Kuwait Reports First MERS Coronavirus Cases.


Kuwait reported its first two cases of the deadly MERS coronavirus on Wednesday, the fifth Gulf Arab country where the strain has emerged since the outbreak began in neighbouring Saudi Arabia last year.

kuwait mers

A 47-year-old man is in a critical condition, Kuwaiti state news agency KUNA said, citing a statement from the Health Ministry. It gave no further details.

A second patient, a 52-year-old Kuwaiti citizen, recently travelled overseas, KUNA said in another report later on Wednesday, adding he had no contact with the first patient.

The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus, or MERS-CoV, can cause coughing, fever and pneumonia. It has been reported in people in the Gulf, France, Germany, Italy, Tunisia and Britain. Oman reported its first case last month and the patient died on Sunday.

Saudi Arabia, where the vast majority of confirmed cases have been recorded, has confirmed 127 cases of the disease, of which 53 have died, since it was discovered in the kingdom more than a year ago.

Cases have also been reported in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

The World Health Organization said in August the number of confirmed infections worldwide in the year from September 2012 had been 102. Almost half of those infected had died.

Scientists say they believe dromedary camels in the Middle East may be the animal “reservoir” that is fuelling the outbreak.

Your Brain ‘Sees’ Things Even When You Don’t.


The brain processes visual input to the level of understanding its meaning even if we never consciously perceive that input, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The research, led by Jay Sanguinetti of the University of Arizona, challenges currently accepted models about how the brain processes visual information.

Sanguinetti, a doctoral candidate in the UA’s department of psychology in the College of Science, showed study participants a series of black silhouettes, some of which contained recognizable, real-world objects hidden in the white spaces on the outsides.

Working with John Allen, Distinguished Professor of psychology, cognitive science and neuroscience at the University of Arizona, Sanguinetti monitored subjects’ brainwaves with an electroencephalogram, or EEG, while they viewed the objects.

“There’s a brain signature for meaningful processing,” Sanguinetti said. Participants’ EEG data showed the signature, a peak in the oscillating brainwaves that occurs about 400 milliseconds after the image was shown, called N400.

“The participants in our experiments don’t see those shapes on the outside; nonetheless, the brain signature tells us that they have processed the meaning of those shapes,” said Mary Peterson, a professor in the UA department of psychology and Sanguinetti’s advisor. “But the brain rejects them as interpretations, and if it rejects the shapes from conscious perception, then you won’t have any awareness of them.”

Importantly, the N400 waveform did not appear on the EEG of subjects when they were seeing truly novel silhouettes, without images of any real-world objects.

These findings lead to the question of why the brain would process the meaning of a shape when a person is ultimately not going to perceive it, Sanguinetti noted.

“Many, many theorists assume that because it takes a lot of energy for brain processing, that the brain is only going to spend time processing what you’re ultimately going to perceive,” added Peterson. “But in fact the brain is deciding what you’re going to perceive, and it’s processing all of the information and then it’s determining what’s the best interpretation.”

“This is a window into what the brain is doing all the time,” Peterson said. “It’s always sifting through a variety of possibilities and finding the best interpretation for what’s out there. And the best interpretation may vary with the situation.”

Our brains may have evolved to sift through the barrage of visual input in our eyes and identify those things that are most important for us to consciously perceive, such as a threat or resources such as food, Peterson suggested.

“There are a lot of complex processes that happen in the brain to help us interpret all this complexity that hits our eyeballs,” Sanguinetti said. “The brain is able to process and interpret this information very quickly.”

Sanguinetti’s study indicates that ultimately, when we walk down a street, our eyes perceive and our brains recognize meaningful objects, even though we may never be consciously aware of them.

In the future, Peterson and Sanguinetti plan to look for the specific regions in the brain where the processing of meaning occurs. “We’re trying to look at exactly what brain regions are involved,” said Peterson. “The EEG tells us this processing is happening and it tells us when it’s happening, but it doesn’t tell us where it’s occurring in the brain.”

Team grows large graphene crystals that have exceptional electrical properties


When it comes to the growth of graphene—an ultrathin, ultrastrong, all-carbon material—it is survival of the fittest, according to researchers at The University of Texas at Austin.

The team used surface oxygen to grow centimeter-size single graphene on copper. The crystals were about 10,000 times as large as the largest crystals from only four years ago. Very large single crystals have exceptional electrical properties.

“The game we play is that we want nucleation (the growth of tiny ‘crystal seeds’) to occur, but we also want to harness and control how many of these tiny nuclei there are, and which will grow larger,” said Rodney S. Ruoff, professor in the Cockrell School of Engineering. “Oxygen at the right surface concentration means only a few nuclei grow, and winners can grow into very large crystals.”

The team—led by postdoctoral fellow Yufeng Hao and Ruoff of the Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Materials Science and Engineering Program, along with Luigi Colombo, a material scientist with Texas Instruments—worked for three years on the graphene growth method. The team’s paper, “The Role of Surface Oxygen in the Growth of Large Single-Crystal Graphene on Copper,” is featured on the cover of the Nov. 8, 2013, issue of Science.

One of the world’s strongest materials, graphene is flexible and has high electrical and thermal conductivity that makes it a promising material for flexible electronics, solar cells, batteries and high-speed transistors. The team’s understanding of how graphene growth is influenced by differing amounts of surface oxygen is a major step toward improved high-quality graphene films at industrial scale.

The team’s method “is a fundamental breakthrough, which will lead to growth of high-quality and large area graphene film,” said Sanjay Banerjee, who heads the Cockrell School’s South West Academy of Nanoelectronics (SWAN). “By increasing the single-crystal domain sizes, the electronic transport properties will be dramatically improved and lead to new applications in flexible electronics.”

Graphene has always been grown in a polycrystalline form, that is, it is composed of many crystals that are joined together with irregular chemical bonding at the boundaries between crystals (““), something like a patch-work quilt. Large single-crystal graphene is of great interest because the grain boundaries in polycrystalline material have defects, and eliminating such defects makes for a better material.

By controlling the concentration of surface oxygen, the researchers could increase the crystal size from a millimeter to a centimeter. Rather than hexagon-shaped and smaller crystals, the addition of the right amount of surface oxygen produced much larger single crystals with multibranched edges, similar to a snowflake.

“In the long run it might be possible to achieve meter-length single crystals,” Ruoff said. “This has been possible with other materials, such as silicon and quartz. Even a centimeter crystal size—if the grain boundaries are not too defective—is extremely significant.”

“We can start to think of this material’s potential use in airplanes and in other structural applications—if it proves to be exceptionally strong at length scales like parts of an airplane wing, and so on,” he said.

Another major finding by the team was that the “carrier mobility” of electrons (how fast the electrons move) in graphene films grown in the presence of surface oxygen is exceptionally high. This is important because the speed at which the charge carriers move is important for many electronic devices—the higher the speed, the faster the device can perform.

https://i2.wp.com/cdn.physorg.com/newman/gfx/news/2013/utaustinrese.jpg

Yufeng Hao says he thinks the knowledge gained in this study could prove useful to industry.

“The high quality of the graphene grown by our method will likely be developed further by industry, and that will eventually allow devices to be faster and more efficient,” Hao said.

Single-crystal films can also be used for the evaluation and development of new types of devices that call for a larger scale than could be achieved before, added Colombo.

“At this time, there are no other reported techniques that can provide high quality transferrable films,” Colombo said. “The material we were able to grow will be much more uniform in its properties than a polycrystalline film.”

‘Unpredictable pandemics’ warning


The world needs to be prepared for “unpredictable pandemics” from viruses making the leap from animals to people, scientists in Taiwan say.

Their warning follows the first reported case of a common bird flu, H6N1, being detected in a woman, earlier this year.

The patient recovered and no other cases have been detected.

But the Lancet Respiratory Medicine report said “intensive” monitoring of bird flu was needed.

In May 2013, the first human case of an H6N1 bird flu was detected in a woman in Taiwan. One of her neighbours bred ducks, geese and chickens – although the precise source of the infection has not been detected.

Many sub-types of influenza, such as those that cause seasonal flu or the swine flu pandemic, are known to infect people, but H6N1 is not one of them.

The report, by the Centres for Disease Control in Taiwan, said: “The occurrence of a human case of H6N1 infection shows the unpredictability of influenza viruses.

Influenza

“Our report highlights the need for influenza pandemic preparedness , including intensive surveillance for ever evolving avian influenza viruses.”

Prof Wendy Barclay, from Imperial College London, said these infections may have happened in the past but improved technology had meant this one had been discovered.

She said: ” Is this a truly new thing or are we now just better at seeing it?”

She told the BBC she expected far more of these cases to be reported in the next few years as more hospitals were geared up to look for novel bird flus.

Prof Barclay added: “This is a single case with no evidence of human transmission, but as always we should keep an eye on it and do studies to see how close it is to being able to spread between humans.”

Iran develops sea rescue drone


Iranian engineers have tested a drone designed to rescue people at risk of drowning.

The Pars robot has eight propellers and can carry up to three life rings which it can drop within arms-length of potential victims.

The project’s engineers said they were able to reach targets more quickly than a lifeguard in tests carried out near the shore of the Caspian Sea.

But they said more time and funds would be needed to carry out real rescues.

The early-stage experiments were carried out in August, but the details were only recently reported outside Iran by the Robots.net news site.

In them the robot raced against a human lifeguard to reach a person pretending to struggle 75m (247ft) out to sea.

At its fastest, the drone was able to release a life ring to the target within 22 seconds of launch, beating the lifeguard who took about 90 seconds to reach him.

“We carried out 13 tests over a four-day period – some were done at day and a few at night using LED lights,” Amin Rigi, co-founder of Tehran-based RTS Lab told the BBC.

Pars robot
Mr Rigi says he hopes his team’s invention will one day be used to save lives

“We had a little bit of difficulty throwing the life tubes at first, but over the following days the operator got better and became very precise.

“We think that [one day] the drone could be used for rescues at coastlines, for offshore missions from floating marine platforms, and also to carry out rescues when floods occur.”

Mr Rigi said the current prototype can move at 36km/h (22mph), stay airborne for up to 10 minutes, and use GPS location technology to return to base.

For now it requires a human to direct it via a remote control throughout the rest of its flight. However, Mr Rigi said his team aimed to automate more of the process.

“We plan to add image processing for the part of the rescue mission after the drowning person has come into the sight of the robot,” he said.

“From that point it should have the ability to do the rest of mission by itself.”

He added that there are also plans to give the robot the ability to land on water in emergency situations, and for it to use an infrared sensor system to spot people in the dark.

Storm warning

News of the research was welcomed by other roboticists.

“I’m delighted to see aerobot technology being applied to such humanitarian applications,” said Dave Barnes, professor of space and planetary robotics at Aberystwyth University.

“[Delivering] greater autonomy will be a challenge. However, I can envisage such devices using thermal cameras so that they can operate at night and under other similar poor visibility conditions that are a real challenge for human rescuers to deal with when trying to locate drowning victims.”

Yvan Petillot, professor of robotics and a member of Heriot-Watt University‘s Oceans Systems Laboratory, added that the machines might ultimately work best if paired with other artificial intelligence-controlled floating vehicles rather than trying to deliver the life rings themselves.

Graphic of Pars robots on offshore base
RTS envisages coastguards and others having Pars robots ready to deploy from offshore bases

“The current idea might work to monitor beaches in the summer, at least if they can increase the flight-time,” he said.

Pars robot

“But the key problem is that in stormy conditions the controllability of the vehicle is going to be a real issue.

“To me the interesting thing about this technology is the idea of mounting a camera on a flying vehicle, which allows you to explore a bigger area than from a surface craft.

“What you might want is to create a fleet including both kinds of vehicle, with them collaborating together.”

Mr Rigi acknowledged that making the Pars robot stable in harsh weather conditions posed a challenge.

But he added that his team was working to address the problem, and planned to test a more advanced version of the machine in either April or May.

German firm liable over PIP implants.


A French court has ordered a German company to pay compensation to hundreds of women who were fitted with defective breast implants.

TUV Rheinland, which awarded EU safety certificates to the French implant manufacturer, “neglected its duties of vigilance”, the court said.

Virginia Moon, lawyer of Argentine women in the lawsuit for defective Poly Implant Prothese (PIP) French-made breast implants, shows one of them in her office at the district courts during a press conference

PIP (Poly Implant Prothese) was shut down in March 2010 amidst a worldwide health scare.

The company used sub-standard silicone gel, causing many implants to rupture.

PIP implants scandal in numbers

  • More than 300,000 women affected in 65 countries
  • 4,000 reported ruptures
  • PIP exported 80% of its implants, with half going to Latin America
  • 42,000 British, 25,000 Brazilian, 15,000 Colombian, 30,000 French, 16,000 Venezuelan women received PIP implants
  • 15,000 French women have had their PIP implants removed under instruction from the government
  • 5,000 women registered as plaintiffs in the PIP trial
  • 1,700 women registered in the TUV Rheinland trial

Six implant distributors and 1,700 women had sued TUV Rheinland for 50m euros (£42m), arguing anything but a cursory inspection would have found problems.

The plaintiffs in the civil case will be given an initial payment of 3,000 euros per victim for surgery to have the implants removed.

Jan Spivey, a British woman who received PIP implants as part of reconstructive surgery following breast cancer in 2002, said she was “delighted” with the ruling.

“Of course TUV has some responsibility and should be held to account. They’re the organisation that gives the CE certification for safety, and that was what my surgeon relied on when he gave the implants to me.

“Anybody that gives safety certification for a product that is going to make women very sick does have responsibility,” she told the BBC’s Newshour programme.

It could open the door to many more compensation claims, says the BBC’s Christian Fraser in Paris.

TUV Rheinland had won two previous cases in Germany. This was the first such case in France.

The German firm has said it will appeal against the verdict.

Hidden from view

TUV Rheinland awarded PIP – formerly one of the world’s leading suppliers of implants – its European safety certificate for 17 years.

Carol Robson, who was one of the 1,700 plaintiffs. said she was “happy” with the compensation ruling

The founder of PIP, Jean Claude Mas, is still on trial for aggravated fraud in Marseilles, along with four of his executives.

He revealed during police interviews that he had ordered employees to hide the unauthorised silicone when inspectors visited his factory.

It has since emerged the substandard gel was used in 75% of the implants.

The court heard an employee in charge of quality control had only a cooking diploma – another in charge of the lab had previously trained as a pastry chef, our correspondent says.

A ruling is expected in Jean Claude Mas’ case on 10 December.

Today is World Diabetes Day


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Let today be the beginning of the end of your diabetes. Today being the World Diabetes Day, there is no better a day to take a new step for the awareness of the lifestyle disease, Diabetes. Every year, World Diabetes Day is co-ordinated by the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) with a particular theme; between 2009 and 2013 the theme has been ‘education and prevention’.

The Discovery of Insulin.


Before the discovery of insulin, diabetes was a feared disease that most certainly led to death. Doctors knew that sugar worsened the condition of diabetic patients and that the most effective treatment was to put the patients on very strict diets where sugar intake was kept to a minimum. At best, this treatment could buy patients a few extra years, but it never saved them. In some cases, the harsh diets even caused patients to die of starvation.

pancreasDuring the nineteenth century, observations of patients who died of diabetes often showed that the pancreas was damaged. In 1869, a German medical student, Paul Langerhans, found that within the pancreatic tissue that produces digestive juices there were clusters of cells whose function was unknown. Some of these cells were eventually shown to be the insulin-producing beta cells. Later, in honor of the person who discovered them, the cell clusters were named the islets of Langerhans.

In 1889 in Germany, physiologist Oskar Minkowski and physician Joseph von Mering, showed that if the pancreas was removed from a dog, the animal got diabetes. But if the duct through which the pancreatic juices flow to the intestine was ligated – surgically tied off so the juices couldn’t reach the intestine – the dog developed minor digestive problems but no diabetes. So it seemed that the pancreas must have at least two functions:

  • To produce digestive juices
  • To produce a substance that regulates the sugar glucose

This hypothetical internal secretion was the key. If a substance could actually be isolated, the mystery of diabetes would be solved. Progress, however, was slow.

Banting’s Idea

In October 1920 in Toronto, Canada, Dr. Frederick Banting, an unknown surgeon with a bachelor’s degree in medicine, had the idea that the pancreatic digestive juices could be harmful to the secretion of the pancreas produced by the islets of Langerhans.

He therefore wanted to ligate the pancreatic ducts in order to stop the flow of nourishment to the pancreas. This would cause the pancreas to degenerate, making it shrink and lose its ability to secrete the digestive juices. The cells thought to produce an antidiabetic secretion could then be extracted from the pancreas without being harmed.

Early in 1921, Banting took his idea to Professor John Macleod at the University of Toronto, who was a leading figure in the study of diabetes in Canada. Macleod didn’t think much of Banting’s theories. Despite this, Banting managed to convince him that his idea was worth trying. Macleod gave Banting a laboratory with a minimum of equipment and ten dogs. Banting also got an assistant, a medical student by the name of Charles Best. The experiment was set to start in the summer of 1921.

Banting and Best with a diabetic dog
Banting, right, and Best, left, with one of the diabetic dogs used in experiments with insulin.
Credits: University of Toronto Archives

The Experiment Begins

Banting and Best began their experiments by removing the pancreas from a dog. This resulted in the following:

  • It’s blood sugar rose.
  • It became thirsty, drank lots of water, and urinated more often.
  • It became weaker and weaker.

The dog had developed diabetes.

Experimenting on another dog, Banting and Best surgically ligated the pancreas, stopping the flow of nourishment, so that the pancreas degenerated.

After a while, they removed the pancreas, sliced it up, and froze the pieces in a mixture of water and salts. When the pieces were half frozen, they were ground up and filtered. The isolated substance was named “isletin.”

The extract was injected into the diabetic dog. Its blood glucose level dropped, and it seemed healthier and stronger. By giving the diabetic dog a few injections a day, Banting and Best could keep it healthy and free of symptoms.

Banting and Best showed their result to Macleod, who was impressed, but he wanted more tests to prove that their pancreatic extract really worked.

Banting and Best's laboratory Banting’s and Best’s laboratory, where insulin was discovered. 
Credits: University of Toronto Archives

Extended Tests

For the increased testing, Banting and Best realized that they required a larger supply of organs than their dogs could provide, and they started using pancreases from cattle. With this new source, they managed to produce enough extract to keep several diabetic dogs alive.

A dog and a cowThe new results convinced Macleod that they were onto something big. He gave them more funds and moved them to a better laboratory with proper working conditions. He also suggested they should call their extract “insulin.” Now, the work proceeded rapidly.

In late 1921, a third person, biochemist Bertram Collip, joined the team. Collip was given the task of trying to purify the insulin so that it would be clean enough for testing on humans.

During the intensified testing, the team also realized that the process of shrinking the pancreases had been unnecessary. Using whole fresh pancreases from adult animals worked just as well.

Testing on Humans

The team was eager to start testing on humans. But on whom should they test? Banting and Best began by injecting themselves with the extract. They felt weak and dizzy, but they were not harmed.

Collip continued his work to purify the insulin. He also experimented with trying to find the correct dosage. He learned how to diminish the effect of an insulin overdose with glucose in different forms. He discovered that the glucose should be as pure as possible. Orange juice and honey are good examples of foods rich in glucose.

A human and honeyIn January 1922 in Toronto, Canada, a 14-year-old boy, Leonard Thompson, was chosen as the first person with diabetes to receive insulin. The test was a success. Leonard, who before the insulin shots was near death, rapidly regained his strength and appetite. The team now expanded their testing to other volunteer diabetics, who reacted just as positively as Leonard to the insulin extract.

The Nobel Prize

The news of the successful treatment of diabetes with insulin rapidly spread outside of Toronto, and in 1923 the Nobel Committee decided to award Banting and Macleod the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

The decision of the Nobel Committee made Banting furious. He felt that the prize should have been shared between him and Best, and not between him and Macleod. To give credit to Best, Banting decided to share his cash award with him. Macleod, in turn, shared his cash award with Collip.

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for insulin has been much debated. It has been questioned why Macleod received the prize instead of Best and Collip. However, Macleod played a central role in the discovery of insulin. It was he who supported the project from the beginning. He supervised the work and it is also most likely that Macleod’s contacts in the scientific world helped the team in getting a speedy recognition of their discovery.


Frederick G. Banting and John Macleod were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1923 “for the discovery of insulin.”

The Legacy of Insulin

Banting, Macleod, and the rest of the team patented their insulin extract but gave away all their rights to the University of Toronto, which would later use the income from insulin to fund new research.

Very soon after the discovery of insulin, the medical firm Eli Lilly started large-scale production of the extract. As soon as 1923, the firm was producing enough insulin to supply the entire North American continent.

Although insulin doesn’t cure diabetes, it’s one of the biggest discoveries in medicine. When it came, it was like a miracle. People with severe diabetes and only days left to live were saved. And as long as they kept getting their insulin, they could live an almost normal life.

Accidental discovery dramatically improves electrical conductivity.


Quite by accident, Washington State University researchers have achieved a 400-fold increase in the electrical conductivity of a crystal simply by exposing it to light. The effect, which lasted for days after the light was turned off, could dramatically improve the performance of devices like computer chips.

Strontium Titanate

WSU doctoral student Marianne Tarun chanced upon the discovery when she noticed that the conductivity of some strontium titanate shot up after it was left out one day. At first, she and her fellow researchers thought the sample was contaminated, but a series of experiments showed the effect was from light.

“It came by accident,” said Tarun. “It’s not something we expected. That makes it very exciting to share.”

The phenomenon they witnessed—”persistent photoconductivity“—is a far cry from superconductivity, the complete lack of  pursued by other physicists, usually using temperatures near absolute zero. But the fact that they’ve achieved this at room temperature makes the phenomenon more immediately practical.

And while other researchers have created persistent photoconductivity in other materials, this is the most dramatic display of the phenomenon.

The research, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, appears this month in the journal Physical Review Letters.

“The discovery of this effect at  opens up new possibilities for practical devices,” said Matthew McCluskey, co-author of the paper and chair of WSU’s physics department. “In standard computer memory, information is stored on the surface of a computer chip or hard drive. A device using persistent photoconductivity, however, could store information throughout the entire volume of a crystal.”

This approach, called holographic memory, “could lead to huge increases in information capacity,” McCluskey said.

Strontium titanate and other oxides, which contain oxygen and two or more other elements, often display a dizzying variety of electronic phenomena, from the high resistance used for insulation to superconductivity’s lack of resistance.

“These diverse properties provide a fascinating playground for scientists but applications so far have been limited,” said McCluskey.

McCluskey, Tarun and physicist Farida Selim, now at Bowling Green State University, exposed a sample of  to light for 10 minutes. Its improved conductivity lasted for days. They theorize that the light frees electrons in the material, letting it carry more current.

Novartis announces positive clinical trial results for novel H7N9 vaccine.


  • 85% of subjects immunologically protected after receiving second dose of investigational cell culture vaccine when combined with proven MF59® adjuvant

  • Vaccine now in large scale production highlighting rapid response capability of novel FDA licensed cell culture technology

  • 135 confirmed cases and 45 deaths from H7N9 virus since emergence in March according to the World Health Organization.

Novartis announced today interim results from a Phase 1 clinical trial with its proprietary cell culture vaccine for the H7N9 avian influenza virus involving 400 healthy volunteers (18-64 years of age). The data shows 85% of subjects achieved a protective immune response after two doses of the 15 ug MF59 adjuvanted vaccine. Only 6% of subjects achieved a protective response when given two doses of the 15ug un-adjuvanted vaccine. The full data set from the trial will be submitted to a peer-reviewed journal for publication in the near future. 

The vaccine was produced utilizing full-scale cell-culture manufacturing technology, an alternative technology that can significantly accelerate vaccine production versus traditional egg-based methods.[2] Cell-culture technology utilizes a well-characterized mammalian cell line rather than chicken eggs to grow virus strains.[3]

“This rapid response underscores our leadership position in pandemic preparedness” said Andrin Oswald, Division Head, Novartis Vaccines. “Thanks to our investments into innovative production technologies and adjuvants, we are now able to offer a protective solution for a potentially deadly pandemic virus within a few months after the emergence of the H7N9 virus.”

Reports of H7N9 infection first emerged in China in March 2013. Novartis, along with its partners at the Craig Venter Institute, first synthesized the viral strain several days after it was shared with global researchers by the Chinese Centers for Disease Control. Novartis then produced clinical trial lots, began clinical trials in August, and initiated large-scale production in its Holly Springs (NC), USA and Marburg, Germany facilities in October.