The Daily Dose: Nobel Prize For Medicine has been awarded; Learning music improves the brain.

It’s that time of the year when academics and betting agencies turn their eyes toward Scandinavia for the various Nobel Prizes. Announcements of winners are beginning to trickle in. “Americans Harvey J. Alter and Charles M. Rice and British-born scientist Michael Houghton jointly won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine on Monday for their discovery of the hepatitis C virus, a major source of liver disease that affects millions worldwide. Announcing the prize in Stockholm, the Nobel Committee noted that the trio’s work identified a major source of blood-borne hepatitis that couldn’t be explained by the previously discovered hepatitis A and B viruses. Their work, dating back to the 1970s and 1980s, has helped saved millions of lives, it said.” Sometimes the Prize gets criticized for a number of reasons, the way most prizes should. However, curing a disease is about as good as science gets and this should be applauded.

The COVID-19 news coming out of India continues to indicate that the country is continuing to struggle against its coronavirus outbreak. Per Al-Jazeera, “India has crossed the grim milestone of 100,000 coronavirus deaths, the third-highest in the world behind only the United States and Brazil. Despite the South Asian nation’s attempts to control the spread of the COVID-19 disease, which included one of the world’s strictest lockdowns, infections have surged at an alarming pace.” India has more than 6.6 million cases, second only to the US. On Monday, it registered a single-day spike of 74,442 new cases.

Parts of Europe are revert to targeted mitigation in the hopes of controlling a second wave of COVID-19 outbreaks. France, in particular, is inching toward a total lockdown of its capital. “Paris and neighbouring suburbs have been placed on maximum coronavirus alert on Monday, the prime minister’s office announced on Sunday, with the city’s iconic bars closing, as alarming Covid-19 infection numbers appeared to leave the French government little choice. Mayor Anne Hidalgo is to outline further specific measures Monday morning.” Last week, Madrid was placed on temporary lockdown in the face of Europe’s worst second wave outbreak.

One of the worries foreseen by public health experts is the future availability of COVID-19 technologies — tests, therapies, and prophylactics — to lower-income communities and individuals. The U.S. National Institutes of Health has taken a step to make testing more available. Per Fierce Biotech, “Through its COVID-19 diagnostic development initiative, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced it has awarded nearly $234 million to improve access to testing among underserved and vulnerable populations. The program will support established screening efforts and community partnerships at 32 U.S. institutions, with focuses on African Americans, American Indians/Alaskan Natives, Latinos/Latinas and Native Hawaiians, as well as older adults, pregnant women and people who are incarcerated or experiencing homelessness.” Access to testing is only a part of an effective COVID-19 response.

An article in the American Scientist by a neuroscientist makes the case for the beneficial effects of learning music on the brain. According to the author, “Musicians’ brains more quickly and accurately encode certain ingredients of speech sounds than do those of nonmusicians. Music training improves the brain’s ability to process speech sounds against a noisy background, such as the din of a busy restaurant. This neural resilience made sense, because musicians also had a superior ability to understand speech in a noisy environment.” Gaining a creative skills while improving neural plasticity seems like a win-win in our eyes.

Happy Monday. Let’s be careful out there.

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