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Why some people develop allergies while others don’t?

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Allergies can be very hard to live with, because they are caused by the most common foods, plants or dust, which makes it difficult to adapt to the environment. Some allergic reactions produce simple rashes or discomfort, but they can go as far as being lethal.

High amounts of histamine release, triggered by the immune reaction some bodies get from non-pathogenic substances can become dangerous because the two most important functions of histamine are: causing an inflammatory response and the constriction of smooth muscles, which becomes a threat as these muscles surround the airways, thus shortness of breath appears or asthma attacks as it is more commonly known.

More importantly, until now scientist couldn’t explain why some people are allergic to various substances, while others aren’t. What triggers this exaggerated immune response to harmless solutions? Dr. Nicholas Furnham from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, might have found the answer. As part of our body’s evolution, our immune system has evolved to easily recognize parasitic infections and start fighting against it. Apparently, in the absence of a parasitic infection, some immune systems that are hyper-responsive, might mistake proteins from non-pathogenic substances for proteins found in a parasite’s body. By studying this theory, researchers have identified a protein in a parasitic worm which resembles a protein believed to only be encoded into the genomes of plants.

This spectacular finding means that allergic people have a hyper-responsive immune system to parasites, just like how in autoimmune diseases the immune system believes that its own cells are a threat and starts fighting against them, in allergies the immune system mistakes some proteins with parasites and starts giving a proper response, which leads to unwanted symptoms.

Even more, now scientists can start to predict which proteins from food or the environment might get mistaken with parasites and lead to better prevention and treatments.

Who doesn’t enjoy listening to a good story. Personally I love reading about the people who inspire me and what it took for them to achieve their success. As I am a bit of a self confessed tech geek I think there is no better way to discover these stories than by reading every day some articles or the newspaper . My bookcases are filled with good tech biographies, they remind me that anyone can be a success. So even if you come from an underprivileged part of society or you aren’t the smartest person in the room we all have a chance to reach the top. The same message shines in my beliefs. All it takes to succeed is a good idea, a little risk and a lot of hard work and any geek can become a success. VENI VIDI VICI .

Medicine and Health

What are the indications of the novel COVID-19 variants?

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The COVID-19 virus remains prevalent, and it is increasingly common to hear people expressing their illness symptoms in recent weeks. We are aware of the presence of new COVID variants circulating, but what are the specific symptoms that should be monitored?

The COVID-19 FLiRT variants, known for their boldness, have rapidly gained worldwide prevalence in recent weeks, surpassing the previously dominant variant (JN.1). Currently, the variant KP.2 is responsible for the largest share of infections. These findings are based on the most recent data provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Fortunately, according to experts, there is evidence to suggest that previous vaccines or a recent COVID infection may still provide some level of protection. Promising recent research backs up this viewpoint. However, it is widely acknowledged that the SARS-CoV-2 virus is highly cunning and elusive. Although vaccines have undeniably had a profound impact on the trajectory of this pandemic, they do not provide complete immunity against infection.

Despite the Northern Hemisphere being currently beyond the usual period of highest activity for respiratory viruses, it is important to note that COVID-19 is not the sole pathogen present. What are the indicators of an infection?

The manifestations of COVID have evolved over time, in conjunction with our comprehension of how this ailment can exhibit distinctive characteristics in various individuals. Ziad Tukmachi, a general practitioner based in London, stated in an interview with BBC Future that the peculiar and ambiguous symptoms of COVID at its onset included cognitive impairment, extreme fatigue, and loss of taste and smell. “Currently, I perceive that it has undergone mutations that have led to symptoms that closely resemble those of the flu. This makes it challenging for medical professionals to differentiate between the two based on clinical observations.”

As of the time of publication, the CDC’s most recent update on COVID-19 symptoms was on March 15 of this year. Therefore, the list of potential symptoms provided is based on our current understanding of the latest variants that are currently circulating. The following items are included:

  • Fever/chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches
  • Headache
  • Loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Diarrhea

These latter two can catch people off guard, as they may mistakenly believe they are experiencing symptoms of a stomach infection instead. Similarly, you may experience symptoms that are so mild that you could confuse them with a common cold or even seasonal allergies. Currently, symptoms such as the diminished ability to perceive taste and smell, which were highly indicative of COVID-19 during its initial stages, seem to be significantly less prevalent.

Consequently, it is currently more challenging than ever to determine if one is truly infected with COVID-19 or another ailment without undergoing a diagnostic test. If you are experiencing symptoms of the cold and flu, the most prudent course of action is to remain at home and maintain a safe distance from other individuals. If you possess risk factors that increase the likelihood of experiencing severe symptoms, the CDC advises promptly seeking medical attention, as there are currently available treatments that can be effective if administered in a timely manner.

COVID-19 can potentially result in enduring consequences that the scientific community is actively striving to comprehend. Although many of us may no longer be experiencing mask mandates and toilet paper shortages, it is crucial that we remain considerate of the more susceptible individuals in our communities who may still be unable to let their guard down. Adhering to fundamental measures such as isolating ourselves from others when we are ill and getting tested to confirm the significance of any symptoms can assist everyone in safely managing this pandemic.

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How will the global disease landscape appear in 2050?

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If you are curious about the potential state of health and disease in the next 30 years, including the prevailing conditions and their impact on our lives, your curiosity ends here. Based on the most recent findings from the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study (GBD), it is projected that by 2050, there will be a significant rise in life expectancy and a shift towards non-communicable diseases such as heart disease and cancer.

The GBD study is a comprehensive endeavor to measure the extent of health decline worldwide over a period of time. Since 1991, it has enhanced our comprehension of the evolving health challenges confronting individuals worldwide and provided valuable insights to healthcare professionals, researchers, and policymakers operating in the field of health.

In the 2021 edition of the GBD, it was found that neurological conditions have surpassed cardiovascular disease as the leading cause of ill health globally. The Lancet has recently published additional findings from the 2021 study in a series of six articles.

Unsurprisingly, COVID-19 became the main focus. According to Professor Christopher Murray, Director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, the most recent GBD findings show that there has been the greatest decline in life expectancy globally in the previous 71 years. According to Murray, global life expectancy experienced a decline of 1.6 years from 2019 to 2021. Peru witnessed the most significant decrease, with a decline of 6.5 years.

Moreover, the GBD also emphasized additional health patterns that have persisted during the global pandemic, with articles centering on fertility, mortality causes, disability-adjusted life-years, and risk factors to underscore the intricacies of disease burden worldwide, extending beyond COVID-19. It has also anticipated the future to forecast the potential state of diseases in the upcoming decades.

“Our article on projections for GBD […] emphasizes that future patterns may deviate significantly from past patterns due to factors such as the widespread occurrence of obesity, the rise in substance-use disorders, and climate change. It also emphasizes the immense possibilities to change the course of health for the upcoming generation,” Murray adds.

The study examined 204 countries and territories, projecting the anticipated disease burden until 2050. It also considered alternative scenarios by eliminating specific risk factors.

Undoubtedly, the researchers lacked the ability to predict the future of global health over the next three decades. Instead, they utilized projections of significant determinants of health, such as climate models and anticipated levels of particulate matter pollution (PM2.5), to inform their predictions.

Life expectancy is projected to increase, with males expected to gain an additional 4.9 years and females expected to gain an additional 4.2 years. However, this increase is slower compared to the three decades prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The largest increases are anticipated in countries with a lower life expectancy.

“Although climate change, BMI, high fasting plasma glucose, drug use, and, in certain areas, PM2.5 are becoming increasingly problematic, Murray predicts that life expectancy and healthy life expectancy will continue to rise until 2050,” states Murray. Nevertheless, he warns that the anticipated advancement is delicate and susceptible to being disrupted by various challenges, including but not limited to food insecurity, antimicrobial resistance, the escalation of conflicts involving nuclear weapons, and the rise in cases of diabetes, obesity, addiction, and aging.

Projections also indicated that “health will improve in the upcoming decades,”  but there will be a change in the prevalence of diseases. The burden of communicable, maternal, neonatal, and nutritional diseases (CMNNs) will decrease, while non-communicable diseases (NCDs) will become more prominent. NCDs are diseases that cannot be transmitted directly from person to person, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes.

In addition, there will be a rise in the number of years lived with disability (YLDs), suggesting a transition from early mortality to morbidity. This means that people will have longer lifespans but will experience more years of ill health.

Furthermore, it is anticipated that disparities in life expectancy based on geographical location will diminish. “Although health disparities between the most affluent and least affluent regions will persist, they are gradually narrowing, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa,” Murray stated.

Considering different possible futures that focused on lowering environmental risks, CMNN risks, and NCD risks, as well as the combined effects of these scenarios, showed that getting rid of certain risks can greatly improve future health outcomes, especially when big NCD risks are targeted.

“Murray concluded that there is a significant opportunity for us to shape the future of global health by proactively addressing the increasing metabolic and dietary risk factors. These risk factors are primarily linked to behavioral and lifestyle factors such as elevated blood sugar levels, high body mass index, and hypertension.”

The research findings are published in the prestigious scientific journal, The Lancet.

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Medicine and Health

Neurological implant aids paralyzed individual in regaining speech abilities in two distinct languages

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A solitary cerebral implant has been employed to facilitate the restoration of speech in a paralyzed individual, encompassing both his mother tongue, Spanish, and the English language. Despite acquiring English at a later stage in life, the brain-computer interface (BCI) successfully detected the language he attempted to speak without requiring pre-programming. It is plausible that this capability could be even more effective for individuals who have been bilingual for a significant portion of their lives.

The individual, who was 36 years old, experienced quadriplegia as a result of a stroke that impacted a section of the brainstem. Remarkably, it was at the age of 30, following the stroke, that he attained a high level of proficiency in English, which was his second language. This is in spite of receiving a diagnosis of anarthria from a speech-language pathologist. Although his cognitive functions remained intact, his ability to control his vocal tract was limited, allowing him to only produce grunts and moaning sounds rather than coherent words.

The man had been utilizing an interface that allowed him to form words by making slight movements with his head, but the implementation of a brain-computer interface (BCI) had the capacity to significantly enhance this.

Prior research has demonstrated the profound and revolutionary effects that this technology can bring about. Recently, researchers presented preliminary findings on a system designed to restore speech to individuals who lack physical control over their vocal abilities. Alternative systems exist that assist individuals in computer typing by simulating the act of handwriting. Neuralink, a company led by Elon Musk, has recently implanted its inaugural brain-computer interface (BCI) device, which is purported to function akin to “telepathy.”.

The bilingualism of the participants in this trial introduced an additional level of intrigue.

The authors state in their paper that it is still uncertain to what degree bilingual speech production depends on distinct or overlapping cortical activity between languages. Consequently, it was uncertain whether a solitary device could accurately interpret neural signals when the individual was attempting to communicate in both English and Spanish.

The successful surgical procedure for implantation occurred more than three years ago. The device comprises a grid of 128 electrodes and was affixed to the surface of the patient’s left hemisphere, specifically targeting regions that play a crucial role in speech production. The device can be connected to a computer system through a connector that is implanted in the skull.

The implant functions by interpreting the neural signals that typically indicate the intention to articulate a specific word, which would normally be transmitted to the facial muscles and vocal tract. There is evidence suggesting that when acquiring a second language, the brain integrates it with the existing speech patterns of the native language. The authors of the study hypothesized that the similarities between English and Spanish in the man’s brain could enable the implant to generate either language.

However, the act of implanting the hardware is merely one component of this process. The software required training as well. Initially, they possessed a restricted lexicon consisting of 51 English words, 50 Spanish words, and three words that were shared between both languages, such as the man’s moniker, Pancho. During the training session, the participant will be presented with words individually on a screen. Subsequently, the participant will be required to verbally articulate the words in order for the system to accurately interpret their brain activity.

In order to facilitate progress, the researchers utilized the advancements observed in large language models by inputting the system’s output into GPT2. This contributed to a decrease in the error rate.

Following extensive training, the ultimate assessment was to determine whether the participant could effectively utilize the system to engage in a conversation utilizing the pre-established vocabulary. It was demonstrated to be feasible by the authors in Supplementary Video 3, and the individual was capable of effortlessly transitioning between languages.

Although the system has a limited vocabulary and requires regular recalibration through ongoing training, it has lasted longer than some other systems, reaching a duration of 48 days. This provides an exciting glimpse into the potential achievements of this developing technology. Furthermore, it contributes to our understanding of the mechanisms underlying bilingualism in the brain.

An ideal system would possess enhanced versatility, enabling users to seamlessly transition between languages, even within a single sentence. The authors express a positive outlook regarding their technology, stating that it has the capability to enhance communication for bilingual individuals with paralysis, who may find it advantageous.

The research findings have been published in the esteemed scientific journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.

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