Tuesday, May 23, 2017

NEWS POST: New Invention Helps People With Parkinson’s

Neha Shahid Chaudhry
Witnessing her late grandfather struggle with the disease compelled one student to invent a ‘smart’ walking stick

A student entrepreneur whose grandfather was debilitated by Parkinson's disease has created a mobility aid to improve the lives of other patients with the condition.

Neha Shahid Chaudhry was inspired to invent a “smart” walking stick after witnessing her late grandfather struggle with the disease for seven years, repeatedly suffering falls when his joints seized up.

The device detects when a user's limbs have frozen and they cannot continue walking. Recognizing a pause in motion, the stick vibrates to help the patient regain their rhythm and get moving again.

Product design technology graduate Neha, of the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), hopes her invention can benefit half the 127,000 Parkinson's patients in Britain who regularly experience joint freezing and abnormal gait symptoms.

It has already been successfully tested among dozens of Parkinson's patients, and the NHS and Parkinson's UK charity have expressed an interest in her product.

Neha, 23, founder of start-up company Walk to Beat, has been overwhelmed by the response to the technology.

She said: “When I gave the product to patients to be tested, there were smiles on their faces and they were saying 'This could really work'. It seems unbelievable that I have made something which could help people, even if it is to a small extent. It's a great feeling for me and the patients are happy somebody is thinking of them.

“I wanted to design something that was aesthetically pleasing and discreet, so I could solve a problem in an almost secret way
Neha, founder of Walk to Beat
Neha Shahid Chaudhry with her smart walking stick
There isn't a cure for Parkinson's – medication just prolongs the condition and helps you stay alive for longer. My aim is to make their lives a bit better while they are dealing with it.”
International student Neha, born in Pakistan, came up with the idea in 2014 as part of an end-of-course project in which she was challenged to devise a product that could solve a “real world” problem.

Her mobility aid resembles a conventional walking stick, but has sophisticated technology integrated into the plastic handle, including a sensor that can detect when the user has stopped taking steps. Once it has identified a pause, the stick emits a pulsating beat to help the patient resume walking.

Neha said: “People with Parkinson's get jammed in one place and can't step forward - it can cause falls. They need any kind of rhythm or sequence to get them started again, because it acts as a reminder. The beat is inside the handle – it senses when you stop and turns off automatically when you start walking again. Patients say it encourages them to walk and they learn to pace with it.”

The mobility aid was designed to look like a conventional walking stick to ensure it did not draw attention to the patient and their condition.

Neha said: “I spent three to four months doing research, talking to patients, going to care homes and attending Parkinson's UK drop-in sessions.

“More than the disease itself, a big problem is the impact on social lives. Some other products for people with Parkinson's have a stigma attached to them – they look like products for disabled people. Because one of the symptoms is tremors, patients drink from sippy cups and use children's cutlery because it is easier to grip, but that seemed undignified to me.

“I wanted to design something that was aesthetically pleasing and discreet, so I could solve a problem in an almost secret way. The beat can only be felt by the user - it cannot be heard or seen.”

Inspiration for the product was drawn from Neha's grandfather Zia-U-Din, who passed away two years ago.

Neha, who is now studying for a Masters degree in marketing at UWE Bristol, said: “My granddad had this disease for seven years so I knew a bit about it - that was my starting point. He used to freeze a lot and had a lot of injuries because of falling.

“He used to get really happy when he had good days, when he was able to walk without a stick. But we wouldn't let him out alone. He once fell in the road and had a major injury.”

Social enterprise Walk to Beat is based in the technology incubator at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory on UWE Bristol's Frenchay campus, where she received support in developing her walking stick's sensor and producing a final prototype device from the Robotics Innovation Facility (RIF).

Farid Dailami, an Associate Professor for Knowledge Exchange in Manufacturing based in the RIF, said: “We are delighted to have helped Neha take her idea from a very brief outline to a fully functioning prototype that she has used to show off the feasibility of her original concepts. The Walk to Beat walking stick can make a real difference to the lives of people suffering from Parkinson's, and we are looking forward to providing further support and helping realise its potential.”

Neha has also received assistance from UWE Enterprise, which helps students and recent graduates set up and run businesses. She was awarded a £15,000 grant from UWE Bristol's Better Together Fund to take her idea from concept to reality.

Mhairi Threlfall, Enterprise Development Manager at UWE Bristol, said: “Neha's passion driven by personal experience to tackling problems associated with Parkinson's is astounding. She has worked tirelessly to produce her product and develop her business plan. We are supporting her now to look at how this fantastic creation can be commercialized.”

Originally published on THE INDEPENDENT UK

Friday, May 19, 2017

NEWS POST: Prof Proves 100-Year-Old Medical Test Cures Infertility After Mum Tells Him: 'That's How You Were Born!'

Many more women could conceive naturally following the procedure  Credit:Rex/Shutterstock
When the mother of Professor Ben Mol told him that a 100-year-old medical technique had cured her infertility, leading to his birth, the scientist was naturally curious.

Since 1917 doctors have performed a technique in which they inject a special dye into women’s tubes which can be picked up on X-rays, to help diagnose fertility problems.

But although the procedure is supposed to be entirely diagnostic, over the past century, many women have claimed it actually helped them become pregnant.

Now Professor Mol, of the University of Adelaide, has shown that it is probably true, in a study which could help tens of thousands of women avoid the need for IVF.

In a test of more than 1,000 infertile women Prof Mol showed that flushing the fallopian tubes through with poppy seed oil allowed 40 per cent to become pregnant naturally within six months.

"Our results have been even more exciting than we could have predicted, helping to confirm that an age-old medical technique still has an important place in modern medicine," said Prof Mol.

“Over the past century, pregnancy rates among infertile women reportedly increased after their tubes had been flushed with either water or oil during this X-ray procedure.

"Not only is there a known benefit, but this flushing procedure is also a fraction of the cost of one cycle of IVF. Considering that 40 per cent of women in the oil-based group achieved a successful pregnancy, that's 40 per cent of couples who could avoid having to go through the huge costs and emotions associated with IVF treatment.”

The procedure, known as hysterosalpingography (HSG), is a dye test of the fallopian tubes conducted under X-ray. Since the 1950s both water-based and oil-based solutions have been used.
Ben Mol as a baby (just a few weeks old) with his mother, Annemie Mol-Albers, 1965.  Credit: Ben Mol 
In the 1960s, after being considered infertile for nine years, Professor Mol's mother underwent an HSG.

“My mother went from being infertile for many years to becoming pregnant, and I was born in 1965,” he added.  “I also have a younger brother. So it's entirely possible - in fact, based on our team's research, it's highly likely - that my brother and I are both the result of this technique helping my mother to achieve fertility."

Around 50,000 women undergo IVF treatment in Britain every year, but the new study suggests that around 20,000 could avoid the treatment through an HSG.

In the new experiment, scientists also tested the procedure using a water-based solution and found that 29 per cent of women became pregnant, suggesting that it was still effective, but not as good as oil.

"It was long believed that testing a woman's fallopian tubes could have fertility benefits through 'flushing out' the kind of debris that hinders fertility,” added Prof Mol. “The reality is, we still don't really understand why there is a benefit, only that there is a benefit from this technique, in particular for women who don't present with any other treatable fertility symptoms.

“This is an important outcome for women who would have had no other course of action other than to seek IVF treatment. It offers new hope to infertile couples.”

Dr Channa Jayasena, Clinical Senior Lecturer in Reproductive Endocrinology and Andrology at Imperial College said: "It has long been speculated that flushing the fallopian tubes might clear blockages to the passage of eggs to the womb.

"This exciting and well-designed study strongly suggests that flushing with oil could help some couples with infertility get pregnant naturally.

"Since flushing with dye is already done to check the fallopian tubes of infertile women, I can see this being a relatively straightforward treatment to implement.”

Dr Stuart Lavery of IVF Hammersmith, said that he had noticed that women conceived naturally after HSG.

“We are big fans of HSG and have done them for many years. It gives excellent diagnostic accuracy of pelvic anatomy, uterine cavity and tubal patency and a proportion of women conceive naturally after the HSG.”

Prof Ben Mol who discovered his mother was infertile before undergoing a hysterosalpingography Credit: Robinson Research Institute, University Of Adelaide
The team is hoping to conduct more research into how the procedure works, but say it is already a viable and safe treatment which should be offered immediately to women to help improve their chances of conceiving before IVF.

The research, which also involved 27 medical centres in the Netherlands, was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Originally published on THE TELEGRAPH

Monday, May 15, 2017

GUEST BLOG POST: The Coming Human-Machine Partnership In Creativity — Sam Arbesma

We are tool users. While this skill is not unique to humanity (Wikipedia has helpfully documented other cases of “Tooluse by animals”), human civilization is suffused with tool use. We use tools to help us eat, tools to help us build homes and other structures, tools for transportation, even tools to assist us in getting exercise.

Awash in the many tools of our technological society, we are seeing a new type of tool on the horizon, one which is similar in some ways to what has come before and in other ways quite different. These are tools that augment human creativity. We are increasingly, as a society, building tools to help assist human creativity, whether in art, design, or even scientific discovery.

Obviously, we have long had tools in the cognitive realm: tools to help us store and retrieve information (paper!) and tools to help us better perceive the world around us (eyeglasses). And some of these tools have even been used to drive further discovery and creativity, such as when the microscope and telescope were invented. We would not have been able to see the wonders revealed by these tools on our own, but due to them, humanity reached new creative heights.

But these new computational tools for creativity are different in one particular way: they seem to be replicating some of the creative processes within our own minds. Whether the underlying algorithms actually faithfully mimic the processes in the human brain or not, their output is becoming increasingly human-like.

For some of us, this can be a bit distressing. Creative output has long seemed to be one of the few things that was immune to the march of machines and computation. But it’s not. We have software for automatically generating news articles, software for creating music and art whole cloth, algorithms for designing novel optimized shapes, and even computers programmes that tell jokes.

Here is a small sampling of what is increasingly possible:

This realm of computational creativity, or creative AI, is broad and rapidly growing (see CreativeAI.net to stay on top of the newest developments in this space). If the last ten years were about building AI to help analytic workers, the next ten will be about building AI to augment creative workers across all disciplines. This marks a material shift we’ve seen and a thesis we’re actively investigating in at Lux. And whether you like it or not, it’s coming.

So how should we respond to this new era? Delight and wonder, of course. But even more importantly, we need to work together with these new tools: we need to be partners with our machines in the very act of creation.

Creativity has always been a collaborative act. We can now increasingly count machines as members of our team as well.

Sam is Scientist in Residence at Lux Capital and the author of the book Overcomplicated.
Follow him on Twitter.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

NEWS POST(S): You’re Not Too Old To Learn That; A Natural Way of Making Your Brain More Efficient

Rachel Wu
New theory by UC Riverside psychology professor suggests that adults can combat cognitive aging by learning like an infant

One day, our brains will not work the way they used to, we won’t be as “sharp” as we once were, we won’t be able to remember things as easily.

This is what’s been ingrained in us. We’re even led to believe that we can’t learn new skills, or take in certain information such as language, past a certain age.

But, a new theory holds that it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, as adults, if we continue to learn the way we did as children, UCR psychology professor Rachel Wu asserts, we can redefine what it means to be an “aging” adult.

Wu has published “A Novel Theoretical Life Course Framework for Triggering Cognitive Development Across the Lifespan,” in the journal Human Development. In the paper, she redefines healthy cognitive aging as a result of learning strategies and habits that are developed throughout our life. These habits can either encourage or discourage cognitive development.

“We argue that across your lifespan, you go from ‘broad learning’ (learning many skills as an infant or child) to ‘specialized learning,’ (becoming an expert in a specific area) when you begin working, and that leads to cognitive decline initially in some unfamiliar situations, and eventually in both familiar and unfamiliar situations,” Wu said.

Wu took up painting seven years ago. At first, she was told she was terrible (painting on left). But, after years of practicing and taking courses, she was told she was talented (painting on the right).
In the paper, Wu argues that if we reimagine cognitive aging as a developmental outcome, it opens the door for new tactics that could dramatically improve the cognitive health and quality of life for aging adults. In particular, if adults embrace the same “broad learning experiences” (characterized by six factors below) that promote children’s growth and development, they may see an increase in their cognitive health, and not the natural decline that we all expect.

Wu and her collaborators define “broad learning,” as encompassing these six factors:

1.  Open-minded, input-driven learning (learning new patterns, new skills, exploring outside of one’s comfort zone).
2. Individualized scaffolding (consistent access to teachers and mentors who guide learning).
3.  Growth mindset (belief that abilities are developed with effort).
4.  Forgiving environment (allowed to make mistakes and even fail).
5. Serious commitment to learning (learn to master essential skills, persevere despite setbacks).
6.  Learning multiple skills simultaneously.

The researchers explain that intellectual engagement (via the six factors) declines from infancy to aging adulthood as we move from “broad learning” to “specialization.” They argue that, during infancy and childhood, engaging in these six factors actually increases basic cognitive abilities (e.g., working memory, inhibition, attention), and they predict that the same is the case in adulthood.

Wu and the researchers define “specialized learning,” as encompassing these factors:

1.  Closed-minded knowledge-driven learning (preferring familiar routines, staying within our comfort zones).
2.   No scaffolding (no access to experts or teachers).
3.  Unforgiving environment (high consequences for mistakes or failing, such as getting fired).
4.  Fixed mindset (belief that abilities are inborn talent, as opposed to developed with effort).
5.  Little commitment to learning (adults typically learn a hobby for a couple months, but then drop it due to time constraints and/or difficulty).
6.  Learning one (if any) skill at a time.

“When you look across the lifespan from infancy, it seems likely that the decline of broad learning has a causal role in cognitive aging. But, if adults were to engage in broad learning via the six factors that we provide (similar to those from early childhood experiences), aging adults could expand cognitive functioning beyond currently known limits,” Wu said.

Wu makes the case that we naturally tend to shift from “broad learning,” to “specialized learning,” when we begin our careers, and at that point, cognitive aging begins. As we settle into our work roles, we become more efficient in our day-to-day expectations and activities, and rarely stray from that. Though there are some benefits to it, such as having more efficient and accurate responses in appropriate situations, there are also downfalls, such as holding wrong assumptions or difficultly overriding these assumptions.

“We still need to test our theory with specific scientific studies, but this theory is based on over five decades of research. What I want adults to take away from this study is that we CAN learn many new skills at any age,” Wu said. “It just takes time and dedication. We seem to make it very difficult on ourselves and other adults to learn. Perhaps this is why some aspects of cognitive aging are self-imposed.”

A Natural Way of Making Your Brain More Efficient

New study finds that increasing your attention comes from using newly acquired knowledge

It’s unclear whether brain-training games actually help our brain, especially in the long term. While there may not be a “magic pill” to make our brains more efficient, gaining new knowledge and using existing knowledge in new ways can improve our attention abilities, according to new research by Rachel Wu, a psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside.

“Adults can increase their attention skills by grouping objects into categories, and then using these categories to search for objects more efficiently. In other words, we can build new knowledge or use existing knowledge to increase our attention. Infants and children similarly can increase their attention skills by categorizing objects,” explained Wu.

Published in the journal Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, Wu’s study showed one way in which we can become more efficient in our attention abilities – by using newly acquired knowledge of individual items to group them into categories. Wu’s previous studies show that it takes 200 milliseconds to find one object (among others on a computer screen). Interestingly, when many items are grouped into one category, people can find any of the items from that category within the same amount of time. In this new study, Wu found the same signature of attention in the brain waves of participants who had just learned that novel objects could be grouped into categories.

“You can think about it this way – by knowing the category of food, it makes it much easier to search for something to eat for lunch, rather than searching for the huge number of individual items that you could eat for lunch. This new study showed how you can increase your attention abilities by learning about features of individual items to build a new category,” said Wu.

The study showed how the construction and acquisition of knowledge increases efficiency in attention. Attention is inherently tied to learning and knowledge. The use of knowledge very often determines the outcome of attention.

Wu concludes that you shouldn’t train attention” by making people complete attention games”; you should train attention” by making people gain new knowledge and use their existing knowledge in new and flexible ways.

“The latter method is similar to how infants and children increase their attention skills in real life. We don’t make infants and children play attention games to increase their attention skills. So, why would we make adults play these games to boost their attention?” asked Wu.

Originally published (STORY 1) and (STORY 2) on UCR TODAY

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

NEWS POST: Mobile Phones Ring Changes For Nigeria's Music Industry

Nwabia Obinna, aka Phizbarz, a 23-year-old Nigerian Afropop artist, performs during a music video in Lagos in April 2016
Phizbarz is only 23 but hopes to become the next Nigerian Afropop star to be famous across Africa -- and to get himself known and earn a living, he's using his mobile phone.

The young performer from the country's commercial and entertainment capital, Lagos, floods social networking sites Twitter, Facebook and Instagram with clips of his music. Sometimes he appears as a baseball-capped rapper surrounded by gyrating, scantily clad dancers, sometimes as a sheikh in a pristine white dishdasha, dripping with gold.

"If you want to be someone, you have to show off," he told AFP, from behind the wheel of a sparkling red Mercedes that he borrowed from his manager.

In all, Phizbarz has composed about 100 songs but has never produced an album. Instead, his creations are converted into ringtones by telephone companies, who sell them individually and pay him and his label 60 percent of the profits. Phizbarz himself earns about 50,000 naira (US$164, €150) a month, which he considers a "decent" wage.

In Nigeria, performing artists have long been left to their own devices because of the lack of a structured market, making them powerless against piracy that accounts for most sales. In the packed streets of Lagos -- a capital of creativity and temple of resourcefulness -- bootlegged copies are sold at car windows or between packets of sweets, cigarettes and recent Nollywood releases -- many of which are also pirated.

Ringtone market
For the last three years, there's been a revolution in Nigeria's music industry because of digital sales and especially mobile telephones, which are bringing in increasingly more revenue. Analysts PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) estimated in a report published late last year that Nigeria's music industry was worth US$47 million in 2015 and should rise to US$86 million by 2020.

"Nigeria's total music revenue is dependent on ringtones and ringback tones, with the legitimate music sector being small otherwise," it added.

Instead of hearing a beep while waiting for a caller to pick up, companies play the latest releases and offer them for download.

Phizbarz is only 23 but hopes to become the next Nigerian Afropop star to be famous across Africa
Telephone operators, led by South African mobile giant MTN, sensed the potential of Nigeria, which is home to nearly 190 million people and where music is almost a religion.

MTN, which has 60 million subscribers in Nigeria, said it is the largest distributor of music.

Ringtones are sold at ₦50.00 each and it also operates a download platform MTN Music Plus, which competes with world-leading online music sites such as iTunes.

"There are lots of talented musicians on this market who had issues with piracy, it was difficult for them to sell their music," said MTN Nigeria's marketing director, Richard Iweanoge.

"We enable them to monetize the work. Every year we pay out more money to the artists, it's really a working formula. Nigerians actually wanted to buy music, they just didn't have the means to acquire it legally."

Brand development
Wannabe megastars like Phizbarz are looking to emulate musicians such as D'banj and Davido, whose songs play in clubs from Johannesburg to Cotonou and Kinshasa. With roots on the streets of Lagos, they are now courted by major labels and record in Europe and the United States.

"Superstars like Wizkid inspire millions of Nigerians," said Sam Onyemelukwe, the head of Entertainment Management Company, a partner of the Trace TV music network. "There are not many jobs for them, not much to do with their lives. Everybody wants to become a singer, have a lot of girlfriends and buy a jet: it's glamorous."

The law of averages suggests few will attain the dizzy heights of fame but mobile phones are one potentially lucrative way of getting noticed. According to PwC, ringtone downloads alone can earn artistes like D'banj and Davido up to US$350,000 a year.

"Anybody can record a song for a few thousands of naira and sell it online," said Onyemelukwe. "There's about one million 'artistes' in Nigeria. But very few of them are successful."

Phizbarz doesn't need to be told. "The music industry is very hard," he said.

Posting photos and videos online, and touring the local music scene and radio stations is a way of trying to catch the attention of one of the top industry figures, he said. "You sell your brand first and then you get recognition. You have to know a lot of managers, radio presenters. Even if your beats are good, it is more about who do you know in the industry."

"It's more a brand that you are developing, it's business."

Originally published on DAILY MAIL UK WIRES