Location of Spacecraft Unknown

The world's first solar sail-powered spacecraft failed to reach its planned orbit after the Volna rocket carrying it shut down 83 seconds after launch, Russia's state space agency said yesterday.

It was unclear whether the privately funded Cosmos 1 had crashed to Earth. Backers of the $4 million project at the Planetary Society in Pasadena, Calif., said they had detected faint signals from the craft, possibly from a lower orbit.

Cosmos 1 was launched Tuesday from a Russian submarine in the Barents Sea. The craft was designed to be propelled entirely by the pressure of photons, or light particles, from the sun against its ultra-thin sails.

Approval of Artificial Heart Is Weighed

Abiomed Inc.'s artificial heart is an effective replacement in patients near death, but the degree to which it extends survival or improves the quality of life is hard to determine, the Food and Drug Administration said yesterday.

A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel will meet today to consider recommending approval of the AbioCor device. The FDA will make the final decision.

Several patients with the device had improved kidney and liver function. "However, the expected duration of survival and the expected quality of life is difficult to determine from the limited data," the staff said.

If approved, AbioCor would be the first fully implanted artificial heart sold in the United States. It is intended for a limited number of heart failure patients who are ineligible for a transplant and likely to die within 30 days.

Shorter Hepatitis C Therapy Possible

Hepatitis C patients with no evidence of disease after three months can safely stop taking their medications rather than continuing them for the full six-month treatment, a new study suggests.

The 132 patients who stopped taking Schering-Plough Corp.'s Peg-Intron injections and Rebetol antiviral pills after 12 weeks had fewer side effects and similar results as the 45 people who took the drugs for 24 weeks, according to results published in today's New England Journal of Medicine.

The results are based on patients who showed promise after four weeks of treatment. The Italian researchers said preliminary tests for the virus after four weeks were a good indication of the prognosis, and could save patients from extended treatment and drug costs.

Treatment Has Potential for Diabetics

A novel experimental treatment showed promise in a small study for helping Type 1 diabetics retain some ability to make insulin, potentially lessening their need for shots of the hormone to regulate blood sugar levels.

But the experiment raised concerns: Most who got the treatment had side effects that researchers said were temporary but that theoretically might increase their risk of a blood disorder later on.

Nevertheless, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation considered the results encouraging enough to plan future large-scale studies.

Results appear in today's New England Journal of Medicine.

-- From News Services