Wilder Penfield: Why Google honours him today

Once described as the ‘greatest living Canadian’, Wilder Penfield would have been 127 years on January 26.

    Once described as the “greatest living Canadian”, neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield would have been 127 years old on January 26. 

    Penfield is recognised for his advances in mapping the brain and for the groundbreaking epilepsy treatment known as the Montreal Procedure. 

    Today, Google is changing its logo in 13 countries to a doodle, or illustration, in his honour.

    Despite his success and achievements, he was not able to save his only sister, Ruth, who died from brain cancer, although complex surgery he performed added years to her life. This is his story:

    Montreal’s first neurosurgeon

    • Penfield was born on January 26, in Spokane, Washington. His father, Charles Penfield, was a physician who didn’t succeed in his career. 

    • His father left his family, and Wilder ended up living with his mother, Jean Jefferson, who is the one who told him about the Rhodes Scholarship that he ended up winning.

    • He studied neuropathology at Princeton and Merton College in Oxford and then served at a military hospital in Paris. He also studied in Spain and Germany. 
    •  Penfield believed studying medicine was “the best way to make the world a better place.”

    • In 1917 he married Helen Kermott, who shared his altruism and love of helping others. Wilder and Helen had four children. One of his daughters also founded a children’s care centre. 

    • After taking a surgical apprenticeship, he obtained a position at the Neurological Institute of New York, where he carried out his first solo operation to treat epilepsy
    • In 1928, Penfield accepted an invitation to move to Montreal, Quebec. There, Penfield taught at McGill University and the Royal Victoria Hospital, becoming Montreal’s first neurosurgeon.

    • In 1934, he became a Canadian citizen after he and Dr William Cone founded the Montreal Neurological Institute

    • In 1935, he published three case studies describing the psychological effects of frontal lobe surgery.

    • He used his experience treating his sister to explain the link between brain and behaviour. He said: “If she were alive, I am sure she would approve of such an analysis in the hope it would help others.”
    • He kept his family close throughout his career, writing the book Man and His Family, which stressed the need to nurture and encourage positive family life.

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    India finance minister goes for 'medical check-up' in U.S.: sources

    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has left for the United States for a “regular medical check-up”, following a kidney transplant last year, two people with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters on Tuesday.

    The minister, 66, is expected to present this government’s last budget on Feb. 1 before Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeks a second term in a general election due by May.

    A person familiar with Jaitley’s medical condition said the minister had “recovered well” from the transplant in New Delhi eight months ago.

    A Finance Ministry spokesman declined to comment.

    Jaitley is the publicity head of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s election team and often acts as the chief spokesman for the government.

    He continued to push what he sees as India’s success story under Modi on Tuesday. In a Facebook post, he said India’s macro-economic parameters such as economic growth, inflation and fiscal deficit had improved substantially during Modi’s term.

    India’s fiscal deficit came down to 3.5 percent of GDP in the 2017/18 fiscal year ended in March from 4.6 percent of GDP in 2013/14, when Modi took charge, he said, adding that India was not satisfied with a 7 to 7.5 percent economic growth rate.

    “We are increasingly becoming impatient and want to break the 8 percent barrier,” Jaitley said. Citing a McKinsey report, he said the size of India’s middle-class was growing very fast and was estimated to touch 44 percent of the nation’s total population by 2025 from 29 percent in 2015.

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    China could lift life expectancy by nearly three years if it meets WHO smog standards: study

    BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China could raise average life expectancy by 2.9 years if it improves air quality to levels recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO), according a new study from a U.S. research group.

    China has vowed to determine the precise impact of air and water pollution on health as part of its efforts to raise average life expectancy to 79 years by 2030 from 76.3 years in 2015.

    According to the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC), big air quality improvements made in the last five years have already been enough to push up average lifespans.

    “China is winning its war against pollution … (The country) is due to see dramatic improvements in the overall health of its people, including longer lifespans, if these improvements are sustained,” EPIC director Michael Greenstone said at an event in Beijing on Thursday.

    According to the EPIC’s findings, air quality improvements made in the smog-prone northern city of Tianjin over the last five years are already expected to have raised the average lifespan of its 13 million residents by 1.2 years.

    China cut average concentrations of hazardous particles known as PM2.5 to an average of 39 micrograms per cubic meter last year, down 9.3 percent from 2017 after a campaign to curb coal use and improve industry and vehicle standards.

    However, average emission levels remain significantly higher than China’s own 35-microgram standard, as well as the 10-microgram limit recommended by the WHO. In northern industrial regions, average concentrations are much higher.

    In a study cited by state-owned news agency Xinhua on Friday, a group of top Chinese health experts identified air and water pollution as one of the major health risks in China for the next 20 years, alongside obesity, depression and Alzheimer’s disease.

    Chinese Premier Li Keqiang declared “war” on pollution in 2014 amid fears that the damage done to the country’s environment as a result of more than 30 years of untrammelled economic growth would lead to social unrest.

    However, with much of the low-hanging fruit already taken and the economy facing a slowdown, China has admitted that the campaign is under pressure.

    “It would be very difficult for China to meet the WHO standards even with strong efforts to reduce industrial emissions and fossil fuel consumption,” Jiang Kejun, research professor at the Energy Research Institute, a government think tank, told Reuters on the sidelines of the Thursday event.

    “Emissions from non-industrial sectors, agriculture for instance, also play a big part in air pollution and are hard to put under control,” he said.

    (This version of the story corrects the acronym for the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago to EPIC, not EPI, in paragraphs 3, 4 and 5)

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    Student’s chronic illness means she hasn’t eaten meal in five months

    A woman hasn’t eaten a meal in five months because of a chronic illness which causes her to be sick whenever she tries.

    Hannah Ritchie was vomiting up to six times a day and running to the toilet up to 30 times due to the chronic digestive condition which leaves her stomach muscles paralyzed.

    The 20-year-old may never enjoy her favourite food of pizza, cookies or steak again as she must now receive her nutrition through an IV.

    However, the student has found solace in vlogging on YouTube to help others also suffering from the incurable disorder gastroparesis, which she was officially diagnosed with in February.

    Hannah underwent surgery earlier this year to cut the pylorus, a muscle that allows emptying of the stomach.

    When that didn’t work she was fitted with a temporary feeding tube which bypassed her stomach and fed nutrition directly into her small intestine via her nose.

    Journalism student Hannah stopped eating completely after her surgery in July, and her condition vastly improved.

    Hannah, of Vermilion, Ohio, USA, said: "At my worst point I was throwing up six times a day.

    "I was going to the bathroom about 30 times every day when I was 16. My life was miserable and I was really sick.

    "I had a surgery in July I was fitted with a temporary feeding tube. I was hooked up to it 23 and a half hours a day and it basically gave me my life back.

    "I didn’t have to worry about eating anymore and getting sick from it. In September I got a permanent feeding tube fitted."

    Hannah is now trying to adapt to a life without food.

    "I miss everything. Pizza, steak, pasta, bread, cookies. Everything," she said.

    Hannah, a part-time reservations assistant, says it can be difficult to watch her sisters Haley, 16, Olivia, 12, and Allaina, 12, have the experiences she missed out on.

    She added: "I never got to have that typical high school experience which I get really sad about.

    "My sister Haley is so involved in her high school and band which can be hard for me, but I love her so much I can’t be resentful.

    "I wish I could just get up and go to university like a normal person but I just can’t. Sometimes it feels very unfair. But at the same time, I can’t let it control my life.

    "Last September I went on a family vacation to Europe and even though it took so much planning with my illness, it was the most rewarding experience."

    Hannah said she would never have been able to cope with her illness without her pharmacist mother Julie Ritchie, 46, and her dad Scott, 49, a senior manager.

    She hopes her condition will improve enough to complete her online journalism degree and eventually make way for a normal life.

    "I can not control my illness, but I can control how I look at the world and how I approach my life," added Hannah.

    "And hopefully this decision will allow me to have a better quality one."

    Gastroparesis affects more than 1.5 million individuals in the US, 100,000 of whom suffer from severe cases, according to Pharmacy Times.

    It can be caused by diabetes, a reaction to medication, or neurological disorders, but in Hannah’s case, medics are unsure of the trigger.

    Hannah can be found on Youtube here.

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    Florida biotech billionaire settles SEC stock manipulation case

    NEW YORK (Reuters) – Florida biotechnology billionaire Phillip Frost has agreed to pay $5.52 million to settle U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission civil charges over his alleged role in “pump-and-dump” schemes that left investors with virtually worthless stock.

    The settlement requires Frost, the chairman and chief executive of Miami-based Opko Health Inc (OPK.O), to pay a $5 million fine and about $523,000 representing alleged ill-gotten gains and interest, according to a Thursday filing in Manhattan federal court.

    Frost also accepted restrictions on trading penny stocks. Opko agreed to pay a $100,000 fine in a related settlement.

    Neither defendant admitted or denied wrongdoing in agreeing to the settlements, which will end “potentially expensive, contentious and time-consuming litigation,” Frost said in a statement provided by Opko. Court approval is required.

    A lawyer for Frost had no immediate additional comment.

    Frost was among 10 people and 10 associated entities charged by the SEC on Sept. 7 with involvement from 2013 to 2018 in the manipulation of three companies’ share prices.

    The SEC accused various defendants of buying large blocks of penny stocks at steep discounts, promoting the shares, and then quietly selling their stock at inflated prices, generating more than $27 million of improper gains.

    Frost was allegedly involved in two of the schemes, the SEC said.

    Now 82, Frost is worth $1.9 billion, Forbes magazine said on Thursday.

    He had been chairman and chief executive of Ivax Corp before selling that drugmaker for $7.4 billion in 2006 to Israel-based Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd (TEVA.TA), where he later served as chairman.

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    Thailand legislature legalises medical cannabis and kratom

    Cchanges legalise production, import, export, possession and use of cannabis and kratom products for medical purposes.

      Thailand’s legislature has agreed to amend the country’s drug law to allow the licensed medical use of cannabis, as well as kratom, a locally grown plant traditionally used as a stimulant and painkiller.

      The Thai legislation on Tuesday passed its final reading at the National Legislative Assembly by a vote of 166-0 with 13 abstentions.

      “This is a New Year’s gift from the National Legislative Assembly to the government and the Thai people,” said Somchai Sawangkarn, chairperson of the drafting committee, in a televised parliamentary session.

      The changes, which become law when published in the Royal Gazette, legalise the production, import, export, possession and use of cannabis and kratom products for medical purposes.

      Purveyors, producers and researchers will need licenses to handle the drugs, while end-users will need prescriptions.

      Thailand is the first country to take such action in Southeast Asia, a region with some of the world’s strictest drug laws. The move is under consideration in neighbouring Malaysia, while New Zealand’s government earlier this month enacted a law liberalising the medical use of cannabis, which had previously been tightly restricted.

      Recreational use of the drugs remains illegal in Thailand and subject to prison terms and fines commensurate with the quantities involved.

      Public hearings showed overwhelming support for the measure.

      The bill introducing the legislative changes had noted that recent studies have shown that cannabis extract has medicinal benefits, which has prompted “many countries around the world to ease their laws by enacting legal amendments to allow their citizens to legally use kratom and marijuana for medicinal or recreational purposes”.

      It added that despite being classified as an illegal drug, many patients have used cannabis to treat their diseases. 

      Patent requests controversy

      While countries from Colombia to Canada have legalised cannabis for medical or even recreational use, the drug remains illegal and taboo across much of Southeast Asia, which has some of the world’s harshest punishments for drug law violations.

      Cannabis traffickers can be subject to the death penalty in Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia.

      But in Thailand, the main controversy with legalisation involved patent requests by foreign firms that could allow them to dominate the market, making it harder for Thai patients to access medicines and for Thai researchers to access cannabis extracts.

      “We’re going to demand that the government revoke all these requests before the law takes effect,” Panthep Puapongpan, dean of the Rangsit Institute of Integrative Medicine and Anti-Aging, was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.

      Some said they hoped Tuesday’s approval would pave the way for legalisation for recreational use.

      “This is the first baby step forward,” said Chokwan Chopaka, an activist with Highland Network, a cannabis legalization advocacy group in Thailand.

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      Why is Germany taking a bite out of unhealthy eating?

      The German government pushing food industry to cut sugar, salt and fat levels by up to 20 percent over the next decade.

        Are Germans eating habits too unhealthy?

        That is what their government seems to believe, it is working to persuade the food industry to cut sugar, salt and fat in their products by up to 20 percent over the next decade.

        So how is this plan being received in the country?


        Al Jazeera’s Dominic Kane reports from Berlin.

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        Australian scientists develop '10-minute' cancer test

        Researchers report 90 percent accuracy when test is used to identify cancer cells in blood or biopsy tissue.

          Researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia have developed a new test that can detect the presence of cancer cells in the body.

          The 10-minute test, announced in a study published by Nature on Tuesday, can determine whether a tumour is present in the human body by identifying a unique DNA nanostructure that is common to all types of cancer.

          It is designed to detect cancer from blood or biopsy tissue by analysing methyl group changes at the genomic level.

          Methyl groups, which are tiny molecules of DNA, were found to be significantly altered in cancer patients.

          Researchers noted that the methyl groups are spread out across the genome in healthy cells, but were present only in particular places in the genome of individuals with cancer.

          Matt Trau, a professor at the University of Queensland, said: “Discovering that cancerous DNA molecules formed entirely different 3D nanostructures from normal circulating DNA was a breakthrough that has enabled an entirely new approach to detect cancer non-invasively in any tissue type including blood.

          “This led to the creation of inexpensive and portable detection devices that could eventually be used as a diagnostic tool, possibly with a mobile phone.”

          The new diagnostic test demonstrated an accuracy of up to 90 percent when tested on 200 human cancer samples and normal DNA, according to the researchers.

          “We certainly don’t know yet whether it’s the Holy Grail for all cancer diagnostics, but it looks really interesting as an incredibly simple universal marker of cancer and as an accessible and inexpensive technology that doesn’t require complicated lab-based equipment like DNA sequencing,” Trau added.

          The technology, however, requires further development as it can currently only determine the presence of cancer, but not the disease type or stage.

          Earlier this year, scientists at John Hopkins University in Baltimore analysed more than 1,000 cancer patients who had shown symptoms of cancer, to see whether a similar test, called CancerSEEK, would accurately confirm the diagnosis.

          Researchers had discovered that for certain tumours, CancerSEEK was up to 98 percent accurate.

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          Contraception use on the rise in 69 poorest countries: report

          Since 2012, over 46 million women in the world’s lowest income countries got access to contraception, a new report says.

            Almost 46 million women and girls in the world’s lowest-income countries have gained access to contraception over the past six years, a new progress report from Family Planning 2020 (FP2020) has said.

            Currently, 317 million women and girls have access to contraceptives in the 69 lowest-income countries, according to FP2020, a global organisation that was formed in 2012 after a summit on family planning in London.

            Al Jazeera spoke to Beth Schlachter, FP2020’s executive director, about how contraception empowers women and societies, which countries are doing better than expected and what are the main challenges in the efforts to raise awareness.

            The interview below has been slightly edited for clarity and brevity.

            Al Jazeera: What is FP2020, and what are its goals?

            Beth Schlachter: Family Planning 2020 was started in 2012. We wanted to bring the focus back on issues around family planning and contraception, because we felt it had slipped from the development agenda.

            Our goal by 2020 is to reach an additional 120 million women and girls who want to use contraceptives but don’t have access to these services or products, and to improve the health systems in general.

            We focused specifically on the 69 lowest-income countries in the world to reach these 120 million women.

            Al Jazeera: How do you plan to achieve your goal? 

            Schlachter: The core of our work consists of partnerships with those 69 countries, and then focusing on what the country itself sets as goals in a way that would allow other development partners and donors to align behind, and partner with, to achieve their goal.

            When a country makes its own commitments about what it wants to achieve, we work with them to analyse on how they can get there.

            Many countries make commitments like raising their budget, giving an amount or percentage for that increase.

            Others give a number of people they want to reach, or something very specific like access to condoms.

            Our help is very practical, and a lot of education goes with it.

            Al Jazeera: What have the results been over the past six years?

            Schlachter: There are 317 million women and girls who have access to contraceptives in those 69 countries, which is about 46 million people more than in 2012, when we started this project.

            That’s 30 percent more than our prediction if we hadn’t started this partnership.

            We realise this means that we’re off-track to reach our goal of reaching 120 million women by 2020, and we recognise that.

            Our current projections show that we’ll get there around 2025.

            Beth Schlachter, FamilyPlanning2020

            Al Jazeera: Why is contraception and family planning in general so important?

            Schlachter: The number of children in a family has a lot of impact on other goals – not only for the family but a country as a whole.

            We want girls to stay in school and be educated. When women are educated and enter the workforce, every community and every society has a much better chance of raising their economic prospect.

            It empowers people to control every aspect of their life.

            For example, in Afghanistan, where there are really high numbers of child marriage, there is a higher chance these girls will stay in school, even if they’re married young, when they have access to contraception.

            Al Jazeera: What are some of the countries that have made significant progress over the past few years?

            Schlachter: Some of the biggest progress has been in Rwanda and Burkina Faso, two countries that have set goals and striven to achieve them.

            In these countries, we’ve seen a big increase in the different number of products available for women, and that’s important because women want and need different products as they grow older.

            Another country that has seen a lot of growth is Afghanistan, which is a very complex environment to work in.

            Now, 1.2 million women are using modern contraception, and that’s almost a third more than what we saw in 2012.

            Al Jazeera: What are some of the main problems you’ve encountered, and which countries specifically have been hard to work in?

            Schlachter: There are still big social, cultural, religious and familial barriers – that is a global phenomenon.

            The fact that women should have autonomy over their bodies is something that is still an issue in a lot of places.

            It is also hard to make it clear that this is not something that is just about women, it is also about men. In a healthy relationship, both sides should have an open conversation about if, when and how many kids they want.

            A country that has been really hard to achieve anything is Nigeria, especially the northeastern Lake Chad region.

            There, women sometimes have five, six, seven kids, and that is not a realistic way of solving the issues these people have.

            The Nigerian government has had real issues with reaching people in this area, and in the coming decades this will lead to significant problems if something is not done.

            Al Jazeera: What is an important part of this issue that you think should not be forgotten?

            Schlachter: It’s really important to focus on large humanitarian crises like in Bangladesh, where thousands of Rohingya women that have fled from Myanmar now live.

            A lot of these women were sexually violated when they fled and are now traumatised because of that.

            I want to credit the Bangladesh government, because they are doing the best they can to help these women.

            What this issue highlights is that women don’t stop being pregnant simply because they’re on the move. It’s really important that we consider the health needs of these women, especially in vulnerable situations like this.

            And, overall, what I think is most important is that we want to show girls and women in these countries that they have more value than just being a mother. We want to show them that they can be teachers or scientists.

            This is when societies can grow, when women are offered the opportunity the same opportunity as men. 

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