Feeds

Sensible, practical anti-terror tech shocker

Federal boffins deploy 'DON'T PANIC' machine

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

US federal boffins reckon they could be on the track of an easy-to-use kit or sensor which could tell if people had been exposed to nerve gas or other chemical weapons. This would allow medics dealing with victims of possible future terror attacks to separate out genuine casualties from the swarms of "worried well."

Principal investigator Yuehe Lin of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) says that his team of brainboxes are developing an “electrochemical immunoassay approach.”

According to the PNNL release, this is done just as one would expect: by removing the iron from a nanoparticle-sized ball of the protein ferrin, creating an empty "cage" called apoferritin. Naturally the cage is then "loaded" with another metal, for instance cadmium. The cadmium-filled cage is attached to one end of the reporting antibody, and - hey presto - the immuno-reaction product becomes electroactive.

Which is good. Apparently.

"The [scientific thing] is amplified several hundreds to a thousand times because of the [other scientific thing we have done]," Lin said. "This level of sensitivity will allow detectors to [do some major scientific stuff]."

Okay, we didn't really understand. But the end result is simple enough. All this nano-cage electroimmunoassay business will result in "a portable biomonitor to rapidly evaluate tiny samples of blood or saliva for exposure to nerve agents."

That would be very useful indeed. As an example, the 1995 Tokyo subway nerve-gas attack produced very few genuine serious casualties. Most victims suffered only passing vision impairment, and just 54 people were seriously affected, with an eventual death toll of 12.

But quite apart from the actual casualties, there was a huge psychological impact, leading to headlines claiming that thousands were poisoned. According to the Stimson Center report on the incident:

"Roughly 85 percent of those reporting to hospitals in the aftermath of the sarin attack were psychogenic patients, also called the worried well. These psychogenic patients had no real chemical injuries, but they nonetheless clamored for medical attention. Thus, doctors and nurses faced the multiple challenges of distinguishing truly injured from worried well ..."

But now, if the PNNL research bears fruit, the fright factor of such attacks - the main impact they produce - could be much reduced or even nullified. If 9 out of 10 people who thought they'd been gassed could be quickly checked and told they were fine, the magnitude of the incident reduces to much less than than of an ordinary bombing, or even an accidental fire or train crash. The terrorist is robbed of almost all his terror.

Apparently, Lin's five-year biosensor programme is costing the US taxpayers just $3.5m; and it seems likely to reduce the nerve-gas terror threat very significantly indeed, unlike many a more expensive and ambitious programme. All in all, a nice change from mind probes, puke rays and dirty-bomb hype.

This ought to be as popular as the Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which famously scored over its rivals by having the words "don't panic" inscribed in large, friendly letters on its cover.®

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
Renewable energy 'simply WON'T WORK': Top Google engineers
Windmills, solar, tidal - all a 'false hope', say Stanford PhDs
FORGET the CLIMATE: FATTIES are a MUCH BIGGER problem - study
Fat guy? Drink or smoke? You're worse than a TERRORIST
SEX BEAST SEALS may be egging each other on to ATTACK PENGUINS
Boffin: 'I think the behaviour is increasing in frequency'
HUMAN DNA 'will be FOUND ON MOON' – rockin' boffin Brian Cox
Crowdfund plan to stimulate Blighty's space programme
Post-pub nosh neckfiller: The MIGHTY Scotch egg
Off to the boozer? This delicacy might help mitigate the effects
I'M SO SORRY, sobs Rosetta Brit boffin in 'sexist' sexy shirt storm
'He is just being himself' says proud mum of larger-than-life physicist
NASA launches new climate model at SC14
75 days of supercomputing later ...
Britain's HUMAN DNA-strewing Moon mission rakes in £200k
3 days, and Kickstarter moves lander 37% nearer takeoff
prev story

Whitepapers

Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Getting ahead of the compliance curve
Learn about new services that make it easy to discover and manage certificates across the enterprise and how to get ahead of the compliance curve.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.