FDA creates electronic information system to boost drug, device monitoring

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is developing a new electronic information system to improve drug and medical product monitoring, Government Computer News reports. Called the Sentinel System, the data-mining technology will enable the FDA to collect information about medical products by querying electronic health records, patient registry data, insurance claims data and other major health care information databases. Specifically, the technology will link Medicare drug claims to other Medicare information on patient care such as hospitalizations and physician visits, and the collected information will become available to other federal agencies, state Medicaid programs, researchers and beneficiaries for their personal health records. According to GCN, "the technology will be created through public/private partnerships and capitalize on large, existing electronic claims and medical records data sources maintained by private and government entities that agree to participate." In addition, it will enable the FDA to analyze significantly more information and detect early signs of emerging safety problems. Created in conjunction with the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the project ultimately aims to identify possible post-market adverse health events to improve patient care nationwide (Hickey, GCN, 5/27/08).

Carbon nanoribbons may yield smaller, speedier computer chips

Stanford University researchers have developed a new strategy for making transistors out of carbon nanoribbons, a change that ultimately could lead to higher performance computer chips, Science Daily reports. Touted as the first group to do so, the Stanford research team has created field-effect transistors, which are a critical component of computer chips, using graphene—a form of carbon derived from graphite— that can operate at room temperature. Other graphene transistors, which are made with wider nanoribbons or thin films, require much lower temperatures. Because experts predict that silicon chips will reach their maximum shrinking point within the next decade, researchers have actively been searching for materials such as graphene to replace silicon as transistors continue to shrink. Published online in the May 23 issue of Physical Review Letters, the study suggests that graphene may help bridge development as computer chips shrink smaller than traditional silicon can handle. Specifically, one of the researchers suggests that graphene could supplement but not replace silicon, while another notes that graphene could be a useful material for future electronics but will probably not replace silicon anytime soon (Science Daily, 5/28/08).

New image-recognition software helps computers 'see'

MIT researchers have developed a computing system that could lead to great advances in the automated identification of online images and, ultimately, provide a basis for computers to ‘see’ in a manner similar to humans, Science Daily reports. For the study, researchers created a mathematical system that can shrink the data from a single picture. Using the system, they found that many images are recognizable even when coded into a numerical representation containing as little as 256 to 1024 bits of data. Reducing the size of an image to such small amounts of data enables ordinary PCs to search through a database of millions of images or similar pictures in less than a second, according to the lead researcher. Science Daily adds that, “unlike other methods that require first breaking down an image into sections containing different objects, this method uses the entire image, making it simple to apply to large datasets without human intervention.” Currently, the system can be applied to the most common kinds of images, such as those depicting cars, people, flowers and buildings. However, the more complex or unusual an image is, the less likely it is to be correctly matched (Science Daily, 5/26/08).

Chinese nanotechnology researchers encouraged to set up new application systems

Chinese Academy of Sciences President LU Yongxiang recently called on the National Center for Nanoscience and Technology (NCNT) to strengthen its strategic research and further clarify its strategic objectives, Nanowerk News reports. Speaking at a meeting of the NCNT governing board held on May 23 in Beijing, Lu urged nanotechnology researchers to bolster their efforts in promoting the application of nanoscience and nanotechnology in energy sources and public health, as well as information technology. In addition, he underscored the importance of nanotechnology’s impact on ecology and human health. Specifically, Lu said that the researchers should be bold enough to create a new service system and actively guide, support and drive the sound development of Chinese society (Nanowerk News, 5/27/08).

EU security agency wants social network scrutiny

The European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA), Europe's top Internet security agency, on Tuesday called for new legislation to police social networking sites, IDG News Service reports. Specifically, ENISA leaders recommended that EU legislation should be expanded "to cover the taking of photos of people and posting them on the internet," adding that currently consent is not required to, for instance, post a photo of an individual. In addition, officials noted that there is a "crucial need" to educate consumers about how social networking sites work, as many users do not know that it is nearly impossible to erase material once it has appeared on the Internet (Paul Meller, IDG News Service/Yahoo! News, 5/27/08).

Utah researchers outline business strategy to limit computer fraud

Southern Utah University researchers have developed an antifraud strategy for business, which involves educating managers about security issues, Science Daily reports. Published in the International Journal of Business Information Systems, the study indicates that opportunistic computer fraud can be minimized by raising managers' awareness and knowledge of how organizational structure can affect the effectiveness of security measures. Specifically, Science Daily notes that the “seemingly obvious solution” simply involves educating management and then “subtly communicating management's new-found knowledge to employees” (Science Daily, 5/27/08).

Biotech medical group launches $600 million research initiative

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute on Tuesday announced a $600 million, five-year initiative to fund U.S. biomedical research, the Washington Business Journal reports. The Maryland-based not-for-profit aims to discover long-term medical advances in genetics and biology through the fund, which will support 56 handpicked scientists. The 42 men and 14 women represent 31 universities and research institutions, including The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. The scientists were chosen from more than 1,000 applicants in the institute's first open competition that allowed scientists to apply directly, a strategy that officials said would help diversify the applicant pool with researchers such as physicists and engineers. Under the program, participating scientists will keep working at their current institutions but will join roughly 300 Hughes investigators (Plumb, Washington Business Journal, 5/27/08).

Copyright deal aims to toughen info rules for iPods, computers

The Canadian government is secretly working to revamp international copyright laws, negotiating changes that could make the information on Canadian iPods, laptop computers or other personal electronic devices illegal, Canwest News Service reports. Called the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), the new plan would involve joining an international coalition against copyright infringement, which already involves countries such as the United States and members of the European Union. ACTA would not only make it more difficult to travel with such technologies, but also may impose strict regulations on Internet service providers, forcing the release of customer information without a court order. According to Canwest, the agreement structure will resemble that of the North American Free Trade Agreement, though it will create rules and regulations regarding private copying and copyright laws (Pilieci, Canwest News Service, 5/26/08).

Future Apple devices may be solar powered

Employees at Apple have filed a patent for integrating solar cells into portable devices by placing them underneath the layers of a touch-sensitive display, IDG News Service reports. According to IDG, solar power can help make devices truly portable, eliminating the need for a wired connection to a power supply. IDG notes that the use of solar powered charging in portable devices is growing, citing examples such as solar-powered phone chargers from Vodafone as part of the company’s plan to cut its greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2020. Meanwhile, the Ugandan Minister for Communications and Information and Communication Technologies at the recent ITU Telecom Africa 2008 conference also addressed local plans for trials of solar-powered charging (Ricknas, IDG News Service\New York Times, 5/26/08).

Beatles may hold key to faster computers

A study from the University of Utah published this week in Physical Review E suggests that the inch-long Brazilian beetle's iridescent green scales are composed of chitin arranged by evolution in the exact molecular configuration necessary for optical computing, Wired News reports.  Unlike electrons, which are used in current computing chips, photons can cross paths without interfering with each other. This affect means that optical chips can compute in three dimensions rather than two, crunching data that now takes weeks to process in just seconds. Optical chips, however, require crystals that channel photons as nimbly as silicon channels electrons, and researchers have yet to determine how to construct the ideal photonic crystal. Until now: Wired notes that, "by using the scales as a semiconductor mold, researchers hope to finally build the perfect photonic crystal" (Keim, Wired News, 5/23/08).


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