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In a recent paper I saw in ACS’ Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, one research group is taking a very different and, might I add, clever approach to fighting off urinary tract infections, or UTIs. Surprisingly, it doesn’t involve the use of traditional antibiotics. That’s important because overuse of these drugs can lead to resistant bacteria, or “superbugs” that shrug off some of the most powerful new antibiotics. Thus, this new potential treatment wouldn’t contribute to the rise of additional difficult-to-treat superbugs.


About 8.1 million men and women go to their general practice doctor or urologist every year in the U.S. because of a UTI, which is one of the most common types of infections. In 2007, about half a million people actually had to visit the hospital because of them. Women are more prone to these infections, as their urethras are shorter, giving bacteria easy, quick access to the bladder. Patients who use catheters, or tubes, in order to remove urine from the body also are at a high risk for developing painful UTIs. UTIs cause burning and pain when using the bathroom and sometimes results in smelly, discolored urine or back pain.


These infections are most often caused by bacteria, such as E. coli, so the traditional treatment is a course of antibiotics. UTIs often recur, though, and repeated courses of antibiotics could lead to resistant strains.


Because many bacteria are becoming superbugs, Beat Ernst and colleagues decided to try a brand-new approach — developing substances that target “bacteria virulence factors.” That is, instead of killing the bacteria outright, the researchers interfere with how the bacteria latch onto bladder cells. The thinking is that if the bacteria can’t attach to the cells, they can’t infect them, and the bacteria just get washed away in the urine. The researchers expect that this new class of drugs will have a greatly reduced chance of leading to resistance.


The scientists go on to describe the development of “anti-adhesion molecules” that specifically get in the way of the bacterial attachment. The best-performing substance, called an indolinylphenyl mannoside, prevented a UTI from developing in mice (stand-ins for humans in this kind of experiment) for more than eight hours. In the study, a very low dose reduced the amount of bacteria in the bladder of the animals by almost 10,000 times, which is comparable to the standard antibiotic treatment with ciprofloxacin.


Can you envision other ways of stopping bacterial infections? Do you think this strategy could work with other microbes, like fungi and viruses?


“Antiadhesion Therapy for Urinary Tract Infections—A Balanced PK/PD Profile Proved To Be Key for Success,” Journal of Medicinal Chemistry



Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

That milestone is fast approaching, and I look forward to August 19 with a sense of excitement and anticipation. Although some of my colleagues here in the American Chemical Society (ACS) Office of Public Affairs may find it easy to believe that I’m talking about an 80th birthday, that landmark actually is some years ahead. August 19, 2012 will mark the 80th ACS National Meeting & Exposition that I have attended.


ACS holds two of these science spectaculars each year― meetings that some news media have termed “The World Series of Science.” And I’ve been attending them since 1972. It began in my earlier life as a newspaper science editor covering ACS National Meetings as a journalist. ACS National Meetings include reports on new discoveries that span science’s horizons, often ranging astronomy to zoology. My role changed in 2006, when daily journalism began falling into the tenacious embrace of an economic downturn. It forced my former employer to shutter its Washington Bureau in the National Press Building, where I worked.


I transitioned to the ACS, the world’s largest scientific society, and began a new role in helping journalists cover these huge meetings, which sometimes include more than 12,000 technical papers with scores of sessions underway simultaneously. Our team here in ACS Public Affairs reads all of the abstracts of technical presentations scheduled for each of the annual meetings ― more than 20,000 in all. We’re hunting for newsworthy presentations that can be the basis for press releases, press conferences and other content.


And we’re in the home stretch for the ACS 244th National Meeting & Exposition, which begins on that milestone day, August 19, and continues through August 23. The venue: Philadelphia. On the agenda: 8,600 presentations on new discoveries in science and other topics.The attendance: An estimated 14,000 scientists and others who will pump about $25 million into the local economy, according to Philadelphia convention officials. The ACS Public Affairs team has produced more than 40 press releases that publicize hundreds of papers, and there will be almost 30 press conferences. Journalists who cover the meeting from their home bases can tune in live online and ask questions.


The Philadelphia meeting includes some of the most newsworthy topics I can recall in those 79 previous meetings. One example: A block-buster symposium featuring high-profile scientists and attorneys involved in righting mistakes in the criminal justice system. They used chemistry to help people who are innocent but proven guilty in court. Press registration is still open if you can join us in the ACS Press Center in Philly. Embargoed copies of press releases will be on EurekAlert! and Newswise in August. Let us know if we can help in any way with your coverage, either from the City of Brotherly Love or your own office.

With the temperatures we’ve had this summer here in Washington, D.C., it’s hard to think of anything but the heat. I only got as far as cranking up the AC, but researchers in Georgia have come up with a device that can make electricity from waste heat that car engines, computers, power lines or even the sun can produce.



Even more remarkable, a Greek philosopher’s discovery that he made 2,300 years ago is the basis for the “pyroelectric nanogenerator” that the researchers describe in a paper that appears in Nano Letters.


When machines convert fuel into electrical or mechanical energy, some of that energy goes to waste as heat. For instance, when gasoline ignites in the cylinder of a car’s engine, the explosion produces energy that pushes a piston, which drives a crankshaft, which turns the axles and the wheels. But only about 20 percent of the explosion’s energy helps to move the car; much of the remaining energy is wasted heat – that’s why cars need radiators and coolant.


Zhong Lin Wang and the other authors of the Nano Letters paper report that the U.S. loses more than 50 percent of the energy that it produces each year—much of it becomes wasted heat.


They found a possible solution for that inefficiency in something called the pyroelectric effect, a phenomenon that the Greek philosopher Theophrastus first described in 314 B.C. Theophrastus was a student and successor of Aristotle at his school in Athens, where he studied and wrote about everything from biology to ethics. In “On Stones” he noted that the semi-precious stone tourmaline attracted small bits of straw when heated.


It wasn’t until the late 19th century that scientists began to understand why that happened. When someone heats tourmaline or other pyroelectric materials, the arrangement of the atoms within the material’s crystal structure changes. This rearrangement creates an imbalance of electrons, just like the static charge that builds up when you rub a balloon against your hair – and it attracts stray hairs or straw for the same reasons.


To ease that imbalance, electrons will flow from one part of the material to another. Moving electrons create an electrical current, one which Wang and his colleagues realized they could harness.



To do that, they made a sort of forest of nanowires standing on their ends, each about twice as tall as the pits etched into a CD. The researchers made the wires from zinc oxide, a white compound with pyroelectric properties. It’s also used in paints, plastics, electronics, food and maybe most famously as one of the original sunscreens.



The researchers report that when they heated or cooled the nanogenerator, it produced electricity. It could conceivably take advantage of regular heating and cooling cycles, like when someone powers cars or computers on or off. Wang even suggested the devices could make electricity from daily fluctuations in temperature from day to night.

How would you use a pyroelectric nanogenerator?

“Pyroelectric Nanogenerators for Harvesting Thermoelectric Energy,” Nano Letters.

Credit: iStock

Is there a more versatile food than nuts? Just start off with the ubiquitous peanut butter and jelly sandwich and work your way through a nice plateful of Thai chicken with a peanutty satay sauce, and for dessert try the pecan pie, by all means. And there is so much more… The beauty of it is that nuts also can be very healthful in addition to tasting yummy. They can be low-fat, provide significant fiber and antioxidants and even give you valuable protein. This we already know.


And then along comes a study that shows us again how healthful nuts can be. This time it’s rather unusual and rather important: hazelnut-based fats as a special ingredient for infant formula for premature babies.


The problem is that premature babies need a certain kind of nutrient that is not found in large enough quantities in their mother’s milk, so scientists have developed a healthy “designer fat” based on hazelnut oil that manufacturers could add to infant formulas to provide the missing nutrient. The ingredient also could help other infants who are bottle-fed for other reasons.


Each year there are more than 500,000 premature births in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pre-term birth is the number one cause of death in infants. Because their systems are under-developed, they need added nutrients in their diet.


Casimir Akoh and colleagues explain that mothers naturally provide healthful omega-3 fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and omega-6 fatty acid ARA (arachidonic acid) to infants during the last three months of pregnancy and after birth in their milk. These fatty acids are critical for normal development of the brain and other organs. Premature infants don’t get full exposure to the fatty acids in the uterus because they are born too soon, and their mother’s milk doesn’t contain high enough levels of these beneficial fats when they are born.


The scientists reported in the ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry that DHA and ARA from algae are already ingredients in numerous formulas, but concerns exist about the digestibility of these algae-based fatty acids since they don’t have precisely the same makeup as those found in mother’s milk. In the report, they explain how they built a new designer fat from hazelnut oil that more closely approximates healthful fatty acids naturally found in human milk. The scientists carefully analyzed the new fat and determined that it would be an effective supplement in infant formulas.



“Production of Human Milk Fat Analogue Containing Docosahexaenoic and Arachidonic Acids,”Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry




Credit: iStock



OK, this one sounds pretty gross at first, but using a substance found in pig mucus to ward off viruses in personal hygiene products, such as wound ointments and toothpastes, or even in baby formula really does make a lot of sense.


Mucus coats the inside of the nose and mouth and is normally the immune system’s first line of defense. Slimy mucus traps disease-causing microbes before they can make you sick. But what components of mucus are responsible, and could these substances be used in products to help protect humans against a wide range of viruses?


In a Biomacromolecules paper recently published by ACS, Katharina Ribbeck and colleagues report that “mucins” found in pig mucus can do just that.


But why pig mucus? Simply put, pigs are mucus machines — their stomachs are a great source of large amounts of mucus. Although human mucins appeared to have antiviral activity in previously reported studies, it’s not really feasible to get these from people. Human breast milk is one fairly easily obtainable source, but it cannot provide the industrial-sized quantities that would be needed to supplement consumer products.


So, pig mucin it is. But the problem was that no one had studied whether pig mucins have this type of antiviral activity. So, the researchers set out to determine if pig mucus — already used as a component of artificial saliva to treat patients with “dry mouth”— can fight off viruses.


They found that pig mucus is effective at blocking a range of viruses, from strains of influenza to the human papilloma virus, which is associated with cervical and oral cancer. The exact ways that mucins do this still need to be explored, the researchers say.


They report that pig mucins could be added to toothpastes, mouthwashes, wound ointments and genital lubricants to protect against viral infections. “We envision porcine gastric mucins to be promising antiviral components for future biomedical applications,” the report says.


Hmm, makes you wonder where researchers will look next for anti-microbial or disease-fighting substances… Have any ideas? Tell us in the comments section.


“Mucin Biopolymers as Broad-Spectrum Antiviral Agents,” Biomacromolecules



Credit: iStock