Smart stent breakthrough

A "SMART" implant that delivers drugs to targeted parts of the body and controls how quickly they are released into the bloodstream has been developed by Australian scientists.
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Experts in nanomedicine at the University of Wollongong say the implants could remove the need for the electronics used in artificial pacemakers and cochlear implants and could revolutionise the way drugs are circulated around the body.

Dubbed "biobatteries", the smart implants build on technology already developed by the university’s Intelligent Polymer Research Institute to create a bioabsorbable stent for use in cardiac patients.

The current generation of stents are made of metal and coated with a tiny dose of a drug that slowly dissolves. The implant is permanent, has a raft of side-effects and makes it difficult to control how quickly the payload is released.

In contrast, the new biodegradable stents, which are made of magnesium alloy, gradually corrode away inside the body, producing an electrical signal that expels the drug from the polymer structure.

The director of the institute, Professor Gordon Wallace, said as the magnesium oxidises, the resulting current reverses the electrostatic charges holding the drug molecules to the stent, releasing it into the bloodstream.

To control the rate of drug delivery, the team coated the magnesium alloy with an "intelligent" biodegradable polymer that slowed its corrosion.

At a medical bionics meeting in Victoria last month, Professor Wallace said the technology could be used in any implant that corrodes, such as titanium hip joints, New Scientist reported.

"Any metal implant will undergo some corrosion when it’s put in the body and this is a new way of harnessing the electricity that comes from the corrosion," he said.

Eventually, the technology could be used to create the electromaterials required to drive bionic eyes, pacemakers, artificial muscles and nerve repairs, removing the need for an external power source.

A spokesman for the Cardiac Society, Associate Professor Andrew MacIsaac, said biodegradable stents would not only reduce the drawbacks and serious side-effects seen in permanent metallic stents, but the gradual release of anti-inflammatory medications could help prevent clotting or damage to the surrounding tissue.

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Dark days ahead for state

VITAL council services could be cut because energy companies want to dramatically increase the cost of providing public lighting.
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Light poles, cables and bulbs that keep NSW streets lit at night are supplied and maintained by Energy Australia, Integral Energy and Country Energy.

Energy Australia has approached the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) to increase the cost of providing public lighting costs by 11 per cent in July next year and by 40 per cent in 2014.

The costs, which can run into millions of dollars each year for councils, are ultimately borne by ratepayers. However, councils using Energy Australia’s public lighting say the increase could be as much as 67per cent in 2014.

These councils, which represent about 3.2 million people in parts of Sydney, the Hunter Valley and the Illawarra, spend a combined $42 million a year on public lighting.

An increase of between 40 per cent and 67 per cent would lead to total costs blowing out by between $17 million and $28 million a year.

Because the Local Government Minister sets councils’ rate increases each year – usually less than 4 per cent – it is unlikely the increased public lighting costs could be incorporated into rates.

"These increases that are being foisted upon us – the only response councils can have is to reduce services to the community," said David Lewis, the general manager of the Southern Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils, which represents 15 councils and is leading the campaign against the price rises.

"It could be anything – a few library books, less maintenance on playing fields, decreased service levels in community support."

An Energy Australia spokesman said it was currently subsidising street lighting to councils by about $1.7 million a year. The proposed increased costs would better reflect the real value of the service, he said.

Integral Energy and Country Energy have also sought to increase their charges. The regulator has asked all three companies to resubmit their proposed cost increases by early next year.

"In the end, it is up to the independent umpire – the AER – to make the decision about the fair cost of street lighting services over the next five years," the Energy Australia spokesman said.

Rees gets thumbs down

VOTERS have given the first 100 days of Nathan Rees’s premiership the thumbs down.
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Mr Rees had promised he would give the leadership of NSW "a red-hot go". But his efforts have received a response best described as lukewarm.

In an informal poll of 730 readers, 39 per cent rated his performance as satisfactory. A further 33 per cent described his time as leader as poor.

Mr Rees has been dogged by the dumping of ministers Tony Stewart and Matt Brown, the messy departure from politics of Reba Meagher, the Ryde byelection loss, fallout over public transport, and negative reaction to the November mini-budget.

This period of time has failed to impress the readers randomly sampled over a two-day period last week.

About 62 per cent believed the economic measures undertaken by the ALP Government would fail to restore the state’s flagging fortunes.

Asked who would be the better economic manager, 9 per cent nominated the Rees-led Labor Government. However, only 31 per cent said Barry O’Farrell would make a better premier and only 36 per cent warmed to the promise of his economic rule.

Fifty-four per cent said neither man was suited to be premier. But Mr Rees was upbeat yesterday when presented with the poll results.

"I’ve certainly physically and intellectually given everything I could have given and that won’t stop c" he said.

"The key decisions for me are the universal eyesight testing for four-year-olds so that we can pick up problems, that’s a key one; $56 million for new commuter car parks around the city; 630 new selective high-school places for rural students; scholarships for apprentices; $3000 boost for first-home buyers; 80 specialist teachers to help kids with autism; $150 million for school security and toilet blocks; 700 new train carriages and hundreds of new buses; $56 billion worth of infrastructure that will underpin 150,000 jobs each year as together we work for this state.

"This is a period of international instability. It’s my job as well as business leaders’ to look the rest of the world in the eye and say: ‘NSW is the greatest state in the world."’

Mr O’Farrell described the Premier’s first 100 days as "confusing".

"I don’t think a lot has changed from his predecessors," he said yesterday. "He still leads a Government focused on Macquarie Street and winning the next election and not on the needs or interests of families in Macquarie Fields or Port Macquarie.

"He promised improved services and cuts rail links to the north-west and south-west. Other services continue to be cut. It’s a third-generation Labor Government and I don’t think the state’s getting value.

"From the moment I was elected leader, the constant message to the party room is that every week must be a week where we demonstrate competency to the electorate.

"In 2007 we failed to give them a party or Coalition that they could vote for c We have proved ourselves effective at holding the Government to account and showing ourselves to be a united team. I think Nathan Rees has added ‘red-hot go’ to the lexicon of political language in NSW but c I think it’s ice-cold." THE HIGHS ¡ October Premier announces a $4billion CBD metro line from Central Station to Rozelle.

¡ October Premier gets tough on alcohol-related violence in pubs.

¡ October Launch of Master Events calendar – five "anchor events" held each year.

¡ October $99million medical research and education centre opens at Royal North Shore Hospital.

¡ November Public school pupils to get a laptop to keep. THE LOWS

¡ September Police minister Matt Brown dumped after drunkenly dancing in his underpants.

¡ October Premier reeling from shelving of $12billion North-West Metro and South-West Rail Link.

¡ October Government suffers 19-point swing against it in three byelections.

¡ November Assistant health minister Tony Stewart axed amid claims he shouted at a staffer and touched her leg.

¡ November Commissioner Peter Garling warns health system is on brink of collapse.

¡ November Massage parlour above the Premier’s electoral office found to be an illegal brothel.

Lauded hero arrested over hotel incident

A MAN hailed for his bravery after rescuing a drowning Korean student found the adulation shortlived after ending up in a police cell days later.
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Daniel Raymond McVey, 26, was featured on the front page of his home town’s newspaper, portrayed as a reluctant hero two weeks ago.

Days later the rescuer earned a different kind of fame after appearing in Coffs Harbour Local Court, where police unsuccessfully sought to have bail refused. His alleged crime: possessing a taser inside the popular Pier Hotel, where a mate allegedly discharged the electric shock weapon.

It was a very different story earlier in the week, when police were considering McVey for a bravery award nomination.

Of the rescue, McVey told The Coffs Coast Advocate he broke from enjoying a builders’ picnic day to rescue the woman.

She had entered Coffs Creek and was struggling. By the time he reached the student she was lapsing in and out of consciousness.

"I got to her and put her on her side as I swam her to the edge of the creek," he said. "I got her to the edge and had help from bystanders to drag her up. They had already rung the ambulance."

McVey began to clear the woman’s airways and placed her in the recovery position. "A nurse came and took over. I was stuffed," he said.

Four nights later, on Friday, December 5, police arrested the local hero and a 23-year-old man and seized a taser after it was allegedly discharged inside the Pier Hotel.

Police were called in response to reports that a man had activated a taser in the building, then had allegedly threatened a woman on the street, between 9pm and 9.30pm.

McVey and the other man were found in nearby Collingwood Street a short time later. They allegedly ran into a unit but were arrested after capsicum spray was used to subdue them.

Police will allege a taser was located during a search of the unit. The men were taken to Coffs Harbour police station, where they were charged.

McVey has been charged with possession and use of a prohibited weapon and resisting arrest.

The 23-year-old man was charged with indecent assault, possession of a prohibited weapon, use of a prohibited weapon and resisting arrest.

The men, both from Coffs Harbour, were granted bail to appear in court again on January 12.

Oil cheaper than water as consumption falls

AFTER a year of historic price highs, raw oil now costs less than bottled water.
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Australians have cut back their petrol consumption by 6000 barrels a month, pushing prices down to their lowest since early 2004.

World oil was trading at $US43 ($65) a barrel during last week, now closing in on its long-term average range of $US25 to $US35 a barrel, adjusted to inflation, not seen in almost half a decade.

With 158 litres to a barrel of oil, the raw product has dropped below the price of the cheapest bottled water – a 12-litre bottle of Northbrook water retailing for $4.99 at Aldi – 41cents compared to 42 cents a litre.

Figures from the International Energy Agency show that demand for petrol products in Australia has been falling since January, as high interest rates and high living costs began to take their effect.

The most recent figures for October, show demand has fallen to about 327,000 barrels a month, down from 333,000 barrels in January.

CSIRO modelling estimated that if oil prices were sustained at $US100 a barrel it would have restricted economic growth by 3 per cent – knocking Australia firmly into recession territory – relative to prices at $US35 a barrel.

The fall in consumption has been a short-term boon for the environment but it has come at the expense of the fledgling biofuels industry.

Paul Graham, a senior adviser in the CSIRO’s Energy Futures project, estimated that the sharp price rises resulted in a de facto carbon price of upwards of $200 a tonne, much larger than the $23 to $32 range that Treasury has predicted for the introduction of trading in mid-2010.

"All the movements in the oil prices are much larger than the future carbon price," he said. "When you see a rise of upwards of 50 per cent [in petrol prices], that is obviously quite substantial. We know that kilometres travelled did flatten out as that began to take effect."

The CSIRO has predicted that pure unleaded petrol products by 2030 will be almost entirely replaced with ethanol blends and diesel vehicles that can achieve greater fuel efficiencies.

But Mr Graham said that move will be delayed – at least in the short-term – as oil prices continue to fall.

"Certainly expectations of future prices play a big role and there’s a big dip since the financial crisis has unfolded," he said. "But a lot of these [forecasts] are long-term and business, too, will take a long view.

"At the moment, the risk for major investment in alternative fuel products is very high so low prices would tend to delay those investments while there is volatility."

Bruce Harrison, chief executive of Biofuels Association of Australia, said the price falls have put a huge strain on refining margins just as the industry attempts to boost production by more than 20 per cent to 245million litres a year.

"Certainly the fall in oil prices makes it harder for every one in the industry. Everyone’s margins are down," he said. "Our view is that the world economy starts to pick up, demand will pick up."

But experts have warned that the price falls may be short lived. The US Energy Information Administration predicted prices to stabilise at around $US63 throughout 2009.

Jack the lad: why parents pick this boys’ name

IT’S a name that is solid, masculine, easy to spell, and easy to love – and parents don’t give a damn if everyone else feels the same way.
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Jack has topped the list of popular male baby names in NSW for the fifth consecutive year.

The name reached peak popularity in Australia in the 1920s, then waned until it returned in the 1980s. Since the start of the decade, it has hovered around the top of the list every year.

NSW Registry of Births Deaths & Marriages spokeswoman Alana Sheil said its popularity was easy to explain.

“People just love the sound of that name. It comes across as very Aussie, it’s easy to spell, it’s cute for a little boy but strong for an adult,” Ms Sheil said.

In contrast, the top girls’ name for 2008 is a relative newcomer, Mia. The name was virtually non-existent in Australia before 1970 and as recently as 2002 still languished near the bottom of the top 100 list.

In 2003 it suddenly emerged at No.11 and has been rising ever since – no doubt helped by the fact that Bec and Lleyton Hewitt named their daughter Mia in 2005, the year it first entered the top 10.

Other popular names this year included Isabella, with derivatives Isabelle and Isabel as well as similar-sounding names Ella and Bella all in the top 100.

A report on names published by McCrindle Research this year found only 17 per cent of newborns took a name from a celebrity, while 66 per cent were named after a family member, 17 per cent after friends and 12 per cent after historical figures.

The mothers of the five Jacks photographed by The Sun-Herald last week all loved the strength and simplicity of the moniker.

Deanne Omar, mother of Jack Somerville, 8 months, said she liked the fact that the name could not be abbreviated.

Sylvia Myers named her Jack, 20 months, after his great-grandfather.

Alex Carlton, mother of Jack Walsh, 2, said she knew the name was popular, but did not care: “It’s honest and straightforward – we loved it.”

Lisa Kilby, mother of Jack, 3, was also unperturbed by the name’s popularity. “It really suits him,” she said. For Melanie Gittany, mother of Jack, 4, the appeal was simple: “It’s a good, strong name.” TOP 10 FOR 2008

Slip, slop, slap on the wrist over sun

INCREASED publicity about the link between vitamin D deficiency and a range of health problems has caused some Australians to scale back their sun protection, putting them at higher risk of skin cancer, an alarming new study has found.
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The survey of 2100 people by the Queensland Cancer Council found about one-third of people aged 20 to 75 years believed fair-skinned adults and children needed at least 30 minutes a day in the summer sun to maintain adequate vitamin D levels.

But a group of skin, bone and cancer experts agree most Australians need only a few minutes of sunlight on their face, arms and hands in the sun to get enough vitamin D – and any more in summer puts them at increased risk of skin cancer.

It comes as a review by the International Agency for Research on Cancer finds there is no evidence that vitamin D deficiency raises the risk of prostate or breast cancer despite many epidemiological and preclinical studies around the world suggesting a link. However, there is a link for colorectal cancer.

"Anecdotally, a lot of the news on vitamin D has been used as a bit of an excuse by people who like going out into the sun to get more sun," Australasian College of Dermatologists honorary secretary Stephen Shumack said.

The survey, presented at the annual meeting of the Clinical Oncological Society of Australia, found more than 20 per cent of respondents had reduced their own sun protection behaviours and 14 per cent had lessened the slip, slop, slap regime for their children in response to reports about vitamin D deficiency.

But Dr Shumack, a consultant at Royal North Shore Hospital, said the message about vitamin D deficiency hasn’t been reaching the people who would benefit from getting additional sun exposure – particularly dark-skinned people, veiled women, babies and infants of vitamin D deficient mothers and nursing-home patients.

Australia has the highest incidence of skin cancer in the world. Sun exposure is the cause of about 99 per of non-melanoma skin cancers and 95 per cent of melanomas here.

Low levels of vitamin D, which is mainly synthesised from UV light, has also been linked to depression, osteoporosis and overall risk of death. #But the IARC review said an individual’s deficiency could simply be a consequence, or marker, of poor health, rather than the cause, and supplementation is then unlikely to prevent disease or improve health.

The safest way to maintain adequate vitamin D levels is by eating fortified foods such as milk and oily fish or taking a supplement rather than getting more sun exposure, the Australian and New Zealand Bone and Mineral Society, Osteoporosis Australia, the College of Dermatologists and the Cancer Council Australia, said in a joint statement.

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Desperately seeking bush doctors

THE dire state of Australia’s rural health-care system will be revealed in a television series to be screened overseas.
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Desperately Seeking Doctors , a three-part series starting on SBS next month, follows the experiences of doctors working in the bush.

They include GP Mary Fortune, who leaves Scotland to work in Kalgoorlie; Indian-born Alan Majid, who quits his small country town job four months into a three-year contract after losing his patience with local bureaucracy; and final year medical student Nabilah Islam, who is doing her rural practice term with him.

The Australian Medical Association hopes the series will shed light on challenges facing country doctors.

There are more than 1800 doctor vacancies in rural Australia – more than 200 in NSW. AMA president Rosanna Capolingua said it is likely they will never be filled.

"If you are in medicine you can’t open up shop at 9am and close at 5pm," Dr Capolingua said.

"You are on call 24/7. It’s enormously challenging. That said, it’s also very rewarding. There are many doctors who enjoy the engagement with their patients and the responsibility and the lifestyle."

However, the president of the Rural Doctors Association, NSW branch, Ian Kamerman, said many graduates spurn the bush in favour of a more stable appointment in the city or overseas.

Over the past 15 years, fewer than 5 per cent of Queensland and NSW medical graduates have worked in rural areas.

"The thing with rural doctors is it’s like shuffling deckchairs on the Titanic," Dr Kamerman said. "If one person retires or leaves, we have to fill that spot by taking a doctor away from another country town. There is just a chronic shortage."

And the doctors who do stay in the bush are getting older – their average age is 55. The average age of specialists in the bush, such as anaesthetists, obstetricians and surgeons is near 60.

While the AMA is actively recruiting foreign doctors to work in rural areas by advertising in publications such as the British Medical Journal , Dr Kamerman is not sure overseas-trained doctors are the answer to the crisis.

"The last thing you want is to recruit someone from overseas with no orientation," he said.

"They end up being helicoptered into a remote town and they certainly find it a struggle."

Rural doctors work an average of 56 hours a week, with 40 per cent working more than 60 hours a week.

Our kids in worst class of bullies

BULLYING in Australian primary schools is in the worst category in the world, a new study of education standards has found.
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In the Trends In International Mathematics And Science Study , which surveyed schools in about 40 countries, more than a quarter of Australian year 4 students said they had suffered bullying.

The results have alarmed child-health experts and education bodies, which have been running strict anti-bullying programs in schools over the past six years.

Australian primary school students suffer bullying at a rate of almost 50 per cent above the international average, putting Australia in the worst category for bullying. Of the 36 countries sampled in the survey of year 4 students, only Kuwait, Qatar, Taiwan and New Zealand fared worse than Australia.

The research, which showed Australia lagging behind its neighbours and even Kazakhstan in maths and science education, found more than a quarter of Australian year 4 students had been bullied in at least three ways in the month before they were tested. The study was produced by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement. Students were asked whether they had experienced any of five antisocial behaviours in the past month: whether something of theirs had been stolen, whether they had been hurt by other students, whether they had been made to do things against their will, whether they had been teased and whether they had been excluded by others.

In Australia, where almost 460 schools took part in the study, 26percent of year 4 students had encountered at least three of the behaviours in the month in question.

Internationally, 42 per cent of primary students said they had experienced none of the behaviours. In Australia it was less than 33 per cent.

NSW Education Minister Verity Firth would not say whether she was surprised by the figures but said she had strengthened principals’ powers to deal with bullying, increasing suspension periods to 20 days.

"NSW schools are safe places and bullying and stealing are not tolerated," a spokesman for the minister said.

"Every school is required to have an anti-bullying plan. As part of the new annual school reports, principals must now also detail for parents the actions they are taking to stamp out this intolerable behaviour."

The results alarmed the president of the Federation of Parents and Citizens Associations of NSW, Dianne Giblin, who called for strengthening of anti-bullying policies. "Those figures are of huge concern," she said.

"We have some very strong anti-bullying policies in place but schools need to ensure they implement these programs. They need to be reminded of them. The policy needs to be reiterated to students."

NSW Teachers Federation acting president Bob Lipscombe said anti-bullying policies in schools were working.

"There is a great deal of evidence to show that anti-bullying programs are effective," he said.

However, Stacey Waters, a research fellow at the Child Health Promotion Research Centre at Edith Cowan University in Perth, said there had been no significant change in the prevalence of bullying in Australia. It was the type of bullying that had changed.

"Eighty-three per cent of kids who are face-to-face bullied are also cyber bullied," she said.

‘They didn’t have to kill Tyler’

THE mother of Tyler Cassidy, the teenager gunned down while menacing police with knives, rejected claims they had no alternative other than to shoot.
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Speaking publicly for the first time since her 15-year-old son’s death on Thursday night she said: "He was only 5 foot 7 inches, [1.7 metres] he weighed only 58 kilograms and 10 bullets were fired at him.

"His life was taken from him unnecessarily and prematurely. His fate was not destined for the hands of police," Shani Cassidy said.

At a press conference at her Melbourne home, she said she warned police 30 minutes before the shooting that Tyler had left the house in a confused and distressed state.

"I had faith that the system would protect him from harm. That system failed him."

Yesterday, Tyler’s MySpace site was inundated with more than 400 condolence messages from family and friends, including members of the anti-immigration group, Southern Cross Soldiers.

His mother angrily denied accusations he was involved in the nationalist group.

"He was a 15-year-old school boy. His views were still developing. He attended a multicultural school and many of Tyler’s friends have come to my house in tears," Mrs Cassidy said.

Monash University criminologist and police expert Colleen Lewis urged Victoria Police to examine the strategies and techniques employed to defuse explosive situations.

Associate Professor Lewis said training programs needed to equip officers with the skills to undertake an initial risk assessment, followed by a planned response that included the "containment and cordon" of volatile incidents involving knives.

She said an official 2005 police report had noted a number of "disturbing similarities" and "recurring themes" surrounding the 42 fatal police shootings since 1987.

But Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Tim Cartwright said the police had only seconds to respond on Thursday night.

"You have police who are backing off, a young man extremely agitated with two knives and three of them obviously saw the need to fire."

Melissa Kennedy, the wife of a Shepparton man shot dead by police in 2005, said her husband’s death, and that of Tyler, could have been averted if officers were equipped with stun guns.

She said the teenager would still be alive and "those poor police officers would not have to go through with the horrible thought that, ‘Oh no, I’ve killed somebody’ for the rest of their lives".

The stun guns, which deliver a 50,000-volt shock, have been linked with several deaths in the US.