New methods for reducing air pollution and generating solar fuels developed by scientists at the City University of Hong Kong (CityU) offer practical solutions to the energy shortage, environmental issues, and related public health risks.
The research has been generated by two projects led by Dr Ng Yun-hau, Associate Professor, and Dr Shang Jin, Assistant Professor, respectively, in the School of Energy and Environment (SEE). The research has been published in the top chemistry journal Angewandte Chemie.
Dr Ng and his team have designed a new solar-powered catalyst that can convert carbon dioxide (CO2) into methane fuel through artificial photosynthesis. Their work is published in a paper titled “Metal-Organic Frameworks Decorated Cuprous Oxide Nanowires for Long-lived Charges Applied in Selective Photocatalytic CO2 Reduction to CH4”.
“Methane is a major component of domestic fuel gases. Turning CO2 into methane fuel using sunlight has the potential to produce a clean and sustainable energy alternative, thereby reducing our carbon emissions and reliance on fossil fuels,” Dr Ng said.
However, the key problems with CO2 conversion are short excited charges in the lifetime of the catalyst and non-selective reduction. Cuprous oxide (Cu2O), commonly used for CO2 conversion, undergoes self-corrosion after brief illumination, and it creates an array of product mixture from the reduction process, hindering large scale application.
Dr Ng’s team has solved these problems by uniformly enwrapping Cu2O with a copper-based metal-organic framework (MOF) at the microscopic level. This MOF, which is a good CO2 adsorbent, strengthens the interaction between the CO2 and the catalyst, enabling a higher concentration of CO2 on the surface of the catalyst. The team unveiled for the first time the presence of charge transfer between MOF and cuprous oxide, which can prolong the charges lifetime by ten times for higher activity. With the conformal coating of MOF, the Cu2O becomes stable and its corrosion is delayed.
“We hope we can recycle the unwanted CO2 from industry and transportation sectors at an affordable cost in the future and use it as the precursor to produce green and alternative fuels. We will continue to explore ways to further increase the methane production rate and scale up the catalyst synthesis and the reactor systems,” said Dr Ng.
Dr Ng is the corresponding author of the paper. The first is Dr Wu Hao, Postdoctoral Fellow from SEE. Other collaborating researchers are from University College London, University of New South Wales, Monash University Malaysia, and the Swinburne University of Technology.
The other study, carried out by the team led by Dr Shang, aims to control pollution resulting from nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a major roadside pollutant causing photochemical smog and damage to the human respiratory tract. The team revealed a new class of robust adsorbent materials for capturing ambient NO2 in a paper titled “Transition‐Metal‐Containing Porphyrin Metal-Organic Frameworks as π‐Backbonding Adsorbents for NO2 Removal”.
The team has developed a series of sponge-like nanoporous materials featuring tailored transition metals as active sites at the porphyrin rings, which can selectively bind and remove NO2 from gas mixtures.
The concept was inspired by the pi-backbonding interaction in the human body, through which the iron metal at the porphyrin of the haemoglobin protein can selectively bind oxygen molecules where pi-backbonding occurs.
This novel adsorption-based technology complements the conventional selective catalytic reduction method, which applies only to NO2 conversion at high temperatures (about 250 to 600 °C). It can mitigate ambient NO2 pollution from the low-temperature exhaust, such as that generated by off-road vehicles.
“Our successful demonstration of selective NO2 adsorption in ambient temperature is conducive to the development of a series of technologies for low-temperature NO2 pollution control, such as sensing, filtration, and catalysis of low-temperature NO2, in particular from environmental hotspots, including tunnels and semi-confined car parks,” said Dr Shang.
The research results showed that the adsorbent has high stability, selectivity, capacity, and regenerability. It is resistant to corrosion and is not affected by humidity. Also, it can be made into different forms based on its application, such as spherical shapes for use in ventilation systems or filters for respirator masks.
Dr Shang and Dr Gu Qinfen from the Australian Synchrotron research facility are the corresponding authors of the paper. The first is Shang Shanshan, a PhD student from SEE. The study involved collaboration among researchers at the University of Hong Kong, the Guangzhou Institute of Energy Conversion at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and Jilin University.
The Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC), which is under Singapore’s largest public healthcare group SingHealth, will roll out a machine-learning solution called the Appointment Scheduling Optimiser (ASO) in the fourth quarter of this year.
Developed by Singapore-based information, communications and technology company NCS, the ASO will eventually be deployed across all SingHealth institutions, which include polyclinics, hospitals, and speciality centres.
Per news reports, SingHealth said that waiting times at SNEC can stretch to 45 minutes on busy days thus strengthening the need to make the appointments in clinics more streamlined. The objective is to be a smart eye hospital.
At SNEC, patients typically must take several tests before seeing the doctor. But now, appointments are given on a first-come, first-served basis and do not consider the preceding tests. For example, this means that a patient who needs only one test may be scheduled behind a patient who needs multiple tests, causing a bottleneck and increasing waiting times for the other patients.
The ASO will consider the resources available, as well as all the various tests that patients will have to take and churn out the best possible schedule with minimal waiting times. While simulations of the ASO have shown that waiting times can be cut down to about 20 minutes, the presence of complex cases – which make up about 15 to 20% of all patients may cause this to vary as these patients often need more time. The SNEC had tried to increase its manpower, but the long waiting times persisted.
Mr Howie Sim, vice-president of healthcare and the transport client service unit at NCS, said it would not be possible for an employee to attempt what the ASO can do as there were too many variables, such as the sequence of the tests, for the employee to be able to find an optimal solution.
Over time, the ASO can pick up patterns from the data such as the need to allocate a longer time for a particular profile of patients, such as the elderly. Mr Sim noted that this artificial intelligence technology has been around for decades, but traditionally it has been applied more to sectors such as manufacturing that require clockwork-like precision. He added that the adoption of such technology to drive innovation in healthcare has made headway in recent years.
SingHealth hopes that with an optimised schedule, manpower needs will be better allocated in SNEC. For example, staff can be deployed based on the ASO’s overview of when crowds will peak at the SNEC. The institution will also have a better idea of demand and supply that allows them to plan for the manpower much better because they will be able to anticipate the workload and distribute them evenly.
OpenGov Asia recently interviewed Mr Sim. He is convinced that COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of AI in the healthcare space. Before the pandemic, the sector was predominantly service-oriented with a lot of people-to-people interaction. For better or for worse, COVID-19 disrupted that human-to-human interaction; and with fears over the infection, segregation and distancing became the norm.
The introduction of AI has not come without any concerns from the healthcare community. A common fear is that automation and robots will replace humans. People are concerned about their relevance and need – in short, they fear losing their jobs. Howie allayed these fears, saying that it’s a perspective issue. He feels that the workload of nurses increases, but resources are finite, so they need something to augment them. Thinking should be around how to manage staffing in such a manner that AI and/or automation become complementary to the existing workforce.
The question then is how to maintain a set of human resources, established around an AI/automation strategy, that can be augmented when necessary. Essentially this creates a more stable employee model where staff can be ramped up when needed and then scaled down after the crises have passed.
AI has progressed to a point where it is complementary to both assessment and analytical work, opines Howie, “There’s no better time to democratise AI to the health care professionals.”
Researchers from Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU), in collaboration with Cornell University, have developed a novel targeted therapy for triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) that uses a specially-designed nano-carrier to deliver the Chinese medicine compound gambogic acid (GA).
The invention enhances the anti-cancer effect of GA and reduces its damage to off-target organs. The invention has the potential to become a more effective therapeutic option for TNBC.
GA as a breast cancer treatment and its limitations
TNBC accounts for 10-24% of all breast cancer cases and it also grows and spreads faster than other types of breast cancer. There are limited treatment options for TNBC and it has a high risk of recurrence and metastasis. In the advanced stage of the disease, the five-year relative survival rate is only about 12%.
GA is a herbal compound isolated from a dry, brownish resin called gamboge, which is derived from Garcinia hanburyi, a plant with a long history of medicinal use in Southeast Asia. Previous studies have shown that GA can inhibit the growth of cancer cells.
However, its clinical application is limited by the fact that it is rapidly eliminated from the circulation system and has poor water solubility, which makes it difficult for GA to reach the cancer cells. Furthermore, high dosages of GA can cause damage to off-target organs due to its toxicity.
Nano-carrier increases treatment efficacy of GA
In the search for a more effective treatment protocol for TNBC when compared to existing options the research team designed a novel nano-carrier to enhance GA’s efficacy as a TNBC treatment and reduce its off-target toxicity.
The researchers made a bio-degradable nano-carrier out of polyester urea urethane (PEUU), and they decorated it with folate (also known as vitamin B9) and arginine (an amino acid). Folate receptors are highly expressed in TNBC cells, and they can serve as a target for therapy. Arginine is a positively charged amino acid, and it can attract the nano-carrier to the negatively charged tumour surface. These features enable the nano-carrier to target and deliver GA effectively to TNBC cells.
Treatment efficacy tested in mice
The research team tested the efficacy of the GA-loaded nano-carrier as a TNBC treatment in a series of mouse experiments. Two groups of mice with TNBC were treated with the same dosage of GA, one in the form of the GA-loaded nano-carrier, and the other in the form of free GA. After 17 days of treatment, the average reduction in tumour weight of the GA-loaded nano-carrier group was 67.6% higher than the free GA group. The results showed that the GA-loaded nano-carrier is more effective at shrinking the tumours than the free GA.
In addition, the group treated with the GA-loaded nano-carrier had 0.23 μg/mL of GA in their tumours two hours after injection, and the tumour GA concentration of the GA-loaded nano-carrier group was three times of the free GA group, showing that GA is being delivered to TNBC cells more effectively with the nano-carrier.
Also, the concentration of GA in the plasma of the GA-loaded nano-carrier group two hour after injection was nearly three times of the free GA group, showing that the GA carried by the nano-carrier stays in the circulation system for longer.
Reduced off-target damage to other organs
Furthermore, when compared with free GA, the GA delivered by the nano-carrier caused less damage to the off-target organs of the mice including their hearts, livers and lungs. It also caused minimal damage to their kidneys and spleens as relatively low levels of GA were detected in these two organs.
As demonstrated in the study, the novel nano-carrier for GA offers many benefits when it comes to treating TNBC, according to the Assistant Professor of the Teaching and Research Division of SCM.
It was noted that the application of nanotechnology in this study modernises the delivery of Chinese medicine, thereby enhancing its therapeutic efficacy. The team believes their nano-carriers have great clinical potential to treat TNBC and other types of cancer.
According to recent research, the global nanotechnology market is estimated to attain US$2.23 billion by 2025 at 10.5% CAGR.
Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras (IIT-Madras) have developed ‘BlockTrack’, a blockchain-based secure medical data and information exchange system for a mobile phone-based application. The application, which is the first of its kind, is currently being field-tested at the institute’s hospital.
BlockTrack aims to securely digitise healthcare information systems while ensuring the protection of sensitive personal information and medical records. It does this by decentralising the control and ownership of patient data, through a blockchain-based innovation. The BlockTrack innovation is now protected through a provisional IP filed with the Indian Patent Office, according to a news report.
The Android version has been developed separately for patients and doctors. It opens up universal and transferable healthcare information management and emphasises data privacy and tracking the spread of infectious diseases across geographies.
The report added that it allows the interoperability of systems from multiple hospitals, institutes, and healthcare organisations. The patient can choose to visit any healthcare facility on BlockTrack’s blockchain network without any concerns about duplication of records or re-registrations.
BlockTrack is developed by a team led by Prabhu Rajagopal, the Lead Faculty for Remote Diagnostics at the Centre for Nondestructive Evaluation (CNDE), under the Department of Mechanical Engineering, IIT Madras. This is one of the first implementations of blockchain technology for securing healthcare data management systems. The approach is expected to make an impact in securely digitising and maintaining unique patient records across the country and eventually across the world.
K Vijay Raghavan, the government’s Principal Scientific Adviser, said that the objectives of the National Digital Health Mission launched last year was the secure processing of individual data and easy accessibility of digitalised personal and medical records by individuals and health service providers. The effective implementation of these objectives will require leveraging emerging technologies, and BlockTrack is a step in the right direction.
Recently, Raghavan launched the Mental Health and Normalcy Augmentation System (MANAS) mobile application to promote health and wellbeing in the country. MANAS was endorsed as a national programme by the Prime Minister’s Science, Technology, and Innovation Advisory Council (PM-STIAC).
As OpenGov Asia reported, MANAS is a comprehensive, scalable, and national digital wellbeing platform designed to augment the mental well-being of Indian citizens. The app integrates the health and wellness efforts of various government ministries. Also, scientifically validated indigenous tools with gamified interfaces were developed and researched by several national bodies and research institutions. Though the app is still to undergo field trials and is not available for public use as yet, it will be a platform catering to the overall wellness of people of all age groups and genders.
The application supports teleconsultation, especially for mental health-related problems. It is capable of health tracking and data records will be maintained, which will help users for future consultations. According to the scientist that conceptualised and led the execution of the mission, MANAS intends to build a healthier, happier, and more self-reliant community. MANAS is based on augmenting life skills and core psychological processes and is universally accessible. It delivers age-appropriate methods and promotes positive attitudes that focus on wellness. The initial version of MANAS targets promoting positive mental health in citizens aged 15-35 years.
The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), from the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), issued the Microelectronics in Support of Artificial Intelligence (MicroE4AI) Seedling Broad Agency Announcement (BAA).
Technology solutions for advanced computing in support of artificial intelligence will require long-term advancements in microelectronics, which will result from fostering unified and multidisciplinary research and development approaches. The goal is to advance groundbreaking technologies that will help the Intelligence Community (IC) and the country deliver on the promise of AI.
The BAA solicits proposals for developing faster, more energy-efficient, and more resilient computing tools that are of importance to the future of the national security of the United States and its leadership in artificial intelligence. The solicitation focuses on advanced engineering and applied research efforts into novel computing models, materials, architectures, and algorithms to enable the advancement of artificial intelligence and machine learning. They are interested in research and development efforts that promote advances in microelectronic devices and circuits, and the chemistry and physics of new materials, which are aimed at overcoming challenges concerning the physical limits on transistors, electrical interconnects, and memory elements.
IARPA anticipates granting multiple seeding awards to explore and develop novel technology solutions. They invest in high-risk, high-payoff research programmes to tackle some of the most difficult challenges of the agencies and disciplines in the IC. The agency collaborates across the IC to ensure that their research addresses relevant future needs.
This cross-community focus ensures our ability to address cross-agency challenges, leverage both operational and R&D expertise from across the IC, and coordinate transition strategies with their agency partners. It brings the best minds in the field to bear on their research by sponsoring a full and open competition to the greatest extent possible. A research programme gets started when both a powerful research idea and an exceptional person to manage the programme are available.
As reported by OpenGov Asia, the U.S. has developed and leverage AI to achieve several results. A research project funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) develops an online tool called CitizenHelper. This tool can sort through millions of tweets to identify behaviours that could assist emergency agencies and give them an understanding of the population’s attitudes. The tool uses artificial intelligence (AI) techniques to filter the posts and then determine the relevance and information level of each tweet.
The AI tool helps to scale work that would be difficult for humans to do alone. Humans are good at contextual understanding to filter content but they cannot scale. Machines, on the other hand, are good at scaling, but they do not deeply understand the context very well. Hence, a human-AI teaming approach is invaluable. The algorithms need humans to help them improve their accuracy. CitizenHelper allows this very seamless interactive mechanism for humans and computers. The humans can provide feedback to the machine on what the machine has predicted.
Looking at social media has a huge benefit as it gives information in real-time. Therefore, it reflects people’s behaviour as opposed to expectations of what people’s behaviours are. The research team continue to work on improving the tool and teach the AI algorithms to be more specific. When a new data point comes in and the algorithm is unsure of what to do with it, a human user can provide feedback. This is a specific type of activity called active learning in the world of machine learning and AI.
The goal is to determine whether this human-AI interaction can make a community more resilient. Volunteers trained to recognise problems can better understand what is happening in the community and what is being done about it. The AI cannot learn what the important information is without being taught by humans. However, humans will always have a role because of the context associated with emergency response and how it varies by place and time.
The Philippines’ Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) once again announced that it fully supports the Philippine IT and Business Process Management (IT-BPM) sector through its various initiatives to establish a nurturing ecosystem for innovative development.
The DICT’s Digital Cities 2025 Programme aims to develop the potential of the IT-BPM sector as an engine of growth to bridge the progress gap in the countryside and strengthen local economies. Previously termed Next Wave Cities, the Digital Cities 2025 programme aims to strengthen the industry-readiness of new centres by creating and developing ICT hubs in identified locations.
The programme is being implemented in cooperation with the Information Technology and Business Process Association of the Philippines (IBPAP) and Leechiu Property Consultants (LPC).
The IT-BPM posted remarkable employment and revenue growth for 2020 despite the challenges brought by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The IBPAP reported a growth of 1.8% compared to 2019 and revenue of $26.7 billion in 2020, amounting to a 1.4% increase from 2019.
Additionally, the IT-BPM sector also recorded an increase in the number of full-time employees in the sector by 23,000, bringing the total to 1.32 million employees in 2020.
With the Digital Cities 2025 Programme, the agency invests in the identified cities and provide all the necessary institutional development activities to prepare them for the demands of the global digital economy. The DICT is helping these cities grow into established ICT business hubs outside Metro Manila.
Through a collaborative approach with their partners, local government units (LGUs), regional clusters and ICT councils, the agency aims to develop these areas as focal points for the revitalisation of the country’s economy, and for sustained growth in the long-term, the DICT added.
To intensify these efforts further, as reported by OpenGov Asia, DICT said that the plan is for industry experts to be ambassadors through various interventions to help reinforce the role of the IT-BPM industry in economic growth.
The IT-BPM Ambassadors will be resource speakers in various events and awareness fairs, sharing their professional expertise as part of an industry marketing campaign, assisting in content creation to promote Filipino talent and working alongside the DICT and IBPAP to implement related initiatives.
To be potential ambassadors, persons must be currently holding managerial positions in the IT-BPM industry with at least a 5-year tenure. The role seeks IT-BPM leaders who can effectively build and manage stakeholder relationships. Applicants who had previously worked on countryside operations are preferred.
The IT-BPM sector continues to be a priority for DICT, and it is ready to support and take the lead in making the necessary interventions to ensure that these digital cities achieve their potential. By working together with other executive agencies, LGUs, industry leaders, and academic institutions, which will enable each location to grow into centres of excellence that spur the development of other business sectors, de-risk Metro Manila concentration, create jobs, and boost the local economy. This will involve the strengthening of ICT councils in the region.
The Department continues to provide the 25 Digital Cities for 2025 with the necessary support in four key areas: institutional development, talent attraction, infrastructure development, and marketing and promotion. These interventions aim to help these localities achieve their full potential because of the government’s pursuit for countryside progress and inclusive growth.
Additionally, the digitalcitiesPH portal will provide investors and locators with essential information on cities and municipalities all over the Philippines. It will help assess each location’s potential as a global business centre. The IBPAP said that it recognised locations that have been crucial to the continued and growing relevance of the Philippines as a global investment destination.
Vietnam’s Prime Minister, Pham Minh Chinh, recently urged the Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC) to finalise and submit a national strategy on developing the digital economy and society by August this year. According to a press release, several other countries have already introduced strategies and programmes on digital transformation in a bid to optimise opportunities from the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0).
In Vietnam, the digital economy and society have been growing rapidly, supported by the well-developed telecom and IT foundation, high Internet coverage, and a huge number of Internet users. The country is located at the centre of the Southeast Asian region and is poised to be a global hub of digital technology and the digital economy.
However, the country is coping with several limitations, including a favourable legal system for the digital economy, and especially a strategy on digital economy and digital society. The new strategy is expected to set a sound direction for ministries, sectors, and localities to get involved in the field.
In 2020, Vietnam kicked off a national digital transformation programme, under which the country will renovate management and administration activities of the government, production and business activities of enterprises, and the overall way of living and working. It aims to develop a safe, humane, and wide digital environment. The national digital transformation programme has the dual purpose of both developing the digital government and economy and establishing Vietnamese digital businesses with a global capacity.
In a press statement, MIC Minister, Nguyen Manh Hung, said that if Industry 4.0 is considered an institutional revolution, with changes in management and business models, Vietnam has many opportunities. It will be the revolution of new technologies in physics, biology, artificial intelligence, big data, IoT, and 3D printing, which can create landmark changes in the way people live. The Politburo has issued Resolution 52, which defines eight groups of policies for Vietnam to actively participate in the Industrial Revolution 4.0:
- Renewing thinking, unifying awareness, strengthening the Party’s leadership, State management over the Industrial Revolution 4.0
- Perfecting institutions to facilitate the 4th Industrial Revolution and digital transformation
- Developing essential infrastructure, especially digital infrastructure
- Developing the national innovation capacity
- Human resource development
- Developing priority industries and technologies
- International integration
- Promoting digital transformation
Vietnam’s digital economy will likely reach US$52 billion in value by 2025, as OpenGov Asia had reported. With the gross merchandise value (GMV) of its Internet economy accounting for over 5% of the country’s GDP in 2019, Vietnam is emerging as the most digital of all economies in the region.
Last year, the Vietnamese internet economy continued to record double-digit growth, at 16% year-on-year, the highest in Southeast Asia. All sectors except travel continued to grow in 2020, of which transport and food, and online media grew 50% and 18% compared to 2019. Only online travel dropped 28% in terms of GMV but is expected to grow 25% by 2025. This year’s seismic consumer and ecosystem shifts have advanced the Internet sector in unimaginable ways, putting it in a stronger position than ever.
An Indonesia-based financial technology start-up (fintech lending) partners with a tech-based company in the fisheries sector to empower SMEs in the country.
The companies said that the collaborated service is neobank or digital banking with artificial intelligence (AI) based credit scoring engine, a fully digital underwriting process, access to funding, and a supply chain digitisation platform. The service allows SMEs to conduct supply chain transactions online while receiving specific recommendations for financing and banking products.
Fish breeders can focus on improving cultivation technology, while the fintech company’s solution will be utilised to accelerate their business from day one. The fintech start-up will strengthen the Kabayan or Kasih, Pay Later programme from its partner’s funding campaign. Kabayan is a programme to purchase aquaculture needs such as feeding equipment and fish feed, with a tenor system. In this case, the fintech start-up provides direct loan facilities to farmers through the Kabayan feature.
The tech-based fisheries company said that fish farmers have had difficulties in obtaining financing because business patterns are considered to provide uncertain risk. Whereas with the right approach, the fish farming business can be very profitable.
This is the first platform to integrate operational digitisation solutions with financing and banking products targeted for SMEs in emerging markets. SMEs can easily perform supply chain transactions online while receiving specific recommendations for financing and banking products seamlessly through the platform.
Through data and technology, the fisheries tech company can connect farmers with financial institutions and open access for fish cultivators to finance. This collaboration is expected to be able to provide support for cultivators to increase their cultivation business and in the end, the fisheries industry can be more productive through real financial inclusion.
According to the Directorate General of Fisheries and Aquaculture, the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted the margins of fish and shrimp farmers by 20 to 30% due to lower retail prices and increased costs. This situation harms fish farmers who need more capital to buy fish feed while market consumption is decreasing.
The government, through an accelerated programme to increase aquaculture production and linkage fisheries, is trying to revitalise this industry. The tech-based fisheries company, with its aquaculture acumen, and the fintech start-up, with its supply chain digitisation and banking and financing solutions, have a unique role to play in supporting these government goals.
As reported by OpenGov Asia, people in Indonesia are turning to digital services during the COVID-19 pandemic, one of which is non-cash payments. Financial technology companies saw a 267% increase in the number of users.
Growth marketing experts of these companies said the number of users in Indonesia was more than 10 million per month during the fourth quarter of 2020. Companies recorded an increase in the number of users. According to them, there is a substantial addition of new users throughout 2020.
In total, the application for a specific fintech service is already used on 115 million devices. They believed that the number of users increased because people switched to digital services during the pandemic. They also recorded an increase in the number of partner merchants by 95% on an annual basis (year on year/YOY) last year.
As digital payment platforms, these fintech companies encourage MSME players to digitise, especially adopting digital payment methods. They said that their companies saw that there was a great potential for MSME players to enter the digital realm. These are also in line with the targets of the Ministry of Cooperatives and SMEs. The Ministry is targeting 30 million MSMEs to enter the digital market by 2023.