Tag Archives: News

Patients given unsafe medical implants


Image caption Maureen McCleave was fitted with a new type of pacemaker

Medical devices that are unsafe and have not been adequately tested are ending up inside patients’ bodies, an investigation has revealed.

The devices include heart pacemakers, rods to correct spines, and artificial knees and hips.

The investigation found implants that had failed in baboons, or were tested only on pigs and dead bodies, were coming onto the market.

The industry says it has transformed millions of lives for the better.

BBC Panorama has been working with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and 58 media organisations around the world including The Guardian newspaper and the British Medical Journal.

The investigation found a lax system of regulation in Europe that allows companies to “shop around” dozens of safety organisations until one of them approves their product.

It also found that doctors can be left in the dark about the true risk of treatments they are recommending to their patients.

Maureen ‘the good guinea pig’?

Maureen McCleave, 82 from Essex, was the first person in the UK to be fitted with the “Nanostim” pacemaker because of an irregular heartbeat.

Pacemakers are life-saving implants that deliver electrical pulses to the heart to keep them beating regularly.

Traditional ones have leads from a battery to the heart that deliver the electrical pulse, but the cables can break.

The Nanostim was the first leadless pacemaker that sat inside the heart.

Maureen said she was “over the moon” to be the first and felt like a “good guinea pig” when she was implanted with the device at Bart’s hospital in London.

“I was so grateful that I’d been chosen, because it sounded too good to be true.”

But three years after it was fitted, the battery in Maureen’s Nanostim failed and surgeons could not get it out.

She now has a traditional pacemaker keeping her alive. The Nanostim is still sitting inside her heart.

She says: “I don’t like the thought I’ve got a piece of metal or whatever in my heart that’s doing nothing and it’s just laying there.”

Maureen was not alone – a number of batteries failed and parts fell off inside patients.

The pacemaker was withdrawn for safety reasons. At least two people died and ninety events were recorded in which patients were seriously harmed by the device.

The Nanostim heart pacemaker was turned down by safety bodies in Germany because of a lack of evidence. Yet it was approved by the British Standards Institute in the UK.

How big a problem is this?

Not all medical devices are dangerous. Many save lives or dramatically improve quality of life.

But the investigation has found that some devices are failing patients including:

  • implants that cracked inside people’s backs and had failed in baboon tests
  • birth control implants that caused internal damage and bleeding
  • misfiring implantable defibrillators
  • mesh implants for incontinence that caused abdominal pain

The BBC also uncovered a treatment for children with a severely curved spine, or scoliosis, which was allowed on to the market following tests only on pigs and dead bodies.

Yet, due to a lack of transparency and data collection, the scale of any problem across the medical device industry remains a mystery to both patients and doctors.

I have an implant, what should I do?

If you are worried, a panel of experts put together by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has put together some advice.

It recommends: “Your first point of call should be the medical team that performed the operation.

“If you cannot go back to them for whatever reason, you should consult your primary care doctor.

“The doctor should be able to refer you to a specialist who is familiar with the device and the surgery you had.”

Patients in the UK can also report problems to the regulator.

How is all this allowed to happen?

Europe does not have a governmental body that checks medical devices before they are put onto the market.

Instead a series of companies called notified bodies issue CE marks – the same mark of approval given to devices like toasters and kettles.

There are 58 of them in Europe and approval by one means a product can be used anywhere in the European Economic Area (the EU plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway).

But if one body says no, a company can shop around and ask another.

But surely you need evidence?

Less than patients might think.

And there is so much secrecy that even surgeons implanting these devices do not always see the evidence upon which a device has been approved for its safety and effectiveness.

The British Standards Institute said it could not discuss the evidence for Nanostim due to “confidentiality requirements”.

Even the UK’s regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, says it is “bound by confidentiality when it comes to some of the actions that we’ve taken around individual devices”.

But the investigation discovered there was only one clinical study before Nanostim was approved for use on the public.

It followed just 33 patients for 90 days.


Image caption Prof Rita Redberg

Prof Rita Redberg, one of the world’s leading cardiologists and from the University of California, San Francisco, said: “We’re talking about a permanently implanted pacemaker, so I think that’s a very tiny study.

“They’re supposed to last 10, 20 years. A 90-day follow up is not enough to learn much about the pacemaker.”

What does the industry say?

MedTech Europe, the body the represents the medical devices industry, said: “Millions of people have safely benefited from medical devices and can now live healthier, more productive and more independent lives.

“Life is unimaginable today without the hundreds of thousands of medical devices in our hospitals and in our homes.”

And it defended the system of notified bodies which were “selected for the expertise, impartiality, transparency and independence of their staff”.

Abbott, which manufactured Nanostim, says that many patients have been helped by leadless pacemakers and many more will benefit from this technology in the future.

It said: “In accordance with the European CE Mark approval process, the Nanostim leadless pacing system was approved based on strong performance and safety data.

“In addition, upon CE Mark approval Nanostim was further assessed through a European post market clinical follow-up study.”

What is the solution?

The UK’s Royal College of Surgeons has called for “drastic regulatory changes”.

Prof Derek Alderson, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, said: “All implantable devices should be registered and tracked to monitor efficacy and patient safety in the long-term.”

But when the European Union suggested tightening the rules, the industry ran a campaign called “Don’t lose the 3”.

It referred to the fact that manufacturers can get new products to patients three years quicker in Europe then they can in the United States.

New medical device regulation will come into force in Europe in 2020, but campaigners say the new rules do not go far enough.

German MEP Dagmar Roth Behrendt told Panorama that an intensive lobbying campaign by the industry undermined the proposed reforms.

“It’s a success for them and a failure for the European parliament and for European patients, I have no doubt about it.

“It is like an open wound for me, that we could not do more for European patients and for the safety of European patients hurts.”

Read more: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-46318445

Democrats Expect Big Gains In State Legislatures Across The Country

Democrats expect to make major gains in state legislatures across the country, reversing years of losses that have cost them federal power and given conservatives free rein in one-time Democratic strongholds.

The party expects to flip over 300 legislative seats, enabling it to take control of between six and eight legislative chambers, according to the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, which helps elect Democrats to state legislatures.

“We are not afraid of this fight. We took it on in 2017 and we’ll take it on again in 2018,” DLCC executive director Jessica Post said on a call with reporters on Thursday.

Democrats have the opportunity to take over the state Senate in New York, Colorado, Maine, Wisconsin, Arizona and New Hampshire, and state Houses in Minnesota, Iowa and Michigan, among other places.

The party has already flipped 44 legislative seats in off-year and special elections since 2016, including a November 2017 win in Washington state that put the state Senate in Democratic hands. Democrats now have unified control of state government in the Evergreen State.

The additional pickups on Tuesday would lay the groundwork for a strong showing in the 2020 elections, which will determine control of the redistricting process in the vast majority of states.

Democrats’ stunning blowouts at the state level in the midterm elections of 2010, the last census year, locked them out of redistricting in a host of states. The losses allowed Republicans to gerrymander Congressional seats and maintain an iron hold on the U.S. House for eight years.

In addition, dominance of governorships and state legislatures empowered Republicans to radically reshape policy in ways that provided them long-term political advantages ― not least in historically Democratic parts of the Midwest.

Manka Dhingra/Facebook
Manka Dhingra, right, speakers to voters in July 2017. Dhingra’s November 2017 win in a Washington state Senate election won Democrats unified control of state government.

Specifically, Republican governors and state governments have engaged in aggressive voter suppression tactics and prioritized gutting labor unions, which are typically an influential source of campaign cash and voter mobilization for Democrats.

“These weren’t your granddaddy’s Republicans,” said Tim Waters, political director of the United Steelworkers union. “The first thing they did is try to get their boot on our throat, because they see unions as the thing standing between them and their unfettered agenda.”

Since 2010 alone, Republican state governments have passed right-to-work laws, which bar unions from requiring dues payment from workers they represent, in five states: Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Wisconsin and West Virginia. (Missouri voters overturned a 2017 right-to-work law in an August referendum.)

In Iowa, which has been a right-to-work state since 1947, a Republican takeover of the state Senate in 2016 enabled them to cripple remaining bastions of union power. With unified GOP control, the state government severely limited public sector collective bargaining and barred state and local contracting rules that favored construction unions.

In an October interview in his Des Moines office, Iowa Federation of Labor president Ken Sagar said the stakes of the election were “critical” for Iowa’s embattled unions.

“We need to elect people who are supporting working families in order to fundamentally ensure the survival of the labor movement in this state,” Sagar said.

Election Day is on track to be a good day for Sagar: In addition to the prospect of retaking the state House, Democrat Fred Hubbell has a slight lead in public polling of the governor’s race.

A reckoning with the devastation of state-level Democratic power and the rank-and-file disinterest that drives it has been a decade in the making. From 2009 to 2014, Democrats lost over 900 state legislative seats, only beginning to rebound in 2015.

When it comes to governorships, the party hit a low point in mid-2017 when it controlled just 15 of the country’s governors’ mansions. Republicans currently have 26 “trifectas,” or states where they control both legislative chambers and the governorship; Democrats merely have eight.

The Democratic turnaround in state-level elections this year is the product of a collective realization among donors, activists and elected officials that states can no longer be ignored. Many grassroots Democratic donors eager to pitch in were lured in by the knowledge that, unlike hyper-expensive congressional contests, smaller donations have an outsize impact in state legislative races.

As a result, the DLCC, long the most overlooked of national party committees, had a banner fundraising cycle, spending a record $35 million on legislative races.

The Democratic Governors Association also raised a record $121 million this cycle, putting the party in strong position to flip upwards of six governorships.

To buttress official party resources, a staggering number of outside funders and activist groups have cropped up since the 2016 election to assist in the less glamorous work of flipping GOP-held state legislative seats.

The super PAC Forward Majority has spent $9 million to elect Democrats in over 120 seats in six states, the bulk of it on digital advertising and direct mail.

The National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a group founded by former Attorney General Eric Holder, raised nearly $11 million in 2017 with the goal of influencing the post-2020 redistricting processes. NDRC employs a multi-pronged approach that includes litigation and the development ballot initiatives, of which elections are just one part, but it is spending $750,000 on a field organizing effort with For Our Future, a joint venture of organized labor and liberal billionaire Tom Steyer.

The digital startups Sister District and Flippable enable nationwide Democratic activists to volunteer time and money to winning state legislative seats across the country.

A whole lot of people have found religion on state legislatures, but unfortunately they stop at gerrymandering. That’s just the beginning. Daniel Squadron, Future Now Fund

And Tech for Campaigns has marshaled the resources of Democratic tech professionals to build technology and performvolunteer digital work for state legislative campaigns. This year, the group has dispatched volunteers to 117 campaigns in 17 states, including 25 campaigns in Arizona alone, where the group effectively runs digital organizing for state House and Senate Democrats.

The Future Now Fund, a new PAC that is spending $4 million on key legislative races in Arizona, Michigan, Maine, North Carolina and New Hampshire, has formed a direct partnership with Tech for Campaigns in Arizona. The anger over school funding and pay that prompted a massive teachers strike in April has given Democrats a shot at flipping the state Senate there.

“One of the major challenges at the state legislative level is getting high-quality work since the profit just isn’t as high for consultants. Tech for Campaigns fills that gap,” said Daniel Squadron, executive director of Future Now.

Squadron is an evangelist for caring about state legislature races beyond the impact they have on gerrymandering.

“A whole lot of people have found religion on state legislatures but unfortunately they stop at gerrymandering. That’s just the beginning,” he said, noting the disproportionate impact states have on labor rights, environmental rules, women’s rights and antitrust regulation.

To that end, Future Now also has a nonprofit arm that embeds itself in state legislatures after elections are over to provide policy and political expertise for Democratic lawmakers.

The vast majority of state legislatures are part time and have small staff budgets, putting Democrats at a disadvantage against well-funded conservative and corporate front groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. Future Now has successful solicited 388 candidates and legislators to pledge support for their seven goals: “good jobs,” “affordable quality health care,” lifelong education, campaign finance reform and political transparency, civil rights, infrastructure investment and a clean environment.

In many state legislative races, however, the most influential players are the same Facebook-based, anti-Trump Resistance groups powering congressional campaigns.

That’s certainly true in the North Hills suburbs just outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Emily Skopov, a former screenwriter for “Xena: Warrior Princess,” has mounted a surprisingly competitive challenge against Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai. 

It’s hard to find a stronger embodiment of the post-2010 Republican hegemony in state legislatures than Turzai. Turzai famously boasted in June 2012 that passage of the state’s voter ID law would “allow” Republican Mitt Romney to defeat then-President Barack Obama in Pennsylvania.

Until Skopov released an internal poll in October showing her within striking distance, though, she had trouble getting the official Democratic Party organs and labor unions in greater Pittsburgh to take her bid seriously. 

Women for the Future (WTF) Pittsburgh, a progressive PAC and field organizing outfit founded by, among other women, Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner, was one of her earliest and most consistent champions. Two weeks ago, Skopov also got a boost from the Forward Majority super PAC, which purchased a 6-figure digital ad buy blasting Turzai for his coziness with lobbyists and corporations.

“The reason why these races are becoming what they are is not because of the Democratic Party,” Skopov told HuffPost in an interview at her campaign headquarters in Wexford. “It’s because of the people on the ground who live here who recognized that there should be no such thing as a small race.”

Read more: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/democrats-gains-state-legislatures-republican-control-gerrymandering_us_5be0756de4b01ffb1d04c5b5

Paul Allen, Microsoft Co-Founder, Dead At 65

Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft and owner of the Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trailblazers sports teams, has died of complications from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, his family has confirmed.

He was 65.

“My brother was a remarkable individual on every level,” Paul’s sister, Jody, said in a statement. “While most knew Paul Allen as a technologist and philanthropist, for us he was a much loved brother and uncle, and an exceptional friend.

“Paul’s family and friends were blessed to experience his wit, warmth, his generosity and deep concern. For all the demands on his schedule, there was always time for family and friends. At this time of loss and grief for us ― and so many others ― we are profoundly grateful for the care and concern he demonstrated every day.” 

Allen received treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2009 and overcame the disease at that time. He revealed earlier this month he’d been diagnosed once more and intended to fight it.

“I learned recently that the non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that I was treated for in 2009 has returned,” Allen said in a statement on Oct. 1. “My team of doctors has begun treatment of the disease and I plan on fighting this aggressively.

“I am very grateful for the support I’ve received from my family and friends. And I’ve appreciated the support of everyone on the teams and in the broader community in the past, and count on that support now as I fight this challenge.”

In 2010, Allen pledged to give away the majority of his wealth to philanthropic causes, highlighting climate change, epidemics and ocean health as of particular concern, in addition to research into brain cancers, dementia and other diseases. 

“I believe that those fortunate to achieve great wealth should put it to work for the good of humanity,” he said at the time. “Ultimately, my greatest satisfaction comes from working to make our world a better place.”

According to Forbes, he has donated $2.6 billion, roughly 11 percent of his $20.3 billion net worth.

Allen’s current company, Vulcan Inc., vowed Monday to stay the course on its founder’s initiatives. 

“Millions of people were touched by his generosity, his persistence in pursuit of a better world, and his drive to accomplish as much as he could with the time and resources at his disposal,” Vulcan CEO Bill Hilf said in a statement.

“Today we mourn our boss, mentor and friend whose 65 years were too short ― and acknowledge the honor it has been to work alongside someone whose life transformed the world.”

Allen’s Microsoft co-founder, Bill Gates, who met Allen when they were children near Seattle, also released a heartfelt statement.

“I am heartbroken by the passing of one of my oldest and dearest friends, Paul Allen,” Gates said. 

“Paul loved life and those around him, and we all cherished him in return. He deserved much more time, but his contributions to the world of technology and philanthropy will live on for generations to come. I will miss him tremendously.”

Tributes from Allen’s other endeavors, including his NFL and NBA teams, poured in Monday on social media:

Allen is survived by his sister, two nephews and a niece.   

This article has been updated with a statement from Bill Gates.

Read more: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/paul-allen-microsoft-dead-cancer_us_5bc50f15e4b0a8f17ee49bc5

Coal mining’s future divides Poles ahead of climate talks

Electronics salesman Leszek Jaworowski says he can’t discuss Poland’s coal mining with his father. They end up at loggerheads, just like many families in the southern mining region of Silesia.

Unlike his father Edward, Jaworowski defied the area’s centuries-old tradition and didn’t become a miner. The 42-year-old believes it’s time for Poland, heavily dependent on coal, to move away from the dangerous, costly and polluting industry. But to those working in the mines, coal lies at the very core of Silesia’s identity, despite the huge safety and health hazards that it brings.

“Coal mines should be shut, Silesia doesn’t need them anymore,” said Jaworowski Jr. “They’re destroying the region, the air and the people. The heaps of money pumped into maintaining them should be better used for creating jobs in innovative and clean industries like IT.”

Not everyone thinks that way.

Tomasz Mlynarczyk, 43, who operates heavy extraction machinery at the Wujek mine in Katowice, thinks coal is a “treasure.”

“If there was no coal there would be no jobs,” he said. “If we close the mines, then everything around goes bankrupt — shops and other firms that produce and deliver goods to the mines.”

Perhaps surprisingly, Poland has chosen to host this year’s global climate summit in Silesia’s main city, Katowice.

The two-week conference starting Dec.2 will see governments, scientists and campaigners from around the world haggle over how to implement the Paris climate accord. The 2015 agreement set a goal of keeping global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), ideally no more than 1.5 C, an effort that experts say will require sharp cuts in carbon emissions that can only be achieved by ending coal-fired power plants in the coming decades.

To spur the negotiators, a group of Greenpeace activists climbed on Tuesday a 180-meter (590-feet) smokestack at Europe’s largest lignite power plant in Belchatow, central Poland, to stress the harmful effects that burning coal has and the pressing need to phase out the fossil fuel.

Global pressure is also on other coal-burning countries like China, India, Australia, Germany, Colombia and the United States, where President Donald Trump says he is opting out of the Paris accord to avoid curbing industry.

The Polish government argues that Katowice is a showcase for how a colliery center can be transformed into a modern, environment-friendly city. The venue is a closed mine turned into a museum and culture center. But despite the creation of a green technology hub and numerous new parks in recent years, coal’s grip on Katowice and its surroundings remains firm — as evidenced by the smog that envelops the region for much of the year.

The mining industry has long been a source of pride and employment for generations of Silesians. For decades, its rich seams of hard, black coal were used to heat homes and provide electricity across Poland.

At the end of the communist era almost 30 years ago, some 400,000 people were employed in 70 collieries. Miners earned twice the national average, and their feast day of Catholic St. Barbara, known as “Barborka,” was renowned across the country.

Critics argue that coal’s mythical image was maintained in part by covering up deadly accidents and downplaying the environmental damage caused by mining. Whole neighborhoods in some towns such as Bytom have been abandoned.

From 1990, Poland’s transition to a market economy forced the closure of heavily subsidized, unprofitable mines. Ensuing layoffs were met with violent protests by miners that prompted costly government programs that included payments for miners retiring early or moving into other fields, and financial incentives to attract foreign manufacturing firms such as German Opel carmaker.

Today, about 30 mines provide jobs to some 83,000 people. Despite the retrenchment, Poland is Europe’s largest source of coal. In 2016, some 70 million tons of coal were produced, or 70 percent of the European Union’s output, according to the Energy Ministry.

The cutbacks though have helped Poland slash its carbon emissions by 30 percent — much more than the 20 percent cut the EU promised to achieve by the year 2020.

But, just like neighboring Germany, Poland cannot do without coal. Some 80 percent of Poland’s energy still comes from coal.

“We, as the government want to have Polish coal for the Polish energy system,” said Deputy Energy Minister Grzegorz Tobiszowski, who is in charge of restructuring of the coal mining.

Consecutive governments have been assuring miners in Silesia, home to some 4 million people, that coal will remain an important energy source for decades to come. In 2040, the proportion of Poland’s energy coming from coal should decrease to 50 percent, with the rest coming from renewable and nuclear sources, Tobiszowski said.

While the government concedes that coal’s role will diminish over time, the country’s rollout of renewables — which provides about 15 percent of electricity — has stalled, in part due to unfavorable weather conditions, in part due to legislation that protects traditional, state-owned energy companies.

“It is not Poland’s fault that we have such rich deposits of fuels and the point is to use them in the most efficient way and to have them in our energy mix and to work on reducing the pollutions, the emissions,” said Michal Kurtyka, a senior official at Poland’s environment ministry who will chair the climate talks in Katowice.

To reduce harmful emissions, some 7.2 billion zlotys ($1.9 billion) are to be invested through 2022 into modern, cleaner coal technologies.

Like in the Jaworowski family, opinions on the future of coal are split largely along generational lines.

To younger Poles, the prospect of going deeper and deeper underground holds little relish. The industry has had to hire workers from neighboring Ukraine.

Patryk Bialas, a hi-tech engineer and environmental activist, plans to drive home that message during the upcoming climate conference.

“The move away from coal can be done faster than it is being done, but there needs to be a political will,” Bialas said. “We just need to sit down and discuss the future because coal is finished.”

Read more: https://www.foxnews.com/world/coal-minings-future-divides-poles-ahead-of-climate-talks

White House adviser Navarro warns Wall Street ‘globalists’ over China

(CNN)White House trade adviser Peter Navarro took a shot at Wall Street Friday, warning “globalist elites” against meddling with the Trump administration’s policy on China.

“If and when there is a deal, it will be on President Donald J. Trump’s terms — not Wall Street terms,” he said.
“If Wall Street is involved and continues to insinuate itself into these negotiations, there will be a stench around any deal that’s consummated because it will have the imprimatur of Goldman Sachs and Wall Street,” Navarro added.
    Navarro, a former economics professor, accused billionaires and hedge fund managers of engaging in “shuttle diplomacy” between the United States and China, which he says weakens the President and his negotiating position. It wasn’t immediately clear what he was referring to.
    His remarks come ahead of Trump’s expected meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit later this month in Argentina. The administration has sent mixed messages about whether the two are nearing a truce that would lift more than $250 billion in retaliatory tariffs on an array of goods ranging from chemical products and motors, to luggage and hats.
    The comments reflect the ongoing divisions inside the Trump administration between free traders — including those with Wall Street backgrounds like Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and economic adviser Larry Kudlow — and the so-called nationalists who hew to the “America First” stance laid out during the campaign and early months of Trump’s presidency by former chief strategist Steve Bannon.
    Trump earlier this week promised a positive meeting with Xi.
    “We’ll have a good meeting and we’re going to see what we can do,” the President said at his Wednesday news conference following the midterm elections.
    Trump has made it a priority to take an aggressive stance against China for what he says are unfair trade practices, including intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers. He’s threatened to escalate the trade war further by taxing the remaining Chinese goods sold to the United States.
    Many American manufacturers, farmers and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle say they appreciate the administration’s efforts to change China’s trade policies. But some argue the tariffs are not the best way to address the issues. They pose a dilemma to US importers who must decide whether to absorb the higher cost of the goods or pass it on to consumers, and some exporters are hurting from China’s retaliatory tariffs.
    Former White House economic adviser Gary Cohn left the administration in the wake of a fierce disagreement over tariffs on steel and aluminum. Earlier this week, Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs executive, told the BBC that the tariffs could hurt the US economy.
    “I look at tariffs as a bit of a consumption tax [and] we do not want to tax our consumers when they’re going to spend their disposable income on what we produce, which is services,” he said.
      In his remarks Friday, Navarro also blamed Wall Street for the decline in manufacturing and the opioid crisis.
      “If they want to do good, then spend their billions in Dayton, Ohio, in the factory towns of America where we need a rebirth of our manufacturing base and end to the opioid crisis — which they helped create by off-shoring our production,” he said.

      Read more: https://www.cnn.com/2018/11/09/politics/navarro-wall-street-trade/index.html

      Doddie fund raises 250k for MND research


      Image caption George “Doddie” Weir revealed last year that he had motor neurone disease

      A foundation set up by former rugby star Doddie Weir has raised £250,000 for research into motor neurone disease (MND).

      The money will allow scientists in Edinburgh to study whether drugs already used to treat other conditions could help people with the disease.

      The former Scotland international announced last year that he had MND.

      He launched the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation with the aim of finding a cure for the terminal condition.

      Own voice

      The name of the foundation is a reference to his rugby shirt number.

      He said: “This is our second significant investment in research and we are delighted to be working with the respected Euan MacDonald Centre at the University of Edinburgh.”

      Euan MacDonald is a Scottish entrepreneur who was diagnosed with MND in 2003. He has helped establish a voicebank for people with disabilities wanting to preserve their own voices, and produced a disabled access guide for Edinburgh.


      Image caption Euan MacDonald has been awarded an MBE for his work to help those with motor neurone disease

      Doddie added: “Euan and his family have done a great deal in the fight against this devastating disease and we hope that by pledging funds to this new initiative, we can help make a difference.

      “This commitment has only been possible through the incredible help and fund raising efforts of the fine people who have supported us over the past 10 months.

      “The response to my diagnosis and the launch of the foundation has been inspiring and we will continue to do all we can to help find a cure.”

      MND is a progressive condition that affects the brain and spinal cord. There are no treatments and most people die within one year of diagnosis.

      The team at the Euan MacDonald Centre for MND Research will take samples of blood cells from people with the condition and convert them into brain cells in the laboratory.

      Brain cells

      These will have all the characteristics of the patients’ own brain cells, including signs of their condition.

      Scientists will then use advanced automated laboratory drug testing technology, developed at the University of Edinburgh, to screen scores of existing medicines on the cells.

      They hope to identify drugs that might have beneficial effects on MND symptoms and prioritise those that could be fast-tracked for clinical trials.

      Prof Siddharthan Chandran, director of the centre, said: “We’re specifically investigating drugs that are already licensed as treatments for other diseases.

      “If we find something that looks promising, it can be taken into clinical trials far more quickly than an unlicensed drug.

      “As well as testing individual medications, we’re looking at combination therapies as we’ve learned from cancer research that these are often more effective for fighting complex diseases such as MND.”

      Read more: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-45699867

      Virtual reality can help make everyone more empathetic

      File photo: A woman tries on earphones and a headset used for virtual reality at the Venice Virtual Reality a competition during 74th Venice Film Festival in Venice, Italy, August 29, 2017. (REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi)

      Virtual reality can make humans more understanding to realities different from their own, according to a new study.

      Research participants who tried out a VR experience about losing your job and becoming homeless showed stronger and longer-lasting empathic attitudes toward the homeless versus those who just read an article about homelessness. The findings were recently published in PLOS ONE.

      “Experiences are what define us as humans,” Jeremy Bailenson, a co-author of the paper, said in a statement. “So it’s not surprising that an intense experience in VR is more impactful than imagining something.”

      Virtual reality proponents have long advocated for the benefits VR can have on boosting someone’s empathy through the technology’s ability to literally place you in another person’s experience. But little research had been conducted and what did exist were small, sample-sized studies consisting of mostly college students. These studies also didn’t examine the long-term effects a VR experience can have on empathy.

      So for the latest study, researchers at Stanford University conducted two two-month-long studies with over 560 participants between the age of 15 and 88 who represented at least eight different ethnic backgrounds.

      Some participants were shown “Becoming Homeless” — a seven-minute VR experience that takes a viewer through the realities of losing your job and everything you own. Some of the scenes include choosing items from your apartment to sell to pay rent, finding shelter on a public bus and figuring out how to protect your belongings from strangers.

      Other participants were either given an article to read that asked them to imagine being homeless, or a 2D desktop version of the VR to interact with.

      The participants who experienced the “Becoming Homeless” VR showed enduring positive attitudes towards the homeless. These participants were more likely to agree with the statement “Our society does not do enough to help homeless people,” as well as saying they cared “very much” about the plight of homeless people.

      Additionally, VR participants in the first study were 82 percent more likely to sign a petition in support of affordable housing compared to 67 percent who read the article. In the second study, 85 percent of VR participants signed the petition while 63 percent of article readers signed and 66 percent of those who were given the 2D version signed.

      “Taking the perspective of others in VR produces more empathy and prosocial behaviors in people immediately after going through the experience and over time, in comparison to just imagining what it would be like to be in someone else’s shoes.” Fernanda Herrera, the lead author of the study, said. “And that is an exciting finding.”

      This story originally appeared in the New York Post.

      Read more: https://www.foxnews.com/tech/virtual-reality-can-help-make-everyone-more-empathetic

      May’s mission to woo Africa after Brexit

      Image copyright AFP
      Image caption On her trip to Africa, Theresa May is hoping to promote what she describes as a “truly Global Britain”

      The UK’s historical relationship with many African countries still counts for something, but, as Prime Minister Theresa May will find on her trip to the continent, the UK now vies for attention with larger economies offering greater riches.

      Mrs May is travelling to South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya this week on her first African visit as prime minister as she looks to boost Britain’s post-Brexit trade.

      Britain’s aim after leaving the European Union in March next year is to “deepen and strengthen its global partnerships”, Mrs May said in a statement.

      “This week I am looking forward to discussing how we can do that alongside Africa to help deliver important investment and jobs as well as continue to work together to maintain stability and security.”

      But it might be a hard sell.

      Image copyright Michael Khateli
      Image caption Chinese loans financed Kenya’s new railway linking the capital, Nairobi, to the coast. What will Britain be able to offer?

      The UK is introducing legislation that should mean that African businesses will access the UK market on the same terms as they do now.

      Nevertheless, African countries, many of them former British colonies, will need to redefine their relationship with Britain in the wake of Brexit.

      The continent’s leaders need to decide who to prioritise: an ambitious but friendly China, the huge European Union bloc, the potential riches of the United States, or the historically-linked United Kingdom.

      In 2015, total trade (imports and exports combined) between Africa and the UK amounted to $36bn (£28bn), but that figure for the EU as a whole was $305bn. In the same year, trade between China and Africa totalled $188bn, and between the US and Africa is amounted to $53bn.

      To sweeten her offer, the prime minister is bringing along a delegation of 29 business leaders to promote “the breadth and depth of British expertise in technology, infrastructure, and financial and professional services,” Downing Street says.

      First stop: South Africa

      Mrs May begins her trip to Africa in her country’s largest trading partner on the continent, South Africa, where she will sit down with President Cyril Ramaphosa.

      She will use a speech in Cape Town on Tuesday to lay out her plans to partner with Africa using private sector trade and investment after the United Kingdom leaves the EU.

      “The UK has long been an important trading partner for South Africa and certainly in the current economic climate, where many South African businesses are struggling, numerous entrepreneurs are looking to the UK to expand their reach,” Rachel Irvine, who runs a public relations and marketing agency, told the BBC.

      She has recently expanded her business, Irvine Partners, in London and sees significant potential in the prime minister’s visit. But she says that it is ultimately about which country offers the best deals.

      ‘We welcome both Mrs May and the Chinese, and like any other developing economy we’ll do the business that suits us best.”

      The prime minister’s trip comes a week before the huge Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in Beijing. Dozens of African heads of state are expected there and China may offer new trade and finance deals.

      The summit comes after Chinese President Xi Jinping’s second tour of Africa when he visited Senegal, Rwanda, Mauritius and South Africa.

      Mrs May’s trip seems rather low key in comparison.

      Second stop: Nigeria

      The British prime minister is also set to meet Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja, just four months after they held talks in London.

      Nigeria is Britain’s second largest trading partner in Africa, but should the country be so focused on the UK?

      Tunji Andrews, an economist based in Nigeria’s commercial hub Lagos, believes Nigeria should concentrate more on its relationship with the European Union.

      “The diversity of demand of the EU market makes it slightly more attractive.

      “I think it’s impossible not to look at the British market at this point, but I’ll also say that while Britain remains a viable trade partner, it just doesn’t hold the same value to Africa as China and to a lesser extent, the US.”

      Nigeria’s top export to the UK is crude oil and its largest import is refined oil, a structural inefficiency that leads to regular fuel shortages as the populous West African nation lacks a properly functioning refinery.

      Third stop: Kenya

      Mrs May concludes her maiden African trip in Kenya, becoming the first British prime minister to visit the East African country in over 30 years.

      The country re-exports some of its products to the EU through the UK and there are concerns that a hard Brexit might jeopardise that.

      Kenya’s trade split between the UK and the rest of the EU “is almost 50-50 and the country will have to strike a good deal with both the UK and the EU because it depends on both markets to sell its tea, fresh produce and other agricultural products,” says economist Tony Watima.

      Kenya supplies more roses to the European Union than any other country and is the world’s third largest exporter of cut flowers.

      The country sends 17% of its flowers sold in the EU to the UK. With 500,000 people supported by the flower industry, according to the Kenya Flower Council, every market is critical.

      But with direct flights from Nairobi to New York beginning in October, the country may be looking to tap into the larger US market for its goods.

      President Uhuru Kenyatta will meet Mrs May in Nairobi on Thursday just three days after discussing trade with US President Donald Trump at the White House.

      Image copyright AFP
      Image caption Kenya will be keen to keep its UK market for its roses, but other EU countries are also important customers

      Overall, there is a sense that Africa is being wooed from many sides.

      Mrs May’s trip to the continent is part of her mission to create a “truly Global Britain”. She goes with the hope of offering a new partnership in which both the UK and Africa can benefit, but there are those who want the continent to drive a hard bargain.

      “Markets are global, why should Africa have to pick just one?” asks South African businesswoman Rachel Irvine.

      “It is therefore decidedly in the interest of both parties to play nice with each other.”

      Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-45298656

      Young Narwhal Adopted By Totally Chill Beluga Whale Pod

      A rare narwhal in eastern Canada’s St. Lawrence River has apparently been adopted by a band of beluga whales, scientists have revealed.

      The young, gray-speckled narwhal was first spotted in the river in 2016 with approximately 100 adult belugas. But it has recently begun traveling with a pod of about ten belugas, all believed to be juvenile or young adult males. 

      Narwhals have a single pointed tusk growing from their head. Their tusks can be seen in drone video footage of the whales taken by the Canadian nonprofit Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals.

      The narwhal “seems to be at home with the St. Lawrence belugas,” said a GREMM statement.

      The members of the pod are in “constant contact with each other,” GREMM president Robert Michaud told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The narwhal “behaves like one of the boys” and seems to have been completely accepted by the belugas, said Michaud. “It’s a like a big social ball of young juveniles that are playing some social, sexual games,” he said.

      The narwhal is even beginning to pick up beluga behavior, such as blowing bubbles.

      Narwhals and belugas, the only species in the Monodontidae family, are closely related and are about the same size. But narwhals are Arctic creatures and are typically seen more than 600 miles north of this pod. And Narwhals hunt deepwater fish usually in areas covered with ice. Belugas prefer shallower, warmer coastal water, and tend to seek fish like salmon closer to the surface.

      GREMM scientists speculated that this narwhal-beluga marriage might be linked to a changing climate.

      “Due to the climate change being observed in the Arctic, there is a chance that these two related species might find themselves in one another’s company more and more frequently in the decades to come,” GREMM noted on its website. “We already see this phenomenon in other species such as the polar bear and the grizzly, which have even been observed to interbreed. Might we someday observe a narwhal-beluga hybrid in the St. Lawrence?”

      “I don’t think it should surprise people,” Martin Nweeia, a researcher at Harvard University who studies both narwhals and belugas, told the CBC. “I think it shows … the compassion and the openness of other species to welcome another member that may not look or act the same.”

      During the Middle Ages, Narwhal tusks were treasured as unicorn horns. An eight-foot-long Medieval narwhal tusk identified then as a unicorn horn in on exhibit with the Unicorn Tapestries at the Cloisters of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

      Video of narwhals last year for the first time revealed the animals using their tusks to hunt for food by spearing or stunning cod:

      Read more: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/belugas-adopt-narwhal-juvenile-in-st-lawrence-river_us_5b9eef2fe4b013b0977be775

      Church keeps Amazon shares despite criticism

      The Church of England has said it will keep its shares in Amazon – a day after the Archbishop of Canterbury said the firm was “leeching off the taxpayer”.

      The Church Times has revealed Amazon was among the 20 biggest global investments by the Church last year.

      A statement from the CofE said it considered the most effective way to seek change was to be “in the room with these companies” as a shareholder.

      Amazon has repeatedly said it pays all taxes required in the UK.

      Archbishop Justin Welby, in a speech to the Trades Union Congress on Wednesday, said: “When vast companies like Amazon and other online traders, the new industries, can get away with paying almost nothing in tax, there is something wrong with the tax system.

      “They don’t pay a real living wage, so the taxpayer must support their workers with benefits.

      “And having leeched off the taxpayer once they don’t pay for our defence, for security, for stability, for justice, health, equality, education.”

      His comments came a week after he told the BBC there needed to be a fundamental rethink of how the economy works, including higher taxes on technology giants and the wealthy.

      The 2017 annual report from the Church Commissioners, which deals with the Church’s investments, revealed Amazon Inc was one of its top 20 global equity investments.

      A statement from the Church said: “We consider aggressive tax avoidance or abusive tax arrangements to be both a business risk and an ethical issue.

      “As with other issues, we take the view that it is most effective to be in the room with these companies seeking change as a shareholder.

      “We continue to work with other shareholders to tackle this issue via engagement with companies and their managers.”

      The Church made a return of 18.6% on global equities in 2017.

      In 2014, the commissioners sold around £75,000 of shares in the payday lender Wonga after the archbishop pledged to “put it out of business”.

      He had admitted to being “embarrassed” and “irritated” when details of the link emerged in 2013.

      Last week, Amazon briefly became the second US-listed firm to have a market value of more than $1 trillion (£779bn).

      Archbishop Welby has also attracted criticism regarding comments he made about zero-hour contracts which he called the “reincarnation of an ancient evil”.

      In a letter to the Times, the Reverend Ray Anglesea, a minister who worked on a zero-hours contract in a cathedral bookshop, said: “What the Most Rev Justin Welby did not disclose was how many of his cathedrals are zero contract hour employers and how many cathedral employees have no job certainty, no sick or holiday pay, and no maternity cover.”

      The Church of England said advice to its parishes on zero-hours contracts was issued in 2013, and “does not reflect the current thinking” of the Church.

      Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-45516830