Monday, January 30, 2017

Developing Inventive Creativity And Inventive Activity In Nigeria

By Kenneth Nwachinemelu David-Okafor

Kenneth Nwachinemelu David-Okafor
How many inventors are there in Nigeria?

Whatever you have guessed as the answer, know this: as long as your name is not in that number then I have a message for you: you can make yourself relevant in 2017 by becoming an inventor or encouraging someone you know to become one!

Think of the possibilities, what you could accomplish, what you could contribute or what the person you motivate could accomplish, could contribute to the growth and reputation of Nigeria.

The good news is that becoming an inventor is not impossible if you are prepared to put in the required diligence.


Let me share this with you: who is an inventor?

Inventor  a person who brings ideas or objects together in a novel way to create an invention, something that did not exist before. 

The Encyclopaedia Britannica (2017) notes, “Inventors defy definition; as a result, they are frequently defined by what they are not. For example, though there is a close relation between invention and science and engineering, an inventor is not necessarily a scientist or an engineer. A scientist is said to be a discoverer—that is, somebody who by acute observation and brilliant analysis is able to find and explain something that already exists in nature. An engineer, meanwhile, uses existing technology and scientific understanding to design better objects or processes. But an inventor, it is said, creates something that had never previously existed.”

The University of Tennessee Research Foundation makes a very important distinction between who is an inventor and who is not an inventor. On the UT Research Foundation website, the author(s) writes, “Who is an inventor? - Basically, the inventors are all the people who contributed to the conception of the invention. Conception is the mental part of invention – formulating a mental representation of the means to achieve a desired result. While there may be considerable work involved in building and testing this mental representation to create a tangible invention (which is referred to as the “reduction to practice” in patent law), only individuals who contributed to the conception of the idea are inventors on the patent.

“Who is not an inventor? - An individual who was involved in the reduction to practice of an invention, but not the conception, is not an inventor. A department head or dean who did not have any direct role in the making of the invention is not an inventor. The sponsors who provided the funds supporting your work on the invention are not inventors. A colleague who generously provided materials for you to build or test your invention is not an inventor.”

So you can right from the bat that is someone who contributes to the conception of the invention. You therefore can get a feasible idea and get other professionals to build it! You do not need to be a scientist or an engineer to become an inventor!

If you are lacking ideas of areas in which you can develop an invention then I can share with you some key areas in which Nigeria has great needs.

There are ideas I have shared in an e-book (cover picture above) COMING OUT SOON: 

Key Reasons Why Nigeria Is Short Of Inventors
Cultural, Scientific, Educational, Environmental, Political and Other Factors Constraining Nigeria's Inventiveness and Inventive Endeavour

When I decided that it was not worth complaining about Nigeria when I get frustrated that nothing seems to change I decided that I would do something: I aspire to contribute to transform Nigeria from a rabidly consumerist country to a more productive and inventive country!

Please get this right, many people assume Nigeria is a creative country; and it is to the degree that it has a well-documented and vibrant creative industry sector BUT CREATIVITY IS SO MUCH MORE THAN MUSIC, NOLLYWOOD AND ENTERTAINMENT. More importantly, we, Nigerians, are not, I dare say, as imaginative as we pride ourselves. Through action research, I discovered that Nigeria’s education system and its operators have not prioritized the development of creativity across several disciplines (including inventive creativity), critical thinking and creative problem solving.

Let me present some hard facts before you:

o  Nigeria was awarded less than 10 U.S. patents per one million residents between 1985 and 2014. But just for 2014, China got 801,135; United States got 285,096; Russian Federation got 24,072; United Kingdom got 15,196; Israel got 1,125; Singapore got 1,303; South Africa got 802 (See World Intellectual Property Organization, WIPO, WIPO Patent Report: Statistics on Worldwide Patent Activity.)

o   Nigeria has about 143 universities (federal, state and private) and none of them has prioritized the teaching and fostering of creativity and innovation. (NB: only one the Rivers State University of Science & Technology has the word “creativity” in its moto: “excellence & creativity”).

o       Nigeria has about 200 tertiary institutions (federal, state and private) and all of them combined have not tallied up to 100 high priority patents within the last 10 years.

o  According to a new market research report, 'World Mobile phone & Smartphone Market (2010 – 2015)', published by MarketsandMarkets, the total global mobile handset market was expected to reach US$341.4 billion by 2015 while smartphone sales will account for 75.8% of the overall mobile handset revenue at US$258.9 billion.

Of this total sales, about 120 million handsets would be sold in Nigeria within less than the same period. Not one Nigerian, DEAD OR ALIVE, would get a single dollar as royalties for any part or parts of a Smartphone invention or patent.

o       Nigeria has produced only one Nobel Prize winner (and that is in Literature).

o      Nigeria suffers chronic electric power shortages but the authorities have spent almost US$20 billion dollars in the last 20 years tackling the same problem and it has not been sorted.

o   The Federal Ministry of Education and most Nigerian universities in 2016/2017 budgeted more money (90% and above) to recurrent expenditure and less than 10% to capital projects. In lay language, this means that the ministry and universities would pay salaries rather than purchase tools/equipment/build infrastructure for the use of those who would earn the same salaries they have budgeted for would use to do the job for which the salaries would be earned!

I am tired of complaining!

I want to do something; so I am going to motivate you and I.

I have a simple message for you: do something to make your life positively affect someone else’s with your idea or product (indeed invention) in 2017.

If you lack any originally ideas of your own then read:

Key Reasons Why Nigeria Is Short Of Inventors
Cultural, Scientific, Educational, Environmental, Political and Other Factors Constraining Nigeria's Inventiveness and Inventive Endeavour 

To answer the opening question, Nigeria has than 100 inventors (in-country and abroad). This is abysmally low for a country with an estimated population of 180 million.

Like I said I am tired of complaining.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

NEWS POST: Zuckerberg Charity Buys AI Startup To Battle Disease

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg (L) and his wife Priscilla Chan pledged US$3 billion over the next decade to help banish or manage all disease ©John MacDougall (AFP)
A charitable foundation backed by Mark Zuckerberg and his wife said Monday it has bought a Canadian artificial intelligence startup as part of a mission to eradicate disease.

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative did not disclose financial terms of the deal to acquire Toronto-based Meta, which uses AI to quickly read and comprehend scientific papers and then provide insights to researchers.

Meta capabilities will be unified in a tool made available for free to scientists.

"We are very excited about what lies ahead," Meta co-founder and chief executive Sam Molyneux said in a statement.

Zuckerberg and his doctor wife, Priscilla Chan, in September pledged US$3 billion over the next decade to help banish or manage all disease, pouring some of the Facebook founder's fortune into innovative research.

"This is a big goal," Zuckerberg said at a San Francisco event announcing the effort of the philanthropic entity established by the couple in 2015.

"But we spent the last few years speaking with experts who think it is possible, so we dug in."

In the field of biomedicine alone, thousands of research papers are published daily, initiative science president Cori Bargmann and chief technology officer Brian Pinkerton said in a post on the charity's Facebook page.

Meta artificial intelligence can analyze insights across millions of papers, finding connections and patterns at scales and speeds impossible for humans to match unassisted, according to Bargmann and Pinkerton.

"Meta will help scientists learn from others' discoveries in real time, find key papers that may have gone unnoticed, or even predict where their field is headed," Bargmann and Pinkerton said.

"The potential for this kind of platform is virtually limitless."

- AI at home -
Zuckerberg said last month that he built an artificial intelligence-imbued software "butler" -- named Jarvis -- that even plays with his family.

The Facebook chief took on the personal project last year, devoting about 100 hours to making a system inspired by "Iron Man" film character Jarvis as a virtual assistant to help manage his household.

Jarvis is not a physical robot, but an application Zuckerberg can access through his phone or computer to control lights, temperature, music, security, appliances and more.

The software learns his tastes and patterns, as well as new words or concepts, and can even entertain his one-year-old daughter Max, according to Zuckerberg.

Zuckerberg plans to continue improving Jarvis, and says he expects AI technology to improve greatly in the coming five to 10 years.

AI is getting a foothold in people's homes, starting with devices such as Amazon Echo and Google Home speakers that link to personal assistants to answer questions and control connected devices.

Image Source/Credit: Facebook/CZI
Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Acquires And Will Free Up Science Search Engine Meta

Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan’s US$45 billion philanthropy organization is making its first acquisition in order to make it easier for scientists to search, read and tie together more than 26 million science research papers. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is acquiring Meta, an AI-powered research search engine startup, and will make its tool free to all in a few months after enhancing the product.

Meta could help scientists find the latest papers related to their own projects, while assisting funding organizations to collaborate with researchers and identify high-potential areas for investment or impact. What’s special about Meta is that its AI recognizes authors and citations between papers so it can surface the most important research instead of just what has the best SEO. It also provides free full-text access to 18,000 journals and literature sources.

Meta co-founder and CEO Sam Molyneux writes that “Going forward, our intent is not to profit from Meta’s data and capabilities; instead we aim to ensure they get to those who need them most, across sectors and as quickly as possible, for the benefit of the world.”

CZI did not disclose any of the terms of its acquisition of the Toronto-based startup’s tech and team, which was founded in 2010 and funded with US$7.5 million by investors, including Rho Canada Ventures and HIGHLINEvc. The startup formerly charged some users for subscriptions or custom solutions, but now the whole Meta product will be free. The acquisition will take some time to close first, though.

Cori Bargmann, president of Science, and Brian Pinkerton, president of Technology for the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, explain how Meta could be used, writing:

The potential for this kind of platform is virtually limitless: a researcher could use Meta to help identify emerging techniques for understanding coronary artery disease; a graduate student could see that two different diseases activate the same immune defense pathway; and clinicians could find scientists working on the most promising Zika treatments sooner. In the long run, it could be extended to other areas of knowledge: for example, it could help educators stay up to date on developmental science to better understand how children learn.

The acquisition aligns with CZI’s US$3 billion investment toward curing all disease. It’s already established the Biohub in San Francisco, which will host and fund medical research. Announced in September, one of the Chan Zuckerberg Science division’s goals is to build tools and technology for medical experts, along with bringing them together and building a larger movement for scientific progress.

In this case, because Meta has already established itself as a leader in the aggregation of research, it made sense to buy the company and distribute its tool rather than build something new. Zuckerberg and his wife’s organization have also made investments in startups as part of CZI’s Education push, including Andela, which preps African engineers for tech jobs, and Byju’s, an Indian video learning platform.

By taking Meta out of the commercial space and refocusing ans maximizing its value, CZI could solve one of science’s biggest problems for a much wider community. Simply put, there’s far too much research for any one scientist or even a whole team to keep up with. 2,000-4,000 papers are published each day about biomedicine alone, yet it’s hard to search across them or figure out which are the most reputable.

Image Source: Tech Crunch
Meta, formerly known as Sciencescape, indexes entire repositories of papers like PubMed and crawls the web, identifying and building profiles for the authors while analyzing who cites or links to what. It’s effectively Google PageRank for science, making it simple to discover relevant papers and prioritize which to read. It even adapts to provide feeds of updates on newly published research related to your previous searches. Here’s how it assists different parts of the research community:

·   Scientists can find the latest data and analysis on their areas of research, determine experiments that have already been performed that they don’t need to replicate and find new opportunities for investigation

·    Funding organizations like universities and foundations can get in touch with authors to back their future work, or spot trends of where breakthroughs are being made so they can funnel resources correctly

·    Students can ditch shallow Google searches that rely on exact term matches and SEO to rank results, and instead find papers that are most relevant to their research and are from commonly cited established scientists

·    Schools can ensure their curriculum are up to date and training students for the areas of science with the most potential for advancement

When originally announced, the flexible LLC status of the CZI was criticized because it diverged from the traditional structure of a charity. But the ability to acquire for-profit companies like Meta or reapply money it earns to its cause is exactly why Zuckerberg chose to form the philanthropic vehicle this way.

“Helping scientists will produce a virtuous cycle, as they develop new tools that in turn unlock additional opportunities for faster advancement” Molyneux writes. “The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s recognition of this “meta” effect is why Meta can be a key piece of the puzzle”.

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative knows that even with the family’s massive fortune, it can’t fund every dimension of science. But if it can provide scalable tools that make every scientist more effective by freeing their creators from the hunt for profit, CZI can become a fulcrum for humanity.

Originally published (STORY 1) on AFP and (STORY 2) on TECH CRUNCH

Sunday, January 22, 2017

NEWS POST: Ugandans Invent 'Smart Jacket' To Diagnose Pneumonia

The "Mama-Ope" (Mother's Hope) kit, invented by Ugandan engineers, is a biomedical smart jacket and a mobile phone app that diagnoses pneumonia faster than a doctor ©Isaac Kasamani (AFP)
A team of Ugandan engineers has invented a "smart jacket" that diagnoses pneumonia faster than a doctor, offering hope against a disease which kills more children worldwide than any other.

The idea came to Olivia Koburongo, 26, after her grandmother fell ill, and was moved from hospital to hospital before being properly diagnosed with pneumonia.

"It was now too late to save her," said Koburongo.

"It was too hard to keep track of her vitals, of how she's doing, and that is how I thought of a way to automate the whole process and keep track of her health."

Koburongo took her idea to fellow telecommunications engineering graduate Brian Turyabagye, 24, and together with a team of doctors they came up with the "Mama-Ope" (Mother's Hope) kit made up of a biomedical smart jacket and a mobile phone application which does the diagnosis.

Pneumonia -- a severe lung infection -- kills up to 24,000 Ugandan children under the age of five per year, many of whom are misdiagnosed as having malaria, according to the UN children's agency UNICEF.

A lack of access to laboratory testing and infrastructure in poor communities means health workers often have to rely on simple clinical examinations to make their diagnoses.

- Bluetooth diagnosis -
With the easy-to-use Mama-Ope kit, health workers merely have to slip the jacket onto the child, and its sensors will pick up sound patterns from the lungs, temperature and breathing rate.

"The processed information is sent to a mobile phone app (via Bluetooth) which analyses the information in comparison to known data so as to get an estimate of the strength of the disease," said Turyabagye.

The jacket, which is still only a prototype, can diagnose pneumonia up to three times faster than a doctor and reduces human error, according to studies done by its inventors.

Traditionally doctors use a stethoscope to listen for abnormal crackling or bubbling sounds in the lungs, however if medics suspect malaria or tuberculosis -- which also include respiratory distress -- the time lost treating those rather than pneumonia could prove deadly for their patient.

"The problem we're trying to solve is diagnosing pneumonia at an early stage before it gets severe and we're also trying to solve the problem of not enough manpower in hospitals because currently we have a doctor to patient ratio which is one to 24,000 in the country," said Koburongo.

- Global ambition -
Turyabagye said plans were underway to have the kit piloted in Uganda's referral hospitals and then trickle down to remote health centres.

"Once you have this information captured on cloud storage, it means a doctor who is not even in the rural area, who is not on the ground, can access the same information from any patient and it helps in making an informed decision," he added.

The team is also working on patenting the kit, which is shortlisted for the 2017 Royal Academy of Engineering Africa Prize.

"Once it is successful (in Uganda) we hope it is rolled out to other African countries and major parts of the world where pneumonia is killing thousands of children," said Koburongo.

According to UNICEF, most of the 900,000 annual deaths of children under five due to pneumonia occur in south Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

This is more than other causes of childhood death such as diarrhoea, malaria, meningitis or HIV/AIDS.

Telecommunications engineer Olivia Koburongo holds a baby in front of pneumonia diagnosing "smart jacket" at the Makerere University of Public Health in Kampala ©Isaac Kasamani (AFP)
Originally published on AFP

Friday, January 20, 2017

NEWS POST: Malaria Drug, Chloroquine, Treats Brain Cancer

Malaria drugs may soon find a new use for treating aggressive brain tumors. Photo Courtesy of Pixabay

Glioblastoma, an aggressive type of brain tumor, is traditionally hard to treat because of how it uses a process known as autophagy to block efforts to destroy it. However, in a landmark case, doctors were able to use an autophagy-inhibiting drug, originally developed for malaria treatment, to stabilize a glioblastoma in a 26-year-old patient. The drug extended and improved the patient's life when all other treatment options failed.

Lisa Rosendahl was given only a few months to live by her doctors after her brain cancer became resistant to chemotherapy and then to targeted treatments.

The study described a new drug combination that has stabilized Rosendahl’s disease and increased both the quantity and quality of her life: Adding the anti-malaria drug chloroquine to her treatment stopped an essential process that Rosendahl’s cancer cells had been using to resist therapy, re-sensitizing her cancer to the targeted treatment that had previously stopped working. Along with Rosendahl, two other brain cancer patients were treated with the combination and both showed similar, dramatic improvement.

“When I was 21 they found a large mass in my brain and I had it resected right away. They tested it for cancer and it came back positive,” Lisa said.

“Lisa is a young adult with a very strong will to live. But it was a high-risk, aggressive glioblastoma and by the time we started this work, she had already tried everything. For that population, survival rates are dismal. Miraculously, she had a response to this combination. Four weeks later, she could stand and had improved use of her arms, legs and hands,” says paper first author Jean Mulcahy-Levy, MD, investigator at the University of Colorado Cancer Center and pediatric oncologist at Children’s Hospital Colorado.

The science behind the innovative, off-label use of this malaria drug, chloroquine, was in large part built in the lab of Andrew Thorburn, PhD, deputy director of the CU Cancer Center, where Mulcahy-Levy worked as a postdoctoral fellow, starting in 2009. Thorburn’s lab studies a cellular process called autophagy. From the Greek “to eat oneself,” autophagy is a process of cellular recycling in which cell organelles called autophagosomes encapsulate extra or dangerous material and transport it to the cell’s lysosomes for disposal.

In fact, the first description of autophagy earned the 2016 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology for its discoverer, Yoshinori Ohsumi. Like tearing apart a Lego kit, autophagy breaks down unneeded cellular components into building blocks of energy or proteins for use in surviving times of low energy or staying safe from poisons and pathogens (among other uses). Unfortunately, some cancers use autophagy to keep themselves safe from treatments.

“My initial lab studies were kind of disappointing. It didn’t look like there was much effect of autophagy inhibition on pediatric brain tumors. But then we found that it wasn’t no effect across the board — there were subsets of tumors in which inhibition was highly effective,” Mulcahy-Levy says.

Nigeria's Federal Government in 2005 banned the use of Chloroquine and Sulfadoxine – Pyrimethamine as first line drugs in the treatment of malaria because increasing evidence of drug resistance, which had led to treatment failures. But the malaria drug, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal eLife, was successfully used to treat 26-year-old cancer patient. Photo Credit: JUHEL Nigeria
Mulcahy-Levy’s work with Thorburn (among others), showed that cancers with mutations in the gene BRAF, and specifically those with a mutation called BRAFV600E, were especially dependent on autophagy. In addition to melanoma, in which this mutation was first described, epithelioid glioblastomas are especially likely to carry BRAFV600E mutation.

With this new understanding, Mulcahy-Levy became an essential link between Thorburn’s basic science laboratory and the clinical practice of oncologist, Nicholas Foreman, MD, CU Cancer Center investigator and creator of the pediatric neuro-oncology at Children’s Hospital Colorado, who had been overseeing Lisa’s care.

After many surgeries, radiation treatments and chemotherapy, Lisa had started the drug vermurafenib, which was originally developed to treat BRAF+ melanoma and is now being tested in pediatric brain tumors. Lisa’s experience on the drug was typical of patients with BRAF+ cancers who are treated with BRAF inhibitors such as vemurafenib — after a period of control, cancer develops additional genetic mechanisms to drive its growth and survival and is able to progress past the initial drug.

At that point, one promising strategy is to predict and/or test for new genetic dependencies and then treat any new dependency with another targeted therapy. For example, many BRAF+ cancers treated with BRAF inhibitors develop KRAS, NRAS, EGFR or PTEN changes that drive their resistance, and treatments exist targeting many of these “escape pathways.” However, some cancers develop multiple resistance mechanisms and others evolve so quickly that it can be difficult to stay ahead of these changes with the correct, next targeted treatment.

“It’s like that story of the boy who puts his finger in the dam,” Mulcahy-Levy says. “Eventually you just can’t plug all the holes.”

Instead of this genetic whack-a-mole, the group chose to explore cellular mechanisms outside what can be a never-ending sequence of new mutations.

“Pre-clinical and clinical experience invariably shows that tumor cells rapidly evolve ways around inhibition of mutated kinase pathways like the BRAF pathway targeted here,” the paper writes. “However, based on our results, we hypothesize that by targeting an entirely different cellular process, i.e. autophagy, upon which these same tumor cells rely, it may be feasible to overcome such resistance and thus re-establish effective tumor control.”

In other words, knowing that Lisa Rosendahl’s tumor was positive for BRAFV600E mutation, and that this marked the tumor as especially dependent on autophagy — and also knowing that traditional options and even clinical trials were nonexistent — the group worked with Rosendahl and her father, Greg, to add the autophagy-inhibiting drug chloroquine to her treatment.

“In September 2015, the previous targeted drugs weren’t working anymore,” says Greg Rosendahl. “Doctors gave Lisa less than 12 months to live. We took all our cousins up to Alaska for a final trip kind of thing. Then they came up with this new combination including chloroquine.”

Vemurafenib had initially pushed Lisa’s cancer past the tipping point of survival. Then the cancer had learned to use autophagy to pull itself back from the brink. Now with chloroquine nixing autophagy, vemurafenib started working again.

“My cancer got smaller, which is awesome for me,” Lisa says.

“We have treated three patients with the combination and all three have had a clinical benefit. It’s really exciting — sometimes you don’t see that kind of response with an experimental treatment. In addition to Lisa, another patient was on the combination two-and-a-half years. She’s in college, excelling, and growing into a wonderful young adult, which wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t put her on this combination,” Mulcahy-Levy says.

Lisa recently bought a new wheelchair so that she could spend more time at the mall. She also applied for a handicap sticker to make it easier for her to visit a nearby park with food trucks. “She wants to get out and do more. She continues to have what she feels is a good quality of life,” Mulcahy-Levy says.

Research accompanying these results in patients implies that the addition of autophagy inhibition to targeted treatments may have benefits beyond glioblastoma and beyond only BRAF+ cancers. Because chloroquine has already earned FDA approval as a safe and effective (and inexpensive) treatment for malaria, the paper points out that it should be possible to “quickly test” the effectiveness of adding autophagy inhibition to a larger sample of BRAF+ glioblastoma and other brain tumor patients, and also to possibly expand this treatment to other likely mutations and disease sites.

As Mulcahy-Levy’s early studies show, many cancers do not depend on autophagy. But at the same time, many do. Because a safe and simple drug already exists to inhibit autophagy, the time between discovering an autophagy-dependent cancer and the ability to add autophagy-inhibiting chloroquine to a treatment regimen against this cancer may be short.

“I really like being able to really tailor therapy to the patient,” Mulcahy-Levy says. “I like saying, ‘I think this is going to be really important to you,’ and not necessarily using the same treatment with another patient whose cancer is driven by different genetic alterations. This is the definition of patient-centered care — designing therapy based on that individual patient’s information. It’s not just glioblastoma, but a certain mutation and not just the mutation but a certain pattern of previous treatments and resistance.”

“It makes me feel really lucky to be a pioneer in this treatment,” says Lisa Rosendahl. “I hope it helps and I hope it helps people down the road. I want it to help.”

Originally published in The Guardian Nigeria / eLife