Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Progress being made on nanomedicine computers

Tiny Biocomputers Move Closer to Reality: Scientific American scientificamerican.com Researchers in nanomedicine have long dreamed of an age when molecular-scale computing devices could be embedded in our bodies to monitor health and treat diseases before they progress. The advantage of such computers, which would be made of biological materials, would lie in their ability to speak the biochemical language of life. Several research groups have recently reported progress in this field. A team at the California Institute of Technology, writing in the journal Science, made use of DNA nanostructures called seesaw gates to construct logic circuits analogous to those used in microprocessors. Just as silicon-based components use electric current to represent 1’s and 0’s, bio-based circuits use concentrations of DNA molecules in a test tube. When new DNA strands are added to the test tube as “input,” the solution undergoes a cascade of chemical interactions to release different DNA strands as “output.” In theory, the input could be a molecular indicator of a disease, and the output could be an appropriate therapeutic molecule. A common problem in constructing a computer in a test tube is that it is hard to control which interactions among molecules occur. The brilliance of the seesaw gate is that a particular gate responds only to particular input DNA strands. In a subsequent Nature paper, the Caltech researchers showed off the power of their technique by building a DNA-based circuit that could play a simple memory game. A circuit with memory could, if integrated into living cells, recognize and treat complex diseases based on a series of biological clues. This circuitry has not been integrated into living tissue, however, in part because its ability to communicate with cells is limited. Zhen Xie of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his collaborators have recently made progress on this front. As they reported in Science, they designed an RNA-based circuit that was simpler but could still distinguish modified cancer cells from noncancerous cells and, more important, trigger the cancer cells to self-destruct. Both techniques have been used only in artificial scenarios. Yet the advances in DNA-based circuits offer a new, powerful platform to potentially realize researchers’ long-held biocomputing dreams. - Posted from my iPad2

Location:Georgetown TX,United States

Canadian researchers believe they are near to developing a vaccine for ovarian cancer

Canadian researchers close in on vaccine for ovarian cancer montrealgazette.com Brad Nelson, a molecular and cellular biologist and project leader of the research at the B.C. Cancer Agency's Deeley Research Centre, said the team believes it is three to five years away from clinical trials of a vaccine. Nelson said this has been made possible by breakthroughs in recent years in DNA sequencing. "It's a whole new approach to cancer vaccines that's never been used before," he said. According to Ovarian Cancer Canada, more than 2,600 Canadian women are diagnosed with the disease every year and it kills 1,750 annually. If it is detected early, survival rates can reach 90 per cent. But no screening tools exist to test for it, and symptoms can be vague and easily missed. Most diagnoses occur when the cancer has reached an advanced stage. Ovarian cancer cells can be shed into surrounding bodily fluid. They can then implant on other structures, including the uterus, bladder or bowel, forming new tumours. He said the course of treatment for ovarian cancer is normally surgery followed by chemotherapy. Patients usually respond well at first, but within two to three years, the cancer often reappears. By that time, the cancer cells often have become resistant to chemotherapy drugs, and survival rates start to drop off. Nelson said his research is geared toward a therapeutic vaccine that would be administered after surgery and chemotherapy have beaten down the cancer cells. The vaccine would work by educating the body's immune system to recognize cancerous cells and attack them. Nelson said the planned vaccine would be personalized by creating a DNA profile of the patient's tumours. With ovarian cancer, cells with mutations begin to arise and together band into tumours. By performing a DNA analysis of the tumour, a more targeted vaccine can be developed. It would alert the immune system of a particular patient to recognize and attack the mutated cells of tumours. Also, if the cancer should reappear, another personalized vaccine can be created. This new version could target cells of the second cancer, which likely would have mutated from the first. "There really is no limit to how long you can play this strategy," Nelson said. Furthermore, because cancer cells tend to mutate into hundreds of DNA sequences, the vaccine would target five of the mutations, giving the patient's immune system a good chance of winning. "The chance a tumour will be able to bypass all five is very low," he said. It's an approach similar to modern drug cocktail treatments for HIV. A variety of drugs are used to beat back the AIDS virus as it mutates into various forms. "Viruses are like tumours â they are dumb," Nelson said. "They aren't really trying to kill you, they just keep on blindly evolving." Researchers in the U.S. are taking a similar approach to developing personalized vaccines for different cancers. But Nelson said the B.C. Cancer Centre in Victoria offers him a unique, "front-line" scientific environment. Nelson bumps shoulders every day with clinical doctors and patients. "You start to think differently," he said. "What can I do in three to five years that is going to make a difference?" Meanwhile, Lorraine Dixon of Saltspring Island, a survivor of ovarian cancer and one of the nearly 100 women who have agreed to donate tissue and blood samples to help out, is glad to hear the work is going well. Dixon reports every year to have blood drawn for research. Since she was diagnosed in 2008, Dixon has had two bouts of surgery, one round of chemotherapy and one round of radiation therapy. The tests show she has responded well. But Dixon said she has a vested interest beyond her own body. She also has a grown daughter, two granddaughters and five nieces. "I agreed (to the research) before my first surgery," she said. Nelson's work has been funded by Genome B.C., an organization supported by government partnering with private industry to act as a catalyst in life-sciences research, including medicine. - Posted from my iPad2

Location:Georgetown TX,United States

Saturday, December 17, 2011

An X-Ray Machine The Size Of An iPhone That Looks Like A Star Trek Tricorder

An X-Ray Machine The Size Of An iPhone That Looks Like A Star Trek Tricorder

BY Neal Ungerleider Thu Dec 8, 2011

California startup Tribogenics is betting that their technology will transform health care--and investors seem to agree.
X-ray machines traditionally use bulky power sources to generate rays. However, California startup Tribogenics is betting that a novel method of powering X-ray machines will revolutionize medical care and airport security. The best part? Tribogenics has already developed prototypes that fit in a pocket.

Tribogenics' products rely on a counterintuitive discovery: X-rays are generated when unrolling Scotch tape in a vacuum. In a Nature article, UCLA researchers Carlos Camara, Juan Escobar, Jonathan Hird, and Seth Putterman detailed how Scotch tape can generate surprisingly large amounts of X-rays thanks to visible radiation generated by static electricity between two contacting surfaces. The research encountered challenges thanks to the fact that Scotch tape and generic brand adhesive tapes generated slightly different energy signatures; the composition of Scotch tape adhesive is a closely guarded 3M trade secret. Camara is Tribogenics' chief scientist; the company is headed by Dale Fox, best known for developing the first screen overlay protectors for mobile phones.

Fox told Fast Company that “every other X-ray source in the world uses a high-voltage transformer connected to a vacuum tube. In contrast, we've harnessed the power of the immense voltages in static electricity to create tiny, low-cost, battery-operated X-ray sources for the first time in history. It's like the jump the electronics industry took when it moved from vacuum tubes to transistors.” According to Fox, Tribogenics has already developed X-ray energy sources the size of a USB memory stick. While Tribogenics representatives declined to discuss pricing for upcoming products, the firm “very comfortably” promised that the cost would be less than 10% than that of any existing X-ray technology.

Tribogenics' effort to bring products to market received a major boost on Tuesday, December 6, thanks to $2.5 million in funding received from Flywheel Ventures and an assortment of angel investors. The firm was founded in 2009 and appears to have completed the difficult step of finding commercial applications for pure research.

The guts of Tribogenics' ultra-portable X-ray machines can be traced, like so many other things, to DARPA. UCLA received research funding from the government agency in 2007; DARPA literature has detailed their hope that cheap, portable X-ray machines could revolutionize battlefield medicine, emergency first response, and airport security. Additional funding was received from the U.S. Army Telemedicine & Advanced Technology Research Center. The technology was later featured on the television show Mythbusters.

While no commercial products have been released by Tribogenics yet, several prototypes show potential. The company appears to be banking most of their hopes on a product called a Pocket XRF Analyzer (pictured), which representatives explicitly compared to a Star Trek tricorder. The XRF Analyzer, which is approximately the size of an iPhone, can identify gold or other precious jewels for jewelers, detect lead traces in toys, and can find traces of radioactive elements in airport security settings.

However, ultra-portable X-ray machines show the greatest potential for becoming a disruptive medical technology. Tribogenics' methods have revolutionary ramifications for catheterized radiation therapy, which currently poses significant radiation risks for patients, doctors, and nurses. According to Fox, the company's products eliminate the need for radioactive isotopes.

Release dates for Tribogenics products for the consumer market have not been announced; however, the firm claims that Pocket XRF Analyzers will drop to a price point affordable for the mass market--and not just for specialists. However, the firm will face challenges in transforming devices that generate large amounts of radiation into consumer products.

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Location:Georgetown TX, United States

Hydrogel helps grow new scar-free skin In treatment of third-degree burn

In third-degree burn treatment, hydrogel helps grow new, scar-free skin

In third-degree burn treatment, hydrogel helps grow new, scar-free skin

Johns Hopkins researchers have developed a jelly-like material and wound treatment method that, in early experiments on skin damaged by severe burns, appeared to regenerate healthy, scar-free tissue.

In the Dec. 12-16 online Early Edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers reported their promising results from mouse tissue tests. The new treatment has not yet been tested on human patients. But the researchers say the procedure, which promotes the formation of new blood vessels and skin, including hair follicles, could lead to greatly improved healing for injured soldiers, home fire victims and other people with third-degree burns.

Dextran hydrogel for burn wound healing. (A) Surgery procedure: We placed wounds on the posterior-dorsum of each mouse and performed burn wound excisions after 48 h. We covered wounds with either dextran hydrogels or control scaffold, followed by their coverage with dressing. We covered the control wounds only with dressing. (B) Photo image of wound healing within 21 d demonstrate a more complete wound healing in burn wounds treated with dextran hydrogel than in wounds treated with control scaffolds or dressing alone.

The treatment involved a simple wound dressing that included a specially designed hydrogel—a water-based, three-dimensional framework of polymers. This material was developed by researchers at Johns Hopkins’ Whiting School of Engineering, working with clinicians at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center Burn Center and the Department of Pathology at the university’s School of Medicine.

Third-degree burns typically destroy the top layers of skin down to the muscle. They require complex medical care and leave behind ugly scarring. But in the journal article, the Johns Hopkins team reported that their hydrogel method yielded better results. “This treatment promoted the development of new blood vessels and the regeneration of complex layers of skin, including hair follicles and the glands that produce skin oil,” said Sharon Gerecht, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering who was principal investigator on the study.

n early testing, this hydrogel, developed by Johns Hopkins researchers, helped improve healing in third-degree burns. Photo by Will Kirk/HomewoodPhoto.jhu.edu

Gerecht said the hydrogel could form the basis of an inexpensive burn wound treatment that works better than currently available clinical therapies, adding that it would be easy to manufacture on a large scale. Gerecht suggested that because the hydrogel contains no drugs or biological components to make it work, the Food and Drug Administration would most likely classify it as a device. Further animal testing is planned before trials on human patients begin. But Gerecht said, “It could be approved for clinical use after just a few years of testing.”

John Harmon, a professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and director of surgical research at Bayview, described the mouse study results as “absolutely remarkable. We got complete skin regeneration, which never happens in typical burn wound treatment.”

If the treatment succeeds in human patients, it could address a serious form of injury. Harmon, a coauthor of the PNAS journal article, pointed out that 100,000 third-degree burns are treated in U. S. burn centers like Bayview every year. A burn wound dressing using the new hydrogel could have enormous potential for use in applications beyond common burns, including treatment of diabetic patients with foot ulcers, Harmon said.

Guoming Sun, Gerecht’s Maryland Stem Cell Research Postdoctoral Fellow and lead author on the paper, has been working with these hydrogels for the last three years, developing ways to improve the growth of blood vessels, a process called angiogenesis. “Our goal was to induce the growth of functional new blood vessels within the hydrogel to treat wounds and ischemic disease, which reduces blood flow to organs like the heart,” Sun said. “These tests on burn injuries just proved its potential.”

Gerecht says the hydrogel is constructed in such a way that it allows tissue regeneration and blood vessel formation to occur very quickly. “Inflammatory cells are able to easily penetrate and degrade the hydrogel, enabling blood vessels to fill in and support wound healing and the growth of new tissue,” she said. For burns, the faster this process occurs, Gerecht added, the less there is a chance for scarring.

Originally, her team intended to load the gel with stem cells and infuse it with growth factors to trigger and direct the tissue development. Instead, they tested the gel alone. “We were surprised to see such complete regeneration in the absence of any added biological signals,” Gerecht said.

Sun added, “Complete skin regeneration is desired for various wound injuries. With further fine-tuning of these kinds of biomaterial frameworks, we may restore normal skin structures for other injuries such as skin ulcers.”

Gerecht and Harmon say they don’t fully understand how the hydrogel dressing is working. After it is applied, the tissue progresses through the various stages of wound repair, Gerecht said. After 21 days, the gel has been harmlessly absorbed, and the tissue continues to return to the appearance of normal skin.

The hydrogel is mainly made of water with dissolved dextran—a polysaccharide (sugar molecule chains). “It also could be that the physical structure of the hydrogel guides the repair,” Gerecht said. Harmon speculates that the hydrogel may recruit circulating bone marrow stem cells in the bloodstream. Stem cells are special cells that can grow into practically any sort of tissue if provided with the right chemical cue. “It’s possible the gel is somehow signaling the stem cells to become new skin and blood vessels,” Harmon said.

Neovascularization is a critical determinant of wound-healing outcomes for deep burn injuries. We hypothesize that dextran-based hydrogels can serve as instructive scaffolds to promote neovascularization and skin regeneration in third-degree burn wounds. Dextran hydrogels are soft and pliable, offering opportunities to improve the management of burn wound treatment. We first developed a procedure to treat burn wounds on mice with dextran hydrogels. In this procedure, we followed clinical practice of wound excision to remove full-thickness burned skin, and then covered the wound with the dextran hydrogel and a dressing layer. Our procedure allows the hydrogel to remain intact and securely in place during the entire healing period, thus offering opportunities to simplify the management of burn wound treatment. A 3-week comparative study indicated that dextran hydrogel promoted dermal regeneration with complete skin appendages. The hydrogel scaffold facilitated early inflammatory cell infiltration that led to its rapid degradation, promoting the infiltration of angiogenic cells into the healing wounds. Endothelial cells homed into the hydrogel scaffolds to enable neovascularization by day 7, resulting in an increased blood flow significantly greater than treated and untreated controls. By day 21, burn wounds treated with hydrogel developed a mature epithelial structure with hair follicles and sebaceous glands. After 5 weeks of treatment, the hydrogel scaffolds promoted new hair growth and epidermal morphology and thickness similar to normal mouse skin. Collectively, our evidence shows that customized dextran-based hydrogel alone, with no additional growth factors, cytokines, or cells, promoted remarkable neovascularization and skin regeneration and may lead to novel treatments for dermal wounds.
4 pages of supplemental information

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The electronic eye

Electric Eye: Retina Implant Research Expands in Europe, Seeks FDA Approval in U.S.: Scientific American

CHIPPING AWAY AT BLINDNESS: There is no effective treatment for retinitis pigmentosa, but researchers such as those at Retina Implant, AG, are making great strides to remedy this through implants that stimulate still-active nerves in the retina, the layer of tissue at the back of the inner eye. Image: Courtesy of Retina Implant, AG

Promising treatments for those blinded by an often-hereditary, retina-damaging disease are expanding throughout Europe and making their way across the pond, offering a ray of hope for the hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. left in the dark by retinitis pigmentosa. The disease—which affects about one in 4,000 people in the U.S. and about 1.5 million people worldwide—kills the retina’s photoreceptors, the rod and cone cells that convert light into electrical signals, which are transmitted via the optic nerve to the brain’s visual cortex for processing.

There is no effective treatment for the condition, but researchers are making great strides to remedy this through implants that stimulate still-active nerves in the retina, the layer of tissue at the back of the inner eye. In mid-November Retina Implant, AG, got approval to extend the yearlong phase II human clinical trial of its retinal implant outside its native Tübingen, Germany, to five new sites—Oxford, London and Budapest, along with two additional locations in Germany.

The company’s implant is a three- by three-millimeter microelectronic chip (0.1-millimeter thick), containing about 1,500 light-sensitive photodiodes, amplifiers and electrodes surgically inserted beneath the fovea (which contains the cone cells) in the retina’s macula region. The fovea enables the clarity of vision that people rely on to read, watch TV and drive. The chip helps generate at least partial vision by stimulating intact nerve cells in the retina. The nervous impulses from these cells are then led via the optic nerve to the visual cortex where they finally lead to impressions of sight.

Thus far, some patients report having a narrow field of vision partially restored, providing them with enough acuity to locate light sources such as windows and lamps as well as detect lighted objects against dark backgrounds. The chip’s power source is positioned under the skin behind the ear and connected via a thin cable.

Window on the world
For those suffering with retinitis pigmentosa, Retina Implant’s technology creates a small black-and-white window on the world, says Eberhart Zrenner, the company’s co-founder and director and chairman of the University of Tübingen’s Institute for Ophthalmic Research in Germany. Retina Implant has successfully placed chips beneath the retina of nine patients since May 2010. A 10th patient experienced a problem when their optic nerve did not forward the information on the chip to the brain.

Looking ahead, Zrenner hopes to widen patients’ field of vision further. “Because our chip has independent miniature photodiodes, we could arrange three of them in a row beneath the retina,” he says. The ability to produce accurate colors via retinal implants, however, is very complicated and may not be possible for years, he adds. Retina Implant has also developed an outpatient treatment for early-stage retinitis pigmentosa called Okuvision, which uses electric stimulation to help preserve retinal cells.

Sights set on the U.S.
The phase II extension expands Retina Implant’s trial to an additional 25 patients beginning early next year and follows a partnership the company struck in March with the Wills Eye Institute in Philadelphia. Wills is looking to become the lead U.S. clinical trial investigator site for Retina Implant’s technology and to help the company through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) review process.

Cutting-edge technologies such as sub-retinal implants are typically at a disadvantage when seeking FDA approval due to the lack of a track record, but Retina Implant’s work in Europe provides a precedent for the FDA to consider, says Julia Haller, Wills’s ophthalmologist in chief. “There’s information available to U.S. regulators about how patients have responded so far,” she adds.

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- Posted from my iPad2

Location:Georgetown TX,United States

Friday, December 9, 2011

Check out these free health apps.

If you have an iPhone, iPod or iPad, there are three free apps that may well be worth downloading.

The first is Itriage, the second is ICE standard, and WebMD. Check them out.

- Posted from my iPad2

Location:Georgetown TX,United States

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Doctors, Like Their Patients, Use Google for Health Information

Doctors, Like Their Patients, Use Google for Health Information - Health Blog - WSJ
By Katherine Hobson

Doctors: they’re just like us!

General web browsers like Google and Yahoo are behind only professional journals and colleagues as a source of information physicians frequently use to diagnose and treat patients, according to a survey of more than 300 doctors.

The survey, from Wolters Kluwer Health, covered a sample of American Medical Association members, both primary-care physicians and specialists. We weren’t too surprised to hear that “spending more time with patients” ranked highest on a list of areas in which doctors would like to see improvement. Nor was it particularly shocking to read that expense is a big barrier to adopting new health technologies.

But the Google and Yahoo findings initially surprised us. When doctors were asked how often they used certain sources to gain information used to diagnose, treat and care for patients, 68% said they “frequently” consulted professional journals and 60% said the same about colleagues. And just under half — 46% — said general web browsers. Conferences and events and online free services like WebMD were each cited by 42% of respondents as frequent sources of information.

Then again, no one says Google and Yahoo don’t lead people to tons of useful info — just that it can be tough to sort the wheat from the chaff. Physicians, presumably, can assess the quality of the health information they dig up better than the average consumer.
On that topic, the survey also asked whether improved access to medical knowledge by patients has a positive impact on the doctor-patient relationship: 53% said yes. About a fifth think it has “been detrimental, leading to misinformation and incorrect self-diagnosis,” the study found.

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Location:Georgetown,TX United States

A 3-D Printer Makes Customized Human Bones To Order

A 3-D Printer Makes Customized Human Bones To Order |
Popular Science

By Clay Dillow Posted 12.02.2011 at 9:59 am

This Machine Prints Bones via WSU
We’re already printing organs to order, so why not Cmd+P some customized 3-D bone? Washington State University researchers have tweaked a 3-D rapid prototyper designed to create metal parts to print in a bone-like material that acts as a scaffold for new bone cells. In just a few years, the researchers say, doctors and dentists could be printing up custom bone tissue to order.

Reported in the journal Dental Materials, the bone-like material appears to cause no negative side effects and eventually dissolves. But before doing so, it serves as a scaffold for new bone cells. Placed in a medium of immature human bone cells, the printed structures encourage the growth of new bone that fuses with existing bone tissue.

“If a doctor has a CT scan of a defect, we can convert it to a CAD file and make the scaffold according to the defect,” Susmita Bose, co-author and professor in WSU’s School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, said in a press release.
In terms of potential for regenerative medicine, that’s fairly huge. It opens the door to the ability to create perfect—or nearly perfect—replacement implants for damaged or deformed bone tissue and grow new, corrective bone that is the real thing rather than a ceramic or metal analog. And the procedure is relatively fast. Networks of new bone cells reportedly grew within the 3-D printed structures within just a week of placing them in a culture with immature bone cells.

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Location:Georgetown,TX United States

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Future of Medicine

Megatrends: The Future of Medicine: Megatrends in Medicine - by Dr. Stephen C. Schimpff, MD

The Megatrends - The Future of Medicine

Over the next decade, medical care will improve rapidly and dramatically, thanks to advances in genomics, stem cells, vaccines, medical devices, imaging and new approaches in the operating room.

What will these megatrends mean to you?

Genomics will allow tomorrow’s physician to predict at birth or before what major diseases a person is likely to develop, such as coronary artery disease. Vaccines will be created specifically to treat an individual person’s cancer. Stem cells will be used to regenerate a specific tissue lost to trauma or disease.

Surgery will be based on the individual’s own CAT scan image which will be used first to simulate that individual’s proposed operation, then to practice it to perfection and then to program a robot to assist. Drugs will be created to attack a specific target and will be prescribed for the individual patient based on genomic knowledge of their disease and how their body will respond to the specific drug – more effective, less side effects and much safer.

Preventive medicine will advance rapidly as genomic information tells what an individual is likely to develop over time. Then the physician can prescribe a personalized preventive program for that person such as life style changes to prevent coronary artery disease or early institution of colonoscopy for the person at very high risk of early colon cancer. Vaccines will be available to prevent increasing numbers of serious infectious disease but also to prevent atherosclerosis, some cancers, and can be used to help treat or prevent some chronic conditions like Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis and even drug addiction.

Surgical advances will allow repairs never available before such as replacing heart valves with minimally invasive surgery rather than today’s’ open surgery with heart lung bypass. Stem cells will mean that a pancreas deprived of its islet cells can be replaced with cells that will create insulin as the body requires. Stem cells will also repair the heart after a heart attack. Organ transplants will no longer depend another person’s else’s death; rather the organ will be produced in a pig raised specifically to have an organ that will not cause rejection after transplant – more functional and no need for anti-rejection drugs.

Your medical information will finally all be digitized and instantly available any time and any place either via the internet or placed on a chip embedded in an ID card in your wallet. This will include not only your doctor’s notes but copies of your images from radiology, colonoscopy, or surgery along with a base line CAT scan taken at age 18 that can be compared to later when trauma or disease strikes. It will also include your entire genomic information. And it will be available only with your release of the password.

Finally, medicine will become truly safe. A full change in culture will make safety issue number one and this will be augmented by new technologies that will assist the healthcare provider to make care safe. Included will be access to your medical information at a moments notice, use of new drugs and vaccines designed for you based on your genomic information, use of robots in surgery that cannot make errors and the use of simulation to assist doctors learn new techniques and procedures.

The result will be a new era in medical care, one where the patient comes first, is safe, can be assured that a medicine will work without side effects, that surgery will be custom tailored and where real attention will be paid to preventing disease before it occurs.

Stephen C. Schimpff, M.D.

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Location:Georgetown TX,United States