Broadcast: April 1, 2003
I'm Sarah Long with Bob Doughty, and this is the VOA Special English program Science in the News.
This week -- new findings about the cause of a dangerous condition during pregnancy ... a new campaign to fight tuberculosis ... and a report on the winner of a big prize for research about "spiritual realities."
Scientists have linked a protein to the condition during pregnancy called preeclampsia [PRE-ee-CLAMP-see-ah]. Preeclampsia limits the flow of blood and oxygen to the baby. This disease affects between five and eight percent of pregnancies. It is the leading cause of death for pregnant women around the world. It is also a major cause of death in newborn babies in developing countries. That is because, as treatment to save the mother, babies are often delivered before they have fully developed.
What causes preeclampsia has been a mystery with much debate. Earlier studies linked the placenta to the disease. The placenta is the organ that unites the mother with the baby and provides air and food. However, questions remained about what happened within the placenta to cause preeclampsia.
This new study looked for the molecular structure of the condition. Researchers at the Harvard School of Medicine and the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston did the study. They compared gene activity in the placentas of healthy pregnant women to those of women with preeclampsia.
The researchers discovered that the women with preeclampsia produced more of one kind of protein. The name is soluble f-m-s-like tyrosine kinase one -- or, simply, S-F-L-T-one.
Early in pregnancy, the placenta makes proteins to keep it growing along with the baby. Normally, the blood supply to the placenta increases to provide more oxygen and nutrients. In preeclampsia, however, that blood supply is reduced.
S-F-L-T-one is known to restrict the growth of blood vessels. This protein is believed to halt the growth of the placenta later in a normal pregnancy. But in preeclampsia cases, researchers suspect that the body makes too much of the protein too soon. As a result, they say, extra S-F-L-T-one spills into the mother’s blood. In the study, these high amounts of the protein fell after birth.
The researchers injected S-F-L-T-one into pregnant laboratory rats. They found that these animals did, in fact, develop signs of preeclampsia.
The findings appear in the Journal of Clinical Investigation. Health experts say the discovery could lead to new ways to identify and treat preeclampsia.
Preeclampsia is also called toxemia. It generally happens after the twentieth week of pregnancy. Signs include high blood pressure and swelling of blood in the hands and feet and the face. Another sign is high levels of protein in the urine. Also, a woman may produce less liquid body waste. Other signs can include head and stomach pain, sudden weight gain, nausea, and flashing lights in the eyes.
Doctors say women with preeclampsia should rest. Treatment may also include medicines to control blood pressure and prevent seizures. But experts say early delivery of the baby is often the best treatment.
You are listening to the VOA Special English program SCIENCE IN THE NEWS. This is Sarah Long with Bob Doughty in Washington.
The World Health Organization has started a yearlong campaign to fight tuberculosis. This campaign began with the observance of World Tuberculosis Day on March twenty-fourth. W-H-O officials have three goals. One is to educate people about tuberculosis. Another is to urge people to get tested if they see signs of the disease. And the third goal is to get people to seek treatment if they are infected.
Tuberculosis is a disease caused by a bacteria that attacks the lungs but can also spread. Each year, two-million people die from T-B. Eight-million become sick. Developing countries suffer the most.
The World Health Organization estimates that about one-third of the world’s population is infected with the T-B bacteria. However, most people never get the disease. Tuberculosis becomes active in only about ten percent of those infected. Still, in nineteen-ninety-three the W-H-O declared T-B a "global emergency."
H-I-V has quickened the spread of tuberculosis. People with AIDS lose their body's defense system.
Infected people can spread tuberculosis germs from their mouth when they cough or sneeze, when they spit, or even when they talk. Signs of the disease include coughing and a high body temperature.
A person with active T-B must take medicine each day for six to nine months to halt the progression of the disease. The World Health Organization has a five-step program to guarantee that T-B patients take all their medicine. The program is called Directly Observed Treatment Short-Course, or DOTS. Health officials are working hard to expand it around the world. One aim is to fight the spread of drug-resistant forms of tuberculosis.
The W-H-O said last week that more than ten-million tuberculosis patients have now been successfully treated under DOTS. It says China and India have made a lot of progress in expanding their programs. Together these countries have almost forty percent of all T-B cases. However, the W-H-O says T-B continues to spread out of control in African countries south of the Sahara Desert.
Currently, only about a third of all tuberculosis cases are discovered and treated within the DOTS program. Health exerts hope to greatly increase that number. They also hope to raise cure rates to eighty-five percent. By doing this, officials believe the number of deaths caused by tuberculosis could be cut in half by two-thousand ten.
More than sixty countries planned major events to observe World Tuberculosis Day last week. The main message of this year’s W-H-O campaign was: “DOTS cured me – it will cure you too.” Health officials said they wanted to point out the success of the program and show the need to expand it.
This effort includes what the W-H-O calls “T-B ambassadors.” These are people who have been cured and now share their stories with others. Officials say former patients like these make the best activists.
An American who worked to develop an area of study called environmental ethics has won a major award. Holmes Rolston the Third is the winner of what was formerly called the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion.
It is now called the Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities. It is one of the world's richest awards, worth more than one-million dollars.
British businessman John Templeton established the yearly award in nineteen-seventy-two to honor people for their work in religion. Other winners have included Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Mother Teresa.
Holmes Rolston is considered a leading voice for protecting Earth’s environment as a religious duty. He is a Christian clergyman and a professor of philosophy at Colorado State University. Both his father and grandfather were clergymen.
Mister Rolston was born in the state of Virginia in nineteen-thirty-two. He grew up in an area where he says people loved both nature and their religion. He studied physics and mathematics at Davidson College in North Carolina. Later he received a doctorate in theology and religious studies from the University of Edinburgh, in Scotland. He also continued his search for a better understanding of nature.
Mister Rolston became recognized for something he published in Ethics magazine in nineteen-seventy-five. He questioned the idea that nature was free of value, and that all value was created by humans. Mister Rolston argued that nature contains values independently of humans. He also said nature should be treated with honor, as a gift from God.
In nineteen-seventy-nine, he helped to start the magazine Environmental Ethics. Today, it is a leading publication on this subject of values and the environment. He also has written a number of books.
Holmes Rolston says he will use the money from the Templeton Prize to create a teaching position at Davidson College.
Science in the News was written by Jill Moss and George Grow, and was produced by Mario Ritter. 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.