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Are You Ready To Do Business In The Digital World?

– Contributed content –

Bitcoin

(Pixabay/Pexels.com)

8 November 2017. The last couple of decades really have been extraordinary on a technological level. It feels as though things that, not all that long ago, were the realm of pure sci-fi are now not only possible but someone pedestrian! After all, we can now talk to our computers and have them control parts of our homes, we can contact people all over the world in an instant, and things like self-driving cars feel as though they’re right around the corner. It only makes sense that, with all of these changes and advancements, the modern business world would have to chance. However, few people could have predicted just how much it would need to change in such a short space of time. With that in mind, here are a few things that you need to think about in order to make sure that you’re ready to do business in the digital world.

Data protection

We now live in a world where the vast majority of information and data exists in a purely digital form, and that presents both a lot of opportunities and a decent amount of risk. The presence of digital data storage means that it’s now easier than ever to access any information that you need without sacrificing security. However, security is still something you need to consider. When it comes to protecting your data, companies like https://www.titus.com/index.php are pretty much invaluable. It can be a challenge to know how to protect your data when it’s in the cloud, and a company like Titus has the expertise that your business really needs.

Social media

The way in which businesses and customers interact is now so fundamentally different as to be almost unrecognizable. You might once have either directly spoken to a customer’s face to face, or you would have marketed to a large audience all at once. These days the lines between marketing and customer service are incredibly blurred, and it’s mostly thanks to social media. One of the best things about social media is the fact that you can talk to your customers directly within a public space. This means that you can offer help to one customer and thousands of others can see that, which will have an extremely positive impact on public perception of your business.

Remote working

There was a time where the only way to keep a business running smoothly was to have all of your employees in one place where you could all communicate and collaborate. Those days are well behind us now that we live in an age where people can communicate just as easily from a thousand miles away as they can from another room. Remote working is something that a lot of business owners are nervous about, but it’s something that you need to be ready to embrace in order to get the most out of your employees.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that everything about running a business has changed. There are plenty of things that are just as important as they have been in the past. Things like employee care and customer service are never going to become less important; it’s just that technology has made them easier and more effective than ever!

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New Finance, Development Model for Pancreatic Disease

Finance, calculator

(stevepb, Pixabay)

7 November 2017. An organization is being formed to adopt performance-based financing and precision medicine to accelerate research and development on pancreatitis. The organization known as Mission: Cure, based in New York, will convene a panel of experts at the American Pancreatic Association’s annual meeting in San Diego on 10 November.

Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas, an organ in the upper abdomen that produces enzymes for digestion and insulin to regulate the processing of glucose in the body. The disorder can occur once or twice, or become chronic. In chronic cases of pancreatitis, upper abdominal pain becomes persistent and sometimes severe. Scar tissue can form in the pancreas over time, resulting in digestive problems and diabetes. Chronic pancreatic cancer is also a risk factor for kidney failure and pancreatic cancer.

Mission: Cure is taking a different approach to find effective treatments for pancreatitis, that combines outcome-based financing, precision medicine, and impact investing. Outcome-based financing, also called results-based financing, builds in incentives tied to achievement of measurable health outcomes or results. Examples of these measurable outcomes are number of times hospitalized, days without pain, and number of work or school days missed because of illness. This type of pay-for-performance arrangement is considered an alternative to traditional payment schemes for providers that automatically cover the costs of health services.

The group plans as well to encourage impact investing among its funders, which applies elements of this performance model to underwriting research and development on pancreatitis. In this case, Mission: Cure is enlisting venture philanthropists who provide investment capital with expectations of both financial and performance returns. The organization cites a survey by the Global Impact Investing Network that shows impact investors placed some $22 billion in 8,000 deals during 2016, with $26 billion planned in 2017.

Another part of Mission: Cure’s strategy is precision medicine, with diagnostics and treatments based on genomic testing to find therapies designed to address specific variations in patients’ genomes. A key component in precision medicine is high-powered data analytics that find underlying patterns in genomics and health records data, highlighting promising treatments. Among those therapies are drugs already approved to treat other diseases that can be applied to pancreatitis.

“Repurposing already-approved drugs is a faster and less expensive way to get new treatments to patients.,” says Bruce Bloom, CEO of Cures Within Reach and an adviser to Mission: Cure. “Cures Within Reach has facilitated numerous successful repurposing efforts and will help Mission: Cure deploy this strategy as its fiscal sponsor.”

Mission: Cure is the creation of Eric Golden, investment banker and entrepreneur, who also suffers from chronic pancreatitis, and Megan Golden, a financial expert for social and health programs, as well as Eric’s sister. The organization is collaborating with Cures Within Reach and National Pancreas Foundation. Mission: Cure patterns itself after other health research and advocacy organizations using impact financing and advanced drug discovery techniques such as the Michael J. Fox Foundation, Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, and Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

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New Drug Shown to Reduce Depressive Behaviors

BU10119 team

Research team developing BU10119, led by Sarah Bailey, front-center, and Stephen Husbands, back (University of Bath)

7 November 2017. A new type of treatment for depression that works differently from most other anti-depressive drugs was shown in lab mice to reduce depression-like behaviors. Results of the study by a team from University of Bath in the U.K. appear in yesterday’s issue of the British Journal of Pharmacology (paid subscription required).

Depression is a common mood disorder, but can become a serious and disabling condition, when it persists for long periods or interferes with day-to-day living. World Health Organization estimates 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says depression affects about 7.6 percent of the U.S. population age 12 and over in any 2-week period.

The most common drugs prescribed for depression are called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, that help increase the supply of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, a chemical emitted by nerve cells. SSRIs prevent brain cells from reabsorbing serotonin, thus making more of the substance available. SSRIs are also prescribed to treat anxiety disorders.

SSRIs are considered safe and cause few side effects, but are often not effective in as many as half of individuals with depression. The Bath team from the labs of pharmacologist Sarah Bailey and medicinal chemist Stephen Husbands are developing an alternative drug code-named BU10119 that works on kappa opioid receptors, proteins in the brain associated with addiction and depression. The current opioid emergency in the U.S. and elsewhere highlights the addictive nature of these proteins, but similar receptors are implicated with depression as well.

BU10119 is a combination of two established drugs to treat addiction, buprenorphine and naltrexone, that block the actions of kappa opioid receptors. The new study, say the authors, is the first test of these compounds combined into a single drug on lab animals. In these tests, the researchers devised tasks for the mice to perform where certain reactions by the mice would indicate evidence of depression. One test, for example, involved forcing mice to swim, where longer times that the mice remained immobile in the water are an indicator of depression.

The results show mice given BU10119 were less likely to exhibit depression-like behaviors in tests of mobility, activity, eating, and pain reception than similar mice given a placebo. In other tests, the Bath team pre-treated the mice with BU10119, which were less likely to exhibit insensitivity to pain induced from stress. In these cases, the BU10119 was given 2 hours before a single induced stress experience, as well as 3 doses every 2 hours to prevent stress from repeated experiences.

BU10119 is one of several compounds from Bath licensed to biotechnology company Orexigen Therapeutics in San Diego for commercial development. “This research builds on our previous work which showed that combining buprenorphine and naltrexone can give antidepressant effects in mice,” says Husbands in a university statement. “By combining the effects of both drugs in one molecule we hope that a safe and effective drug will eventually be the outcome.”

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FDA Sets Genetic Health Test Review Process

Stethoscope on DNA sheet

(National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute)

6 November 2017. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is proposing new review requirements for genetic tests of health risks that providers market directly to consumers. The new review policy is described in a statement by FDA commissioner Scott Gottleib published today on the agency’s web site.

The new procedures are outlined in draft orders, also posted today on FDA’s site, and scheduled to appear tomorrow for public comment in the Federal Register. One order classifies genetic health risk tests as class 2 medical devices — diagnostics are included with medical devices for regulatory purposes — indicating they require some regulatory review, but not necessarily the same level of intense scrutiny as devices directly affecting a person’s health, such as a heart pacemaker. The order also calls for special controls be applied to genetic health risk tests, since the diagnostics in this case cannot be adequately reviewed with the agency’s general rules.

The special controls for genetic health risk, or GHR, tests, according to the order, are a series of caveats provided with literature about the tests indicating the tests cover only a specific set of variations and are not a comprehensive genomic sequencing. Other caveats required are other vendors may provide different results, lifestyle and environmental factors could affect developing the condition being tested, information on finding genetic counseling, and a reminder that genetic testing is not a substitute for regular physician visits.

The order also calls for applying a De Novo classification process for new types of tests, for which there are no similar tests reviewed previously. Under the law, a device is automatically put into the highest-risk category, class 3 devices, if there’s no equivalent device for comparison. A De Novo classification makes it possible for FDA to review the device under a lower-risk category.

FDA’s Gottleib envisions the new procedures will enable genetic health vendors to need only a single review of their processes by the agency, thus bypassing the need to review each individual test as its issued. “If and when finalized,” notes Gottleib, “manufacturers of these types of tests would have to come to FDA for a one-time review to ensure that they meet the FDA’s requirements, after which they may enter the market with new GHR tests without further review.”

Gottleib cites the agency’s experience with digital health technologies as a precedent for the new procedures. The Software Precertification Pilot Program, or PreCert, is a voluntary initiative, where FDA evaluates the developer of software or digital health technology rather than each individual product. In June 2017, Science & Enterprise reported on the agency’s intention to undertake this program, noting FDA would, for example review a company’s software design, testing, and maintenance, which could then be certified for consistency and reliability.

Also in today’s announcement, FDA issued draft orders exempting genetic carrier screening tests from premarket review by the agency, and classified total 25-hydroxyvitamin D mass spectrometry test systems used to assess vitamin D status as class 2 devices subject to special controls. Both orders are set to appear tomorrow in the Federal Register.

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Plasma Infusions to Treat Alzheimer’s Shown Safe

Blood plasma donation

Blood plasma donation (ANKAWÜ, Wikimedia Commons)

6 November 2017. Results from a small-scale clinical trial indicate treatments with plasma infusions from young donors are safe for patients and may improve functional abilities. The findings were presented on 4 November by Stanford University neurology professor Sharon Sha at the Clinical Trial on Alzheimer’s Disease conference in Boston.

Sha’s team at Stanford tested a hypothesis by fellow Stanford neurologist Tony Wyss-Coray that regenerative abilities of the brain, diminished in the aging process, can be renewed by blood plasma from younger individuals. These infusions, says Wyss-Coray, can activate signaling pathways for a number of tissues, including regions of the brain affecting memory and thought. Earlier tests of the hypothesis with mice suggest repeated infusions of blood plasma from younger animals can improve memory functions in older recipients.

The early-stage clinical trial tested the safety of these treatments among a small sample of individuals at Stanford University Medical Center. The study recruited 18 patients diagnosed with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease, divided into 2 groups of 9 participants. The first group of participants were assigned to receive donations from people age 18 to 30 of their plasma, the liquid part of blood without blood cells, or a placebo once a week for 4 weeks. After a 6-week period to allow effects of the plasma to wash out, the treatments were reversed, so original placebo recipients received 4 weekly doses of plasma, and plasma recipients received the placebo.

The study team discovered the travel burden on participants of the infusions, as well as initial and final evaluations, was becoming difficult to sustain, so the researchers changed the procedure for the second group of participants, providing all 9 individuals with 4 weekly plasma donations. The study’s main objective was to detect any adverse effects on participants, but individuals in the study also received a number of tests of their functional abilities, cognition, and depression.

The safety results showed few adverse effects, with repeated itching being the most common complaint of participants. Sha says this is a common and not unexpected allergic response to transfusions of blood products. One participant, a placebo recipient in the first group, suffered a stroke, but because it occurred at the end of the 6-week period between treatments, the stroke was not believed to be a result of the treatments.

Sha’s team reports that recipients of the plasma showed statistically reliable improvements in 2 of the 3 functional ability tests, compared to placebo recipients, with most of the gains occurring among the first group of 9 participants in the blinded treatment-versus-placebo part of the study. On tests of cognition and depression, however, no differences were found between the treatment and placebo groups.

Wyss-Coray is a founder of Alkahest Inc., a spin-off enterprise from Stanford that licenses his research and is developing plasma-based therapies for neurodegenerative diseases. The company, which sponsored the trial, says the overall safety and even limited results showing functional improvements provide enough evidence to advance a plasma treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.

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Infographic – Costs of Climate Change Soar

Infographic: The Soaring Costs Of Climate Change | Statista You will find more statistics at Statista

4 November 2017. A report on human-caused climate change by 13 U.S. federal agencies released yesterday cites a mountain of evidence and concludes …

based on extensive evidence, that it is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence.

Science & Enterprise reports on energy and climate change, particularly the effects on agriculture and health. Our friends at Statista provide a look at the financial impact of climate change since 1990, just from extreme weather events. Last year alone, according to data from the journal The Lancet, 797 extreme weather events occurred, resulting in $129 billion in losses.

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Autonomous, Human-Friendly Forklifts Being Developed

Autonomous forklift

Autonomous forklift (Chris Vaughan, University of Lincoln)

3 November 2017. An academic-industry team in Europe is developing new forklift vehicles that can work safely alongside humans in warehouses. The project known as Intra-Logistics with Integrated Automatic Deployment, or Iliad, brings together researchers  in the U.K., Sweden, Italy, and Germany, and is funded by a €7 million ($U.S. 8.1 million) award from the European Unions’s Horizon 2020 fund.

The Iliad project seeks to develop fleets of autonomous robots that perform key moving and packing tasks in warehouses, but can operate safely in the company of human workers. The team includes scientists and engineers from University of Lincoln in the U.K., University of Pisa in Italy, Örebro University in Sweden, and Leibniz University in Hannover, Germany. Industry partners include Bosch, Kollmorgen Automation, ACT Operations Research, Logistic Engineering Services, and Orkla Foods.

The project is designing forklift vehicles to operate independently, but interact in a single integrated system of other vehicles and devices. Each vehicle, says the project organizers, will be self-optimizing, which means it will collect data over time and adjust its work processes as it learns from the aggregated data. In addition, the vehicles will be sensitive to the presence and activity of humans, incorporating computer vision and artificial intelligence to detect, track, and predict the movements of humans in their surroundings.

Iliad vehicles, of course, still need to perform a variety of warehouse tasks, such as unpacking and stacking goods, but in a much more economical way. The project plans to develop governing systems that enable the vehicles to incorporate maps of warehouses and their contents, while keeping track of pallets and products. The vehicles will also be able to relocate to other warehouse locations, and adjust to changing numbers of other vehicles in their work areas.

While Iliad vehicles expect to be used in a variety of industries, the project is starting with the fresh food industry as its test case. This industry has a number of demanding requirements: short shelf life of products, a need for complete traceability, high cost from product waste, and a need to respond quickly to changing markets. The industry supports some 4 million jobs in Europe and has an annual sales volume of €1 trillion.

Mark Swainson with University of Lincoln’s National Centre for Food Manufacturing, and a participant in Iliad, says in a university statement, “The massive scale of food volumes moved by the sector means that being able to do this quickly and efficiently can make the difference between business success or failure.”  Swainson adds, “Robots seamlessly integrating alongside humans, often working collaboratively, will unlock significant productivity advances in the sector while also serving to help address anticipated challenges resulting from increased competition and escalating operating costs over the coming years.”

The Iliad project began in January 2017 and concludes at the end of 2020.

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Start-Up Formed to Develop Non-Opioid Pain Drugs

Neurons

(commonfund.nih.gov)

3 November 2017. A new enterprise is being formed to develop non-addictive drugs for chronic pain that use different biochemical processes than opioid pain relievers. The company Regulonix LLC was started by three researchers at the University of Arizona medical school in Tucson that study chronic pain and are exploring these alternative pathways for pain relief.

The researchers — pharmacologist May Khanna, neuroscientist and pharmacologist Rajesh Khanna, and medicinal chemist Vijay Gokhale — study a pathway known as the Nav1.7 sodium channel. This pathway is found in the membranes on nerve cells in the peripheral nervous system, where pain is felt. Opioids work by reducing the intensity of pain signals to the brain, particularly regions of the brain controlling emotion, which reduces effects of the pain stimulus. But by binding to receptors in the brain affecting emotions, opioids can also drive up dopamine levels, creating an addiction.

Khanna, Khanna, and Gokhale found in their research that targeting the Nav1.7 channel for pain relief is possible, but difficult. Earlier attempts to address this pathway reported limited success, due in part to side-effects on other similar sodium channels unrelated to pain that can cause nerve damage. Their solution is an engineered protein that blocks signals controlling expression and activity of the Nav1.7 channel, but leaves alone other related pathways.

In May 2017, Regulonix received a $300,000 Small Business Technology Transfer grant from National Cancer Institute, part of National Institute of Health, to develop an alternative treatment for neuropathic pain from cancer chemotherapy treatments. The work aims to prove the concept and validate the mechanism of the proposed treatments, both in lab cultures and animal tests. Earlier this year, May and Rajesh Khanna published results of a study showing how this protein can control Nav1.7 functions.

Regulonix is developing pain treatments addressing a second pathway, known as Cav2.2, a calcium channel that affects release of neurotransmitters in nerve cell networks in the brain, including those involved with pain. A protein similar to the one developed for Nav1.7 treatments, can also target this pathway, and according to Regulonix, could address pain from cancer and antiretroviral drugs, like those taken for HIV infections. For these treatments, a peptide, short chain of amino acids, is derived from the protein to specifically address pain signals, but not affect motor activity, memory, or learning. Rajesh Khanna holds a patent as the inventor of this technology.

The company licensed the rights to the technologies from University of Arizona. Regulonix was formed with help from Tech Launch Arizona, the university’s technology transfer and research commercialization office.

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Lab-On-Chip Device Simulates Tumor Microenvironment

Breast cancer cells

Pathologist slide image of breast cancer cells (Cecil Fox, National Cancer Institute

2 November 2017. Biomedical engineers designed a device that simulates the supportive environment in which tumors grow, and in tests was shown to work as well as lab mice for assessing cancer drugs. Researchers at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana are publishing their findings in a paper scheduled to appear in the November 2017 issue of the Journal of Controlled Release (paid subscription required).

The team from Purdue’s Biotransport Phenomena Laboratory, led by engineering professor Bumsoo Han, is seeking better tools for early testing of drug candidates that today often rely on lab cultures or small animals. While these tests can be helpful, they often do not adequately recreate the environment in which the new drugs are asked to work, and thus can provide misleading results.

This problem is particularly acute, say the authors, in tumor microenvironments, the surrounding network of cells and proteins that support the unchecked growth of solid cancer tumors. Recreating a tumor microenvironment in lab animals is difficult, because of the complex factors in humans that do not often occur in the same way with smaller and simpler mammals.

To address this problem, Han and colleagues are developing microfluidic chip devices, often called labs-on-a-chip, with fine channels etched in plastic and lined with cells like those found in the human tissue and organs. The researchers call these devices  tumor-microenvironments-on-chips, or T-Mocs, designed to simulate the regions in human tissues and organs with solid tumors. T-Mocs are created in three dimensions made with extracellular matrix material, the framework matter supporting living cells.

In their paper, the Purdue team tested T-Mocs simulating breast cancer with two types of breast cancer cells. The devices, about 4.5 centimeters square, simulate the interstitial flow of fluid that transports cells through tissues, as well as plasma clearance, the filtering of drugs through the tumor. The researchers tested two formulations of the chemotherapy drug Doxorubicin, in its original small-molecule form and as nanoscale particles in hyaluronic acid. In the devices, both types of breast cancer cells took up the Doxorubicin, although the original small-molecule form of the drug penetrated the tumor cells better than the nanoparticles, which the researchers attribute to the smaller form of the original drug.

In comparing the results to similar tests with conventional petri-dish lab cultures, the researchers found the T-Moc devices were more likely to show resistance developing to Doxorubicin than in ordinary lab cultures. In later tests with lab mice, the team found the T-Mocs performed similarly to mice, with resistance developing to the drug in both mice and chips. The results suggest devices like T-Mocs could substitute for mice, making discovery of new drugs a somewhat simpler process.

These proof-of-concept findings suggest T-Mocs are feasible for drug discovery and testing, and the researchers plan to expand their tests to include pancreatic and prostate cancers. The long-term goal of the project is to create a platform for personalized medicine, where cancer cells taken from individuals’ biopsies can populate the chips to test alternative therapies in the lab before giving them to patients.

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Brown, Toy Maker Partner on Elder Assistance Robots

Joy for All pup

Joy for All puppy (Hasbro.com)

2 November 2017. A collaboration between Brown University and toy maker Hasbro is developing robotic assistants for older people that build on Hasbro’s current line of robotic pets. The project, called Affordable Robotic Intelligence for Elderly Support, or Aries, is funded by a grant of nearly $1 million from National Science Foundation.

The three-year effort combines Brown’s Humanity Centered Robotics Initiative in Providence, Rhode Island with Hasbro, a maker of popular games and toys, including long-time favorites like Monopoly and Play-Doh. In November 2015, the Pawtucket, Rhode Island company introduced its line of robotic pets to provide companionship for older people. The Joy for All companion pets, a kitten and puppy, have soft fur, make soothing sounds, and include sensors that respond to petting and hugging.

The new project aims to expand on the Joy for All Pets to provide help for older individuals with simple tasks. “Hasbro did a great job developing a product that can provide comfort and joy for older people,” says psychologist Bertram Malle in a university statement. “What we want to do now is leverage our expertise in cognitive and computer science to add capabilities to this robotic pet. Neither of us could do this on our own, but together we have the expertise to potentially develop something truly beneficial.” Malle is co-director of the Humanity Centered Robotics Initiative and principal investigator on the project.

The new devices are expected to help older individuals with tasks like finding items like keys or glasses in their homes, remember medications and appointments, keep in contact with friends and family, and help relieve agitation and loneliness. The Brown researchers plan to offer their expertise on behavioral sciences, geriatric psychiatry, computer science, and industrial design to help develop an effective, yet affordable assistance device.

The team plans to start with user studies to identify the tasks with which older people may need help. Finding lost items and reminders to take medications are already well documented, but there may well be other less obvious tasks that the device can also offer help. Computer scientists are expected to write routines with artificial intelligence that can learn the older person’s language and behavior patterns to make the device more responsive to subtle cues. The researchers say the project may reveal new insights into human-robot interaction that advance mutual teaching and learning.

A key objective for the team is to develop an affordable system — the “A” in Aries — that can reach a wide user audience, which is where Hasbro’s experience is expected to be critical. “The current Joy For All pets cost roughly $100 while similar robotic products can cost $5,000 to $6,000,” says Michael Littman, a professor of computer science at Brown and co-principal investigator on the grant. “This is one of the important reasons Hasbro is a great industry partner for this project.”

The new device is also expected to resemble a small animal that helps, but does not replace caregivers. The team plans to develop the system over the project’s three-year span and test the device’s safety, efficacy, and acceptability among healthy adults and those with cognitive impairments.

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