Blog search results for Tag: big

Agrifood

Currently one of the least digitised industries in the world, the agricultural sector is fast becoming a hub of innovation in robotics. One report suggests the agricultural robotics industry will be worth £8.5bn by 2027.

Feeding the increasing global population – set to hit 8bn by 2023 –  is a major concern in the sector, with farmers already stretched to capacity with current technology.

With this said, the European Commission – via Horizon 2020 – has launched a programme and fund to drive research and innovation in the area. Developments in precision agriculture, which uses data and technology for a more controlled approach to farming management, has been particularly encouraging.

But similar to other labour-intensive industries, such as manufacturing, robots could be used to relieve workers in difficult conditions, and there are many projects close to commercialisation.

vegetables gif

Originally posted by edible3d

Picking peppers

One such project is SWEEPER – a greenhouse harvesting tool that can detect when sweet peppers are ready to harvest through sensors. SWEEPER runs between the vines on a rail and uses GPS tracking to navigate through its environment.

Although focusing on sweet peppers for this research, the group say that the technology could be applied to other fruits and crops.

The EU-funded consortium in charge of the development of the SWEEPER robot is made up of six academic and industry partners from four countries: Belgium, Sweden, Israel and the Netherlands, where the research is based.

Greenhouses pose harsh working conditions during harvesting season, including excessive heat, humidity, and long hours.

 

The SWEEPER robot in action. Video: WUR Glastuinbouw

‘The reduction in the labour force has put major pressure on the competitiveness of the European greenhouse sector,’ said Jos Balendonck, project coordinator from Wageningen University & Research, the Netherlands.

‘We hope to develop the technology that will prevent greenhouse food production from migrating out of Europe due to the 40 % expected rise in labour costs over the coming decade.’

Currently testing the second version of the robot, the research group already envision adding improvements – from sensors that can detect vitamin content, sweetness levels and the sweet pepper’s expected shelf life to the ability to alert farmers when crop disease could hit their crops in advance.

A world first

Meanwhile, engineers at Harper Adams University in Shropshire, UK, and agriculture firm Precision Decisions have become the first group to harvest a crop completely autonomously.

The Hands Free Hectare project – funded by Innovate UK – modified existing farming machinery to incorporate open-source data that would allow the control systems to be located externally.

At the start of the season, an autonomous tractor sows the crops into the soil using GPS positioning, and sprays them periodically with pesticides throughout their growth. A separate rover takes soil samples to analyse nutrient content and to check pH levels are maintained.

When the crops begin to sprout from the ground a drone is used to monitor growth by taking images. Finally, a combine harvester controlled from outside of the field harvests the crops.

Kit Franklin, an Agricultural Engineering lecturer at the university, said: ‘As a team, we believe there is now no technological barrier to automated field agriculture. This project gives us the opportunity to prove this and change current public perception.’

 Hands Free Hectare

Image: Hands Free Hectare

Despite innovation in the area, farmers have been slow to embrace the new technology, partially due to the lack of high quality data available that would allow more flexibility in the sector. Others, including the wider public, worry that development will lead to job losses in the industry.

However, scientists say the jobs will still be there but farmers and agricultural workers will use their skills to control the autonomous systems from behind the scenes instead.

‘Automation will facilitate a sustainable system where multiple smaller, lighter machines will enter the field, minimising the level of compaction,’ said Franklin.

‘These small autonomous machines will in turn facilitate high resolution precision farming, where different areas of the field, and possibly even individual plants can be treated separately, optimising and potentially reducing inputs being used in field agriculture.’

Health & Wellbeing

The US is in the midst of a healthcare epidemic. Tens of thousands of people are dying each year from opioid drugs, including overdoses from prescription painkillers such as OxiContin (oxycodone) and the illicit street drug heroin, and each year the numbers rise.

The opioid epidemic is currently killing almost twice as many people as shootings or motor vehicle accidents, with overdoses quadrupling since 1999. According to Gary Franklin, medical director of the Washington State Department of Labour and Industries and a professor of health at the University of Washington, the opioid epidemic is ‘the worst man-made epidemic in modern medical history in the US’.

 Montgomery Ohio

Montgomery, Ohio, is at the centre of the epidemic, with the most opioid-related deaths per capita this year. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Incredibly, an influx of synthetic opioids is making the problem worse. Fentanyl, a licensed drug to treat severe pain, is increasingly turning up on the street as illicit fentanyl, often mixed with heroin. According to the NCHS, fentanyl and synthetic opioids are blamed for 20,145 of the 64,070 overdose deaths in 2016. Heroin contributed to 15,446 deaths, while prescription opioids caused 14,427.


Potent opioid

Fentanyl (C22H28N20), a lipophilic phenylpiperidine opioid agonist, is generally formulated as a transdermal patch, lollipop and dissolving tablet. Like the opioids derived from opium poppies, such as morphine, fentanyl binds to opioid receptors in the brain and other organs of the body, specifically the mu-receptor.

 opium poppy

Heroin and other opioids come from the opium poppy.  Image: Max Pixel

Such binding mimics the effects of endogenous opiates (endorphins), creating an analgesic effect, as well as a sense of well-being when the chemical binds to receptors in the rewards region in the brain. Drowsiness and respiratory depression are other effects, which can lead to death from an overdose.


Rise of illicit fentanyl

The opioid epidemic can be traced back to the 1990s when pharmaceutical companies began producing a new range of opioid painkillers, including oxycodone, touting them as less prone to abuse. In addition, prescribing rules were relaxed, while advocates championed the right to freedom from pain. Soon, opioids were being prescribed at alarming rates and increasing numbers of patients were becoming hooked.

 

Why is there an opioid crisis? Video: SciShow

Franklin, who was the first person to report in 2006 on the growing death rate from prescribed opioids, says: ‘OxyContin is only a few atoms different to heroin – I call it pharmaceutical heroin.’

A crackdown on prescribing was inevitable. But then, with a shortage of prescription opioids, addicts turned to illicit – and cheaper – heroin. According to Franklin, 60% of heroin users became addicted via a prescribed opioid. ‘You don’t have to take these drugs for very long before it’s very hard to get off,’ he says: ‘Just days to weeks.’ Heroin use soared and with it increased tolerance, leading users to seek out more potent highs. By 2013, there were almost 2m Americans struggling with an opioid-use disorder.


Drugs to fight drugs

 public health emergency

President Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency in October. Image: Pixabay 

Attention is finally being given to the epidemic. US president Donald Trump recently declared a public health emergency, although no new funds will be assigned to deal with the crisis.

There is particular interest around research into a vaccine against fentanyl. Developed by Kim Janda at The Scripps Research Institute, California, US, the vaccine, which has only been tested in rodents, can protect against six different fentanyl analogues, even at lethal doses. ‘What we see with the epidemic, is the need to find alternatives that can work in conjunction with what is used right now,’ he says.

This vaccine could treat heroin addiction. Video: Seeker

The vaccine works by taking advantage of the body’s immune system to block fentanyl from reaching the brain. Its magic ingredient is a molecule that mimics fentanyl’s core structure, meaning the vaccine trains the immune system to recognise the drug and produce antibodies in its presence. These antibodies bind to fentanyl when someone takes the drug, which stops it from reaching the brain and creating the ‘high’.

 

Science & Innovation

The second annual Huxley Summit, run by the British Science Association, aimed to explore The will of the people? Science and innovation in a post-truth world. The leadership event invites delegates from political, academic, and corporate backgrounds to debate key scientific themes that present social challenges for the 21st Century.

A running debate throughout the day was the use of big data and the rise of artificial intelligence, with a panel of experts ready to discuss the problems of the present and the immediate future.


Protect your privacy

image

Online shopping is one of the ways consumers share their personal information. Image: Shutterstock

Big data is a topic that the public engages with every day, sometimes without knowing it. Each time you buy some new shoes, even book an appointment at the GP online, you are sharing data.

Banks can now reportedly predict when a couple is about to get divorced, based on how much a husband lowers his wife’s credit limit in the months leading to the split, said Pippa Malmgren, founder of H Robotics.

image

Originally posted by hollywoodmarcia

While a funny anecdote, facts like this are part of ongoing concerns over the ethics of data use. Should artificial intelligence be programmed to find facts like these if a person isn’t willing for their data to be used in this way?

The lack of regulation of big data and understanding of the importance of our personal information means data can sometimes be misused. ‘PayPal’s data agreement is 36,000 words. All of Hamlet is 30,000. So the quick click we do to accept T&C’s makes all of us liars,’ said Richard Thomas, who was the UK’s first Information Commissioner, from 2002-09.


Data breach

Chi Onwurah speaking at the 2017 Huxley Summit. Video: British Science Association

There are arguments that we are too late in the game when implementing data regulations, said the panel. After years of sharing data, it is only now, after several major controversies, that the government is seriously considering penalties for companies that do not inform customers about data breaches.

Uber’s recent infamous coverup and the security breach of all 3 billion Yahoo accounts are just two well-known examples. Companies should no doubt be responsible for informing their customers when they have been hacked, agreed the panel, but are they liable for the breach itself? These are the questions that need to be explored immediately, said Chi Onwurah, Shadow Science Minister.

image

The Uber hack reportedly affected 57,000 customers and drivers. Image: Wikimedia Commons 

So, ‘how do we deal with the politics of data?’ said Azeem Azhar, a strategist and analyst known for his technology newsletter Exponential View. ‘And how do we make sure that these automated systems facilitate to build a world that we want from the data we’ve given it, not merely reinforce the world that we have?’


A better world

One of the great advantages of data sharing will be in healthcare, said Azhar. It has been reported that the average human body contains nearly 150tr GB of information – the equivalent of 75bn 16GB iPads.

How big data could transform the healthcare industry. Video: HuffPost

With greater access to this huge data resource, healthcare experts could develop systems that can accurately predict the occurrence of disease and revolutionise treatments for patients. The NHS already has a running data management hub – a collaborate effort funded by the National Institute for Health Research, among others – that researchers and staff use to access secure data for R&D.

While a costly and time-consuming task today, it is these breakthroughs that will make the difference in the societies of the future.

Careers

The second annual Huxley Summit, run by the British Science Association, aimed to explore The will of the people? Science and innovation in a post-truth world. The leadership event invites delegates from political, academic, and corporate backgrounds to debate key scientific themes that present social challenges for the 21st Century.

A running debate throughout the day was the use of big data and the rise of artificial intelligence, with a panel of experts ready to discuss the problems of the present and the immediate future.


Protect your privacy

 Online shopping

Online shopping is one of the ways consumers share their personal information. Image: Shutterstock

Big data is a topic that the public engages with every day, sometimes without knowing it. Each time you buy some new shoes, even book an appointment at the GP online, you are sharing data.

Banks can now reportedly predict when a couple is about to get divorced, based on how much a husband lowers his wife’s credit limit in the months leading to the split, said Pippa Malmgren, founder of H Robotics.

phone call gif

Originally posted by hollywoodmarcia

While a funny anecdote, facts like this are part of ongoing concerns over the ethics of data use. Should artificial intelligence be programmed to find facts like these if a person isn’t willing for their data to be used in this way?

The lack of regulation of big data and understanding of the importance of our personal information means data can sometimes be misused. ‘PayPal’s data agreement is 36,000 words. All of Hamlet is 30,000. So the quick click we do to accept T&C’s makes all of us liars,’ said Richard Thomas, who was the UK’s first Information Commissioner, from 2002-09.


Data breach

Chi Onwurah speaking at the 2017 Huxley Summit. Video: British Science Association

There are arguments that we are too late in the game when implementing data regulations, said the panel. After years of sharing data, it is only now, after several major controversies, that the government is seriously considering penalties for companies that do not inform customers about data breaches.

Uber’s recent infamous coverup and the security breach of all 3 billion Yahoo accounts are just two well-known examples. Companies should no doubt be responsible for informing their customers when they have been hacked, agreed the panel, but are they liable for the breach itself? These are the questions that need to be explored immediately, said Chi Onwurah, Shadow Science Minister.

 The Uber hack

The Uber hack reportedly affected 57,000 customers and drivers. Image: Wikimedia Commons 

So, ‘how do we deal with the politics of data?’ said Azeem Azhar, a strategist and analyst known for his technology newsletter Exponential View. ‘And how do we make sure that these automated systems facilitate to build a world that we want from the data we’ve given it, not merely reinforce the world that we have?’


A better world

One of the great advantages of data sharing will be in healthcare, said Azhar. It has been reported that the average human body contains nearly 150tr GB of information – the equivalent of 75bn 16GB iPads.

How big data could transform the healthcare industry. Video: HuffPost

With greater access to this huge data resource, healthcare experts could develop systems that can accurately predict the occurrence of disease and revolutionise treatments for patients. The NHS already has a running data management hub – a collaborate effort funded by the National Institute for Health Research, among others – that researchers and staff use to access secure data for R&D.

While a costly and time-consuming task today, it is these breakthroughs that will make the difference in the societies of the future.

Health & Wellbeing

Often, the pharmaceutical industry is characterised as the ‘bad guy’ of equality in healthcare. This is particularly evident in the United States, with cases such as Martin Shkreli, whose company Turing Pharmaceuticals infamously increased its leading HIV and malaria drug by over 50 times its value overnight, and a lack of regulation in advertising. The latter is accused of influencing prescriptions of certain brands based on consumer demand, which could lead to unnecessary treatment and addiction.

With stories like these dominating the media, it is no wonder the public if often found to harbour a negative view towards ‘Big Pharma’. However, the actions and motives of this industry are rarely fully understood. Here are five facts about pharmaceutical manufacturing you might not know:


1. Out of 5,000-10,000 compounds tested at the pre-clinical stages, only one drug will make it to market

The drug discovery and development process explained. Video: Novartis

This may seem like slim odds, but there are many stages that come before drug approval to make sure the most effective and reliable product can be used to treat patients.

There are four major phases: discovery and development; pre-clinical research,  including mandatory animal testing; clinical research on people/patients to ensure safety; and review, where all submitted evidence is analysed by the appropriate body in hopes of approval.


2. If discovered today, aspirin might not pass current FDA or EMA rules

 older drugs

Some older drugs on the market would not get approval due to safety issues. Image: Public Domain Pictures

Problems with side effects – aspirin is known to cause painful gastrointestinal problems with daily use – mean that some older drugs that remain available might not have gained approval for widespread use today. Both the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and European Medicines Agency (EMA) run programmes that monitor adverse side effects in users to keep consumers up-to-date.

Tighter regulation and increased competition mean that the medicines we take today are arguably more effective and safer than ever.


3. The average cost of drug development has increased by a factor of 15 in 40 years

money gif

Originally posted by blisteredblue

Back in the 1970s, the cost to produce a drug from discovery to market was $179 million. Today, drug companies shell out $2.6 billion for the same process – a 1,352% increase! Even considering inflation rates, this number is significantly higher.

With the average length of time needed to develop a drug now 12 years, time is an obvious reason for the high costs. However, the difficulty of finding suitable candidates at the discovery stage is also to blame. Pre-clinical stages can be resource-intensive and time-consuming, making pharmaceutical companies look towards other methods, such as the use of big data.


4. The US accounts for nearly half of pharmaceutical sales

 The Statue of Liberty

The Statue of Liberty. Over 40% of worldwide medicines sales are made by US companies. Image: Wikimedia Commons

The US is the world-leader in pharmaceutical sales, adding $1.2 trillion to the economic output of the US in 2014 and supporting 4.7 million jobs. The country is also home to the top 10 performing pharmaceutical companies, which include Merck, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson.

While the EU’s current share is worth 13.5%, this is expected to fall by 2020 with emerging research countries, such as China, projected to edge closer to the US with a share of 25%.


5. Income from blockbuster drugs drives research into rare diseases

 Rare diseases

Rare diseases are less likely to receive investment for pharmaceutical research. Image: Pixabay

Diseases that affect a large proportion of the worldwide population, such as cancer, diabetes, or depression, are able to produce the biggest revenue for pharmaceutical companies due to the sheer volume of demand. But rarer diseases are not forgotten, as research into these illnesses is likely funded by income from widespread use of the aforementioned medicines.

Rare – or ‘orphan’ – diseases are those that affect a small number of the population, or diseases that are more prevalent in the developing world. With the increasing cost of producing a drug, it becomes risky for pharmaceutical companies to create a fairly-priced drug for a small fraction of patients.

However, this seems to be changing. Researchers from Bangor University, UK, found that pharmaceutical companies that market rare disease medicines are five times more profitable than those who do not, and have up to 15% higher market value, which could finally provide a financial incentive for necessary research.

Health & Wellbeing

The next five years will be the most promising in the fight against cancer with immunotherapies – such as CAR-T and moderating T-Cell approaches, and innate immunity therapies – delivering far better patient outcomes.

In the last five years, the industry has rapidly advanced its understanding of the body’s immune response and genetic markers. As a result, combination therapies – chemotherapies will continue to play an important role – are forecast to become an increasingly standardised treatment, with pharma keen to invest.

 

These newer options are bringing in transformative remission rates, and check-point inhibitors have already been seen to elicit long-term cures in patients, with success rates two-to-three times higher than standard chemotherapy approaches. 

Over the next ten years, we will see significant breakthroughs as the industry’s understanding of the immune system improves. There are currently more than 130 biotechs – in addition to 20 big pharma companies – working on new therapies and it is believed the smaller companies are more aggressively bringing newer innovations to market. In the long run, pharma will undoubtedly absorb the most promising players in an effort to become leaders in combination therapy approaches, which many argue will deliver the best outcomes.

The current investor frenzy is comparable to that of the genomics industry at the turn of the century. Experts argue that a more complete understanding of the genome and promise of clinical data of these transformative modalities will create a golden age for cancer therapy over the next few years.

There are, however, a number of immediate challenges. For example, CAR-T, although demonstrating good efficacy in blood cancers, has yet to show enough efficacy in solid tumours. Another challenge is how far towards cures for all patients we can get, particularly for patients with late stage metastatic cancer.

Immunotherapies are moving cancer from treatment options that simply extend life or improve experience to more effective cures. The cost of newer therapies is also coming into focus; however, this is a positive pressure on companies to produce significant, not just incremental, outcomes for patients.