Israeli, UAE Firms Join Forces In COVID-19 Research

JEFF PACHOUD / AFP

 

Firms from the United Arab Emirates and Israel have signed an agreement to jointly develop research and studies on the novel coronavirus, the UAE’s state WAM agency reported.

The business deal comes days after a surprise political agreement between the UAE and Israel to normalise relations, a historic shift which will make the Gulf state only the third Arab country to establish full diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.

The UAE’s APEX National Investment and Israel’s TeraGroup signed the “strategic commercial agreement” late Saturday in Abu Dhabi, WAM said in a statement.

“We are delighted with this cooperation with TeraGroup, which is considered the first business to inaugurate trade, economy and effective partnerships between the Emirati and Israeli business sectors,” APEX chairman Khalifa Yousef Khouri said.

APEX is an investment company with a particular focus on the healthcare sector.

The deal would be “serving humanity by strengthening research and studies on the novel coronavirus,” Khouri added.

The two companies hope to develop a rapid test for coronavirus.

“We are thrilled with our agreement with APEX National Investment, and hope that we will achieve the objectives outlined in this agreement, which in turn will benefit everyone economically,” TeraGroup chairman Oren Sadiv said, according to WAM.

Last Thursday the UAE and Israel agreed the US-brokered deal to establish full diplomatic ties.

Under that agreement, Israel pledged to suspend its planned annexation of parts of the occupied West Bank, a concession welcomed by European and some pro-Western Arab governments as a boost for hopes of peace.

However, before the political deal, two Israeli defence companies last month signed an agreement with an Emirati company to collaborate on the development of a non-invasive coronavirus screening test.

State-owned Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), the country’s largest aerospace and defence firm, as well as the government’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, signed a memorandum of understanding with Abu Dhabi-based technology company Group 42 in July.

AFP

Nigerian Researcher Wins $234,000 Grant For Virtual Reality Project

Dr Eugene Ohu runs a Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) Lab at Lagos Business School. Photo: lbs.edu.ng

 

A researcher at the Lagos Business School has won a $234,000 grant from the Templeton World Charity Foundation, Inc.

A statement on the website of the school said Dr Eugene Ohu, won the grant to conduct a two-year virtual reality research titled Teaching Children Empathy and Compassion through Virtual Reality Games.

The project “will explore the potentials of virtual reality (VR) for character development”, the statement said, adding, that the grant was awarded under TWCF’s Global Innovations for Character Development (GICD) initiative.

“It will be an immersive virtual reality (VR) experience where teenagers take the perspectives of ethnic groups different from theirs, to appreciate their identity and share in their sufferings,” Dr Ohu was quoted as saying.

“We also hope to train teachers at the study schools on the new VR teaching models, so as to incorporate them into the Civics and Social Studies curriculum of secondary schools.”

According to the statement, Dr Ohu runs a Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) Lab at Lagos Business School, where he explores the implications of the immersive, interactive and perspective-taking characteristics of technologies like computers, mobile devices and virtual reality (VR) for character development, learning, behaviour modification, wellbeing, and productivity.

Dr Ohu’s project will target an initial group of teenagers, who make up more than 60 percent of Nigeria’s population, and explore perspective-taking capabilities of VR to increase understanding for the identities of others different from ourselves.

Other collaborators in the project include Judith Okonkwo, founder of Imisi3D, and Extended Reality creation lab in Yaba, Lagos, and Prof. Karen Schrier, a digital games expert at Marist College, USA.

Templeton World Charity Foundation funds scientific breakthroughs and provides practical tools to fuel the human search for meaning, purpose, and truth.

Through the Global Innovations for Character Development initiative, it seeks to establish character development as a lever for social change, increased prosperity, and overall human flourishing.

Grants To Fund Study On Technology’s Impact On Democracy

 

New research programs at US universities will focus on the impact of technology on democracy, including the role of misinformation, a foundation announced Monday.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation said it would offer $50 million in funding for research “to better understand how technology is transforming our democracy and the way we receive and engage with information.”

The initiative is the latest in response to concerns about declining trust in traditional media and influence campaigns on social networks which may be sponsored by intelligence services.

The Knight Foundation will fund new, cross-disciplinary research at 11 American universities and research institutions, including the creation of five new centres of study.

READ ALSO: US Senator Calls For Investigation Into FaceApp

“We’re living the most profound change in how we communicate with each other since Gutenberg invented the printing press,” said Alberto Ibarguen, Knight Foundation president.

“The internet has changed our lives and is changing our democracy. We have to take a step back and a step forward. To understand what is actually happening, we need independent research and insights based on data, not emotion and invective. To go forward, citizens must be engaged, and including university communities in the debate is a step in that direction.”

Internet platforms have been credited with fueling democracy movements such as the Arab Spring, but have also been subject to manipulation in the 2016 US election and Brexit campaign.

In recent months, US President Donald Trump has stepped up his attacks on the mainstream media, and some surveys have shown many Americans have lost confidence in fact-checkers which aim to verify the claims of politicians and others.

The new research initiative is part of a $300 million commitment made by Knight Foundation in February to strengthen journalism and democracy, which has been joined by other foundations.

The grants will go to new projects including Carnegie Mellon University’s Center for Informed Democracy and Social Cyber-Security; George Washington University’s Institute for Data, Democracy, and Politics; New York University’s Center for Social Media and Politics; University of North Carolina’s Center for Information, Technology, and Public Life, and University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public.

Existing research centres getting funding include Indiana University, Stanford University, Yale University, the University of Texas, University of Wisconsin and the Data & Society Research Institute.

AFP

Japan Trial To Treat Spinal Cord Injuries With Stem Cells

File Photo

 

A team of Japanese researchers will carry out an unprecedented trial using a kind of stem cell to try to treat debilitating spinal cord injuries, the specialists said on Monday.

The team at Tokyo’s Keio University has received government approval for a trial using so-called induced Pluripotent Stem (iPS) cells — which have the potential to develop into any cell in the body — to treat patients with serious spinal cord injuries.

The trial, expected to begin later this year, will initially focus on four patients who suffered their injuries just 14 to 28 days beforehand, the university said.

The team will transplant two million iPS cells into the spines of the patients, who will then go through rehabilitation and be monitored for a year.

The strict limitations on the number of participants is necessary because the process is an “unprecedented, world first clinical trial”, the university added.

“It’s been 20 years since I started researching cell treatment. Finally we can start a clinical trial,” Hideyuki Okano, a professor of physiology, said at a press conference.

“We want to do our best to establish safety and provide the treatment to patients,” he added.

The study will be carried out on patients aged 18 or older who have completely lost their motor and sensory functions.

There are more than 100,000 patients in Japan who are paralysed due to spinal cord injuries but there is no effective treatment.

The primary purpose of the trial is to confirm the safety of the transplanted cells and the method of the transplant, the researchers said.

The research team hopes to test the efficacy and safety of the treatment for chronic injuries as well in the future if they can confirm the safety of the technique through the clinical trial.

The announcement comes after researchers in Kyoto said in November they had transplanted iPS cells into the brain of a patient in a bid to cure Parkinson’s disease.

The man was stable after the operation and he will be monitored for two years.

The researchers injected 2.4 million iPS cells into the left side of the patient’s brain in an operation that took about three hours.

Parkinson’s disease is a chronic, degenerative neurological disorder that affects the body’s motor system, often causing shaking and other difficulties in movement.

iPS cells are created by stimulating mature, already specialised, cells back into a juvenile state — basically cloning without the need for an embryo.

The cells can be transformed into a range of different types of cells, and their use is a key sector of medical research.

How Volcanoes Helped Topple Ancient Egypt – Study

Mount Sinabung volcano spews thick smoke as seen from the Indonesian Tiga Pancur village in Karo, North Sumatra on October 17, 2017. IVAN DAMANIK / AFP

 

Sun-choking debris cast off by volcanoes more than 2,000 years ago starved headwaters feeding the Nile river and hastened the downfall of ancient Egypt’s last kingdom, researchers said Tuesday.

Eruptions in the 3rd- and 1st-century BC — including one of the biggest blasts in the last 2,500 years — coincided with crop failures, large-scale revolts, and the withdrawal of Egyptian armies from the battlefield, they reported in the journal Nature Communications.

Up to now, researchers had struggled to find an explanation for these events.

“Volcanic eruptions may have had a central role in the eventual collapse of the Ptolemaic dynasty,” the journal noted in a summary.

The findings, the authors said, also highlight the risk today of climate engineering schemes that would combat global warming by injecting billions of tiny particles into the stratosphere — just like a volcano — to block some of the sun’s rays.

Even if so-called solar radiation management lowers the planet’s temperature a notch or two, it could inadvertently cause major disruptions in rainfall patterns.

“Ptolemaic vulnerability to volcanic eruptions offers a caution for all monsoon-dependent agriculture regions,” which today include 70 percent of the world’s population, the authors wrote.

The Ptolemaic empire began in 305 BC shortly after the death of Alexander the Great and ended in 30 BC with the suicide of Cleopatra. After that, the region became a Roman province.

The kingdom mostly thrived, nourished by the silt-rich Nile overflowing its banks in summer across a far-flung network of grain fields. An ingenious system of channels and dams stored water after the river receded in September.

Violent uprisings

“When the flood was good, the Nile Valley was one of the most agriculturally productive places in the ancient world,” said Francis Ludlow, a climate historian at Trinity College Dublin and co-author of the study.

But in some years, the river failed to rise, and trouble followed. Why this happened was not known.

Drawing from climate models, Greenland ice cores, and ancient Egyptian writings, researchers led by Joseph Manning of Yale University pieced together a narrative that showed an unmistakable link with major volcanic eruptions around the world.

In 245 BC, for example, the ruler Ptolemy III suddenly, and inexplicably, abandoned a successful military campaign against his arch nemesis, the Seleucid Empire, centred in present-day Syria and Iraq.

“This about-face changed everything about Near-East history,” Manning said.

Historical records also pointed to simultaneous food shortages due to insufficient flooding of the Nile, as well as violent uprisings in the Ptolemaic Kingdom, which stretched across northeast Africa and parts of the Middle East.

A similar confluence of social upheaval, disease and starvation struck the empire in its final two decades.

Both periods of turmoil, the researchers found, coincided with major volcanic eruptions.

From more recent records, scientists know that the tens of millions of tonnes of sulphur dioxide particles ejected into the upper atmosphere by a major eruption can prevent monsoon weather from moving far enough north of the equator to thoroughly soak the Ethiopian highlands, the headwaters of the Nile.

This happened in 939 when Eldgja, in Iceland, blew its top, and again in 1783-84, when Iceland’s Laki erupted.

The Islamic Nilometer, a log of Nile water levels since 622, showed a corresponding impact on the river.

“The volcanic eruptions didn’t cause these (social) upheavals on their own,” Ludlow said.

“But they likely added fuel to existing economic, political and ethnic tensions.”

AFP

Smokers With HIV Far More Likely To Die Of Lung Cancer – Researchers

People who are infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and smokes are far more likely to die from lung cancer than HIV, researchers said Monday.

“Having HIV and using tobacco may together accelerate the development of lung cancer,” warned the report in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine.

Smoking reduces life expectancy among people living with HIV — and undergoing antiretroviral therapy to keep their disease at bay, more than HIV itself, it added.

The findings are of particular concern because smoking is so common among people with HIV.

The prevalence of smokers among the population of people with HIV is 40 percent, about twice the rest of the United States population.

“Smoking and HIV are a particularly bad combination when it comes to lung cancer,” said lead author Krishna Reddy, a doctor at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

“Smoking rates are extraordinarily high among people with HIV, and both smoking and HIV increase the risk of lung cancer.”

Almost 25 percent of people who adhere well to anti-HIV medications but continue to smoke will die from lung cancer, said the findings.

People with HIV who take antiviral drugs and also smoke are from six to 13 times more likely to die from lung cancer than from HIV/AIDS, it added.

But there is hope for those who manage to quit.

Among smokers who quit at age 40, only about six percent will die of lung cancer, according to the study, which is based on projections using a computer model.

“Quitting smoking is one of the most important things that people with HIV can do to improve their health and live longer,” said co-author Travis Baggett, also of Massachusetts General Hospital.

Nearly 60,000 of the 644,2000 people aged 20-64 living with HIV and receiving care are expected to die from lung cancer by age 80 if smoking habits do not change.

AFP

Jonathan Says He Is Most Documented President In Nigeria’s History

jonathanPresident Goodluck Jonathan says he is the most documented president in the history of Nigeria, following the works of his Special Adviser on Research, Documentation and Strategy, Mr Oronto Douglas.

The President was paying tribute to late Oronto Douglas at the end of a commendation service in his honour at the Saint Peters Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion, Yenegoa, Bayelsa State.

He said that Oronto was a dedicated and committed special adviser who stood by him till the end, without any sign of betrayal.

He said that Oronto was a dependable ally who will be missed at all times.
Oronto Douglas

The Bayelsa State Governor, Mr Seriake Dickson, in his tribute, extolled the selfless life Oronto Douglas lived and promised that the legacies he left behind should not be allowed to die.

Governor Dickson, who said that the experience and vast contacts of Douglas Oronto would be greatly missed, called on well meaning Nigerians to rally round the Oronto family to ensure that they do not suffer.

He also disclosed plans to give out scholarships up to university level to his children, as a token of appreciation of his life of service to the people of Bayelsa State.

As part of the tributes, children from the EK Clerk Preparatory School founded by Oronto Douglas, made a presentation in honour of their founder.

Douglas Oronto was a foremost environmental activist renowned for his intellectual articulation of the Niger Delta struggle.

He died on April 9, 2015, four months to his 49th birthday.

Jonathan, Sambo Mourn Oronto Douglas

Oronto DouglasCondolences have started pouring into the family home of the late Special Adviser to the President on Research, Documentation and Strategy Mister Douglas Oronto who passed on Thursday morning.

President Goodluck Jonathan and Vice President Namadi Sambo, were the early callers at the Abuja residence of Mr Oronto to commiserate with the wife, Mrs Terinabo Oronto, and the other members of the family.

Prayers were said for the peaceful repose of the soul of the departed and for the family to bear the loss with fortitude.

In his condolence message, Vice President Namadi Sambo, said Nigeria has lost a very good man, who has contributed positively to the development of the country.

While President Goodluck Jonathan described him as a dedicated and committed personality with a strong will even to death.

The Late Oronto Douglas, one of President Jonathan’s influential aides, is said to have passed on at the State House Clinic early on Thursday morning.

Reports revealed that he battled a terminal illness but it is not clear the cause of his death

Mr Douglas, until his death was the Special Adviser to the President on Research, Documentation and Strategy.

A lawyer and an influential environmentalist, Mr. Douglas served as a Commissioner for Information in Bayelsa State.

He was responsible for the documentation of the President’s achievements, legacies and coordinated campaign strategies.

Studies Propose ‘Skunk-like Cannabis’ Increases Risk Of Psychosis

cannabisStudy shows that 24 per cent of new psychosis cases is as a result of smoking potent cannabis (Skunk).

King’s College, London’s research carried out by the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience on 780 persons, suggests that the risk of psychosis develops more, as a result of high consumption of potent cannabis (skunk).

A spokesperson for the research group said the report underlines why cannabis is illegal.

Scientists found the risk of psychosis was five times higher for those who use it regularly compared to non-users.

The scientists also concluded that the use of hash, a milder form of the drug, was not associated with increasing the risk of psychosis.

Psychosis refers to delusions or hallucinations that can be present in certain psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Dr Marta Di Forti, lead author on the research, had said that, “compared with those who had never tried cannabis, users of high potency skunk-like cannabis had a threefold increase in risk of psychosis, adding that the result of the test shows the risk in the use of Cannabis depends on the frequency of use and the content,

Dr Di Forti in a radio programme said the availability of skunk-like cannabis was becoming more widespread.

Robin Murray, Professor of Psychiatric Research at King’s, also commented: “This paper suggests that we could prevent almost one quarter of cases of psychosis if no-one smoked high potency cannabis, adding that it could save young patients a lot of suffering and the NHS a lot of money.”

OPINION: Impact Of Social Media On Nigerian Journalism

Journalism is the activity or profession of writing for newspapers or magazines or of broadcasting news on radio or television while Social media refers to the means of interactions among people in which they create, share, exchange and comment on contents among themselves in virtual communities and networks.

The impact of social media in the communication system cannot be overemphasized as traditional media has undoubtedly taken an onward progressive turn in achieving its core assignments of educating, informing and entertaining its audience; the Nigerian populace.

The consistent and goal-driven use of social media has filled the interactive and investigative vacuum found in the traditional media in Nigeria and the entire world. Hitherto this new age of journalism, reporters were only able to practice the time-sensitive profession within a certain constrained environment which permitted the Nigerian journalist to find facts from physically available sources.

Today, the Nigerian journalist can boast of new skills in news gathering and better accuracy in reporting the opinion of the people. Platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Google + have been used to monitor trends and gather intelligence in regards to the opinion of the masses.

Take for instance events which have garnered much attention as a result of activities on social media. Thousands of Nigerians joined Twitter during and after the subsidy protest (OccupyNigeria) of 2012,  the death of four UNIPORT students (ALUU4) caused a nationwide outcry against ‘jungle justice,’ the video of a policeman caught extorting a motorist went viral online and has now found its way into TV and radio.

These events were either instigated or projected online as a result of the use of social media platforms by those who witnessed and shared the details.

The ability of the social media to breed interactivity has caused the audience to exit its passive shell and enter into a new sphere of activity. This has helped in a number of other sectors in the economy; most especially politics and education. Worthy of note is the fact that social media has helped traditional media to gain its lost audience (youths).

With the rise in social media usage, Nigerian youths, who scarcely subscribed to the print media, have now cultivated a healthy habit of keeping abreast of events in the country.

Social media has impacted Nigerian journalism in the area of reporting as new features i-reports which allows individuals report events in real time in any case where an official correspondent is not on ground.

The integration of social media in news gathering and delivery has also enabled the Nigerian journalist to work in a capacity that totally erases the restrictions of distance. Today, interviews are conducted via email correspondence, Twitter conversations, Skype video chats etc.

Breaking News! This feature has been redefined since the advent of social media in Nigerian journalism. Journalists can now break news as they happen with supporting files such as pictures taken and posted alongside headlines.

Live broadcasts have been made possible online via web streaming. In most cases, the audience is able to participate and give feedback via the comments section which allows the reporter access to instant feedback.

The World Wide Web evolves daily; so does the social media. This means traditional media will yet experience even more changes and growth in times to come.

Written by Mayowa Ogundele, an online journalist with Channels Television, creative writer and aspiring broadcaster. Follow her via Twitter @Ohluwamayowa and Google+, Mayowa Ogundele.

U.S. Gay Couples Report Poorer Health Than Straight Married Counterparts

Gay and lesbian couples living together report poorer health than straight married couples, U.S. researchers said on Wednesday, speculating that legalizing same-sex marriage could reduce the disparities.

Studies have shown that married couples enjoy better health than people who are single, divorced or separated.

When Dr. Hui Liu, an assistant professor of sociology at Michigan State University, and her team studied the health of gay and straight couples, they found marriage made a difference.

“When we controlled for socioeconomic status, the odds of reporting poor or fair health were about 61 percent higher for same-sex cohabiting men than for men in heterosexual marriage, and the odds of reporting poor to fair health were about 46 percent higher for same-sex cohabiting women than for women in heterosexual marriages,” Liu said.

Although the researchers did not study the impact of legalizing gay marriage, Liu said it is plausible that if gay unions were sanctioned by law it could improve health by reducing stress and discrimination and providing health benefits enjoyed by married couples.

“If marriage can promote health, it is reasonable for us to expect that if same-sex couples had the advantage of legalized marriage their health may be boosted,” Liu added in an interview.

Nine U.S. states and Washington, D.C., have legalized same-sex marriage, assuring gay couples the benefits of a legalized union.

The researchers compared the health of 1,659 gay couples living together and a similar number of married heterosexuals. They pooled data from 1997 to 2009 National Health Interview Surveys in which people across the country were asked to rate their overall health as excellent, very good, good, fair or poor.

The study, which is published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, showed that black women living together as a couple were the most disadvantaged. They reported worse health than any other non-married black women.

Liu and her co-authors, Corinne Reczek an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Cincinnati, and Dustin Brown, a post-graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin, suggest that the discrimination and stress that gay couples experience could contribute to their poorer health.

“Legalizing same-sex marriage could also provide other advantages often associated with heterosexual marriage – such as partner health insurance benefits and the ability to file joint tax returns – that may directly or indirectly influence the health of individuals in same-sex unions,” Liu added.

Nigerian women are most unfaithful in the world – Durex

A survey conducted by condom manufacturer, Durex, in which 29,000 people in 36 countries were interviewed has ranked Nigerian women as the most unfaithful in the world.

According to the survey, Thailand men are the most unfaithful in the world, with 54 percent of them admitting to cheating on their spouses. South Korea came in second with 34 percent, while Malaysia ranked number three with 33 percent.

The survey revealed that the top two countries with cheating women are Nigeria, with 62 percent, and Thailand, 59 percent.

39 percent of Malaysian women also confessed to having betrayed their partners. Russian women came fourth at 33 percent while Singaporeans are fifth at 19 percent.

An independent survey also conducted in Africa by AE affirms the fact that Nigeria with a polulation of over 160 million tops the chart for cheating women. Corruption and a general distrust amognst citizens is largely responsible for this.