Coping With Atrial Fibrillation – Women Fitness Magazine

Coping With Atrial Fibrillation

Coping With Atrial Fibrillation : Atrial fibrillation, which affects the heartbeat and interrupts normal blood flow, could reduce your life quality. Your heart could have disorganized signals, and the upper chambers can beat faster and irregularly than the lower chambers putting you at risk of stroke and blood clots.

Atrial fibrillation may come and go or remain permanent and is common in adults over 65 years old. You could seek the services of experts in atrial fibrillation in Frisco who are skilled and have the knowledge to help you live an active and normal life. You should know the causes and types of atrial fibrillation when seeking treatment.

Causes of Atrial Fibrillation

Your doctor should first check your medical records before diagnosing the cause of your atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation could be inherited, so if closely related family members have it, you are at risk. The most common condition that can damage your heart and cause atrial fibrillation includes age, heart disease, high blood pressure, heart surgery, lung disease, medication, obesity, and alcohol.

Types of Atrial Fibrillation

  • Paroxysmal A-Fib

    Paroxysmal A-Fib occurs when you experience a sudden irregular rhythm that does not go away for less than seven days without treatment. The paroxysmal A-fib episodes usually last for a few seconds and then stop on their own. You may not experience any symptoms, but it’s important to visit your doctor to prescribe medications to prevent blood clots and strokes. When not treated, the condition can lead to chronic A-Fib.

  • Persistent A-Fib

    Persistent A-Fib has episodes of A-Fib becoming persistent and lasts for more than seven days. The episodes usually reoccur, and you will need medication to restore your heart rhythm. Your medication will control the heart rate and prevent blood clots. Additionally, you can be introduced to a small electric shock to destroy the heart tissues responsible for the irregular rhythm.

  • Long-standing A-Fib

    Long-standing A-Fib occurs when the irregular rhythm in your heat lasts for twelve months. You will need care and treatment as the doctor needs to monitor and control your heart rates and prevent blood clots. This condition may be referred to as permanent because medications, cardioversion, and other methods can’t take back A-Fib to its normal rhythm.

  • Permanent A-Fib

    Permanent A-Fib is when the heart can’t return to a regular rhythm, and you need to visit a doctor so that you can be guided on the best treatment option. The treatment should keep you from unnecessary health complications and should be safe.

Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation

Sometimes you may not experience the symptoms depending on the type of A-Fib. However, you may notice symptoms like heart palpitation, shortness of breath, dizziness, intolerance, dizziness, and weakness. The symptoms appear depending on your condition’s severity and may take several minutes or hours. Symptoms that continue for several days can lead to chronic A-Fib, and you’ll need to see a doctor.


Treating A-Fib may involve both non-surgical and medication depending on the state of the condition. Medication is taken to prevent blood clots that can lead to serious strokes. The medicines promote overall heart function and prevent future complications. Non-surgical treatment is administering shock on the outside of your chest, this resets the heartbeat to a regular rhythm.


If you have A-Fib symptoms, you should see a physician who can guide you on the correct procedure to follow. You should not ignore A-Fib as it can become chronic and even lead to death. Treatment is administered according to how long an episode occurs. Sometimes you might not experience the symptoms, that is why you should regularly visit your doctor for checkups.







Related Videos about Coping With Atrial Fibrillation :

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Atrial Fibrillation Overview – ECG, types, pathophysiology, treatment, complications


Living with Atrial Fibrillation Video – Brigham and Women’s Hospital


Coping With Atrial Fibrillation

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Better Products By Design | Asian Scientist Magazine

AsianScientist (Jan. 25, 2021) – Long before the zero-waste movement gained popularity, retailers had already begun focusing on various ways to minimise consumer waste, from providing incentives for returning packaging to adopting innovative designs like paper packaging that can be eaten or re-purposed.

As the threat of climate change intensifies, consumers are increasingly choosing to purchase products from companies that commit to better sustainability practices. One such company is Coca-Cola, which hopes to redesign their packaging to reduce waste. They are embracing the wisdom of the crowd as one of four companies crowdsourcing for solutions to their challenge statements through the inaugural Design Think-Tank Challenge, an open innovation call ending on 31 January 2021.

In their challenge statement, Coca-Cola calls for unique packaging ideas that will transform how they get products to consumers. Typical plastic bottles can take up to 450 years to decompose, posing a serious threat to our environment. To play their part in protecting the planet, Coca-Cola aims to achieve their goal of 100 percent recyclable packaging by 2025.

Organized by the DesignSingapore Council and IPI, the Design Think-Tank Challenge connects industry players with innovative design consultancies who provide solutions to their problems in new, effective and exciting ways. Firms that are shortlisted can look to gain fruitful partnerships through the co-development of innovative ideas and products.

Coca-Cola joins Procter & Gamble (P&G), Johnson & Johnson (J&J) and Danone in sharing problem statements ranging from the need for sustainable packaging to fresh ideas for new environmentally-friendly products. All six challenge statements are available online for potential participants.

Total commitment to zero-waste

As manufacturers of a wide range of personal health, personal care, beauty and baby products, P&G has been a household name for generations. Nonetheless, the company has been quick to adapt to changing market demands, recognizing the importance of sustainable business practices and launching a set of goals to reduce their environmental footprint in 2010. Looking ahead to 2030, P&G has launched initiatives like a Pampers diaper waste collection pilot in Amsterdam, increasing the recycled content in its Ariel liquid detergent, and sourcing all their wood pulp from responsibly managed forests.

P&G has also set its sights on zero-waste haircare solutions across liquid, cream, solid or gel products. With the ultimate goal for no trash to be sent to landfills, incinerators or the ocean, the company is seeking renewably sourced materials, sustainable business models, and biodegradable product and packaging design. Not forgetting the customer experience, the proposed solution should still maintain high quality beauty products that P&G customers have come to expect.

Reimagining packaging for re-using and re-purposing

Instead of completely eliminating waste, global food and beverage company, Danone, is looking for ways to re-use existing packaging, particularly in Southeast Asia and India where 4,000 tons of packaging waste are produced annually. Currently, infant milk formula—one of the company’s leading products—is sold in disposable pouches for food safety reasons. Hence, Danone is hoping to move to a circular model where packaging is re-used or re-purposed, instead of being discarded.

As sustainable packaging could potentially account for up to 30 percent of product cost compared to its current seven to 11 percent, the company is looking for creative design solutions that incorporate quality materials that protect the milk powder for at least 18 months, while minimizing the disposal of used packaging.

Monitoring health at home

Apart from ensuring that their infants are well-fed, parents are also deeply concerned whether their babies get enough sleep—and with good reason. Poor sleep in babies does not just deprive their parents of rest, it could also lead to health issues and impaired development in the child. Despite the recognised importance of sleep, 50 percent of infants in Asia are reported to have sleep quality issues.

J&J, a leader in medical devices, pharmaceutical and consumer goods, wants to make a difference. Hoping to bridge the gap between home solutions and advanced medical care, one of the problem statements that J&J hopes to address is in looking for a simple and easy-to-use diagnostics solution that will allow parents to monitor babies’ sleep quality and glean actionable insights. It is also important that the solutions are affordable, accurate and reliable.

If you have a creative solution to any of these problems, head over to to find out more and submit your proposals by 31 January 2021, 12.00pm (GMT +8).
Please note that this challenge is not meant to be a free design consultancy service. DesignSingapore Council does not support free pitching and this has been shared with the participating companies. Interested consultancies are advised to share their points of view or a brief description of an ongoing innovation project that could address a specific design challenge. If the company is keen, it will directly arrange with the designer or consultancy to further discuss how they can work together and formalize a partnership.

Asian Scientist Magazine is a media partner of Intellectual Property Intermediary (IPI) Singapore.


Copyright: IPI Singapore. Read the original article here.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

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Space: 2021 | Discover Magazine

It was the worst of times, it was the best of times. On Earth, almost every aspect of life over the past year was dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has taken nearly two million lives and shredded the global economy. In space, humans have racked up one triumph after another: First landing on the lunar farside, two impressive successes in gathering samples from asteroids, the first new pieces of the Moon brought home in 44 years, close-up explorations of the Sun, and major advances in low-cost reusable rockets.

It may seem callous to celebrate such distant, cerebral events while so many people are suffering on Earth. But the international collaborations, scientific stretches, and goal-oriented research that enabled those space missions are exactly the same techniques that enabled the deveopment of multiple COVID vaccines at unpredecented speed. Images of the OSIRIS-REx probe kissing asteroid Bennu, or Chang’e-4’s rover rolling across the Moon’s hidden face, also reminded us of the deeper things that we live for.

Food, water, and energy, and information are essential. Everyone deserves fair access to them. That said, devoting just a tiny (truly tiny) portion of the economy to the exploration of space reminds us of the wonder that we are all born with — the sense that we are individuals who belong to a species, a species that belongs to a planet, and a planet that is part of a vast, gorgeous, mysterious universe. In finding what is out there, we find a little more of ourselves, every bit as much as we do through music or art or laughter.

Space exploration also offers its rhythmic certainties. Grand missions require long-term planning and set celestial schedules. Whatever unforeseeable events may happen down here, good or bad, we know that 2021 will offer some grand new adventures up there. Even if there are accidents or malfunctions, the coming year promises to be a banner one in our ongoing peek into the solar system. And no matter what we say or do or think, the cosmos will continue its steady dance, delivering eclipses and conjunctions and other visual delights to anyone willing and able to look up.

Herewith, then, some space highlights for 2021, focusing on the stunning robotic missions on the way.

First visit to Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids

In October, NASA is set to launch the Lucy spacecraft. Over its 12-year primary mission, Lucy will visit eight different asteroids. One target lies in the asteroid belt. The other seven are so-called Trojan asteroids that share an orbit with Jupiter, trapped in points of stability 60 degrees ahead of or behind the planet as it goes around the Sun. These objects have been trapped in their locations for billions of years, probably since the time of the formation of the solar system. They contain preserved samples of water-rich and carbon-rich material in the outer solar system; some of that material formed Jupiter, while other bits moved inward to contribute to Earth’s life-sustaining composition.

As a whimsical aside: When meteorites strike carbon-rich asteroids, they create tiny carbon crystals. So yes: Lucy will be in the sky with diamonds.

The IM-1 lander, built for NASA by Intuitive Machines, is headed to Vallis Schröteri, close to the site where Apollo 18 would have landed if the mission had not been canceled. (Credit: Intuitive Machines)

First privately built landers on the Moon

The Israeli Beresheet probe, built by the company SpaceIL, made it to the lunar surface last year, but it ended with a crash landing. This coming year will very likely see the first fully successful commercial lander touch down on the Moon. NASA has contracted with two companies, Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines, to create the Peregrine-1 and IM-1 landers.

Astrobotic’s Peregrine will carry 11 instruments, measuring the chemistry, magnetism, and radiation levels on the lunar surface. It will also bring along a Lunar Library: a set of nickel disks etched with an encyclopedia of human knowledge, replicating a set that was lost with Beresheet. Intuitive Machine’s IM-1, meanwhile, will have 5 instruments that focus on navigation experiments and a radio detector designed to do unique studies of low-frequency astronomical sources.

Russia and India return to the Moon?

More than four decades after the Soviet Luna 24 lunar mission, Russia plans to resume robotic exploration of the Moon with Luna 25. The much-delayed mission, which has been under development since the late 1990s, is tentatively set for launch in October, 2021. Luna 25 is supposed to initiate a new series of Luna missions in the 2020s. If it fails, the future of Russia’s space-exploration program will look shaky.

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is attempting its own rebound with the Chandrayaan-3 lunar lander. It is scheduled for a late 2021 launch, although that could slip to 2022. Its predecessor (Chandrayaan-2, obviously) crash landed on the Moon in 2019; in the meantime, India’s rival China has conducted two high-profile moon missions. The new mission will mostly repeat Chandrayaan-2’s goals, placing a lander and rover on the Moon, but this time around an orbiter is not part of the program.

A fleet of science cubesats aboard Artemis-1

NASA has been working on plans to bring humans back to the Moon since…well, a really long time. The agency’s huge Space Launch System (SLS) rocket has also been in development for many years. Things are supposed to get serious in November, 2021, with the Artemis-1 mission, which will use SLS to send an uncrewed version of the new Orion capsule to the Moon. Thirteen small missions will hitch along for the ride. These include three lunar orbiters — Lunar Flashlight, Lunar IceCube, and LunaH-Map — that will study water on the Moon’s surface.

Also tucked away on Artemis-1 will be NEA Scout, an innovative spacecraft that will use a solar sail to maneuver to a near-Earth asteroid using only sunshine as its propellant. This mission could be the harbinger of more solar-sail driven space missions.

First real test of planetary defense

I’ve written about this one before: The DART spacecraft, launching this July, will fly to a double asteroid and perform a direct collision with the smaller member of the pair, a 160-meter-wide rock or rubble pile called Dimorphos. NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) have fired projectiles at a comet and an asteroid before, but this will be by far the most ambitious test of the technology needed to deflect an asteroid if it is determined to be on a hazardous path that could lead to collision with the Earth. DART will attempt, for the first time, to measurably change the path of an asteroid by hitting it with a kinetic impactor.

The international science armada descends on Mars

In February, robotic probes from three different nations will arrive at Mars, each representing a milestone in the exploration of the Red Planet.

NASA’s Perseverance rover, built on the same basic bones as the earlier Curiosity rover but carrying significantly different instruments, will conduct in-depth chemical surveys of the Martian surface to look for chemical evidence of ancient life. Even more significant, Perseverance will cache the most intriguing Mars samples so that they can be collected and brought back to Earth by a join NASA-European Space Agency mission later in the 2020s.

The United Arab Emirates is sending the Al Amal (Hope) mission to Mars. If successful, it will be the first deep-space science mission conducted by an Arab nation. The spacecraft, developed in collaboration with the University of Colorado-Boulder, is desgned to be the most comprehensive weather satellite ever sent to Mars, studying the planet’s daily and seasonal atmospheric changes.

Building on a series of increasingly ambitious lunar missions, China’s space agency developed the Tianwen-1 (Heavenly Questions) probe to extend its reach to Mars. It already made history by ejecting a small camera and establishing a wifi link with the main spacecraft, allowing a unique self-portrait while en route.

The James Webb Space Telescope launches at last (we hope)

In 1996, NASA began development of the Next Generation Space Telescope, with the aim of sending it up in 2007 and building it on a highly optimistic budget of just $500 million. Fast forward 15 years, and the telescope now known as the James Webb Space Telescope is provisionally set for launch in October, 2021, after repeated setbacks and delays. Its budget has swollen to nearly $10 billion.

The payoff from that long effort will be, by far, the largest telescope ever placed in space, with 100 times the light-gathering power of the Hubble Space Telescope. JWST will be optimized for infrared observations, allowing it to study galaxy-formation in the early universe in unprecedented detail. It will also examine the birthplace of new stars and planets, and will allow detailed chemical analysis of the atmospheres of exoplanets. Exoplanet studies were not even part of the telescope’s original science goals, but they could provide a huge advance in the study of habitable worlds and possible signs of life beyond our solar system.

The robot explorers that just won’t quit

The list of ongoing space missions is so extensive now that it fills a Wikipedia page, with significant scrolling required. Highlights include NASA’s Juno probe, which will end its triumphant Jupiter mission by plunging into the planet in July; JAXA’s Akatsuki probe, carrying out its lonely explorations of Venus; New Horizons, looking for a possible next destination in the distant Kuiper Belt; and the Parker Solar Probe and Solar Orbiter, complementary NASA and ESA missions studying the Sun in detail.

Human Spaceflight: The Next Generation

NASA’s Artemis-1 mission will put the agency’s staggeringly expensive SLS rocket and Orion capsule to their first complete test. The aging International Space Station will continue to host crews and carry out in-orbit experiments. But those are only a small part of the progress happening in the world of rocketry and human space exploration.

In the world of commercial spaceflight, SpaceX plans to continue its rapid cadence of testing prototypes for the enormous Starship spacecraft, with the goal of an orbital test flight before the end of 2021. Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket, designed to carry both astronauts and cargo, should also reach orbit this year. And Boeing’s Starliner space capsule is on track to make its first crewed flight to the International Space Station. The Vulcan Centaur, built by United Space Alliance, is designed only for uncrewed missions, but it promises another approach to low-cost space access. The Peregrine lunar lander will ride aboard its first flight.

Meanwhile, China will begin construction of its new space station in 2021, with the Tianhe (“Joining the Heavens”) module planned to enter Earth orbit in the first half of the year. First crews should follow in short order, although China’s space agency has not announced a specific target date.  


Chances are, you will not personally be flying into space in the coming year. You probably won’t be building a robotic probe to navigate beyond Earth (although I hope a few of you are involved in the process). But there are no limits on who can enjoy the beauty of the universe. All you need is a clear, dark sky and maybe a simple pair of binoculars.

Planetary conjunctions, when two or more planets appear close together in the sky, are pretty events that are typically easy to observe. One of the more difficult but intriguing conjunctions happens on January 20, when Mars will appear very close to Uranus. The latter is too dim to see under suburban skies, but it will readily pop out through binoculars or a small telescope. This is one of the best opportunities you’ll encounter to look at the solar system’s 7th planet.

There is a nice list of other close planetary conjunctions here and some less-compact but especially dramatic sky gatherings here.

Solar eclipses are visible only from very limited parts of the Earth, but the June 10 event will produce a partial eclipse visible from much of Europe and the northeastern United States. To be honest, the really cool views will mostly be the ones you see online; the June eclipse is annular, meaning that it will produce a ring of light when the Sun is mostly, but not entirely, blotted out by the Sun. You can also expect some spectacular photography of the other solar eclipse of 2021, taking place on December 4, which will turn the Sun dark over Antarctica.

The two lunar eclipses of 2021 will not be particular satisfying ones. Still, the May 26 event will create an unusual setting eclipsed Moon from the western United States, and the November 18 eclipse will take a big chunk out of the Moon as seen from all across the Americas.

But really, sometimes the most satisfying thing is just following the phases of the Moon as it tracks across the sky from night to night, or leaning into a slow-burn ruddy sunset. This is perhaps the simplest and most satisfying resolution I can recomend for the new year: Look up!

Follow me on Twitter for more science news and tips: @coreyspowell

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Joe Biden, Kamala Harris named Time magazine Person of the Year

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Crafting A Cancer Killer | Asian Scientist Magazine

AsianScientist (Dec. 3, 2020) – By combining natural compounds, scientists in Japan have created novel anticancer drugs with potentially minimal side effects. Their findings were published in American Chemical Society Omega.

Before COVID-19 came about, perhaps the most prominent disease in our collective consciousness was cancer—and with good reason. Globally, about one in every six deaths is attributed to the disease. Despite this, a cancer diagnosis is far from a death sentence nowadays, largely due to the efforts of scientists working around the clock to stop the disease in its tracks.

In hopes of adding another weapon to the arsenal against cancer, researchers led by Professor Kouji Kuramochi from the Tokyo University of Science turned to organic compounds called phenazines. Within this group, N-alkylphenazin-1-ones represent a promising group of phenazine compounds in the fight against cancer. Found naturally in bacteria, phenazines have antibacterial, antifungal and even cytotoxic activities—meaning that the compounds are also toxic to cells, including their malignant counterparts.

However, N-alkylphenazin-1-ones have proven difficult to derive from bacteria. This inspired Kuramochi and his team to synthesize the compounds instead. By adding halogen elements like chlorine and bromine as well as oxidants and water to various phenazines, the researchers were able to selectively synthesize novel compounds with potential anticancer activity.

One halogenated phenazine in particular, namely 2-chloropyocyanin, was observed to have high cytotoxicity towards lung cancer cells. Overall, the resulting phenazines were more than four times more toxic to cancer cells compared to normal cells. Accordingly, using these compounds in cancer treatment should come with fewer side effects due to their targeted approach.

Notably, the team’s new technique overcomes one of the main drawbacks of existing phenazine synthesis methods. Traditionally, when chlorine is used to produce N-alkylphenazin-1-ones, undesirable products are formed. Moreover, through the technique, the researchers were able to synthetically produce lavanducyanin—typically isolated from Streptomyces sp. bacteria—for the first time. Even better, the whole process is environmentally-friendly, according to Kuramochi.

As promising as these results may be, it’s early days yet. Now, the team is hoping to verify the effects of the novel compounds through animal studies and later on, clinical trials.

“We have established a highly versatile synthetic method that is simple and can be applied to the synthesis of many natural products,” concluded Kuramochi.

The article can be found at: Kohatsu et al. (2020) Synthesis and Cytotoxic Evaluation of N-Alkyl-2-halophenazin-1-ones.


Source: Tokyo University of Science; Photo: National Institutes of Health/Flickr.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

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The Frontiers Of Food | Asian Scientist Magazine

AsianScientist (Oct. 22, 2020) – When countries around the world went into lockdown to stem the spread of COVID-19, it revealed vulnerabilities in many of the processes we take for granted in everyday life. The food system—dependent on a complex web of supply chains spanning the globe—was particularly hard hit, as consumers flocked to supermarkets to stock up and unharvested food crops languished in abandoned fields.

Although the pandemic has thrown the question of sustainable food production into sharp relief, the issue has been and will continue to be a critical challenge for the foreseeable future. Providing for the world’s growing population while trying to mitigate the environmental impact of agriculture will require this generation’s best minds and most advanced technology.

Talent and technology were in no short supply at the AgriFood Innovation Webinar, held online from 22 to 24 September 2020. Co-organized by IPI, Republic Polytechnic, Trendlines Agri-food and Innovation Norway, the webinar served as a virtual platform for over 49 experts and innovation partners to share their insights on agrifood innovation.

“I hope this platform will allow us to exchange ideas, practices and promote collaboration in the spirit of open innovation,” said Dr Sze Tiam Lin, IPI’s Head of Intermediary, during opening remarks on the first day of the webinar. “The need for sustainable food is not limited to addressing food production issues in land-scarce countries like Singapore. I believe this subject is relevant to many parts of the world, as this global pandemic has shown.”

Introducing alternate ways to address the meat demand

This sentiment was echoed by Anuj Maheshwari, Managing Director of Temasek International’s Investment Group in the agribusiness sector, who presented an overview of the potential trends and investment opportunities in agribusiness. As the growing global population demands more and for better quality food, Maheshwari emphasised the critical need to rethink existing food systems and put sustainability first.

“With the global population expected to reach 10 billion by 2050, the world will need 50% more energy, 40% more food and significantly more water than it has now,” Maheshwari said.

Temasek’s response to the global food challenge is to invest heavily in a variety of sectors that work to solve food security and develop Singapore’s agrifood ecosystem, he shared. One such sector is alternative proteins, an industry Temasek famously endorsed with their investment in plant-based meat manufacturers Impossible Foods since 2017.

“There is a critical need to reimagine the food system, in a way where we can grow more food with lesser resources. A possible approach is through alternative proteins, which can produce up to 90 percent less greenhouse gas emissions,” Maheshwari said.

Dr Nitza Kardish, CEO of the newly established Singapore-based Trendlines Agrifood Fund, added that the alternative protein industry has grown in line with the increasing desire for meat. Positioned as a more sustainable and environmentally friendly option, alternative proteins have seen a boom in popularity.

According to Dr Nitza Kardish, grocery sales of animal protein replacements have grown 29% in the past two years to US $5 billion globally. In the past five years, the plant-based food industry has attracted over US $17 billion in investor money, while investment in cultured meat startups have more than doubled since 2019.

“I am sure this trend for alternative and plant-based protein will continue to grow,” added Dr Sze.

Transforming plant mass to animal feed

Beyond the supermarket shelves, alternative proteins aren’t just for human consumption. Feeding livestock is a concern for countries which lack sufficient landmass to grow crops for livestock feed, explained Professor Margareth Overland, Center Director of Foods of Norway at The Norwegian University of Life Sciences, where she is developing biotechnology methods that can convert renewable natural resources such as tree biomass and seaweed into protein-rich yeast to be used in livestock feed.

“We are looking at yeast as an alternative protein source, not just as a supplement in feed,” Overland said. “In addition to being highly nutritious and healthy, there is the benefit of allowing us to move away from imported, less sustainable and resource-intensive feed sources such as soy.”

Food security is evidently a global problem that requires a global solution.

Although food security is an increasingly critical issue, the AgriFood Innovation Webinar has shown that there are multiple approaches to tackle it, from shared innovation to investment in urban food production, modern agriculture or alternative ingredients. As the stakeholders in this sector are brought together for initiatives like this webinar, it is very likely that Singapore will soon find itself on the frontlines of this challenge, with the strong backing of government agencies like Enterprise Singapore.

As Dr Nitza Kardish aptly concluded, “We believe the agrifood ecosystem in Singapore has a very important role to play as an agrifood tech hub for this region.”

Find out more about IPI’s AgriFood Tech Bundle here:

Asian Scientist Magazine is a media partner of Intellectual Property Intermediary (IPI) Singapore.


Copyright: IPI Singapore. Read the original article here.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

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Supercharging Healthcare Innovation | Asian Scientist Magazine

AsianScientist (Oct. 15, 2020) – As the COVID-19 pandemic rages across the globe, medical professionals, scientists and public health officials are in a race against time to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

While we may need them now, the development of new diagnostic tools, vaccines and therapeutics remains complex and may take longer than we can wait for. This is where supercomputers, well known for their ability to rapidly process large amounts of data, can help to accelerate the process. After all, the top 500 supercomputers in the world can perform more than 1 quadrillion— that’s 1 with 15 trailing zeros—operations per second on average.

Beyond tackling the immediate challenges of infectious diseases, supercomputers can also be applied to other aspects of healthcare. From laboratory based medical research to clinical practice, here’s how supercomputers are augmenting human abilities and helping medical professionals deliver personalized care.

Discovering new therapeutics

Supercomputers that simulate how complex biological molecules behave have emerged as a useful tool in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Armed with a peak performance of 1.3 petaFLOPS, the MDGRAPE-4A supercomputer at Japan’s RIKEN completed a simulation of the protease protein involved in the replication of the SARS-CoV-2 virus on March 17, 2020.

More than being just a static image, the simulation showed how the 2,416 atoms making up the protease protein move and wobble around in solution, allowing scientists to screen for potential antiviral compounds that can block it.

Such a trial-and-error process could be performed virtually as well, with supercomputers iterating through a much wider range of compounds than what is physically possible. Although not specifically applied to COVID-19 research, a software framework developed at the National Supercomputer Center in Guangzhou, China, trawled through ten million molecules in a trial run, taking just 22.31 hours using the Tianhe-2 supercomputer, which boasts a peak performance of close to 34 petaFLOPS.
healthcare 2
Simulating virtual organs

In the past, we studied cadavers to unravel the inner workings of the human body. While gaining access to human organs is often challenging, computer simulations allow researchers to safely experiment with virtual organs that are programmed to respond in the same way.

To reproduce an organ’s complex physiology, researchers need to take into account multiple factors ranging from biochemical reactions at the subcellular level, all the way up to mechanical behavior at the organ level. Such extensive simulation can be accomplished with the help of a supercomputer.

In Japan, the T2K Open Supercomputer at the University of Tokyo was used to simulate the heart and reproduce the expected side effects of a heart problem known as arrhythmia when certain drugs were administered. Dubbed UT-Heart, the simulation can be used to screen for new medications for adverse side effects before more costly laboratory and clinical testing are conducted.

In addition, UT-Heart can even be customized based on each patient’s medical data. The team used it to predict the effectiveness of a pacemaker on each individual, paving the way for doctors to develop personalized treatment plans.
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Rapid genome sequencing

In medicine, there is rarely a one-size-fit-all approach—two individuals with the same disease may show different symptoms and respond very differently to the same treatment. For example, the SARS-CoV-2 virus leads to severe pneumonia in some cases, but only a mild cough in others.

Researchers think that this is in part due to subtle variations in individual genomes, and mapping them out could suggest why certain patients are less susceptible to infections, possibly pointing the way to more effective treatments and vaccines.

Chinese company BGI Genomics, in partnership with Intel and Lenovo, has thus sought to sequence the genome of a large number of COVID-19 patients to find out why. However, genome sequencing is a timeconsuming task—the first human genome took over a decade to decode and it now typically takes about a week, even with modern technology.

To give high performance computers an extra boost, Lenovo fine-tuned both hardware and software, designing an architecture known as the Genomics Optimization and Scalability Tool (GOAST) that is able to sequence an entire genome in just 5.5 hours.

Once a vaccine has been developed, gene sequencing tools could also allow scientists to predict which subpopulation of patients it would work best in.
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Reading medical images

2019 was the first time there were more elderly above 65 than young people below five. As aging populations place increasing demands on healthcare, high performance computers could be called in to help.

One possibility lies in the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to help doctors analyze medical images and make diagnoses. As a job that requires many years of training in humans, it is no easier for machines. Medical data such as those from computerized tomography (CT) scans are three-dimensional, requiring huge amounts of computational power to train an AI software to recognize them.

The process, however, can be sped up by using supercomputers. A team from The University of Tokyo in Japan used the Reedbush-H supercomputer, which has a peak performance of 800 teraFLOPS, to train an AI that could automatically detect nodules (which might be cancerous) from lung CT images.

While certain training steps are typically carried out sequentially, the team redesigned the protocol to carry them out on multiple parallel GPUs simultaneously, drastically reducing the time required to train the AI from around 105 hours to 40 hours.

Once trained, the AI could assist doctors in making a diagnosis by, for example, identifying small nodules that might have been missed.
healthcare 5
Suggesting medical treatments

While we are still far from robot doctors taking over hospitals, there are early signs that medical AI could assist doctors by providing treatment recommendations. It may even do a better job than doctors as the AI is able to scan through more medical literature than what a human could ever read.

One key challenge lies in teaching computers how to interpret information in words, in addition to numbers. IBM’s Watson for Oncology supercomputer is one example to have emerged.

When trialed at the Manipal Comprehensive Cancer Center in India, Watson read through patient records and proposed treatment courses that were in line with a physician’s recommendation in 73 percent of 638 breast cancer cases. The results of similar trials were 83 percent in Thailand and 49 percent in South Korea.

Clearly, IBM’s supercomputer is still a work in progress, but applications for high performance computing in healthcare are likely to become more common in the future. To meet increasing demand, Taiwanese company Infortrend Technology Inc. developed a data storage system named EonStor CS to facilitate the high-speed sharing of medical files. To keep it ‘future proof,’ it was designed to be easily scaled up to accommodate a growing amount of data in a cost-effective manner.

This article was first published in the print version of Supercomputing Asia, July 2020.
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Revving Up COVID-19 Research | Asian Scientist Magazine

AsianScientist (Oct. 13, 2020) – In the classic military treatise The Art of War, Sun Tzu emphasizes that a deep understanding of the enemy holds the key to their defeat. Though COVID-19’s battlegrounds look vastly different from ancient China—think sterile laboratories and hospital rooms instead of rugged terrain—the same principle still applies in the global fight against the coronavirus.

As soon as the outbreak’s extent became apparent, researchers worldwide were quick to react. Just a month after the first reported case in Wuhan, Chinese scientists had already released the genome of SARS-CoV-2—the virus behind COVID-19—allowing countries worldwide to swiftly create diagnostic kits.

Successfully developing interventions for COVID-19, however, involves a two-pronged approach: first, analyzing the biological molecules that equip the coronavirus with its deadly abilities. The molecules could then be used as potential targets for drugs or even vaccines. Second, making sense of the virus’ knack to stealthily spread in various environments. The thing is, these approaches take time. For instance, drug discovery and vaccine development both take years, if not decades.

With no time left to lose, scientists are hoping to accelerate the process with high-powered help. Across Asia, countries like Singapore, Japan and South Korea have launched special calls for proposals that leverage some of the world’s fastest supercomputers to fight the pandemic. Here’s a look at a few ongoing projects that could turn the tide in the battle against COVID-19.
Finding the weak spots

Over at A*STAR’s Institute of High Performance Computing in Singapore, Dr. Cheng Yuan is leading a team to investigate the structure of SARS-CoV-2’s main protease. Responsible for cutting precursors of viral proteins into functional pieces, the main protease plays a critical role in mediating viral replication and transcription, said Cheng. However, predicting a protein’s structure based on its sequence has always been a significant challenge. In addition, it’s entirely possible for the main protease to mutate—further complicating structural predictions.

“We are seeking artificial intelligence-assisted approaches to predict the main protease’s structure, taking into consideration any mutations,” explained Cheng.

Their approach will combine machine learning with multiscale modeling—a simulation strategy that simultaneously considers models at different scales of complexity. Given that proteins have four structural levels, she anticipates their experiments to be computationally intensive.

“The process is very demanding because of the large size of the data set and molecular simulations,” noted Cheng.

Accordingly, her team will be tapping upon the powerful computational resources of Singapore’s National Supercomputing Centre (NSCC). Specifically, they’ll be leveraging the flagship ASPIRE1 petascale supercomputer as well as an eight-GPU NVIDIA DGX-1 AI system with V100 cards and 13 petabytes of high performance storage.

Delineating the main protease’s structure would provide a deeper understanding of how it functions, and more intriguingly, give insights into its active site. When the active site is bound by an inhibitor, the protease is unable to function, interrupting viral replication and transcription. Just like striking an enemy’s weak spot in battle, knowing the main protease’s structure should aid in the design of drugs that inhibit its function.

Another SARS-CoV-2 protein being closely studied by researchers is the spike protein, recognizable as the distinctive spikes that dot the surface of the virus. The coronavirus uses the spike protein to bind to and invade human cells, through a receptor called ACE2. Similar to his counterparts in Singapore, Dr. Yuji Sugita from Japan’s RIKEN is seeking to predict the spike protein’s structure by simulating the way its atoms and molecules dynamically move over time. This technique, known as molecular dynamics (MD) simulation, would allow his team to discover structures that cannot be obtained through conventional means.

To achieve this, they’ll be running MD simulations on RIKEN’s Fugaku supercomputer, which is still in the process of installation. Despite this, even the partially available Fugaku is expected to run the simulations at a speed 125 times faster than its predecessor, the K supercomputer. By pinning down the complex structure of the spike protein, Sugita’s findings could help inform the development of drugs that block the interaction between the spike protein and the ACE2 receptor—preventing the virus from binding to the cells in the first place.
Driving drug discovery

Due to the pressing need for a COVID-19 treatment, alternative tactics are being used to shorten the time frame for drug discovery. To save time, rather than finding drugs completely new to science, scientists are repurposing drugs that have already been approved. Indeed, all treatments currently being tested in the World Health Organization’s global Solidarity trial are approved for use in other indications such as HIV or malaria.

To speed up the discovery process even further, a research team led by Professor Seo Sangjae of the Korea Institute of Science and Technology Information (KISTI) tapped on the world’s 14th fastest supercomputer, Nurion, to computationally screen thousands of drugs that could be given a second chance. Starting with a pool of almost 20,000 compounds sourced from the SWEETLEAD library and ChEMBL database, Seo and his team systematically evaluated the binding affinity of these compounds to the main protease of SARS-CoV-2 through a technique called molecular docking.

Comparable to finding the right key to a lock, the team then calculated the docking score by assessing which orientations of the compounds best fit the main protease’s active site and measuring the binding strength between the two molecules. Among those with the highest docking scores, the team chose 43 compounds to be investigated further using MD simulations. This motley set of compounds included antiviral drugs, antibiotics for pneumonia, vitamins, and drugs in clinical trials such as remdesivir and hydroxychloroquine.

“To identify drugs, it’s important to understand their interactions with enzymes,” remarked Seo. “Unlike other research projects that only performed molecular docking, we improved the accuracy of our results by conducting MD simulations as well.”

Publishing their preliminary results on ChemRxiv in early April, his team identified eight promising COVID-19 drug candidates that were all antivirals for either hepatitis C or HIV.

Incredibly, the team crunched all these calculations and simulations on Nurion in just one week.

“Each MD simulation was computationally demanding. To save time, we even had to run 43 drugs simultaneously. Harnessing supercomputing resources was the only way we could do this,” explained Seo.

Considering that Nurion is equipped with Intel Xeon Phi 7250 and 8,305 nodes, a study of a similar scale would require at least 200 days to finish on a personal computer.

Moving forward, Seo shared that the 43 drugs previously chosen for MD simulations are currently being experimentally tested in collaboration with KISTI’s partners. The experimental results will be compared with the MD simulations to help improve the computational process. At the same time, the team is now looking to make their docking calculations even more accurate by adding artificial intelligence into the mix.

Supercomputers have helped to model the circulation of fresh air (green) in a commuter train when the windows are closed (above) and when the windows are open (below). Credit: Makoto Tsubokura/RIKEN.

Profiling a killer

Aside from poring over SARS-CoV-2’s structure, it’s also equally important to consider how the virus is transmitted from person to person. After all, though the pandemic is nowhere close to ending, countries are already cautiously emerging from their respective lockdowns. As more and more people begin their much awaited return to the outside world, it is inevitable that we’ll be seeing fairly crowded spaces once again.

Unfortunately, crowds are also prime breeding grounds for the coronavirus. Human transmission is thought to mainly occur via droplet spread, when an infected individual releases thousands of droplets into the surrounding air via coughing, sneezing or even talking. But in a sinister twist, it’s been suggested that these droplets could be aerosolized into even smaller particles that could spread over larger distances and linger in the air.

Aerosol transmission poses a problem, especially in enclosed environments like public transport, most workplaces, classrooms and restaurants. To facilitate the safe resumption of activities that take place in these settings, Professor Makoto Tsubokura of RIKEN and Kobe University is looking to simulate the scattering of virus droplets under varying conditions on the Fugaku supercomputer.

Their project will consist of three steps, explained Tsubokura: first, assessing the infection risk of droplet and aerosol transmission in daily scenarios, including commuting and offices. Based on their results, his team then hopes to propose immediate countermeasures that could reduce infection risk—ranging from opening or closing windows to the strategic placement of partitions. Finally, they seek to suggest long-term measures in the fight against COVID-19, such as improved air conditioning or ventilation systems.

“We are required to produce many results in a very short period of time,” said Tsubokura. “In addition, in cases like train simulations, we have to consider very crowded cabins with more than 200 passengers, running at 80 kilometers per hour.”

Given that the team has to evaluate the ventilation effect of open windows in such complicated scenarios, Fugaku’s massive computational resources are required for their simulations. His team’s academic and industry partners will then go on to experimentally validate their results.

From the simulations, Tsubokura is also aiming to create accessible animations of the virus’ droplet and aerosol spread so that the public can easily understand the risk of infection and the need for countermeasures.

“People don’t understand COVID-19 simply because it is invisible. Our goal is for our HPC results to help people to be more informed, especially government planners who will establish guidelines for a post-COVID society,” he added.

As the pandemic continues to rapidly unfold, it may be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. But the coronavirus may have finally met its match in the form of supercomputers like ASPIRE1, Fugaku and Nurion. With the world’s best minds and fastest supercomputers joining forces to attack COVID-19 on all fronts, there’s still hope yet.

This article was first published in the print version of Supercomputing Asia, July 2020.
Click here to subscribe to Asian Scientist Magazine in print.


Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine.
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Mapping The Brain’s Mysteries | Asian Scientist Magazine

AsianScientist (Oct. 8, 2020) – The most complex structure in the known universe is a paradox. It’s right between our ears, but much of it remains beyond our understanding. The human brain contains over 86 billion nerve cells, or neurons, and some 100 trillion connections among them. Add to that neural pathways, glial cells and messenger molecules called neurotransmitters, and you’ve got a very intricate and powerful organ, one capable of probing the structure of the cosmos and laughing at silly jokes.

Scientists in Asia are now bringing the world’s most sophisticated computer technology to bear on this eternal mystery by comprehensively mapping the human brain for the first time—by as soon as 2024. This three-dimensional map, known as a connectome, could have a huge impact on everything from Alzheimer’s disease to artificial intelligence. From studies of monkey brains, to mapping the human brain and even simulating human neural activity on supercomputers, this effort could have profound consequences for both brain science and some of our fundamental questions about what it means to be human.
An Asian Connectome Consortium

In January 2020, the National University of Singapore played host to the inauguration of a bold collaborative effort to create a brain map. Synchrotron for Neuroscience—an Asia Pacific Strategic Enterprise (SYNAPSE) brings together researchers across the region to image the brain at the sub-cellular level, specifically 0.3 micrometer resolution, at a speed of one cubic millimeter per minute. Since capturing that level of detail would take years at a single facility, the work is being divided among several centers in the region while using automation and joint management of data to accelerate the project.

“Mapping the human brain at a resolution sufficient to chart the connections is a historic mission for science and technology,” said Low Chian-Ming, an associate professor at the National University of Singapore and a founding member of the initiative. “SYNAPSE will also generate technological breakthroughs in imaging, computation and artificial intelligence.”

More than 1,000 researchers are expected to participate in the undertaking, hailing from institutions such as Academia Sinica in Taiwan; Pohang Light Source-II in South Korea; Spring-8 in Japan; Singapore Synchrotron Light Source at the National University of Singapore; Shanghai Synchrotron Radiation Facility in China; and Australian Synchrotron.

The main imagining technology they will use is X-rays from synchrotrons, giant rings that can accelerate electrons close to the speed of light. When moving electrons change direction, they release high energy X-rays, which can be shunted through solid objects to image their internal structures.

“Synchrotron-based imaging is essential to achieving meaningful connectome mapping of a large animal brain because it is the only technique that combines three-dimensional sub-cellular resolution with high imaging speed to collect data for an entire brain within a reasonable time,” said Professor Hwu Yeu-Kuang, leader of the Taiwanese team at Academia Sinica.

Low and colleagues are confident of their approach because it builds on previous work under Accelerated X-ray Observation of Neurons (AXON), a set of X-ray imaging technologies perfected by an international scientific collaboration which is now the core of the SYNAPSE project. This technique demonstrated the speed and resolution possible on the fruit fly brain and is on its way to being tested on larger animal brains. The researchers also managed to partially map a mouse brain, according to a study in the Chinese Journal of Physics.

“Our first data set for the fruit fly brain, published in a study led by Professor Chiang Ann-Shyn at the National Tsing Hua University, proved that even results for small brains and partial information can revolutionize neurobiology research,” Hwu added.

fruit fly
High resolution tomographically reconstructed image of a Drosophila melanogaster fly head showing the nervous system (green), muscles (orange), cuticles (gray) and compound eye. The reconstruction was performed from 600 projection images taken at equal intervals within 180°. Credit: Reproduced with permission from Chin et al (2020) A synchrotron X-ray imaging strategy to map large animal brains

SYNAPSE will incorporate petascale high performance computing facilities at the National Supercomputing Centre (NSCC) Singapore, which is a sponsor of the project. SYNAPSE is expected to produce a huge volume of data that will be in excess of one billion gigabytes, or one exabyte, which is the equivalent of a million one-terabyte drives. The NSCC will serve as a data hub for the processed 3D mapping data, linking processing facilities like Fugaku at the RIKEN Center for Computational Science, Taiwania at Taiwan’s National Center for High-Performance Computing, and systems at the Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology, South Korea, via a high-speed 100 Gbps network run by the Singapore Advanced Research and Education Network (SingAREN).

“We specifically tested the parallel involvement of different synchrotrons and their calibration, so that data can be simultaneously analyzed and processed with uniform high performance computing platforms to be shared among partners,” said Low. “Our task is to provide neuroscientists with something like a Google Map of a complete functional brain, where they can view different levels of information as they zoom in, balancing the need for detailed information along with retrieval speed. It will also serve as a reference to chart the functional readings obtained through fMRI, electrophysiology, EEG and other techniques, building up to a structure-function brain map.”

Other imaging techniques that the SYNAPSE researchers are using include infrared spectromicroscopy, super-resolution visible light 3D microscopy and cryoelectron tomography. The information on specific brain regions obtained from these complementary techniques would then be used to annotate the brain map with a large variety of functional and high-resolution information related to the neural network.

In being able to shed this much light on the structures of the brain, SYNAPSE may give rise to something that’s long been a staple of science fiction: simulating a human brain on a computer. Since it will be based on neural network data from real brain maps, it’s expected to generate more understanding about brain functions, complementing initiatives such as the BRAIN Initiative in the US and the Human Brain Project in Europe, according to Low.

“No individual country would have the resources to finish this project in a reasonable amount of time. Parallel data collection is essential and can only be realized by an international project,” Hwu said. “The same is true for processing and storing the huge amount of data, and for further developments of the imaging and data processing techniques.”

In the same spirit, the results will be shared by all partners and open to everyone, with the help of cloud computing and high performance computing.

“As the raw data size is in exabytes, each country partner will store the raw data but deposit the reconstructed core data at NSCC Singapore,” Low explained.

In the first phase that is expected to be completed by 2024, SYNAPSE aims to map one human brain.

“However, the main goal of our collaboration is to understand how the human brain functions from the complete mapping of the neural network. This could lead to effective therapies for brain diseases, a global problem with a huge social impact,” Low said. “This mission may take more than a decade.”

China’s long play

SYNAPSE follows a number of other large-scale brain computing endeavors in East Asia. One is the China Brain Project (CBP; also known as the China Brain Initiative), an enormous initiative stretching to 2030 with multiple aims: expanding basic research on cognitive functions; applied research into the diagnosis and treatment of brain disorders; and research into computing methods inspired by the human brain.

The CBP is intended to rival similar efforts in the West, and promoters have said that compared to other initiatives, the CBP is prioritizing brain disorders and artificial intelligence as its near-term goals. Part of that is due to the fact that China, with its enormous and aging population, is saddled by large numbers of people with neurological and cognitive disorders.

Professor Poo Mu-ming, leader of the CBP and director of the Institute of Neuroscience of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said the CBP has not officially started yet, and referred Supercomputing Asia to a 2016 article he co-authored in the journal Neuron which stated that the CBP is part of a 15-year plan.

“The China Brain Project covers both basic research on neural mechanisms underlying cognition and translational research for the diagnosis and intervention of brain diseases as well as for brain-inspired intelligence technology,” Poo and colleagues wrote.

While there have been few details of this grand national undertaking, a number of new research centers have opened. The Chinese Institute for Brain Research, Beijing, was inaugurated in 2018 as a main pillar of the CBP. It has been engaged in recruiting 50 internationally selected principal investigators and more than 1,000 other researchers as well as building 11 core facilities with some 30,000 animal cages. A sister center, the Shanghai Research Center for Brain Science and Brain-Inspired Intelligence, was also launched in 2018.

The CBP’s emphasis on animal research comes after a team led by Poo produced two genetically identical long-tailed macaques, a world first for primates, using somatic cell nuclear transfer, the technique that created Dolly the sheep. The study, reported in the journal Cell, raised hopes that the cloning know-how could be used with gene-editing techniques such as CRISPR-Cas9 to recreate monkey models of human brain disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.

“This paper really marks the beginning of a new era for biomedical research,” Professor Xiong Zhi-Qi, a neuroscientist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Neuroscience, was quoted as saying by Nature News.

Similar work has broadened the field: Chinese scientists have even created transgenic macaques with extra copies of a human gene that might have a role in human intelligence. They reported that the enhanced monkeys outperformed their peers on a memory test. As if alluding to science-fiction scenarios from Planet of the Apes, Western scientists have questioned the ethics behind tinkering with monkey genes and intelligence.
Supercomputing brains in Japan

Unlike the CBP which focuses on macaques, Japan’s Brain Mapping by Integrated Neurotechnologies for Disease Studies (Brain/MINDS) looks at another non-human primate: marmosets. Brain/MINDS was launched in 2014 and is now in its second phase. With the state-backed RIKEN Center for Brain Science (RIKEN CBS) playing a coordinating role, Brain/MINDS brings together universities and research institutes from throughout the nation.

The project’s goal is to elucidate the neural circuits underlying higher brain functions using unique experimental models. A particular focus is neural circuits that are responsible for neurological and psychiatric disorders. As member researchers wrote in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, the objectives fall into three main areas: functional mapping of the marmoset brain, developing innovative neurotechnologies for brain mapping and actual brain mapping, along with clinical research.

Recent scientific reports from the initiative include the role of auditory signal processing in schizophrenia, neuroinflammation in mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease, and a comparative study of how common marmosets and Japanese macaques react to human behavior. RIKEN’s Professor Hideyuki Okano, dean of Keio University’s Graduate School of Medicine, has been producing genetically modified marmosets to learn more about Rett Syndrome and Parkinson’s disease.

mouse brain
Tomographically reconstructed image of a portion of a mouse brain from 600 projection images. The different colors correspond to different neuron clusters, each formed by interconnected cells. Credit: Reproduced with permission from Chin et al (2020) A synchrotron X-ray imaging strategy to map large animal brains.

“The marmoset brain is essentially a simpler primate brain to study and its common features to other primates make it easier to analyze,” said Professor Alexander Woodward, leader of the Connectome Analysis Unit at RIKEN CBS, where the goal is to chart and analyze brain connections. “The developmental period is much shorter than that of humans. Furthermore, the brain does not have the gyrification (wrinkled appearance) that larger primates or the human brain have, making it easier to carry out certain invasive experiments.”

A key part of these experiments is tracer injections. As Woodward explains, a viral tracer injected into the brain infects neurons, causing them to express a fluorescent protein that travels down the axon to the terminal sites. By later examining the brain ex vivo, researchers can see the connections that neurons at the injection site make with neurons in other brain regions.

Brain/MINDS scientists are also using MRI technology known as diffusion weighted imaging (dMRI) to obtain structural data. This data can provide insights into the overall connectivity pathways and the structural pathologies where there is damage to the brain connections. Members of Woodward’s team also developed a 3D marmoset brain atlas which describes all of the brain regions and this is being used to calculate and summarize the brain connectivity patterns from the data.
Pushing the frontier with Fugaku

Another major RIKEN project related to the Brain/MINDS endeavor is the construction of a next-generation supercomputer named Fugaku (see our infographic). An alternate name for Mount Fuji, Japan’s tallest peak, Fugaku is designed to have an ARM architecture and some 150,000 CPUs. It would be at least 40 to 100 times more powerful than its predecessor, the K computer, which TOP500 ranked as the world’s fastest supercomputer in 2011. Under construction by Fujitsu, Fugaku could become the world’s first computer with exaflop speed, or 1018 floating-point operations per second, if it enters full operations around 2021 as planned and doesn’t lose out to rivals in China, the US and the European Union.

Fugaku will be used for everything from drug discovery to simulating earthquakes and tsunamis. Neuroscientists in Japan, though, are eager to use it for brain simulations. They believe Fugaku will be the first computer with sufficient resources to simulate a human brain—it will recreate the same number of neurons as the human brain as well as the connections between them. The feat will be astonishing given that only seven years ago, it took the K computer 40 minutes, using 1.73 billion virtual nerve cells connected by 10.4 trillion synapses, to simulate only one second of neuronal activity in a human brain. Japanese researchers have already begun simulations on part of Fugaku and, with the full system, they plan to test the computational performance of a brain model consisting of the cortex, cerebellum, thalamus and basal ganglia.

“Our goal is to realize whole-brain simulation using the Fugaku computer for an understanding of the mechanisms of brain function and disease,” said Dr. Jun Igarashi of the High Performance Artificial Intelligence Systems Research Team at RIKEN’s Center for Computational Science. “As a first step, we plan to perform whole-brain simulation of mouse, marmoset and human, to understand the interactions between brain areas in processing information for movement and behavior.”

Using machines like Fugaku, scientists may be able to better understand the brain’s fundamental information-processing ability as well as activity, such as how movement is coordinated over a span of seconds to minutes. But will researchers actually be able to simulate a mind on a computer? That remains to be seen.

“No one knows whether whole-brain simulation can reproduce human intelligence until it is realized,” Igarashi said. “The current problem is that there is no consensus on which levels of description of the neuron are sufficient for reproducing intelligence.”

Bolstered by grand initiatives like these projects across Asia, scientists hope to one day gain a complete mechanistic understanding of the universe’s most complex object. But that doesn’t mean our brains can be reduced to biological computers. If anything, it’s the part of us that can’t be simulated—the ghost in the machine—that makes us human.
This article was first published in the print version of Supercomputing Asia, July 2020.
Click here to subscribe to Asian Scientist Magazine in print.


Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine.
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Singapore Patient Plasma Used To Create Trump’s COVID-19 Antibody Cocktail | Asian Scientist Magazine

AsianScientist (Oct. 5, 2020) – One of the two antibodies in the cocktail used to treat US president Donald Trump for COVID-19 was developed using blood samples from three patients in Singapore. REGN-COV2, a combination of two antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, was developed by US-based biotechnology company Regeneron. Two papers describing preclinical studies of REGN-COV2 have been published in Science.

Convalescent plasma from patients who have recovered from COVID-19 could contain protective antibodies that can be used to either prevent or treat the disease. Although the US Food and Drug Administration has authorized the emergency use of convalescent plasma to treat COVID-19, the difficulty of obtaining sufficient blood from volunteers means that it is not possible to use it at a large scale.

Instead of relying on large amounts of convalescent plasma, Regeneron cloned SARS-CoV-2 binding antibodies from both ‘humanized’ mice and recovered COVID-19 patients to produce a reliable source of monoclonal antibodies. While the humanized mice were based on a technology owned by Regeneron, the human plasma used was supplied through an agreement with Singapore’s National Centre for Infectious Diseases. According to a commentary published in The Straits Times in May, there have been talks for Singapore to potentially participate in further clinical trials of the treatment.

On September 29, 2020, Regeneron announced positive data from a Phase 1 trial of 275 patients, showing that REGN-COV2 reduced viral levels and improved symptoms. Shortly after, on October 2, 2020, it was revealed that Trump had received a high dose of the experimental therapy, which has not received emergency use approval but was administered under a compassionate use request.
The articles can be found at:
Hansen et al. (2020) Studies in Humanized Mice and Convalescent Humans Yield a SARS-CoV-2 Antibody Cocktail.
Baum et al. (2020) Antibody Cocktail to SARS-CoV-2 Spike Protein Prevents Rapid Mutational Escape Seen with Individual Antibodies.


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