Left to right: Howard W. Califano (Director, SMART Innovation Centre), Shirlene Liew (Adjunct Consultant, ACCESS Health), Sarah Zhang (Business Lead and Head of Developer Partnerships, Segway Robotics), Kok Yuan Yik (representing Team Botler), Emily (representing Team DORI), Dr. Sophia Chew (representing Team NOW)
On Day 2 of EmTech Asia, the winners of the recently held MIT Hacking Medicine Robotics Singapore 2017 came together in a panel discussion, moderated by Howard Califano, Director, SMART (Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research & Technology) Innovation Centre.
This was the first hackathon in Asia focused on social use of robotics for eldercare. The event was organised by SGInnovate over the past weekend, from February 10 – 12, 2017. It called upon developers, clinicians, engineers, designers, researchers and business managers to build software and hardware applications on the Segway Robot platform. The Segway Robot is an open platform project.
The hackathon saw 83 participants in 12 teams working to address a range of eldercare challenges from fall prevention to detecting dementia and monitoring cardiac health. The hackathon opened with a Facebook ‘LIVE’ panel with Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister-In-Charge of the Smart Nation Initiative, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, who joined healthcare and robotics experts to discuss challenges and opportunities in eldercare in response to ageing populations around the world.
Team Botler won the top prize with their work on autonomous mobility for healthcare. The team developed an autonomous system for transporting elderly patients and residents at nursing homes and extended-care facilities to where they need to go. Mr. Kok Yuan Yik, representing Team Botler talked about a hypothetical use case in a nursing home with 50 elderly wheelchair bound patients and only 4 caregivers.
The system utilises facial recognition algorithms to identify patients, then connects with their wheelchair using a custom-designed electromagnetic coupling, allowing the robot, Loomo to move wheelchair-bound patients to and from activities such as meals and medical appointments. This also frees up manpower, enabling caregivers to focus on more critical care and medical tasks and provide higher quality care.
Team DORI, which came in second, tried to address the social costs of late detection of dementia. The longer it takes to detect dementia and the longer it is left untreated, the higher the costs. Their solution was to create an interface on top of Loomo for interacting with senior citizens in elder care facilities and assess the cognitive health of the seniors. The assessment would be based on the conversations, the questions they are asking. The data would be stored in a cloud-based system and be available to the individual’s doctors and family. The eventual hope is to be able to assess cognitive decline over time.
Third-place winners, Team NOW, designed a robotic nurse-on-wheels (NOW) able to detect, diagnose, alert and manage cardiac events amongst elderly patients. Hypertension affects 1 in 4 Singaporeans above the age of 40. So, Loomo could be a nurse on wheels, attending to the elderly living alone at home. It can recognise and interact with the elderly, monitor their blood pressure. In the event, it detects a problem, it can interface with a healthcare professional, who can make a virtual diagnosis using the visual sensors on the robot. The robot could then tweak the medication or alert an emergency response team, depending on the situation.
To take forward the implementation of the concepts developed, these top three teams will have access to prototyping facility labs, the Segway Robot Developer Edition platform, Loomo, as well as funding to build on their solutions and launch their companies, in addition to cash prizes.
During the panel discussion, Shirlene Liew, Adjunct Consultant, ACCESS Health highlighted that participants in the MIT Hacking Medicine Hackathons need not be coders or engineers. Over 50% are from other backgrounds, such as designers, business people and last but not the least, healthcare professionals, who understand the social problem and where people can be of most impact. The same applies for the mentors, who do not have necessarily have a technical background. Secondly, there is a strong emphasis on understanding the problems the teams are trying to solve and users’ needs. It is more about asking the right questions.
Sarah Zhang, Business Lead and Head of Developer Partnerships, Segway Robotics, provided a brief introduction to the robot, Loomo, describing it as a smart machine that transforms between being a self-balancing transporter and an autonomous robot. Developers can build apps and add accessories for customisation. She said that the outbreak of robotics is being driven by the integration of next generation multi-sensory interactions (vision, speech) and increasingly powerful capabilities to acquire, process and utilise data. ‘Natural’ interactions are highly important for robotics applications in eldercare, as their experience with digital interfaces and devices might be limited.
The judging panel consisted of Steve Leonard, Founding CEO, SGInnovate, Ong Jeong Shing, Investment Director, VentureCraft, Sarah Zhang, Business Lead and Head of Developer Partnerships, Segway Robotics, Gerard Chew, Head, IHIS Innovation Labs, Yorelle Kailka, Founder and CEO, Active Global Specialised Caregivers, Prof. Li Haizhou, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, NUS. Other partners for this event includes the Singapore MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART), Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), Venturecraft, EmTech Asia, Google, PIXEL Labs, Integrated Health Information Systems (IHIS), Action Community for Entrepreneurship (ACE) and ACCESS Health International.
Read the press release from MIT Hacking Medicine and SGInnovate here.
Enterprise transformation refers to a significant shift in the way a company conducts its day-to-day operations. This could involve adjusting an organisation’s fundamental technology, the structure of the company’s workforce or the way the company creates and markets its goods.
Enterprise transformation can take many different forms, one of the most prevalent of which is when an organisation makes a significant change in the products or services it offers. Currently, with digital technology, adjustments like this are occurring more frequently.
Companies are realising that they need to modify their approaches to meet the ever-evolving requirements of their customers as well as the consistently expanding standards set by their rivals.
Simultaneously, several Digital technologies, including Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things, Blockchain, Big Data, Virtual reality, Augmented Reality, Robotics and automation, among others, have the potential to transform how businesses operate. They can transform various functions of the value chain, such as logistics & supply, manufacturing, engineering, marketing, customer service, corporate management and support functions.
With their versatility and agility, these technologies can be deployed to numerous industries, among these are Healthcare, Food & Beverage, Manufacturing, Services and Mobility.
Innovative Business: What Lies Ahead?
“Businesses need innovation, not only for survival but for future growth,” says Vikram. “Innovation could emerge as product innovation, process innovation, service innovation or business model innovation to create a long-term sustainable advantage.”
Enterprises have been creating legacies based on research and development (R&D) which has LED them to incremental innovations. However, innovation is disruptive or transformational and it can be around product processes, services and business models.
Transformational innovation represents innovation that transforms businesses and innovates processes to create long-term sustainable, competitive, profitable business models. Disruptive innovation is targeted more towards identifying and inventing new mechanisms to solve existing and anticipated problem statements in businesses, which is also expected to have a business impact.
Many businesses do not distinguish between R&D and innovation. Enterprises today, however, are better able to distinguish themselves from one another and can understand and appreciate the impact that innovation has in comparison to R&D’s function.
R&D is an essential part of most businesses, and the benefits it brings are usually small and mostly limited to the people who work in R&D.
Innovation, on the other hand, isn’t just a function; it’s also a way of thinking for the whole organisation. It affects everything from the process to the product to the service to the business model, and the expected size of its effects is disruptive rather than incremental.
This further demonstrates how the current difficult business and economic environment has forced companies with lower levels of technology adoption and digital maturity to rethink their operations.
Enterprises can now assess the possibilities that technology integration may bring about, not only to address their current problem statements but also to consider new opportunities, whether it takes the form of a product, service, or business model.
There are a few common KPIs that should be measured regularly to gauge an organisation’s and its employees’ level of digital maturity. Vikram believes that because every organisation is unique, the KPIs used for assessments will vary.
For example, the key metrics for some common functions, like customer experience, data and insights, strategic and leadership, technology, operations, digital skill sets and so on, would need to be customised based on how they have changed and how they are changing now.
“We can get innovations which can predict based on the data analytics for the next 10 years,” Vikram reveals. “Every organisation should think out-of-the-box. Then they only need the right set of people who can guide them for the KPIs to be defined.”
Additionally, a variety of industries, including those in healthcare, food and beverage, manufacturing, services, FMCG, mobility, hospitality, and many more, can adapt to new technologies.
The following are crucial actions that businesses need to take today to digitally transform their futures:
- Identify your key employees’ level of digital maturity
- Research the technologies that are currently being used by the Enterprise’s various functions
- Select current issue citations
- Sort the problem statements according to priority
- Assess a system for locating, evaluating, and integrating digital technologies
- After a framework has been chosen and put into place, make the process iterative
- Establish it as the Enterprise’s mentality
Urban Ideas and Solutions Through LKYGBPC
When it comes to entrepreneurs who are truly pushing the envelope, Vikram is looking for certain characteristics. One of these is how the participants interact with businesses, which is determined by a unique set of criteria.
“And because we engage with various sets of parameters when looking at entrepreneurs, we can combine their efforts with those of the business,” Vikram explains.
Therefore, they bring the enterprise work and the entrepreneurs together when looking at the entrepreneurs, especially in the GHV DX LAB framework – they are the project managers and the system integrator for GHV.
The digital transformation, specifically the adoption of online business models and the general shift of economic and social activities online, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, has altered how economies operate, businesses function and societies interact.
The exploitation of data is the driving force behind the emergence of a new type of data-driven economy. It creates new opportunities for international cooperation to leapfrog the intermediate infrastructure of the industrial age, taking advantage of the new markets made available by digital platforms and the improved service delivery made possible by smart technologies.
In addition, the most effective mechanism in education would be to integrate innovation and entrepreneurship at the earliest possible stages of the educational system. In today’s context, entrepreneurship is about more than just passion, raising capital, or coding something; it’s about building a network around yourself to support your entrepreneurial journey. The network is critical.
Vikram spent sixteen years in Japan before relocating to Singapore and India to establish a business. He has realised that he must contribute significantly to society. For Vikram, LKYGBPC is a fantastic platform that can be an integral part of any entrepreneur’s entrepreneurial journey.
As opportunities for entrepreneurs are created through this platform, a global network of mentors and other ecosystem partners are integrated with LKYGBPC to focus on the entrepreneurs. “I think it’s a fantastic platform that is desperately needed right now, not just in the context of Singapore or Southeast Asia, but for the global market,” Vikram is convinced.
He believes that a combination of all these factors pushed him into the venture capital world. “I enjoy being a techie. But I’m enjoying my current role as a mentor to thousands of Asian entrepreneurs.”
Vikram has mentored over 1200 startups to date, including 3 that will soon be unicorns. He has personally invested in over 50 startups, and through the GHV Fund, he has invested in over 20 startups. “Every day, I learn something new and give it back to society in the same way.”
Building intellectual property (IP) rights has been the best part of his digital journey so far, and he hopes to keep doing this. “The level of self-satisfaction I feel is never as high as when I say IP is greater. You can make a lot of money consulting, but that doesn’t get me excited if you can’t create IP and work together. And that’s why what we’ve been doing around it can be great,” Vikram concludes.
The School of Business and Management of The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST Business School) and The Institute of Sustainability and Technology (IST) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to foster the partnership on ESG initiatives through education and technology. Both parties are working to accelerate the transition to a circular economy and drive innovation towards a net-zero future.
The Founder & Faculty Advisor of IST, Adjunct Professor of the Department of Management at HKUST and the Dean of HKUST Business School signed the MoU to affirm the strategic partnership. Industry leaders and business elites representing over 100 organizations joined to show their overwhelming support and commitment to sustainability.
The Chief Secretary for the Administration of HKSAR stated that Hong Kong, as an international financial centre connecting global capital with opportunities, has a unique role to play in addressing the world’s most pressing environmental and social challenges brought about by climate change.
By making a thorough effort including the issuance of green bonds, implementation of the Green and Sustainable Finance Grant Scheme and nurturing of talent, and leveraging its close partnership with relevant stakeholders, the HKSAR Government aims to develop Hong Kong into a green and sustainable hub in the region.
The Founder & Faculty Advisor of IST, Adjunct Professor of the Department of Management at HKUST said that to nurture the next generation of ESG talent, IST is working with HKUST to co-create a series of globally recognised executive training programs to inspire purpose-driven business management.
While striving for net zero by 2050, Hong Kong is uniquely positioned to maximize synergies with GBA cities to play a strategic gateway role as a regional green finance hub for sustainable investments and cross-border carbon trading. By deploying catalytic capital, innovation can be fuelled, and triple returns can be empowered via a thriving ecosystem for decarbonization technologies to accelerate the transition to a circular economy. By leveraging innovative technology, education initiatives and strategic collaboration, the net zero targets can be achieved.
The President of HKUST stated that the two parties both aim to guide the city towards a net-zero, sustainable future through education and technology. Through their core missions in research, teaching, and innovation, the next generation of talent is being nurtured into responsible professionals and leaders and contributing to solving pressing environmental and social issues.
The Dean of HKUST Business School noted that this partnership with IST supports Hong Kong’s brown-to-green transition through talent development and technology deployment. Marking a key event under this partnership, the ESG Forum familiarised participants with key aspects of ESG management through expert insights covering strategy, risks, benchmarking, and future trends. HKUST looks forward to pursuing a broad range of sustainability-related opportunities in training, research and development, and community engagement with IST.
An ESG Forum was held after the MoU signing ceremony. Various renowned academics and industry veterans participated in the forum, exchanged their views, and shared insights on ESG and sustainability.
About the Institute of Sustainability and Technology
To nurture the next generation of ESG talent, IST is partnering with HKUST Business School to co-create a series of globally recognised training programs for business executives. Catering to the diverse context of Asian markets, IST seeks to establish robust impact measurement and management methodology as well as ESG ratings and benchmark standards for different sectors across Asia Pacific. To promote thought leadership and best practices, IST sponsors interdisciplinary research studies to provide compelling data to advance the agenda for sustainable development. For more details about the Institute, please visit
Seven intelligent robots have been installed in the wards of Yishun Community Hospital (YCH) to welcome patients and bring supplies to the bedside. These brand-new Temi Robots, known as Angel, were introduced to support nursing care so that nurses could focus their time and energy on clinical tasks while still giving patients a personal and meaningful touch.
These robots are loaded with patient education materials that patients and their caregivers can easily access, in addition to providing announcements and reminders throughout the day in all four major languages.
They also have a variety of features like games and entertainment, teleconference tools, and translation capabilities. YCH hopes to further improve patient engagement and satisfaction in its wards with the new addition.
A pilot project using Nao Robots was also used by YCH in previous years to assist dementia patients in their rehabilitation. Robot Therapy, which was started by the staff at YCH in 2018, is now a part of the therapy-related services offered there.
YCH, which is conceived of as a healing space for patients, offers intermediate care for recovering patients who do not require the intensive care services of an acute-care hospital. With rehabilitation and therapy at the heart of the hospital’s mission, the team was eager to investigate the potential of the innovation, Robot Therapy.
Because they can perform a wide range of tasks with little to no value added, hospital robots offer a reliable solution, freeing up doctors, nurses, and surgeons to focus on more high-value work. Robots have become an integral part of the healthcare industry, with many hospitals now using them to perform both surgical and administrative tasks.
In addition, prior to the arrival of Nao Robots in Singapore, a few local nursing homes used Paro, a robot that mimics the appearance, movement, and sounds of a baby seal. The therapeutic robot seal’s use is like animal therapy in that the robot helps to calm elderly people who have dementia or a loss of cognitive function.
The Nao robot, on the other hand, came with higher expectations: it can express emotions like laughter or sadness during interactions; it can interact and communicate with patients in different languages; and it has optic, audio, and impact sensors and motors to detect surroundings, interpret detection, and activate programmed responses.
Various interaction and language modes can be programmed into the Nao robot. The YCH Robot Therapy team took advantage of this by incorporating the robot into specific therapy sessions. This increased efficiency freed up nursing time, which could then be used for other care activities. Nao robot therapy sessions were trialled with 48 patients from the Dementia ward in October 2018.
Patients with Behavioural and Psychological Symptoms of Dementia (BPSD) require more care and attention, so this was chosen as the pilot ward. By introducing the Nao robot, YCH has increased patient engagement, motivate them to engage in social activities, and shorten the time required for social activities so that caregivers could concentrate on other care-related tasks.
The implementation process was divided into three stages: training staff, selecting suitable patients and assessing seniors who participated in the Robot Therapy programme using the Observed Emotion Rating Scale.
Singhealth asserts that the COVID-19 pandemic, which hastened the adoption of these solutions and accelerated the digital transformation of healthcare systems globally, has sparked a tremendous interest in digital technology and virtual health solutions.
A group of clinician innovators from SingHealth sought to ascertain whether digital interventions are more affordable and provide patients with greater value and benefits in anticipation of this continuing upward trend, and they discovered that this may not always be the case for some eye conditions.
Both in normal circumstances and in times of crisis, Thai people are known to generate a lot of innovative ideas and continue to develop products that make their lives better. This encompasses and encapsulates the nation’s most recent campaign, Innovation Thailand, which promotes Thai creativity to a global audience.
The Innovation Thailand Alliance consists of partners from a variety of sectors including government agencies, private organisations, educational institutions, and civil societies. Through it, the National Innovation Agency of Thailand (NIA), is expanding the scope of its Innovation Thailand platform.
The fundamental goal is to use national/local ideas to revitalise the nation by promoting awareness of and pride in inventive Thai works. Allies will serve as ambassadors in the effort to promote Thailand as an innovative nation. They will be able to exchange knowledge and skills with one another at the same time.
All stakeholders are enthusiastic to help Thailand achieve its goal of being one of the world’s top 30 innovative nations by 2030 and turning Thailand into an innovation-driven country.
Innovation Capabilities of Thai People
The National Innovation Agency’s mission is to support and develop Thailand’s innovation system to promote economic restructuring and competitive enhancement.
“We began the Innovation Thailand campaign before COVID-19 because we faced a significant challenge in terms of how not only Thai people but also global clients, perceive the nation’s unique products and services,” explains Dr Pun-Arj.
Even though this may not be directly related to innovation, the NIA has attempted to communicate and brand national innovation in such a way that it can be easily connected not only with Thais but also with international customers – this is how they started the Innovation Thailand platform.
Thailand is a tourist destination and one of the top three in the world, which has caused the country to innovate their lifestyle as well as their livelihood.
Thai culture places a high value on craftsmanship and attention to detail. Thai innovation for artful living is a process created exclusively by the fusion of modern technology and knowledge passed down from one generation to the next.
“We have created ingenious solutions through this method that enhances the standard of living in terms of society, prosperity, health, safety, and the environment,” Dr Pun-Arj furthers.
They began to construct a community to exchange ideas, develop, and manage innovation that would result in delivering some information or any significant strategic movement that the government could initiate.
They are recruiting more Chief Innovation Officers from not only the private sector but also the public sector and universities, as part of their primary target group.
Dr Pun-Arj is looking to enhance the opportunities brought in by innovation, particularly at the regional level in the city. This is because they are working not only on economic development but also on the skillset of the social innovation division and platform.
“As a result, our primary focus is on regionalisations of innovation possibilities, as well as startups – innovation-based firms,” reveals Dr Pun-Arj.
He believes that every successful community is built upon a robust and well-functioning infrastructure. Hence, Thailand’s industries and infrastructure will be modernised to meet upcoming challenges.
“In the past, one of our five-year priorities included buildings which we identify as system integrators. As the system and ecosystem become more robust, we are transitioning from system integrators to full core facilitators.”
He emphasised the need to consider the impact of being a system integrator before transforming themselves into focal facilitators. Furthermore, the country wants to make better use of the enormous resource of innovation in universities to conduct research and technology in collaboration with other organisations across the world.
Through the City Innovation Index, which focuses primarily on districts and cities, the NIA promotes and monitors the constant innovation and evaluation of diverse organisations. Periodically, they performed surveys in particular industries to evaluate and propose answers for the difficulties they face.
A strong innovation strategy will evaluate the overall objectives, the target portfolio for innovation initiatives, and the process for allocating the necessary resources. The portfolio clearly defines innovation-critical benchmarks and bounds. Therefore, the nation will become democratic and transparent.
“I believe the government’s most essential innovation strategy focuses on three specific concerns. You must have highly strong and capable businesses of all sizes that will establish a very strong enterprise on its own. And secondly, you must have laws and regulations,” Dr Pun-Arj asserts. “In addition, governance is also required and identifying future risks.”
Thailand is struggling with several issues, including inequality, which includes limited access to public services, digital technology, education, and environmental problems. High manufacturing costs and new types of competition in the global supply chain became challenges for Thailand, with this, innovation has emerged as the country’s answer.
Additionally, there are many challenges in terms of digital transformation and government service and the nation is pushing for innovation that can deliver a good policy and deploy it into practice.
In the previous five-year plan, NIA primarily focused on the job of system integrator into four core facilitators. “That is why the short-term strategy is to train management in the methods, programmes, and activities that we have implemented over the last five years.”
NIA is primarily concentrated on strengthening the potential of regional innovation in several key sectors such as new technologies, assistance for startups, venture capital creation or investment for innovation, and internationalisation of Thailand’s innovation.
Dr Pun-Arj envisions a stronger Thai economy and society, with innovation playing a key role in propelling it. The Bio-Circular-Green Economy (BCG) model is a plan for the country’s growth and post-pandemic recovery. The BCG model focuses on four strategic sectors: agriculture and food, wellness and medicine, energy, materials, and biochemicals and tourism and creative economy.
It emphasises using science, technology, and innovation to turn Thailand’s comparative advantage in biological and cultural diversity into a competitive advantage. The primary aim is to support the sustainability of biological resources, develop local economies and communities and make Thai BCG industries more competitive and resilient to societal changes.
The approach is meant to make Thailand’s economy, society, and environment more sustainable and inclusive. “To achieve the 2030 goal, we must work incredibly hard to encourage innovation in this BCG economy. At the same time, the national policy needs to be improved.”
Dr Pun-Arj has been recognised as a pioneer in the domains of foresight and innovation management in the country. He counsels anyone aspiring to be a great innovator to fully comprehend the concepts of uncertainty and failure.
“Innovation will help us grow as a community or nation by making ourselves and others aware of the importance of innovation,” Dr Pun-Arj concludes.
The Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) has launched nine satellites, including eight nanosatellites, into space from the first launch pad at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Andhra Pradesh.
The 44-metre-long rocket’s primary payload is the Earth Observation Satellite-6 (EOS-6) or Oceansat-3, a third-generation satellite to monitor oceans. It is a follow up to OceanSat-1 or IRS-P4 and OceanSat-2 launched in 1999 and 2009, respectively. Oceansat-3 will provide data about ocean colour, sea surface temperature, and wind vector data for oceanography, climatology, and meteorological applications.
The Oceansat-3 was placed in the polar orbit at a height of about 740 kilometres above sea level. While it weighs approximately 1,100 kilogrammes, which is only slightly heavier than Oceansat-1, for the first time in this series, it houses three ocean observing sensors. These include an Ocean Colour Monitor (OCM-3), Sea Surface Temperature Monitor (SSTM), and Ku-Band scatterometer (SCAT-3). There is also an ARGOS payload, a press release mentioned.
The OCM-3, with a high signal-to-noise ratio, is expected to improve accuracy in the daily monitoring of phytoplankton. This has a wide range of operational and research applications including fishery resource management, ocean carbon uptake, harmful algal bloom alerts, and climate studies. The SSTM will provide ocean surface temperature, which is a critical ocean parameter to provide various forecasts ranging from fish aggregation to cyclone genesis and movement. Temperature is a key parameter required to monitor the health of the coral reefs, and if needed, to provide coral bleaching alerts. The Ku-Band Pencil beam scatterometre will provide a high-resolution wind vector (speed and direction) at the ocean surface, which will be useful for seafarers, including fishermen and shipping companies. Data regarding temperature and wind is also particularly important for ocean and weather models to improve their forecast accuracies.
ARGOS is a communication payload jointly developed with France and it is used for low-power (energy-efficient) communications including marine robotic floats (Argo floats), fish-tags, drifters, and distress alert devices valuable in search and rescue operations.
The Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Science and Technology, Jitendra Singh, stated that ISRO will continue to maintain the orbit of the satellite and its standard procedures for data reception and archiving. Major operational users of this satellite include Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoEs) institutions such as the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS) and the National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting (NCMRWF).
INCOIS has also established a state-of-the-art satellite data reception ground station within its campus with technical support from the National Remote Sensing Centre (ISRO-NRSC). Singh asserted that ocean observations such as this will serve as a solid foundation for India’s blue economy and polar region policies. A representative from MoES noted that the launch of Oceansat-3 is significant as it is the first major ocean satellite launch from India since the initiation of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (UNDOSSD, 2021-2030).
The Indian Space Research Organisation is the national space agency of India, headquartered in Bengaluru. It operates under the Department of Space, which is overseen by the country’s Prime Minister.
Astronomers from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have completely automated the classification of 1,000 supernovae using a machine-learning (ML) algorithm. The Zwicky Transient Facility, or ZTF, a sky survey instrument located at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory, collected data that the algorithm was then used to analyse.
“We needed a helping hand, and we knew that once we trained our computers to do the job, they would take a big load off our backs,” says Christoffer Fremling, a staff astronomer at Caltech and the mastermind behind the new algorithm tagged as SNIascore.
A year and a half after SNIascore classified its first supernova in April 2021, they are approaching the pleasant milestone of 1,000 supernovae. Every night, ZTF scans the night sky for alterations known as transient events. This covers everything, from asteroids in motion to recently devoured stars by black holes to exploding stars known as supernovae.
ZTF notifies astronomers worldwide of these transient events by sending out hundreds of thousands of alerts each night. Other telescopes are then used by astronomers to monitor and learn more about the nature of the shifting objects. Thousands of supernovae have so far been found thanks to ZTF data.
Members of the ZTF team cannot organise all the data on their own due to the constant flow of data that comes in every night. According to Matthew Graham, project scientist for ZTF and research professor of astronomy at Caltech, “the traditional notion of an astronomer sitting at the observatory and sieving through telescope images carries a lot of romanticism but is drifting away from reality.”
Instead, to help with the searches, the team has created ML algorithms. SNIascore was created to categorise potential supernovae. There are two main categories of supernovae: Type I and Type II. In contrast to Type II supernovae, Type I supernovae are devoid of hydrogen.
When material from a companion star flows onto a white dwarf star, causing a thermonuclear explosion, a Type I supernova is produced. When a massive star collapses due to its own gravity, a Type II supernova happens. Type Ia supernovae, or the “standard candles” in the sky, can be classified by SNIascore. These are dying stars that explode with a steady-state thermonuclear blast.
Astronomers can gauge the universe’s expansion rate thanks to Type Ia supernovae. Fremling and colleagues are currently expanding the algorithm’s capabilities to classify additional types of supernovae soon.
Every night, after ZTF has recorded sky flashes that may be supernovae, it sends the data to the SEDM spectrograph at Palomar, which is in a dome a short distance away (Spectral Energy Distribution Machine).
To determine which supernovae are likely Type Ias, SNIascore collaborates with SEDM. As a result, the ZTF team is working quickly to compile a more trustworthy data set of supernovae that will allow astronomers to conduct additional research and, ultimately, learn more about the physics of the potent stellar explosions.
“SNIascore is incredibly precise. We have observed the performance of the algorithm in the real world after 1,000 supernovae” says Fremling. Since the initial launch in April 2021, they have found no clearly misclassified events, and they are now planning to implement the same algorithm with other observing facilities.
According to Ashish Mahabal, who oversees ZTF’s machine learning initiatives and is the centre’s lead computational and data scientist at Caltech, their work demonstrates how ML applications are maturing in near real-time astronomy.
The SNIascore was created as part of the ZTF’s Bright Transient Survey (BTS), which is currently the most comprehensive supernova survey available to the astronomical community. The entire BTS dataset contains nearly 7000 supernovae, 90 per cent of which were discovered and classified by ZTF while the remaining 10 per cent were contributed by other groups and facilities.
A Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) collaborative research team has synthesised a nanoparticle named TRZD that can perform the dual function of diagnosing and treating glioma in the brain. It emits persistent luminescence for the diagnostic imaging of glioma tissues in vivo and inhibits the growth of tumour cells by aiding the targeted delivery of chemotherapy drugs.
The nanoparticle offers hope for the early diagnosis and treatment of glioma, especially cerebellar glioma, which is even harder to detect and cure with existing methods. The research results have been published in Science Advances, an international scientific journal.
Limitations of existing diagnostic and therapeutic approaches
Glioma is the most common form of malignant primary brain tumour, accounting for roughly one-third of all brain tumours. While magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is commonly used to diagnose glioma, the technology lacks sensitivity. Cerebellar glioma, a relatively rare brain tumour, is even harder to detect with MRI. To facilitate early detection and treatment, an alternative method with improved sensitivity and precision is needed to diagnose glioma.
A chemotherapy agent called Doxorubicin is an effective treatment for glioma. However, its application may also damage normal cells, and it is associated with a range of side effects. To enhance doxorubicin’s clinical efficacy and minimise its side effects, a novel approach is needed to apply the drug to tumour cells in a more targeted manner.
In response to the diagnostic and therapeutic needs of glioma, a research team co-led by Dr Wang Yi, Assistant Professor of the Department of Chemistry at HKBU, and Professor Law Ga-lai, Professor of the Department of Applied Biology and Chemical Technology at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, has synthesised a novel near-infrared (NIR) persistent luminescence nanoparticle called TRZD, which can play a dual role in diagnostic imaging and as a drug carrier for glioma.
An imaging probe for glioma diagnosis
The research team evaluated the efficacy of TRZ (i.e., TRZD without doxorubicin) in diagnostic imaging for glioma with a mouse model. First, TRZ particles were excited by UV light to initiate luminescence. Mice with tumour tissues injected into their cerebrum and cerebellum were then treated with TRZ. Over the next 24 hours, TRZ luminescence was detected at the tumour sites of the mice.
However, when the same experiment was conducted with TRZ without T7 peptides, and TRZ without both the red blood cell membrane coating and T7 peptides, no luminescence was detected at the tumour sites of the mice. The results show that the red blood cell membrane coating can prolong the function of TRZ by stabilising the nanoparticle, and it can slow down its natural uptake by the human body.
The research team further evaluated the anti-tumour efficacy of TRZD using a group of mice who had had their cerebrum and cerebellum injected with tumour tissues.
After applying TRZD for 15 days, the average diameter of their tumours was reduced to 1 mm. They also survived 20 days longer on average compared to the control group, who had not received TRZD. Besides, cell death was observed in the tumour region but not in normal brain tissue.
The results indicate that TRZD’s therapeutic effect on glioma has good selectivity because doxorubicin is brought specifically to tumour cells due to T7 peptide’s strong affinity with tumour cells’ surface receptors and its ability to penetrate the blood-brain barrier. As a result, doxorubicin can be applied in a more targeted manner, and hopefully, its side effects can be minimised with reduced drug dosage.
The team concluded that the nanotechnology demonstrates promising potential, and it could be developed into a new generation of anti-glioma drugs that can perform the dual function of diagnosis and treatment. It also offers hope for the development of treatment protocols for other brain diseases.