SCIENCE IN THE NEWS #2073 - Digest

By StaffThis is Bob Doughty.And this is Sarah Long with SCIENCE IN THE NEWS, a VOA Special English program about recent developments in Science. Today we tell why the Clinton administration has declared the disease AIDS a threat to the national security of the United States. We tell about a new kind of cancer treatment. And we tell about a new program to test people for the disease tuberculosis.

The Clinton administration has declared the disease AIDS a threat to the national security of the United States. White House officials say they hope the action will help build support for programs to fight the disease around the world.

Administration officials say the worldwide spread of AIDS is an especially serious security threat in developing countries. They say the AIDS crisis could affect democratic and economic development and lead to tensions that could result in wars. They say these problems could increase the chances of American intervention.

A disease has never before been listed as a national security threat. But administration officials say AIDS is just one of several serious threats to American interests in the new century. The others include the illegal drug trade, organized crime and terrorism.The United Nations AIDS program says about thirty-four-million people are believed to be infected with H-I-V, the virus that causes AIDS. Most of them are in poor countries. In twenty-one countries, more than ten-percent of adults are infected with the AIDS virus.

A recent American intelligence report says up to twenty-five percent of the population in southern African nations is at risk of dying from AIDS. More than twenty-million people are believed to be infected with H-I-V in southern Africa. H-I-V infection levels also are increasing in India and other South Asian nations, as well as countries of the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe. More than thirteen-million people have died from the disease during the past twenty years.The report says the large number of people dying from AIDS could weaken poor countries because there would be fewer people able to work. Many children are growing up without parents. And armies could be affected by the high infection rates among soldiers. The report says these conditions could cause tensions among ethnic groups and lead to the failure of some governments.

The Clinton administration says AIDS is no longer just a worldwide medical problem. It is a problem that also involves economics and security.The administration is requesting more than two-hundred-fifty million dollars from Congress this year to try to slow the spread of the disease around the world. The administration wants more money for research to develop a vaccine to prevent AIDS. And Mr. Clinton has ordered an easing of restrictions to make AIDS drugs less costly and easier to get in African nations.

Federal health officials praised Mr. Clinton's decision to declare AIDS a threat to national security. Some health officials suggest more countries should do the same. However, they say much more money is needed in the fight against AIDS.

White House officials say President Clinton will appeal for joint action against AIDS at meetings of European leaders later this month and in July.

((MUSIC BRIDGE))You are listening to the Special English program SCIENCE IN THE NEWS on VOA. This is Bob Doughty with Sarah Long in Washington.


Research scientists have reported success in using an experimental method called antisense technology to treat people with cancer. For years, researchers have tested antisense technology to treat cancer in humans. But this is the first time some cancer patients have improved after getting the treatment.

The findings were reported at the yearly meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research. The conference was held last month in San Francisco, California.Cancers result from mistakes in genetic information. Some genes produce large amounts of proteins that help cancers grow.

The experimental treatment targets one of these genes, known as the B-C-L-Two gene. In some cancer patients, the B-C-L-Two gene produces a protein that protects cancer tumors from traditional anti-cancer drugs. The antisense treatment prevents the gene from acting. As a result, the drugs are able to attack cancer tumors.

In the new study, researchers at the University of Vienna in Austria used an antisense drug. The drug was developed by Genta Incorporated, a company based in the American city of Lexington, Massachusetts.The researchers gave the antisense drug and the anti-cancer drug dacarbazine to fourteen people with advanced melanoma. Melanoma is a deadly kind of skin cancer. Earlier, dacarbazine and other anti-cancer treatments had failed to help most of the patients. However, the combination antisense treatment helped six of the fourteen patients. There was some improvement in five patients. In one patient, the cancer disappeared completely.

The researchers said they believe the side effects of the treatment are acceptable. Some patients experienced changes in skin color, higher than normal body temperature and temporary liver problems. Genta Incorporated has organized more tests of the antisense cancer treatment in Europe and North America.

((MUSIC BRIDGE))The United States Institute of Medicine has released a report that is part of an effort to stop the disease tuberculosis in the United States. It suggests a tuberculosis test for people who want to move to the United States from nations that have a serious tuberculosis problem. Congress must approve the proposals in the report before they could be carried out.

The World Health Organization says about eight-million people become sick with tuberculosis, also known as TB, every year. The disease kills between two-million and three-million people around the world each year. It is caused by bacteria that damage and sometimes destroy the lungs. Victims may suffer a high body temperature, cough, weight loss, chest pain and tiredness. The disease spreads through the air to other people when a person with an active infection coughs, sneezes, talks or spits.However, the bacteria that cause TB can live in the lungs for many years before signs of the disease appear. During this time, a skin test can find the presence of the bacteria in a person's body. The new TB testing would be for people who want to move to the United States from countries where more than thirty-five percent of the population is infected with tuberculosis. Most of those countries are in Asia and Africa.

The new American proposal says people found to be infected must be treated before they would be permitted to live permanently in the United States. The government would refuse entry permission only to those people suffering active tuberculosis that could be passed to others.The report also suggests that the United States government increase the amount of money it spends for tuberculosis research each year. It says the government must improve public health programs that identify and treat people with TB. It also says the government should increase aid to countries that are fighting the disease.

Morton Swartz is a professor at the Harvard University Medical School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He led the medical group that wrote the report. Doctor Swartz says the United States cannot stop tuberculosis until the disease is brought under control around the world. He says people with the tuberculosis bacteria must be found and treated or the disease will damage and kill even more people in the future.

This SCIENCE IN THE NEWS program was written by Cynthia Kirk, George Grow and Nancy Steinbach. It was produced by George Grow. This is Bob Doughty.And this is Sarah Long. Join us again next week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.

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