26 November 2021

Fighting A Serious And Common Bacterial Disease With A Natural Virus

Good news in treating an often neglected problem that causes great suffering. 

Phages are viruses that infect bacteria and can also be used to treat human infections. . . . researchers have shown that the naturally occurring phage A1-1 kills Shigella flexneri, a major cause of dysentery in sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia and selects for phage-resistant mutants with reduced virulence.

From here

India Falls Below Replacement Rate Child Bearing

India is no longer a significant source of net global population growth. The national average, however, conceals vast disparities between regions, mostly with more children per woman per lifetime in the North and in rural areas, and fewer in the South and in urban areas.

India’s most recent National Family Health Survey, which is conducted every five years by the Health Ministry, was released Wednesday and showed the total fertility rate (TFR) across India dropping to 2.0 in 2019-2021, compared with 2.2 in 2015-2016. A country with a TFR of 2.1, known as the replacement rate, would maintain a stable population over time; a lower TFR means the population would decrease in the absence of other factors, such as immigration…

In cities across India — as in other countries — women are opting for fewer children: The urban fertility rate is 1.6.

From the Washington Post

Human 2.0: Executive Function Boosting

Another high risk, high reward concept from DARPA:
Researchers show it is possible to improve specific human brain functions related to self-control and mental flexibility by merging artificial intelligence with targeted electrical brain stimulation. . . . 
[T]hey identified a brain region -- the internal capsule -- that improved patients' mental function when stimulated with small amounts of electrical energy. That part of the brain is responsible for cognitive control -- the process of shifting from one thought pattern or behavior to another, which is impaired in most mental illnesses.
An example might include a person with depression who just can't get out of a "stuck" negative thought. Because it is so central to mental illness, finding a way to improve it could be a powerful new way to treat those illnesses.
The team developed algorithms, so that after stimulation, they could track patients' cognitive control abilities, both from their actions and directly from their brain activity. The controller method provided boosts of stimulation whenever the patients were doing worse on a laboratory test of cognitive control.
This system can read brain activity, "decode" from that when a patient is having difficulty, and apply a small burst of electrical stimulation to the brain to boost them past that difficulty. The analogy I often use is an electric bike. When someone's pedaling but having difficulty, the bike senses it and augments it. We've made the equivalent of that for human mental function.
The study is the first to show that:
* A specific human mental function linked to mental illness can be reliably enhanced using precisely targeted electrical stimulation; 
* There are specific sub-parts of the internal capsule brain structure that are particularly effective for cognitive enhancement; and 
* A closed-loop algorithm used as a controller was twice as effective than stimulating at random times.

Some of the patients had significant anxiety in addition to their epilepsy. When given the cognitive-enhancing stimulation, they reported that their anxiety got better, because they were more able to shift their thoughts away from their distress and focus on what they wanted. Widge says that this suggests this method could be used to treat patients with severe and medication-resistant anxiety, depression or other disorders. 
. . .  
The research team is now preparing for clinical trials. Because the target for improving cognitive control is already approved by the Food and Drug Administration for deep brain stimulation, . . .  this research can be done with existing tools and devices -- once a trial is formally approved -- and the translation of this care to current medical practice could be rapid.
From Science Daily citing Ishita Basu, et al., "Closed-loop enhancement and neural decoding of cognitive control in humans." Nature Biomedical Engineering (2021) DOI: 10.1038/s41551-021-00804-y

A Hybrid Brass-String Instrument

I love this hybrid brass-string instrument devised for the series Arcane: League of Legends.


20 November 2021


One of the particularly extreme contractions in modern casual English speech is "ima" which means "I am going to". Or, more exactly:

IMA is actually a contraction of the slang phrase "I'm gonna," which means "I am going to."