Could Alzheimer’s Stem From Infections? It Makes Sense, Experts Say

Could Alzheimer’s Stem From Infections? It Makes Sense, Experts Say
By GINA KOLATA
May 25 2016
<http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/26/health/alzheimers-disease-infection.html>

Could it be that Alzheimer’s disease stems from the toxic remnants of the brain’s attempt to fight off infection?

Provocative new research by a team of investigators at Harvard leads to this startling hypothesis, which could explain the origins of plaque, the mysterious hard little balls that pockmark the brains of people with Alzheimer’s.

It is still early days, but Alzheimer’s experts not associated with the work are captivated by the idea that infections, including ones that are too mild to elicit symptoms, may produce a fierce reaction that leaves debris in the brain, causing Alzheimer’s. The idea is surprising, but it makes sense, and the Harvard group’s data, published Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine, supports it. If it holds up, the hypothesis has major implications for preventing and treating this degenerative brain disease.

The Harvard researchers report a scenario seemingly out of science fiction. A virus, fungus or bacterium gets into the brain, passing through a membrane — the blood-brain barrier — that becomes leaky as people age. The brain’s defense system rushes in to stop the invader by making a sticky cage out of proteins, called beta amyloid. The microbe, like a fly in a spider web, becomes trapped in the cage and dies. What is left behind is the cage — a plaque that is the hallmark of Alzheimer’s.

So far, the group has confirmed this hypothesis in neurons growing in petri dishes as well as in yeast, roundworms, fruit flies and mice. There is much more work to be done to determine if a similar sequence happens in humans, but plans — and funding — are in place to start those studies, involving a multicenter project that will examine human brains.

“It’s interesting and provocative,” said Dr. Michael W. Weiner, a radiology professor at the University of California, San Francisco, and a principal investigator of the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative, a large national effort to track the progression of the disease and look for biomarkers like blood proteins and brain imaging to signal the disease’s presence.

Dr. David Holtzman, a professor and the chairman of neurology at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, was also intrigued. “It is obviously outside the box,” he said. “It really is an innovative and novel study.”
The work began when Robert D. Moir, of Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, had an idea about the function of amyloid proteins, normal brain proteins whose role had long been a mystery.

The proteins were traditionally thought to be garbage that accumulates in the brain with age. But Dr. Moir noticed that they looked a lot like proteins of the innate immune system, a primitive system that is the body’s first line of defense against infections.

Elsewhere in the body, such proteins trap microbes — viruses, fungi, yeast and bacteria. Then white blood cells come by and clear up the mess. Perhaps amyloid was part of this system, Dr. Moir thought.

He began collaborating with Rudolph E. Tanzi, also at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, in a study funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund. The idea was to see if amyloid trapped microbes in living animals and if mice without amyloid proteins were quickly ravaged by infections that amyloid could have stopped.

The answers, they reported, were yes and yes.

In one study, the group injected Salmonella bacteria into the brains of young mice that did not have plaques.

“Overnight, the bacteria seeded plaques,” Dr. Tanzi said. “The hippocampus was full of plaques, and each plaque had a single bacterium at its center.”

In contrast, mice that did not make beta amyloid succumbed more quickly to the bacterial infection, and did not make plaques.

[snip]

Revealed: How copyright law is being misused to remove material from the internet

“Revealed: How copyright law is being misused to remove material from the internet”
When Annabelle Narey posted a negative review of a building firm on Mumsnet, the last thing on her mind was copyright infringement
By Alex Hern
May 23 2016
<https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/may/23/copyright-law-internet-mumsnet>

Writing a bad review online has always run a small risk of opening yourself up to a defamation claim. But few would expect to be told that they had to delete their review or face a lawsuit over another part of the law: copyright infringement. 

Yet that’s what happened to Annabelle Narey after she posted a negative review of a building firm on Mumsnet.

Narey, who is the head of programme at an international children’s charity, had turned to London-based BuildTeam for a side return extension, but almost six months later, the relationship had turned acrimonious. The build, which was only supposed to take 10–14 weeks, was still unfinished, she wrote. “On Christmas day a ceiling fell down in an upstairs bedroom,” she says, apparently due to an issue with the plumbing. “Mercifully no one was hurt. [That] there seem to be so many glowing reports out there it is frankly curious. Proceed at your own risk,” the review concluded.

BuildTeam disputes her account. In a letter sent to Mumsnet, which the site passed on to Narey, the builders complained that the comments were defamatory. They say it is “untrue” that the ceiling fell down due to an issue with plumbing, and cited a total of 11 statements they claimed were defamatory.

Mumsnet, following UK law on libel accusations, passed the letter on to Narey and offered her the chance to delete the post or get in touch with BuildTeam to sort out the matter.

“BuildTeam have been in touch persistently with us at Mumsnet since mid-March, asking for the thread to be removed,” a spokeswoman said. “We’re keen to defend our posters’ freedom of speech and to ask complainants to follow due process, so previously we had referred them to Section 5 of the 2013 Defamation Act.”

By this point, the thread on Mumsnet had grown to include other posters claiming to have had bad experiences with the building firm. Some of them decided to remove the posts in response to the legal threats from BuildTeam, but Narey wanted to keep hers up.

BuildTeam says that “at no point has … Build Team Holborn Ltd stated that they are to pursue a defamation claim against any individual. Enquiries were made to the relevant web hosts as to their position for such posts being made, thus resulting in the relevant documentation being lodged with the aforementioned hosts. At present Build Team Holborn Ltd are currently assessing the situation and/or their options in respect of reserving their rights should any action be required in the future.”

Narey says that after she heard from Mumsnet about the defamation claims, BuildTeam got in touch personally to ask for the post to be removed. “Staff even came to our house holding printouts of it. They never acknowledged the contents or made any apology, but distanced themselves from the context of the review, asking only for it to be taken down,” she said.

But in April, the decision was made for her, in a very peculiar way. Mumsnet received a warning from Google: a takedown request had been made under the American Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), alleging that copyrighted material was posted without a licence on the thread.

As soon as the DMCA takedown request had been filed, Google de-listed the entire thread. All 126 posts are now not discoverable when a user searches Google for BuildTeam – or any other terms. The search company told Mumsnet it could make a counterclaim, if it was certain no infringement had taken place, but since the site couldn’t verify that its users weren’t actually posting copyrighted material, it would have opened it up to further legal pressure.

[snip]

China’s scary lesson to the world: Censoring the Internet works.

China’s scary lesson to the world: Censoring the Internet works.
By Simon Denyer
May 23 2016
<https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/chinas-scary-lesson-to-the-world-censoring-the-internet-works/2016/05/23/413afe78-fff3-11e5-8bb1-f124a43f84dc_story.html>

BEHIND THE FIREWALL: How China tamed the Internet | This is part of a series examining the impact of China’s Great Firewall, a mechanism of Internet censorship and surveillance that affects nearly 700 million users. 

BEIJING — First there was the Berlin Wall. Now there is the Great Firewall of China, not a physical barrier preventing people from leaving, but a virtual one, preventing information harmful to the Communist Party from entering the country. 

Just as one fell, so will the other be eventually dismantled, because information, like people, cannot be held back forever.

Or so the argument goes.

But try telling that to Beijing. Far from knocking down the world’s largest system of censorship, China in fact is moving ever more confidently in the opposite direction, strengthening the wall’s legal foundations, closing breaches and reinforcing its control of the Web behind the wall.

Defensive no more about its censorship record, China is trumpeting its vision of “Internet sovereignty” as a model for the world and is moving to make it a legal reality at home. At the same time — confounding Western skeptics — the Internet is nonetheless thriving in China, with nearly 700 million users, putting almost 1 in 4 of the world’s online population behind the Great Firewall.

China is the world’s leader in e-commerce, with digital retail sales volume double that of the United States and accounting for a staggering 40 percent of the global total, according to digital business research company eMarketer. Last year, it also boasted four of the top 10 Internet companies in the world ranked by market capitalization, according to the data website Statista, including e-commerce giant Alibaba, social-media and gaming company Tencent and search specialists Baidu.

“This path is the choice of history, and the choice of the people, and we walk the path ever more firmly and full of confidence,” China’s Internet czar, Lu Wei, boasted in January.

After two decades of Internet development under the Communist Party’s firm leadership, he said, his country had struck the correct balance between “freedom and order” and between “openness and autonomy.” It is traveling, he said, on a path of “cyber-governance with Chinese characteristics.”

What China calls the “Golden Shield” is a giant mechanism of censorship and surveillance that blocks tens of thousands of websites deemed inimical to the Communist Party’s narrative and control, including Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and even Instagram.

In April, the U.S. government officially classified it as a barrier to trade, noting that eight of the 25 most trafficked sites globally were now blocked here. The American Chamber of Commerce in China says that 4 out of 5 of its member companies report a negative impact on their business from Internet censorship.

Yet there is to be no turning back. Later this year, China is expected to approve a new law on cybersecurity that would codify, organize and strengthen its control of the Internet. 

It has introduced new rules restricting foreign companies from publishing online content and proposed tighter rules requiring websites to register domain names with the government.

Apple was an early victim, announcing in April that its iTunes Movies and iBooks services were no longer available in China, six months after their launch here (though shortly after it announced a $1 billion investment in a Chinese car service).

As it pursues a broad crackdown on free speech and civil society, China has tightened the screws on virtual private network (VPN) providers that allow people to tunnel under the Firewall.

The changes are not, as some initially feared, a move to cut off access to the outside world and establish a Chinese intranet but are instead an attempt to extend legal control and supervision over what is posted online within the country, experts say.

[snip]

Snowden calls for whistleblower shield after claims by new Pentagon source

[Note:  This item comes from friend David Rosenthal.  DLH]

Snowden calls for whistleblower shield after claims by new Pentagon source
Accusations that Pentagon retaliated against a whistleblower undermine argument that there were options for Snowden other than leaking to the media
By Spencer Ackerman in Washington and Ewen MacAskill in London
May 22 2016
<http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/may/22/snowden-whistleblower-protections-john-crane>

Edward Snowden has called for a complete overhaul of US whistleblower protections after a new source from deep inside the Pentagon came forward with a startling account of how the system became a “trap” for those seeking to expose wrongdoing.

The account of John Crane, a former senior Pentagon investigator, appears to undermine Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and other major establishment figures who argue that there were established routes for Snowden other than leaking to the media. 

Crane, a longtime assistant inspector general at the Pentagon, has accused his old office of retaliating against a major surveillance whistleblower, Thomas Drake, in an episode that helps explain Snowden’s 2013 National Security Agency disclosures. Not only did Pentagon officials provide Drake’s name to criminal investigators, Crane told the Guardian, they destroyed documents relevant to his defence. 

Snowden, responding to Crane’s revelations, said he had tried to raise his concerns with colleagues, supervisors and lawyers and been told by all of them: “You’re playing with fire.”

He told the Guardian: “We need iron-clad, enforceable protections for whistleblowers, and we need a public record of success stories. Protect the people who go to members of Congress with oversight roles, and if their efforts lead to a positive change in policy – recognize them for their efforts. There are no incentives for people to stand up against an agency on the wrong side of the law today, and that’s got to change.”

Snowden continued: “The sad reality of today’s policies is that going to the inspector general with evidence of truly serious wrongdoing is often a mistake. Going to the press involves serious risks, but at least you’ve got a chance.”

Financially ruined

Thomas Drake’s legal ordeal ruined him financially and ended in 2011 with all serious accusations against him dropped. His case served as a prologue to Snowden’s. Now Crane’s account has led to a new investigation at the US justice department into whistleblower retaliation at the Pentagon that may serve as an epilogue – one Crane hopes will make the Pentagon a safe place for insiders to expose wrongdoing and illegality. 

“If we have situations where we have whistleblowers investigated because they’re whistleblowers to the inspector general’s office, that will simply shut down the whole whistleblower system,” Crane told the Guardian.

Crane, who has not previously given interviews, has told his explosive story in a new book, Bravehearts: Whistle Blowing In The Age of Snowden by Mark Hertsgaard, from which the Guardian is running extracts. The Guardian has partnered with Der Spiegel and Newsweek Japan on Crane’s story.

[snip]

Long read: how the Pentagon punished NSA whistleblowers: <http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/may/22/how-pentagon-punished-nsa-whistleblowers>

Exclusive: Pentagon source goes on record against whistleblower program: <http://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2016/may/22/pentagon-government-whistleblower-thomas-drake-edward-snowden-video>

Re: Makeshift weapons are becoming more dangerous with highly sophisticated, commercially available kit

[Note:  This comment comes from friend Bob Frankston.  DLH]

From: “Bob Frankston” <Bob19-0501@bobf.frankston.com>
Subject: RE: [Dewayne-Net] Makeshift weapons are becoming more dangerous with highly sophisticated, commercially available kit
Date: May 22, 2016 at 6:40:38 PM EDT
To: dewayne@warpspeed.com

Another reminder that knowledge is the ultimate munition.

Makeshift weapons are becoming more dangerous with highly sophisticated, commercially available kit 

 

May 21 2016 

 

<

http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21699098-makeshift-weapons-are-becoming-more-dangerous-highly-sophisticated

>

 

Makeshift weapons are becoming more dangerous with highly sophisticated, commercially available kit

Makeshift weapons are becoming more dangerous with highly sophisticated, commercially available kit
May 21 2016
<http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21699098-makeshift-weapons-are-becoming-more-dangerous-highly-sophisticated>

THE “hell cannons” of Aleppo pack a deadly punch. Cobbled together in Syria by militant groups fighting to overthrow the autocratic regime of Bashar al-Assad, they use an explosive charge at the bottom of a pipe to hurl a propane cylinder crammed with 40kg or more of explosives and shrapnel. A finned tail welded to the cylinder shields it from the launch blast and provides stability in flight. The Ahrar al-Sham brigade reckon the cannons can hit targets 1.5km away. Fuses detonate the cylinder upon impact or, using a timer, after it punches into a building. This is all the better to demolish several floors with a single strike.

The use of improvised weapons in conflict has a long and bloody history: from the Irish shillelagh, a walking stick that doubles as a club—especially effective when the knob at the top is loaded with lead—to the Molotov cocktail, as the glass petrol bombs the Finnish army hurled at Russian tanks during the second world war came to be known.

The modern equivalents are more high-tech and, like Aleppo’s hell cannons, far deadlier. This comes from a combination of more sophisticated and easily available “off-the-shelf” equipment, and the internet providing a ready medium to spread new weapon-making ideas. The upshot is a reshuffling of the cards in modern warfare, says Yiftah Shapir, a weapons expert at Tel Aviv University and a former lieutenant colonel in Israel’s air force. Any side that begins with a technological advantage will see it erode quickly as the underdogs improve their improvisation capabilities.

The ominous consequences have led America’s Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), an arm of the Pentagon, to try to keep up with developments by soliciting worldwide for new ways to make weapons using commercially available materials and technologies. More than 20 experts are now reviewing hundreds of submissions. To better assess the risks, some of the most promising designs will be built as prototypes and tested. This could earn their inventors awards of up to $130,000.

Fire in the hole

The DARPA experts need to move fast. Only a few years ago the Syrian rebels were lobbing small bombs with slingshots made from lengths of rubber tubing. Now some of the hell cannons are being mounted on vehicles and fitted with recoil springs to absorb the launch explosion. This improves stability, which in turn enables greater accuracy with follow-up shots. Some designs are no longer fired by lighting a fuse, but at a safe distance with a car battery wired to the propellant charge. Bigger cannons heave oxygen cylinders and, astonishingly, even large household water-heaters packed with enough explosives to destroy a cluster of buildings.

Improvised weaponry typically is not as fearsome as that made by defence companies. But it is a lot cheaper and often effective enough, says Vincent Desportes, formerly a general in the French army and a military attaché to the United States. Despite receiving arms shipments from Iran and Russia, Syria’s regime still uses its own improvised “barrel bombs”—devastating devices made by filling oil drums with explosives and scrap metal. Hizbullah, a Lebanese militia fighting to keep Mr Assad in power, also weaponises non-military materials. The group uses Google Earth to find and hit targets with rockets more accurately, adds Mr Shapir.

Even defence firms are turning to more commercially available equipment to make weapons. Lasers used to cut and weld materials in industry, for example, are now so powerful that Boeing bought a 10kW model to put into its High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL MD), a system it has assembled for the American army to shoot down drones and incoming mortar shells by firing a laser beam at them. Just think of HEL MD as “a welding torch” with a reach of kilometres, says David DeYoung, head of the Boeing unit that built it. While the off-the-shelf laser is powerful enough for its role, IPG Photonics of Massachusetts is now selling a 20kW laser.

[snip]

This dark side of the Internet is costing young people their jobs and social lives

This dark side of the Internet is costing young people their jobs and social lives
By Hayley Tsukayama
May 20 2016
<https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/for-many-young-americans-compulsive-internet-use-is-a-very-very-real-struggle/2016/05/20/be637a24-130d-11e6-8967-7ac733c56f12_story.html>

FALL CITY, WASH. — It was group discussion time at reSTART, a woodsy rehabilitation center about 30 miles outside Seattle. Four residents sat around the living room and talked about their struggles with addiction, anxiously drumming their fingers on their legs and fidgeting with their shoelaces. One young man described dropping out of college to seek treatment for the crippling problem that brought them all here: compulsive Internet use. 

It is easy to scoff at the idea of Internet addiction, which is not officially recognized as a disorder in the United States. Medical science has yet to diagnose precisely what is going on in the brains of the addicted, and there is no clear definition of what entails an Internet addiction. Yet a growing number of parents and experts say addiction to screens is becoming a major problem for many young Americans, causing them to drop out of school, withdraw from their families and friends, and complain of deep anxieties in social settings.

A recent study by Common Sense Media, a parent advocacy group, found that 59 percent of parents think their teens are addicted to mobile devices. Meanwhile, 50 percent of teenagers feel the same way. The study surveyed nearly 1,300 parents and children this year. 

It is evident from the demand for centers such as reSTART — which will soon launch an adolescent program after fielding hundreds of pleading calls from parents — that many struggle with a dark side of tech use, even if our data-obsessed world can’t yet quantify it. Some parents think the condition is serious enough that they are willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars to send their children to get treatment, because insurance won’t cover it.

“It’s not as obvious as substance addiction, but it’s very, very real,” said Alex, a 22-year-old who had been at reSTART for five days with a familiar story: He withdrew from college because he put playing games or using the Internet ahead of going to class or work. (Like the other patients, he declined to reveal his full name, for fear he would be stigmatized as an addict.)

His parents, he said, had always encouraged him to use technology, without realizing the harm it could do. They were just trying to raise their son in a world soaked in technology that didn’t exist when they were his age.

“We are a guinea pig generation,” he said.

Those who say they suffer from Internet addiction share many symptoms with other types of addicts, in terms of which chemicals are released into the brain, experts say. The pleasure centers of the brain light up when introduced to the stimulus. Addicts lose interest in other hobbies or, sometimes, never develop any. When not allowed to go online, they experience withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, depression or even physical shaking. They retreat into corners of the Internet where they can find quick success — a dominant ranking in a game or a well-liked Facebook post — that they don’t have in the real world, experts say.

‘I was totally dependent’

Peter, 30, knows. Before he began the reSTART program, he was homeless and unemployed. He also struggled with alcoholism but believes that his compulsive tech use led him to some of the darkest moments of his life. 

“I was totally dependent. It cost me relationships,” he said.

Peter’s tech dependence started when he was 13, after his father died. He retreated into gaming to cope, playing from sunup until sundown, sometimes without taking breaks to eat or even to use the bathroom.

Gaming offered him a euphoric escape from reality. He spent more and more time playing games, watching online videos, and getting into arguments on social media and forums. He withdrew from the rest of the world, avoiding the pain and feelings of total worthlessness that hit him when he tried to address his problems. His schoolwork suffered. His physical health declined because he never learned to cook, to clean, to exercise — or, as he put it, “to live in an adult way.” That helped push his relationship with his mother to its breaking point, he said.

Hilarie Cash, co-founder of ­reSTART and its chief clinical officer, knows these behaviors all too well. She first treated someone for Internet addiction in 1994: an adult man whose addiction to text-based online gaming cost him his marriage. Many of her young clients have poor impulse control and an inability to plan for the future. Even the thought of having to plan a meal, Cash said, can lock some of her patients up with fear.

[snip]