Alzheimer’s

Beta Amyloid Plague

IMAGE CREDIT: WIKIMEDIA.COMMONS

When the first version of Net Attitude was published in 2001, I took it down to Southern New Jersey to show it to my father. I proudly walked into the nursing home and found him resting in his wheelchair. I showed him the book and pointed to my name. “Look Dad, its me. Your son, John. See? Dad?” He looked up and then paddled away in his wheelchair. He did not know me, my brother, or his wife of sixty years. Dad was not overweight, he was a large and strong man, except for his brain. Eventually, he no longer could remember how to swallow, and he passed away from Alzheimer’s.

Dementia is a general term for loss of memory and other mental abilities severe enough to interfere with daily life. It is caused by physical changes in the brain. There are many kinds of dementia, but Alzheimer’s is the most common. Memory loss which disrupts daily life can be associated with 10 warning signs and symptoms. 

  1. Forgetting recently learned information
  2. Challenges in planning or solving problems
  3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure
  4. Confusion with time or place
  5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
  6. New problems with words in speaking or writing
  7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
  8. Decreased or poor judgment
  9. Withdrawal from work or social activities
  10. Changes in mood and personality

The Alzheimer’s Association recommends if you notice any of the 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s in yourself or someone you know, don’t ignore them, and schedule an appointment with your doctor.

DARK Daily, an easy to read and understand alert on key developments in laboratory medicine and laboratory management, said that for more than 30 years, researchers have been seeking “the Holy Grail of clinical laboratory testing—an accurate test for Alzheimer’s disease that is minimally-invasive and produces information that is actionable by clinicians at a reasonable cost.” Paying attention to warning signs is a good idea, but an accurate test could lead to a new approach to the diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s. 

A breakthrough may have happened, as two research studies, one in Germany and the other in Japan, have developed blood sample tests which could be the answer. Both tests detect specific biomarkers found in Alzheimer’s patients. The test could eventually enable physicians to diagnose Alzheimer’s in its preclinical stages. These would not be cures, but diagnosing the disease decades earlier could be an important breakthrough which could lead to a cure. Both research studies are similar and focused on identifying high levels of amyloid-beta plaque in patients with Alzheimer’s. Healthy brains also have amyloid-beta plaque but, in a person with Alzheimer’s disease, the plaque has different physical properties which the tests can detect. Currently, such detection can only be done with invasive and very expensive tests at the latter stage of the disease.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, nearly six million Americans have the debilitating disease. Like many diseases, an early diagnosis increases the chances of a cure. The new blood tests need further research, but what I have read about them sounds very encouraging.

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A Robot Employee

TUI Group is a $20 billion German tourism company. It includes tour operators, 1,600 travel agencies and online portals, six airlines with approximately 150 aircraft, more than 380 hotels, and 16 cruise liners. The company is fully integrated and provides 20 million customers with vacation experiences in 180 regions around the world. In August 2018, TUI Nordic hired Pepper 2E, its first robot employee.[i]

The robot normally goes by the nickname “Pepper” and is indirectly referred to as “he”. Pepper is a semi-humanoid robot, meaning he has an appearance or character resembling a human. The robot is manufactured by SoftBank Robotics. He understands and speaks numerous languages and can understand human emotions. His touch screen enables him to interact and enhance communication by providing visual information. You can see a short video of the $20,000+, 4 foot tall, 62 pound semi-humanoid robot in action on YouTube.[ii]

Pepper will be based in TUI’s Stockholm office and will serve as a Robot Assistant in TUI’s new Data Analytics and Machine Learning team. Alexander Huber, Managing Director of TUI Nordic, was quoted in World Airline News as saying, “Automation, AI and Robotics are important elements of TUI’s future. We already have some of the best specialists in this field and I am excited to see how Pepper 2E will contribute to our team. And most importantly, I hope he sparks curiosity and engagement with all of our TUI Nordic colleagues.”[iii]

Pepper has a detailed job description and a personal set of goals on which he will be evaluated, just like any TUI employee. He will go through the usual steps of onboarding, have a manager, and be part of a team which incorporate him in their day-to-day tasks. For the first few months, Pepper will travel around the building and get to know the company and his human colleagues.

The high-level goal for Pepper is to inspire employees to be curious, innovation, and pioneering. TUI is going through a digital transformation, and Pepper will act as a role model to help employees see the future. Pepper’s more specific responsibility is to act as an assistant to help visitors, customer, and colleagues with everyday questions and problems.

The TUI Pepper is not a one-of-a-kind. Softbank Robotics Europe has sold more than 12,000 Peppers.[iv] Many of these are for testing and evaluation, but cases of multiple Peppers in an organization are growing. More than 140 SoftBank Mobile stores in Japan are using Pepper as a new way of welcoming, informing, and amusing their customers.[v] The Smithsonian in Washington D.C. has deployed 25 Peppers, and Carrefour grocery stores in Spain have 14 Peppers guiding shoppers to the right products.[vi]

We are at the beginning of an explosive growth period for robots. The World Robot Conference was held in August 2018 in Beijing, China. The conference showcased a broad range of robots which can do everything from diagnosing diseases to playing badminton. The conference attracted over 166 companies from around the world and displayed more than 500 robotic items which wowed thousands of attendees.[vii]

The fifth book in my Attitude series will be Robot Attitude: How Robots and AI Will Make Our Lives Better. It is too soon to say when it will be available, next summer at the latest (I hope). In the meantime, you will continue to see occasional stories here about robots and AI. If you enjoy any of my stories, please tell your friends to visit johnpatrick.com and click the orange button.

[i] Bruce Drum, “Tui Welcomes Its First Ever Robotic Humanoid Employee,”  World Airline News (2018), http://worldairlinenews.com/2018/08/25/tui-welcomes-its-first-ever-robotic-humanoid-employee/
[ii] “Meet Pepper the Robot | Softbank Robotics,”  YouTube (2016), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kr05reBxVRs
[iii] “Tui Welcomes Its First Ever Robotic Humanoid Employee”.
[iv] Parmy Olson, “Softbank’s Robotics Business Prepares to Scale Up,”  Forbes (2018), https://www.forbes.com/sites/parmyolson/2018/05/30/softbank-robotics-business-pepper-boston-dynamics/#58644d5f4b7f
[v] “Who Is Pepper?,”  Softbank Robotics (2018), https://www.softbankrobotics.com/emea/en/robots/pepper
[vi] “Softbank’s Robotics Business Prepares to Scale Up”.
[vii] Shelby Rogers, “Our Favorite Robots from China’s 2018 World Robot Conference,”  Interesting Engineering (2018), https://interestingengineering.com/our-favorite-robots-from-chinas-2018-world-robot-conference

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3D Printed Corneas

The cornea is a transparent layer forming the front of the human eye. It may seem like a simple component of our body, but is actually a highly complex tissue. The cornea contains no blood vessels, and receives its nourishment from tears and the aqueous humor, which is a fluid in the front part of the eye behind the cornea. The cornea consists of five layers of tissues, each with very specific functions. In a healthy eye, a perfect balance is maintained between the fluid (from tears) moving into the cornea and the fluid pumping out of the cornea. The cornea provides protection against dirt, germs, and other particles which can harm the eye. The cornea also plays a key role in vision by helping focus the light that comes into the eye. The cornea is responsible for 65­-75 percent of the eye’s total focusing power. When light strikes the cornea, it bends the light onto the lens. The lens refocuses the light onto the retina, which starts the translation of light into vision. The retina converts the light into electrical impulses that travel through the optic nerve to the brain, which interprets them as images.

The cornea can be afflicted with numerous ailments and diseases. Minor problems are self-correcting, but many require laser surgery, and the more complex problems require corneal transplant surgery. The transplant surgery removes the damaged portion of the cornea and replaces it with healthy donor tissue. We don’t hear as much about them as we do of kidney or liver transplants, but corneas are the most commonly transplanted tissue worldwide, with tens of thousands performed every year. Like organ transplants, the demand far exceeds the supply. One estimate places the demand at 15 million per year.

Artificial corneas exist but they generally do not produce as good a result as transplanted corneas. The challenge with transplants is the potential for rejection of the transplanted tissue. A recent breakthrough may provide the ultimate solution. Researchers at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom have developed a process to 3D print corneas using stem cells as the bio-ink. They have demonstrated they can print a cornea in ten minutes. See the video here. Additional research is required to ensure the necessary quality and patient safety. The researchers believe they can achieve the goals in 5-7 years. This could be a huge breakthrough, especially in lesser developed countries of the world. Read more about 3D printing for healthcare in Health Attitude: Unraveling and Solving the Complexities of Healthcare.

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Pokémon GO Update

Pokemon

I have never been a gamer because video games make me dizzy. However, I have gotten hooked playing Pokémon GO on the iPhone. I like several things about the game. The technology is impressive. Thinking about millions of people playing the game at the same time with all the results and triggers happening in the cloud is really amazing. The graphics and animations are very professional and entertaining. Lastly, Pokémon Go fits nicely with my habit of daily walks. So far, while playing the game since July 2016, I have walked more than 375 miles. You do have to be careful you don’t walk into a tree or a moving car. See the table below for the current statistics.

Level achieved out of 40 possible 36
Number of PokéStops visited in U.S. 43
Number of PokéStops visited in Europe 13
Number of Pokémon caught out of 720 297
Total Experience Points earned 7,507,910

Not bad for somebody 3-6 times older than the average Pokémon Go player.

 

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Book Party in Hawley, PA Next Thursday

Net AttitudeHealth AttitudeElection AttitudeHome Attitude

Three more book parties are coming up over the next few weeks. The theme will be “Its All About Attitude”. As you know from reading this blog, I believe many large opportunities and problems in the world have their roots in attitude. I also believe the solutions and ways forward to the future are based on attitude. I hope to deliver a revealing talk, and offer a positive perspective on how an attitude change can reap major improvements in key areas which affect all of us, including the evolution of the Web, our healthcare system, how we will vote in the future, the emergence of the smart home.

Needless to say, my comments will relate to Net Attitude, Health Attitude, Election Attitude, and Home Attitude. I will also offer some hints about my work in progress: Robot Attitude. All four books will be available for sale at the book parties, and 100% of the proceeds will go to a charity named by the host organization. If you are like me, when you buy a print book with proceeds to charity, you then go to Amazon and get the Kindle version. All four books are available on Kindle, and Health Attitude and Election Attitude are available in Audible for your listening pleasure. 

Following are the upcoming book parties.

August 30, 2018   5 PM Cocoon Coffee House Bellemonte Ave, Hawley, PA
September 5, 2018  11AM Ridgefield Men’s Club 103 Main St., Ridgefield, CT
September 7, 2018   1 PM Founders Hall 193 Danbury Rd, Ridgefield, CT

Any questions, send me email to [email protected]

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