Science News Digest

This is Sarah Long. And this is Bob Doughty with SCIENCE IN THE NEWS, a VOA Special English program about recent developments in science. Today, we tell about new research using genes to find early signs of cancer. We tell about why red wine is good for you. And we tell about the health problems in the area of New York City where the World Trade Center was destroyed.

Scientists have recently reported progress in research using genes to find early signs of cancer. American and Dutch researchers say they have developed a way to tell if a breast cancer tumor will spread to other parts of the body. The researchers reported their work in the publication Nature.

Scientists at the Netherlands Cancer Institute and in the United States found special groups of genes in the kinds of cancerous tumors that spread quickly. They made the discovery by studying genes in seventy-eight breast cancer tumors in women. Then they studied the women to see if they developed other cancers.

The researchers say that seventy genes in the tumors could show if a woman had a high risk of developing cancer in another part of her body. The researchers could also tell if the disease was not likely to return.

The scientists say they have created a system that can tell if the breast cancer will return or not. They say the system is correct eighty percent of the time. Experts say such a test could change the normal treatment for breast cancer. Today, women suffering breast cancer have an operation to remove the tumor. Then they have chemotherapy and radiation to make sure the cancer will not return. However, the drugs used in chemotherapy can have unwanted effects. Experts say women who know their cancer will not return would not need to have this treatment.

Other researchers say that this kind of progress is not limited to breast cancer research. American researchers recently reported a similar system to tell about the possible spread of a kind of brain cancer in children. And other researchers have found such a system for prostate cancer patients.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland are reporting a genetic test that can find early colon cancer. They reported this study in the New England Journal of Medicine. The new test studies a small amount of a person's solid waste for the presence of changed genes known to cause colon cancer. The researchers say these changes begin creating growths in the colon twenty to thirty years before the growths become cancerous.

The researchers tested seventy-four such samples in the study. They found the cancer genes in about sixty percent of the people with early colon cancer. They found the genes in half of the people with pre-cancerous growths. They did not find any of the cancer genes in people who were free of the disease.

The researchers say the new test should find a high percentage of people who are developing colon cancer. This test is much easier to carry out than a colonoscopy test to find colon cancer. In a colonoscopy, a long, thin tube is placed inside the colon to find any possible growths. This test is costly and is usually done in a hospital.

Researchers say the new test should influence many more people to get tested for colon cancer. They say the test could save the lives of many of the five-hundred-thousand people around the world who die of colon cancer each year. Officials from the private company producing the test say they hope it will be ready for use by the year Two-Thousand-Four.

Experts say these new tests are the result of new cancer research technology. These new methods can identify and target the molecules that cause the disease. They say this will lead to improved cancer treatments in the future.

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

British scientists may have discovered the reason why red wine appears to protect the heart. They say natural chemicals found in red wine appear to protect against blocked blood passages. The chemical substances are called polyphenols. They come from the outer covering of grapes. They are not present in other alcoholic drinks.

Researchers from the William Harvey Research Institute at the London School of Medicine and Dentistry carried out the study. The scientists say their discovery explains why many people in southern Europe can eat fatty foods and still have a low risk of heart disease. People in France, for example, have lower rates of heart disease than Americans do. Yet the traditional French diet includes butter, cheese and other foods high in cholesterol.

This led the British scientists to examine another important part of the French diet -- red wine. Several earlier studies have suggested that people who drink moderate amounts of alcohol may reduce their risk of heart disease.

The British team experimented with cells from the blood vessels of cows. The scientists studied the effects of twenty-three kinds of red wine on the cow cells. They found that polyphenols from all of the red wines stopped production of a protein called endothelin-one. This protein causes blood vessels to become smaller. Scientists believe endothelin-one is linked to hardening of the blood vessels, which is a cause of heart disease.

The scientists found that the decrease in endothelin-one levels was linked to the amount of polyphenols in the wines. The British team performed similar experiments with two other kinds of wine, white and rose. These wines contain little or no polyphenols because the grape skins are removed before the wine is made. White and rose wines had no effect on endothelin-one levels.

The scientists also studied the effect of non-alcoholic juice made from red grapes. They found that grape juice slowed the production of endothelin-one, but was much less effective than the red wines.

There are growing environmental concerns about the air near the destroyed World Trade Center in New York City. The two huge buildings were destroyed September eleventh when terrorists crashed two passenger planes into them. Some people say they are suffering health problems as a result of the attacks.

When the World Trade Center fell, it left about one-million tons of crushed concrete, glass and dust. Some people fear that cancer-causing substances may have been released into the air from the resulting fires and smoke. For example, asbestos and other harmful substances were used in building the World Trade Center.

The wreckage of the World Trade Center covers more than six hectares of land. Since September eleventh, federal, state and local agencies have been testing the air in and around the wreckage area.

Scientists from universities, medical schools and private companies also are doing tests. They are looking for the presence of pollutants in the air that might present a health risk to the workers removing the wreckage and to the public. Federal officials say no long-term health risks have been discovered so far.

Yet, doctors say many of the workers have been suffering from severe cough, chest pain, nose bleeds and breathing problems. Many workers with continuing problems have taken legal action against the city.Doctors say rescue workers and other people who worked in the area for a long period of time are most at risk for health problems. They say workers who did not wear protective coverings on their faces are at even greater risk.

About forty-thousand people live near the ruins of the World Trade Center. Some of these people worry that open trucks carrying the wreckage from the area are still spreading pollutants.

Doctors in New York City are organizing a study of the hundreds of pregnant women who were near the World Trade Center on the day of the attack. They will examine the possible health effects of smoke and dust on pregnant women and their babies.

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

Voice of America Special English

Source: SCIENCE IN THE NEWS - February 12, 2002: Digest
TEXT = http://www.voanews.com/specialenglish/archive/2002-02/a-2002-02-11-1-1.cfm?renderforprint=1