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News Briefs

Energy Problems Seen for Summer


The United States is headed for another summer of energy woes, experts agree, from rolling blackouts in California to the threat of electricity price spikes in New York City and higher gasoline prices in the Midwest.

Those problems likely will worsen in the next several years unless the energy industry spends billions of dollars on creating a stronger network of pipelines, refineries and power grids to produce and distribute energy.

But some leading energy analysts are questioning more dramatic assertions by President Bush and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham: that the country is in the worst energy crisis since the oil shocks of the 1970s, and that it must accelerate domestic oil and gas production to reduce dependency on foreign suppliers.

Most of the country’s energy problems are cyclical, energy analysts say -- the expected fallout from rock-bottom energy prices in the late 1990s that slowed or halted investments in energy production and distribution networks.

“There’s plenty of crude oil around,” said Philip K. Verleger Jr., a California-based economist and oil analyst. “What we have is an infrastructure problem: not enough pipelines, transmission lines, generating capacity, refining capacity or ships to move (energy) products.”

Guy Caruso, who directed a global energy assessment for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the energy infrastructure problems must be addressed over the long term. “I’m always a bit uncomfortable with the word ‘crisis,’ ” Caruso said. “It tends to conjure up an urgency and immediacy.”

Fat Cells Show Promise in Joint Repair and Parkinson’s Disease


Fat, the great American obsession, might aid treatments for a variety of conditions, from cartilage implants in damaged knees to brain implants for Parkinson’s disease and strokes, researchers report Tuesday.

A team of researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of Pittsburgh has isolated stem cells -- primitive cells with the potential to become virtually any type of tissue -- from fat collected by liposuction and converted them into bone, cartilage and muscle.

At a time when the Bush administration appears inclined to ban the use of embryonic stem cells from aborted tissues, the new research reported in Tuesday’s edition of Tissue Engineering offers an alternative source that could be more plentiful and less controversial.

“This could take the air right out of the debate about embryonic stem cells,” said Dr. Mark Hedrick of UCLA, the lead author. The newly identified cells have so many different potential applications, he added, that “it makes it hard to argue that we should use embryonic cells.”

“This is extremely significant in terms of its potential,” said Dr. Michael T. Longaker of Stanford University. “Unfortunately, fat is a substantial natural resource in the USA. This is a great way to do something with it.”