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I’ve had four coffees today: one right after breakfast, followed by chasers whenever I felt I was flagging (but probably just wanted a distraction). It looks like I’ve been doing this all wrong.
A new algorithm developed by scientists in the US Army reveals there’s some complicated mathematics involved in getting the maximum safe benefit from a caffeine dosage – and when done right, it’s something that delivers measurable results.
“We found that by using our algorithm, which determines when and how much caffeine a subject should consume, we can improve alertness by up to 64 percent, while consuming the same total amount of caffeine,” says biotechnology researcher Jaques Reifman from the US Army’s Advanced Technology Research Centre in Ft. Detrick, Maryland.
“Alternatively, a subject can reduce caffeine consumption by up to 65 percent and still achieve equivalent improvements in alertness.”
To work the numbers, Reifman’s team pulled data from a number of existing experimental studies of sleep loss, in which caffeine dosing strategies were compared against psychomotor vigilance task (PVT) performance – tests that measure participants’ reaction times.
Previous work by Reifman and fellow researchers had found that PVT could be optimised by what they call their Unified Model of Performance (UMP), which predicts the effects of varying doses of caffeine on sleep loss as a function of time of day, depending on variables like how much sleep you’ve had.
This tool was already available as a free web app called 2B-Alert, and in the team’s new paper, they explain how the same algorithms can be tailored to any individual for a mobile app that basically predicts exactly how much coffee you should be drinking for maximum buzz and focus.
“Our algorithm is the first quantitative tool that provides automated, customised guidance for safe and effective caffeine dosing to maximise alertness at the most needed times during any sleep-loss condition,” says Reifman.
Unfortunately, this customisable mobile version of 2B-Alert isn’t available to the public yet.
Before that happens, the algorithm is being assessed with soldiers in training, after which it’s possible the Army might choose to licence the technology for any uses outside the military.
Hopefully they do, because it’s not just coffee-loving service folk who could stand to benefit from knowing the perfect time to dose up, which is something the researchers are well aware of.
“Forty percent of [servicemen and women] sleep less than five hours per night on a consistent basis. In the civilian side, the algorithm has wide applicability for shift workers in the transportation industry, medical caregivers, firefighters, students, [and others].”
Just when all those people will get a chance to optimise their caffeine fix is anybody’s guess, but your tax dollars went into building the ultimate coffee-drinking companion app, and hopefully we don’t have to wait too long.
The findings are reported in the Journal of Sleep Research.
While artificial intelligence (AI) technology based chatbot is making its presence felt in many different sectors in India like banking, insurance, FMCG to name a few, it is yet to make an impact in the healthcare industry.
Healthcare sector can be roughly divided into three categories– pharmaceutical industry, diagnostic centres and hospitals & doctors. While pharmaceutical companies are ahead of diagnostic centres, doctors and healthcare facilities in adoption of chatbot, they are still far behind in companies of other segments. Deployment of chatbot at an organisation reduces 20-55 per cent customer support cost. In pharmaceutical industry, reduction in customer service expense stands at 20 per cent, said Kartik Poddar, business head at Haptik, a AI based chatbot.
Chatbots are great at providing instant answers to urgent queries. In healthcare sector a customer needs immediate access to healthcare service providers but a number of healthcare facilities lack robust customer friendly system. A chatbot can help them become consumer friendly thereby enhancing their revenue, he added.
With rising awareness among industry players about importance of chatbot over the last couple of years, the healthcare industry is gearing to deploy AI based chatbot to reach out to stakeholders in a smooth manner and improve productivity.
Talking about vital role of chatbot in pharmaceutical industry’s marketing initiative, he said, “To drive the sales, marketing representatives of pharmaceutical companies are required to reach out to doctors. For this, they can take help of chatbot to figure out doctors whom they need to reach to achieve target.”
Besides marketing representatives, pharma companies can also deploy chatbot to engage doctors. It helps medical professionals get information about company’s new drug launch, its incentives and schemes, difference between varied drugs. Considering the high attrition of medical representatives and their training expense, chatbot is a feasible option for drug companies, he opined.
In diagnostic segment, the chatbot lets users instantly check the status of their pending medical reports, finds nearby pathology centres, shows test information and price and enables faster query resolution by guiding the user through every step.
For hospitals, chatbot has a great role to play. It can answer all types of patient questions about a specific diseases and check doctors’ timing, availability and book their appointment.
Apart from private healthcare organisations, the government is also keen to adopt AI based chatbot to disseminate their various schemes including healthcare plans among people at large. It empowers them to access welfare services hassle free, said Poddar, confirming that two state governments are in talks with them to deploy chatbot.
“Over four and a half years operation, Haptik has raised close to US$ 13 million investment. In April 2016, Times Internet led a Series B round of investment in Haptik worth over US$ 10 million while in 2014, it had raised US$ 1 million in its Series A round from Kalaari Capital and other angel investors. We are investing a lot in technology and platform such being voice ready. Instead of chatting people can now talk to bot and get their queries resolved. We are also investing a lot in language support. Apart from English, we are developing bot in Marathi, Hindi and 10 other Indian languages. We have 50 customers and planning to raise customer base in India and penetrate in international market such as USA and South East Asia. We have deployed 100 bots and processed 1 billion chats so far. Bot templates are being built for common use services- customer support, lead generation, which help us deploy chatbot faster,” added Haptik business head.
The spirochaete Treponema pallidum hasn’t made it easy for us to inoculate our bodies against one of history’s most notorious sexually transmitted infections.
Now a team led by researchers from University of Connecticut (UConn) has used some clever detective work to identify the proteins needed for a vaccine that could potentially help us see an end to syphilis once and for all.
An estimated six million people around the globe are infected with the syphilis microbe every year. Fortunately it’s treatable with a course of antibiotics, but for some treatment comes too late.
In the US, not only are infection rates climbing, a shocking number of miscarriages and still births are caused by the disease. This makes syphilis a formidable foe, and a vaccine simply can’t come soon enough.
The bacteria’s role in causing syphilis has been known for well over a century. But the microbe itself has proven hard to study. T. pallidum is remarkably flimsy, falling apart at the slightest provocation.
It’s also temperamental, eluding most efforts to be easily grown in a laboratory setting. The best we can do is set up an infection on a rabbit’s skin or testicles, which – fortunately for the host – doesn’t last very long.
Meanwhile, vaccines work by showing your immune system the complex molecules on the outside of a pathogen in the hope they’ll be better prepared for an invasion. If we don’t know which proteins go where, there’s no way to make an effective vaccine.
Treponema pallidum’s genes would almost certainly provide a hint, if we can interpret them correctly. It only has about 1,000 of them in total – but where to start?
After comparing the genomes of T. pallidum strains collected from several cities across the world, UConn Health microbiologists Justin Radolf and Melissa Caimano realised they were all remarkably similar.
This isn’t at all surprising. With so few genes, each one would need to be carrying its weight. When the researchers did uncover a few mutations, all of these proved to be incredibly important for the survival of the pathogen.
“They’re mutating to avoid the immune system,” says Radolf.
So, these newly discovered variable genes are a big blinking arrow pointing to those all-important surface proteins.
The team translated the DNA sequences into strings of amino acids using computer simulations, and produced characteristic barrel-shaped proteins that resembled classes of surface molecules found on other bacteria.
This is one of those good news/bad news moments, though.
As you might have already guessed, these proteins would also make for a terrible vaccine. Sooner or later a strain of T. pallidum would appear with a new code, and the search would begin again.
“You want the best candidate outer membrane protein for a vaccine, the one that varies the least,” says Caimano.
But once they knew what to look for, it wasn’t long before the researchers had a more stable target in sight.
This isn’t quite the vaccine the world needs, at least not quite yet. The team plans on testing their proteins as suitable vaccine antigens next.
But it does represent the leaping of a monumental hurdle, one that might finally end the scourge of syphilis.
This research was published in mBio.
Health ministry comes out with suspected ADR form and medicine side-effect reporting form for intensive ADR monitoring
In its bid to take proactive action for reporting adverse drug reactions (ADRs) towards focused Pharmacovigilance (PV) for approved drugs in the country, the Union health ministry has come out with suspected ADR form for healthcare professionals and medicines side-effect reporting form for consumers besides a toll free helpline number in the interest of patient safety.
This comes at a time when the health ministry has also tasked 250 ADR Monitoring Centres (AMCs) existing in the country to establish clinical evidence between the drug and the adverse drug reaction through a robust system of causality assessment.
Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) in collaboration with Indian Pharmacopoeia Commission (IPC) had in the past also started auditing healthcare institutions through assessment on aspects like SOPs and causality assessment in order to review the functioning of AMCs in the country.
The exercise was meant to generate awareness in medical institutions to put in place effective surveillance system for detection of ADRs. IPC under the union health ministry is the National Coordination Centre (NCC) for Pharmacovigilance Programme of India (PvPI).
CDSCO under the Union health ministry had initiated a nation-wide PvPI in July 2010. PvPI leads with 0.82 points as per quality completeness score of Individual Case Safety Reports (ICSR) as against the global average of 0.55 accounted on a quarterly basis for a total of 150 countries including India which contribute to the global PvP database.
ICSR as part of ADRs are reported from all over the country to NCC-PvPI, which also work in collaboration with the global ADR monitoring centre (WHO-UMC), Sweden to contribute in the global ADRs data base.
To strengthen ADR monitoring, IPC had come out with draft guidelines focused on targeted drugs and events as a part of Intensive adverse drug reaction monitoring exercise under PvPI so that action could be taken on specific drugs involving adverse reactions.
The health ministry had in the past mandated based on the ADR monitoring protocol effective implementation of the projects related to Intensive adverse drug reaction monitoring with help from competent institutions in the country.
Based on the learnings of these projects, government will be equipped in taking regulatory decisions in a timely manner. The exercise has been initiated keeping in view the fact that data from spontaneous reporting of ADRs have generally been mis-spelt.
“Inference can be drawn from the diabetic drug Pioglitazone which was suspended and then revoked due to lack of India specific data in the country for adverse reactions leading to conditions like bladder cancer,” concludes a senior IPC official
Neurologists have managed to pin down a sequence of actions in brain cells linked with the experience of perception – getting a little bit closer to the source of consciousness in our brains.
To do this, they peered into the brains of people with epilepsy and pinpointed the emergence of consciousness from the actions of distinct neurons into a complex symphony of awareness.
Taking advantage of diagnostic probes embedded in the brains of epilepsy patients, researchers from Tel Aviv University have identified a pathway of activity that plays a role in converting a stimulus into an image we can see in our minds.
As far as scientific mysteries go, human consciousness is still up there. For centuries we’ve wondered what distinguishes self-aware grey matter from a plain old meat calculator, and it’s a riddle that’s proved hard to solve.
“Computers and robots interact with the world without being conscious,” says the lead author of a recent study on the subject, Hagar Gelbard-Sagiv.
“But something miraculous happens inside our brains to make us conscious and experience the world from a subjective perspective.”
Plenty of experiments have been conducted on the topic over the years, too, many using functional magnetic resonance imaging technology or a similar form of high-level scanning.
They’ve all helped identify which of the brain’s suburbs are responsible for transforming a visual stimulus into a personal cinematic experience, but they haven’t helped us understand the detailed computations involved.
To do that would require tools that could track the traffic on a street level inside our brain, which means sinking a sensitive probe right down into the thick of things.
Ethically speaking, a search for the roots of consciousness just isn’t a good-enough reason to risk such an invasive procedure – but what if you already had this probe for other reasons?
Patients with epilepsy sometimes have intracranial depth electrodes implanted to measure debilitating seizures, and researchers will often politely ask if they mind doing an experiment or two in the meantime.
In this study nine such patients graciously agreed to stare at various images while a team of scientists recorded the activity measured by the probes.
Over 20 sessions, the volunteers stared at a pair of images – each positioned in front of one eye. Because each eye could only see one of the images, their brains couldn’t blur them together into a single picture.
Instead, the brain was forced to pick one image to deal with at a time, in a process called binocular rivalry. Meanwhile light from both of them continuously stimulated the visual cortex.
These two processes – visual stimulation and ‘seeing’ – are often hard to pull apart. But this experiment was able to separate the two processes and measure the timing of the processes in detail.
Patients were required to alert the researchers the very moment they became aware of either image’s existence.
As it turns out, a precise area in the medial-frontal lobe activates a whole two seconds before the subject ‘sees’ the picture in their head. A second zone activates a second later, this one in the medial-temporal lobe.
“Two seconds is a long time in terms of neural activity,” says Gelbard-Sagiv.
“We believe that the activity of these neurons not only correlates with perception, but also may take part in the process that leads to the emergence of a conscious percept.”
It’s not the first time researchers have used this method to try to nail down the sequence of pathways used to create awareness, but other studies forced changes in imagery, creating a variable that risked interfering with results.
Binocular rivalry provides a clever way to leave the whole process of a change in awareness to the test subject’s own brain.
“The study captures individual cells in the human brain just before one conscious experience is replaced by another,” says senior author, Itzhak Fried.
Whether it might help us create self-aware computers in the future is still anybody’s guess. So too is the question of whether consciousness is a cognitive tool we’ve evolved to use, or simply some side-effect of other processes – but studies like this one are getting us ever closer to figuring it out.
This research was published in Nature Communications.