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2 sep 11    Une bombe intelligente contre le cancer, Le Temps , Pierre-Yves Frei
12.Jul 11   Stammzellen können den Ausbau von Verbindungen zwischen Hirnzellen anregen, NZZ, SDA
1.Jun 11   Vergessener Alpenmediziner aus dem Engadin, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Heini Hofmann
30 Mar 11   Cellphone Radiation May Alter Your Brain - Let’s Talk, NYT, KATE MURPHY
28.Nov 10   Die Salbe, die Knochen und Wunden wieder heilt, Die Welt, Ela Dobrinkat
14 Apr 10   Israel's Declining Sperm Quality Tied to Depleted Uranium Exposure,,Tim King
7 Apr 10   PTSD, infertility and other consequences of war, SFBayView, Bob Nichols
11 May 09   Study: Quality of Israeli sperm down 40% in past decade, Haaretz, Ofri Ilani
13 Jan 08   Across America, Deadly Echoes of Foreign Battles, NYT, DEBORAH SONTAG et al.

January 13, 2008

War Torn
Across America, Deadly Echoes of Foreign Battles

Late one night in the summer of 2005, Matthew Sepi, a 20-year-old Iraq combat veteran, headed out to a 7-Eleven in the seedy Las Vegas neighborhood where he had settled after leaving the Army.

This particular 7-Eleven sits in the shadow of the Stratosphere casino-hotel in a section of town called the Naked City. By day, the area, littered with malt liquor cans, looks depressed but not menacing. By night, it becomes, in the words of a local homicide detective, “like Falluja.”

Mr. Sepi did not like to venture outside too late. But, plagued by nightmares about an Iraqi civilian killed by his unit, he often needed alcohol to fall asleep. And so it was that night, when, seized by a gut feeling of lurking danger, he slid a trench coat over his slight frame — and tucked an assault rifle inside it.

“Matthew knew he shouldn’t be taking his AK-47 to the 7-Eleven,” Detective Laura Andersen said, “but he was scared to death in that neighborhood, he was military trained and, in his mind, he needed the weapon to protect himself.”

Head bowed, Mr. Sepi scurried down an alley, ignoring shouts about trespassing on gang turf. A battle-weary grenadier who was still legally under-age, he paid a stranger to buy him two tall cans of beer, his self-prescribed treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

As Mr. Sepi started home, two gang members, both large and both armed, stepped out of the darkness. Mr. Sepi said in an interview that he spied the butt of a gun, heard a boom, saw a flash and “just snapped.”

In the end, one gang member lay dead, bleeding onto the pavement. The other was wounded. And Mr. Sepi fled, “breaking contact” with the enemy, as he later described it. With his rifle raised, he crept home, loaded 180 rounds of ammunition into his car and drove until police lights flashed behind him.

“Who did I take fire from?” he asked urgently. Wearing his Army camouflage pants, the diminutive young man said he had been ambushed and then instinctively “engaged the targets.” He shook. He also cried.

“I felt very bad for him,” Detective Andersen said.

Nonetheless, Mr. Sepi was booked, and a local newspaper soon reported: “Iraq veteran arrested in killing.”

Town by town across the country, headlines have been telling similar stories. Lakewood, Wash.: “Family Blames Iraq After Son Kills Wife.” Pierre, S.D.: “Soldier Charged With Murder Testifies About Postwar Stress.” Colorado Springs: “Iraq War Vets Suspected in Two Slayings, Crime Ring.”

Individually, these are stories of local crimes, gut-wrenching postscripts to the war for the military men, their victims and their communities. Taken together, they paint the patchwork picture of a quiet phenomenon, tracing a cross-country trail of death and heartbreak.

The New York Times found 121 cases in which veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed a killing in this country, or were charged with one, after their return from war. In many of those cases, combat trauma and the stress of deployment — along with alcohol abuse, family discord and other attendant problems — appear to have set the stage for a tragedy that was part destruction, part self-destruction.

Three-quarters of these veterans were still in the military at the time of the killing. More than half the killings involved guns, and the rest were stabbings, beatings, strangulations and bathtub drownings. Twenty-five offenders faced murder, manslaughter or homicide charges for fatal car crashes resulting from drunken, reckless or suicidal driving.

About a third of the victims were spouses, girlfriends, children or other relatives, among them 2-year-old Krisiauna Calaira Lewis, whose 20-year-old father slammed her against a wall when he was recuperating in Texas from a bombing near Falluja that blew off his foot and shook up his brain.

A quarter of the victims were fellow service members, including Specialist Richard Davis of the Army, who was stabbed repeatedly and then set ablaze, his body hidden in the woods by fellow soldiers a day after they all returned from Iraq.

And the rest were acquaintances or strangers, among them Noah P. Gamez, 21, who was breaking into a car at a Tucson motel when an Iraq combat veteran, also 21, caught him, shot him dead and then killed himself outside San Diego with one of several guns found in his car.

Tracking the Killings
The Pentagon does not keep track of such killings, most of which are prosecuted not by the military justice system but by civilian courts in state after state. Neither does the Justice Department.

To compile and analyze its list, The Times conducted a search of local news reports, examined police, court and military records and interviewed the defendants, their lawyers and families, the victims’ families and military and law enforcement officials.

This reporting most likely uncovered only the minimum number of such cases, given that not all killings, especially in big cities and on military bases, are reported publicly or in detail. Also, it was often not possible to determine the deployment history of other service members arrested on homicide charges.

The Times used the same methods to research homicides involving all active-duty military personnel and new veterans for the six years before and after the present wartime period began with the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

This showed an 89 percent increase during the present wartime period, to 349 cases from 184, about three-quarters of which involved Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. The increase occurred even though there have been fewer troops stationed in the United States in the last six years and the American homicide rate has been, on average, lower.

The Pentagon was given The Times’s roster of homicides. It declined to comment because, a spokesman, Lt. Col. Les Melnyk, said, the Department of Defense could not duplicate the newspaper’s research. Further, Colonel Melnyk questioned the validity of comparing prewar and wartime numbers based on news media reports, saying that the current increase might be explained by “an increase in awareness of military service by reporters since 9/11.” He also questioned the value of “lumping together different crimes such as involuntary manslaughter with first-degree homicide.”

Given that many veterans rebound successfully from their war experiences and some flourish as a result of them, veterans groups have long deplored the attention paid to the minority of soldiers who fail to readjust to civilian life.

After World War I, the American Legion passed a resolution asking the press “to subordinate whatever slight news value there may be in playing up the ex-service member angle in stories of crime or offense against the peace.” An article in the Veterans of Foreign Wars magazine in 2006 referred with disdain to the pervasive “wacko-vet myth,” which, veterans say, makes it difficult for them to find jobs.

Clearly, committing homicide is an extreme manifestation of dysfunction for returning veterans, many of whom struggle in quieter ways, with crumbling marriages, mounting debt, deepening alcohol dependence or more-minor tangles with the law.

But these killings provide a kind of echo sounding for the profound depths to which some veterans have fallen, whether at the bottom of a downward spiral or in a sudden burst of violence.

Thirteen of these veterans took their own lives after the killings, and two more were fatally shot by the police. Several more attempted suicide or expressed a death wish, like Joshua Pol, a former soldier convicted of vehicular homicide, who told a judge in Montana in 2006, “To be honest with you, I really wish I had died in Iraq.”

In some of the cases involving veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, the fact that the suspect went to war bears no apparent relationship to the crime committed or to the prosecution and punishment. But in many of the cases, the deployment of the service member invariably becomes a factor of some sort as the legal system, families and communities grapple to make sense of the crimes.

This is especially stark where a previously upstanding young man — there is one woman among the 121 — appears to have committed a random act of violence. And The Times’s analysis showed that the overwhelming majority of these young men, unlike most civilian homicide offenders, had no criminal history.

“When they’ve been in combat, you have to suspect immediately that combat has had some effect, especially with people who haven’t shown these tendencies in the past,” said Robert Jay Lifton, a lecturer in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School/Cambridge Health Alliance who used to run “rap groups” for Vietnam veterans and fought to earn recognition for what became known as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

“Everything is multicausational, of course,” Dr. Lifton continued. “But combat, especially in a counterinsurgency war, is such a powerful experience that to discount it would be artificial.”

Few of these 121 war veterans received more than a cursory mental health screening at the end of their deployments, according to interviews with the veterans, lawyers, relatives and prosecutors. Many displayed symptoms of combat trauma after their return, those interviews show, but they were not evaluated for or received a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder until after they were arrested for homicides.

What is clear is that experiences on the streets of Baghdad and Falluja shadowed these men back to places like Longview, Tex., and Edwardsville, Ill.

“He came back different” is the shared refrain of the defendants’ family members, who mention irritability, detachment, volatility, sleeplessness, excessive drinking or drug use, and keeping a gun at hand.

“You are unleashing certain things in a human being we don’t allow in civic society, and getting it all back in the box can be difficult for some people,” said William C. Gentry, an Army reservist and Iraq veteran who works as a prosecutor in San Diego County.

When Archie O’Neil, a gunnery sergeant in the Marines, returned from a job handling dead bodies in Iraq, he became increasingly paranoid, jumpy and fearful — moving into his garage, eating M.R.E.’s, wearing his camouflage uniform, drinking heavily and carrying a gun at all times, even to answer the doorbell.

“It was like I put one person on a ship and sent him over there, and they sent me a totally different person back,” Monique O’Neil, his wife, testified.

A well-respected and decorated noncommissioned officer who did not want to endanger his chances for advancement, Sergeant O’Neil did not seek help for the PTSD that would later be diagnosed by government psychologists. “The Marine way,” his lawyer said at a preliminary hearing, “was to suck it up.”

On the eve of his second deployment to Iraq in 2004, Sergeant O’Neil fatally shot his mistress, Kimberly O’Neal, after she threatened to kill his family while he was gone.

During a military trial at Camp Pendleton, Calif., a Marine defense lawyer argued that “the ravages of war” provided the “trigger” for the killing. In 2005, a military jury convicted Sergeant O’Neil of murder but declined to impose the minimum sentence, life with the possibility of parole, considering it too harsh. A second jury, however, convened only for sentencing, voted the maximum penalty, life without parole. The case is on appeal.

As with Sergeant O’Neil, a connection between a veteran’s combat service and his crime is sometimes declared overtly. Other times, though, the Iraq connection is a lingering question mark as offenders’ relatives struggle to understand how a strait-laced teenager or family man or wounded veteran ended up behind bars — or dead.

That happened in the case of Stephen Sherwood, who enlisted in the Army at 34 to obtain medical insurance when his wife got pregnant. He may never have been screened for combat trauma.

Yet Mr. Sherwood shot his wife and then himself nine days after returning from Iraq in the summer of 2005. Several months before, the other soldiers in his tank unit had been killed by a rocket attack while he was on a two-week leave to celebrate the first birthday of his now-orphaned son.

“When he got back to Iraq, everyone was dead,” his father, Robert Sherwood, said. “He had survivor’s guilt.” Then his wife informed him that she wanted to end their marriage.

After the murder-suicide, Mr. Sherwood’s parents could not help but wonder what role Iraq played and whether counseling might have helped keep their son away from the brink.

“Ah boy, the amount of heartbreak involved in all of this,” said Dr. Jonathan Shay, a psychiatrist for the Department of Veterans Affairs in Boston and the author of two books that examine combat trauma through the lens of classical texts.

An Ancient Connection
The troubles and exploits of the returning war veteran represent a searing slice of reality. They have served as a recurring artistic theme throughout history — from Homer’s “Odyssey” to the World War I novel “All Quiet on the Western Front,” from the post-Vietnam-era movie “The Deer Hunter” to last fall’s film “In the Valley of Elah.”

At the heart of these tales lie warriors plagued by the kind of psychic wounds that have always afflicted some fraction of combat veterans. In an online course for health professionals, Capt. William P. Nash, the combat/operational stress control coordinator for the Marines, reaches back to Sophocles’ account of Ajax, who slipped into a depression after the Trojan War, slaughtered a flock of sheep in a crazed state and then fell on his own sword.

The nature of the counterinsurgency war in Iraq, where there is no traditional front line, has amplified the stresses of combat, and multiple tours of duty — a third of the troops involved in Iraq and Afghanistan have deployed more than once — ratchet up those stresses.

In earlier eras, various labels attached to the psychological injuries of war: soldier’s heart, shell shock, Vietnam disorder. Today the focus is on PTSD, but military health care officials are seeing a spectrum of psychological issues, with an estimated half of the returning National Guard members, 38 percent of soldiers and 31 percent of marines reporting mental health problems, according to a Pentagon task force.

Decades of studies on the problems of Vietnam veterans have established links between combat trauma and higher rates of unemployment, homelessness, gun ownership, child abuse, domestic violence, substance abuse — and criminality. On a less scientific level, such links have long been known.

“The connection between war and crime is unfortunately very ancient,” said Dr. Shay, the V.A. psychiatrist and author. “The first thing that Odysseus did after he left Troy was to launch a pirate raid on Ismarus. Ending up in trouble with the law has always been a final common pathway for some portion of psychologically injured veterans.”

The National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study, considered the most thorough analysis of this population, found that 15 percent of the male veterans still suffered from full-blown post-traumatic stress disorder more than a decade after the war ended. Half of the veterans with active PTSD had been arrested or in jail at least once, and 34.2 percent more than once. Some 11.5 percent of them had been convicted of felonies, and veterans are more likely to have committed violent crimes than nonveterans, according to government studies. In the mid-1980s, with so many Vietnam veterans behind bars that Vietnam Veterans of America created chapters in prisons, veterans made up a fifth of the nation’s inmate population.

As Iraq and Afghanistan veterans get enmeshed in the criminal justice system, former advocates for Vietnam veterans are disheartened by what they see as history repeating itself.

“These guys today, I recognize the hole in their souls,” said Hector Villarreal, a criminal defense lawyer in Mission, Tex., who briefly represented a three-time Iraq combat veteran charged with manslaughter.

Brockton D. Hunter, a criminal defense lawyer in Minneapolis, told colleagues in a recent lecture at the Minnesota State Bar Association that society should try harder to prevent veterans from self-destructing.

“To truly support our troops, we need to apply our lessons from history and newfound knowledge about PTSD to help the most troubled of our returning veterans,” Mr. Hunter said. “To deny the frequent connection between combat trauma and subsequent criminal behavior is to deny one of the direct societal costs of war and to discard another generation of troubled heroes.”

‘The Town Was Torn Up’
At the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution in Nebraska, Seth Strasburg, 29, displays an imposing, biker-style presence. He has a shaved head, bushy chin beard and tattoos scrolled around his thick arms and neck, one of which quotes, in Latin, a Crusades-era dictum: “Kill them all. God will know his own.”

Beneath this fierce exterior, however, Mr. Strasburg, an Iraq combat veteran who pleaded no contest to manslaughter and gun charges in 2006, hides a tortured compulsion to understand his actions. Growing up in rural Nebraska, he read military history. Now he devours books like Lt. Col. Dave Grossman’s “On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society” and Dr. Shay’s “Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming.”

Because Mr. Strasburg is introspective, he provides a window into the reverberations of combat violence within one veteran’s psyche and from there outward. In Arnold, Neb., population 679, the unintentional killing last year by Mr. Strasburg of Thomas Tiffany Varney V, a pre-mortuary science major known as Moose, was a deeply unsettling event.

“To lose one young man permanently and another to prison, with Iraq mixed up in the middle of it — the town was torn up,” said Pamela Eggleston, a waitress at Suzy’s Pizza and Spirits.

In late 2005, Mr. Strasburg returned to Arnold for a holiday leave after two years in Iraq. Once home, he did not easily shed the extreme vigilance that had become second nature. He traveled around rural Nebraska with a gun and body armor in his Jeep, feeling irritable, out of sorts and out of place in tranquil, “American Idol”-obsessed America.

During his leave, he shrank from questions about Iraq because he hated the cavalier ones: “So, did you kill anybody? What was it like?”

He had, in fact, killed somebody in Iraq and was having trouble dealing with it. Like several veterans interviewed, Mr. Strasburg was plagued by one death before he caused another one.

In 2004, Sergeant Strasburg’s section was engaged in a mission to counter a proliferation of improvised explosive devices, or I.E.D.’s, on the road west of Mosul. One night, posted in an old junked bus, he watched the road for hours until an Iraqi man, armed and out after curfew, appeared and circled a field, kicking the dirt as if he were searching for something. Finally, the man bent down, straining to pick up a large white flour sack, which he then dragged toward the road.

“In my mind at the time, he had this I.E.D. hidden out there during the day and he was going to set it in place,” Mr. Strasburg said. “We radioed it in. They said, ‘Whatever, use your discretion.’ So I popped him.”

With others on his reconnaissance team, Mr. Strasburg helped zip the man into a body bag, taking a few minutes to study the face that he now cannot forget. When they went to search the flour sack, they found nothing but gravel.

“I reported the kill to the battalion,” Mr. Strasburg said. “They said, you know: ‘Good shot. It’s legal. Whatever. Don’t worry about it.’ After that, it was never mentioned. But, you know, I had some issues with it later.”

Mr. Strasburg’s voice broke and he turned his head, wiping his eyes. A reporter noted that he was upset.

“I’m trying not to be,” he said, then changed his mind. “I mean, how can you not be? If you’re human. What if I had waited?”

“Maybe I was too eager,” he added. “Maybe I wanted to be the first one to get a kill, you know? Maybe, maybe, maybe. And that will never go away.”

Which bothers him, Mr. Strasburg said, telling himself: “Get over it. You shot somebody. Everybody else shot somebody, too.”

Shortly after Mr. Strasburg’s military tour of duty ended, he returned to Iraq as a private contractor because, he said, he did not know what else to do with himself after eight years in the Army. “I have no skill other than carrying a gun,” he said.

By late 2005, home on leave, he was preparing to return once more to Iraq in January.

On New Year’s Eve, Mr. Strasburg, accompanied by his brother, consumed vodka cocktails for hours at Jim’s Bar and Package in Arnold. Toward evening’s end, he engaged in an intense conversation with a Vietnam veteran, after which, he said, he inexplicably holstered his gun and headed to a party. Outside the party, he drunkenly approached a Chevrolet Suburban crowded with young people, got upset and thrust his gun inside the car.

Mr. Strasburg said he did not remember what provoked him. According to one account, a young man — not the victim — set him off by calling him a paid killer. Mr. Strasburg, according to the prosecutor, stuck his gun under the young man’s chin. There was a struggle over the gun. It went off. And Mr. Varney, a strapping 21-year-old with a passion for hunting, car racing and baseball, was struck.

Asked if he pulled the trigger, Mr. Strasburg said, “I don’t know,” adding that he took responsibility: “It was my gun and I was drunk. But what the hell was I thinking?”

The Suburban drove quickly away. Mr. Strasburg jumped into his Jeep, speeding along wintry roads until he crashed into a culvert. Feeling doomed, he said, he donned his bulletproof vest and plunged into the woods, where he fell asleep in the snow as police helicopters and state troopers closed in on him.

Mr. Strasburg had never been screened for post-traumatic stress disorder. Like many soldiers, he did not take seriously the Army’s mental health questionnaires given out at his tour’s end. “They were retarded,” he said. “All of us were like, ‘Let’s do this quickly so we can go home.’ They asked: ‘Did you see any dead bodies? Did you take part in any combat operations?’ Come on, we were in Iraq. They didn’t even ask us the really important question, if you killed someone.”

After his arrest, a psychologist hired by his family diagnosed combat trauma in Mr. Strasburg, writing in an evaluation that post-traumatic stress disorder, exacerbated by alcohol, served as a “major factor” in the shooting.

A Judge’s Harsh Words
At the sentencing hearing in Broken Bow, Neb., in September 2006, however, the judge discounted the centrality of the PTSD. He called Mr. Varney “the epitome of an innocent victim” and Mr. Strasburg “a bully” who “misconstrued comments” and “reacted in a belligerent and hostile manner.” In a courtroom filled with Arnold townspeople and Iraq veterans, he sentenced Mr. Strasburg to 22 to 36 years in prison.

Mr. Strasburg’s mother, Aneita, believing that the shooting was a product of his combat trauma, started an organization to create awareness about post-traumatic stress disorder.

Her activism, however, deeply offended the victim’s parents, who run the Arnold Funeral Home.

“I’m sorry, but it feels like a personal affront, like she’s trying to excuse our son’s death with the war,” Barb Varney said, adding that Mr. Strasburg has “never shown any remorse.”

Thomas Tiffany Varney IV, the victim’s father, expressed skepticism about Mr. Strasburg’s PTSD and the disorder in general, saying, “His grandfather, my dad, a lot of people been there, done that, and it didn’t affect them,” Mr. Varney said. “They’re trying to brush it away, ‘Well, he murdered someone, it’s just post-traumatic stress.’ ”

Mr. Strasburg himself, whose diagnosis was confirmed by the Department of Veterans Affairs, expressed discomfort with his post-traumatic stress disorder and its connection to his crime. “It’s not a be-all-and-end-all excuse, and I don’t mean it to be,” he said.

As Mr. Strasburg prefers to see it, he had adapted his behavior to survive in Iraq and then retained that behavior — vigilant, distrustful, armed — when he returned home. “You need time to decompress,” he said. “If the exact same circumstances had happened a year later” — the circumstances of that New Year’s Eve — “nothing would have happened. It never would have went down.”

Mr. Strasburg also voiced reluctance to being publicly identified as a PTSD sufferer, worried that his former military colleagues would see him as a weakling. “Nobody wants to be that guy who says, ‘I got counseling this afternoon, Sergeant,’ ” he said, mimicking a whining voice.

Mr. Strasburg’s former platoon leader, Capt. Benjamin D. Tiffner, who was killed in an I.E.D. attack in Baghdad in November, wrote a letter to Nebraska state authorities. He protested the length of the sentence and requested Mr. Strasburg’s transfer “to a facility that would allow him to deal with his combat trauma.”

“Seth has been asked and required to do very violent things in defense of his country,” Captain Tiffner wrote. “He spent the majority of 2003 to 2005 in Iraq solving very dangerous problems by using violence and the threat of violence as his main tools. He was congratulated and given awards for these actions. This builds in a person the propensity to deal with life’s problems through violence and the threat of violence.

“I believe this might explain in some way why Seth reacted the way that he did that night in Nebraska,” the letter continued. “I’m not trying to explain away Seth’s actions, but I think he is a special case and he needs to be taken care of by our judicial system and our medical system.”

Many Don’t Seek Treatment
Unlike during the Vietnam War, the current military has made a concerted effort, through screenings and research, to gauge the mental health needs of returning veterans. But gauging and addressing needs are different, and a Pentagon task force last year described the military mental health system as overburdened, “woefully” understaffed, inadequately financed and undermined by the stigma attached to PTSD.

Although early treatment might help veterans retain their relationships and avoid developing related problems like depression, alcoholism and criminal behavior, many do not seek or get such help. And this group of homicide defendants seems to be a prime example.

Like Mr. Strasburg, many of these veterans learned that they had post-traumatic stress disorder only after their arrests. And their mental health issues often went unevaluated even after the killings if they were pleading not guilty, if they did not have aggressive lawyers and relatives — or if they killed themselves first.

Of the 13 combat veterans in The Times database who committed murder-suicides, only two, as best as it can be determined, had psychological problems diagnosed by the military health care system after returning from war.

“The real tragedy in these veterans’ case is that, where PTSD is a factor, it is highly treatable,” said Lawrence W. Sherman, director of the Jerry Lee Center of Criminology at the University of Pennsylvania. “And when people are exposed to serious trauma and don’t get it treated, it is a serious risk factor for violence.”

At various times, the question of whether the military shares some blame for these killings gets posed. This occurs especially where the military knew beforehand of a combat veteran’s psychological troubles, marital problems or history of substance abuse.

In some cases, the military sent service members with pre-existing problems — known histories of mental illness, drug abuse or domestic abuse — into combat only to find those problems exacerbated by the stresses of war. In other cases, they quickly discharged returning veterans with psychological or substance abuse problems, after which they committed homicides.

Perhaps no case has posed the question of military liability more bluntly than that of Lucas T. Borges, 25, a former private in the Marines whose victims are suing the United States government, maintaining that the military “had a duty to take reasonable steps to prevent Borges from harming others.” The government is trying to get the claim dismissed.

Mr. Borges immigrated from Brazil at 14 and joined the Marines four years later. After spending six months in Iraq at the beginning of the war, he “came back different, like he was out of his mind,” said his mother, Dina Borges, who runs a small cleaning business in Maryland.

Assigned on his return to a maintenance battalion at Camp Lejeune, N.C., Private Borges developed a taste for the ether used to start large internal combustion engines in winter.

Mr. Borges did have a history of marijuana use, which he disclosed to the Marines when he enlisted, said Jeffrey Weber, a lawyer who represented the victims until recently.

But inhaling ether, which produces both a dreamy high and impairment, was new to him, and his sister, Gabriela, a 20-year-old George Washington University student, believes that he developed the habit to relieve the anxiety that he brought home from war.

The Marines, aware of Mr. Borges’s past drug use, also knew that he had developed an ether problem, but they never removed him from the job where he had ready access to his drug of choice, according to the lawsuit. They never offered him drug treatment, either, Mr. Borges’s own lawyer said in court.

Four months after he returned from Iraq, military officials moved to discharge Private Borges when he was caught inhaling ether in his car. They impounded the car, which contained several canisters of the government’s ether, and sent Mr. Borges, who threatened to kill himself, to the mental health ward of the base hospital.

“He was finally under the care of a psychiatrist, but they pulled him from that because he was a problem and they wanted to get rid of him,” Mr. Weber said. “They processed him out, handed him the keys to his car, and his supervisor said, ‘If you’re not careful, you’re going to kill somebody.’ ”

When Mr. Borges retrieved his 1992 Camaro, he discovered that the Marines had left their ether canisters inside — they did not have anywhere to store them, officials said at trial — and immediately got high. He then drove east down the westbound lane of a state highway, slamming headfirst into the victims’ car, killing 19-year-old Jamie Marie Lumsden, the daughter of a marine who served in Iraq, and seriously injuring four others.

Convicted of second-degree murder, Mr. Borges was sentenced to 24 to 32 years in prison.

Lost in Las Vegas
The Army has recently developed a course called “Battlemind Training,” intended to help soldiers make the psychological transition back into civilian society. “In combat, the enemy is the target,” the course material says. “Back home, there are no enemies.”

This can be a difficult lesson to learn. Many soldiers and marines find themselves at war with their spouses, their children, their fellow service members, the world at large and ultimately themselves when they come home.

“Based on my experience, most of these veterans feel just terrible that they’ve caused this senseless harm,” Dr. Shay said. “Most veterans don’t want to hurt other people.”

Matthew Sepi withdrew into himself on his return from Iraq.

A Navajo Indian who saw his hometown of Winslow, Ariz., as a dead end, Mr. Sepi joined the Army at 16, with a permission slip from his mother.

For a teenager without much life experience, the war in Iraq was mind-bending, and Mr. Sepi saw intense action. When his infantry company arrived in April 2003, it was charged with tackling resistant Republican Guard strongholds north of Baghdad.

“The war was supposedly over, except it wasn’t,” Mr. Sepi said. “I was a ground troop, with a grenade launcher attached to my M-16. Me and my buddies were the ones that assaulted the places. We went in the buildings and cleared the buildings. We shot and got shot at.”

After a year of combat, Mr. Sepi returned to Fort Carson, Colo., where life seemed dull and regimented. The soldiers did not discuss their war experiences or their postwar emotions. Instead, they partied, Mr. Sepi said, and the drinking got him and others in trouble. Arrested for under-age driving under the influence, he was ordered to complete drug and alcohol education and counseling. Shortly after that, he decided to leave the Army.

Feeling lost after his discharge “with a few little medals,” he ended up moving to Las Vegas, a city that he did not know, with the friend of a friend. Broke, Mr. Sepi settled in the Naked City, which is named for the showgirls who used to sunbathe topless there. After renting a roach-infested hole in the wall with an actual hole in the wall, he found jobs doing roadwork and making plastic juice bottles in a factory. Alone and lonely, he started feeling the effects of his combat experiences.

In Las Vegas, Mr. Sepi’s alcohol counselor took him under his wing, recognizing war-related PTSD in his extreme jumpiness, adrenaline rushes, nightmares and need to drink himself into unconsciousness.

The counselor directed him to seek specialized help from a Veterans Affairs hospital. Mr. Sepi said he called the V.A. and was told to report in person. But working 12-hour shifts at a bottling plant, he failed to do so.

In July 2005, when Mr. Sepi was arrested, he identified himself as an Iraq veteran. But, Detective Andersen said, “He didn’t act like a combat veteran. He acted like a scared kid.”

Soon afterward, Nancy Lemcke, Mr. Sepi’s public defender, visited him in jail. “I asked him about PTSD,” Ms. Lemcke said. “And he starts telling me about Iraq and all of a sudden, his eyes well up with tears, and he cries out: ‘We had the wrong house! We had the wrong house!’ And he’s practically hysterical.”

As part of an operation to break down the resistance in and around Balad, Mr. Sepi and his unit had been given a nightly list of targets for capture. Camouflaged, the American soldiers crept through towns after midnight, working their way down the lists, setting off C-4 plastic explosives at each address to stun the residents into submission.

“This particular night, it was December 2003, there was, I’d say, more than 100 targets,” Mr. Sepi said. “Each little team had a list. And at this one house, we blow the gate and find out that there’s this guy sitting in his car just inside that gate. We move in, and he, like, stumbles out of his car, and he’s on fire, and he’s, like, stumbling around in circles in his front yard. So we all kind of don’t know what to do, and he collapses, and we go inside the house and search it and find out it’s the wrong house.”

Although Mr. Sepi said that he felt bad at the time, he also knew that he had done nothing but follow orders and that the Army had paid the man’s family a settlement. He did not imagine that the image of the flaming, stumbling Iraqi civilian would linger like a specter in his psyche.

Listening to Mr. Sepi recount the story of a death that he regretted in Iraq while grappling with a death that he regretted in Las Vegas, his lawyer grew determined to get him help. “It was just so shocking, and his emotions were so raw, and he was so messed up,” Ms. Lemcke said.

An Unusual Legal Deal
She found compassion for him among the law enforcement officials handling the case. The investigation backed up Mr. Sepi’s story of self-defense, although it was never determined who fired first. It made an impression on the police that he was considerably outweighed — his 130 pounds against a 210-pound man and a 197-pound woman. And it helped Mr. Sepi that his victims were drifters, with no family members pressing for justice.

The police said that Kevin Ratcliff, 36, who was shot and wounded by Mr. Sepi, belonged to the Crips and was a convicted felon; Sharon Jackson, 47, who was killed, belonged to NC, the Naked City gang, and an autopsy found alcohol, cocaine and methamphetamines in her blood.

Buoyed by an outpouring of support from Mr. Sepi’s fellow soldiers and veterans’ advocates, Ms. Lemcke pressed the Department of Veterans Affairs to find treatment programs for Mr. Sepi. This allowed an unusual deal with the local district attorney’s office: in exchange for the successful completion of treatment for substance abuse and PTSD, the charges against Mr. Sepi would be dropped.

After about three months in jail, Mr. Sepi spent three months at a substance abuse program in Prescott, Ariz., in late 2005, where the graying veterans presented an object lesson: “I don’t want to be like that when I’m older,” he said to himself. In early 2006, he transferred to a PTSD treatment center run by the V.A. in Topeka, Kan., where he learned how to deal with anger, sadness and guilt, to manage the symptoms of his anxiety disorder and, it seems, to vanquish his nightmares.

“For some reason, my bad dreams went away,” he said. “It’s pretty cool.”

Free to start life over, Mr. Sepi stepped tentatively into adulthood. Settling in Phoenix, he enrolled in automotive school and got a job as a welder for a commercial bakery. Once in a while, he said, a loud noise still starts his heart racing and he breaks into a cold sweat, ready for action. But he knows now how to calm himself, he said, he no longer owns guns, and he is sober and sobered by what he has done.

“That night,” he said, of the hot summer night in Las Vegas when he was arrested for murder, “if I could erase it, I would. Killing is part of war, but back home ...”

Research was contributed by Alain Delaquérière, Amy Finnerty, Teddy Kider, Andrew Lehren, Renwick McLean, Jenny Nordberg and Margot Williams.

Haaretz    11 May 2009

Study: Quality of Israeli sperm down 40% in past decade
Cause of decline unknown, but may be linked to children and pregnant women's exposure to local contaminants.
By Ofri Ilani

The quality of Israeli sperm has declined alarmingly in the last decade, according to recent research conducted at Jerusalem's Hadassah University Hospital, Mount Scopus.

The cause for the decline is not known, but it's believed by some researchers to be connected to the exposure of children and pregnant women to hormones and other contaminants in food and water.

Conducted by Dr. Ronit Haimov-Kokhman, the study showed a 40-percent decline in the concentration of sperm cells among the country's sperm donors from 2004 to 2008, compared to those of donors from 1995 to 1999. Hadassah's sperm bank is now turning away two-thirds of potential donors because of low-quality sperm, as opposed to one-third in the past.

Haimov-Kokhman's research is to be presented today at a conference of the Israeli Society of Fertility Investigation in Tel Aviv.

Kokhman said the study was carried out to test the theory of the director of Hadassah Hospital's sperm bank, Ruth Har-Nir, that sperm quality was in decline.

The research confirmed that in 10 years, the average concentration of sperm among donors declined from 106 million cells per cubic centimeter to 67 million per cubic centimeter. The rate of sperm motility has also declined: from 79 to 67 percent, although the profile of donors did not change over that period; they are still young, healthy and do not smoke.

According to Haimov-Kokhman, the quality of sperm has declined in most Western countries, but in Israel it has been particularly rapid.

"If we keep going at this rate, a decline of 3 million cubic centimeters of sperm cells per year, we'll reach an average of 20 million in 2030. The World Heath Organization defines this as fertility impairment."

Studies showing a decline in sperm quality began to be published worldwide more than a decade ago, along with research indicating a rise in the rate of defects in the male reproductive system.

In Israel, too, a study was published about a year ago, showing an increase of about 30 percent in defects in the male reproductive system. In addition, in the past decade, the number of cases of testicular cancer has doubled.

A number of chemicals in the ground and in drinking water have been identified as impacting hormone levels and secondary sexual characteristics. These chemicals include plasticizers called phthalates, used in food wrappings, cosmetics and a various insecticides. Studies published in Britain have highlighted a clear connection between continual decline in sperm counts and chemicals in the environment.

"I would suggest that a concentration of estrogen in the water is a cause of change, Haimov-Kokhman says, noting that hormones in the ground come from both human and animal waste that reach the aquifer via sewage. "The ground is full of estrogen that produces estrogen-saturated fruits, vegetables and plants."

A study published in Israel two years ago revealed that the high level of female hormones in a stream near Beit She'an, apparently originating from women swimmers who were taking birth-control pills, caused fish to develop female characteristics. However, the researchers say that the level of hormones in the country's main waterways is negligible, and cannot be the source of impairment of the male reproductive system.

"While it's true that the evidence is only circumstantial, even the connection between smoking and lung cancer took a generation to prove," Haimov-Kokhman notes.

SFBayView    April 7, 2010

PTSD, infertility and other consequences of war
by Bob Nichols

The A10 WartHog jet aircraft is built around the GAU-8 Gatling gun with seven barrels that fires 4,200 heavy uranium projectiles a minute. That’s 70 rounds a second! PTSD and its effects on U.S. soldiers and their families is a ghastly story with no end. PTSD is, in large part, though, an entirely Pentagon, or American war machine, inflicted wound.

Boot camp and combat is bad enough; and such forced inhumanity as committing war crimes against civilians causes soldiers to suffer the mental trauma of PTSD. In addition, there is an unseen agent or disease vector at work here as well.

There, on the battlefield, the happy boys sent off to war by Mayor Gavin Newsom’s Fleet Week – an event responsible for a big chunk of the enlistments in the U.S. Navy and Marines – will probably come in deadly contact with another San Francisco Bay Area product: depleted uranium, aka DU, and weaponized ceramic uranium oxide gas and aerosols, UO.

Iraq and virtually all the rest of the Middle East and Central Asia have been continually dosed for almost 20 years with thousands of tons of weaponized ceramic uranium oxide gas, also known as “depleted uranium.”

When used as directed, the depleted uranium bullets, shells and bombs become a lethal uranium gas or aerosol. The poison uranium oxide gas aerosols last for billions of years and never stop indiscriminately maiming and killing, which is a war crime in itself.

The deadly radioactive poison was developed by the Manhattan Project in 1945 when they were making the first atomic bombs. The Manhattan Project became the Bay Areas’ two nuclear weapons labs.

San Francisco’s Rep. “Nuclear Nancy” Pelosi and her friends at San Francisco-based Bechtel are all set to make more atomic bombs, too. Bechtel is a nuclear capable corporation and manages the Livermore Nuclear Weapons Lab.

Depleted uranium is called “depleted” only because less than one half of 1 percent of the uranium isotope 235, the bomb making isotope, is removed when the U.S. government makes atomic bombs. The currently remaining billion and a half pounds of uranium isotopes are often given free to politically connected arms manufacturers. That radioactive uranium is then used to make bullets, shells, missiles, mines and bombs to sell to the U.S. government a second time.

San Francisco based lawyer Karen Parker is an expert in the International Law of Armed Conflict, commonly called “war crimes” law. The law and treaties require that weapons can be “turned off” after the battle is over.

Simple as that. Anything else is a war crime, punishable by hard labor in prison or death by hanging.

Army and civilian researchers have shown that uranium oxide (UO) poison gas particles migrate right up the olfactory nerve to the brain. This is when the uranium poison gas weapons are used by soldiers as directed by arms manufacturers and military regulations.

In addition, UO particles are small enough to go through combat uniforms and penetrate the skin of soldiers. Once inside their bodies, the poison uranium gas is drawn to their brains, bones, and testicles or ovaries. Of course, this applies to civilians and animals as well.

Over a million U.S. soldiers have been on the ground in Iraq and Central Asia. The medical disability rate is over 60 percent and “PTSD” is a common diagnosis. Soldiers from the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy report similar medical problems as well.

One milligram (mg) of uranium oxide poison gas is about the size of one of the periods at the end of these sentences. When soldiers can absorb UO through their skin, there is nothing to limit their exposure to one milligram or a thousand. That goes for civilians too.

Each tiny milligram shoots about 1,251,000 powerful radioactive bullets a day with a range of about 20 cells of the human body for thousands or even billions of years. This is according to noted mathematician and radiation expert, Rosalie Bertell, Ph.D., GNSH.

She should know, Dr. Bertell serves on several Pentagon radiation committees and has for decades.

Uranium munitions, containing weaponized uranium oxide gas and aerosols, are used by presidential order in U.S. war zones. Privates and corporals do not decide to use these poisonous uranium gas weapons on their own. No, that order comes from the American president.

Uranium oxide gas weapons are called “genocidal weapons.” They maim and kill millions of people, their animals and their land. The actual targets by the U.S. Expeditionary Forces are the populations of Central Asia and the Middle East, about a billion people.

The U.S. Expeditionary Forces are quite successful in targeting and dosing these large populations. In so doing the soldiers poison themselves with depleted uranium too. The American presidents don’t care. Should we care if the president doesn’t?

There is a Middle Eastern country that requires all 18-year-olds to join national service for several years. This country even has a roughly comparable health care system to America for a population of 7,233,701, according to the CIA World Factbook. The country is Israel.

All Israeli soldiers donate a sperm sample that is immediately frozen in liquid nitrogen and stored in a sperm bank at University Hospital in Jerusalem. Recent professional analysis shows Israeli sperm concentration has declined by 40 percent in less than 10 years.

This is a dangerous and precipitous collapse in human sperm concentration. While opinions differ as to the causes, Israel is swimming in a sea of uranium oxide gas partly from its own and American uranium oxide weapons. The DU attacks the sperm and eggs of male and female soldiers. Civilians and animals too.

In addition, Israel borders the Mediterranean Sea, as do 21 other countries. For 20 years, a branch of the Italian Mafia called ‘Ndrangheta in the South of Italy, next door to Sicily, have grown a thriving nuclear waste disposal business into an estimated 2007 US$65 billion a year “legal illegal business,” as Mafia operations are called in Italy.

The infamous “EcoMafia” load derelict cargo ships with high level nuclear wastes and used reactor cores, then sink them in the Mediterranean and along the African coasts. As a result, Israelis swim in a radioactive sea.

Since 20 percent live sperm is considered to be the beginning of infertility, Israel will be sterile in less than 10 years at this rate of decline. The estimated 7 million Israeli Jews will have no more children soon after that. This catastrophic development has already occasioned legislative hearings in Israel’s Knesset. The hearings were covered by Israeli newspaper Haaretz. Israeli sperm concentration is just an example of what is happening to human sperm all over the Middle East and Central Asia, by the choice and force of will of successive U.S. presidents.

The American war machine has consequences. PTSD is just one of them. The poison gas cannot be contained, undone or recalled. There is no antidote; there is no cure. There is no escape.

Bob Nichols is a Project Censored Award winning writer and a San Francisco Bay View correspondent. A former bomb maker in a U.S. government factory in rural Oklahoma, he reports on the two nuclear weapons labs in the Bay Area. He can be reached at     Apr-14, 2010   22:11

Israel's Declining Sperm Quality Tied to Depleted Uranium Exposure
With the latest news, Israel may soon lose the need to create and seek out enemies;
with a little help from the U.S. they did this to themselves.
Tim King

(TEL AVIV / SALEM) - Israel's population is facing a dire threat: a drastic depopulation, from the use of weapons that leave behind Depleted Uranium (DU). Depleted Uranium leads to the word Omnicidal, as DU kills everything in the food chain, everywhere the wind blows. Experts say the dramatic drop in Israel's sperm count could eliminate their ability to reproduce.

Research by an Israeli doctor shows a significant drop in sperm count level and sperm motility among young Israeli soldiers in recent years. Sperm motility is the ability of sperm to move properly toward an egg.

It is attributed to the inhalation of DU aerosolized nano-particles; the dirty results of extra powerful weapons used by Israel and the U.S.

All of that military might as it turns out, could set the stage for a massive Israeli act of population suicide.

Round used by Israel during their 2006 attack on Hezbollah positions in Lebanon. Photo by Dexter Phoenix, to purchase Dexter's images from Israel, send an email to:

A study by Dr. Ronit Haimov-Kokhman released in November, showed a 40-percent decline in the concentration of sperm cells in Israeli sperm donors from 2004 to 2008, compared to samples taken between 1995 and 1999.

Sperm banks in Israel are now reportedly turning away as many as two-thirds of potential donors, due to the low-quality sperm. In the past, around one-third of the potential donors were turned away.

According to Ofri Ilani's article in Haaretz, Study: Quality of Israeli sperm down 40% in past decade:

"The research confirmed that in 10 years, the average concentration of sperm among donors declined from 106 million cells per cubic centimeter to 67 million per cubic centimeter. The rate of sperm motility has also declined: from 79 to 67 percent, although the profile of donors did not change over that period; they are still young, healthy and do not smoke."[1]

Haimov-Kokhman says the problem is not entirely unique; the quality of sperm has also declined in a number of Western countries. But in Israel he says, it has been particularly rapid.

"If we keep going at this rate, a decline of 3 million cubic centimeters of sperm cells per year, we'll reach an average of 20 million in 2030. The World Heath Organization defines this as fertility impairment." said this about the reported thousands of tons of nuclear waste in the form of armor piercing rounds, referred to as "depleted uranium" or "DU", in the invasion of Iraq:

"The United States and Britain have gravely endangered not only the Iraqis and their own troops, but the entire world. In the first invasion, at least 320 tons of DU were exploded into Iraq, at least 1500 tons were blasted in the second illegal invasion."[2]

They cite Professor Malcolm Hopper of the University of Sunderland in the U.K., whose extensive studies of health effects on British and U.S. soldiers who served in the Gulf War, shows as many as 21,000 U.S. Gulf War veterans have died, "due not just to DU exposure but to the astounding amounts of organophosphate (OP) poisoning from various toxins (or supposedly anti-toxins) given to the troops as 'preventive' medicine."

This human and environmental disaster was reviewed by Bob Nichols, a correspondent with SFBayView who specializes in nuclear issues with an emphasis on the atmospheric contamination from Depleted Uranium. In the article PTSD, Infertility and Other Consequences of War, he discusses how Israel is likely to be depopulated soon[3].

Oregon Guard soldiers patrol a building in Kabul, Afghanistan that was
destroyed by U.S. bombs. Everyone who served in these countries or visited
them, was potentially subjected to DU contamination. Photo by Tim King.
"Israel falls within the region that has been dosed with depleted uranium [DU] [various kinds of munitions] in the West Asian theatre of war. DU kills people at genetic level." A report by Dr. Ronit Haimov-Kokhman, which was debated in the Knesset, is cited in the report by Ofri Ilani.

Arun Shrivastava, a writer with the Centre for Research on Globalization, says this has been known for some time.

"Admiral Bhagwat and I made our presentations at GNDU, Amritsar, in April 2008, social workers among the audience came up and narrated some events that actually provide hard enough evidence of DU contamination the entire North-western India. There was a significant presence of top officers from the Indian Army."

He says they are keenly aware of this silent weapon. "The security forces know what the American and NATO soldiers have done to South and West Asians."

According to Shrivastava, contamination of the total Indian population stands at over 300 million; the total West and South Asian population affected stands at least 900 million, possibly more than a billion.

"None of these would complete their normal life. None of us will. This entire region will be depopulated which is what the PTBs have in mind and they have set in motion processes that can't be stopped. No way," Shrivastava said.

There is little question that this information has tremendous significance for the people of Palestine and Gaza, although these unfortunate people might end up the same way as the Israelis.

Dexter Phoenix also snapped this image of the rounds Israel's military doesn't want photographed, why not?

Reports from other West Asian countries are identical, Shrivastava says, "Both US and NATO forces have committed genocide right in Asia. Our civilizations may never be the same, may not be viable."

It is important to note how overlooked this significant world problem truly is, and how indicting it turns out to be. Shrivastava says it is also important to remember that the DU is a result of military activity that is illegal under international law.

"Please note that the use of WMD is war crime. There are cases pending under ICCA against three US Presidents and two British PMs and their entire cabinet. DU weapons are WMDs; they are weapons of indiscriminate destruction and environmental contamination....IN PERPETUITY."

As Nichols states in his article, uranium oxide gas weapons are called "genocidal weapons."

"They maim and kill millions of people, their animals and their land. The actual targets by the U.S. Expeditionary Forces are the populations of Central Asia and the Middle East, about a billion people."

He reminds us that more than a million American servicemembers, thousands of contractors, and others, like journalists have had their boots on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past several years, not to mention the thousands of people from other nations.

"The medical disability rate is over 60 percent and 'PTSD' is a common diagnosis. Soldiers from the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy report similar medical problems as well."

According to figures cited in his article, a milligram (mg) of uranium oxide poison gas is roughly equal in size to one of the periods at the end of these sentences. When this is absorbed by Marines and soldiers, through their skin, no limit exists in regard to their exposure. It could range from to one milligram to a thousand.

Rosalie Bertell, Ph.D., GNSH said, "Each tiny milligram shoots about 1,251,000 powerful radioactive bullets a day with a range of about 20 cells of the human body for thousands or even billions of years."

Dr. Bertell currently serves on a number of Pentagon radiation committees; she has been in this role for decades.

The worst part is that all of it has taken place under protest by activists, scientists, and defense experts. There has been no doubt in the minds of those who know, but their words have gone unheeded. Orders to use these internationally illegal weapons are made by presidential order in U.S. war zones.

Serious information at a serious time in history. It would truly be ironic if Israel's military machine, so ruthlessly applied over the years on the Arab people, would render the population without the ability to reproduce.

[1] Study: Quality of Israeli sperm down 40% in past decade - By Ofri Ilani
[2] Weapons of Mass Destruction Found in Iraq
[3] PTSD, infertility and other consequences of war - by Bob Nichols

Other relevant links:
CIA World Factbook
The Biology of Human Longevity: Inflammation, Nutrition, and Aging in the Evolution of Lifespans (Hardcover)

Tim King is a former U.S. Marine with twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. In addition to his role as a war correspondent, this Los Angeles native serves as's Executive News Editor. Tim spent the winter of 2006/07 covering the war in Afghanistan, and he was in Iraq over the summer of 2008, reporting from the war while embedded with both the U.S. Army and the Marines.

Tim holds numerous awards for reporting, photography, writing and editing, including the Oregon AP Award for Spot News Photographer of the Year (2004), first place Electronic Media Award in Spot News, Las Vegas, (1998), Oregon AP Cooperation Award (1991); and several others including the 2005 Red Cross Good Neighborhood Award for reporting. Serving the community in very real terms, is the nation's only truly independent high traffic news Website. You can send Tim an email at this address:    28.November 2010

Medizinischer Durchbruch
Die Salbe, die Knochen und Wunden wieder heilt
Menschen mit chronischen Wunden dürfen hoffen: Mediziner haben eine
sensationelle Methode zur Anregung der körpereigene Selbstheilung entwickelt.
von Ela Dobrinkat

Für Klaus Herber ist der Albtraum vorbei. Wegen einer tiefen chronischen Wunde mit Knochenschädigung an der Ferse sollte sein Bein amputiert werden. Doch die Wunde hat sich geschlossen. Zweimal in der Woche wurde dem 57-Jährigen äußerlich ein besonderes Gel aufgetragen - schon nach 14 Tagen zeigten sich erste Erfolge. Inzwischen haben sich sogar Knochen- und Nervenzellen regeneriert. "Jetzt hoffe ich, mich bald ohne Rollstuhl fortbewegen zu können", sagt der Diabetiker.

Prof. Augustinus Bader vom Biotechnologisch-Biomedizinischen Zentrum der Universität Leipzig mit einen Bioreaktor, mit dem Knorpelzellen gezüchtet werden können. Foto: pa

Geholfen hat ihm Dr. Hans-Jürgen Hollmann, ein praktischer Arzt aus Immensen bei Hannover, und eine neue Stammzellen-Behandlungsmethode der Professoren Dr. Augustinus Bader vom Biotechnologisch-Biomedizinischen Zentrum der Universität Leipzig (s. Interview rechts) und Dr. Hans-Günther Machens vom TU-Klinikum rechts der Isar in München. Beide haben sich in der regenerativen Medizin einen Namen gemacht. Bader als Stammzellenforscher, Machens als rekonstruktiver Mikrochirurg für Verbrennungs- und andere Unfallopfer.

Wunden können narbenfrei heilen
Die Mediziner setzen auf die Heilung des Gewebes nach dem "Bionischen Prinzip", das mit Hilfe von adulten Stammzellen die körpereigene Selbstheilung anregt. Bei geeigneten Patienten sollen riskante operative Eingriffe und Implantate überflüssig und bessere, narbenfreie Resultate erzielt werden. Erste Heilerfolge wie im Fall von Klaus Herber gibt es, nun sollen größere klinische Studien das Verfahren bestätigen. Dann könnte diese Methode die Wundheilung in wenigen Jahren revolutionieren.

Haut baut Organe..
Vor allem Patienten mit Hautverbrennungen, chronischen Wunden wie dem diabetischen Fuß und Geschwüren dürfen auf Genesung hoffen. Bader hat sich Gel und Heilmethode unter dem Namen "Sanamander" schützen lassen - eine Wortkreation, die sich aus dem lateinischen "sanus" (gesund) und Salamander zusammensetzt - einem Lurch, dem abgetrennte Gliedmaßen nachwachsen.

"Alle Heilversuche bei Kindern mit verbrühter Haut zeigen sehr gute Ergebnisse", berichtet Machens aus seiner Klinik. Nach erfolgreichen Tierversuchen würde Anfang nächsten Jahres europaweit eine klinische Studie mit insgesamt etwa 1000 Patienten beginnen, berichtet er. Er selbst will dazu mit einer Studie mit 80 Kindern beitragen. Zugleich dämpft er allzu hohe Erwartungen. "Wir werden nicht alle Patienten nach dieser Methode heilen können", sagt der Mikrochirurg. "Wesentlich für den Erfolg ist die richtige Indikationsstellung. Solange wir Patienten mit den bisherigen chirurgischen Techniken helfen können, werden wir das auch weiter tun.

Es gibt jedoch viele, für die eine Operation aus medizinischen Gründen nicht mehr in Frage kommt. Hier sehen wir das größte Potenzial solcher regenerativer Therapien. Patienten, die durch eine thermische Verletzung eine tiefreichende Wunde mit Zerstörung aller Hautschichten haben, werden für eine lokale Behandlung mit einer Heilsalbe leider nicht in Frage kommen, da die für eine Regeneration notwendigen Zellen der Haut dann zerstört sind."

Dopingmittel EPO regt Zellbildung an
Mehr als acht Jahre lang haben Bader und Machens geforscht. Das Sensationelle an ihrer Methode: Für die Heilung muss weder zeitaufwendig Gewebe im Reagenzglas gezüchtet oder implantiert werden, noch müssen die Stammzellen wieder in den Körper verbracht werden. Die adulten Stammzellen werden aus Blut, Fettgewebe oder Knochenmark des Patienten gefiltert und regen bei äußerlicher Anwendung in Kombination mit Proteinhormonen, körpereigenen Botenstoffen (Zytokinen) und einem künstlich erzeugten Sauerstoffmangel die Wundheilung an.

Umfrage (696 abgegebene Stimmen)   Welche Auffassung vertreten Sie? .Ergebnis
Menschenversuche mit embryonalen Stammzellen sind gerechtfertigt    Antwort 1: 79%
Menschenversuche mit embryonalen Stammzellen sollten verboten bleiben    Antwort 2: 15%
Ich habe noch keine Meinung zum Thema    .Antwort 3: 6%
Eine zentrale Aufgabe in diesem Stammzellen-Wundgel kommt dem Erythropoetin (EPO) zu. Das als Dopingmittel für Radsportler in Verruf geratene Proteinhormon stimuliert nicht nur die Bildung von roten Blutkörperchen, sondern es kann auch bestimmte Zellen des Körpers zur Regeneration anregen. Bislang züchten Forscher menschliches Ersatz-Gewebe noch vorwiegend außerhalb des Körpers (in vitro) in sogenannten Bioreaktoren. Das Bionische Prinzip hingegen verwendet dafür gewissermaßen den Körper selbst (in vivo).

"Der Mensch ist der beste Bioreaktor", sagt Mund-, Kiefer- und Gesichtschirurg Prof. Dr. Dr. Jörg Wiltfang von der Universitätsklinik Schleswig Holstein, Campus Kiel. Er hat bereits erfolgreich einen neuen Kieferknochen in den Rückenmuskeln eines Patienten wachsen lassen. Krebs hatte dessen ursprünglichen Kiefer zerstört. Die Züchtung des Knochens im Körper war allerdings nur mit einer vorgefertigten, dreidimensionalen Titan-Stützform möglich, die zuvor implantiert werden musste.

"Wir stehen noch sehr am Anfang unserer Bemühungen", sagt Wiltfang, "doch wir brauchen für unsere Operationen immer weniger Knochenmaterial von außen, weil mit Hilfe der Stammzellen immer mehr Substanz nachwächst." Es dauere allerdings noch Jahrzehnte, bis oben beschriebener Eingriff klinischer Alltag sei. Durch diese Entwicklung würden sich in ferner Zukunft die heute existierenden medizinischen Fachsparten auflösen, glaubt Wiltfang. Ärztliche Behandlung erfordere dann Ganzheitlichkeit. Nötig seien dafür Teams von Ärzten, Biotechnologen und Grundlagenforschern.

March 30, 2011

Cellphone Radiation May Alter Your Brain. Let’s Talk.

In a culture where people cradle their cellphones next to their heads with the same constancy and affection that toddlers hold their security blankets, it was unsettling last month when a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association indicated that doing so could alter brain activity.

The report said it was unclear whether the changes in the brain — an increase in glucose metabolism after using the phone for less than an hour — had any negative health or behavioral effects. But it has many people wondering what they can do to protect themselves short of (gasp) using a landline.

“Cellphones are fantastic and have done much to increase productivity,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, the lead investigator of the study and director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health. “I’d never tell people to stop using them entirely.”

Yet, in light of her findings, she advises users to keep cellphones at a distance by putting them on speaker mode or using a wired headset whenever possible. The next best option is a wireless Bluetooth headset or earpiece, which emit radiation at far lower levels. If a headset isn’t feasible, holding your phone just slightly away from your ear can make a big difference; the intensity of radiation diminishes sharply with distance. “Every millimeter counts,” said Louis Slesin, editor of Microwave News, an online newsletter covering health and safety issues related to exposure to electromagnetic radiation.

So crushing your cellphone into your ear to hear better in a crowded bar is probably a bad idea. Go outside if you have to take or make a call. And you might not want to put your cellphone in your breast or pants pocket either, because that also puts it right up against your body. Carry it in a purse or briefcase or get a nonmetallic belt clip that orients it away from your body.

Some studies have suggested a link between cellphone use and cancer, lower bone density and infertility in men. But other studies show no effect at all. Given the mixed messages and continuing research, Robert Kenny, a Federal Communications Commission spokesman, said in an e-mail, “As always, we will continue to study this issue and coordinate with our federal partners.”

The phone used in Dr. Volkow’s study was a Samsung Knack, model SCH-U310, a flip phone that was in wide use when she began planning her experiments two and half years ago. But today’s ubiquitous smartphones emit even more radiation as they transmit more, and more complex, data.

You can get an idea of the relative amounts of radiation various cellphone models emit by looking at their SAR, or Specific Absorption Rate. This number indicates how much radiation is absorbed by the body when using the handset at maximum power. A cellphone cannot be sold in the United States unless an F.C.C.-approved laboratory says its SAR is below 1.6 watts per kilogram. In Europe, the maximum is 2 watts per kilogram.

The SAR number is not displayed when you compare cellphones at your local wireless store, and trying to find it in the fine print of your user manual is an exercise in frustration. The F.C.C. maintains that SAR values “do not provide sufficient information” to reliably compare cellphone radiation emissions because certain phones might rarely operate at maximum power. Still, the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization, has a comprehensive list of the SAR values for most cellphones available from major carriers on its Web site. (For instance, the Apple iPhone 4 is listed at 1.17 watts per kilogram, the Motorola Droid at 1.5 and the LG Quantum at 0.35.)

But more important than looking for a low-SAR phone is how you use it. Many cellphones emit the most radiation when they initially establish contact with the cell tower, making their “digital handshake.” To reduce exposure it’s best to wait until after your call has been connected to put your cellphone next to your ear.

During the ensuing conversation, it’s advisable to tilt the phone away from your ear when you are talking and only bring it in close to your ear when you are listening. That bit of teeter-totter works because the emission of radiation is “significantly less when a cellphone is receiving signals than when it is transmitting,” said Lin Zhong, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rice University in Houston.

Moreover, your cellphone emits less when you are stationary because when you are moving rapidly — say, in a car or train — it must repeatedly issue little bursts of radiation to make digital handshakes with different towers as it moves in and out of range. (More cause to hang up when you buckle up.)

Want another reason to complain about your carrier’s poor coverage? Any situation where your cellphone has a weak signal indicates it has to work harder and thus will emit more radiation. “Fewer bars means more radiation,” said Om Gandhi, professor of electrical engineering at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Inside buildings and elevators, in rural areas, the Grand Canyon — these are not good places to make a call if you’re trying to reduce your exposure to radiation.

Of course, parents using their iPhones to pacify cranky kids might want to reconsider rattles. Children’s developing brains and tissues are thought to be most vulnerable to cellphone radiation. Health authorities in Britain, France, Germany and Russia have all issued warnings against allowing small children to use cellphones for extended periods, if at all.

There are cellphone attachments that purport to shield users from radiation, and most are “hoaxes,” said Mr. Gandhi. Beware of pendants that sellers claim snatch radiation from the air. Pong Research offers a cellphone case for iPhones and BlackBerrys that it says has been shown by an F.C.C.-approved testing lab to redirect radiation from the phone’s antenna away from the head.

While the manufacturer says it reduces radiation more than 60 percent, some electrical engineering experts question whether the case may have the opposite effect at orientations where your head is in the way of the cell tower because your phone may have to increase its transmission strength somewhat to compensate for the redirected signal. The company disputes this. Nevertheless, the net effect of using the device throughout the course of the day may be a reduction in total exposure.

Texting, instead of talking, might be safer. “The whole trend toward texting instead of talking on cellphones is probably a good thing,” said Mr. Slesin at Microwave News. That is, if you don’t rest your cellphone against your body while typing out your message.

Neue Zürcher Zeitung    1. Juni 2011

Vergessener Alpenmediziner aus dem Engadin
Heini Hofmann

Vor 150 Jahren wurde der Begründer der Sonnenlichtbehandlung gegen Knochentuberkulose geboren. Das Engadin hat mit Oscar Bernhard (1861–1939) einen grossen Mediziner hervorgebracht. Als Prophet im eigenen Land geriet der Erfinder der Heliotherapie aber bald in Vergessenheit.
Medizinisch verordnetes Sonnenbad zur Behandlung der Knochentuberkulose in St. Moritz (etwa 1915). (Bild: zvg)

Oscar Bernhard wurde am 24. Mai 1861 in Samaden als Sohn eines Apothekers geboren, der bekannt war als Produzent des im Engadin Kultstatus geniessenden Alpenlikörs Iva. Bernhards Jugendzeit war von Natur und der Bergwelt geprägt: Mit sechzehn schoss er die erste Gemse, mit achtzehn machte er das Bergführerpatent. «Diesem starken Verbundensein mit der unberührten Natur», so schrieb er später, «verdanke ich eine Schärfung der Sinne, was mir in meinem Berufsleben sehr zugute gekommen ist.»

Arzt und Menschenfreund
Von den Einheimischen liebe- und respektvoll «Il Bernard» genannt, führte er nach dem Medizinstudium in Zürich, Heidelberg und Bern zuerst in Samaden eine Praxis mit Ableger im Bergsteigerdorf Pontresina. Bei Notfällen musste er oft im Haus des Patienten operieren, in einer dunklen Stube oder auf einem Küchentisch. Dass er auch betagte Menschen chirurgisch versorgte, erregte anfänglich Argwohn. Wenn er diese nicht in Ruhe sterben lasse, so sei dies, meinte etwa ein älterer Kollege, «eine vorwitzige Störung der Weltordnung».

«Il Bernard» war 1895 Hauptinitiant für die Gründung des ersten Spitals im Engadin, das in Samaden heute noch als höchstgelegenes Akutspital von Europa existiert und dem er zwölf Jahre als «dirigierender Arzt» (Chefarzt) vorstand. Hier begründete er auch seine Sonnenlichttherapie; Samaden ist damit die Wiege der Heliotherapie. Die Idee dazu holte er sich bei der Trockenfleischherstellung: Das Austrocknen und die bakterizide Wirkung der Sonne ermöglichen die lange Haltbarkeit von Bündnerfleisch.

Dieses Prinzip funktionierte auch beim Menschen. Nach einem ersten Versuch bei einer infizierten und schlecht heilenden Bauchwunde behandelte Bernhard mit Sonnenlicht auch Patienten mit Fisteln, tuberkulösen Geschwüren und – nach Erfolgen bei Letzteren – schliesslich sogar die geschlossene Knochentuberkulose. Bei dieser Form der Tuberkulose nisten sich die Mykobakterien nicht in der Lunge, sondern in den Knochen ein.

Anfänglich wurden nur die erkrankten Knochenpartien und Gelenke (mittels Gipsfenster) dem Sonnenlicht ausgesetzt. Später erfolgte die Ganzkörperbesonnung. Dass Sonnenbestrahlung kein harmloses Heilmittel ist, dessen war man sich bewusst. Die Behandlung begann erst Tage nach dem Eintreffen der Patienten, wenn diese sich ans Höhenklima gewöhnt hatten, und zwar mit einschleichender Dosierung bis zur individuellen Toleranz. Die entblössten Wunden wurden, nach langsamer Steigerung der Expositionszeit, bis zu mehreren Stunden täglich der Sonne ausgesetzt, an bedeckten Tagen der Luft und dem diffusen Tageslicht. Bei der Ganzkörperbestrahlung (mit abgedecktem Kopf) war man noch vorsichtiger.

Und dennoch: Heute erscheint es rätselhaft, dass, obschon weltweit Hunderttausende von Patienten besonnt wurden, nie von Hautkrebs die Rede war – auch nicht Jahre danach als Spätfolge. Im Engadin sollen Hautkarzinome generell selten beobachtet worden sein. Die Gründe dafür liegen im Dunkeln: Wurde das Problem übersehen, oder war es damals keines? Lag es an der geringeren Lebenserwartung der Menschen oder dem Fehlen eines Ozonlochs? Hier besteht noch Forschungsbedarf, denn die Klärung dieses Phänomens könnte gerade in der neu belebten Diskussion um die Entstehung von Hautkrebs von Interesse sein.

Gestoppte Klinikpläne
In Samaden – Tragik des Tüchtigen? – wurde Bernhard gemobbt, so dass er 1907 nach St. Moritz ging, wo er zuerst auch nicht willkommen war. Hier baute er eine Villa mit integrierter Miniklinik, später dann – vor genau 100 Jahren – seine weltberühmt gewordene Privatklinik, die heute als Wohnhaus dient. Neben Einheimischen behandelte der Arzt auch viele Berühmtheiten aus den Nobelhotels. Doch obschon er mit seiner Klinik weltweite Anerkennung erlangte, stoppte St. Moritz seine Zukunftspläne, oberhalb der bestehenden eine noch viel grössere Sonnenklinik zu bauen, für die bereits Pläne vorlagen. Man fürchtete um den guten Ruf der Tourismusdestination und übersah, dass die Knochen- und Gelenktuberkulose im Gegensatz zur Lungen-TB kaum ansteckend ist. Dadurch waren Bernhard die Hände gebunden, und andere profitierten von seiner «Erfindung» – so etwa der Arzt Auguste Rollier, der in Leysin 35 Heliokliniken und Sonnenschulen baute. Heute fragt man sich in Fachkreisen, ob St. Moritz damals einen möglichen Nobelpreisträger verhindert hat.

Eigentlich hätte Bernhard neidisch auf Rollier sein können. Doch weil es ihm um die Sache und nicht um Prestige ging, hatte er Freude daran, dass wenigstens dieser seine erfolgreiche Methode im grossen Stil anwenden konnte, und er unterstützte ihn sogar noch. Umgekehrt hat Rollier in allen Publikationen korrekt deklariert, dass der Begründer der Heliotherapie nicht er, sondern Bernhard sei. Beide waren übrigens Assistenten beim berühmten Berner Chirurgen und Nobelpreisträger Theodor Kocher gewesen. Dieser kritisierte allerdings das Vorgehen seiner beiden Jünger scharf. Denn die Methode der Wahl bei Knochen- und Gelenktuberkulose war damals die chirurgische Entfernung des betroffenen Körperteils. Der Patient war danach zwar gesund, aber ein «Krüppel». Bei der Heliotherapie war er im Idealfall gesund und unversehrt.

Vorbildliches Verhalten
Drei Jahre vor seinem Tod, als die operative Behandlung der «chirurgischen» Tuberkulose definitiv ins Wanken geriet, zeigte die graue Eminenz Kocher wirkliche Grösse, indem er sich in einer Publikation unmissverständlich korrigierte: «Wir müssen bekennen, dass wir nicht das getan haben, was wir hätten tun sollen. Wir zollen den Pionieren (der Heliotherapie) volle Anerkennung!» Dieses vorbildliche Verhalten aller drei Kontrahenten – Bernhard, Rollier und Kocher – könnte heute als Massstab dienen, wenn im akademischen Wettstreit gelegentlich missgünstig und unfair gekämpft wird.

Auch St. Moritz gegenüber beklagte sich Bernhard nie, obschon man ihm die Flügel gestutzt hatte. Als Tatmensch war er sich auch nicht zu schade, während des Ersten Weltkriegs, statt im sichern Hort St. Moritz zu verbleiben, sein medizinisches Wissen dort einzubringen, wo es am dringendsten benötigt wurde: als Kriegschirurg der Schweizer Armee in deutschen, englischen und französischen Lazaretten.

Sein Schicksal war das des Propheten im eignen Land: Was im Engadin nicht gefragt war, durfte er 1915 im Auftrag der Grossherzogin Luise von Baden in Bad Dürrheim im Schwarzwald tun: eine riesige Sonnenklinik für Kriegsverwundete errichten. Als dann in den 1940er Jahren die ersten Tuberkulose-Medikamente auf den Markt kamen, hatte die Heliotherapie, kurz nach Bernhards Tod, ausgedient. Er selber hatte vorausblickend prophezeit, die Heliotherapie der «chirurgischen» Tuberkulose werde so lange das Mittel der Wahl sein, bis ein Spezifikum gefunden werde.

Dass die Heliotherapie nach dem Aufkommen der Tuberkulostatika obsolet wurde, versteht sich von selbst. Der Einsatz eines wirksamen Medikaments war einfacher, schneller und überall möglich, auch dort, wo es keine Gebirgssonne gab. Heute scheint die Heliotherapie jedoch ein gewisses Revival zu erleben, vor allem als Lichttherapie bei Depressionen und auch bei Vitamin-D-Mangel. Überhaupt scheint es, als ob man sich heute in verschiedenen Bereichen der Medizin der Heilkraft der Sonne wieder erinnert.

Heini Hofmann ist Zootierarzt und freier Wissenschaftspublizist. Im Herbst erscheint im Verlag Montabella sein Buch zu Ehren von Oscar Bernhard über die Medizingeschichte von St. Moritz.((info-box))((info-box))

NZZ Online, SDA    12. Juli 2011, 09:57

Stimulierende Stammzellen
Stammzellen können den Ausbau von Verbindungen zwischen Hirnzellen anregen

Nervenzellen ohne Zugabe von Stammzellen (links) und nach der Zugabe von Stammzellen: Die Nervenzellen haben dank den Stammzellen neue Verbindungen zu anderen Zellen aufgebaut. (Bild: Universitätsklinik für Neurochirurgie, Inselspital Bern)

Transplantierte Stammzellen regen andere Zellen im Gehirn zur Reparatur an. Das hat ein Forscher des Berner Inselspitals gemeinsam mit Kollegen der US-Elite-Universität Stanford in einer Studie mit Ratten nachgewiesen.
(sda) Die Idee der Stammzelltherapie ist bestechend einfach: Stammzellen werden in ein beschädigtes Gewebe eingesetzt und bilden sich dort zum benötigten Zelltyp aus. Hirnforscher hoffen, dass Stammzellen künftig nach einem Hirnschlag die kaputten Nervenverbindungen im Gehirn reparieren.

Dass diese Art der Therapie funktionieren könnte, haben bereits mehrere Studien gezeigt. Momentan laufen sechs klinische Hirnschlag-Stammzell-Studien, wie ein Team um Robert Andres von der Universitätsklinik für Neurochirurgie des Berner Inselspitals im Fachmagazin «Brain» schreibt.

Neue Verbindungen im Hirn
Wie die eingesetzten Stammzellen ihre Wirkung entfalten, verstehen Forscher aber noch nicht genau. Bisher gingen sie davon aus, dass die Stammzellen die beschädigten Nervenzellen ersetzten, wie es in einer Mitteilung des Inselspitals heisst. Andres und seine Kollegen zeigen nun aber, dass dies nur auf fünf Prozent der eingesetzten Stammzellen zutrifft.

Die Mehrheit der Stammzellen dagegen schüttet Stoffe aus, die Nervenzellen dazu bringen, Verbindungen zu anderen Zellen aufzubauen. Dank dieser neuen, intakten «Leitungen» können andere Hirnregionen die vom Hirnschlag beschädigten Funktionen übernehmen. Die Forscher fanden so eine deutliche Besserung im Gehirn ihrer Versuchstiere.

Die Ergebnisse liefern laut Andres wichtige Hinweise für den Einsatz einer Stammzelltherapie beim Menschen. «Wir wissen jetzt, dass der Zeitpunkt, der Ort und die Art der transplantierten Zellen eine wichtige Rolle spielen», wird der Forscher im Communiqué zitiert.

Le Temps    2 septembre 2011

Une bombe intelligente contre le cancer
Par Pierre-Yves Frei

Une bombe intelligente contre le cancer Une machine moléculaire est capable d’identifier certaines cellules malignes. Cette découverte ouvre un nouvel horizon thérapeutique
Quel chemin parcouru. En 1953, Watson et Crick découvrent la structure hélicoïdale de l’ADN, le matériel génétique qui caractérise l’ensemble du monde vivant (à l’exception de quelques virus qui affectionnent l’ARN). Un peu moins de soixante ans plus tard, non seulement on a compris que cet ADN est écrit à l’aide de quatre bases élémentaires – adénine, guanine, cytosine, thymine –, qu’il forme des mots, les gènes, mais aussi un long texte apparemment désorganisé et non codant, encore que…

Cet extraordinaire travail de décryptage et de compréhension n’est pas encore terminé que déjà certains biologistes sont passés à l’étape ultérieure: l’assemblage, par génie humain, de bases et de gènes. On décrit souvent ces derniers comme les briques de la vie. Les chercheurs ont pris la métaphore au pied de la lettre. Avec des briques, on peut construire un mur. Avec des briques de vie, on peut construire un élément de vie, voire la vie elle-même.

Une machine moléculaire capable de tuer les cellules cancéreuses. (Yaakov Benenson)

C’est ce principe qu’ont suivi plusieurs chercheurs de l’Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Zurich (EPFZ) et du Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) aux Etats-Unis pour leurs recherches publiées dans la dernière édition du magazine Science. Leur exploit? Avoir généré une machine biologique capable non seulement de détecter si une cellule est cancéreuse ou non, mais également de la détruire si d’aventure elle se révèle maligne.

Il n’en faut guère plus pour se souvenir du Voyage fantastique de Richard Fleischer, film de 1966 dans lequel un équipage embarqué dans un sous-marin réduit à l’échelle microscopique se promène dans le corps d’un éminent scientifique dont il s’agit de sauver la vie. Mention particulière pour cette scène d’anthologie où les aventuriers, dont la généreuse Raquel Welch, donnent du fusil laser contre une bande de macrophages belliqueux.

Rien d’aussi exotique dans les recherches publiées par Science, même si la réalité égale, voire dépasse la fiction. «La meilleure façon de décrire cet ordinateur biologique consiste peut-être à décrire ses trois fonctions, explique Yaakov Benenson, professeur de biologie synthétique de l’EPFZ à Bâle et l’un des auteurs de l’article. Une première partie est constituée de senseurs moléculaires capables de détecter cinq marqueurs qui doivent être présents de façon concomitante pour confirmer de façon univoque que la cellule est bien cancéreuse. La deuxième est constituée de l’ordinateur lui-même, capable d’effectuer les opérations logiques nécessaires pour enregistrer et confirmer que les cinq marqueurs, en fait des micro-ARN, sont effectivement présents. Ce n’est qu’à cette seule condition que la troisième partie de notre machine biologique se déclenche et tue la cellule.»

Pour parvenir à un tel résultat, les chercheurs ont d’abord épluché la littérature, en quête de plusieurs marqueurs capables d’identifier formellement le caractère malin d’une cellule du col de l’utérus. Ensuite, ils ont construit, brique par brique, leur fusée moléculaire à trois étages. «L’aspect synthétique consiste ici à associer différents gènes porteurs des fonctions qui nous intéressent, reprend le chercheur bâlois. Une fois cet assemblage réalisé et multiplié, on introduit le tout dans le milieu cellulaire concerné. Ces sondes génétiques pénètrent les cellules et ce sont leur machinerie interne qui, sur la base de cette recette génétique synthétique, s’occupe de construire la machine biologique.»

Une fois dans la place, cet espion n’a plus qu’à guetter les signes d’un comportement malin. S’il les détecte tous, il déclenche le programme de destruction grâce à une bombe subtile. Une cellule cancéreuse se caractérise notamment par le fait qu’elle a perdu sa capacité à se suicider, une fonction nécessaire à la survie de l’organisme. L’ordinateur, grâce à l’un de ses gènes, la rétablit et convainc la cellule d’en finir avec la vie.

L’un des points remarquables de cette recherche tient au fait que les chercheurs ont dessiné un ordinateur moléculaire qui a parfaitement accompli sa tâche, soit tuer les cellules cancéreuses et épargner les cellules saines. Sauf que ce succès a été remporté dans des milieux de cultures cellulaires. Traduction: il faut désormais transformer l’essai en expérimentant ce procédé chez l’animal tout d’abord, puis chez l’être humain.

Cette montée en puissance s’annonce délicate. Comment cette machine sera traitée par le système immunitaire de son hôte, sachant qu’il n’est rien d’autre qu’un corps étranger? «Ce n’est pas le point qui m’inquiète le plus, confie Yaakov Benenson. On sait relativement bien aujourd’hui comment diminuer la réactivité du système immunitaire.» L’incertitude concerne bien plus la façon qu’emploieront les chercheurs pour convoyer leurs ordinateurs jusque vers les cellules qui auraient besoin d’être détruites. «Nous ignorons encore s’il s’agira de les envoyer via une injection sanguine en les laissant ensuite voyager dans le corps ou s’il nous faudra viser notre cible beaucoup plus précisément par une injection directement à proximité de la tumeur.»

Une autre interrogation concerne le devenir de ces machines biologiques. Après tout, elles sont faites de gènes et, comme toutes celles de leur nature, elles sont susceptibles de connaître des mutations ou d’en induire. Qui dit que certaines de ces mutations ne pourraient pas transformer le remède en mal sournois. «Je ne peux pas dire que ce risque est nul, admet le biologiste. Néanmoins, il faut savoir que ces machines moléculaires ont été conçues pour ne résider que quelques jours au cœur de la cellule. C’est, selon nous, un temps trop court pour permettre à des mutations de se produire.»

Une opinion que les premiers essais animaux, prévus dans un ou deux ans, devraient permettre de confirmer ou d’infirmer.