AI

Google Go-Playing A.I. Retires To Focus On Energy Conservation And Medicine (engadget.com) 62

After "narrowly" beating the world's top Go player, what's left for Google's AlphaGo AI? Engadget reports: Now that it has nothing left to prove, the AI is hanging up its boots and leaving the world of competitive Go behind. AlphaGo's developers from Google-owned DeepMind will now focus on creating advanced general algorithms to help scientists find elusive cures for diseases, conjure up a way to dramatically reduce energy consumption and invent new revolutionary materials. Before they leave Go behind completely, though, they plan to publish one more paper later this year to reveal how they tweaked the AI to prepare it for the matches against Ke Jie. They're also developing a tool that would show how AlphaGo would respond to a particular situation on the Go board with help from the world's number one player. While you'll have to wait a while for those two, you'll soon be able to watch 50 games AlphaGo played against itself when it was training
The first ten games that AlphaGo played against itself are already online. Shi Yue, 9 Dan Professional and World Champion, described them as "Like nothing I've ever seen before -- they're how I imagine games from far in the future." Google announced that this week's competition "has been the highest possible pinnacle for AlphaGo as a competitive program. For that reason, the Future of Go Summit is our final match event with AlphaGo... We hope that the story of AlphaGo is just the beginning."
Medicine

Study Finds Magic Mushrooms Are the Safest Recreational Drug (theguardian.com) 198

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Mushrooms are the safest of all the drugs people take recreationally, according to this year's Global Drug Survey. Of the more than 12,000 people who reported taking psilocybin hallucinogenic mushrooms in 2016, just 0.2% of them said they needed emergency medical treatment -- a rate at least five times lower than that for MDMA, LSD and cocaine. Global Drug Survey 2017, with almost 120,000 participants in 50 countries, is the world's biggest annual drug survey, with questions that cover the types of substances people take, patterns of use and whether they experienced any negative effects. Overall, 28,000 people said they had taken magic mushrooms at some point in their lives, with 81.7% seeking a "moderate psychedelic experience" and the "enhancement of environment and social interactions."
Technology

Fitness Trackers Out of Step When Measuring Calories, Research Shows (theguardian.com) 81

Fitness devices can help monitor heart rate but are unreliable at keeping tabs on calories burned, research has revealed. From a report on The Guardian: Scientists put seven consumer devices through their paces, comparing their data with gold-standard laboratory measurements. "We were pleasantly surprised at how well the heart rate did -- under many circumstances for most of the devices, they actually did really quite well," said Euan Ashley, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Stanford University and co-author of the research. "At the same time we were unpleasantly surprised at how poor the calorie estimates were for the devices -- they were really all over the map." The team tested seven wrist-worn wearable devices -- the Apple Watch, Basis Peak, Fitbit Surge, Microsoft Band, Mio Alpha 2, PulseOn, and Samsung Gear S2 -- with 31 women and 29 men each wearing multiple devices at a time while using treadmills to walk or run, cycling on exercise bikes or simply sitting.
Medicine

Baking Soda Shortage Has Hospitals Frantic, Delaying Treatments and Surgeries (arstechnica.com) 250

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Amid a national shortage of a critical medicine, US hospitals are hoarding vials, delaying surgeries, and turning away patients, The New York Times reports. The medicine in short supply: solutions of sodium bicarbonate -- aka, baking soda. The simple drug is used in all sorts of treatments, from chemotherapies to those for organ failure. It can help correct the pH of blood and ease the pain of stitches. It is used in open-heart surgery, can help reverse poisonings, and is kept on emergency crash carts. But, however basic and life-saving, the drug has been in short supply since around February. The country's two suppliers, Pfizer and Amphastar, ran low following an issue with one of Pfizer's suppliers -- the issue was undisclosed due to confidentiality agreements. Amphastar's supplies took a hit with a spike in demand from desperate Pfizer customers. Both companies told the NYT that they don't know when exactly supplies will be restored. They speculate that it will be no earlier than June or August. With the shortage of sodium bicarbonate, hospitals are postponing surgeries and chemotherapy treatments. A hospital in Mobile, Alabama, for example, postponed seven open-heart surgeries and sent one critically ill patient to another hospital due to the shortage.
Biotech

New Battery Technology Draws Energy Directly From The Human Body (bleepingcomputer.com) 97

An anonymous reader quotes BleepingComputer: A team of eleven scientists from UCLA and the University of Connecticut has created a new energy-storing device that can draw electrical power from the human body. What researchers created is a biological supercapacitor, a protein-based battery-like device that extracts energy from the human body and then releases it inside an electrical circuit â" the implantable medical device. According to a research paper published earlier this month, the supercapacitor is made up by a device called a "harvester" that operates by using the body's heat and movements to extract electrical charges from ions found in human body fluids, such as blood, serum, or urine.

As electrodes, the harvester uses a carbon nanomaterial called graphene, layered with modified human proteins. The electrodes collect energy from the human body, relay it to the harvester, which then stores it for later use. Because graphene sheets can be drawn in sheets as thin as a few atoms, this allows for the creation of utra-thin supercapacitors that could be used as alternatives to classic batteries. For example, the bio-friendly supercapacitors researchers created are thinner than a human hair, and are also flexible, moving and twisting with the human body.

Medicine

'Without Action on Antibiotics, Medicine Will Return To the Dark Ages' (theguardian.com) 321

Four years ago professor Sally Davies, England's chief medical officer, gave the world a sombre warning of the growing threat posed by bacteria evolving resistance to life-saving antibiotics. If this were left unaddressed, she argued, it would lead to the erosion of modern medicine as we know it. Doctors and scientists had long warned of the problem, but few outside medicine were taking real heed. Consumption of antibiotics rose 36% between 2000 and 2010, writes Ed Whiting, director of policy and chief of staff at Wellcome, a biomedical research charity based in London. He notes that much of the progress in the field is yet to be made: We urgently need new antibiotics. No new classes of antibiotics have been approved since the early 1980s. Between 1940 and 1962 about 20 classes were produced, but industry backing has decreased significantly since that golden age. The pipeline of new treatments is all but dry, the void fast exploited by resistant bacteria. A concerning number are now resistant to drugs reserved as the last line of defence, and the most vulnerable are in greatest danger -- the young, old and critically ill. Blood infections caused by drug-resistant microbes kill more than 200,000 newborn babies each year. The reason for the lack of interest from the pharmaceutical industry is simple: the economics don't add up. Developing new antibiotics is scientifically challenging, time-consuming and costly. The medicines we so badly need cannot be allowed to be sold in volume; they must be conserved for real need, with fair access guaranteed. This limits their retail value. Many early-stage projects will fail, making them a risky bet. Even those that are successful will take at least a decade to produce medicines that are safe for human use.
Medicine

The Older the Doctor, the Higher the Patient Mortality Rate, Study Finds (arstechnica.com) 136

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The age of your doctor may impact the quality of the care you receive -- and even cut your chances of survival -- researchers report in the British Medical Journal. Harvard researchers looked over data on more than 700,000 hospital admissions of elderly patients cared for by nearly 19,000 physicians between 2011 and 2014. They found that mortality rates crept up in step with physician age. Patients with doctors under the age of 40 had a 30-day mortality rate of 10.8 percent. With doctors aged 40 to 49, mortality rates inched up to 11.1 percent, then to 11.3 percent with doctors 50 to 59, and 12.1 percent with doctors aged 60 or above. The stats are adjusted for a variety of variables, such as hospital mortality rates and severity of patients' illnesses. All the patients were aged 65 or older and on Medicare. Though the age-related mortality trend was significant overall, it broke down when researchers sorted doctors by caseloads. Older doctors who saw high volumes of patients didn't see their patients' mortality rates increase.
Medicine

Apple Watch Can Detect An Abnormal Heart Rhythm With 97 Percent Accuracy, UCSF Study Says (techcrunch.com) 102

According to a study conducted through heartbeat measurement app Cardiogram and the University of California, San Francisco, the Apple Watch is 97 percent accurate in detecting the most common abnormal heart rhythm when paired with an AI-based algorithm. TechCrunch reports: The study involved 6,158 participants recruited through the Cardiogram app on Apple Watch. Most of the participants in the UCSF Health eHeart study had normal EKG readings. However, 200 of them had been diagnosed with paroxysmal atrial fibrillation (an abnormal heartbeat). Engineers then trained a deep neural network to identify these abnormal heart rhythms from Apple Watch heart rate data. Cardiogram began the study with UCSF in 2016 to discover whether the Apple Watch could detect an oncoming stroke. About a quarter of strokes are caused by an abnormal heart rhythm, according to Cardiogram co-founder and data scientist for UCSF's eHeart study Brandon Ballinger. Cardiogram tested the deep neural network it had built against 51 in-hospital cardioversions (a procedure that restores the heart's normal rhythm) and says it achieved a 97 percent accuracy in the neural network's ability to find irregular heart activity. Additional information available via a Cardiogram blog post.
Medicine

A Baffling Brain Defect Is Linked to Gut Bacteria, Scientists Say (sciencealert.com) 55

Gina Kolata from The New York Times writes about a baffling brain disorder that is linked to a particular type of bacteria living in the gut (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternate source) The new study, published on Wednesday in Nature, is among the first to suggest convincingly that these bacteria may initiate disease in seemingly unrelated organs, and in completely unexpected ways. The researchers studied hereditary cerebral cavernous malformations -- blood-filled bubbles that protrude from veins in the brain and can leak blood or burst at any time. When Dr. Mark Kahn, professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine, began this work, the microbiome was the last thing on his mind. Dr. Kahn and his colleagues studied cerebral cavernous malformations as part of a larger effort to understand the development and function of blood vessels. Three genes have been linked to the disorder, and Dr. Kahn and his colleagues tried to figure out what these mutations really do. The scientists were able to mimic the condition in mice by deleting a gene that is mutated in many patients. A year ago, the scientists moved to a new building, and something unexpected happened. The experimental mice stopped developing the brain malformations. Dr. Kahn's student, Alan T. Tang, had been deleting the gene by injecting a drug into the abdomens of the mice. Sometimes a mouse would get an infection that would lead to an abscess, and bacteria leaked from the gut into the blood. In the new building, only those mice still developed the brain defect. The other gene-deleted mice did not. He and his colleagues finally identified the culprit: Gram-negative bacteria, named for the way they stain, that carry a molecule in their cell walls, a lipopolysaccharide. Without a functioning gene, the lipopolysaccharide can signal veins in the brain to form blood bubbles.
Medicine

Microsoft's Emma Watch Is a Game-Changer For People With Parkinson's (betanews.com) 75

An anonymous reader writes: Called "Emma," it is a wrist wearable that can help people suffering with Parkinson's disease. The device is named after the Parkinson's sufferer that helped Haiyan Zhang, Innovation Director at Microsoft Research, create the device. What exactly does it do? Well, the incurable disease causes body tremors in those inflicted, and as a result, Emma has very shaky hands. This disease makes it impossible for her to draw straight lines or write legibly. With the wearable on her wrist, however, normal writing and drawing is possible. Remarkably, how it works isn't 100 percent known. "While the wait for a cure continues, Zhang has created what she hopes could be a 'revolutionary' aid for reducing tremors. The Emma Watch uses vibrating motors -- similar to those found in mobile phones -- to distract the brain into focusing on something other than trying to control the patient's limbs. Put simply, Zhang believes Lawton's brain is at war with itself -- half is trying to move her hand, the other half is trying to stop it. The two signals battle and amplify each other, causing the tremors. The device stops that feedback loop," says Microsoft. You will want to watch this video.
Medicine

US Life Expectancy Can Vary By 20 Years Depending On Where You Live (npr.org) 292

After analyzing records from every U.S. county between 1980 and 2014, Christopher Murray, head of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, and his team found that life expectancy can vary by more than 20 years from county to county. "In counties with the longest lifespans, people tended to live about 87 years, while people in places with the shortest lifespans typically made it only about 67," reports NPR. From the report: The discrepancy is equivalent to the difference between the low-income parts of the developing world and countries with high incomes, Murray notes. For example, it's about the same gap as the difference between people living in Japan, which is among countries with the longest lifespans, and India, which has one of the shortest, Murray says. The U.S. counties with the longest life expectancy are places like Marin County, Calif., and Summit County, Colo. -- communities that are well-off and more highly educated. Counties with the shortest life expectancy tend to have communities that are poorer and less educated. The lowest is in Oglala Lakota County, S.D., which includes the Pine Ridge Native American reservation. Many of the other counties with the lowest life expectancy are clustered along the lower Mississippi River Valley as well as parts of West Virginia and Kentucky, according to the analysis. There's no sign of the gap closing. In fact, it's appears to be widening. Between 1980 and 2014, the gap between the highest and lowest lifespans increased by about two years. The reasons for the gap are complicated. But it looks like the counties with the lowest lifespans haven't made much progress fighting significant health problems such as smoking and obesity. The study has been published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.
Medicine

Aspirin May Prevent Cancer From Spreading, New Research Shows (scientificamerican.com) 49

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Scientific American: In recent years scientists have discovered another possible use for aspirin: stopping the spread of cancer cells in the body after an initial tumor has already formed. The research is still developing, but the findings hint that the drug could one day form the basis for a powerful addition to current cancer therapies. Not everyone responds equally well to the drug, however, and for some people it can be downright dangerous. Investigators are thus trying to develop genetic tests to determine who is most likely to benefit from long-term use of aspirin. The latest research into the drug's cancer-inhibiting activity is generating findings that could possibly guide those efforts. More recently, investigators have started to elucidate a third way that aspirin works -- one that interferes with the ability of cancer cells to spread, or metastasize, through the body. Intriguingly, in this case, the drug's anti-inflammatory properties do not appear to play the starring role. Researchers often inject tumor cells into the bloodstream of mice to approximate what happens during metastasis when cancer cells must navigate the bloodstream to find a new home in the body. When Elisabeth Battinelli, a hematologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, and her team fed aspirin to certain strains of mice and then injected them with malignant cells, the investigators discovered that the platelets did not shield breakaway cancer cells from the immune system or produce the necessary growth factors that allow cancer cells to grow and divide in a new location. Thus, aspirin appears to fight cancer in two ways: its anti-inflammatory action prevents some tumors from forming, and its antiplatelet properties interfere with some cancer cells' ability to spread.
Medicine

CRISPR Eliminates HIV In Live Animals (genengnews.com) 139

Researchers from the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University and the University of Pittsburgh show that HIV-1 infections can be eliminated from the genomes of living animals. Findings from the study have been published in the journal Molecular Therapy. Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News reports: This is the first study to demonstrate that HIV-1 replication can be completely shut down and the virus eliminated from infected cells in animals with a powerful gene-editing technology known as CRISPR/Cas9. The new work builds on a previous proof-of-concept study that the team published in 2016, in which they used transgenic rat and mouse models with HIV-1 DNA incorporated into the genome of every tissue of the animals' bodies. They demonstrated that their strategy could delete the targeted fragments of HIV-1 from the genome in most tissues in the experimental animals. In this new study, the LKSOM team genetically inactivated HIV-1 in transgenic mice, reducing the RNA expression of viral genes by roughly 60% to 95% -- confirming their earlier findings. They then tested their system in mice acutely infected with EcoHIV, the mouse equivalent of human HIV-1. In the third animal model, a latent HIV-1 infection was recapitulated in humanized mice engrafted with human immune cells, including T cells, followed by HIV-1 infection. "These animals carry latent HIV in the genomes of human T cells, where the virus can escape detection," Dr. Hu explained. Amazingly, after a single treatment with CRISPR/Cas9, viral fragments were successfully excised from latently infected human cells embedded in mouse tissues and organs.
The Courts

Mylan's Epic EpiPen Price Hike Wasn't About Greed -- It's Worse, Lawsuit Claims (arstechnica.com) 159

Mylan engaged in a campaign to squash a rival to its EpiPen allergy treatment and artificially inflate the price of the drug to maintain a market monopoly, French drugmaker Sanofi said in a lawsuit. From a report: With the lofty prices and near-monopoly over the market, Mylan could dangle deep discounts to drug suppliers -- with the condition that they turn their backs on Sanofi's Auvi-Q -- the lawsuit alleges. Suppliers wouldn't dare ditch EpiPens, the most popular auto-injector. And with the high prices, the rebates wouldn't put a dent in Mylan's hefty profits, Sanofi speculates. Coupled with a smear campaign and other underhanded practices, Mylan effectively pushed Sanofi out of the US epinephrine auto-injector market, Sanofi alleges. The lawsuit, filed Monday in a federal court in New Jersey, seeks damages under US Antitrust laws.
Medicine

World's First Vaccine Against Malaria To Arrive Next Year, Says WHO (bbc.com) 84

An anonymous reader shares a report: The world's first vaccine against malaria will be introduced in three countries -- Ghana, Kenya and Malawi -- starting in 2018. The RTS,S vaccine trains the immune system to attack the malaria parasite, which is spread by mosquito bites. The World Health Organization (WHO) said the jab had the potential to save tens of thousands of lives. But it is not yet clear if it will be feasible to use in the poorest parts of the world. The vaccine needs to be given four times -- once a month for three months and then a fourth dose 18 months later.
Biotech

Can Parents Sue If Their Kid Is Born With the 'Wrong' DNA? (gizmodo.com) 267

Long-time reader randomErr quotes Gizmodo: It's a nightmare scenario straight out of a primetime drama: a child-seeking couple visits a fertility clinic to try their luck with in-vitro fertilization, only to wind up accidentally impregnated by the wrong sperm. In a fascinating legal case out of Singapore, the country's Supreme Court ruled that this situation doesn't just constitute medical malpractice. The fertility clinic, the court recently ruled, must pay the parents 30% of upkeep costs for the child for a loss of 'genetic affinity.' In other words, the clinic must pay the parents' child support not only because they made a terrible medical mistake, but because the child didn't wind up with the right genes...

"It's suggesting that the child itself has something wrong with it, genetically, and that it has monetary value attached to it," Todd Kuiken, a senior research scholar with the Genetic Engineering and Society Center at North Carolina State University, told Gizmodo. "They attached damages to the genetic makeup of the child, rather than the mistake. That's the part that makes it uncomfortable. This can take you in all sort of fucked up directions."

Medicine

Diet Sodas May Be Tied To Stroke, Dementia Risk (cnn.com) 223

Gulping down an artificially sweetened beverage not only may be associated with health risks for your body, but also possibly your brain, a new study suggests. From a report: Artificially sweetened drinks, such as diet sodas, were tied to a higher risk of stroke and dementia in the study, which published in the American Heart Association's journal Stroke on Thursday. The study sheds light only on an association, as the researchers were unable to determine an actual cause-and-effect relationship between sipping artificially sweetened drinks and an increased risk for stroke and dementia. Therefore, some experts caution that the findings should be interpreted carefully. No connection was found between those health risks and other sugary beverages, such as sugar-sweetened sodas, fruit juice and fruit drinks.
Medicine

South Indian Frog Oozes Molecule That Inexplicably Decimates Flu Viruses (arstechnica.com) 114

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: From the slimy backs of a South Indian frog comes a new way to blast influenza viruses. A compound in the frog's mucus -- long known to have germ-killing properties -- can latch onto flu virus particles and cause them to burst apart, researchers report in Immunity. The peptide is a potent and precise killer, able to demolish a whole class of flu viruses while leaving other viruses and cells unharmed. But scientists don't know exactly how it pulls off the viral eviscerations. No other antiviral peptide of its ilk seems to work the same way. The study authors, led by researchers at Emory University, note that the peptide appears uniquely nontoxic -- something that can't be said of many other frog-based compounds. Thus, the peptide on its own holds promise of being a potential therapy someday. But simply figuring out how it works could move researchers closer to a vaccine or therapy that could take out all flus, ditching the need for yearly vaccinations for each season's flavor of flu.
Medicine

The Woman Whose Phone 'Misdiagnosed HIV' (bbc.com) 166

An anonymous reader shares a report on BBC about a woman in Kenya, who downloaded a prank app that noted that she has HIV simply by "analyzing her fingerprint." While many people would have not trusted an app for such kind of diagnosis in the first place, and some would have figured that something is amiss about the app, the story tells the tale of people who are increasingly finding it hard to deal with the technological advances they see. From the report: Esther sells water on the side of the road in Kenya for a few dollars a day. She also owns a smartphone and ownership of such a device should, according to most of the received wisdom, empower its owner. But in fact it did quite the opposite for her when she acquired an app. It claimed to diagnose HIV simply by analysing her fingerprint on the touch screen. When researchers met her at her roadside workplace, she was worried. "She did not know if it was true and she was panicking," said researcher Laura de Reynal, who worked on a year-long study into the experiences of first-time smartphone users in Kenya. "And she wasn't the only one, there were others that came to us worried about this app and those were just the ones that were willing to speak out." The app was in fact a prank and anyone reading the comments on Google's Play Store would have seen that. However, many first-time smartphone users in Kenya get hold of apps via a friend's Bluetooth connection, rather than downloading them via the net, in order to save data. But the prank would not have been apparent via a Bluetooth share. "People are not able to understand the limits of the technology," said Ms de Reynal. "They think, because it was on a smartphone, it seems real and credible."
Medicine

88% Of Medical 'Second Opinions' Give A Different Diagnosis - And So Do Some AI (mayoclinic.org) 74

First, "A new study finds that nearly 9 in 10 people who go for a second opinion after seeing a doctor are likely to leave with a refined or new diagnosis from what they were first told," according to an article shared by Slashdot reader schwit1: Researchers at the Mayo Clinic examined 286 patient records of individuals who had decided to consult a second opinion, hoping to determine whether being referred to a second specialist impacted one's likelihood of receiving an accurate diagnosis. The study, conducted using records of patients referred to the Mayo Clinic's General Internal Medicine Division over a two-year period, ultimately found that when consulting a second opinion, the physician only confirmed the original diagnosis 12 percent of the time. Among those with updated diagnoses, 66% received a refined or redefined diagnosis, while 21% were diagnosed with something completely different than what their first physician concluded.
But in a related story, Slashdot reader sciencehabit writes that four machine-learning algorithms all performed better than currently-used algorithm of the American College of Cardiology, according to newly-published research, which concludes that "machine-learning significantly improves accuracy of cardiovascular risk prediction, increasing the number of patients identified who could benefit from preventive treatment, while avoiding unnecessary treatment of others."

"I can't stress enough how important it is," one Stanford vascular surgeon told Science magazine, "and how much I really hope that doctors start to embrace the use of artificial intelligence to assist us in care of patients."

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