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BILL GATES, 5 SCIENTISTS WIN LASKER MEDICAL PRIZES

Tuesday, 10 September 2013 08:31 Published in Health & Fitness
NEW YORK (AP) -- Two scientists who illuminated how brain cells communicate, three researchers who developed implants that let deaf people hear and philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates have won prestigious Lasker Awards for medical research and contributions to public health.

The Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation announced the recipients of the $250,000 prizes on Monday. The awards will be presented Sept. 20 in New York City.

The Gateses won the public service award "for leading a historic transformation in the way we view the globe's most pressing health concerns and improving the lives of millions of the world's most vulnerable," the Lasker foundation said.

They have donated more than $26 billion to their philanthropic foundation. They often team up with agencies that can provide diverse expertise, the Lasker foundation said, noting that they supported an international partnership that has helped immunize hundreds of millions of children against killer diseases. Their current priorities include polio, agriculture and family-planning information and services.

The Lasker clinical medical research award will be shared by Graeme Clark, an emeritus professor at the University of Melbourne in Australia, Ingeborg Hochmair of the company MED-EL in Innsbruck, Austria, and Blake Wilson of Duke University in North Carolina, for developing the modern cochlear (KAH'-klee-er) implant. More than 320,000 people around the world use the implants for severe hearing loss, the foundation said.

The devices stimulate the auditory nerve with electric signals. Hochmair and Clark worked independently, in the face of scientific skepticism that electrical stimulation could produce meaningful hearing. The implants were approved in the U.S. in 1985.

Wilson later designed a new way for implants to process speech, which has allowed most users to understand words and sentences with no visual cues. The advance fueled a growth in implant use that began in the early 1990s, the foundation said.

The Lasker award for basic medical research will be shared by Richard Scheller of the biotech company Genentech and Dr. Thomas Sudhof of Stanford University. With research they began independently in the late 1980s, they unraveled details of how brain cells release chemical messengers to communicate with each other. Scientists are beginning to find connections between the molecular equipment they studied and serious illnesses like Parkinson's disease, the foundation said.

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CARMAKERS UPBEAT AT FRANKFURT AS MARKET STEADIES

Tuesday, 10 September 2013 08:17 Published in National News
FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — The world's auto manufacturers are moving on from turbulent times — without help from Europe's lagging car markets.

Recovering auto sales in the United States and continuing strength in China have helped lighten the mood at this year's Frankfurt Auto Show, where automakers have set out to wow potential customers with electric and hybrid-drive vehicles and the latest technology.

Latest sales figures show the key U.S. market on pace for 16 million in sales this year, finally reaching the 2007 level from before the financial crisis and recession.

But the only good news out of the show's home market, Europe, is that sales appear to be halting their steep decline. Executives and analysts say no significant rebound is expected this year or next.

"Europe remains a challenge," BMW CEO Norbert Reithofer told journalists. The U.S, on the other hand, "is not the 17 million that we had before, but it's still up."

Last year, new car registrations in the European Union were at their lowest level since 1995 at around 12 million cars, compared to 15.6 million in in 2007. The Center for Automotive Research at the University of Essen-Duisburg estimates only 11.8 milion this year, and a very slight recovery in 2014.

"In the car industry, we have two worlds, on the one hand Europe which is a catastrophe, and the rest of the world where it looks much better," said Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, professor of automotive economics at the university.

Germany's Daimler, Volkswagen and BMW are all making money thanks to sales outside Europe and are showing off new products with swagger and glitz at their home show.

Major themes at Frankfurt include electric and hybrid autos, often in higher performance and price categories, and new small SUVs, an increasingly popular category in Europe. Another frequent topic is autonomous driving — still a long way off due to legal reasons but increasingly technologically possible by equipping cars with cameras and computers.

At BMW's gigantic hall, its new i3 electric compacts glided silently around an elevated figure-eight track. Across the way, Daimler's CEO Dieter Zetsche showed off his Mercedes brand's self-drive technology by riding into another exhibit hall in the back seat of a driverless car.

The car had made an autonomous cruise through several German towns to show off the new systems. Drivers who buy the new Mercedes S-Class will find that it forces them to put their hands back on the wheel after a few seconds. The company also unveiled a hybrid version of the S-Class.

Volkswagen showed off four new cars using electric propulsion: electric versions of its Up! and Golf compacts, and an Audi A3 and Porsche Panamera using hybrid drive, which combines electric motors and internal combustion engine to reduce emissions.

One target of the show's marketing effort is western Europe's young people, many of whom have turned away from their parents' SUV's toward a mix of bicycles, car-sharing and public transport.

BMW opened the first press day Tuesday with a song shouting "we are young" and a presentation including footage of people tearing down the Berlin Wall.

With hybrids and electrics only 0.2 percent of the market, analysts say that the prospects for sales and profits remain uncertain. They can help companies meet government requirements for lower average emissions — and position them to be ready if such vehicles take off.

Zetsche of Mercedes added that the only way to perfect the technology is to actually make cars on an industrial scale and sell them.

"We don't expect that this will have any kind of explosive development," Zetsche told reporters. "But we will see a long phase of steady, slow substitution of conventional power trends by alternative ones."

SUDDEN PLAN: SYRIA TO DISPOSE OF CHEMICAL WEAPONS?

Tuesday, 10 September 2013 07:59 Published in National News
WASHINGTON (AP) — In a rapid and remarkable chain of events, Syria welcomed the idea of turning over all of its chemical weapons for destruction on Monday, and President Barack Obama, though expressing deep skepticism, declared it a "potentially a significant breakthrough" that could head off the threats of U.S. air strikes that have set the world on edge.

The administration pressed ahead in its efforts to persuade Congress to authorize a military strike, and Obama said the day's developments were doubtless due in part to the "credible possibility" of that action. He stuck to his plan to address the nation Tuesday night, while the Senate Democratic leader postponed a vote on authorization.

The sudden developments broke into the open when Russia's foreign minister, seizing on what appeared at the time to be an off-the-cuff remark by Secretary of State John Kerry, appeared in Moscow alongside his Syrian counterpart and proposed the chemical weapons turnover and destruction. The Syrian quickly embraced the idea, and before long U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon did, too.

Obama, who appeared Monday evening in interviews on six TV networks, said the idea actually had been broached in his 20-minute meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week on the sidelines of an economic summit in St. Petersburg, Russia. Obama said he directed Kerry to have more conversations with the Russians and "run this to ground."

The president said he would "absolutely" halt a U.S. military strike if Syria's stockpiles were successfully secured, though he remained skeptical about Assad's willingness to carry out the steps needed.

"My objective here has always been to deal with a very specific problem," Obama said in an interview with ABC News. "If we can do that without a military strike, that is overwhelmingly my preference."

The suggestion to secure the chemical weapons "could potentially be a significant breakthrough," Obama told NBC News in another interview. "But we have to be skeptical because this is not how we've seen them operate over the last couple a years."

He cast Russia's proposal as a direct result of the pressure being felt by Syria because of the threat of a U.S. strike and warned that he would not allow the idea to be used as a stalling tactic.

"I don't think that we would have gotten to this point unless we had maintained a credible possibility of a military strike, and I don't think now is the time for us to let up on that," he said.

Still, the White House has had scant success in persuading members of Congress — including Democrats — to support the idea of military action. Senators continued to announce their opposition through the day.

The proposal from Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov came just hours after Kerry told reporters in London that Assad could avoid a U.S. attack and resolve the crisis surrounding the use of chemical weapons by surrendering control of "every single bit" of his arsenal to the international community by the end of the week.

The State Department sought to tamp down the potential impact of Kerry's comments by calling them a "rhetorical" response to a hypothetical question and not "a proposal." But their importance became more clear as the day progressed.

Kerry spoke by phone with Lavrov shortly after making his comments in London, and officials familiar with the call said Lavrov had told Kerry that he had seen the remarks and would be issuing a public statement. Kerry told Lavrov that his comments were not a proposal but the U.S. would be willing to review a serious plan, the officials said. They stressed that he made clear that Lavrov could not present the idea as a joint U.S.-Russian proposal.

The officials commented only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to describe the information publicly.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem immediately embraced the plan. And then in quick succession, the U.N. chief did, too, British Prime Minister David Cameron said it was worth exploring, the French foreign ministry said it deserved close examination and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said any move by Syria to surrender its chemical weapons would be an "important step." Clinton, in contrast with the White House and State Department, credited Kerry and Russia jointly for the proposal.

Obama still faces a decidedly uphill fight to win congressional authorization for the use of force — and serious doubts by the American public — and Monday's developments, planned or not, could provide him with a way out of a messy political and foreign policy bind.

Yet, the White House said it does not want Congress to delay votes on use-of-force resolutions while awaiting decisions on whether to proceed with transferring Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles.

The U.S. accuses Assad's government of being behind an attack using sarin gas in a Damascus suburb on Aug. 21, killing 1,429 people. Some other estimates of the deaths are lower, but there is wide agreement that chemical weapons were used. Experts believe that the Syrian government's arsenal of chemical weapons includes nerve agents like sarin, tabun and VX as well as mustard gas.

In an interview with Charlie Rose that was broadcast Monday on "CBS This Morning," Assad denied responsibility for the Aug. 21 attack, accused the Obama administration of spreading lies without providing a "single shred of evidence," and warned that air strikes against his nation could bring retaliation. Pressed on what that might include, Assad responded, "I'm not fortune teller."

Later Monday, Syria's foreign minister, meeting with his Russian counterpart in Moscow, addressed the idea of getting rid of any chemical weapons.

"Syria welcomes the Russian proposal out of concern for the lives of the Syrian people, the security of our country and because it believes in the wisdom of the Russian leadership that seeks to avert American aggression against our people," said al-Moallem.

Kerry's comments came at a news conference with British Foreign Secretary William Hague and in response to a question about what, if anything, Assad could do to stop the U.S. from punishing it for the use of chemical weapons.

"Sure," Kerry replied. "He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week. Turn it over, all of it, without delay, and allow a full and total accounting for that. But he isn't about to do it, and it can't be done, obviously."

Traveling with Kerry, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki tried to blunt the suggestion.

"Secretary Kerry was making a rhetorical argument about the impossibility and unlikelihood of Assad turning over chemical weapons he has denied he used," she said. "His point was that this brutal dictator with a history of playing fast and loose with the facts cannot be trusted to turn over chemical weapons otherwise he would have done so long ago."

And, in a speech, Obama's national security adviser Susan Rice reiterated that the president had decided it is in U.S. interests to carry out limited strikes.

Al-Moallem and Lavrov had not reacted to Kerry's comments when they spoke to reporters immediately after their meeting. But Lavrov appeared before television cameras several hours later to say Moscow would urge Syria to quickly place its chemical weapons under international control and then dismantle them.

"If the establishment of international control over chemical weapons in that country would allow avoiding strikes, we will immediately start working with Damascus," Lavrov said.

"We are calling on the Syrian leadership to not only agree on placing chemical weapons storage sites under international control, but also on its subsequent destruction and fully joining the treaty on prohibition of chemical weapons," he said.

Russia's proposal provided confirmation from Syria's most important international ally that the Syrian government possesses chemical weapons, and al-Moallem's welcome was a tacit acknowledgment. Syria's foreign ministry last year retracted a threat to use chemical weapons, saying it was not acknowledging that it had them.

___
Associated Press writers Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow, Zeina Karam in Beirut, Connie Cass in Washington, Deb Riechmann in London and Edith Lederer at the U.N. contributed to this report.

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