The UN’s latest climate meeting ends positively


But there is a lot more to do if global warming is to be stopped

HOSTING COP24, the latest of the UN’s annual climate summits, in Katowice was meant to symbolise the transition from an old, dirty world to a new, clean one. Spiritually, the city is the home of Poland’s coal miners. Today, it is replete with besuited management consultants and bearded baristas. The venue itself was on top of a disused mine in the city centre.

Ahead of the two-week powwow, which concluded on December 15th, many feared the meeting would instead highlight the unresolved contradictions involved in that transition. So it came as a relief when nearly 14,000 delegates from 195 countries managed—more or less, and a day late—to achieve the gathering’s main objective: a “rule book” for putting into practice the Paris agreement of 2015, which commits the world to keeping global warming “well below” 2°C relative to pre-industrial times, and preferably within 1.5°C.

This outcome was far from assured. Setting an abstract goal, as governments had in Paris, is simpler than agreeing on how to go about reaching it. Technicalities—what counts as a reduction in emissions, who monitors countries’ progress and so on—can be politically thorny. Poland’s right-wing government, which presided over the talks, lacks both friends (alienated by, among other things, its anti-democratic attacks on judicial independence) and green credentials. Observers were braced for a diplomatic debacle.

Implementing the judgment of Paris

The summit got off to an inauspicious start. At the outset Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, declared that his country cannot reasonably be expected to give up its 200 years’ worth of coal reserves. In France, his opposite number, Emmanuel Macron, caved in to massive protests and suspended a planned fuel-tax rise intended to help curb greenhouse-gas emissions from transport. Days earlier, Brazil had withdrawn its offer to host next year’s summit after Jair Bolsonaro, the president-elect who takes office in January and who would love to follow his American counterpart, Donald Trump, out of the Paris deal, said his government had no interest.

Despite these early setbacks, negotiators resolved most of 2,800-odd points of contention in the rule book’s pre-summit draft. Michal Kurtyka, the amiable Polish bureaucrat who chaired the proceedings, turned apparent haplessness into a virtue, by leaving delegates space to thrash out their differences.

Poor countries won firmer assurances that rich ones would help pay for their efforts to curb their greenhouse-gas emissions and to adapt to rising sea levels and fiercer floods, droughts, storms and other climate-related problems. The rich world, for its part, cajoled China into accepting uniform guidelines for tallying those emissions. Thus stripped of their most powerful voice, other developing countries reluctantly followed suit. If any cannot meet the standards, they must explain why and present a plan to make amends. This concession, long demanded by the Americans, may not persuade Mr Trump to keep the United States in the deal. But it could make things easier for any successor who wished to re-enter it after Mr Trump has left office.

Besides haggling over the rules, a handful of countries—including big polluters such as Ukraine—used the jamboree to announce plans for more ambitious “nationally determined contributions” (or NDCs, as the voluntary pledges countries submit under the Paris deal are known). The city councils of Melbourne and Sydney, in Australia, joined a growing number of national and local governments intent on phasing out coal. So did Israel and Senegal. In the wake of Brazil’s desertion, Chile stepped in to organise next year’s summit, which convention dictates should happen in Latin America. The Paris compact has thus not come apart at the seams.

Predictably, for negotiations that need to balance the interest of nearly 200 parties, no one leaves Katowice entirely happy. Vulnerable countries, such as small island states imperilled by rising seas, worry that the findings of a recent UN-backed scientific report outlining the dire consequences of another half a degree of warming, on top of the 1°C which has happened since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, have been underplayed. Rich countries grumble that poor ones can still get away with emitting too much carbon dioxide.

Mr Kurtyka was also unable, because of Brazilian objections, to break an impasse on carbon trading. This is an arrangement that allows big belchers of CO{-2} to offset emissions by paying others to forgo some of theirs. Brazil balked at proposals intended to prevent double-counting in such trading, because it believed they penalised its large stockpile of carbon-trading instruments, such as promises not to chop down patches of the Amazon. As a result, the issue has been kicked into the long cassava.

The direction of travel is, nevertheless, correct. Earlier in the meeting Ottmar Edenhofer, a veteran German climate policymaker who is director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, had feared that Katowice would mark “the beginning of the end of the Paris agreement”. For all its shortcomings, the compromise which emerged is not that.

But after all is said and done, the 2°C goal (let alone the 1.5°C aspiration) still remains a distant prospect. The current set of NDCs puts the world on course for more or less 3°C of warming—and Kiribati and the Marshall Islands at risk of submersion. Campaigners, who spiced up the stodgy talks with a dash of sit-ins and marches, were right to decry the lack of ambition as unequal to the task of sparing future generations from climate catastrophe. The rule book is itself no nostrum for the planet’s man-made fever. The only real medicine would be firmer commitment to decarbonising economies. And, as Mr Macron is finding, that medicine can be bitter.

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Paris Attack At Charlie Hebdo Offices And The Psychology Of Terrorism: Are Certain People More Prone To Extremism?


On the morning of Jan. 7, 2015, the world mourned the death of 12 killed at the hands of Islamist extremists in the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo magazine. The brutal attack, described as a scene of “butchery,” left another five seriously injured. It seems like these stories of terrorist attacks are becoming all too frequent, but what is it that makes some men and women commit crimes compared to others who would never entertain the fantasy? Well, psychology may have the answer to that.

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The Paris terrorism attack left 12 dead; 10 Charlie Hebdo workers and two police officers, The Guardian reported. It caused the City of Lights to go on high alert, with children being evacuated in nearby schools and police being stationed at surrounding newspaper offices, museums, and subway stations. The attackers have not made their motives known, but it’s believed that a series of cartoons depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammad may have sparked the violence.

What Is Terrorism?

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation defines an act of terrorism as violent or dangerous acts to human life that appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population.

Although at the moment extremist Muslims are getting the majority of attention for their acts of terrorism, in truth these crimes are committed by men and women from all walks of life. Terrorism and religion are in fact not at all related, although many may confuse them to be. No one explains this better than Fox News religion correspondent Lauren Green who wrote, “Religion is the red herring. What’s at the heart of all divisiveness is sin.”

In reality, most people would no sooner become involved in an act of terrorism than they would chop off their own arm. So if it’s not religion beliefs that define who may and may not become a terrorist, what is it?

What Drives Some To Kill?

Psychologists agree that at the root of terrorists’ motives is the need for significance and recognition, regardless of the reason.

“Some personality types are more prone to radical ideologies,” Arie Kruglanski, a psychology professor at the University of Maryland who focuses on radicalization, explained to NBC News. “Radical ideology promises glory and significance. Therefore, people who are more motivated toward glory and significance are more prone to accept those ideologies.”

Some are drawn to the lifestyle because it brings excitement and purpose to a life they perceive as mundane.

“Part of the appeal for many of these young men was that radical Islam ideology has an infamy about it that young men throughout the ages have searched for — whether to be part of gangs or radical anarchy or communism,” Jamie Bartlett, director of the center for the analysis of social media at Demos, a British think tank, told NBC News. “There’s a certain thrill that comes with being part of those movements. This is an extremely important part of the appeal for al Qaeda, and ISIS is the same.”

Terrorism tends to give people’s lives a sense of meaning and the religious aspect to terrorism, as reported by The Daily Beast, provides the justification for these often gruesome acts. Terrorism is not a mental illness and there is no one “terrorist” personality.

Others are drawn to terrorism in desperation and believe it is a futile attempt to bring about socio-economic changes, with Standford professor Martha Crenshaw explaining in BuzzFeedthat vengeance for perceived wrongs in the world is “one of the strongest motivations behind terrorism…”

Perhaps the most unsettling of all reasons is that some people find sympathy they so desperately crave within radical ideals on the Internet. Take, for example, Colleen LaRose, an American terrorist, better known as Jihad Jane. Through her lifelong struggles with depression, LaRose found sympathy among Islamist radicals she met online. Working on the woman’s desperation, a radical convinced the petite convert to travel to Denmark and kill a cartoonist who depicted the head of Muhammad on a dog, Reuters reported. Thankfully, LaRose was stopped before she could complete her crime, but unfortunately many others remain undetected.

Molecular imaging: Researcher forsees application in myocardial failure.


The landscape of molecular imaging has changed over the past two years, with advances having been made in image-guided drug delivery, gene-based therapy, and cellular therapy. For the latter, cell-labeling methods and image-based magnetic control of cells now enable the monitoring and guidance of therapy. Potential future applications, such as intracellular heating, could place imaging at the very center of therapy delivery.

A panel of experts will show, in a dedicated minicourse today at the European Congress of Radiology (ECR), that molecular imaging can — and soon could — offer improvements in the efficiency of treatment.

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The recent development of cell-labeling techniques using superparamagnetic nanoparticles has confirmed the role of imaging in monitoring cellular therapies. In particular, researchers have been able to develop high-resolution cellular imaging, using cryoprobes in MR applications. This combination enables high-resolution imaging with a sharp definition of cells in a given organ.

“It’s probably the main discovery we have made over the past two years. By labeling macrophage cells in an ischemic pad of a rat’s foot, we could clearly see the colonized cells and the ischemic territory,” said Professor Olivier Clément, a radiologist working at European Hospital Georges Pompidou in Paris, France.

Projects such as the European Network for Cell Imaging and Tracking (ENCITE), coordinated by the European Institute for Biomedical Imaging and Research and funded by the EU (encite.org), have played a major role in this progress, the researcher underlined.

These techniques have shown no adverse effects on cell proliferation and functionalities while conferring magnetic properties on various cell types. The magnetic labeling of living cells creates opportunities for numerous biomedical applications, such as individual cell manipulation and magnetic control of cell migration.

Clément and his team are currently working on facilitating cell-homing in myocardial infarct cellular therapy, by placing an external magnet over the heart to create a local field gradient which induces magnetic targeting.

“We have been working on a study to improve cell-homing in the heart and succeeded in having more cells when using a magnet. We still haven’t been able to show a therapeutic effect with this technique, but other studies have, and they could show a long-term effect, including scar reduction,” he said.

Intracellular heating will, probably soon, become a field of investigation for many researchers. With this method, one will be able to kill cancerous cells and tumors or liberate drugs contained in a liposome by redirecting the heat, created by the use of magnetic fields, to superparamagnetic nanoparticles.

“Let’s imagine that we have a liposome containing drugs and superparamagnetic nanoparticles. With a magnet, you can drag the liposome exactly where you want it; to a tumor, for instance. Then, you just have to heat your liposome, using external microwaves, after which it will break and allow for chemotherapy. This is still a concept, but it could become a third application in the short term,” Clément said.

The transition of these techniques into clinical practice remains a long-term prospect. Many things are still to be done, including toxicity tests. On the bright side, cellular therapies such as blood transfusion and bone marrow transplant already work without image-based monitoring.

Molecular imaging should, however, prove very useful for tissue transplants and regeneration by showing exactly what happens.

“It is not clear at all whether the injected cells will replace organ function, for instance in myocardial failure. A cell can also trigger signals that help the heart to function better. In this case, imaging helps us understand exactly what happens,” said Clément, who foresees its upcoming clinical application in the heart.

“Imaging can significantly improve the accuracy of treatment,” said Dr. Michal Neeman, a researcher working on the development of reporter genes for MRI at Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel.

Reporter genes encode proteins that can be detected by imaging and serve as a surrogate for the activity of a particular promoter area. For example, reporter genes are used to follow the activation of tumor-associated fibroblasts as they penetrate tumors, and follow the expression of angiogenic and lymphangiogenic growth factors by tumors.

Different reporter genes have been developed to allow detection by different imaging modalities. The most common reporter genes are the fluorescent and bioluminescent proteins that emit light and can be detected using sensitive cameras. Reporter genes are now also available for nuclear imaging and MRI.

“I believe the next steps will be to prove efficacy and safety in specific diseases,” Neeman concluded.

The first success story is the treatment of hemophilia B, as shown by a study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine by researchers at University College London and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in the U.S.

Source: ECR 

A cure for HIV: where we’ve been, and where we’re headed.


2013 marks the 30th anniversary of the discovery of HIV.130 Years of HIV Science: Imagine the Future, a meeting at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, France, in May, 2013, sought to celebrate successes in countering the HIV/AIDS epidemic and to map out the challenges ahead.

The successes have been spectacular. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) has transformed what was once a death sentence into a chronic manageable disease. ART not only prolongs life, but dramatically reduces HIV transmission. ART is now available to 8 million people living with HIV in low-income and middle-income countries.2 In 2011, the numbers of new infections declined by 50% in 25 countries—many in Africa, which has the largest burden of disease.2 These advances are a result of transformative science, advocacy, political commitment, and effective partnerships with affected communities.

However, substantial challenges exist to maintain access to and funding for lifelong ART to the more than 34 million people with HIV. The costs of delivering ART are overwhelming many organisations and public health systems; we must continue to search for alternatives to lifelong treatment to benefit patients at manageable costs to health systems. With that aim, the International AIDS Society (IAS) global scientific strategy,3 Towards An HIV Cure, was launched in 2012.

Reports of both sterilising cure (elimination of all HIV-infected cells) and functional cure (long-term control of HIV replication after ART) have raised hope that a cure for HIV can be achieved—at least in a subset of individuals. The first and only reported case of sterilising cure was Timothy Brown, the Berlin patient, an HIV-infected man given a bone marrow transplant for acute myeloid leukaemia. The donor was naturally resistant to HIV because of a mutation in the CCR5 gene—a critical protein required by HIV to enter and infect cells.4 Brown stopped ART very soon after transplantation and he remains free of HIV after 6 years.

The Mississippi baby seems to be the first case of functional cure of an infant due to ART given 30 h after birth.5 After 18 months, ART was stopped and the infant continues to have undetectable HIV in blood or tissue. Deborah Persaud and colleagues, who studied the baby, don’t yet fully understand what cured the infant. Very early treatment might prevent formation of latent reservoirs for HIV, at least in an infant with an immature immune system. Careful follow up and further studies will be needed to see if this approach can be replicated in more infants, and then on a larger scale.

In the VISCONTI cohort,6 14 patients in France have maintained control of their HIV infection for a median of 7·5 years after ART interruption.6 These so-called post-treatment controllers were diagnosed and treated with ART during primary HIV infection (on average within 10 weeks after infection), for a median of 3 years before discontinuation. Patients in this cohort do not have the same distinct immunological profile seen in elite controllers, who naturally control HIV in the absence of ART.6 The VISCONTI study potentially shows the benefits of early ART on the size of the reservoir. Further studies of reservoir size in patients who initiate ART in chronic infection but with high CD4 counts are to be presented at IAS 2013, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (Hocqueloux, WEAB0102; Chéret, WEAB0101).

Bone marrow transplantation, from a donor without a mutation in CCR5, might substantially reduce or even eliminate the HIV reservoir. Two patients with lymphoma from Boston (MA, USA) were given chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and stem cell transplantation while on continuous ART. Several years after transplantation, HIV DNA had disappeared from both patients’ blood and tissues.7 An update on the Boston patients is anticipated at IAS 2013 (Henrich, WELBA05).

The other approach to tackle HIV persistence in patients taking ART is to lure HIV out of its hiding place in resting T cells. Activating latent virus might lead to death of the cell or make the virus ready for immune-mediated clearance. A range of licensed drugs that modify gene expression, including viral gene expression, are in clinical trials in HIV-infected patients on ART. Two studies89 have reported that HIV latency can be activated with the histone deacetylase inhibitor vorinostat.

There are now 15 HIV-cure-related trials being done worldwide.3 Clinical trials include investigations of increasingly potent histone deacetylase inhibitors, and of gene therapy to eliminate the CCR5 receptor from patient-derived cells.

HIV-cure-related trials raise many complex issues. Giving potentially toxic interventions to patients doing very well on ART needs careful assessment. At this early phase of research, participants will be unlikely to derive any direct benefits. Understanding risk—benefit, ethical issues, and the expectations and perspectives of the community will all be discussed and debated at IAS 2013 and the preceding IAS workshop, Towards an HIV Cure.

Developments towards a cure for HIV are exciting—for scientists, for clinicians, and most importantly, for patients. But we need to be realistic. Finding a cure will be a long and tough road, and will take many more years to achieve. We are at the very beginning, although many now believe that it might be possible to find a cure, at least for a small proportion of infected people.

We need to take inspiration from the many people who have delivered so much in the past 30 years, and continue to imagine, continue to innovate, and continue to work together towards an HIV cure—for everyone.

Source: Lancet