News Release

Highlights of chemical society national meeting in San Diego, March 13-17

Peer-Reviewed Publication

American Chemical Society


SAN DIEGO — An antioxidant mixture that may help prevent skin cancer, efforts to genetically engineer bacteria for the mass production of antibiotics, and novel gene therapy vectors that employ the herpes simplex virus to help fight chronic pain and brain cancer are among the new research topics addressed at the 229th national meeting of the American Chemical Society, the world’s largest scientific society, in San Diego, March 13-17. The meeting, which features approximately 10,000 research presentations, includes a special Presidential symposium on the changing face of chemistry. Other topics include life in extreme environments, new materials for faster and cheaper computer memory and an unusual study that supports the long-held belief that marine mussels, such as oysters and clams, may act as aphrodisiacs. Selected topics are described below:

Sunday, March 13

The changing face of chemistry — Chemistry is undergoing many changes: It’s becoming more multidisciplinary, more international, and will require new skills and business practices. A special two-day Presidential symposium featuring representatives from the federal government, industry and academia will look at the impact these changes will have on employment, the economy, businesses and research funding over the next 10 years. (PRES 1-15, Sunday, 1:45 p.m.-4:45 p.m. and Monday, 8:30 a.m.-11:45 a.m., March 13-14, San Diego Marriott, San Diego B&C, during the Presidential Event, “Chemistry Enterprise 2015: Where in the World Will We Be?”)

Researchers engineer bacteria to mass produce useful drug products — Many antibiotics, immunosuppressants and anticancer agents are based on a class of natural compounds called polyketides, small but complex molecules produced in bacteria and fungi in tiny amounts. Limited yields from natural sources and the difficulty of making them synthetically has limited their supply and slowed their development. Now, researchers at Stanford University are trying to engineer certain bacteria to overproduce these drug products. The development could lead to increased commercial yields and faster drug development to combat growing antibiotic resistance and high cancer rates, they say. The presentation is part of a two-day symposium, "Polyketides: Biosynthesis, Biological Activity and Genetic Engineering," held March 13-14. (AGFD 19, Sunday, March 13, 2:35 p.m., Horton Grand, Regal B)

Apples may provide a dual protection against heart disease, researchers find — In a new study that provides further evidence that eating apples may help reduce the risk of heart disease, researchers at Cornell University in New York have found that the popular fruit may have a dual benefit on blood cholesterol. In a study using human liver cells, they showed that antioxidants found in apple extracts could potentially lower "bad" cholesterol (low density lipoprotein, or LDL) by stimulating the production of LDL receptors in the liver, which help remove cholesterol from the blood. This mechanism is similar to that of statin drugs, they say. The study also showed that apple extracts prevent the bad (LDL) cholesterol from turning into oxidized LDL, a potentially more deadly form of bad cholesterol that is associated with an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Another study by the same researcher found that eating apples may help prevent breast cancer in animals. That study was recently published in the online version of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a peer-reviewed ACS publication, and can be obtained by contacting the person listed at the top of this release. (AGFD 27, Sunday, March 13, 3:20 p.m., Horton Grand, Room Regal C)

Saliva test for Crohn’s disease may help monitor flare-ups, reduce severity — Researchers are developing a simple saliva-based diagnostic test for monitoring Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammatory disease of the intestine characterized by abdominal pain and persistent diarrhea. The incurable disease can cause lifelong complications starting at an early age and is difficult to monitor and predict. By providing a way to monitor changes in the chemical signals produced by bacteria in the gut when the bacteria reach a certain critical level, the new test could allow patients to predict disease flare-ups and reduce the severity of their disease using drug intervention. A home-based version of the test is anticipated, they say. (ANYL 96, Sunday, March 13, 7:00 p.m., Convention Center, Room Sails Pavilion, during the “General Papers” session)

Monday, March 14

Perchlorate found in organic- and conventional-grown lettuce — Trace levels of perchlorate have been found in lettuce irrigated with Colorado River water, based on a survey by University of Arizona researchers. Conventionally and organically grown lettuce and other leafy vegetable samples were collected from fields and farmers’ markets in California, New Mexico, Colorado, Michigan, Ohio, New York, Quebec and New Jersey. Most samples were collected from areas with no known contamination from munitions or aerospace related industries. Results show 17 percent of the conventionally produced samples and 31 percent of the organically produced samples had quantifiable levels of perchlorate. Additional work is needed to identify possible anthropogenic and natural sources of perchlorate entering the food chain. (AGRO 35, Monday, March 14, 1:20 p.m., Horton Grand, Regency B, during the symposium, “Organic Farming and Nutrients: Productivity, Value, and Food Safety.”)

Antidepressants may be novel weapon against SARS — While the deadly SARS virus (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) appears to be under control for now, health officials are concerned about its possible resurgence. Researchers in Taiwan say that they have discovered a potential way to keep the virus at bay. In laboratory studies, they identified a type of antidepressant drug that appears to be effective in suppressing the SARS virus, perhaps more effectively than some antiviral drugs that have been used against the disease. Their study could lead to new drugs for combating existing viral strains or provide the basis for future treatments of new viral strains. (MEDI 335, Monday, March 14, 8:00-10:00 p.m., Convention Center, Room Sails Pavilion, during the “Sci-Mix” symposium; and Wednesday, March 16, 6:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m., Convention Center, Room Sails Pavilion, during the “Poster Session.”)

Antioxidant mixture may improve protection against skin cancer — Despite the availability of topical sunscreens, skin cancer is on the rise. A group of chemists says that adding a mixture of antioxidants to sunscreen may help enhance its protection. In animal studies, they found that a mixture of various topical antioxidants was more effective than single antioxidants in preventing the formation of skin tumors induced by ultraviolet light. In another study, the research team found that black tea, green tea, grape seed and cranberry extracts were all promising antioxidants for fighting skin cancer when applied topically. (AGFD 65 and AGFD 66, Monday, March 14, 8:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m., Convention Center, Room Sails Pavilion, during the “Sci-Mix” symposium)

Tuesday, March 15

Life in extreme environments — Researchers are finding an increasing number of microbial life forms that can exist in extreme environments that were once thought to be inhospitable to life. A special half-day symposium will focus on the challenges, adaptations and limitations of life in these extreme environments, where physical harshness — such as temperature, acidity, salinity, dryness, pressure and toxicity — are maximum. The spectrum of possibilities for life in extreme environments on Earth will enlighten the search for life on other planets, researchers say. (GEOC 43-50 and GEOC 70, Tuesday, March 15, 8:00 a.m.-noon, Hyatt Regency, Ford B-C, during the “Biogeochemistry at the Limits of Habitability” symposium)

Gene therapy for the nervous system — The realization of gene therapy for the central nervous system has advanced to the realms of clinical practice. The brain and spinal cord, once inaccessible to certain therapies, have been unlocked by gene therapy vectors allowing medical practitioners to target areas of the brain in a manner not ever before attainable. An overview of the gene therapy field and some recent advances will be discussed in this keynote address on CNS cellular and gene therapies. In addition, stem cells have recently shown significant potential for repopulating tissue after the devastating effects of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Huntington's disease. The characterization of genes and signaling mechanisms that regulate neural stem cell proliferation and differentiation also will be explored. (BIOT 113, Tuesday, March 15, 8:10 a.m., Convention Center, Room 30A-B, during the symposium, “Purification Processes.”)

Something to sing about: Vocal cord regeneration moves a step closer to reality — In a development that could help restore voices that are lost due to injury or disease —including voices of some well known singers — researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology say they have moved a step closer to effective vocal cord regeneration. The researchers have developed new, more biocompatible injectable hydrogels, synthetic polymers that show promise in restoring damaged vocal cord tissue. No voices have been repaired so far, but preliminary studies using animals are underway, they say. (CARB 29, Tuesday, March 15, 10:30 a.m., San Diego Marriott, San Diego A, during the symposium, “Synthesis of Carbohydrates.”)

Herpes virus may be used to treat chronic pain, brain cancer — Herpes simplex virus 1, the virus responsible for the common cold sore, may paradoxically be used to treat disease in the near future by acting as a gene therapy vector, researchers say. Exploiting the ability of HSV-1 to enter the nervous system, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have inserted genes coding for a group of cancer-killing proteins (HSV thymidine kinase, connexin, and tumor necrosis factor) and a pain killing protein (enkephalin) into the virus in the hope that these genes will help cure brain cancer and chronic pain, respectively. With the successful development of manufacturing processes capable of producing clinical-grade vectors, they hope to begin human clinical trials within the next year, they say. (BIOT 119, Tuesday, March 15, 10:40 a.m., Convention Center, Room 30A-B, during the symposium, "Purification Processes.")

Wednesday, March 16

Faster, cheaper computer memory — IBM researchers have developed a new class of metal-polymer composite materials that could be the basis for a new type of inexpensive computer memory, replacing current flash memory sticks and hard-disk drives. The material might also simplify the manufacturing process for memory devices and yield significant cost savings. (PMSE 284, Wednesday, March 16, 8:30 a.m., San Diego Marriott, San Diego B, during the symposium, “Polymeric Semiconductors for Thin-Film Electronics.”)

International Maternal Blood Monitoring — Health agencies from Canada, Mexico and the United States are joining forces in a massive effort to monitor contaminants and toxic metals in the blood of expectant mothers. Blood samples will be collected from approximately 500 pregnant women at ten sites in Mexico, five in Canada and five in the U.S. Each country has done its own maternal blood contaminant monitoring studies in the past, but this will be the first study to use compatible protocols in order to ensure the comparability of the data. The biomonitoring project will be carried out under the auspices of the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation, an international organization created by the three countries. (ENVR 137, Wednesday, March 16, 6:00 p.m., Convention Center, Sails Pavilion, during the poster session, “Canada, Mexico and the United States Working Together Through North American Regional Action Plans.”)

Study supports belief that clams, oysters may boost libido — For centuries, marine mollusks such as clams, oysters and scallops have been thought to act as aphrodisiacs when eaten raw. Now, a team of researchers from the U.S. and Italy says they may have found, for the first time, a scientific basis to support this belief. They analyzed the chemical composition of tissues from a group of mollusks commonly consumed in Mediterranean countries and found that they contain D-aspartic acid and NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate), two compounds which were shown in previous animal studies to stimulate the release of hormones, including testosterone and estrogen, that are involved in heightened sexual activity. (MEDI 401, Wednesday, March 16, 6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m., Convention Center, Sails Pavilion)

Thursday, March 17

Satellite will explore effects of space on genetics — Prolonged spaceflight can have serious effects on the human body, including bone density loss, muscle atrophy and immune system stress. Now, NASA scientists have developed a new analytical system that will allow them to explore the effects of space on gene expression in microorganisms, which could lead to new ways to prevent and treat the potentially debilitating effects of prolonged space travel. Called the “GeneSat” payload system, the automated laboratory system is about the size of a small shoebox and contains a miniature genetic laboratory, complete with cell cultures and filtration devices. The system is scheduled to launch on an unmanned spacecraft in Oct. or Dec. 2005 in a small satellite dedicated to exploring the effects of space on genetics. (ANYL 412, Thursday, March 17, 10:00 a.m., Convention Center, Room 27A, during the symposium, “Biosensors and Sensors: Bacteria-Based and Cell-Based Sensors.”)


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