Nicotine withdrawal traced to very specific group of brain cells.


Nicotine withdrawal might take over your body, but it doesn’t take over your brain. The symptoms of nicotine withdrawal are driven by a very specific group of neurons within a very specific brain region, according to a report in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication, on November 14. Although caution is warranted, the researchers say, the findings in mice suggest that therapies directed at this group of neurons might one day help people quit smoking.

“We were surprised to find that one population of neurons within a single brain region could actually control physical nicotine withdrawal behaviors,” says Andrew Tapper of the Brudnick Neuropsychiatric Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Tapper and his colleagues first obtained mice addicted to nicotine by delivering the drug to mice in their water for a period of 6 weeks. Then they took the nicotine away. The mice started scratching and shaking in the way a dog does when it is wet. Close examination of the animals’ brains revealed abnormally increased activity in neurons within a single region known as the interpeduncular nucleus.

When the researchers artificially activated those neurons with light, animals showed behaviors that looked like nicotine withdrawal, whether they had been exposed to the drug or not. The reverse was also true: treatments that lowered activity in those neurons alleviated nicotine withdrawal symptoms.

That the interpeduncular nucleus might play such a role in withdrawal from nicotine makes sense because the region receives connections from other areas of the brain involved in nicotine use and response, as well as feelings of anxiety. The interpeduncular nucleus is also densely packed with nicotinic acetylcholine receptors that are the molecular targets of nicotine.

It is much less clear whether the findings related to nicotine will be relevant to other forms of addiction, but there are some hints that they may.

“Smoking is highly prevalent in people with other substance-use disorders, suggesting a potential interaction between nicotine and other drugs of abuse,” Tapper says. “In addition, naturally occurring mutations in genes encoding the nicotinic receptor subunits that are found in the interpeduncular nucleus have been associated with drug and alcohol dependence.”

Source: Cell Press
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Will the world end in 100 days? Sounding of ancient trumpet in York warns of Viking apocalypse on 22 February 2014.


Sounding of ancient trumpet in York warns of Viking apocalypse on 22 February 2014

  • Legend has it that on this day, the god Odin will be killed by the wolf Fenrir
  • The soil and the sky will be stained with poison and the sea will rear up
  • Prior to the apocalypse, three freezing winters would follow each other
  • The sound of the horn is supposed to call the sons of Odin to the battlefield, where Odin will ultimately be killed
If  Vikings were here today, the sounding of a distinctive horn in York would have created chaos.

The ancient instrument, blown last night, signalled exactly 100 days until the end of the world, according to Norse mythology.

Legend has it that the Norse God, Heimdallr, would blow the mythical Gjallerhorn to warn of the Viking apocalypse, also known as ‘Ragnarok’.

The end of the world was signalled in York last night as a horn was blown to herald the beginning of the apocalypseThe end of the world was signalled in York last night as a horn was blown to herald the beginning of the apocalypse
'Then the Awful Fight', by George Wright in 1908, depicts the final battle of the gods‘Then the Awful Fight’, by George Wright in 1908, depicts the final battle of the gods

Ragnarok, which translates to ‘Doom of the Gods’, is due to be preceded by the winter of winters.

Vikings believed, prior to the apocalypse, three freezing winters would follow each other with no summers in between.

All morality would disappear and fights would break out all over the world, signalling the beginning of the end.

The wolf Skoll would devour the sun, and his brother Hati would eat the moon, causing stars to vanish from the sky and the Earth to be thrown into eternal darkness.

Norse mythology experts have calculated that Vikings believed this will take place on February 22, 2014.

On this day, the god Odin will be killed by the wolf Fenrir and the other ‘creator’ gods.

The sound of the horn is supposed to call the sons of Odin and the heroes to the battlefield, where Odin (pictured) will ultimately be killedThe sound of the horn is supposed to call the sons of Odin and the heroes to the battlefield, where Odin (pictured) will ultimately be killed

THE RAGNAROK APOCALYPSE

Ragnarok, which translates to ‘Doom of the Gods’, is due to be preceded by the ‘winter of winters’.

Vikings believed that prior to the apocalypse three freezing winters would follow each other with no summers in between.

All morality would disappear and fights would break out all over the world, signalling the beginning of the end.

The wolf Skoll would then devour the sun, and his brother Hati would eat the moon, causing stars to vanish from the sky.

Norse mythology experts have calculated that this is due to take place on February 22, 2014.

On this day, the god Odin will be killed by the wolf Fenrir and the other ‘creator’ gods.

There will be huge earthquakes, the sea will rear up and the soil and the sky will be stained with poison.

The Earth will sink into the sea, paving the way for a new utopian world with endless supplies.

There will be huge earthquakes, the sea will rear up and the soil and the sky will be stained with poison.

The sound of the horn is supposed to call the sons of Odin to the battlefield, where Odin will ultimately be killed.

After his death, the Earth was foretold to sink into the sea, paving the way for a new utopian world with endless supplies.

Danielle Daglan from the Norvik Viking Centre told MailOnline that a number of recent events spoken about in the legends of Ragnarok led them to believe that the end of the world may well be imminent.

The legend states that ‘the first to notice shall be man, brother will fight brother and all the boundaries that exist shall crumble.’

‘The idea that “boundaries that exist shall crumble” could be said to be about the Internet age, where you can communicate with millions of people simultaneously around the world thanks to the global rise of social media,’ said Ms Daglan.

Viking tradition also believes that a vast winter will appear before the apocalypse.

viking‘Kampf der untergehenden Götter’ which translates as ‘Battle of the Doomed Gods’ was painted in 1882 by Wilhelm Wägner and depicts the gods in their ultimate fight. This was predicted to occur shortly before huge earthquakes and treacherous seas. it was thought that the soil sky would then be ‘stained with poison’‘There are predictions that we are heading into a mini-ice age thanks to a fall in solar flare activity – what is a mini-ice age but several winters rolled into one?’ said Ms Daglan.Another part of the legend claims that the Midgard Serpent, named Jormungand, shall free itself from its tail and rise up from the ocean.Ms Dagland points to the two huge fish which appeared on a beach in California last month.

The giant oarfish were dead when they washed up on land, and some scientists believe they came ashore to die because they are ‘in distress’.

‘Traditionally, the Viking festival of Jolablot marked the end of the winter – if this winter truly does not end, then that feast may be given over to Ragnarok instead,’ said Ms Dagland.

The Jorvik Viking Centre predicted that Ragnarok would occur on 22 February because this is the end of the feast of Jolablot.

While not a scientific conclusion, they claim that Vikings loved to feast and wouldn’t want to miss this event. For this reason, they argue that Vikings would believe the world would end in 100 days.

The end of the world is coincidently the start of the grand finale of the Viking festival in York.

‘Following a study published in 2010 that bearded men are more trustworthy than those without, we’re also looking for fantastic displays of facial hair, so that we can identify those with the potential to take us into the brave new world that is foretold to follow Ragnarok,’ said Danielle Daglan director of the JORVIK Viking Festival.

‘In the last couple of years, we’ve had predictions of the Mayan apocalypse, which passed without incident, and numerous other dates where the end of the world has been pencilled in by seers, fortune tellers and visionaries,’ she added.

‘But the sound of the horn is possibly the best indicator yet that the Viking version of the end of the world really will happen on 22 February next year.’

Viking hornThe sound of the horn is possibly the best indicator yet that the Viking version of the end of the world really will happen on 22 February next year, claims festival director Danielle Daglan

WHY DOES THE JORVIK VIKING CENTRE BELIEVE RAGNAROK IS IMMINENT?

Danielle Daglan from the Norvik Viking Centre told MailOnline that a number of recent events spoken about in the legends of Ragnarok led them to believe that the end of the world may well be imminent.

For instance, the legend states that ‘the first to notice shall be man, brother will fight brother and all the boundaries that exist shall crumble.’

‘The idea that “boundaries that exist shall crumble” could be said to be about the Internet age, where you can communicate with millions of people simultaneously around the world thanks to the global rise of social media,’ said Ms Daglan.

Viking tradition also believes that a vast winter will appear before the apocalypse.

‘There are predictions that we are heading into a mini-ice age thanks to a fall in solar flare activity – what is a mini-ice age but several winters rolled into one?’ said Ms Daglan.

Another part of the legend suggests that the Midgard Serpent, named Jormungand, shall free itself from its tail and rise up from the ocean.

Ms Dagland points to the two huge fish which appeared on a beach in California last month.

The giant oarfish were dead when they washed up on land, and some scientists believe they came ashore to die because they are ‘in distress’.

‘Traditionally, the Viking festival of Jolablot marked the end of the winter – if this winter truly does not end, then that feast may be given over to Ragnarok instead,’ said Ms Dagland.

The Jorvik Viking Centre predicted that Ragnarok would occur on 22 February because this is the end of the feast of Jolablot.

While not a scientific conclusion, they claim that Vikings loved to feast and wouldn’t want to miss this event. For this reason, they argue that Vikings would believe the world would end in 100 days.

OarfishOne part of the legend suggests that the Midgard Serpent, named Jormungand, shall free itself from its tail and rise up from the ocean. Ms Dagland points to the two huge fish which appeared on a beach in California last month

Batkid saves San Francisco as charity makes a wish come true.


Thousands volunteer to help five-year-old leukaemia patient battle The Riddler and Penguin on a day of realised dreams
Miles Scott, dressed as Batkid
Miles Scott, dressed as Batkid, right, runs with Batman after saving a damsel in distress in San Francisco.

San Francisco was beset by a wave of crime on Friday, as a woman was taken hostage and tied to cable car tracks, a criminal calling himself the Riddler attempted to rob a bank vault, and a miscreant known as Penguin generally made a nuisance of himself in the downtown area.

Happily, each incident was staged: an attempt on the part the charity Make-a-Wish to give five-year-old Miles Scott, who is recovering from leukaemia, a memorable day assisting his favourite superhero.

San Francisco’s mayor and police were among thousands involved in an extraordnary day that gripped the city and caught the attention of the White House. Miles’s day began with a fraught message from police chief Greg Suhr, alerting “Batkid” to the various criminal activities and pleading with him to assist. Miles acquiesced, and was collected by a man dressed as Batman who was driving a vehicle which bore a passing resemblance to the Batmobile.

Treatment for Dormant Malaria Shows Promise.


The first new drug in half a century to target malaria parasites in one of their best hideouts is showing encouraging results. The researchers developing the drug, called tafenoquine, said today that data from a recently completed phase II trial were promising enough that they will soon start a phase III trial—the last step before asking drug regulators for approval.

Tafenoquine kills the malaria parasite when it is lurking in liver cells, in a form called the hypnozoite, or “sleeping parasite.” Hypnozoites don’t cause any symptoms and are impossible to detect with blood tests. But when triggered by signals that aren’t fully understood, they can reactivate to cause a new bout of malaria—which can then be picked up by mosquitoes and passed on to new victims. Five species of Plasmodium can cause malaria in humans. Two of them—Plasmodium vivax, which is widespread, and the relatively rare P. ovale—can form hypnozoites. This ability to hide is one of the things that makes P. vivax so difficult to eliminate from a region.

Now, the only treatment that can cure vivax malaria—hiding parasites and all—is a 14-day course of a drug called primaquine, which was developed in the 1940s. It works fairly well, but it is difficult for people who don’t feel ill to complete the whole 2 weeks. “The compliance with the current regimen is really a problem,” says JP Kleim, director of clinical development for the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). “The acute malaria is gone after a few days [of treatment],” so patients’ motivation to continue taking drugs is low. That’s why GSK decided to develop tafenoquine, together with the Medicines for Malaria Venture, a Geneva-based nonprofit. The partners launched a trial in 2011 to test whether a single dose of tafenoquine could work as well as the 2-week course of primaquine.

Vivax malaria, shown here in the blood stream, can hide out—undetectable—in liver cells.

The data, presented today at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., suggest that a single dose works very well. The trial involved 329 patients in Brazil, India, Thailand, and Peru. In patients who received either a 300 mg or 600 mg dose of the drug, 90% had no relapses after 4 months. The partners will now go forward with a phase III trial, testing the safety and efficacy of the 300 mg dose in 600 patients, says Marcus Lacerda of the Fundação de Medicina Tropical Dr. Heitor Vieira Dourado in Manaus, Brazil, who helped coordinate the study and presented the results at the meeting today.

A single-dose drug would be a huge advantage in the fight against vivax malaria, says Ric Price of the Menzies School of Health Research in Darwin, Australia, and the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. “One of the biggest challenges we face is how can we adequately and reliably treat the hypnozoite stage.”

Exercise while pregnant may boost baby’s brain.


This week, Baby V and I have joined more than 30,000 neuroscientists in San Diego for the annual Society for Neuroscience meeting. We’ve wandered the miles of posters, dropped in on talks and generally soaked up the brain waves floating around this massive meeting of minds.

We’ve worked up a sweat more than once rushing around the meeting, so it’s nice to be reminded of all the exciting research on the benefits of physical exercise on the brain. Evidence is piling up that a fit body is one of the absolute best things you can do for a fit mind. And a study presented November 10 shows that if you’re pregnant, the benefits of exercise extend to your baby’s brain too.

Researchers from the University of Montreal asked pregnant women to exercise three times a week for 20 minutes until they were slightly short of breath. Other pregnant women didn’t exercise.  Eight to 12 days after the babies were born, the team recorded the electrical activity in sleeping babies’ brains.

Babies born to moms who exercised showed more localized brain activity patterns in response to sounds, the researchers found. This targeted brain activity is a sign of brain maturity, indicating that the brain is becoming more efficient. Babies whose mothers didn’t exercise during pregnancy showed more diffuse brain responses to sounds. The scientists plan on looking for lasting benefits by testing the babies at age 1.

Studies in rodents have found benefits of exercise during pregnancy: Rats born to moms who worked out have brains that are more resistant to low oxygen conditions, for instance. Maternal exercise boosts levels of cellular powerhouses called mitochondria in rat pups’ brains.  And exercise during pregnancy resulted in more newborn neurons in the mouse hippocampus, a brain region involved in learning and memory. Now, this new study suggests that some of these benefits might extend to people, too.

So, exercise is good for mom and good for baby. Now Baby V and I just need to find a study that reports exercise — specifically, walking miles and miles at a neuroscience conference — helps a baby to sleep through the night.

Late afternoon and early evening caffeine can disrupt sleep at night.


A new study shows that caffeine consumption even six hours before bedtime can have significant, disruptive effects on sleep.

“Sleep specialists have always suspected that caffeine can disrupt sleep long after it is consumed,” said American Academy of Sleep Medicine President M. Safwan Badr, MD.  “This study provides objective evidence supporting the general recommendation that avoiding caffeine in the late afternoon and at night is beneficial for sleep.”

Results show that 400 mg of caffeine (about 2-3 cups of coffee) taken at bedtime, three and even six hours prior to bedtime significantly disrupts sleep. Even when caffeine was consumed six hours before going to bed, objectively measured total sleep time was dramatically reduced (more than one hour).  However, subjective reports suggest that participants were unaware of this sleep disturbance.

The study is in the Nov. 15 issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, which is published by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

“Drinking a big cup of coffee on the way home from work can lead to negative effects on sleep just as if someone were to consume caffeine closer to bedtime,” said lead author Christopher Drake, PhD, investigator at the Henry Ford Sleep Disorders and Research Center and associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at Wayne State University in Detroit, Mich. “People tend to be less likely to detect the disruptive effects of caffeine on sleep when taken in the afternoon,” noted Drake, who also is on the board of directors of the Sleep Research Society.

Drake and his research team studied 12 healthy normal sleepers, as determined by a physical examination and clinical interview. Participants were instructed to maintain their normal sleep schedules.  They were given three pills a day for four days, taking one pill at six, three and zero hours prior to scheduled bedtime.  One of the pills contained 400 mg of caffeine, and the other two were a placebo.  On one of the four days, all three pills were a placebo.  Sleep disturbance was measured subjectively with a standard sleep diary and objectively using an in-home sleep monitor.

According to the authors, this is the first study to investigate the effects of a given dose of caffeine taken at different times before sleep.  The results suggest that caffeine generally should be avoided after 5 p.m. in order to allow healthy sleep.

New hologram technology created with tiny nanoantennas.


Researchers have created tiny holograms using a “metasurface” capable of the ultra-efficient control of light, representing a potential new technology for advanced sensors, high-resolution displays and information processing.

The metasurface, thousands of V-shaped nanoantennas formed into an ultrathin gold foil, could make possible “planar photonics” devices and optical switches small enough to be integrated into computer chips for information processing, sensing and telecommunications, said Alexander Kildishev, associate research professor of electrical and computer engineering at Purdue University.

Laser light shines through the nanoantennas, creating the hologram 10 microns above the metasurface. To demonstrate the technology, researchers created a hologram of the word PURDUE smaller than 100 microns wide, or roughly the width of a human hair.

“If we can shape characters, we can shape different types of light beams for sensing or recording, or, for example, pixels for 3-D displays. Another potential application is the transmission and processing of data inside chips for information technology,” Kildishev said. “The smallest features – the strokes of the letters – displayed in our experiment are only 1 micron wide. This is a quite remarkable spatial resolution.”

holograms with laser lights
Laser light shines through the metasurface from below, creating a hologram 10 microns above the structure. (Xingjie Ni, Birck Nanotechnology Center)

Findings are detailed in a research paper appearing on Friday (Nov. 15) in the journal Nature Communications.

Metasurfaces could make it possible to use single photons – the particles that make up light – for switching and routing in future computers. While using photons would dramatically speed up computers and telecommunications, conventional photonic devices cannot be miniaturized because the wavelength of light is too large to fit in tiny components needed for integrated circuits.

Nanostructured metamaterials, however, are making it possible to reduce the wavelength of light, allowing the creation of new types of nanophotonic devices, said Vladimir M. Shalaev, scientific director of nanophotonics at Purdue’s Birck Nanotechnology Center and a distinguished professor of electrical and computer engineering.

“The most important thing is that we can do this with a very thin layer, only 30 nanometers, and this is unprecedented,” Shalaev said. “This means you can start to embed it in electronics, to marry it with electronics.”

The layer is about 1/23rd the width of the wavelength of light used to create the holograms.

The Nature Communications article was co-authored by former Purdue doctoral student Xingjie Ni, who is now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Berkeley; Kildishev; and Shalaev.

Under development for about 15 years, metamaterials owe their unusual potential to precision design on the scale of nanometers. Optical nanophotonic circuits might harness clouds of electrons called “surface plasmons” to manipulate and control the routing of light in devices too tiny for conventional lasers.

The researchers have shown how to control the intensity and phase, or timing, of laser light as it passes through the nanoantennas. Each antenna has its own “phase delay” – how much light is slowed as it passes through the structure. Controlling the intensity and phase is essential for creating working devices and can be achieved by altering the V-shaped antennas.

The work is partially supported by U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research, Army research Office, and the National Science Foundation. Purdue has filed a provisional patent application on the concept.

‘Kangaroo care’ key for prem babies.


Mothers carrying babies skin-to-skin could significantly cut global death and disability rates from premature birth, a leading expert has said.

Prof Joy Lawn says “kangaroo care“, not expensive intensive care, is the key.

Premature baby in an incubator

The 15 million babies every year born at or before 37 weeks gestation account for about 10% of the global burden of disease, and one million of them die.

Of those who survive, just under 3% have moderate or severe impairments and 4.4% have mild impairments.

“Start Quote

Unless there are those breathing problems, kangaroo care is actually better ”

Prof Joy Lawn London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

Prof Lawn, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), said: “The perception is you need intensive care for pre-term babies,

“But 85% of babies born premature are six weeks early or less. They need help feeding, with temperature control and they are more prone to infection.

“It’s really only before 32 weeks that their lungs are immature and they need help breathing,

She added: “Unless there are those breathing problems, kangaroo care is actually better because it promotes breastfeeding and reduces infection.”

Speaking ahead of World Prematurity Day on Friday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who leads the Every Woman Every Child movement, which promotes improvements to healthcare for women and children, said: “Three-quarters of the one million babies who die each year from complications associated with prematurity could have been saved with cost-effective interventions, even without intensive care facilities.”

Duncan Wilbur, from the UK charity Bliss, said, “While kangaroo care saves lives in countries such as Africa, it is also incredibly important for babies born too soon all over the world.

“Here in the UK our medical technology is extremely advanced but simply giving a baby kangaroo care or skin-to-skin can help make a baby’s breathing and heart rate more regular, it can help a baby’s discomfort during certain medical procedures and importantly can benefit breastfeeding and bonding between the baby and parents.”

Pregnancy risks

Studies to be published this weekend in the Pediatric Research journal show boys are 14% more likely to be born prematurely – and boys who are premature are more likely to die or experience disability than girls.

Common disabilities include learning disorders and cerebral palsy.

Prof Lawn said: “One partial explanation for more preterm births among boys is that women pregnant with a boy are more likely to have placental problems, pre-eclampsia, and high blood pressure, all associated with preterm births.”

She added: “Baby boys have a higher likelihood of infections, jaundice, birth complications, and congenital conditions, but the biggest risk for baby boys is due to preterm birth.

“For two babies born at the same degree of prematurity, a boy will have a higher risk of death and disability compared to a girl.

“Even in the womb, girls mature more rapidly than boys, which provides an advantage, because the lungs and other organs are more developed.

China to loosen one-child policy.


China is to relax its policy of restricting most couples to having only a single child, state media say.

In future, families will be allowed two children if one parent is an only child, the Xinhua news agency said.

The proposal follows this week’s meeting of a key decision-making body of the governing Communist Party.

Other reforms include the abolition of “re-education through labour” camps and moves to boost the role of the private sector in the economy.

Though the scale of the Chinese leadership‘s new social and economic reforms are vast, affecting millions across China, none of these changes should come as a shock. Many of these changes have been discussed in the Chinese state media in the past, and many have been test-driven on a smaller scale in different parts of the country.For example, in some Chinese cities for the past few years, couples who are both single children have been allowed the option of having a second child. The latest change will give couples the option of having two children if just one of the parents is an only child.Though the scale of the Chinese leadership’s new social and economic reforms are vast, affecting millions across China, none of these changes should come as a shock. Many of these changes have been discussed in the Chinese state media in the past, and many have been test-driven on a smaller scale in different parts of the country.For example, in some Chinese cities for the past few years, couples who are both single children have been allowed the option of having a second child. The latest change will give couples the option of having two children if just one of the parents is an only child.Similarly, Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed to abolish the much-hated “re-education through labour” system when he first came to power. Quietly, officials have been winding down the system over the past few months.

The Communist government is not prone to making rash decisions. In order to gain the consensus it needs to carry out its plans at the local level, officials need to announce them well ahead of time. Surprises aren’t popular in China, it seems.

Similarly, Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed to abolish the much-hated “re-education through labour” system when he first came to power. Quietly, officials have been winding down the system over the past few months.

The Communist government is not prone to making rash decisions. In order to gain the consensus it needs to carry out its plans at the local level, officials need to announce them well ahead of time. Surprises aren’t popular in China, it seems.

The BBC’s Celia Hatton, in Beijing, says most of the changes have already been tested in parts of the country.

Officials announce their plans well in advance to gain the consensus they need, she adds.

Ageing population

The latest announcements are contained in a 22,000-word document released three days after the Third Plenum meeting of the Communist leadership in Beijing.

Traditionally reforms are expected from the Third Plenum, because new leaders are seen as having had time to consolidate power. President Xi Jinping took office last year.

The one-child policy would be “adjusted and improved step by step to promote ‘long-term balanced development of the population in China'”, Xinhua said.

China introduced its one-child policy at the end of the 1970s to curb rapid population growth.

But correspondents say the policy has become increasingly unpopular and that leaders fear the country’s ageing population will both reduce the labour pool and exacerbate elderly care issues.

By 2050, more than a quarter of the population will be over 65.

The one-child policy has on the whole been strictly enforced, though some exceptions already exist, including for ethnic minorities.

In some cities, both parents must be only children in order to be allowed to have a second child.

China’s one-child policy

  • China’s population-control policy was introduced in 1979 and restricts couples in urban areas to only one child
  • In rural areas, families are allowed to have two children if the first is a girl.
  • Other exceptions include ethnic minorities and couples who both lack siblings themselves
  • The policy has meant that about one-third of China’s 1.3 billion citizens cannot have a second child without incurring a fine
  • Campaigners say it has led to forced abortions, female infanticide, and the under-reporting of female births
  • It is also implicated as a cause of China’s gender imbalance

In the countryside, families are allowed to have two children if the first is a girl.

Couples who flout the rules can face heavy fines, or possibly lose their property or their jobs.

Rights groups say the law has meant some women being coerced into abortions, which Beijing denies.

The traditional preference for boys has also created a gender imbalance as some couples opt for sex-selective abortions.

By the end of the decade, demographers say China will have 24 million “leftover men” who, because of China’s gender imbalance, will not be able to find a wife.

Most of the elderly in China are still cared for by relatives, and only children from single-child parents face what is known as the 4-2-1 phenomenon.

When the child reaches working age, he or she could have to care for two parents and four grandparents in retirement.

‘Improve human rights’

On Tuesday, when the Third Plenum ended, China’s leaders also promised that the free market would play a bigger role, and farmers would have greater property rights over their land.

Ageing China

Graphic

By 2050 more than a quarter of China’s population will be over 65 years old and younger generations face an unprecedented burden of care.

State firms will be required to pay larger dividends to the government, while private firms will be given a greater role in the economy.

There will be greater liberalisation in both interest rates and the free convertibility of the yuan. More overseas investment will be allowed.

There will also be an increase in the number of smaller banks and financial institutions funded by private capital.

Xinhua said the decision to do away with the “re-education through labour” camps was “part of efforts to improve human rights and judicial practices”.

China’s leaders had previously said they wanted to reform the system.

The network of camps created half a century ago holds tens of thousands of inmates.

Police panels have the power to sentence offenders to years in camps without trial.

Other reforms announced on Friday include a reduction in the number of crimes subject to the death penalty.

World-first bionic implant to treat mental illness under development.


World-first bionic implant to treat mental illness under development

UOW researchers are in the midst of developing a world-first brain implant to help treat people with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia.

Professor Xu-Feng Huang, Deputy Executive Director of the Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute at UOW, is leading a multidisciplinary team of researchers on the $676,000, three-year, National Health and Medical Research Council funded project.

The device will work in a similar way to the cochlear implant, with electrodes implanted into the frontal area of the brain, which will provide electrical stimulation and growth factors to improve brain function in schizophrenia and allied disorders.

“Brain abnormalities in neuronal growth, microstructure and inter-neuronal communication underlie the prefrontal cortical pathology of many psychiatric diseases, including schizophrenia,” Professor Huang said.

Professor Huang recently told the Herald Sun that there had been virtually no technological breakthroughs for the treatment of schizophrenia (which ranks among the top 10 causes of disability in developed countries worldwide) in 50 years.

“Largely we rely on antipsychotics that not only have side-effects but also they can’t address the disease effects on cognitive function and communication,” he said.

The collaboration involves Australian Laureate Fellow Professor Gordon Wallace and his team at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science, who will bring their expertise in new organic materials (polymers), which conduct electricity.

“Through a number of years of study we’ve proven these materials have many benefits transmitting electrical signals to both nerve and muscle cells, and therefore influencing the developing and behaviour of those cells,” Professor Wallace said.

The team will initially evaluate and optimise the technology in vitro before creating a 3D nano-structured drug-loaded electrical stimulation device that will be tested in animal trials, with the potential to translate to clinical trials.

Professor Huang, who is also the Director of the Centre for Translational Neuroscience at UOW (which has been supported by the Schizophrenia Research Institute since 1999), is working on an additional five National Health and Medical Research Council projects (totalling $3 million) into mental illness.

In fact, a collaboration with China’s Beijing HuiLongGuan Hospital has recently found that that the prevention and treatment of diabetes might prove beneficial for people with schizophrenia and may yield better cognitive functioning, especially in immediate memory and attention.