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Taking a Break

Suitcase in airport

(Michal Parzuchowski, Unsplash)

19 Feb. 2020. We’ll be traveling for the next few days and post only contributed items during that time. We will return to our regular publishing on Wednesday, 4 March.

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Why Business Must Lead on Climate Change

– Contributed content –

drought and flowers

(Enrique Lopez Garre, Pixabay)

20 Feb. 2020. The climate crisis is affecting the whole world, yet world leaders seem lost with what to do about it, so much so that a teenager has more to say on the matter. This is just one of the reasons why it is down to businesses and business leaders to take action and lead the way to combat the climate crisis, but there are more reasons than that.

There is an increasing demand from both consumers and employees

When you break it down, all the people who are campaigning for climate change are your customers, your neighbors’ customers, your competitors’ customers, and your employees, your neighbors, your neighbors’ employees, and your competitor’s employees. So, if you think about it, if every business takes action and encourages its customers and neighbors to do the same, then eventually everyone will be covered, and together companies can drive this force for change.

It is not just the environment that will benefit from your actions either, but you as a business will too. As it is the public who are demanding the change, then if you are showing your commitment to the environment, customers are more likely to choose you over your competitors. Of course, your competitors will soon follow, and that can only mean a good thing for the environment.

It’s not that hard to influence people

It might seem like it’s hard, but have a look back over the past ten years and think about the change in the use of plastic bags for grocery shopping. It’s now normal for people to have their bags for life in their cars or to carry a little bag around with them for when they’re shopping around town. This is a massive change to how it was a decade ago when people just took plastic bags for granted.

There are businesses such as urmining.com, dedicated to electronics recycling. You can also see the shift happening with the use of water bottles; you see people carrying around their reusable water bottles instead of plastic ones, and it’s becoming more popular to see people using their reusable coffee cups too. Finally, you only have to look at the statistics on Veganuary to see how influential that campaign has been. Look at the supermarket shelves also and see the vegan options, the bookstores and see the vegan books, restaurant menus for the vegan options, and even the wine shops have labels on to say if they’re vegan or not. This not only shows how some businesses are leading the way and making a change, but it also shows how important it is to people to do their bit for the planet.

It makes good business sense

As mentioned above, it is consumers demanding this, so it can only be good for your business. When it comes to running a successful business, then often, one of the best things you can do is to follow other more prominent and successful companies. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, announced this week that he is launching a climate change fund with $10 billion of his own money. Now, of course, he has the money to do this, but it also shows the importance of it and that he knows that it’s up to businesses to lead the way.

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Starting-Up a Health Care Business

– Contributed content –

Medical lab

(Darko Stojanovic, Pixabay)

20 Feb. 2020. Training in some sort of medical profession can be extremely rewarding, and while you may take up a job in the hospital or your local clinics specializing in different areas, some people want more from their degrees and qualifications. They want to help people more, service their community better and often that can mean opening up their own business specializing in that chosen area. This is when you may feel inspired to open up your own health care business, but what do you need to think about to help you do it? Here are some suggestions.

The business location 

One of the first things to think about would be the location in which you plan on creating this new business venture. It needs to have enough space, be inviting to the customer and tick all of the boxes. You will need to think about how you furnish it, specific furniture suitable to the health care environment could help, as well as ensuring that you have the right level of equipment and staff in place. The location is important as you need to think about how easy it is to find and also be accessed, especially if people will be a little delicate on their feet when arriving or leaving the premises. This might mean how close you are to public transport links, as well as considering things such as parking if people choose to arrive by car. These can often be small things that can make the biggest difference to how your customers and clients feel when using your clinic.

Recruiting the right people or outsourcing when needed

A big factor that you may want to think about would be the people you have working for you. There may be positions that need to be filled by people with relevant qualifications and experience. There may be positions that need to be filled where you consider personality and who they are more, especially for front of house and communication. Recruiting the right people is essential, as this is what helps make your business. This can often be a difficult thing to do, so you could enlist the help of a recruitment agency to help go through resumes and decipher which candidates would be worth an interview. It might be that certain areas of your business require being outsourced instead of considering recruitment, things like Computer IT Support or accounts, for example. This can all be very beneficial as it enables you to have more free time to focus on the areas where you can make the most difference.

The marketing campaign and advertising

Finally, a business, even in the health care sector, is still something that needs to be advertised in order for it to function as it should. You need to ensure that you are doing what you can to advertise your new business venture in the best way possible and social media can be a great way to do that. You can look at different marketing campaign options, and even hire a digital agency to help you in terms of design and scheduling of your new campaign information. You need to have a specific aim in mind, and to be able to attract your target audience. This is when a specific campaign designed by experts could help you have more success.

Let’s hope that these tips and ideas help you if you are about to start your own in the future.

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Institutional Investors Factoring in Climate Change

Wall Street sign

(A. Kotok)

19 Feb. 2020. A survey of institutional investors shows these money managers for financial institutions are starting to take climate change impacts into their investment decisions. Results of the survey appear in the 14 February issue of The Review of Financial Studies (paid subscription required).

The authors, professors of finance at universities in Germany, Switzerland, and University of Texas at Austin, aim to uncover the extent of awareness and actions taken by institutional investors as climate change becomes a more immediate crisis for all sectors of society. A total of 439 institutional investors responded to the survey, which the authors say is the first poll asking this group of money managers at banks, insurance companies, mutual funds, and pension funds about climate change’s effects on their investment decisions.

The results show almost universal awareness of a changing climate but generating more mixed and nuanced responses in their actions, seeking more to manage risk rather than divesting assets. Nearly all, 97 percent, of respondents agree that global temperatures are rising, yet only 10 percent rate climate change as a leading concern, along with standard financial and operating considerations.

In most cases, however, institutional investors are noting increasing risks and negative outcomes resulting by climate change, including in today’s environment. More than half (55%) of money managers say current regulations responding to climate change imposed by authorities are already affecting the finances of clients.

Moreover, two-thirds (66%) of survey respondents expect physical consequences of climate change, such as wildfires and rising sea levels, will affect assets in their portfolios within two years. And nine in 10 money managers (91%) expect climate change to materially affect their investments in the next five years, with nearly eight in 10 (78%) anticipate seeing green technologies replace legacy processes that burn carbon or emit greenhouse gases in that period.

“The Paris accord means that different countries are going to have to start regulating carbon emissions more,” says Laura Starks, professor of finance at UT-Austin and co-author of the paper in a university statement. “The industry, as a whole, is just in the early stages of tackling this issue.”

Other responses in the survey indicate some of those early-stage actions by money managers. About four in 10 money managers are discussing climate risks with corporate managers (43%) or analyzing carbon footprints in their own portfolios (38%). And while percentages are smaller, some respondents say they’re taking more concrete actions.

For example, about one-third (32%) of money managers are proposing specific steps to shrink their carbon exposure, and a quarter (24%) are considering climate risks in screening new investments. Plus, a few respondents, 13 to 17 percent of the total, consider oil, electric utility, and auto maker shares overvalued if climate change factors are fully considered.

“If you’re an automaker, the gasoline engine is going to be on its way out,” notes Starks in a university blog post. “You may have to go more towards electric vehicles. Are you being managed so that you can adapt to these changes?”

The authors say the survey respondents are a high-powered group of financial executives. Nearly half (48%) of the respondents manage more than $100 billion in assets, and three in 10 (31%) are senior executives.

More from Science & Enterprise:

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Proteins from Bacteria Generate Power for Wearables

Air-gen device

Measuring power from the Air-gen device (Lovley Lab, Univ. of Massachusetts – Amherst)

18 Feb. 2020. A collaboration of engineers and biologists created a way of producing electric power from humidity in the air with fine wires made of proteins from bacteria. A team from University of Massachusetts in Amherst describe their discovery in yesterday’s issue of the journal Nature (paid subscription required).

Researchers from the labs of electrical engineering professor Jun Yao and microbiologist Derek Lovley are seeking clean, renewable, portable, and low-cost methods for generating electric power, initially for small systems like wearable devices. Previous work by Lovley shows a bacterium known as Geobacter sulfurreducens has a number of unusual properties including the ability to ingest metallic substances, but also to produce a weak electric current. An early Science & Enterprise story in 2011 tells about Lovley’s work conducting an electric current through nanoscale wires made of fibrous proteins from Geobacter that work almost as well as fine metallic wires.

Yao’s lab studies nanoscale materials for circuits and electronic devices, including materials from biology. In this project, Yao, Lovley, and colleagues use proteins produced by Geobacter bacteria to generate, not just conduct, an electric current. To prove the concept, the researchers arrayed the fibrous protein nanowires in a film, with a thickness of about seven micrometers.

Proteins in the nanowires absorb and interact with changes in moisture to produce a sustained current, with electrodes connected to the film that capture the 0.5 volts it produces. The moisture is provided by humidity in the air. Tests of the device show the film generates a current even in dry conditions similar to a desert. Connecting several of the films in series scales up the voltage to a high enough level to power electronic devices.

“We are literally making electricity out of thin air,” says Yao in a university statement. Lovley adds, “It’s the most amazing and exciting application of protein nanowires yet.”

The UMass team calls the power system Air-gen and believes it can be used to power small systems, such as smart watches and personal medical devices. The researchers plan to produce a patch made of bacterial nanowires for powering wearable devices, which could eliminate the need for batteries, recharging, or even other renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind.

While Geobacter provides proteins able to prove the concept of humidity-based power sources, the microbe is not scalable for larger power needs or mass producing conductive protein nanowires. In more recent research, not yet published as of February 2020, Lovley and colleagues designed a benign synthetic strain of Escherichia coli or E. coli bacteria that more readily produces conductive proteins for nanowires similar to those produced by Geobacter. The authors believe these synthetic E. coli proteins could provide more opportunities for large-scale fabrication of conductive nanowires.

And Yao says large-scale systems are the ultimate goal. “For example,” notes Yao, “the technology might be incorporated into wall paint that could help power your home. Or, we may develop stand-alone air-powered generators that supply electricity off the grid. Once we get to an industrial scale for wire production, I fully expect that we can make large systems that will make a major contribution to sustainable energy production.”

More from Science & Enterprise:

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Research Labs Get More Patents, Start-Ups Level Off

Test tubes in a lab

(Martin Lopez, Pexels)

18 Feb. 2020. A survey of U.S. universities and research institutes shows more patents were awarded to their labs in 2018, while new start-ups stayed the same from 2017. Findings were released yesterday from the annual survey conducted by AUTM, the association of American technology transfer managers, the people at research universities and institutes responsible for intellectual property and commercialization.

AUTM conducts the survey to document the activity and contributions of technology transfer offices. Respondents reported receiving 7,625 patents for their research discoveries from U.S. authorities in the 2018 academic year, a record number for the AUTM survey. While the number of provisional patents filed — in effect, an intent to file a patent — has remained relatively stable, between 10,000 and 12,000 since 2013, the number of invention disclosures indicating a potential intellectual property, has risen slowly over the years to more than 26,200 in 2018. This suggests at least a slowly growing pool of discoveries for patents at U.S. research institutions.

The number of new companies formed from discoveries at U.S. research institutions remained at 1,080 in 2018, the same number reported the year before, translating to three businesses formed every day of the year. That number, however, is 19 percent higher than five years earlier. In addition, the number of university-based start-ups still in business grew to 6,518, an increase of 39 percent from 2014. Moreover, seven in 10 university-based start-ups (69%) are formed in the same state as the research institution.

The findings show technology transfer offices are using more non-exclusive licenses, making research discoveries available to more companies. Respondents reported more than 5,400 non-exclusive licenses for university technologies in 2018, a sharp increase from about 4,200 in the two previous years. Exclusive licenses remained between 2,000 and 2,200 per year since 2014. Licensees of any kind were small businesses in more than half (57%) of the cases, far exceeding both large companies and start-ups.

In the 2018 academic year, survey respondents say their institutions received $71.7 billion in research funding, a 5 percent increase over 2017. More than half of that amount, $41.2 billion or 58 percent, came from federal sources, while industry provided 7 percent of the total research funds, and the remaining 35 percent came from other sources. Those other sources, such as private foundations and state or local governments, are becoming more vital to research institutions, since those funds have grown by a quarter since 2014.

The federal share of the total is slowly shrinking, however, from 60 percent in 2014 to about 58 percent in 2018. “We need our legislators and policymakers,” says Richard Chylla, AUTM’s chair in an organization statement, “to continue providing a reliable framework composed of both strong research funding and reliable intellectual property laws, to efficiently move ideas to the marketplace and give investors the confidence to back entrepreneurs.”

While patents, invention disclosures, and licenses are on the rise, the average technology transfer office is shrinking. The number of full-time equivalent staff at tech transfer offices is down 1.6 percent in 2018 compared to the previous year. Nonetheless, say the respondents, their offices executed 10 percent more licenses and options in 2018 than in 2017.

AUTM sent the survey questionnaire to 312 research institutions in the U.S., including universities, research institutes, and hospitals. Of these institutions, 198 or 64 percent responded.

More from Science & Enterprise:

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Foundation Supports ALS Inflammation Treatments

Brain activity graphic

(Gordon Johnson, Pixabay)

17 Feb. 2020. A foundation is funding a biotechnology company’s research on therapies to block proteins encouraging neuron inflammation in people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. The ALS Association in Arlington, Virginia is providing a $500,000 grant to support the work of Neuropore Therapies Inc. in San Diego.

ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder where neurons or nerve cells controlling muscles in the body begin to waste away, and can no longer send or receive signals from the brain or spinal cord. As the nerve cells stop functioning, muscles in the limbs, and later speech and breathing muscles, begin weakening and eventually stop functioning. Most people with the disease die of respiratory failure.

Neuropore Therapies discovers and develops treatments for neurodegenerative disorders. The company focuses particularly on diseases from accumulations of toxic misfolded proteins in neurons in the brain, and the chronic and damaging inflammation of neurons that instigates or drives progressive neurodegeneration. Neuropore’s pipeline includes therapies in clinical trials and preclinical development for Parkinson’s disease and ALS.

One of Neuropore’s targets is a set of proteins called toll-like receptors that detect foreign microbes in the body. Toll-like receptors stimulate innate, or general, defense mechanisms in the immune system, as well as responses to specific pathogens. In the brain, however, toll-like receptors can drive chronic inflammation that damages neurons in people with ALS and Parkinson’s disease.

Neuropore developed a treatment code-named NPT1220-312 that blocks a subset of toll-like receptors in the brain, known as toll-like receptor 2 or TLR2 proteins associated with ALS and Parkinson’s disease inflammation. “Targeting TLR2 is an exciting new approach to the treatment of ALS,” says Doug Bonhaus, Neuropore’s CEO and chief scientist in a company statement released through BusinessWire. “NPT1220-312 is a potent, selective, orally-bioavailable TLR2 antagonist. It has shown robust beneficial actions in cell-based assays and in an animal models of ALS.”

ALS Association is an advocacy and research funding organization seeking to find effective treatments for ALS, and provide support for patients with ALS and their families. The group is funding the Neuropore work from its drug development program that supports preclinical studies and clinical trials by academic labs and industry teams.

Bonhaus adds, “Pending positive outcomes in ongoing studies, our goal is to submit an IND application for NPT1220-312 to FDA by first half of 2021.” IND is short for investigational new drug application, in effect clearance from FDA to begin clinical trials of an experimental drug or biologic therapy.

More from Science & Enterprise:

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Waste Plastic-to-Energy System Unveiled

Waste plastic cups

(meineresterampe, Pixabay)

17 Feb. 2020. A company developing waste-to-energy conversion systems revealed a version of its product that converts waste plastic to heat and electric power. Enexor BioEnergy in Franklin, Tennessee unveiled yesterday its PTE-200 system that combines chemical processing with high pressure and temperatures in a self-contained unit resembling a shipping container.

Enexor BioEnergy says its PTE-200 system diverts non-recyclable plastic waste from landfills and microplastics into usable energy. According to the U.N. Environmental Program, humans produce about 300 million metric tons of plastic waste each year, nearly as much as the weight of the entire human population on earth. Since he 1950s, says the U.N. agency, the world produced some 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic, about 60 percent of which ended up in landfills, and nearly all of which  is derived form fossil fuels. And as reported by Science & Enterprise in June 2018, China plans by 2030 to stop importing waste plastic, accounting for more than 72 percent of the world’s trade in this material.

The company says its technology, called Bio-CHP, can process many kinds of organic bio-waste — wood chips, saw dust, agricultural residues, food waste, animal waste, disposed cardboard and paper — as well as plastics. The raw waste is oxidized under high heat and pressure that break down the organic materials. At the same time, the process filters out and stores non-organic particulates for later disposal. Enexor does not indicate the volume of inorganic materials produced by its process.

The hot pressurized gas produced by the process heats ambient air sent through a self-contained turbine that produces electrical power. In addition, this exhaust gas can be sent through a heat exchanger to generate hot water or steam.

The company says its units generate 75 kilowatts of electrical power and the equivalent of 125 kilowatts of thermal energy, sufficient to power more than 100 standard homes. The units can also be sited at hospitals, telecommunications towers, water pumping systems, or shopping centers, and integrated into local microgrids to supplement renewable energy sources. Enexor offers operating plans for customers to avoid high upfront costs, where the company manages the systems remotely and charges only for energy produced by its units.

The PTE-200 system for converting plastics is a variation of Enexor’s multiple-feedstock Bio-200 system announced earlier this month. The company plans to market the PTE-200 low-resource regions for communities with both mounting waste plastic stockpiles and a lack of reliable energy sources, starting in Latin America and Asia.

“The majority of the world’s plastic pollution is located where the most disadvantaged people in the world live,” says Lee Jestings, Exenor’s founder and CEO in a company statement. “These areas are also the most energy-deprived. Our PTE-200 systems can be installed where they are needed the most, at the convergence of plastic waste and energy impoverished communities.”

Exenor BioEnergy is a five year-old company that, according to Crunchbase, raised $5 million in seed-round funding in July 2019.

More from Science & Enterprise:

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Infographic – U.S. Having Bad Flu Season

Chart: US flu season

(Statista)

15 Feb. 2020. While much of the world’s attention is focused on the novel coronavirus, now code-named COVID-19, the flu season in the U.S. is no day at the beach either. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the infection rate for this year’s seasonal influenza is among the highest in the past five years.

The business research company Statista charted the CDC’s data, displayed in our weekend infographic. Not only did the rate of positive lab test specimens in late January reach nearly 28 percent, that rate began dropping during the first part of January, only to rebound toward the end of the month. And not shown on the chart is the latest report from CDC showing the positive test rate rising last week to nearly 31 percent.

The best protection against the flu, of course, is the annual flu vaccine, particularly for people at higher risk of infection: those age 65 and older, pregnant women, young children, and people with chronic diseases. And don’t put it off. CDC estimates that so far this season, the flu caused at least 12 million medical visits, 250,000 hospitalizations, and 14,000 deaths in the U.S.

More from Science & Enterprise:

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Infant Jumpsuit Captures Objective Movement Data

Smart jumpsuit

Child in smart jumpsuit (Sampsa Vanhatalo, University of Helsinki)

14 Feb. 2020. A one-piece garment fitted with sensors is shown to capture data about an infant’s movements for analysis by algorithms to reveal possible developmental problems. A description of the baby’s high-tech play wear and the algorithms for analysis appear last month in the journal Scientific Reports.

Researchers from University of Helsinki and Aalto University in Espoo, Finland are seeking more objective methods for assessing a child’s early neurological development, often revealed by atypical movements of the limbs and torso. While developmental conditions such as cerebral palsy and autism spectrum disorders can be detected early on by observing infants at play, these observations can be subjective and are not easily quantified. In addition, children may not spontaneously play in an unfamiliar setting, like a doctor’s office, thus capturing a child’s movements unobtrusively while at home would likely provide more accurate data.

A team led by University of Helsinki neuroscientist Sampsa Vanhatalo developed a one-piece garment resembling a jumpsuit for infants as young as five months to wear while they play at home. Sewn into the soft fabric are accelerometer and gyroscope sensors devised by Movesense, an open-source wearable project, with the devices positioned in the upper arms and legs. Data captured by the sensors are sent via Bluetooth to a nearby receiver. There, the data are processed and displayed with software by the German company Kaasa, a participant in the Movesense project.

Vanhatalo and colleagues asked parents of 22 typically-developed infants about seven months old, to have their children wear the jumpsuits at home. While the infants played in the jumpsuits, the devices captured data sent to the receiving systems, and were also video-recorded. Child development experts then observed the videos of infants at play and annotated the clips with a characterization scheme for posture and movement patterns of children that age.

With that movement characterization scheme, the researchers developed algorithms for analyzing movement data collected by sensors in infants’ jumpsuits. The algorithms use a convolutional neural network, a type of artificial intelligence that combines image analysis and deep machine learning to dissect an image by layers for understanding features in the image. Different aspects of each layer discovered and analyzed by the system are translated into data that the algorithm then uses to train its understanding of the problem being solved, with that understanding enhanced and refined as more images and data are encountered.

The team carried out a series of experiments comparing expert observations of the children’s motility or independent movements to results produced by algorithms from the sensor data. One proof-of-concept test evaluated results of experts’ ratings of five children with higher motor performance and five lower-performing infants. Separate assessments using data from the jumpsuit sensors and analyzed by the algorithm returned similar results.

“The smart jumpsuit provides us with the first opportunity to quantify infants’ spontaneous and voluntary movements outside the laboratory,” says Vanhatalo in a Helsinki University statement. He adds, “The measurements provide a tool to detect the precise variation in motility from the age of five months, something which medical smart clothes have not been able to do until now.”

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