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A new report concludes that the test most commonly used to measure the level of lead present in blood cannot detect low concentrations that may pose health risks, especially to infants, children, and pregnant women.

The report, released by the National Research Council last week, says that lead-concentration detection efforts need "substantial improvement'' to meet guidelines set in 1991 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Although the commonly used erythrocyte protoporphyrin test is sensitive enough to detect concentrations above the level previously determined by the C.D.C. to be dangerous, the 1991 guidelines reduced that figure by more than half.

The N.R.C. study calls for the development of new techniques to screen for lower blood-lead levels.

Copies of the report, "Measuring Lead Exposure in Infants, Children, and Other Sensitive Populations,'' are available for $39 each from National Academy Press, (800) 624-6242 or (202) 334-3313.

Scientists may be coming closer to a cure for cystic fibrosis.

Dr. Michael J. Welsh of the University of Iowa reported in the journal Cell this month that he and his colleagues have been able to correct the genetic defect responsible for the often fatal disease.

Cystic fibrosis causes a thick mucus to build up in the lungs, resulting in frequent lung infections and other respiratory problems. The average life span of people with the disease is about 29 years, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation estimates that about 11,500 school-age children have the disease.

The Iowa scientists replaced the defective gene in cells lining the noses of three patients. The study did not test the gene's longevity or whether lung function was actually improved.

Although gene therapy is still a nascent technology, the N.H.L.B.I., a division of the National Institutes of Health, this month awarded grants to Dr. Welsh and five other scientists for the creation of six gene-therapy research centers.

Members of low-income families can receive free eye care during Save Your Vision Week, to be held March 6-12, 1994.

VISION USA, a program of the American Optometric Association, will arrange for members of uninsured families with at least one working family member and a family income below their state's poverty line to receive free eye exams from local optometrists.

Participants must not have had an eye examination within the past 12 months.

More information is available from VISION USA, 243 North Lindbergh Blvd., St. Louis, Mo. 63141; (314) 991-4100.--S.S.

Vol. 13, Issue 08

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