Part 2 of a two-part interview (Read part 1 here)
In the second part of the interview with Dr. Oren Shriki, we look at recent developments in invasive and non-invasive brain technologies and the scientific challenges which have to be surmounted for faster development of better technologies. Dr. Shriki talks about how brain technology might enter into our daily lives. We conclude with a discussion on the ethical aspects of brain technology, which might not be of significant concern at the moment, but have to be kept in mind, as the technology develops.
Applications of brain technology
Monitoring mental states
The first kind of application of brain technology could be for monitoring mental and cognitive states. EEG is a relatively affordable technology, which allows for recording brain activity and extracting measures of cognitive state. These measures can be combined with heartrate, blood pressure, pupil size etc to assess the mental state of a person. The information can be fed into a smartphone, so that users can tell at the end of the day whether they were relaxed or tensed and try to gain a better quality of life.
In general, Dr. Shriki believes that brain technology will move from just treating brain disorders into the healthy population, for stress reduction and preventive medicine applications in the healthy population.
At the next level, brain technology could be used for neural feedback, helping the subjects to control their mental state. Dr. Shriki said that eventually brain computer interfaces (BCI) could allow people to control external devices, like a Jedi.
Brain Computer Interfaces
In BCI technology, there are two major lines of research. One of them focuses on invasive technologies, which require surgery. Arrays of electrodes are implanted inside the brain, so that brain activity can be read with high resolution at any time and robotic arms could be controlled in a ‘pretty amazing manner’. The last decade has seen a lot of progress in this field.
Dr. Shriki said, “Nowadays, you can also provide subjects with some feedback. They can not only control something but also get sensory feedback from the robotic arm. This is quite impressive.”
But invasive technologies are very expensive, require complicated surgery and are accessible to a very limited population, at least for now.
Non-invasive brain-computer interfaces, where an EEG cap is placed on the scalp, have also seen improvement. But they are still not very attractive for the average consumer.
There are pros and cons of current non-invasive BCIs. Users can put them on or take them off whenever they want. But their resolution is relatively poor. Machine learning could help in this context, helping to predict the subject’s intent to a certain extent.
To explain, Dr. Shriki told us about a BCI in his lab, based on the idea of motor imagery. The subject is asked to imagine moving their right or left hand or squeezing the hand.
“We can classify your brain activity and we can know if you imagine moving your right hand or left hand. Then we can control something. For instance, we can use this to control a robot, make it move right or left. But it is limited to only two options. In another context, you might want to turn a certain device on or off. Some kind of machine learning algorithms might try to guess each time what you may like to do. I give you a few options, then you choose among them,” Dr. Shriki explained.
He went on to say that BCI interfaces will become smarter and smarter. They will try to predict your behaviour.
Once BCIs become cheaper and more reliable, we could see them entering the consumer market. People will start using brain-computer interfaces in their daily lives. People will learn to use BCIs. It similar to skill learning, like riding a bike or playing a musical instrument. If you practice more and more on using the BCI you will eventually become better.
Dr. Shriki said, “Currently, people are still not very motivated to practice. But if you could see tomorrow someone controlling very complex behaviour with his brain, you will be like ‘I want to do that too’ and maybe it will give you some motivation to practice.” It is a mutual, simultaneous learning process between the user and the machine.
Another potential technology is that of brain stimulation. The deep brain stimulation Dr. Shriki had mentioned earlier is an invasive technology. But there are also non-invasive technologies, using for example magnetic pulses.
Dr. Shriki believes that we are going to see a shift from simple stimulation which is done today to closed loop systems, which means that the stimulation itself is guided by the brain activity. So, the system will measure the brain activity of the subject and then will stimulate the brain in a way to obtain a certain desired goal or to optimise the brain activity. It could help healthy subjects gain more relaxed and meditative states. It could also be used to treat different disorders.
Scientific challenges in the development of brain technologies
Dr. Shriki identified four challenges in the development of brain technology. The first is understanding the neural code. If we want to decipher the intent of subjects, we need to understand the neural code. For instance, understanding how visual information is coded in neuron activity.
Understanding the neural code also requires understanding other aspects. Because the way information is coded by the brain is constrained by how the brain is built. So, the next challenge is understanding brain connectivity. Dr. Shriki mentioned the Human Connectome Project as an initiative in this area. This Project tries to understand the basic patterns of connectivity in the human brain, how different brain areas are connected to one another, in which direction the connections go, how strong they are. “We need to measure brain connectivity on a large scale, as well as small scale and understand how the connectivity changes when you learn things,” Dr. Shriki said.
The third challenge is about neural dynamics. Connectivity constrains the dynamics but still we need to understand the important principles that govern the dynamics of neurons. One such principle Dr. Shriki believes in is the idea of criticality mentioned earlier. There are other principles that govern neural dynamics and people are working on finding them. The Human Brain Project, a somewhat controversial EU Flagship initiative, with funding of over 1 billion dollars, aims to create a large scale simulation of a brain. They do very detailed computer simulations of the neurons and their interactions and try to understand neural dynamics.
But the ultimate challenge, what Dr. Shriki thinks is the most important one, is understanding learning in the brain. He said, “Why don’t we see a brain-inspired chip that is intelligent? Because we don’t understand the brain yet. Because we don’t understand learning in the brain. Learning is what differentiates us from computers. We can adapt very quickly, we learn quickly very complex things. The amazing things that people do with machine learning today, they are still not close to the human brain. In many aspects, they can do what we do an even outperform us. But in many other aspects they are still far behind.”
Overcoming all these challenges is a pre-requisite to brain technology. There are other challenges in translating the understanding to applications.
New technologies are required to measure brain activity and things like brain connectivity in a more elegant way. There are factors to be considered such as avoiding over-exposing the patient to MRIs and the cost of the equipment. The local neighbourhood clinic cannot afford to have an MRI machine.
Better non-invasive technologies have to be developed to improve both spatial and temporal resolutions of the measurement of brain activity. That will substantially improve what can be done with BCIs.
The American government’s BRAIN initiative, started under the Obama administration, seeks to address some of the challenges.
Role of government and policy makers in facilitating the development of brain technology
Dr. Shriki mentioned three concrete actions governments can take. The first is investment in translational neuroscience, to convert advances, findings in basic research into some products with applications. Such grants will help to bridge the gap between academic research and the market. Dr. Shriki said that the grants should be for both academia and the industry to encourage startup companies.
The second point is organisation of meetings around brain technology, bringing together brain scientists and entrepreneurs, people from the industry and investors.
“Scientists are used to regular scientific meetings. We just go there, we give high-level talks to our peers. The idea is to have workshops, popular science talks and one-on-one meetings between scientists and entrepreneurs to try to move to the next level. And move from bench to bedside, in the clinical context,” Dr. Shriki explained. Israel BrainTech is a good example of such a conference.
Finally, the government can promote educational programmes at the level of elementary, middle and high school around brain research. This is not easy but Masters or PhD students in the brain sciences can teach courses during or outside of school hours.
Dr. Shriki added, “Imagine that once a year a high school student receives a popular lecture about the brain. This will create motivation in young students. You can organise summer camps. They can conduct experiments, learn about the brain in a very hands-on manner. I did such summer camps and they were highly successful. I have some students in my lab now who participated in my summer camps.”
Ethics of brain technology
Dr. Shriki has taught courses on philosophy and ethics of science. Often there appears to be inadequate attention paid to these aspects. We asked him about potential ethical issues in brain technology. He described a few important ones.
BCIs could in principle invade privacy. Dr. Shriki gave an example, “You use the regular control to play the games. But you also have an EEG headset that allows you to perform some actions using your own brain. But now the system can present your brain some stimuli on the side. You don’t even notice, you don’t care much about them. But the system monitors your reaction to these stimuli and learns things about your brain. For instance, if those stimuli are meaningful for you, it would know it. Like your birthday, where you live, maybe some numbers. People have already shown that in principle you can extract some information from the brain. It’s very very hard but what they say is that you can reduce the complexity, reduce the search space. I may not be able to extract your credit card number but maybe I can reduce the number of options.”
Another ethical concern is about treatments. There is limited understanding regarding the working of the brain, as Dr. Shriki explained earlier. Because of that there is the risk that the treatment for an epileptic patient might actually exacerbate his epilepsy. Similar risks lie with regular medication. But in brain technologies, it is a bigger problem because it is not like trying to treat the heart or the blood system or muscl
es. The treatments are messing with something we don’t truly understand.
Yet another concern is the possibility of brain enhancement. Suppose people could increase their memory or their capacity for computation, at a price. This could worsen existing inequalities in society. People with money could buy the memory extension, do better in their exams and so on. It is important to keep in mind that similar things happen today, even without brain technology. The rich can send their kids to private schools which cost more and give a better education.
Another real dilemma is the ‘Minority Report’ scenario. In principle brain technology could identify people who pose risks to society.
Dr. Shriki provided a vivid description, “What would happen if someone knocked on your door now and said you are a very nice guy, you didn’t do anything wrong, you have no criminal record. But from your recent brain scan we found that you are a potential rapist. You need to come every week for electroshock therapy. Or we know from the structure of your brain that you might be very violent at some point. You need to come for treatment.”
“Of course, the minute you ask me, I will say you should not do something like that. If you have not done anything wrong, no one should accuse you,” he added.
He highlighted what is possibly the crucial factor in ensuring that the line is not crossed. It is the difference between objectively analysing a biological measure and trying to correct or improve it.
Dr. Shriki said that these ethical issues should not scare us away from developing brain technology, at least at this point, with the current technology. But these issues should be out there on the table and people should be aware of them.
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.
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.
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.
The Vietnam Information Security Association (VNISA) surveyed 135 organisations and enterprises in Vietnam on ensuring information security. One out of every four organisations and businesses have had their systems interrupted or attacked in 2022, while 76% of organisations and businesses lack sufficient staff for information security.
The information was revealed by former Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC), Nguyen Thanh Hung, who is chair of VNISA, during a plenary session at an international workshop during the Vietnam 2022 Information Security Day.
The survey found that 58% of organisations have doubts about technology and 47% about security holes. Around 68% of organisations and businesses said they still don’t have enough money to invest in information security annually. At the workshop, Tran Dang Khoa, the Deputy Head of the Authority of Information Security, said that in the last 11 months, the agency has recognised, warned, and instructed companies on how to handle 11,212 cyberattacks. The number of information systems in accordance with the new levels accounts for 54.8%. One of the key tasks of the agency in 2023 is submitting information to the Prime Minister for the issuance of a directive on legal compliance and security.
The workshop was sponsored by MIC and organised by VNISA and MIC and addressed “safe” digital transformation. MIC’s Deputy Minister, Nguyen Huy Dung, stated that ensuring safety in cyberspace is the task of all agencies, units, and people. Dung stressed that digital transformation is a national long-term programme. It means bringing people’s and businesses’ activities into a digital environment. It is necessary to protect more than 3,000 information systems of the state’s agencies, as well as activities in cyberspace of nearly one million businesses, five million business households, 26 million households, and 100 million people.
Dung noted that ensuring safe cyberspace and safety for organisations and people in cyberspace is the responsibility of all agencies, organisations, and people, with the principle ‘like cyberspace, like the real world’. The agencies in charge of certain fields in real life will also be in charge of those fields in the virtual environment, he said.
In October, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh issued Directive No. 18/CT-TTg on accelerating the implementation of activities to respond to cybersecurity incidents in Vietnam. The directive states that the government will pay more attention to reviewing, detecting, and fixing vulnerabilities and weaknesses. It will proactively monitor and detect any network information insecurity risks to promptly handle incidents. It will strictly implement regulations on reporting online information security incidents.
As OpenGov Asia reported, the directive describes cybersecurity as an important, cross-cutting pillar in the creation of digital trust. Its promotion will protect the country’s prosperous development in the digital era as the country attempts comprehensive national digital transformation. Chinh urged stakeholders to thoroughly grasp the contents of the Directive and devise measures to address and timely handle cybersecurity incidents. Stakeholders include ministers and heads of ministerial-level agencies, among others.
Aquaculture is important to the Thai economy. To ensure the long-term growth of this important industry, it is necessary to strengthen the production system by increasing farmers’ sustainable farming capacity and implementing Aquaculture 4.0.
To help with this effort, the nation’s National Electronics and Computer Technology Centre under the National Science and Technology Development Agency (NECTEC-NSTDA) created Aqua-IoT, an IoT-based monitoring system for water’s physical, chemical, and biological qualities.
Dr Supanit Porntheeraphat, Principal Researcher of the NECTEC Digital Agriculture Technology Research Team, explained that the project to develop a digital aquaculture system began at NECTEC in 2010 at the height of disease outbreaks that severely harmed Thailand’s aquaculture industry and the overall economy. The system has been constantly developed and improved since then.
The integration of key data – physical, chemical, and biological water qualities, as well as weather – into a single dashboard allows users to understand the relationship between the data, analyse the data, and make informed decisions.
Dr Supanit added that Aqua-IoT is made up of four major systems: the Water and Weather Monitoring System, the MuEye System, the ChemEye System, and the Minimal Lab System. The first system measures water quality (temperature, pH, and dissolved oxygen) as well as weather (wind speed and direction, light intensity, and rainfall).
These variables are critical for aeration and feed management. The MuEye System is intended to track the growth of aquatic animals and parasites, whereas the ChemEye is a chemical reader that measures the levels of nitrite, ammonia, chlorine, phosphate, and pH in the pond.
Minimal Lab is a probiotic application management system that monitors bacteria growth. The system is also integrated with BIOTEC-NSTDA disease diagnostic tests for shrimp and fish, with test results automatically sent to an online database that users can access via a web browser and a message application.
Aqua-IoT technology has already been licenced to businesses, allowing the devices to be sold commercially. Its advantages include energy and feed cost savings, as well as disease risk reduction. On the first crop, a return on investment can be expected.
The research team began introducing Aqua-IoT to aquaculture farmers in the eastern region in 2020. Working closely with farmers, according to Dr Supanit, allows researchers to better understand their requirements and needs, which leads to the development of other technologies to support aquaculture farming.
An automatic shrimp counting machine for managing pond density and a lift net machine that automatically measures shrimp density for feed and water quality management are two technologies under development.
Udon Songserm, the owner of Wasin Farm in Rayong Province, shared his Aqua-IoT experience. He clearly sees the benefits of cost, time, and labour savings after having the system installed in one of his ponds. He no longer needs to be on-site all the time to keep an eye on his ponds.
Dissolved oxygen data enables him to activate aerators only when needed, rather than always having the machines on, significantly reducing energy costs. Data on water’s chemical and biological properties prompt him to take appropriate actions to avoid losses caused by toxic conditions and disease outbreaks.
Udon also stated that some of the data collected from this pond, such as temperature, can be applied to other ponds in the area. The temperature has a direct effect on dissolved oxygen and can thus be used to manage aeration.
The NSTDA is tasked with accelerating science, technology, and innovation development in Thailand to respond to industry needs and improve the country’s competitiveness in the global economy, thereby contributing to national economic and social development. NSTDA is made up of five national research centres and two organisations involved in technology transfer and business development and promotion including the NECTEC.