Cuba's Biopharmaceutical Industry Develops over 400 Projects

Havana, Jul 18 (Prensa Latina) Several research projects are developed by the Cuban biopharmaceutical industry, including those aimed at preventing and treating neurodegenerative diseases, cardiovascular diseases and cancer, according to officials from the sector.

Characterized by its closed cycle line, from invention and development to production and marketing, the entity works on 422 projects, 393 of them are product-oriented and 29 technological, all under the aegis of the Group of Biotechnological and Pharmaceutical Industries of Cuba (BioCubafarma).

In a meeting with the press, its director Eduardo Martinez explained that one of the entity´s megaprojects is the program of therapeutic molecules for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, ataxia and multiple sclerosis.

NeuroEpo is the name of this product developed by the Molecular Immunology Center, one of the 34 companies affiliated to BioCubafarma.

Another of its leading entities, the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, develops a clinical trial with a cardioprotector that reduces the size of the infarcted area by 78.9 percent.

After five years of existence, BioCubafarma has among its missions the production of high technology medicines, equipment and services.

Considered an industry with broad impact for the economy, referring to the export, the official explained that the products reach 34 nations from all latitudes, from the implementation of a business model that includes technology transfer agreements with countries like Brazil, South Africa, Iran China and Viet Nam.

  • Published in Cuba

Air pollution contributes significantly to diabetes globally

New research links outdoor air pollution -- even at levels deemed safe -- to an increased risk of diabetes globally, according to a study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the Veterans Affairs (VA) St. Louis Health Care System.

The findings raise the possibility that reducing pollution may lead to a drop in diabetes cases in heavily polluted countries such as India and less polluted ones such as the United States.

Diabetes is one of the fastest growing diseases, affecting more than 420 million people worldwide and 30 million Americans. The main drivers of diabetes include eating an unhealthy diet, having a sedentary lifestyle, and obesity, but the new research indicates the extent to which outdoor air pollution plays a role.

"Our research shows a significant link between air pollution and diabetes globally," said Ziyad Al-Aly, MD, the study's senior author and an assistant professor of medicine at Washington University. "We found an increased risk, even at low levels of air pollution currently considered safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the World Health Organization (WHO). This is important because many industry lobbying groups argue that current levels are too stringent and should be relaxed. Evidence shows that current levels are still not sufficiently safe and need to be tightened."

The findings are published June 29 in The Lancet Planetary Health.

While growing evidence has suggested a link between air pollution and diabetes, researchers have not attempted to quantify that burden until now. "Over the past two decades, there have been bits of research about diabetes and pollution," Al-Aly said. "We wanted to thread together the pieces for a broader, more solid understanding."

To evaluate outdoor air pollution, the researchers looked at particulate matter, airborne microscopic pieces of dust, dirt, smoke, soot and liquid droplets. Previous studies have found that such particles can enter the lungs and invade the bloodstream, contributing to major health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, cancer and kidney disease. In diabetes, pollution is thought to reduce insulin production and trigger inflammation, preventing the body from converting blood glucose into energy that the body needs to maintain health.

Overall, the researchers estimated that pollution contributed to 3.2 million new diabetes cases globally in 2016, which represents about 14 percent of all new diabetes cases globally that year. They also estimated that 8.2 million years of healthy life were lost in 2016 due to pollution-linked diabetes, representing about 14 percent of all years of healthy life lost due to diabetes from any cause. (The measure of how many years of healthy life are lost is often referred to as "disability-adjusted life years.")

In the United States, the study attributed 150,000 new cases of diabetes per year to air pollution and 350,000 years of healthy life lost annually.

The Washington University team, in collaboration with scientists at the Veterans Affairs' Clinical Epidemiology Center, examined the relationship between particulate matter and the risk of diabetes by first analyzing data from 1.7 million U.S. veterans who were followed for a median of 8.5 years. The veterans did not have histories of diabetes. The researchers linked that patient data with the EPA's land-based air monitoring systems as well as space-borne satellites operated by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). They used several statistical models and tested the validity against controls such as ambient air sodium concentrations, which have no link to diabetes, and lower limb fractures, which have no link to outdoor air pollution, as well as the risk of developing diabetes, which exhibited a strong link to air pollution. This exercise helped the researchers weed out spurious associations.

Then, they sifted through all research related to diabetes and outdoor air pollution and devised a model to evaluate diabetes risk across various pollution levels.

Finally, they analyzed data from the Global Burden of Disease study, which is conducted annually with contributions from researchers worldwide. The data helped to estimate annual cases of diabetes and healthy years of life lost due to pollution.

The researchers also found that the overall risk of pollution-related diabetes is tilted more toward lower-income countries such as India that lack the resources for environmental mitigation systems and clean-air policies. For instance, poverty-stricken countries facing a higher diabetes-pollution risk include Afghanistan, Papua New Guinea and Guyana, while richer countries such as France, Finland and Iceland experience a lower risk. The U.S. experiences a moderate risk of pollution-related diabetes.

In the U.S., the EPA's pollution threshold is 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air, the highest level of air pollution considered safe for the public, as set by the Clean Air Act of 1990 and updated in 2012. However, using mathematical models, Al-Aly's team established an increased diabetes risk at 2.4 micrograms per cubic meter of air. Based on VA data, among a sample of veterans exposed to pollution at a level of between 5 to 10 micrograms per cubic meter of air, about 21 percent developed diabetes. When that exposure increases to 11.9 to 13.6 micrograms per cubic meter of air, about 24 percent of the group developed diabetes. A 3 percent difference appears small, but it represents an increase of 5,000 to 6,000 new diabetes cases per 100,000 people in a given year.

In October 2017, The Lancet Commission on pollution and health published a report outlining knowledge gaps on pollution's harmful health effects. One of its recommendations was to define and quantify the relationship between pollution and diabetes.

"The team in St. Louis is doing important research to firm up links between pollution and health conditions such as diabetes," said commission member Philip J. Landrigan, MD, a pediatrician and epidemiologist who is the dean for global health at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York and chair of its Department of Preventive Medicine. "I believe their research will have a significant global impact."

Cuba: 'Scientific Cooperation Can Overcome Climate Change'

Cuba's minister of Science, Technology and Environment spoke Friday on the importance of global scientific cooperation to build "resilient societies" to overcome climate change.

"It is impossible to advance in the adoption of adequate measures to make out societies more resilient to climate change without the support of science," Science Minister Elba Rosa Perez said.

She emphasized Cuba's will to cooperate and share scientific knowledge with its Caribbean neighbors and other countries in order to create the kind of international scientific cooperation necessary to tackle the problem.

The Caribbean, she said, faces among the highest risks from climate change of any region in the world, and so it is essential that scientific efforts are aware of the imminent risk faced and the necessity to work hard to achieve both mitigation and adaptation.

The remarks were made at the International Science School of the United Nations in Havana, a project of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco). It's a joint effort by Unesco and the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment of the Republic of Cuba.

Havana's International Science School was held to "provide a space for collective learning in relation to environmental adaptation in the Caribbean," according to Unesco.

"This capacity-building event is conceived as a knowledge-brokering exercise that will bring together academics, public officials and representatives from civil society, prioritizing young participants and women."

By the End of This Century Robots Could Become Self-Aware - Futurist

Sputnik spoke with Michio Kaku, an American theoretical physicist, futurist, and popularizer of science at the 2018 International Economic Forum (SPIEF).

Sputnik: This forum is dedicated this year to technological advances, to digitalization and technology as a whole, I think, would blockchain and crypto currencies, even money being replaced by those digital things. Do you think they are bringing good things or it’s kind of a mixed thing for humanity?

Michio Kaku: Science is the engine of prosperity. From the steam engine of the 1800s to the electric revolution of the 1900s, to the computer revolution of today. Each time tremendous wealth and prosperity was generated. Now we are facing the fourth way of innovation – artificial intelligence, nano technology, bio technology require the digitization of society, the digitization of jobs, which is just gonna create even more prosperity. Think about it: the robotics energy could be bigger than the automobile industry of today, because your automobile will become a robot, you’ll talk to it, argue with it, it will park itself. So the automobile industry will be a part of the largest industry of artificial intelligence. That’s how big this could become.

Sputnik: Tech giants and people in the tech industry, for example Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk, have totally opposite opinions on AI. Who is right? Which one of them is right in your opinion?

Michio Kaku: I think both of them are right to a degree. Zuckerberg is right that for the next several decades to come artificial intelligence will generate jobs, prosperity, economic activity, a better life for the average person. But let’s not be naive, by the end of this century robots could become self-aware. At that point they may have a different agenda than us. […] For the next coming decades I see no need for a fail-safe system, because robots do not know they are robots, they are simply servants to humanity. But by the end of the century they could be as intelligent as a monkey, in which case we may have to put fail-safe system on them. So I think Elon Musk is right in the long-term, that they are potentially dangerous, but Zuckerberg is right for many decades to come.

Reduced energy from the sun might occur by mid-century: Now scientists know by how much

The Sun might emit less radiation by mid-century, giving planet Earth a chance to warm a bit more slowly but not halt the trend of human-induced climate change.

The cooldown would be the result of what scientists call a grand minimum, a periodic event during which the Sun's magnetism diminishes, sunspots form infrequently, and less ultraviolet radiation makes it to the surface of the planet. Scientists believe that the event is triggered at irregular intervals by random fluctuations related to the Sun's magnetic field.

Scientists have used reconstructions based on geological and historical data to attribute a cold period in Europe in the mid-17th Century to such an event, named the "Maunder Minimum." Temperatures were low enough to freeze the Thames River on a regular basis and freeze the Baltic Sea to such an extent that a Swedish army was able to invade Denmark in 1658 on foot by marching across the sea ice.

A team of scientists led by research physicist Dan Lubin at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego has created for the first time an estimate of how much dimmer the Sun should be when the next minimum takes place.

There is a well-known 11-year cycle in which the Sun's ultraviolet radiation peaks and declines as a result of sunspot activity. During a grand minimum, Lubin estimates that ultraviolet radiation diminishes an additional seven percent beyond the lowest point of that cycle. His team's study, "Ultraviolet Flux Decrease Under a Grand Minimum from IUE Short-wavelength Observation of Solar Analogs," appears in the publication Astrophysical Journal Letters and was funded by the state of California.

"Now we have a benchmark from which we can perform better climate model simulations," Lubin said. "We can therefore have a better idea of how changes in solar UV radiation affect climate change."

Lubin and colleagues David Tytler and Carl Melis of UC San Diego's Center for Astrophysics and Space Sciences arrived at their estimate of a grand minimum's intensity by reviewing nearly 20 years of data gathered by the International Ultraviolet Explorer satellite mission. They compared radiation from stars that are analogous to the Sun and identified those that were experiencing minima.

The reduced energy from the Sun sets into motion a sequence of events on Earth beginning with a thinning of the stratospheric ozone layer. That thinning in turn changes the temperature structure of the stratosphere, which then changes the dynamics of the lower atmosphere, especially wind and weather patterns. The cooling is not uniform. While areas of Europe chilled during the Maunder Minimum, other areas such as Alaska and southern Greenland warmed correspondingly.

Lubin and other scientists predict a significant probability of a near-future grand minimum because the downward sunspot pattern in recent solar cycles resembles the run-ups to past grand minimum events.

Despite how much the Maunder Minimum might have affected Earth the last time, Lubin said that an upcoming event would not stop the current trend of planetary warming but might slow it somewhat. The cooling effect of a grand minimum is only a fraction of the warming effect caused by the increasing concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. After hundreds of thousands of years of CO2 levels never exceeding 300 parts per million in air, the concentration of the greenhouse gas is now over 400 parts per million, continuing a rise that began with the Industrial Revolution. Other researchers have used computer models to estimate what an event similar to a Maunder Minimum, if it were to occur in coming decades, might mean for our current climate, which is now rapidly warming.

One such study looked at the climate consequences of a future Maunder Minimum-type grand solar minimum, assuming a total solar irradiance reduced by 0.25 percent over a 50-year period from 2020 to 2070. The study found that after the initial decrease of solar radiation in 2020, globally averaged surface air temperature cooled by up to several tenths of a degree Celsius. By the end of the simulated grand solar minimum, however, the warming in the model with the simulated Maunder Minimum had nearly caught up to the reference simulation. Thus, a main conclusion of the study is that "a future grand solar minimum could slow down but not stop global warming."

Climate Change Could Turn Earth into Venus: Stephen Hawking

The British physicist said Venus was once an inhabitable Earth-like planet, but greenhouse gases raised its surface temperatures to boiling point – and beyond.

In the second episode of his new series "Stephen Hawking's Favorite Places," the British physicist warns Earth could soon become as hot as Venus if action to halt climate change is not taken immediately.

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Hawking says Venus was once an Earth-like planet with surface water, mild temperatures and an appropiate atmosphere. According to NASA, Venus was an inhabitable planet for a period of about two billion years as recently as four billion years ago.

Now temperatues on Venus reach 250°C with powerful 300mph winds. Hawking says a greenhouse effect burned the planet's oceans and lands, and that something similar could happen right here on Earth if climate change continues unabated.

"Next time you meet a climate-change denier, tell them to take a trip to Venus; I will pay the fare," says the physicist in his show.

Hawking has severely criticized Trump's decision last year to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement. The US president has stated before that this climate pact puts the US economy at a disadvantage, even denying that climate change is a real thing and stating that he cares not for the citizens of Paris, but only those of the United States.

The Paris climate agreement is an international effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and was signed by 195 nations in 2015.

In the Starmus Festival last year, Hawking said Trump's decision was "the most serious and wrong decision on climate change this world has seen." He also said that the human race would have to colonize outer space in the next 200 to 500 years if we are to survive as species.

Since then, Hawking has stated multiple times his hopes for a new era of space exploration, in which nations unite toward a single goal.

"It is clear we are entering a new space age. We are standing at the threshold of a new era. Human colonisation and other planets is no longer science fiction, it can be science fact."

The scientist is currently working on Breakthrough Starshot, a project that could send "a ground-based light beamer pushing ultra-light nanocrafts – miniature space probes attached to lightsails – to speeds of up to 100 million miles an hour" to Alpha Centauri, the closest star system, in just 20 years.

"Stephen Hawking's Favorite Places" won an Emmy last year and is available for streaming at Curiosity Stream.

World's first floating city to be built off the coast of French Polynesia by 2020

On-going project making concept of ‘seasteading’ a reality, building a semi-autonomous community at sea and providing an environment relatively free of government control.

Ambitious plans to create a city in the sea, complete with homes, offices and restaurants, are beginning to materialise.

Long touted as the next frontier for humanity by tech billionaires and libertarians, ‘seasteading’ – the idea of building autonomous, self-sustaining cities in international waters – has moved one step closer to reality. 

A pilot project underway in the coastal waters of French Polynesia is set to become the first functioning ‘floating community’ by 2020, offering homes for up to 300 people.

Ambitious plans to create a city in the sea, complete with homes, offices and restaurants, are beginning to materialise.

Long touted as the next frontier for humanity by tech billionaires and libertarians, ‘seasteading’ – the idea of building autonomous, self-sustaining cities in international waters – has moved one step closer to reality. 

A pilot project underway in the coastal waters of French Polynesia is set to become the first functioning ‘floating community’ by 2020, offering homes for up to 300 people.

This floating city will exist in a ‘special economic seazone’, allowing the the Seasteading Institute to try out some of its ideas in a relatively controlled environment. 

Engineers and architects have visited an undisclosed location where the project is set to begin. Their ambitions extend to the creation of a research institute in the floating city, and even a power plant to sell energy and clean water back to their host nation.

The project is projected to cost $167 million.

The team has made a deal with French Polynesia to create a "unique governing framework" in a patch of ocean where their project can begin.

Mr Quirk, who describes himself as a ‘seavangelist’, first became interested in the notion of seasteading at Nevada’s Burning Man festival in 2011. The festival provided him with an idea of the type of unconstrained society he would like to see flourishing in offshore cities.

Another early backer of seasteading, the Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel, has invested $1.7 million in The Seasteading Institute, but has since fallen out of love with the idea.

"They're not quite feasible from an engineering perspective," Mr Thiel told the New York Times in a separate interview. "That's still very far in the future"

Indeed, past efforts to get seasteading off the ground have not been successful, with a prototype planned for the San Francisco Bay in 2010 failing to appear.

But the team behind the Floating Island Project are sure of their new idea, and are currently in the process of demonstrating the project’s viability to the French Polynesian local government.

The Memorandum of Understanding they have signed is based on the seasteaders’ ability to show the positive economic and environmental impact it would have for their host nation.

If that all goes to plan, they anticipate work beginning on development of the pilot project as early as 2018 and beyond that, many more.

“I want to see floating cities by 2050, thousands of them hopefully,” said Mr Quirk.

6th mass extinction event could happen by 2100 – study

Over the past 540 million years Earth has suffered five mass extinction events, the worst of which wiped out more than 9 per cent of marine life on the planet. A new study has suggested that the next such catastrophe might not be too far away.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) geophysicist and mathematician, Daniel Rothman has been busy studying previous mass extinctions. He reckons the next one might be a mere 83 years away.

The previous five catastrophic events each unfolded over millions of years and involved the natural cycle of carbon through the oceans and atmosphere being disturbed, resulting, in some cases, the death of almost all life on Earth.

The award-winning mathematician identified two “thresholds of catastrophe” that, if exceeded, would upset the natural order of the cycle, leading to an unstable environment and eventually a mass extinction.

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The first relates to changes in the carbon cycle over a period of thousands or millions of years. A mass extinction will occur if the rate of change in the cycle occurs faster than global ecosystems can adapt.

The second pertains to the size or magnitude of the carbon flux over a shorter period, as has been the case over the last century.

Therein lies a problem, however, as Rothman says“How can you really compare these great events in the geologic past, which occur over such vast timescales, to what's going on today, which is centuries at the longest?”

“So I sat down one summer day and tried to think about how one might go about this systematically.”

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Following this, he devised a mathematical formula to determine the total mass of carbon added to the oceans during each event, after which “it became evident that there was a characteristic rate of change that the system basically didn't like to go past.”

Rothman estimates this to be 310 gigatons. He thinks that given the rise of carbon dioxide over the last century, a sixth mass extinction could be on the way as estimates suggest that humans will add roughly 310 gigatons to the cycle by 2100.

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“This is not saying that disaster occurs the next day,” Rothman said. “It’s saying that, if left unchecked, the carbon cycle would move into a realm which would be no longer stable, and would behave in a way that would be difficult to predict. In the geologic past, this type of behavior is associated with mass extinction.”

Rothman's paper was published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.

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