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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
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Monday, May 21, 2007

Today's Globe: polio fight, albatross flight, gene quest, health coach, science translator, wind farm flap, Hologic-Cytyc deal

Skeptics wonder whether a third failure to eradicate polio would doom the ambitious two-decade effort, which has cost $5.3 billion so far and is appealing to donor nations for funds at a time when other diseases such as AIDS and malaria are consuming global health resources.

albatross150.bmpAfter weeks of care at the Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine -- and then a long, bumpy ride in the back of a van driven by wildlife doctor Flo Tseng -- the yellow-nosed albatross, thousands of miles from its true home, waddled warily yesterday from a dog carrier box onto the rain-spattered sands of Old Silver Beach. Then it spread its 6 1/2-foot span of wings to achieve "lift" from the wind. It was airborne in an instant, veering sharply down coast, harried by seagulls and scolding crows.

Medical research is undergoing a sea change in its approach to linking genes to disease. Instead of hunting individual mutant genes -- a painstaking, expensive process -- researchers are more often turning to genome-wide association, a bold, computer-driven technique that allows for fast, cheap scanning of vast regions of DNA for anomalies that can make people more susceptible to a disease or even directly trigger illness.

Laura, a computer-generated character, raises and knits her eyebrows, nods her head ever so gently, and almost seems to sigh as she commiserates with a patient over how challenging it is to remember to take pills or get out for a walk. A virtual health coach, she asks questions of patients and responds empathetically and encouragingly to their answers.

muniappan150.bmpA doctorate in genetic toxicology doesn't have to mean a life squirreled away among test tubes. That's the lesson in the career of Brindha Muniappan (left), a health science educator at Boston's Museum of Science. "I'm a scientist," says Muniappan, 34, who taught environmental toxicology at the University of Guam. "Working on specific mutations was great," she says. "But I realized I wanted to talk about a lot of other topics."

You don't have to propose a 130-turbine wind farm in the middle of Nantucket Sound to cause a controversy. In Fairhaven, two proposed turbines behind the town's wastewater treatment plant have earned the wrath of a vocal group of residents who say the whirring blades will be too noisy and cast flickering shadows on homes during sunsets.

Two medical device companies, Hologic Inc. and Cytyc Corp., have agreed to a $6.2 billion deal that will create a women's healthcare powerhouse in Boston's suburbs, they said yesterday.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:27 AM
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