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News Briefs II

Self-Replenishing Cell Isolated

The Washington Post

Scientists announced Thursday they had achieved one of the most coveted goals in biology by isolating from human embryos and fetuses a primitive kind of cell that can grow into every kind of human tissue, including muscle, bone and brain.

The long-awaited discovery of so-called human embryonic stem cells - the primordial human cells that give rise to all the specialized tissues in a developing fetus - was hailed by researchers as a landmark event with vast biomedical potential.

The cells multiply tirelessly in laboratory dishes, offering a self-replenishing supply from which scientists hope to grow replacement tissues for people with various diseases, including bone marrow for cancer patients, neurons for people with Alzheimer's disease, and pancreatic cells for people with diabetes.

Already, researchers have used the stem cells to grow human heart muscle cells that beat in unison in a laboratory dish, as well as blood cells, blood vessel cells, bone, cartilage, neurons and skeletal muscle.

But the cells are also giving rise to daunting legal and ethical concerns.

Stem cells are controversial because they offer embryologists a relatively simple method for creating "designer" babies bearing specific genetic traits that would become part of a child's permanent genetic lineage.

The discovery also threatens to reopen the debate over human cloning, since one of the simpler ways to grow transplantable replacement tissues from the new cells would call for a patient to be partially cloned.

Alameda County Declares State of AIDS Emergency

Los Angeles Times

Alameda County declared a local state of emergency Thursday because of the high incidence of HIV/AIDS infection among blacks, hoping to place the region at the head of the line for new federal funding aimed at staunching the epidemic.

Saying the county is the first in the United States to take such action, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the declaration, which includes a plan - but no local money - to increase awareness of the disease among blacks and to apply for state and federal funding.

Dr. Arthur Chen, county health officer, recited a litany of alarming statistics in asking for the state of emergency, noting that the AIDS rate among blacks in the county is five times that of whites and Latinos and that intravenous drug use is a major cause of the disease, particularly among women.

Although the AIDS rate overall has fallen, the discrepancy between whites and blacks with the disease cannot be ignored, Chen told the board.

The AIDS rate for blacks in Alameda County - 85.4 cases per 100,000 residents - is slightly higher than the rate nationally - 83.4 cases per 100,000, according to county and federal officials.

Nationally, the AIDS rate among blacks is eight times that of whites, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Philadelphia Gets GOP Convention, Democrats Likely to Land in L.A.

Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles has emerged as "the overwhelming favorite" to host the 2000 Democratic National Convention, party sources said, as Republican Party officials on Thursday picked Philadelphia as the site for their gathering.

Philadelphia had been a leading contender for the Democratic convention, but city officials immediately withdrew this bid after becoming the GOP pick. This, in turn, boosted Los Angeles' prospects, which already were strong.

"Philadelphia was clear and away the main rival and this leaves Los Angeles as the overwhelming favorite," said a highly placed Democrat familiar with the party's decision-making on the convention site.

Democrats remain somewhat disappointed by the amount of financial support Los Angeles offered in its bid for the convention and they are still negotiating. But the party sources say they expect to reach agreement with the city.

Los Angeles pledged $35.3 million in cash and services in return for hosting the event, expected to bring 30,000 visitors and add $137 million to the local economy.

California Tightens Emissions Laws for Pickups, Vans, and SUVs

Los Angeles Times

California's most popular new generation of cars sport utilities, pickups and minivans - will no longer be allowed to pollute the air more than conventional cars under new standards unanimously adopted Thursday by the state Air Resources Board.

Under the new rules, which will start phasing in with the 2004 model year, new cars sold in California - already the cleanest in the world - will be 75 percent cleaner on average. New models will be allowed to release only a fraction of a gram of smog-causing nitrogen oxides every mile they are driven.

The new rules will affect all new cars. But the most controversial aspect of Thursday's decision is the elimination of the separate, less-stringent emissions standard for California's trucklike cars. Currently most sport utility vehicles release 1.5 to 2.5 times more pollution than traditional cars.

The new limits will be fairly easy for automakers to meet for most cars and for light trucks - such as the Ford Explorer or Plymouth Voyager - because of improvements in electronics and catalysts. But the target is tougher for the largest vehicles - General Motors' Suburbans, Dodge Rams, Chevrolet Sierras and Ford's Expeditions and F-Series pickups.