SCIENCE IN THE NEWS #2094 - Digest

By StaffThis is Steve Ember.And this is Sarah Long with SCIENCE IN THE NEWS, a VOA Special English program about recent developments in science. Today, we tell about a drug that permits a woman to end an unwanted pregnancy. We tell about an experimental treatment for kidney cancer. And we tell about a monkey that has been declared extinct.

The United States Food and Drug Administration has approved a drug called R-U-Four-Eighty-Six. The drug permits a woman to end an unwanted pregnancy with medicines taken by mouth. Most American women currently have an operation called an abortion to end unwanted pregnancies.

The Food and Drug Administration saysa doctor must order the drug and supervise the patient's care. The drug must be taken during the first seven weeks of pregnancy.

R-U-Four-Eighty-Six is not new. It was first approved for use in France in Nineteen-Eighty-Eight. Many European countries and other nations also permit the drug. The Food and Drug Administration says more than six-hundred-thousand women in Europe have used R-U-Four-Eighty-Six.The drug works by blocking a female hormone called progesterone. This hormone is necessary to continue a pregnancy. A patient who wants to use R-U-Four-Eighty-Six visits her doctor. The doctor gives her three pills containing the drug. They soften the uterus and help to disconnect the embryo.

Then she returns to the doctor's office two days later and takes a different drug. This drug causes her uterus to expel the embryo. That usually happens within about four hours.

The patient then visits the doctor a third time. The doctor confirms that the pregnancy has ended. If it has not, she must have an operation to end the pregnancy.Research shows that R-U-Four-Eighty-Six succeeds in ending a pregnancy as often as ninety-seven percent of the time. About one-percent of women need an operation to control severe bleeding. The Food and Drug Administration first said R-U-Four-Eighty-Six was safe and effective four years ago. But the continued debate about abortion in the United States delayed a final decision. Many groups oppose abortion because of moral and religious reasons. A series of business problems involving sale of the drug in the United States also caused a delay.The announcement of the drug's approval has increased the dispute about abortion in the United States. It is also an issue in the election for president. Democratic candidate Al Gore welcomed the F-D-A approval of R-U-Four-Eighty-Six. Vice President Gore says women should have the right to control their own bodies. Republican candidate George W. Bush opposes abortion. Governor Bush says he believes the F-D-A action will lead to more abortions. But Mr. Bush says a president does not have the right to overrule a decision by the F-D-A.Two Republican members of Congress are introducing legislation about the drug. The proposed law would make it more difficult for doctors to order R-U-Four-Eighty Six for their patients. Observers in Washington say it is not likely that the legislation will pass this year. However, officials of a number of anti-abortion organizations are considering other action.

A number of states have laws that limit abortions. For example, some states ban the use of public money to pay for abortions. Some states require a waiting period before a woman can have an abortion. Abortion opponents are considering ways that a state might include banning R-U-Four-Eighty-Six in such laws.

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

American researchers report that an experimental treatment for kidney cancer can reduce the size of cancerous growths or destroy them completely.

The treatment was developed at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute near Washington D. C. by Richard Childs and others. They told about the new treatment in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The doctors treated nineteen patients between one and three years ago. All the patients suffered kidney cancer that had spread to other organs. They had not been helped by traditional treatments. Few were expected to live more than one year when the treatments began. Today, nine patients are still alive. Eight died of the cancer. Two died from the treatment.The treatment used special blood cells provided by each patient's brother or sister whose cells were similar. The blood cells are called stem cells. They produce blood and can create a healthy defense system against disease.

First, the patients were given drugs to suppress their own bodies' defense systems so they would not reject the stem cells. Then, the doctors placed the stem cells in their bodies so the cells could attack the cancer.

The biggest danger of the treatment was that the cells would attack not just the cancer, but the patients' healthy tissue. Two patients died as a result of this problem.

The researchers gave the patients drugs to try to prevent this. They also began withdrawing the drugs as soon as they could to permit the stem cells to attack the cancer. It took four to eight months for this to happen.After the treatment, the cancer completely disappeared in three patients. One of the patients has survived for three years. In six other patients who are still alive, the cancerous growths were reduced.

Cancer experts welcomed the results of the study. They say it means that transplanted blood cells can recognize cancer and destroy it. But they say the treatment is not for everyone because of the possible dangers.

((MUSIC BRIDGE))Scientists have announced that one kind of West African monkey has disappeared from the Earth. The monkey is a Miss Waldron's red colobus. Experts for the Wildlife Conservation Society failed to find any of the monkeys in six years of searching in Ghana and Ivory Coast. The searches ended last year.

The last confirmed sighting of a Miss Waldron's red colobus monkey was more than twenty years ago in a rainforest in Ghana. Scientists put the monkey on the list of endangered animals in Nineteen-Eighty-Eight. They blame the disappearance of the monkey on hunting, and the destruction of its environment by cutting trees, building roads and farming.The disappearance of an animal group is known as extinction. It does not happen in a short period of time. The publication Conservation Biology reported a study describing the extinction of the Miss Waldron's red colobus over many years. Scientists say the disappearance of the Miss Waldron's red colobus is especially important. That is because monkeys are primates, members of the animal group most closely linked to humans.

A British wildlife collector, Willoughby Lowe, discovered the monkey in Nineteen-Thirty-Three. He named it for a woman who traveled with him.The Miss Waldron's red colobus is one of about six kinds of red colobus monkeys. All are rare. Each red colobus weighs about nine kilograms. They have long arms, legs and tails. Red colobus monkeys eat the leaves at the tops of trees. They live together in large, noisy, social groups. As a result, they are popular targets for hunters who supply local markets with monkey meat.

Scientists say the Miss Waldron's red colobus is the first primate to become extinct in at least one-hundred years. But experts say it may not be the last. They say other large animals in the same area of Africa may also be in danger unless they are more strongly protected.

Africa is not the only area of the world where animals are in danger of becoming extinct. Several other primates are believed to be in danger. They include lemurs in Madagascar, tamarin monkeys in Brazil, langurs in Vietnam, and orangutans in Sumatra.

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

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