The Daily Dose: The Lone Ranger strikes again, champions convalescent plasma

Call him the Lone Ranger. U.S. President Donald Trump has set his sights on a new COVID-19 therapy to champion. This time, it’s convalescent plasma in which the antibodies from a recovered patient are transferred to a sick patient. By doing so, it is believed that the immune system will be triggered into attacking SARS-CoV-2. There’s only one really big problem. There’s still not enough empirical evidence to know whether the therapy actually works. Per the Associated Press, “President Donald Trump on Sunday announced emergency authorization to treat COVID-19 patients with convalescent plasma — a move he called “a breakthrough,” one of his top health officials called “promising” and other health experts said needs more study before it’s celebrated.” As with hydroxychloroquine, by injecting politics into the drug development business, the president will end up hampering the clinical trial process in the long run. Not that he cares.

In a case of wishful thinking, a scientist writes in a Nature op-ed that rather than spending obscene amounts of money on weapons and military robots and AI, governments should divert a greater portion of those funds to taking care of people’s needs around the world. According to the commentary, “As an academic who advises the United Nations on arms control and the military uses of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, I have long argued that nations should prioritize ‘human security for the common good’ over military spending. That means ensuring people can live to their full potential — economically fulfilled, politically enfranchised, in healthy environments and free from the fear of violence and pressing mortal threats such as climate change or pandemics.” It’s a wonderful thought. But that’s about it. History indicates that government funding of the military won’t be decreasing any time soon.

A team of researchers are reporting that methylmalonic acid (MMA) may play a role in tumor formation. According to a paper published in Nature, “The authors demonstrated that repressing SOX4 expression blocked the cancer-cell response to MMA, and prevented the formation of metastatic tumours in mice that received injections of cancer cells treated with old serum. Thus, MMA indirectly induces an increase in the expression of SOX4, which in turn elicits broad reprogramming of gene expression and subsequent transformation of cells into a metastatic state.”

The fire that destroyed most of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris has had profound effects on surrounding areas. According to Smithsonian Magazine, “University of British Columbia researchers Kate Smith and Dominique Weis and a team of scientists collected 36 honey samples from urban beehives in Paris in July 2019, according to a statement. They found that honey from hives downwind of Notre-Dame had lead concentrations on average four times higher than samples collected in nearby suburbs, and up to three and a half times higher than the typical amount for Parisian beehives before the fire.” Even at the time of the fire, experts feared smoke rising from the medieval structure could possibly result in lead poisoning. Surrounding schools and business were temporarily closed as a result.

Calling all citizen scientists and amatuer astronomers! If you’ve ever fancied chiseling your way into the interplanetary history books, now is your chance. Thanks to a new online program by NASA, the public can play a hand in the exploration of Mars. “Dubbed AI4Mars, the program encourages you to take part in its mission on learning more about the Red Planet. Though it doesn’t allow you to directly steer the rover, users can label different features of the terrain, such as rocks, sand and soil, that the robot comes across and determine if it should avoid or gravitate towards them. The descriptors will then be pooled into a database that gives the rover a rough idea of what it is seeing.” While this is great news, it also appears to be ripe for abuse by the internet’s legion of trolls. Good luck with that.

IMAGE SOURCE: Creative Commons

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