’s first renewable energy portfolio standards (RPS), requiring that 15 percent of the state’s electricity come from renewable energy sources by 2020. For the record, Rhode Island beat its neighbor to the north by establishing an RPS four years earlier at 16 percent by the end of 2019.

To enact this and other green legislation, the state created the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) in 2009. The agency started providing rebates to homeowners, businesses and municipalities that installed solar power systems with the capacity to generate up to 15 kilowatts.

DOER also implemented a solar carve-out program, which issues a solar renewable energy certificate (SREC) to solar system owners for each megawatt-hour of electricity they generate. SRECs trade at market value, which floats currently between $200 and $250 apiece — a price often higher than fossil fuel-generated electricity. Retail electric suppliers gobble up these certificates, as they are required by state law to buy a certain number of them annually in support of renewable energy production.

If homeowners are hesitant to invest in the upfront costs of a photovoltaic system, third-party businesses have stepped in to fill the void by installing the equipment and racking up SRECs while hosts enjoy lower energy costs.

“It may take an upfront cost, but the payback with incentives is quite strong,” Breger said. “If you don’t want to have the upfront cost, you can do the third-party arrangement and have small but immediate energy-cost savings over time.

So far, nearly 4,000 residential solar projects have been installed and only 10 of the state’s 351 cities and towns don’t have some form of solar activity, Breger said.

Deval Patrick’s goal in 2007 of stalling 250 megawatts of solar by 2017 now seems like an easy layup, considering residents, businesses and municipalities have already installed 205 megawatts, according to the MassCEC. The state has since readjusted its goal to 400, because of the success of its solar carve-out program.

Homeowners’ embrace of solar energy means the state’s RPS currently stands at 9 percent, Breger said, with an annual growth rate of 1 percent — on pace to meeting the 2020 goal.

Adoption of small-scale wind energy production has been less feverish, with the MassCEC reporting that 100 megawatts have been installed so far, despite an eventual goal of 2,000 MW by 2020. Most projects are based on farms or homesteads interested in testing out the systems, Breger said. Wind may be less popular because the financial incentive is only $50 per megawatt-hour generated — not to mention the fact that slapping solar panels on a roof is less complex in terms of zoning and neighbor relations than erecting a wind turbine in the backyard.

As for other projects, MassCEC plans to distribute $10 million through 2016 in rebates of up to $3,500 to homeowners, businesses, nonprofits and municipalities that install solar hot water systems as alternatives to oil or natural gas burners. The agency is also piloting a program that provides grants of up to $2,000 to homeowners who replace coal stoves, non-EPA-certified woodstoves or outdated fireplace inserts with high-efficiency, low-emissions fireplace inserts or wood-pellet heating systems.

HTC One Hands-On

Look out, Samsung, because HTC is gunning for you in 2013. The HTC One takes a sensibly non-traditional route to success, opting out of the megapixel race for one, and instead focusing on where, the company insists, users will actually see the most benefit. That’s not to say superlatives are in short supply: an incredible 1080p 4.7-inch display, beautiful aluminum construction, and swift 1.7GHz quadcore all take their place inside the cool, crisp chassis.

HTC has a track record of solid phones, but the One kicks it up a level. We could tell you about the incredibly time-consuming and complex production process – which starts off with a chunk of aluminum alloy HTC has specially created for its purposes, then runs it through several stages of CNC machining, pauses to inject matte-finish plastic (white for the silver One; black for the black One), and then finishes off with a final shaping to ensure both metal and plastic are perfectly aligned – but it’s how it feels in your hand that’s most memorable. HTC points out that metal has a privileged place when it comes to how we perceive value, because of the headaches inherent in refining it and the fact that it’s cold to the touch, and that weighty, premium-feel mass adds up to a handset that’s great to hold.

It’s also not too big, despite the 4.7-inch screen. HTC has kept the 1080p resolution from the Butterfly and DROID DNA, but the LCD panel itself is apparently brighter and sharper; it’s also more comfortable to use, and the minimal bezels – with just a little space reserved underneath for the capacitive Home and Back keys HTC insists on using – mean it’s not too great a stretch to reach across with your thumb. The precision drilling we’ve seen HTC use before makes a reappearance on the One, now punching out holes for the stereo speakers that flank the display.

HTC is particularly proud of those speakers, which have clever floating membrane drivers that automatically adjust power depending on how close to distortion the audio is. They also get roughly twice the space to work in than rival phones, thanks to extra large speaker chambers; in fact, HTC claims, they’re around 4x as loud as some other handsets. We had a chance to try the One out ahead of today’s launch, and they’re certainly powerful, with a surprising amount of bass: HTC has fitted a pair of Beats Audio amps, one for the speakers and one for the headphone socket. Yes we still have Beats!

It’s tough not to be impressed when you look at the One’s display, even if you’ve spent some time with the DROID DNA. The slight reduction in size doesn’t impact usability – videos and webpages still look great, and sufficiently vast – while colors are bright and accurate and viewing angles incredibly broad. Sense 5 has been polished back to 2D iconography, ditching most of the extraneous 3D effects and layering that had come to clutter more recent iterations of the HTC UI, and the One is all the better for it.

Without offline caching – HTC says it’s coming, but currently BlinkFeed auto-refreshes every couple of hours when you’re on WiFi and manually when you’re on cellular data – BlinkFeed isn’t going to help you out when you’re suddenly left offline on a plane or in an elevator; the full body of the news isn’t downloaded until you tap it, only the headline and the image. Still, the whole thing is responsive, thanks to some server-side processing on HTC’s part, and we can see ourselves flicking through a few screens of BlinkFeed content when we’ve a couple of minutes to kill. It’ll be all the more useful when other apps start feeding content into it, and when HTC gets Google+ and Google Now integration up and running. Google Now’s suggestion tiles would be particularly welcome, for instance.