Monthly Archives: July 2016

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday 30th July 2016

Three Irish bank execs jailed (not before time) for ‘dishonest, corrupt’ and Anglo Irish fraud

David Drumm described by judge as the ‘driving force’ behind €7.2bn banking conspiracy

   

A judge has said the former Anglo Irish Bank chief executive David Drumm appeared to be the driving force behind the €7.2bn conspiracy that led to three banking executives being jailed yesterday.

Judge Martin Nolan made the comments as he sent the men to jail for terms ranging between two and three-and-a-half years.

Former Anglo chief risk officer Willie McAteer (66), ex-Anglo treasury executive John Bowe (52) and former Irish Life & Permanent chief executive Denis Casey (56) showed little emotion as the sentences were handed down.

Their first night in jail was spent at Mountjoy among all of Ireland’s criminals, where they were processed and kept under close observation, as is the practice with new inmates.

A decision will be made in the coming days on where each man will serve out his sentence.

McAteer, of Greenrath, Tipperary town, was sentenced to three and-a-half years; Bowe, of Glasnevin, Dublin, was sentenced to two years and Casey, from Raheny, Dublin, was sentenced to two years and nine months.

All three were convicted in June of conspiring with others to mislead investors, depositors and lenders by setting up a €7.2bn circular transaction scheme in September 2008 to bolster Anglo’s balance sheet. They had denied the charges.

The verdicts followed an 89-day trial, the longest criminal trial in the history of the State and the jury spent a total of 65 hours deliberating.

The case came to trial following a lengthy investigation, which began in 2009.

The judge said that the scheme was “dishonest, deceitful and corrupt”, as it gave a distorted impression of Anglo’s accounts to shareholders and depositors.

“From the evidence, it appears to me the driving force was Mr Drumm,” he said during the sentencing hearing at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.

Nevertheless, the three defendants were involved in the scheme and knew that what they were doing was wrong.

Their behaviour was reprehensible, the judge said.

Drumm was not a defendant in this trial, but is due to face similar conspiracy charges next year.

 Sentencing McAteer to three-and-half years, Judge Nolan said he had held a senior position in the bank.

Although it appeared that Drumm was driving the scheme, McAteer was seen as a leader within the bank and he could have objected.

“It is grossly reprehensible what he did and a great shame on him,” said the judge.

McAteer authorised these transfers when he knew that what he was doing was “deceitful, underhand and corrupt”.

Sentencing Bowe to two years, the judge said he was “a lesser functionary in the bank”.

The judge described him as the “de facto treasurer”. He was a man of considerable experience and should have known what he was doing was wrong.

“In law, following orders is not a defence,” the judge said.

Bowe “failed to act with integrity and honesty in these matters” and had behaved reprehensibly by going along with it.

Sentencing Casey to two years and nine months, Judge Nolan acknowledged that he had become involved in the scheme as part of the so-called ‘Green Jersey’ agenda, where Irish banks were encouraged to assist others in a time of crisis.

Although Anglo was the author of the scheme, Casey authorised Irish Life & Permanent’s involvement and had behaved “disgracefully”.

“This was a grave error of judgment,” the judge said. “He should have known and did know that this was a sham transaction.”

Earlier, the judge said the crime had arisen during a period when people in the banking sector “were operating under great stress”.

The judge had taken into account submissions on behalf of the defendants that they had made no direct profit or reward from their crimes. He said all had acted in what they believed was the best interest of the companies they worked for.

A conspiracy? 

Judge Nolan had taken into account their background, what each man had achieved in life, their contribution to the community and that they had been good family men.

Each of them had been the subject of odium and ridicule, had endured a lot of stress and had lost their jobs. However, they were involved in a conspiracy where two blue-chip publicly quoted companies conspired to manipulate the balance sheet of Anglo Irish Bank.

It was decided in Anglo that it needed to hit a certain “corporate number” for banking deposits.

“It seemed Mr Drumm and the top management at Anglo decided this corporate number was important,” said the judge.

When this could not be achieved legitimately, a “dishonest, deceitful and corrupt scheme” was entered into.

The public, he said, was entitled to probity from blue-chip companies. “If we cannot rely on probity, then we lose all trust in such institutions,” he said.

“People are entitled to rely on the integrity and honesty of top firms. In this case, honesty and integrity were sorely lacking.”

How the €7.2bn scheme to boost Anglo came about

The scheme at the centre of the case was designed so that the books of Anglo Irish Bank could look much healthier than they actually were amid the global financial crisis in 2008.

The court heard that following the so-called ‘St Patrick’s Day Massacre’, when Anglo’s shares slumped by 20pc, the bank’s executive directors decided Anglo should show “a good corporate number to the market”, meaning that it needed to increase its corporate deposits.

Irish Life & Permanent (IL&P) was approached and a back-to-back transaction was arranged whereby Anglo placed €750m with IL&P and the IL&P group gave Anglo a corporate deposit from its Irish Life Assurance Corporation, a non-banking entity managed by IL&P.

In June, another deal took place, with Anglo transferring €3bn to IL&P and IL&P transferring a portfolio of home mortgages to Anglo.

Over that summer, Anglo drew up a list of 50 funding initiatives, but by September most of these had fallen away. The trial heard evidence that David Drumm asked a manager in Anglo’s treasury department if IL&P would do another set of transactions worth up to €7bn that month. These were to be included in Anglo’s year-end figures.

What resulted was a series of nine ‘rotational transactions’ between September 26 and 30, with €7.2bn moved from Anglo to IL&P, with IL&P sending the money back, via Irish Life Assurance, to Anglo. The trial heard that the transactions were arranged “with considerable difficulty”.

Judge Martin Nolan described the dishonest scheme as a “conspiracy on the public”. Shareholders and depositors were entitled to rely on public accounts, but were instead given a distorted view of the financial strength of Anglo, he said.

Does the Irish Government really have the bottle that it takes to handle the Brexit fallout? 

‘The position of Northern Ireland could create a serious stumbling block for Brexit and, if not managed correctly, could even derail it’

   

NI First Minister Arlene Foster, British PM Theresa May, and NI Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness at Stormont on Monday.

As the Dáil rose for the summer recess last week, there was an almost audible sigh of relief in Leinster House – and not only on the Government side.

It has been a tumultuous six months which has seen an arduous election campaign, an inconclusive result that necessitated some serious improvisation by the major parties to enable a government to be formed after a tense 10-week stalemate, and some serious hiccups as the new Government finally got down to work.

By far, however, the most dramatic event happened outside of Leinster House’s remit – namely the British vote to leave the European Union. How the Government responds to this will be the biggest challenge in the next Dáil term and perhaps in modern day Irish politics, and the interests of the EU will now play a key part in the approach Ireland takes to the Brexit negotiations.

The biggest task facing the Government is to juggle two now competing interests – our relationships with the UK and the EU. No two countries within the EU have a closer relationship than Ireland and the UK – strong cultural ties, a history of Irish emigration to the UK, and huge volumes of trade and movement of people in both directions.

Despite various changes over the past century – independence in 1922, the adoption of the new Constitution in 1937, the declaration of the Republic in 1949, the break with sterling in 1979, and Ireland joining the euro without Britain in 1999 – these ties have remained very strong. On top of all of this there is the position of Northern Ireland, which looks likely to play a central role in the post-Brexit fallout.

Given all of this, it is little wonder the two countries joined the then EEC on the same day in 1973. Back then it was inconceivable that Ireland would take a different approach to the UK on the question of membership. In the 43 years which have followed it is fair to say that Ireland has been a far more enthusiastic member than the UK, and indeed in many respects, it has enabled it to detach itself from the UK’s bosom and assert its independence.

Yet there is no doubt that the Republic would much rather not be faced with this split with the UK and there is a palpable sense of dismay – resentment even – at the UK for leaving us in the lurch. What then are the major faultlines as Ireland attempts to juggle these two competing interests?

The border with Northern Ireland

Without doubt, the biggest issue facing us is the position of the border. One cannot underestimate the positive impact that the opening of border roads has had; it was one of the most important practical impacts of the peace process during the 1990s. The reintroduction of a hard border would be unacceptable to communities in the area, not to mention the costs and complexity of enforcing it.

Yet on the other hand a desire to impose greater restrictions on immigration from the EU was one of the main motivating factors in Britain voting for Brexit. It is difficult to reconcile this with an open border. There have been some suggestions that a compromise may be reached that will entail free movement across the border but with passport checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. This however is hardly something Unionists will welcome.

Insider senses that the proponents of Brexit wholly overlooked this conundrum and their response to it has been incoherent and unsatisfactory. It is only now beginning to dawn on them that the position of Northern Ireland could create a serious stumbling block for Brexit and, if not managed correctly, could even derail it.

In the five weeks since the referendum, the our Government has focused heavily on the impact on the peace process. This is widely seen by observers as a clever move – at an EU level the peace process is seen as one of the European project’s successes and there is a real sense in Brussels that the EU played a positive role in it. The view is that stressing the impact on the peace process is likely to carry more weight in Brussels than in, for instance focusing on trade along the border, important and all as that is to people residing in the area too.

Making Brexit work for Britain

Another conundrum for the Government in Dublin is how to square the need to maintain free trading relations with the UK, with the likelihood that the EU will seek to conclude a single EU/UK trade agreement. The level of business done between the UK and Ireland is huge with each counting the other among its main trading partners; indeed trade with Ireland is more important to the UK than trade with countries such as Brazil, Russia, India, and China.

To have restrictions imposed in this area would be potentially calamitous for Ireland. For virtually our entire history free trade with the UK has been taken for granted and trading restrictions between the two countries would be an alien concept. Our Government must take a firm line at EU level on this point. Of course the free movement of people between the two countries and the Common Travel Area is a key part of this.

There is also a sense of urgency on this point for the Government, even ahead of formal Brexit negotiations. There is a huge degree of investment made by businesses on both sides of the Irish Sea. A period of uncertainty ahead of Brexit runs the risk of businesses postponing investment decisions – there are already signs of this – as they wait to see what happens, thereby running the risk of an economic slowdown in Ireland.

Leaving aside the key aspects of British/Irish relations that need to be weighed, at a broader level, the issue that carries most importance for Ireland, and an area of potential division with other EU member states, is whether Brexit works for the UK. From an Irish perspective, notwithstanding the disagreement with the stance Britain has taken and the sense of disappointment or betrayal even that Insider referred to earlier, it is important that it does.

At an EU level there will be a desire not to be seen to reward Britain for leaving and a sense that it needs to be seen to suffer some negative consequences from its decision. While obviously not wanting to damage its own interests by overly hampering the UK, the EU will wish to be seen flexing its muscles. From an Irish perspective however, in light of the close relations between the nations and the importance of the UK economy to the Irish economy, it is important that Britain does well outside the EU. This will be a tough circle to square.

The future, Brexit, and ‘its new politics’

The Brexit negotiations, and protecting Ireland’s interests in, among others the areas that Insider has referenced, will be the Government’s primary objective for the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, some consideration must be given to a vision for Ireland’s future in the changed circumstances that will follow Britain’s eventual exit.

As Insider noted there have been several breaks with Britain over the years, many of them resulting from EU membership. Indeed many Irish politicians – in particular from FG over the years – have viewed EU membership as a means of Ireland broadening its horizons beyond the UK. Arguably Brexit offers proponents of this a golden opportunity to put this further into practice.

On the other hand, for a considerable number of Irish people, relations with the UK will always be of paramount importance and so this is another balancing act that needs to be managed. Then there is the question of the long-term future of Northern Ireland. Recent talk of a border poll may have been premature but nevertheless reflects an acceptance that things could be about to change radically and that in the medium term everything is on the table.

Finally, we must return to events earlier this year, namely the inconclusive result thrown up by the General Election and the advent of ‘new politics’. This is a topic Insider hopes to return to in greater detail in the autumn – assuming a General Election has not derailed it all by then! – but for the time being will note that it changes the context in which we approach the challenges of Brexit and the negotiations to follow.

Clearly it will not be the Government side alone that will have an input when it comes to determining the strategy to be followed. Dáil arithmetic dictates that the Opposition parties will also have an input, but given the strategic importance of this matter, that was likely to be the way in any case. The Opposition parties have some interesting contributions to make, with FF leader Micheál Martin being an experienced former foreign affairs minister and Sinn Féin bringing some interesting perspective to the North/South dimension in particular, with its role in the Northern Executive.

Theoretically this is one area where the ‘new politics’ should thrive. Insider expects a reasonable degree of consensus but there may be some rancour about whether the Government is pushing Ireland’s interests aggressively enough on those occasions where the EU/UK tradeoffs that Insider has mentioned come to the fore.

It will be a tumultuous period ahead and a real test of the political system and the diplomatic corps. Even in the context of our changed politics it promises to leave the day-to-political dramas in the shade.

Irish car insurance premiums said to have gone up 70% since 2013

   

Concerns are being raised about the continued rise in the cost of insuring your car.

Insurance companies are said to be clamping down on the types of drivers and cars that they are willing to provide cover for.

Premiums are reported to have gone up by more than 70% since 2013.

The motor industry has issued a warning saying the rise in costs is showing no signs of easing.

Broker Jonathan Hehir says the sector is haemorrhaging money: “We’ll have to take the reports they give us on face value because they weren’t afraid to publish when they were making money.

“So I went through the reports recently and if we go back to 2007 they weren’t afraid to show profit in motoring insurance of around €500m at that time.

“That figure has gradually gone down over the ten years and the last time they are shown to be making money was back in 2012 and there was a slight profit on it and since then they have shown losses of hundreds of millions of losses in the motoring insurance sector.”

An hour of Exercise a day may offset a sitting’s toll on your health

   

An hour of Exercise a Day May Offset Sitting’s Toll on Health?

Just one hour of physical activity a day — something as simple as a brisk walk or a bicycle ride — may undo the increased risk of early death that comes with sitting eight hours or more on a daily basis, a new study suggests.

“These results provide further evidence on the benefits of physical activity, particularly in societies where increasing numbers of people have to sit for long hours for work or commuting,” said lead researcher Ulf Ekelund. He is a professor in physical activity and health at the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences in Oslo, Norway.

“Unfortunately, only 25% of our sample exercised an hour a day or more,” he said.

The study also found that watching TV for three hours or more a day was linked with an increased risk of early death, regardless of physical activity except among those who were the most physically active.

However, even among those who exercised the most, the risk of premature death was significantly increased if they watched five hours of TV a day or more, the researchers added.

It’s not TV, per se, that is associated with an increased risk of dying early; rather, TV is a marker for sitting and not being active, Ekelund said.

In their review of 16 previously published studies that included more than one million people, the researchers divided the participants into four groups: those who got about 5 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a day; 25 to 35 minutes a day; 50 to 65 minutes a’ day; and 60 to 75 minutes a day.

The increased risk of early death ranged from 12% to 59%, depending on how much exercise the participants got, the findings showed.

“Indeed, those belonging to the most active group, and who are active about 60 to 75 minutes per day, seem to have no increased risk of mortality, even if they sit for more than eight hours a day,” Ekelund said.

“Sit less, move more, and the more you move the better,” he suggested.

The report, which did not prove that inactivity caused early death, was published online July 27 in The Lancet.

According to Dr. David Katz, president of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, “This important analysis fortifies the increasingly clear verdict from a large and growing body of evidence addressing physical activity and health: all movement is good movement.”

Evidence is clear that moderately vigorous exercise has an array of health benefits, Katz said.

“If you don’t exercise but can stand often, do. If you can’t stand often but can exercise, do,” he added. “Better still, do both. It’s clear: all movement is good movement.”

Not only does physical inactivity increase the risk of early death, it’s expensive, according to another study published in the same journal issue.

In that study, researchers estimated the cost of being physically inactive based on the increased risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and breast and colon cancer. In 2013 dollars, the study authors estimated that inactivity costs the United States about $28 billion annually.

“The current economic cost of physical inactivity is borne mainly by high-income countries. However, as low- and middle-income countries develop, and if the current trajectory of inactivity continues, so too will the economic burden in low- and middle-income countries who are currently poorly equipped to deal with chronic diseases linked to physical inactivity,” study author Dr. Melody Ding, of the University of Sydney in Australia, said in a statement.

Can this woman cure ageing with gene therapy?

    

Biotech boss Elizabeth Parrish (above) has tried out her company’s anti-ageing gene therapy with, she says, amazing results. Too good to be true?

‘We’re trying to hit the biggest point of suffering in the industrialised world.’ Photograph: Antonio Olmos for the Observer

Elizabeth Parrish is CEO of BioViva, a Seattle-based biotech company working to develop treatments to slow the ageing process. In April, the company revealed that Parrish herself had undergone “the first gene therapy successful against human ageing”. The treatment, it claimed, had reversed the biological age of her immune cells by 20 years.

“There are a lot of fantastic conclusions that [people] can jump to,” says Parrish – “defeating death, or people becoming immortal, or things like that. What we’re trying to do is hit the biggest point of suffering right now in the industrialised world, which is the diseases of ageing.”

In September 2015, Parrish, then 44, flew to Colombia to receive two experimental gene therapies. One was a myostatin inhibitor, a drug that is being tested as a treatment for muscle loss. The other was a telomerase gene therapy – the drug that BioViva claims has reversed her cells’ biological age, by lengthening parts of her genetic material called telomeres.

Genes are held in twisted molecules of DNA called chromosomes. At the ends of these chromosomes are stretches of DNA called telomeres. Telomeres protect the important genetic material from damage that can lead to disease-causing malfunction or cell death. Telomeres also allow the cell and its DNA to divide, but as cells divide a portion of the telomeres is lost until, after a finite number of divisions, the cell dies, a process that might contribute to the human ageing process.

If a cat has nine lives, then a dividing human cell has about 50 to 70 – unless, the thinking goes, you lengthen the telomeres to extend the cell’s lifespan and increase its ability to withstand damage. The gene therapy that Parrish received is designed to do just that by encouraging the cell to produce telomerase, a protein that repairs telomeres.

The treatment is highly controversial. Because BioViva had not done the necessary pre-clinical work to progress to human studies, the US Food and Drug Administration did not authorise Parrish’s experiment – hence her trip to an unnamed clinic in Colombia.

BioViva claims that six months after treatment the telomeres in Parrish’s white blood cells had lengthened by 9%. It was an announcement met by a mixture of derision and incredulity by many scientists, who cited the lack of proper scientific procedure. “We used third-party testing for everything,” asserts Parrish. “We used a standard telomere testing system that doctors sell and patients can buy over the internet. By that test, it said my telomeres in my [white blood cells] extended by the equivalent of 20 years.”

The scientists’ scepticism goes further than the reliability of the company’s testing systems. On its website, BioViva claims that its work builds on that of María Blasco, director of the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre. In a 2012 study, Blasco’s findings suggested that a similar telomerase gene therapy could increase the median lifespan of mice by around 20%. Her work since has focused on assessing whether the technology can improve outcomes in mice with heart and blood diseases that originate in very short telomeres.

Blasco does not associate herself with BioViva’s work and she has no relation with the company or with Parrish. “Clinical validation of our telomerase gene therapy strategy, as with any other therapies, should be achieved through rigorous trials validated and backed by the regulatory agencies,” she says.

We should be able to say: This didn’t kill mice, it doesn’t kill human cells – let’s just run a test

On her company profile Parrish describes herself as a “humanitarian, entrepreneur and innovator” and “a leading voice for genetic cures”. Absent from that list is the word “scientist”. She also describes herself as “patient zero” for these treatments – a term some would take issue with. “Patient zero” is a typically used to describe the first patient in an infectious disease outbreak, rather than the first patient to have received a treatment. A better description, some would argue, is that hers was an n = 1 study (a study on only one person).

“Perhaps she is patient zero, but only for the spread of the pseudoscience that’s going to grow from her story,” says Timothy Caulfield, a professor in the Faculty of Law and the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta. Caulfield is concerned that Parrish’s work lacks scientific rigour and is at risk of being picked up by unscrupulous practitioners aware of the selling power of anti-ageing treatments. “People forget that most clinical trials don’t pan out,” he says. “Drugs often look really promising in mice but don’t pan out in people – they’re different animals.”

But Parrish, who says she has already had people contact her to ask if they can try her anti-ageing gene therapy, argues that enough animal studies have been conducted to move to humans. “I think we are doing things wrong. We should be able to say, ‘This looks promising, it didn’t kill mice, it doesn’t kill human cells.’ So what we said [when deciding to test her company’s treatments] was, ‘Let’s just run a test; let’s see if this stuff is safe.’”

Parrish and her team say they plan to explore the effects of the gene therapy in other cells in her body, and to assess the effect of the muscle-loss treatment. Meanwhile, they are looking to test the treatments in more people, but first they need to find a country with less stringent requirements than the US. “We are still looking for a faster route,” says Parrish. “We have gone from country to country, with groups who are asking these countries to re-regulate. They will come in with new regulatory standards… with a fast track to get the most life-saving therapeutics to humans as fast as possible.”

While Caulfield admits that the drug development process is strict, he argues that it needs to be to maintain scientific rigour. “Sure, we’re all looking at ways to get effective drugs to clinics quicker but this idea of foreign shopping until you can find the regulatory framework that is most friendly to your idea about how science should be done is a terrible mistake,” he says. “Good science should be universal.”

Quick to distance himself from BioViva was George M Martin, professor of pathology at the University of Washington. Martin had agreed to be an adviser to the company after being visited at his university by Parrish but relinquished that role on hearing the news of Parrish’s self-experiment. “I resigned only weeks after accepting the invitation, I never attended a board meeting and I certainly had no inkling of her plans to carry out human interventions without any pre-clinical work,” he says.

George Church, professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School and another of the BioViva’s advisers, is wary of the idea that he has “ties” with the company. “I wouldn’t call them ties,” he says. “I advise people who need advice and they clearly need advice.” Church says he advised the company to go through proper regulatory channels and to do the required pre-clinical work. “If you just let people run loose without any advice, especially if they don’t have training in medical research, then you’re inviting consequences.”

It’s a point, he notes, that was tragically highlighted by a gene therapy trial in France that is believed to have caused cancer in two participants in 2003, and the 1999 death of Jesse Gelsinger, the first person to die in a clinical trial for the therapy. Both failures, he says, set back the whole field. “Since then, the field has improved tremendously and is much safer but new drugs have to be tested in placebo controlled trials with animal testing first.”

And it’s not just scientists who are cautious about how advanced therapeutics such as gene therapies or those that use stem cells are handled. The public and policymakers, whose attitudes can either help or hinder potential medical advances, are also twitchy about science that tinkers with the inner workings of life. If the debate around the powerful new genome-editing tool, Crispr/Cas9, is anything to go by, Parrish’s approach to combating ageing won’t roll out without significant scrutiny.

Duncan Baird is a professor of Cancer and Genetics at Cardiff University’s School of Medicine. He urges caution over Parrish’s impatient approach to unearthing treatments. “Life and ageing are too biologically complicated to start boiling it all down to these entities at the ends of chromosomes [telomeres],” he says. “To pick out one particular phenomenon of telomere length as a key determinant of ageing and say that if you’re going to lengthen telomeres you’re magically going to cure ageing, I think that’s fanciful.”

Without a much greater understanding of the biological processes that underlie ageing, such tampering can be dangerous, says Baird. One of the reasons telomeres have evolved to be the length they are, he says, is to limit the number of times a cell can proliferate and thus to limit its potential to be cancerous. “Meddling with a fundamentally important tumour-suppressive mechanism that has evolved in long-lived species like ours doesn’t strike me as a particularly good idea.”

Attempts to combat ageing, and its myriad manifestations, do not belong to Parrish alone. Around the world, teams of dedicated researchers are doing the painstakingly thorough work needed to unpick the biological mysteries of ageing and, maybe one day, figure out how to tackle it. But, as so often with science, it seems success might lie in the very thing that Parrish refuses to accept: time itself.

 

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News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 29th July 2016

AIB performs poorly in latest European bank stress test

   

Andrea Enria, chairman of the European Banking Authority: “Whilst we recognise the extensive capital raising done so far, this is not a clean bill of health.”

Italy’s Monte dei Paschi, Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) and AIB emerged as the biggest losers in the EU’s banking stress tests, which largely found that the region’s top 51 banks had enough capital to withstand another financial crisis.

While the tests abandoned their previous pass or fail marks, Italy’s embattled Monte dei Paschi was the clear failure – its key capital ratio turned negative by the end of the three-year adverse scenario of the test, indicating the bank would be insolvent.

Immediately before the results were published, the bank said it would raise €5 billion of capital and offload €9.2 billion of bad loans. Earlier yesterday, it rejected a rescue proposal from Corrado Passera, the veteran Italian executive and former minister, in partnership with Swiss bank UBS.

As well as the worst end-point capital position, Monte dei Paschi had the biggest deterioration in its key capital ratio – known as its fully loaded common equity tier one (CET1) ratio, which takes into account new regulations due to come in soon.

That ratio fell 14.51 percentage points for the stricken Italian bank – more than four times the average 340 basis-points deterioration – leaving it with a ratio of -2.44%. The ratio across the sector was 9.2%.

Headline figures?

AIB had the second biggest fall in its fully loaded CET1 ratio, losing 880 basis points to leave it at just 4.31%. That makes the Irish government’s hopes of reprivatising the bank over the coming years more distant because the headline figure is likely to spook investors, even though it penalises the banks under some rules that will not come into effect until 2022.

On a country-by-country basis, Ireland’s two tested banks – AIB and Bank of Ireland – averaged the lowest CET1 ratio on a fully loaded basis, with an average of 5.21%. On a transitional basis, the Irish banks have a fully loaded ratio of 7.54%, the second weakest in the group, after Austria’s 7.32%.

The UK government also faces questions as RBS had the third biggest fall in CET1 ratio, losing 745 basis points to leave it at 8.08%, still the 13th best in the group. Barclays also emerged in a relatively weak position with a fully loaded CET1 ratio that fell from 11.4% to 7.3% in the adverse scenario.

The overall results were less dramatic than those of the ECB’s inaugural analysis in 2014, which revalued the balance sheets of almost 130 banks and ordered the sector to raise €25 billion. Those tests were widely discredited by the market as not harsh enough. The latest tests, while less closely watched, are expected to face similar criticism.

Brexit effect?

“Whilst we recognise the extensive capital raising done so far, this is not a clean bill of health,” Andrea Enria, chairman of the European Banking Authority said. “There remains work to do, which supervisors will undertake in the SREP [regulatory engagement] process.”

Europe’s banks have raised €180 billion since the end of 2013. Several issued statements stressing that even though the tests were tougher, their results were better than in 2014.

The latest tests have already come under fire for not capturing shocks such as the UK’s unexpected decision to leave the EU, and negative interest rates. While they do include market shocks that are more severe than those seen in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote, the scenario does not capture the outsize risk for certain banks.

The adverse scenario included falls in real EU gross domestic product of 1.2% in 2016, 1.3% in 2017 and 0.7% in 2018 – a progression that is 7.1% worse than the expected ‘baseline’ scenario. The stress tests also do not include the likely impact of some regulations that have not yet been finalised, known as ‘Basel IV’.

Two-thirds of the Republic of Irl. ‘would vote for an united Ireland’

   

Voters in Dublin were less likely to vote in favour of a united Ireland

Two out of three people in the Irish Republic would vote for a united Ireland, a major opinion poll has found.

Pollster Red C said its latest national survey – weeks after the Brexit result – shows a sharp rise in support for reunification since a similar opinion poll six years ago.

Asked how they would vote if a referendum was held tomorrow, 65% of the sample electorate said they would vote in favour of a united Ireland.

Some 30% said they would vote against it, while 5% said they were undecided.

The findings show an 8% jump in support for a united Ireland since Red C posed the same question in a poll carried out for the Sunday Times in 2010.

The shock Brexit result last month has sparked a renewed debate about a potential referendum on the Irish border. A majority of voters in Northern Ireland want to remain as part of the European Union.

Remain campaigners, including Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, have insisted their wishes must be respected.

But Leave backers, among them Democratic Unionist First Minister Arlene Foster, have insisted the EU referendum result is a UK-wide decision.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said he hoped the Brexit result would lead to a united Ireland.

However, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has in recent days retreated from his earlier talk of a border referendum.

The latest Red C poll also shows Mr Martin’s Fianna Fail is the most popular party in the Republic. Arch-rivals Fine Gael rely on his support for their minority government, formed after weeks of negotiations following a huge split in the vote earlier this year.

In a cross border survey last year by broadcasters RTE and BBC Northern Ireland, 66% of people in the Irish Republic said they would like to see a united Ireland in their lifetime.

But only 30% in Northern Ireland held the same view, with 43% saying they would not like to see reunification.

For the latest poll, carried out for bookmaker Paddy Power, Red C interviewed a sample of 1,000 voters in the Irish Republic between July 25 and 27.

Support for a united Ireland was equal at 65% among both men and women.

More (69%) in less well-off social groups than better-off groups (59%) said they would vote for reunification.

Voters living in Dublin (56%) were less likely to vote in favour of a united Ireland than those living outside the capital (68% to 69%).

Sinn Fein (79%) and Fianna Fail (71%) supporters were most likely to back reunification, while Fine Gael (58%) voters were least likely.

There was a clear majority in favour among all age groups, particularly among those aged 55 to 64 (70%).

Mortgage lending on the up as property prices rise to 6.6%

House prices dropped slightly in Dublin last month but were up elsewhere in Ireland

    

Nationally, residential prices are 35.4% lower than at their highest point since 2007.

Mortgage lending by Irish banks rose €105 million in June, the largest increase since early 2010, new figures from the Central Bank reveal.

However, in annual terms, lending for house purchased declined by 2% with household repaying €1.6 billion more than was advanced in new loans.

The figures comes as new figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) show residential property prices across the country rose 6.6% in the year to June .

While prices dipped last month in Dublin, they rose everywhere else, according to the data.

Overall, prices in the capital are now 33.5% lower than their zenith in early 2007. In the same time frame, apartments in Dublin are 41.8% lower.

The Residential Property Price Index for June showed the 6.6% increase for the year to June compared with 6.9% for May and by 10.7% in the year to June 2015.

A June decrease.

Prices decreased by 0.1% during the month and by 0.7% in Dublin, but were 4.5% higher than a year ago.

Dublin house prices decreased by 1% during the month and were 5% higher compared with a year earlier, while apartment prices were 0.5% lower when compared with the same month in 2015.

“However, it should be noted that the sub-indices for apartments are based on low volumes of observed transactions and consequently suffer from greater volatility than other series,” the CSO said in a statement.

Nationally, residential prices are 35.4% lower than at their highest point in 2007.

Housing market crisis not reflected?

Property Industry Ireland (PII), an-Ibec affiliated group that represents businesses working in the property and construction sector, said house price data did not properly reflect the crisis occurring in the housing market.

“While house prices increased by 6.6% in the last year, rents grew by 10% in the same period. The displacement of the housing crisis into the rented sector is largely driven by the continued exodus of landlords and an increased cohort of tenants, many of whom are renting longer than they expected because of the deposit rules introduced by the Central Bank last year,” said PII director Peter Stafford.

Merrion chief economist Alan McQuaid said that after average house price rises of 12.9% in 2014 and 10.6% last year we would likely see a more modest increase of between 6% and 6.5% for 2016, based on current data.

Elsewhere, Davy analyst David McNamara said Brexit brings a potential headwind in the near term for property demand but the stockbrokers still expect house price inflation to settle at 5% by year end.

Irish consumers facing higher electricity bills as PSO levy to rise

   

Irish homeowners and businesses are facing higher electricity bills after a decision to raise the levy on their bills to support renewable energy and to ensure security of energy supply.

The Public Service Obligation (PSO) levy is to go up by 20%, the Commission for Energy Regulation has decided.

The move will mean the levy on domestic bills will rise by almost €14 to €82 a year, once value added tax is applied, according to calculations by Simon Moynihan ofBonkers.ie.

For commercial electricity users, the levy is going from €214.5 this year to €254.16 – an increase of €39.66, or 18.5%. This figure excludes VAT as business can reclaim the tax.

Mr Moynihan said: “The energy regulator had initially proposed an increase of 32% in May, so there is some relief with today’s news.”

The higher levy will apply from October.

The PSO levy is a subsidy charged to all electricity customers to support national policy objectives related to renewable energy, indigenous fuels (peat) and security of energy supply

The higher levy is despite a 35% drop in wholesale gas prices, the main input for electricity generation.

Lower wholesale energy prices mean that more financial support has to be paid to ensure security of electricity supply.

Meanwhile, a separate report from the energy regulator shows that almost 80,000 customers have switched electricity supplier and 25,000 customers have switched gas supplier since last year.

It said while customer switching continues to be a key indicator of competition, an increasing number of customers are negotiating better terms and prices with their existing suppliers.

Herbs can act as a natural pain relief property

Rosemary and thyme have been praised for their pain-relief properties.

    

Herbs have been found to help tackle the pain of cancer and other diseases.

Next time you cook a meal you may want to chuck in some rosemary and thyme, as the ingredients not only add aroma and taste but they act as natural painkillers, a new study has found. Chemical components diterpenoids act as an analgesic to pain and inflammation, even those that stem from cancer and other serious illnesses. Diterpenoids – which come in two kinds, carnosol and carnosic acid – are found in fungi and select plants,

German and Italian scientists have noted. But rosemary and thyme hold some of the highest levels, and therefore may work wonders when included in cooking. Experiments on human cells and mice discovered the chemical components block enzymes that cause inflammation and pain in the body, and Dr Giuseppe Bifulco of Italy’s Salerno University is keen to promote herbs as a means of pain relief.

“Two key enzymes of inflammation, are primary targets of carnosol and carnosic acid which are major bioactive ingredients of herbs that are used as spices – namely sage and rosemary,” he said of the findings, published in the British Journal of Pharmacology. “Our study provides comprehensive insights into their anti-inflammatory mechanism.”

These results follow on from a discovery in March (16) that rosemary was a common ingredient used in an Italian village, where a majority of residents lived to be over 100.

But the herbs aren’t the only natural means of pain relief, and if you want to go further down the scented route you can try turmeric and cloves too.

Or, a good soak in a hot bath and acupuncture are good options for those whose palettes aren’t acquainted to such fragrant flavours.

Cockroach milk a potential new Superfood

An new study now suggests? 

   

 

Cockroaches aren’t exactly the most favored of insects, and all kinds of methods are used to get rid of the bugs often dwelling in the kitchens and bathrooms of the world. However, a recent study has shown that cockroach milk can serve as a superfood for humans.

IUCrJ, a journal from the International Union of Crystallography (IUCr), recently published a paper studying the milk from the viviparous cockroach named Diploptera punctata. Statistics in the paper indicate that cockroach milk is estimated to contain over three times the energy of cow milk of the same mass.

Cockroach milk is different from what we call milk in daily life. It is a crystal of proteins, fats and sugars, which are important for the growth of baby cockroaches. “The protein crystals are milk for the cockroach infant. It is important for its growth and development,” said Leonard Chavas, one of the project’s researchers.

Sanchari Banerjee, one of the main authors of the paper, told Times of India that “the crystals are like a complete food — they have proteins, fats and sugars. If you look into the protein sequences, they have all the essential amino acids.”

Cockroach milk may serve as a superfood for human but it is not expected to be found in supermarkets any time soon.

In the research, the milk was extracted from the gut of the Diploptera punctata, which is not an efficient way for massive production. There are still some obstacles before scientists. “For now, we are trying to understand how to control this phenomena in a much easier way, to bring it to mass production,” Chavas explained to CNN.

The research can’t ensure you the opportunity to enjoy cockroach milk, but it does offer the hope of turning what is often seen as an unsightful creature into something more.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 28th July 2016

IMF cuts Irish growth forecasts due to post-Brexit risks

International Monetary Fund warns Irish banks could be hit by UK’s withdrawal

   

IMF managing director Christine Lagarde: Washington-based fund forecasts Irish gross domestic product expanding 3.2% next year.

The International Monetary Fund cut its Irish economic forecasts following the UK’s decision to quit the European Union and warned banks would be hit as Brexit weighs on their UK operations and prospects for companies, employment and investment.

The Washington-based fund now sees Irish gross domestic product expanding 3.2% next year, having previously estimated 3.6% growth, according to its main annual review of the country, published on Thursday. It trimmed its forecast for this year marginally, to 4.9% from 5%.

“The rebound of the Irish economy has been exceptional,” the IMF said. “The positive economic performance is expected to continue, but the UK vote to leave the EU amplifies downside risks.”

The IMF has chosen to ignore the Central Statistics Office’s recent upward revision of Irish GDP for last year to 26 per cent in its analysis and policy recommendations, as the data “would distort the true representation of the underlying economic developments”.

Staff at the fund recommended that Irish officials develop additional gauges that better reflect the country’s underlying activity.

Manageable impact

In a separate report on the country’s financial system, the IMF said the impact of Brexit “could be large, but should still be manageable”, adding the longer-term consequences will depend on the nature of the future relationship between the UK and the EU, especially regarding trade, financial flows and labour movement.

The report gave strong backing to the Central Bank’s introduction of mortgage lending limits last year, which the Irish regulator has insisted will remain a permanent feature of Irish banking even as it reviews the rules this year.

The caps are “well-justified, even though credit conditions have normalised and real estate prices are estimated to be close to equilibrium”, the IMF said.

House prices

The latest CSO data shows Irish house prices rose almost 7% in the year to May. However, values are still one-third off their 2007 peak. The country’s unemployment rate has fallen to 7.8% from a peak above 15.1% at the height of the financial crisis, in early 2012.

The IMF noted the Government has placed a “high priority” on boosting housing supply, having recently unveiled a plan aimed at delivering 25,000 new houses per year by the end of the decade.

The IMF said that households and companies have lowered their borrowings in recent years – they remain highly leveraged, with 100,000 home loans estimated to be in negative equity at the end of last year. While banks have lowered their non-performing assets as they restructure soured loans and the economy improves, the overall level of troubled loans remains a challenge, it said.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan welcomed the publication of the reports on Ireland’s economy and financial services landscape.

“The IMF also recognises that the Government is fully committed to sound budgetary policy in the years ahead and that Ireland’s financial regulatory and supervisory frameworks have been significantly upgraded and the financial soundness of the banking sector has improved,” he said.

However, the fund noted that “increased fragmentation” in the new Dáil, “reform fatigue” and Brexit may complicate the Government’s job.

The IMF also urged the Government to proceed with further bank share sales, even though Mr Noonan has effectively ruled out an initial public offering of Allied Irish Banks, which received a €20.8 billion bailout during the crisis, until the first half of next year at least.

Ireland’s office workers must exercise for at least an hour a day to counter death risk

   

Around one in four adults globally and 80% of school-going teenagers are failing to meet the World Health Organisation recommendation of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. 

Irish workers, who have sedentary jobs, may eliminate some of the harmful effects of sitting if they do one hour of physical activity daily, new research reveals.

The findings, in the ‘Lancet’, which are part of a series measuring global levels of physical activity since the last Olympics, also warn that lack of exercise is linked to one in 20 cases of dementia in Ireland.

Physical inactivity is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers, leading to around five million deaths across the world annually.

Scientists said sedentary lifestyles were now posing as great a threat to public health as smoking, and were causing more deaths than obesity.

As more employees have no choice but to spend eight or more hours a day sitting down, the risks are on the rise.

However, the study from the University of Cambridge in the UK and the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences, which looked at over one million people, said one hour of exercise such as a brisk walk or cycling for pleasure may eliminate the increased risk of death associated with prolonged sitting.

Most of us will spend hours on the couch watching the world’s fittest athletes during TV coverage of the Olympics, which begin in Brazil next week.

But since the last Games four years ago there has been little progress in increasing levels of physical activity.

Around one in four adults globally and 80pc of school-going teenagers are failing to meet the World Health Organisation recommendation of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week.

Physical activity is a valuable part of any overall body wellness plan and is associated with a lower risk of brain decline.

In order to reduce the risk of dementia, we should engage in cardiovascular exercise to elevate the heart rate.

This increases the blood flow to the brain and body.

It reduces potential dementia risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol.

The researchers also looked at time spent watching television all day and found sitting for over three hours looking at the goggle-box was associated with increased risk of death, except in the most active.

The authors said: “For many people who commute to work and have office-based jobs there is no way to escape sitting for prolonged periods of time.

“For these people in particular, we cannot stress enough the importance of getting exercise, whether it is getting out for a walk at lunchtime, going for a run in the morning or cycling to work.

Ideal activity an hour a day?

“An hour of physical activity per day is the ideal, but if this is unmanageable, then at least doing some exercise each day can help reduce the risk.”

Overall, the ‘Lancet’ reported that while in the past four years more countries have been monitoring progress in physical activity, the evidence of improvements is scarce.

Earlier this year, Ireland launched its first National Physical Activity Plan, with the aim of increasing the number of people taking regular exercise by 50,000 a year over the next decade. Seven out of 10 adults are too inactive and fail to get the necessary 30 minutes a day of moderate activity five days a week, which is recommended for 18- to 64-year-olds.

The plan involves supporting more community walking groups, getting doctors to prescribe exercise for patients and encouraging employers to bring in standing desks to avoid staff having to sit all day.

The plan, which comes with €5.5m funding, also involves introducing a new school subject, Well-being, from September as part of the new Junior Cycle.

Dolly’s cloned sheep ‘twins’ alive and kicking well

Dolly the cloned sheep ‘twins’ alive and kicking: study   sheep1

Four genetically-identical copies of Dolly the famous cloned sheep, which suffered ill health and died prematurely in 2003, are going strong at the advanced age of nine, a study said Tuesday. 

Debbie, Denise, Dianna and Daisy — identical sisters of Dolly, though born 11 years later — were “in pretty good health”, according to researchers who studied whether cloned animals can live long, healthy lives.

The quadruplets were made from the same mammary gland cell line that yielded Dolly — the first mammal cloned using a technique called somatic-cell nuclear transfer (SCNT).

Born 20 years ago on July 5, 1996, Dolly developed crippling knee arthritis aged five and died of lung disease at the age of six — about half the life expectancy of her breed of Finn-Dorset sheep.
Dolly’s ill health and early demise raised red flags that clones may be sickly and age prematurely compared to naturally-conceived peers.

Cloned lab mice, too, have shown a propensity for obesity, diabetes, and dying young.

Kevin Sinclair of the University of Nottingham and a team conducted thorough medical exams on the four “Dollies” born in July 2007, as well as nine other sheep clones from different cell cultures.

All 13 animals, aged seven to nine, were the product of lab studies seeking to improve the efficiency of SCNT.

Experts measured the sheep’s glucose tolerance, insulin sensitivity, blood pressure and muscle and bone strength, in what they said was the first comprehensive assessment of age-related disease in animal clones.

A few of the sheep had mild osteoarthritis, the team found, and one a “moderate” form of the ailment — though this was not unusual for their age. None of the sheep were lame, as Dolly was.
– Ageing ‘normally’ –

Despite their “advanced age”, none of the sheep were diabetic, and they had normal blood pressure.

The data, said the team, was “compelling, indicating no detrimental long-term adverse effects of SCNT on the health of aged adult offspring.”

SCNT involves removing the DNA-containing nucleus from a cell other than an egg or sperm — a skin cell, for example — and implanting it into an unfertilised egg from which the nucleus had been removed.

Once transferred, the egg reprogrammes the mature DNA back to an embryonic state with the aid of an electric jolt, and it starts dividing to form an embryo.

No human is known to ever have been created in this way.

In spite of recent improvements, the technique remains inefficient, and expensive, with a small percentage of cloned embryos surviving to birth.

“For those clones that survive… however, the emerging consensus, supported by the current data, is that they are healthy and seem to age normally,” said the study in the journal Nature Communications.

Animal cloning is used in agriculture, mainly to create breeding stock, as well as in the business of “bringing back” people’s dead pets.

Despite initial high expectations, it has not found a place in the field of medical therapy for humans.

Women with later start to periods, menopause more likely to reach age 90

Women who start menstruation later may have increased chances of surviving nine decades, scientists found   

Women with later menarche and later menopause are more likely to reach age 90 than those whose reproductive milestones come at earlier ages, suggests a new study.

“People have always wondered whether the timing of reproductive events affect longevity, but no study to date has evaluated that relationship,” said lead author Aladdin Shadyab, of the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.

The research team used data collected from 16,251 participants in the Women’s Health Initiative, starting between 1993 and 1998 and continuing until August 2014.

All the women were born before September 1924; 8,892, or 55%, survived to age 90.

Women who were at least 12 years old at menarche were about 9% more likely to reach age 90 than those who were younger.

And women who were at least 50 when their periods stopped were about 20% more likely to reach age 90 than women who entered menopause before age 40. This was true whether menopause was natural or surgical.

A longer reproductive lifespan was also tied to longevity. Women who menstruated for more than 40 years were 13% more likely to reach age 90 than those who had less than 33 reproductive years, the authors reported in a paper released July 27 by the journal Menopause.

Shadyab and colleagues can’t say why later periods and later menopause are tied to longer life, but the link could be related to lifestyle factors and genetics.

“It is possible that those who begin menstruating later and those who experience menopause at older ages are in better health long term,” Shadyab told Reuters Health.

There could also be genes that affect both the start of periods and menopause and a woman’s length of life, he added.

“Further studies are needed to determine why reproductive factors predict living to age 90 in women,” he said.

Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, who is executive director of The North American Menopause Society, agrees that lifestyle factors and genetics are likely behind the link between later reproductive milestones and longevity.

Pinkerton, who was not involved in the study, said research suggests that hormones that may protect women’s hearts are lost during menopause.

Also, she said some behaviors, such as smoking, have an impact on overall health and on the timing of menopause.

Look at the size of this jellyfish that was washed up on Portmarnock beach Dublin

 PIC: Look at the size of the jellyfish that washed up on Portmarnock beach  

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.

Thanks to the warm weather we’ve been experiencing so far this summer, thousands of people who wouldn’t go near the water in the depths of winter have been dipping their toes in the sea off the Irish coast.

The need to stay safe in the water is paramount and those heading to the beach should be aware of the dangers before going in for a swim.

The Lion’s Mane jellyfish (giant jellyfish) is the largest known species of jellyfish and is commonly found in cold waters like the Irish Sea; certainly anyone walking along Portmarnock beach yesterday evening could hardly have missed the one that had washed up on the shore.

Karen Purdy spotted the jellyfish at approximately 9.30pm last night and told us it was still moving when she came across it.

If you ever happen to be stung by a jellyfish or are providing first aid for someone who has, check out the advice issued by Irish Water Safety here.

Meanwhile back in the UK.

Beach users urged to report jellyfish

Barrel (very mild sting): Blooms largely restricted to the Irish Sea, Solway Firth and the Firth of Clyde, but strays can be recorded futher south throughout the year     

The Lion’s Mane jellyfish is often found off the Northumberland coast.

Beach users are being urged to report jellyfish finds on beaches, including the Lion’s Mane which has the most painful sting in the UK and is rarely seen south of Northumberland.

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS), the UK’s leading marine charity, says the number of jellyfish blooms – when jellies mass together – in UK coastal waters is on the increase as our seas start to warm up.

Every summer hundreds of reports of jellyfish sightings are made to the MCS National Jellyfish Survey – now in its 14th year. The survey is providing valuable information about where and when jellyfish occur in UK seas amid global reports of a rise in jellyfish numbers.

Jellies to look out for in UK waters include the Lion’s Mane (Cyanea capillata), which has the most powerful and painful sting of the UK species. It blooms during the summer but is rarely seen south of the Irish Sea, or south of Northumberland, with most reports coming from Scottish waters.

According to the MCS, Lion’s Mane have been spotted in Northumberland in July, as well as in Aberdeenshire, Hebrides, Orkney, Angus and Ceredigion.

Up until July, it’s been a relatively quiet year for jellyfish reports, unlike the last two years when record numbers of barrel jellyfish were reported around UK seas through the spring and summer.

But jellies are starting to pick up as the waters around the UK warm up, with mass strandings of both species in South West England and Wales.

Dr Peter Richardson, Head of Biodiversity and Fisheries at the MCS, said “There’s evidence that jellyfish numbers are increasing in some parts of the world, including UK seas.

“Some scientists argue that jellyfish numbers increase and then decrease normally every 20 years or so, however, others believe and these increases are linked to factors such as pollution, over-fishing and possibly climate change. The MCS jellyfish survey helps provide some of the information we need to understand more about these ancient creatures.

“We still know relatively little about jellyfish and what drives changes in their numbers, so reporting even a single one can help. One thing we do know is that Leatherback turtles travel to UK waters to feed on jellyfish and are usually recorded along the west coast of the UK between May and October – this year we’ve already heard of sightings from the south west of England and the Irish Sea.”

MCS says that anyone who comes across a jellyfish at sea or on the beach should look but don’t touch, but report their sightings via the MCS website.

Jellies to look out for in UK waters:

Moon (very mild sting) – most widespread species, occurring all around the UK coast from May.

Blue (mild sting) – less common than the moon but can turn up anywhere.

Barrel (very mild sting) – can grow up to 1 metre in diameter and weigh up to 40kgs, totally harmless despite its size and is largely limited to the Irish Sea and adjacent waters to the north. Can be spotted all year round, even in winter, but blooms tend to start in March.

Lion’s Mane (powerful sting) – has the most powerful and painful sting of the UK species. It blooms during the summer but is rarely seen south of the Irish Sea (west coast), or south of Northumberland (east coast), with most reports coming from Scottish waters.

Compass (mild sting) – has bizarre compass-like markings and is found throughout the UK coast.

Mauve Stingers (powerful sting) – occasionally recorded from the southwest in early spring, but large numbers were reported off Britain’s west coast during November 2007, 2008 & 2009.

Portuguese Man-of-War (dangerous sting) – rare in UK waters but MCS received many reports from beaches in south-west England in the summers of 2007, 2008 and 2009.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 27th July 2016

New low-cost lending plan to eat into moneylenders profits

Says Leo Varadkar

      

The huge profits being made by moneylenders are likely to be eaten into by a new low-cost lending plan that is being extended nationwide, a Cabinet minister said.

Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar said a scheme being rolled out nationwide to offer a low-cost alternative to moneylenders will put the money into the pockets of low-income people.

“Moneylenders are making profits of between €90m and €100m a year. We could get an amount of that €100m going back into the pockets of those in receipt of social welfare with this scheme,” he said.

The scheme is designed to allow credit unions provide small affordable loans people who would otherwise rely on moneylenders or unlicensed loan sharks.

There is a quick turnaround for assessing applications and a minimum of bureaucracy.

The loans of up to €2,000 can be used for funding back-to-school expenses, and to pay for family expenses like funerals.

A pilot scheme in 30 credit unions saw 1,300 people accessing the loans, the average amount of which was under €500.

Now the scheme is being extended nationwide, in a move Mr Varadkar said would open it up to around one million people.

It applies to anyone in receipt of social welfare, including pensioners, carers and the unemployed.

Up to 400,000 people are estimated to use moneylenders in Ireland, who can legally charge interest rates of up to 200pc.

Launching the nationwide roll-out of the scheme at Dublin’s Meath Street Credit Union, Mr Varadkar said the scheme “represents real practical help for families and individuals struggling on low incomes”.

“Many of the participants may struggle to get credit elsewhere, and may not have a bank account or savings.

“So when the unexpected bill arrives for home or car repairs, a new fridge or a family occasion, some turn to money lenders and loan sharks. This new scheme will ensure access to small loans at reasonable interest from the credit union.”

Mr Varadkar urged all 333 credit unions sign up for the micro-lending scheme, called It Makes Sense.

Some 50 credit unions have now committed to offer the new loans, with more expected to sign up in the coming weeks.

Permanent TSB back in profit for first time since 2007

Bank records €80 million profit following loss of €410 million in previous year

   

PTSB chief executive Jeremy Masding

PTSB’s mortgage lending rose 4% cent year on year to €211 million in the first six months of 2016.

Permanent TSB made an after-tax profit of €80 million in the first six months of 2016, a major turnaround on a year earlier when it recorded a loss of €410 million.

This was the first group profit recorded by State-controlled PTSB since 2007, the year before the global financial crash.

Its net interest margin, excluding guarantee fees paid to the Government, increased by 31 basis points to 1.43%.

The bank, which is 75% owned by the State, recorded an impairment write-back of €61 million in the period, an improvement of €85 million on a year earlier.

Mortgage lending rose 4% year on year to €211 million while its non-performing loans reduced further by €400 million from December 2015 to €6.2 billion.

The bank said its cost-income ratio “remains elevated” at 87% due to regulatory cost pressure.

PTSB’s fully loaded core equity tier 1 ratio increased by 9 percentage points to 15.9%.

Commenting on the results, PTSB chief executive Jeremy Masding said: “Having recapitalised the bank during 2015, the group has moved to pre- and post-tax profitability and is generating capital for the first time since 2007. This positions us better to focus on our commercial agenda and to grow the business.

“Of course there are challenges ahead. However, we remain as committed as ever to serving our customers and to delivering attractive and sustainable returns to our shareholders by making the most of our key strengths.”

The write-backs included €26 million in relation to a better underlying net performance, reflecting “sustained loan cures”. They also included €35 million resulting from an adjustment to the house price inflation assumption.

But the group expects an impairment charge in the second half of the year, arising from its underlying performance. This is mainly due to the quantum of write-backs from loan cures “moderating” and it returning to a normalised impairment flow. Its medium-term guidance of a cost of risk of 40 basis points or less remains unchanged.

PTSB said it had made a gain of €29 million from the sale of a share held in Visa Europe in the first half, which is included in other operating income.

Its total operating expenses, excluding regulatory costs, increased by 7.5%, primarily due to a higher spend on certain regulatory and mandatory projects that are not expected to be recurring over the medium term.

Regulatory costs increased by €19 million as a result of its contribution to the Single Resolution Fund of €9 million and the deposit guarantee scheme of €10 million.

“We are anticipating potential increases in these costs going forward,” the bank said.

The Irish bank levy of €27 million will be paid in October. Excluding this levy, the group expects operating expenses to be lower in the second half.

PTSB said talks with the European Commission on extending the deadline for the sale of its non-core £2.3 billion CHL mortgage book in the UK are underway.

This book was to have been sold by the end of June but the sale was postponed due to the impact of the UK’s referendum on its EU membership of market activity.

PTSB said its intention remains to exit this business fully subject to market appetite and appropriate pricing.

“In this respect, it is not possible to give a precise date for completing a transaction, in particular, in light of the UK’s recent decision to leave the EU,” the bank said.

Farmers want extra time to pay tax bills due to ‘income crisis’

IFA president urges Irish State to tackle ‘income volatility’ due to Brexit vote and low prices

     

The IFA president said cattle prices had dropped by up to 20 cent a kilo since result and dairy prices had fallen by more than 30% in the last 18 months.

Farmers should get extra time to pay their tax bills and receive further income support, the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) has said.

The association, which represents 75,000 farmers from all sectors, revealed its pre-budget submission on Tuesday that emphasised an “income crisis” in the industry.

IFA president Joe Healy called on the Government to deliver short-term measures to tackle “income volatility” in October’s budget.

The IFA president said a combination of low product prices and “bad spring weather”, which negatively affected grass growth and increased feed costs, had put farming families under “huge pressure” as cash flow tightened.

“Throughout 2016 we’ve seen many of the commodities sell below the price of production and on top of that the recent vote in the UK has added fuel to the fire,” he said.

Mr Healy said the Britain’s vote to leave the European Union had added to the uncertainty in the industry with 40% of agri-food exports going to UK.

He said cattle prices had dropped by up to 20 cent a kilo since result and dairy prices had fallen by more than 30% in the last 18 months.

Recent figures from a survey carried out by Teagasc in 2015 showed the average farm income in the State was about €26,500, up 6 per cent from 2014.

In a breakdown of the sectors, the survey found the average incomes on a dairy farm, traditionally the most profitable, were €63,000, tillage of €33,700, cattle and other at €16,200, sheep at €15,800 and cattle rearing farms at €12,900.

In its submission to the Minister for Finance, the IFA has asked for €600 million in funding for farm schemes under the Rural Development Programme, up from the €450 million allocated in last year’s budget.

Income averaging

Mr Healy said the organisation proposed a new tax payment option for farmers on income averaging, which is when a farmer elects to have their profits taxed on an average basis over five years.

Under the new proposal a farmer would be allowed, during a year when their income falls significantly, to have longer to pay their tax bill.

“To pay the tax due for a single year only on the actual income earned in that year, rather than the average tax due arising from five years’ income,” Mr Healy said.

He said the deferred tax would be paid over a three-year period.

“It’s not in any way getting out of paying tax, it’s just in the difficult year to defer tax over the following few years,” Mr Healy said.

A Revenue spokeswoman said there were no numbers on how many farmers were on “income averaging” yet as 2015 was the first year people were asked to note it on their income tax returns (Form 11).

The association is also asking for income averaging to be extended to include farmers whose spouse has a self-employed income and the tax credit to be increased to the same level as the PAYE credit.

“We recognise the commitment in the Programme for Government to increase this to match the PAYE credit, by 2018. However, IFA believes that the Government should equalise the credits fully by 2017, which would give a direct cashflow boost to farmers and other self-employed,” he said.

Other key priorities in the submission include: funding of €250 million for agri-environment schemes, introduction of a targeted sheep scheme of €25 million, extra funding of €25 million in support for the suckler cow and increasing the number of places on the Rural Social Scheme from 2.600 to 4,000.

Dutch men are the tallest in the world but how do Irish fellas measure up?

         

The average Irish man stands at 5.8ft while the typical Irish woman stands at 5.4ft.

Dutch men and Latvian women are now the tallest in the world a height study revealed.

The study showed that the Swedes who were the tallest people in the world in 1914 have been overtaken by Dutch men who rose from 12th place to first at almost 6ft tall.

Latvian women rose from 28th place in 1914 to become the tallest in the world a century later with an average height of 5.7 ft.

While the Irish don’t make the top 10, we’re universally tall apparently, coming in 20th place for men and 24th for women out of 200 countries.

The average Irish man stands at 5.8ft while the typical Irish woman stands at 5.4ft.

A century ago Irish men ranked 43rd and Irish women 44th in the world for height, but we have consistently grown taller ever since.

The shortest men on the planet come from East Timor, with an average height of 5.2ft. Women from Guatemala were the smallest with an average of4.8ft.

The international study collected data from 1,472 population surveys with height information on 18.6 million people.

The numbers spanned a 100-year period and included statistics on people who turned 18-years-old between 1914 and 2014.

The research was published in the journal eLife by the NCD Risk Factor Collaboration, a network of nearly 800 health scientists worldwide, including scientists from Ireland.

New Zealand to exterminate rats and all other introduced predators

Possums, stoats and other introduced pests to be killed in ‘world-first’ extermination programme unveiled by PM John Key

      

Pests above left like rats to be exterminated and the Kiwi right an endangered species

The New Zealand government says introduced species cost the economy NZ$3.3bn a year

The New Zealand government has announced a “world-first” project to make the nation predator free by 2050.

The prime minister, John Key, said on Monday it would undertake a radical pest extermination programme – which if successful would be a global first – aiming to wipe out the introduced species of rats, stoats and possums nation-wide in a mere 34 years.

According to the government, introduced species kill 25m native New Zealand birds a year including the iconic ground-dwelling, flightless Kiwi, which die at a rate of 20 a week, and now number fewer than 70,000.

The government estimates the cost of introduced species to the New Zealand economy and primary sector to be NZ$3.3bn (£1.76bn) a year.

“Our ambition is that by 2050 every single part of New Zealand will be completely free of rats, stoats and possums,” said Key in a statement.

“This is the most ambitious conservation project attempted anywhere in the world, but we believe if we all work together as a country we can achieve it.”

Existing pest control methods in New Zealand include the controversial and widespread use of 1080 aerial poison drops, trapping and ground baiting, and possum hunting by ground hunters (possum fur has become a vibrant industry in New Zealand, and is used for winter clothing).

Emeritus Professor of Conservation Mick Clout from the University of Auckland said he was “excited” by the “ambitious plan” which if achieved would be a “remarkable world first”.

“Even the intention of making New Zealand predator free is hugely significant and now it has money and the government behind it I believe it is possible, I am actually very excited,” said Clout.

“The biggest challenge will be the rats and mice in urban areas. For this project to work it will need the urban communities to get on board. Possum extermination will be the easiest because they only breed once a year and there are already effective control methods in place.”

Economist and philanthropist Gareth Morgan, of the Morgan Foundation, said he was “ecstatic” about the government’s announcement.

“This is the first time the government has really swung in behind investing in New Zealand’s environmental capital,” he said.

“This is a big, ambitious project but with the government making it a priority you will see increased interest in the sector, and further exploration of innovative trapping and extermination techniques beyond toxic chemicals like 1080.”

The Royal Society of New Zealand Forest and Bird was optimistic about the country’s chances of success.

Advocacy manager Kevin Hackwell said: “I think 2050 is a conservative goal, we could be on track to doing it by 2040. The government has just come on board but many groups around New Zealand have been working towards being predator-free for years.”

“New Zealand is a world-leader in eradicating rats from the landscape. New Zealand can’t go predator free without targeting the cities so we will have to look to places like Alberta, Canada, on how to tackle rat infestation in an urban environment. But it is doable, and not that hard.

“A predator-free New Zealand has been National party policy for the last three elections, but now it has gone from being the governing party policy to becoming government policy. But National has already invested a lot of money and resources into research on this.

“The biggest hurdle in the end will be public support for the project. That will be the most important facet of this.”

Rocky the orangutan who can ‘ape’ human words and sounds

      

An orangutan called Rocky (Left Picture) has outperformed Sylvester Stallone in the movie of the same name by displaying an ability to emulate human speech.

In the film, Stallone’s character Rocky Balboa is better at talking with his fists than communicating verbally.

But Rocky the ginger ape has astonished experts by producing sounds similar to words in a “conversational context”.

Researchers conducted a game in which Rocky mimicked the pitch and tone of human sounds and made vowel-like calls.

Comparing Rocky’s sounds against a large database of recordings of wild and captive orangutans showed they were markedly different.

Rocky was able to learn new sounds and control the action of his voice in the way humans do when they conduct a conversation, the scientists concluded.

They believe Rocky could be the key to understanding how human speech evolved.

The discovery, led by Dr Adriano Lameira of Durham University, shows orangutans could have the ability to control their voices.

It might answer the argument about whether or not spoken language stemmed from early human ancestors.

Previously it was thought that great apes – our closest relatives – could not learn to produce new sounds and because speech is a learned behaviour, it could not have originated from them.

Eight-year-old Rocky was studied at Indianapolis Zoo in the US, where he still lives, between April and May 2012.

In the “do-as-I-do” game he attempted to copy random sounds made by the experimenter which included variations in tone and pitch.

His calls were compared with sounds collected from more than 12,000 hours of observations of more than 120 orangutans from 15 wild and captive populations.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Some €200 billion to be invested in homes for sale and rent in Ireland

Some €200 million it to be put into an Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund in Ireland aimed at opening up large sites in areas where people need homes.

This is to relieve critical infrastructural blockages to allow for the delivery of homes on key sites and to improve the economic viability and purchaser affordability of new housing projects and deliver 20,000 new homes by 2020.

The Irish Government has also announced under its Housing Action Plan that €5.35 billion will be allocated to the development of social housing with the aim of building 47,000 more social housing units by 2021.

There will also be changes to planning to allow large scale residential development planning applications to be fast tracked. The Government said it will legislate to allow for larger housing development applications of 100 plus units to be made directly to An Bord Pleanala, the country’s independent planning body.

An Bord Pleanala is also set to prioritise the determination of all planning appeals for large scale developments. This is to be done within an 18 to 20 week period and the roll-out of e-planning is also being looked at.

The action plan also includes increasing the supply of home to rent and support for a stable rental sector. A national policy for appropriate on and off-campus accommodation for students will also be developed.

The Housing Agency will be allocated €70 million to acquire suitable portfolios of vacant properties to be let under a national vacant housing reuse strategy. A register of vacant properties across the country will be drawn up and the planning rules for change of use of vacant commercial units to a residential units will be reviewed.

However, according to the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland (SCSI) critical skills shortages across all sectors of the housing market in Ireland will urgently need to be addressed to deliver the scale of housing delivery needed.

Claire Solon, SCSI president, said that a National body with real authority and mandate is needed not just for housing, but also for national infrastructural planning. ‘It’s clear from the Action Plan that in several areas, it’s the need for projects like road completions, or water and drainage schemes that are actually preventing the delivery of housing,’ she pointed out.

‘The industry has shown itself be to resourceful following many difficult years, but there needs to be significant investment now to address the skills shortage in all sectors, professional, technical and trades,’ she explained.

‘We will be asking the Minister of Finance to specifically resource our sector in the upcoming Budget for training of apprentices, graduates and to help encourage workers from other sectors to transfer to construction and property roles. The industry plays a vital role in our economy and after many years of underinvestment, negative reporting and poor output, it needs radical intervention to upscale and deliver what could be one of the most important development stages in the history of our country,’ she added.

The SCSI also believes that the rental sector needs radical legislative overhaul to develop a more mature, stable relationship between landlords and tenants, with security of tenure and responsibilities clearly defined.

‘Renting was previously a stepping stone between living with your parents and home-ownership, but for some, renting is a strategic choice; giving them flexibility and the freedom to move. Our members are embedded in the rental and property management services sector and will contribute their expertise to develop new policy which better captures the wants and needs of all parties,’

Meanwhile: –

Cash only house sales in Ireland reach 60% of total transactions for 2013-14

Central Bank report shows that sales to cash buyers now at levels last seen in the early 2000’s

   

Nearly 60% of house sales were by cash buyers in 2013 and 2014 according to a report by the Residential Property Sector in Ireland Quarterly.

Almost 60% of house purchases were by cash buyers in 2013 and 2014, according to a research paper by the Central Bank.

It said that the number of cash transactions in the market had now returned to levels seen in the early 2000’s.

The report said the increase in the share of cash buyers over the past couple of years reflected a number of factors, including the fall in the number of mortgages drawn down and low levels of residential construction.

The authors estimated that the current volumes of cash-only sales were “not entirely out of step with equivalent volumes in the early 2000s, albeit that cash buyers in prior years were operating in a more competitive, vibrant market”. They found that 23,000 properties were bought for cash in 2013 and 29,000 in 2014.

While cash buyers had increased as a proportion of total transactions, the report said this also reflected the reduction in the volume of mortgage-based transactions.

In total, the authors – Dermot Coates and Joe McNeill of the Central Bank and Brendan Williams of UCD – estimated that there were over 150,000 transactions at the peak of the market in 2006, falling to 25,000 in 2010. The total rose to around 50,000 in 2014. This still represented only around 2 per cent of the total housing stock – around half the turnover of 4 per cent in a normally functioning market.

Lump sums

The report’s authors noted the composition of the cash-buyer cohort had changed.

The term cash buyer can potentially include older households opting to downsize, private investors using property as an alternative to low-yield deposits and those in receipt of pension lump sums.

“Whilst it is true that cash sales have been a feature of this market for many years, in more recent times we have seen a greater role being played by institutional and international investors including acquisitions by speculative international asset management groups,” said the report.

“This change will also have implications for cross-border funding flows into Ireland.”

Online Irish passport renewals set to start early in 2017 says Passport Office

Passport Office says all Irish citizens will be able to renew from anywhere in the world

    

Currently no passport applications can be processed online with the majority being made by post.

Irish citizens will soon be able to renew their passports online from anywhere in the world under a new service to be introduced shortly.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has confirmed plans for an online applications service, which forms part of a major €18.6 million reform programme announced for the passport service late last year.

It is envisaged that a service allowing for passport renewals could be in operation as early as the first quarter of 2017 with the roll-out of a full service available for all applicant types by early 2019.

The department recently issued two request-for-tender notices for technology solutions to facilitate the new online application process.

The move comes as the Passport Office was recently forced to take on hundreds of additional temporary staff to deal with a sharp rise in applications in the wake of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.

Increase in applications?

The Passport Office saw a 10% increase in applications for the period January to June with numbers spiking recently as British citizens eligible for an Irish passport rushed to apply for them following the Brexit vote.

While Brexit led to a rush of applications, demand had been climbing in the years before the vote. The number of passports issued jumped from 388,000 in 2000 to 670,000 last year. More than half of all applications received annually are from citizens wishing to renew their passports.

Currently, no passport applications can be processed online with the majority being made by post.

Some €4 million was secured in Budget 2016 to help the Department of Foreign Affairs achieve its aim of reshaping how Irish passports are delivered and ensuring better security.

A new credit-card style passport card was introduced that is valid for travelling to 30 European countries. The card, which can be processed online, is open to citizens with a valid passport book at a cost of €35.

The department recently warned of the need for urgent changes to the passport application system as concern about fraud has increased. Briefing notes produced for Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan and seen byThe Irish Times last month urged investment in the latest anti-fraud technology and techniques to protect the “integrity and international standing of the Irish passport”.

The department said in the note that the Irish passport had become a “preferred device for money-laundering and other criminal activities”.

In case you’ve forgotten, the world is scheduled to end this Friday??????

      

With a global earthquake softening us all up before a really angry Jesus comes back to wipe out his creation.

Well, unless you’re a devout Christian who watches a lot of YouTube videos – in which case you’ll be off to play harp on a cloud with your grandpa!

So, in other words, the end of the world IS coming and just not on Friday?

But questions have now been raised about a video predicting the end of the world this Friday (which has been watched four million times) – with apocalypse believers claiming that their video has been ripped off and re-uploaded.

John Preacher of Armageddon news said, ‘Someone is re-uping our videos and saying that the end of the world is July 29th. Nothing is going to happen on July 29th. We have never claimed such a thing, this date is just another false date being promoted online.

‘We in no way promote that anything will happen on July 29th. There are a number of prophecies which must be fulfilled first, including the conquest of Jerusalem by the surrounding Arab nations, which lasts for 42 months (Rev 11:2), before the Second Coming and global earthquake/reeling occurs.

This prediction, by End Time Prophecies, is just one of several doomsday prophecies for this year – including that an asteroid would hit us on May 6 (it didn’t), and a prediction that Barack Obama would reveal he is the Antichrist in June (he didn’t).

This one is studded with Bible verses, and a lot of very dubious science – as well as some truly awesome CGI graphics.

End Times Prophecies says – in that computer voice favoured by all good YouTube nutters, ‘This is Armageddon News. In this broadcast we’ll discuss the second coming of Jesus Christ, which occurs at the same time as a magnetic polar flip and catastrophic global earthquake.

‘On the day which Jesus returns, there will be a polar reversal.

There was a violent earthquake, and the Sun became black like coarse black cloth, and the moon turned completely

‘The stars fell down to the Earth, like ripe figs falling from the tree when a strong wind shakes it. Every mountain and island is moved from its place.

The polar flip will make the stars race across the sky, and the vacuum createrd by the reeling of the Earth will pull the atmosphere along the ground, trying to catch up.

‘The global earthquake will be so bad that every hill and mountain will crumble

Revelations 6:15 says, ‘The kings of the Earth, the Princes, the commanding officers, the rich, the strong and every slave and free person hid themselves… from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb.’

Scientists in race to test CRISPR gene-editing technique on cancer

First human trials are pending

      

The computer graphic above depicts three T cells (white) attached to a cancer cell.

Kelly Crowe is a medical sciences correspondent for CBC News, specialising in health and biomedical research. She joined CBC in 1991, and has spent 25 years reporting on a wide range of national news and current affairs, with a particular interest in science and medicine.

A novel gene-editing technique with potential to revolutionise cancer treatment has scientists in a race to test it on humans.

As the scientific journal Nature announced last week: “Chinese scientists to pioneer first human CRISPR trial.”

But wait. On the same page, there’s a link to another story from a month ago: “First CRISPR clinical trial gets green light from U.S. panel.”

So who will be first in the race to use CRISPR in humans — the U.S. or China? And what are they using CRISPR to do?

If you haven’t heard about CRISPR yet then all of this might seem  underwhelming. But for scientists like Jason Moffat, at the University of Toronto, it’s amazing news.

“That’s fast,” he said. “They’re pushing the technology really hard.”

“That’s fast. They’re pushing the technology really hard.” – Jason Moffat, University of Toronto

CRISPR is a revolutionary genetic editing technique that has been rocking the world of biology ever since researchers first realized they could use it to edit the genome of any species with ease and precision never possible before.

CRISPR gene-editing tool has scientists thrilled — but nervous

At U of T, Moffat is using CRISPR to identify the set of genes that are essential for cell survival.

“It gives you the tools to ask questions about what things are doing that we could never do before,” he said. “It’s really exciting.”

Scientists are now using CRISPR in a range of wild experiments. They’ve already designed a mechanism that could wipe out mosquitoes. And they’re also toying with using it to bring the woolly mammoth back to life.

It’s a tool so powerful, it could be used to permanently alter the human genome in a way that could be passed on to future generations.

Earlier this year, scientists from around the world gathered for an unprecedented summit in Washington, D.C., and agreed to avoid using CRISPR for human genetic engineering

CRISPR against cancer

But what can CRISPR do in research on cancer? That’s the question that will be asked in these human trials.

CRISPR is not a therapy on its own. It’s a tool.

But because of its precision, researchers are hoping it will be able to make genetic edits that are more effective than the traditional gene-editing techniques, to trigger a patient’s immune system to kill cancer cells.

‘These first tests, if done properly, are going to pave the way for how to use CRISPR to treat disease,’ says University of Toronto cancer researcher Jason Moffat. (CBC)

Both the U.S. and the Chinese teams intend to use CRISPR in similar ways, but on different cancers. The Chinese will target non-small-cell lung cancer; the U.S. team will work on melanoma, sarcoma and myeloid cancers.

They will harvest a type of immune cell, known as T cells, from a patient’s blood and then use CRISPR to tinker with a particular gene in a way that will activate the T cells to attack cancer cells. And then they will put the CRISPR-ed cells back into the patient’s body to destroy tumours.

“These first tests, if done properly, are going to pave the way for how to use CRISPR to treat disease,” said Moffat.

What risks getting lost in the excitement over these first CRISPR trials is the sobering fact that it might not work. There is the ever-present risk of unintended consequences, including CRISPR’s tendency to make unpredictable genetic edits in unwanted places.

And experiments to genetically alter cells and reprogram the immune system are inherently risky. There’s a danger of triggering a catastrophic immune response known as a cytokine storm that can fatally overwhelm the body. And by unleashing T cells against cancer, it’s also possible they’ll start attacking normal tissue, too.

Gene therapy tragedy in 1999.

In this illustration of CRISPR-CAS9, the Cas9 nuclease protein (white) uses a guide RNA (pink) sequence to cut DNA (green).

For years, the entire field of gene therapy was haunted by an experiment that went tragically wrong in 1999. That’s when an Arizona teenager died suddenly, after volunteering to be part of a gene therapy trial to correct a genetic defect that, in his case, was not life-threatening. Many believe the death set back gene therapy research for years.

And last month, a clinical trial testing the same T cell approach, but without using CRISPR, was shut down by the FDA after several patients died. The trial has since been allowed to resume.

The Chinese scientists have secured all the necessary approvals and are scheduled to begin their trial using CRISPR-edited cells in 10 lung cancer patients next month. The U.S. team still needs FDA approval, and they expect to start their trial on 18 patients later this year.

Another caveat: These are Phase 1 trials only. That means the scientists are studying toxicity and side-effects and basic biological responses. Even if all goes well, the trials to see if the approach actually works against cancer are still many years away.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 24th July 2016

Global financial firms plot Dublin opportunities in post-Brexit era

Housing, school shortages and cautious regulator may limit scale of new business

   

Michael Noonan, Minister for Finance, with Conor O’Kelly, chief executive of NTMA. Previous presentations by the NTMA had put a figure of €6 billion on potential investment Ireland could win on the back of the UK quitting the EU.

Overseas financial firms including private equity giant KKR, Silicon Valley Bank, insurer Beazley and Bank of New York Mellon have said in recent days that Ireland is primed to win business from London in the post-Brexit world.

BNY Mellon, which has about 1,800 employees in Ireland servicing asset managers, insurance companies and hedge funds, highlighted its Irish base on a call with analysts during the week, as clients seek to move funds from the UK.

“We think we’re in good shape operationally to help our clients deal with whatever impact Brexit offers,” BNY Mellon’s chairman and chief executive Gerald Hassell said, highlighting its operations in Ireland, Luxembourg and Belgium.

“The fund managers, when they have to think about the jurisdiction of their funds, if they want to move them to the UK to a [location where they can access the EU], we are very well positioned to help them get there.”

Ireland is home to €3 trillion of investment funds, money market funds and special purpose vehicles as of the end of 2015, according to Central Bank data. The extent to which financial services companies and funds will seek to move business from the UK will ultimately depend on the nature of its divorce agreement from the EU and whether Theresa May’s government retains its access to the single market.

Dearth of infrastructure in Ireland?

Economists at Deutsche Bank warned earlier in the week that a dearth of office space, housing, school places and other infrastructure in Ireland, amid under-investment during the financial crisis, may limit the extent to which Ireland may be able to poach investment and jobs from the City of London.

  • Brexit: What is Article 50 and why does it matter?
  • Sinn Féin ‘willing to look at alternatives to united Ireland’
  • Wider implications for Ireland of Brexit need to be brought into the open

Other observers have noted a reluctance by the Central Bank, chastened by the crisis, to approve swathes of regulated financial services business. Still,Cyril Roux, deputy governor at the bank, told industry bodies in the past 10 days it remains committed to a “clear, open and transparent authorisation process while ensuring a rigorous assessment of the application against regulatory standards”.

Beazley, a Lloyds of London insurer, told Reuters on Friday it is working to get European insurance licences for its Irish reinsurance business to allow it to operate throughout the EU, even if Lloyd’s loses access to the bloc.

Insurers are making contingency plans after Britain’s vote last month to leave the EU left them facing the risk they could lose “passporting” rights that enable them to sell their products throughout Europe.

Dublin is the favoured alternative hub to London for insurers due to its geographical proximity, similar regulatory regime, and English-speaking workforce, industry specialists say. It is already considered an insurance centre, with giant insurer Zurich having its European headquarters here.

Ahead of the UK referendum last month, Lloyd’s, which groups more than 80 insurance syndicates in the City of London, warned that the specialist insurance market would be less appealing to investors outside Britain after a Brexit vote.

KKR’s co-chief executive Henry Kravis said at an event in Hong Kong earlier this week that Ireland and Luxembourg are likely to be the main beneficiaries about 20 per cent of London’s financial sector relocates elsewhere because of the need to passport products and services across Europe.

KKR, which has $126 billion (€114.4 billion) of assets under management, bought Irish credit investment firm Avoca Capital three years ago. Last year, the firm joined forces with the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund to launch a €500 million fund to provide finance to residential property developers.

Meanwhile, Gregory Becker, chief executive of Silicon Valley Bank, the Californian tech-to-life-sciences lender, told analysts during the week he sees “plenty of opportunity” in Europe despite uncertainty created by Brexit, having established a presence in Ireland earlier this year.

IDA look to capitalise

IDA Ireland, the State agency in charge of attracting foreign investment, made it clear within hours of the UK referendum outcome last month that it will look to capitalise on the British vote.

The National Treasury Management Agency said in an investor presentation earlier this month, two weeks after the UK referendum, that Ireland may be a beneficiary from “displaced” UK foreign direct investment, particularly in financial and business services as well as information technology and new media.

Previous NTMA presentations had put a figure of €6 billion on potential investment Ireland could win on the back of the UK quitting the EU.

“Dublin is likely to compete with Frankfurt, Paris and Amsterdam for financial services, if the UK (City of London), loses its EU passporting rights on exit,” the NTMA said.

Tim Kaine, potential Vice President USA harmonica player and a pure black Irishman?

   Tim Kaine's wife Anne (center) is Virginia's education secretary and daughter Annella is an NYU student. Above, the trio celebrate Kaine winning a seat on the Senate in 2012 

Tim Kaine getting a hug from Hillary.  Above right , the trio celebrate Tim Kaine winning a seat on the Senate in 2012 

Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s pick for Vice President has a secret weapon – his harmonica. When things slow down and a party needs a burst of old fashioned song and hoopla, Kaine forgets his strait laced persona and usually volunteers a tune or two – Johnny Cash numbers are a specialty, especially “Folsom Prison Blues” and gets the toes tapping again.

He picked up his harmonica at the American Ireland Fund dinner, in Washington, in March, where a lively evening was further enlivened when the new Vice President pick for Hillary Clinton took the stage.

He can do Irish, Appalachian, and southern country and he’s the most famous figure, right now, out of Virginia since New York linebacker legend Lawrence Taylor.

Senator Kaine and his wife, Virginia Secretary of Education Anne Holton, make an extraordinary political couple and if they ever make it to the Naval Observatory, the home of the Vice President, they are bound to make an incredible impression.

  Tim Kaine takes the stage playing Harmonica.

On the Irish political side of things, Kaine has been a member of The Irish National Caucus since December 2012. The Caucus is a, once controversial, group who put it up to the British on the North often more than the Irish government wanted. They sport a letter on their site from 2012 with Kaine saying he is happy to join them as he arrives in the Senate to serve his first term. They are seen as more hard-line on Ireland than the Congressional Friends of Ireland that Kaine also belongs to, which carries out much of the Irish government’s agenda.

Kaine certainly feels Ireland in his heart. During his acceptance speech for The American Ireland Fund Leadership Award, he talked about his family’s 2006 trip to Ireland, where they found the ruins of his great-grandfather’s cottage in Killashee Parish, in Longford.

He stated at the dinner: “I am about as stone Irish as you get for somebody whose family has been in the country for 150 years.”

He visited Ireland during his first year as governor of Virginia, with his wife Anne and three children. They visited the ruins of the home of his great-grandfather, PJ Farrell who later emigrated to Kansas, where he became a successful farmer.

Kaine told the dinner about how his children were unhappy with leaving “cool” Dublin to search for his family roots in County Longford.

“As we drove to Longford, which isn’t exactly the tourist zone, they continued to complain,” he said.

He also has Kilkenny root, which makes him the exception, as most Irish roots go back to the traditional Irish western seaboard counties like Mayo, Galway, and Kerry.

Here are his very moving remarks to the American Ireland Fund on finding his roots:

“All four of my grandparents were born to Irish immigrants. Three to families where both the Mom and Dad were from Ireland and one to a family where the Mom was from Ireland and the Dad was Scottish born but moved to Northern Ireland before emigrating to the United States.

“And I will say this too, I am pure black Irish, there is not a red-headed Norseman anywhere in our family.  But that makes this very, very special. Until I was 48 years old, Ireland played a huge and important role in my life but sort-of in the dreams of my life…I had never been to Ireland. So it was photos, it was genealogy and it was family stories and it was Roman Catholicism and it was music and it was St. Patrick’s Day. That’s what being Irish meant to me but I felt the deep connection to it.

“When I was Governor of Virginia in my first year, 2006, my wife Anne and I took our three children to Ireland to go find the ruins of the home where my great-grandfather, PJ Farrell, was born.  My  parents had been there before and found it.  We went to Dublin and my children were having a blast, they were all teenagers and when I said ‘we have to spend a day traipsing around in the countryside instead of hanging around in Temple Bar and Grafton Street’ they were extremely disappointed in their Father.

“As we drove to Longford which isn’t exactly the tourist zone they continued to complain.  But when we landed in Longford town my 11 year old daughter said to me, ‘Dad, why does everyone look like us?’ And they started to get it.

“And then we drove the 10 km to Killashee Parish and then we parked the vehicle and traipsed a half a mile across fields and found two still standing walls of what had been a house with windows and doors now with a tin roof stacked with hay and I told my children, ‘This is where we come from.’  And it, even with unruly and obnoxious teenagers it made a huge impact on them and since that time we have been back very, very often.”

Kaine quotes W.B. Yeats a lot, something he has in common with outgoing VP Joe Biden, most recently when talking about the Syrian refugee crisis where he pleaded that ISIS was the enemy not the refugees.

He stated “Yeats wrote a poem after World War I surveying the wreckage of these societies called, “The Second Coming”, and he expressed a real concern about the state of society at the time because what he noticed was at that time “the best lack all conviction and the worst; are filled with passionate intensity.”

He was raised devoutly Catholic so much so that his parents would rush back from wherever they were to make sure they made a Sunday evening Mass and knew all the churches that had them.

He is a new Catholic in the likeness of Pope Francis, deeply committed to social justice and reflecting the same Jesuit background and schooling the pope has.

His perfect Spanish come from his mission to South America here he lived for over a year helping with construction projects.

Finally, he is the second Irish Catholic in a row chosen by the Democrats as their Vice President pick – remarkable when you ponder there was never a Catholic VP before Biden.

Mike Pence, Donald Trump’s running mate of course was also raised Irish Catholic before he turned to evangelical but the two men have obviously much in common.

Both will become party front runners for the White House if the ticket goes down in flames. Equally both are young enough to run in eight years if their ticket takes the White House. We could see a day when an Irish evangelical faces an Irish Catholic for the top job.

“All changed, changed utterly” as Yeats might have said.

Genetic switch ‘could pave the way towards preventing asthma’

    

Scientists have discovered a genetic switch which could pave the way for preventing asthma at the origin of the disease.

The research carried out at the University of Southampton, published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation (JCI) Insight, analysed the impact of the gene ADAM33, which is associated with the development of asthma.

ADAM33 makes an enzyme, which is attached to cells in the airway muscles.

When the enzyme loses its anchor to the cell surface, it is prone to going rogue around the lung causing poorer lung function in people who have asthma.

The studies in human tissue samples and mice, led by Hans Michel Haitchi, associate professor in respiratory medicine, suggests that if you switch off ADAM33 or prevent it from going rogue, the features of asthma – airway remodelling (more muscle and blood vessels around the airways), twitchiness and inflammation – will be reduced.

Prof Haitchi said: “This finding radically alters our understanding of the field, to say the least. For years we have thought that airway remodelling is the result of the inflammation caused by an allergic reaction, but our research tells us otherwise.”

The first study showed that rogue human ADAM33 causes airway remodelling resulting in more muscle and blood vessels around the airways of developing lungs, but it did not cause inflammation.

When a house dust mite allergen was introduced, which is a common human allergen, both airway remodelling and allergic airway inflammation were more significantly enhanced.

In another study, remodelling of the airway was shown in mice that had ADAM33 switched on in utero.

The gene was then switched off and the airway remodelling was completely reversed.

They also studied the impact of house the dust mite allergen on asthma features in mice which had the ADAM33 gene removed.

Airway remodelling and twitchiness as well as airway inflammation rates were significantly reduced by 50% and respectively 35% in mice which did not have the rogue gene.

Prof Haitchi, whose research was primarily funded by a Medical Research Council Clinician Scientist Fellowship, said: “Our studies have challenged the common paradigm that airway remodelling in asthma is a consequence of inflammation.

“Instead, we have shown that rogue human ADAM33 initiates airway remodelling that promotes allergic inflammation and twitchiness of the airways in the presence of allergen.

“More importantly, we believe that if you block ADAM33 from going rogue or you stop its activity if it does go rogue, asthma could be prevented.

“ADAM33 initiated airway remodelling reduces the ability of the lungs to function normally, which is not prevented by current anti-inflammatory steroid therapy.

“Therefore, stopping this ADAM33-induced process would prevent a harmful effect that promotes the development of allergic asthma for many of the 5.4 million people in the UK with the condition.”

Dr Samantha Walker, Asthma UK’s director of research and policy, said: “This is a really promising avenue of research that we have already agreed to help fund to its next stage, which is to understand exactly how this gene causes the changes seen in the lungs that lead to asthma.

“This will hopefully bring us even closer to stopping asthma attacks and finding a cure for the one in 11 people with asthma in the UK.

“Each day three people die of asthma attacks. Research like this is a step in the right direction although much more investment is needed.

“There are hundreds of thousands of people in the UK for whom current treatments don’t work and they struggle to breathe every day.

“Research like this will give us better avenues to explore why this is the case and to develop treatments that work.”

This is why you shouldn’t leave your smartphone on charge overnight

   

It may not be a good idea to leave your smartphone to charge overnight?

You could be destroying your smartphone by leaving it on charge overnight.

That’s according to the guys at Battery University who claim if your gadget is kept charging after reaching capacity, the battery’s chemistry could damage it.

This is because it would be in a constant ‘high-stress’ state, which is not good.

Lithium-ion (Li-ion) are widely used in smartphones (Picture: Getty images)

They argue it’s actually better never to fully charge your smartphone.

Instead, they recommend you do it at intervals as this extends the Lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery’s lifespan.

These batteries are widely used in smartphones, including iPhones.

‘Li-ion does not need to be fully charged, nor is it desirable to do so,’ they wrote.

‘In fact, it is better not to fully charge, because a high voltage stresses the battery.’

So remember short bursts of charge could better than full ones.

The concept behind the argument is fully explained by the Battery University here.

Minke whale carcass washes up on the Co Down shore

     

The Minke whale washed up on the rocks near St John’s Point lighthouse in Co Down 

Work will begin on Monday to remove the carcass of a whale washed up on the Co Down shore. The 20ft whale is believed to be a minke whale which was washed up on the shore at Killough last Friday.

The animal was discovered on a stretch of the shore close to St John’s Point lighthouse by a passerby.

A team from Newcastle Coastguard Station was sent to the scene to measure and photograph the body.

It is believed the whale may have already been dead for a fortnight before coming ashore.

It is understood the dead whale had also been spotted by a local yacht crew on Thursday while still in the water.

Minke whales a common sight around Irish waters over the summer months.

Many of them migrate south from Scotland for food.

According to the Sea Watch Foundation, they are most densely populated along the Atlantic seaboard but are occasionally observed in the Irish Sea.

It said the animals tend to be solitary and rarely in groups of more than two or three.

Although estimates vary, it is thought there could be around 10,000 minke whales in the waters around Britain and Ireland and as many as one million worldwide.

The whale was one of two reported as stranded by the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) in the past week.

A pilot whale was also found beached at Cliffoney Beach in Co Sligo.

Last October, the carcass of a 43ft juvenile fin whale washed up on Portstewart Strand in Co Derry.

News Ireland daily BLOG update

Thursday 21st July 2016

Ireland aims to end housing shortage by doubling buildings purchase/output by 2019

    

Ireland was left with a surplus of houses after a 2008 property crash that cut values in half but while some out-of-town housing estates lie empty.

Ireland will aim to at least double its housing output by 2019, the government said on Tuesday, announcing a raft of measures to tackle a chronic shortage that is raising living costs and homelessness.

Ireland was left with a surplus of houses after a 2008 property crash that cut values in half but while some out-of-town housing estates lie empty, property has become scarce in cities like Dublin where the population is growing rapidly.

The government will speed up the planning process, assist first-time buyers and boost social housing to address the failure for the last six years to build half the 25,000 homes analysts say are needed nationwide each year to meet demand.

“We want to get to 25,000 by 2019, and I agree with many that we need to go well beyond 25,000 in terms of making up for the deficit that has been there now for a decade. In many ways, we need to get to between 30,000 to 35,000,” Irish housing minister Simon Coveney told a news conference.

While property prices are recovering and are now a third below peak, the cost of a building a new house exceeds the sale price in many instances and Coveney said government would help cut the cost by funding infrastructure projects on key sites and by freeing up state-owned land for residential development.

A Help to Buy scheme similar to the British government’s mortgage guarantee programme will be introduced in October’s budget to help boost demand among first-time buyers, alongside supply side measure to try to stop the scheme just resulting in higher house prices.

Coveney said the government would discuss the scheme with Ireland’s Central Bank which introduced strict new deposit rules to curb excessive mortgage lending last year. The scheme will be back-dated to ensure activity does not stall in the meantime.

The National Asset Management Agency (NAMA), the ‘bad bank’ set up in 2009 to mop up toxic assets in the financial system, will also be put under pressure to see if it can deliver more than the 20,000 new homes it has promised to build by 2020, Coveney said.

Rents have soared as a result of the shortages and are above peaks hit during the property boom in Dublin, damaging Ireland’s competitiveness and driving an increasing number of families still suffering from the financial crisis into homelessness.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood echoes Enda Kenny’s call to look again at vote for united Ireland

   

The leader of the SDLP has followed the Taoiseach in suggesting a united Ireland must now be looked at in the wake of Brexit, 

Colum Eastwood has said that the reunification of Ireland is “the biggest and best idea around” adding that it would be a “natural” way forward in the context of Britain leaving the EU.

His comments come after Enda Kenny this week opened up the possibility of a border poll in the context of Brexit negotiations.

Speaking at the MacGill Summer School in Donegal earlier this week Mr Kenny said: “If there is a clear evidence of a majority of people wishing to leave the United Kingdom and join the Republic that that should be catered for in the discussions that take place.”

Mr Eastwood, who was speaking in Glenties this morning said: “Much of the headline talk at MacGill this week has focused on the prospect of a further constitutional change through the calling of a border poll.

“This is a natural and welcome development.”

He told those attending the summer school that the events of the past few months have proven that “political life can no longer afford to presume the permanence of anything”.

“The SDLP, as a party, continues to believe that the reunification of Ireland is the biggest and the best idea around.

“However if the Brexit result and the demise of David Cameron has also taught us, it is that we should make sure to fight referenda that we are confident of winning”.

He added: “Scottish independence campaigners produced a 670-page document outlining the path to independent nationhood and how it would operate.

“It was credible and detailed. Irish nationalism now needs to start on its page one.”

Speaking about growth figures released last week which were described as “leprechaun economics” after they showed a 26.5% jump in projections Mr Eastwood said these figures made us realise that statistics do not always reflect reality.

“I think the CSO did us all an inadvertent favour last week in releasing their revised growth rate of 26%.

“The absurdity of those figures made us all sit up for a moment and realise that statistical facts do not necessarily correspond with reality. Sometimes ridicule manifests the most lasting realisations.

“If we are to reignite the European project we must escape from the culture of a distant centralism which has ceaselessly enveloped modern political thinking.

“A renewal of the European vision is therefore badly needed,” Mr Eastwood said.

Irish navy rescues another 60 migrants from Mediterranean total now over 10,000 since 2015

    

The Taoiseach Enda Kenny inspects a Guard of Honour drawn from the LÉ James Joyce’s company before the naming and commissioning ceremony for the Irish naval vessel in Dún Laoghaire.

An Irish navy vessel rescued more than 60 more migrants from rubber crafts near Tripoli on Wednesday.

This brings the total number of migrants rescued in the Mediterranean by the Irish Naval Service since May 2015 to over 10,000.

The LÉ James Joyce was deployed to assist in the rescue following a request from the Italian Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre.

The Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe praised the Irish Naval Service for its assistance with the current migrant crisis in the Mediterranean.

“I wish to congratulate the Naval Service for the excellent role they have played in saving the lives of so many migrants since Naval Service vessels were first deployed in May 2015. The Government and I are very proud of [their] efforts,” Minister Kehoe said.

He added: “The deployment of Irish Naval vessels to the Mediterranean to engage in humanitarian search and rescue tasks is an important element in Ireland’s response to the migration crisis in the Mediterranean.

“The success of these operations demonstrates clearly the value of Ireland’s participation in this important work.

“Unfortunately thousands of people continue to make the very dangerous journey across the Mediterranean.”

He concluded: “The requirement for humanitarian search and rescue operations in this part of the world remains and Ireland will continue to play its part.”

The LÉ James Joyce set out just after 9am on Wednesday morning and the 63 rescued people were then transferred from two rubber crafts to the ship.

The 63 people were then given food and water, as well as receiving any required medical treatment.

They were then transferred to the MV Phoenix, which transported the migrants to a designated port of safety.

The Department of Defence has said 8,592 people were previously rescued by the Irish Naval Service in the Mediterranean from May to November 2015.

It said that since May this year, another Irish ship, the LÉ Róisín had rescued a further 1,264 people.

The LÉ James Joyce replaced the LÉ Róisín earlier this month, with a further 162 people being rescued on Tuesday this week.

Ireland’s drug pricing deal not a panacea for increasing costs

The Government can expect savings on healthcare and ‘Big Pharma’ now has clarity

    

The introduction of annual pricing reviews – rather than the price being locked in at the start of a four-year deal – after which prices can only fall, makes sense.

It went down to the wire but eventually the Government and the big drug companies have crafted a deal with which both sides can live.

For the Government and the Health Service Executive, the Framework Agreement on the Supply and Pricing of Medicines delivers sufficient savings for them to accept it as they struggle to keep the lid on healthcare costs. For “Big Pharma”, there is clarity on the process for approval of new drugs and on the price they can expect for supplying the Irish market.

Certain features in the new accord mark a significant improvement of previous such deals. The introduction of annual pricing reviews – rather than the price being locked in at the start of a four-year deal – makes sense. The provision that prices can only fall, not rise, in those reviews is also welcome from the perspective of those managing the healthcare budget.

The formalisation of the “horizon scan” where companies will indicate drugs that are likely to be available in the coming year or two should, in theory, facilitate the provision of budgetary “headroom” to use Minister for Education Simon Harris’s term to allow their introduction.

Complaints

A common complaint of drug pricing in Ireland is that the basket of European countries used to set the Irish price was artificially weighted towards countries with higher drug costs. On that basis, the addition of five new countries to that basket – Italy, Greece, Luxembourg, Sweden and Portugal – is a positive step.

However, drugs are priced only against countries in the basket where that identical product is sold. That allows the pharma companies manage prices by initially supplying only better off countries where they can achieve a better price.

Also, the “price” for drugs in the basket is the list price. In many markets, health purchasers can strike deals for discounts or rebates on those prices, reducing the effective cost but without lowering the basket price that affects the cost of such drugs elsewhere, including Ireland.

There are also uncertainties. Chief among those is managing the burgeoning bill for newer-generation biopharmaceutical drugs: biologics. This is the fastest-growing sector of the drug market but, in many cases, these are therapies that target less pervasive, niche conditions. Part of the trend towards “personalised medicine”, the smaller patient pool for such drugs means they are of necessity more expensive.

Lookalikes

Also, unlike traditional drugs, where precise copies of formulation can be made and marketed as generics once patent protection has expired, you cannot make a precise copy of a biologic. Instead, biosimilars are lookalikes that act in the same way as the original branded biologic.

But as the first of the biologics are only recently coming to an end of their patented life, it is too early to assess accurately how much cheaper it will be to produce biosimilars. Initial expectations of discounts of up to 40 per cent have not materialised in the US and elsewhere. The Irish deal effectively forces biosimilar entrants to undercut the original branded product by more than 30 per cent. They say that makes it uneconomic.

If biosimilars are deterred, a portion of the savings projected in the four-year deal will not materialise and that will mean less money available to sanction new drugs offering wonder cures or health improvements.

It would also be foolish to expect that savings under the deal will ensure all efficacious, value-for-money drugs that come to market could be afforded by the Irish health service. Inevitably, some patients will be disappointed. That will mean a continuation of the scenario where political pressure is applied to politicians and ministers to sanction treatments for which no budget is available.

As with all these things, the bottom line is money.  

Updated map of the human brain hailed as a scientific tour de force

   

Researchers reveal that human brain has at least 180 different regions, confirming the existence of 83 known regions and adding 97 new ones

The image showing the 180 different regions important for language, perception, consciousness, thought, attention and sensation.

When the German neurologist Korbinian Brodmann first sliced and mapped the human brain more than a century ago he identified 50 distinct regions in the crinkly surface called the cerebral cortex that governs much of what makes us human.

Now researchers have updated the 100-year-old map in a scientific tour de force which reveals that the human brain has at least 180 different regions that are important for language, perception, consciousness, thought, attention and sensation.

The landmark achievement hands neuroscientists their most comprehensive map of the cortex so far, one that is expected to supersede Brodmann’s as the standard researchers use to talk about the various areas of the brain.

Scientists at Washington University in St Louis created the map by combining highly-detailed MRI scans from 210 healthy young adults who had agreed to take part in the Human Connectome Project, a massive effort that aims to understand how neurons in the brain are connected.

The image shows the pattern of brain activation (red, yellow) and deactivation (blue, green) in the brain’s left hemisphere when listening to stories while in an MRI scanner.

Most previous maps of the human brain have been created by looking at only one aspect of the tissues, such as how the cells look under a microscope, or how active areas become when a person performs a certain task. But maps made in different ways do not always look the same, which casts doubt on where one part of the brain stops and another starts.

Writing in the journal Nature, Matthew Glasser and others describe how they combined scans of brain structure, function and connectivity to produce the new map, which confirmed the existence of 83 known brain regions and added 97 new ones. Some scans were taken while patients simply rested in the machine, while others were recorded as they performed maths tasks, listened to stories, or categorised objects, for example by stating whether an image was of a tool or an animal.

A new map of the human brain could be the most accurate yet, as it combines all sorts of different kinds of data. This might finally solve a century of disagreements over the shapes and positions of different brain areas.

The more detailed map, which will be made freely available for all, should help scientists working in the field of neuroimaging be more certain about the areas of the brain they see activity in, or notice problems with, when scanning patients and healthy volunteers.

The map will have an immediate impact on fundamental brain research, but will also quickly be taken up by neurosurgeons who can use the scientists’ computer algorithm to identify all of the different brain regions in patients they are about to operate on. “That will help in surgical planning to avoid areas that are involved in movement, and in understanding and producing language,” Glasser said.

A map of myelin content (red, yellow are high myelin; indigo and blue are low myelin) in the left hemisphere of the brain.

In the longer term, and potentially many years away, detailed brain maps are expected to help neuroscientists to understand how things go wrong in people with a range of disorders, such as dementia and schizophrenia.

Simon Eickhoff, a neuroscientist at the Institute for Neuroscience and Medicine at Jülich in Germany said the work was a “seminal step” towards reliable and comprehensive maps of the human brain and to understanding brain organisation.

Timothy Behrens, a professor of computational neuroscience at Oxford University added: “The extraordinary amount of effort in doing this and doing this so beautifully makes it an outstanding piece of work. It will lead to a profound change in how people think about the brain, and become the default way of describing human brain activity for years to come.”

Quack-Quack we ducklings are smarter than you think we are?

   

A study finds that baby birds are capable of understanding abstract concepts such as “same” and “different”

You better watch who you’re calling “bird brain to.”? A new study in the journal Science suggests that some birds are smarter than we had realised.

The study, which was conducted by zoologists Antone Martinho III and Alex Kacelnik at Oxford University, found that new born ducklings are capable of comprehending complex concepts such as “same” and “different” – abstractions that we typically think are beyond the capacity of most animals.

“The claim that abstract relational thinking is a unique ability of human beings can no longer be supported,” University of Iowa experimental psychologist Edward Wasserman wrote in an accompanying analysis. “Although animals may not be able to speak, studying their behaviour may be a suitable substitute for assaying their thoughts, and this in turn may allow us to jettison the stale canard that thought without language is impossible.”

To interpret ducklings’ thoughts, Martinho and Kacelnik tossed them into an experiment the day they were born. The experiment relied on the animals’ ability to imprint – to identify such significant figures as their mothers, very soon after birth. Once a duckling imprints, it sticks with that “mother” steadfastly, trailing her as the ones in “Make Way for Ducklings” do.

This is true even when that object is not actually a duck. In Martinho and Kalcelnik’s study, the ducklings were introduced 24 hours after hatching to a pair of small, brightly coloured shapes that circled above their pens like objects on a mobile. Some pairs had identical shapes – two spheres, for example – while others had mismatched ones. This was the “priming period” for what the researchers termed a “same-different” test.

Next, the baby birds were exposed to two new pairs of objects, one with the same shapes, the other with different ones. The majority of ducklings followed the pair of shapes that had the same relationship as the pair with which they were primed. The same principle held when the researchers tweaked the experiment, alternating the color of the two objects in the pairing rather than the shapes. Ducklings that had been primed with objects of the same colour opted to follow a different one-color pair later in the experiment; those that had been primed to recognize a pair with two colors did the same.

The results suggest that ducklings are able to recognize not only shape and colour but also sameness and difference – abstract concepts that require a complex understanding of the way things relate to one another. That the objects were in motion makes interpreting these relationships even more difficult.

“Even in a seemingly rigid and very rapid form of learning such as filial imprinting,” the researchers wrote, “the brain operates with abstract conceptual reasoning, a faculty often assumed to be reserved to highly intelligent organisms.”

According to Martinho and Kacelnik, previous studies have found that other animals, such as primates and crows, can understand these concepts. But they have to be taught.

“To our knowledge, this is the first demonstration of a non-human organism learning to discriminate between abstract relational concepts without any reinforcement training,” Kacelnik said in a statement.

It’s an impressive ability, Martinho added, but it also makes biological sense that ducklings would have it.

“Ducks walk, swim and fly and are constantly changing their exact shape and appearance as they extend their wings or become partially submerged. If the ducklings just had a visual ‘snapshot’ of their mother, they would lose her,” he said. “They need to be able to flexibly and reliably identify her, and a library of concepts and characteristics describing her is a much more efficient way to do so, compared with a visual memory of every possible configuration of the mother and her environment.”

Wasserman has said abstract thinking is far more widespread in the animal kingdom than we give other creatures credit for. He has done research with rats showing they’re capable of learning to understand sameness and difference and with crows suggesting they can be taught to match stimuli by color, shape and number of objects. Other examples are mounting: In one study, honeybees were taught to distinguish between paintings by Monet and Picasso.

“Our research and others suggest abstract concepts, as tools for thought, are not a luxury,” Martinho told PBS. “A lot of vertebrates are going to need them if they’re going to have a flexible, robust understanding of the world around them.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by donie

Tuesday 19th July 2016

Irish Government launches new Housing Action Plan

    

The Irish Government is today launching its new 84-point action plan to deal with the housing crisis.

The Rebuilding Ireland project encompasses five pillars – to address homelessness; accelerate social housing; build more homes; improve the rental sector and utilise existing housing.

The €5.35bn plan has pledged to deliver 47,000 social houses in six years. The plan also says 25,000 homes a year will be built here by 2020.

  • Pillar 1 – Address Homelessness

Provide early solutions to address the unacceptable level of families in emergency accommodation; deliver inter-agency supports for people who are currently homeless, with a particular emphasis on minimising the incidence of rough sleeping, and enhance State supports to keep people in their own homes.

  • Pillar 2 – Accelerate Social Housing

Increase the level and speed of delivery of social housing and other State-supported housing.

  • Pillar 3 – Build More Homes

Increase the output of private housing to meet demand at affordable prices.

  • Pillar 4 – Improve the Rental Sector

Address the obstacles to greater private rented sector delivery, to improve the supply of units at affordable rents.

  • Pillar 5 – Utilise Existing Housing

Ensure that existing housing stock is used to the maximum degree possible – focusing on measures to use vacant stock to renew urban and rural areas

Housing Minister Simon Coveney has said that the use of hotels and B&Bs as emergency accommodation will be brought to an end by next year.

“We know that putting families in hotels doesn’t work,” he said. “So we’re going to change that.

“And we’re setting a pretty bold ambition for this time next year to have no reliance on hotel accommodation and B&Bs accommodation for emergency accommodation for families.

“And that will be challenging and we will set targets along the way to make sure we deliver on that.”

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said that the Government is committed to dealing with the housing crisis.

“This plan, believe me, is ambitious in its vision and in its scale of investment,” he said.

“It will take engagement across Government, the involvement of Local Government, thereal involvement of Local Government, and the commitment of the entire sector to deliver on it.

“But it is well founded, and the Minister for Housing and his team have researched and consulted very widely in drawing it up, and it is realistic, addressing the housing challenge fully and finally, as a key objective of the Government.”

Meanwhile: –

Construction industry wants to be rid of Ireland’s ‘cowboy builders’

   

The Irish construction industry has called for a statutory register to get rid of “cowboy builders”,

Tom Parlon, director general at Construction Industry Federation (CIF) has also claimed that builders and developers have been “excluded” from the Government’s planning on housing.

It comes as the Government launched its new housing strategy which aims to deal with homelessness, social housing and the rental crisis.

Speaking at the MacGill Summer School Mr Parlon said the Government has been “inclined to exclude the construction industry because of the blame that they chose to give the industry”.

But he said that the CIF has been working with the Department of Environment to root out builders who do not meet the proper standards.

“There were ills within the industry in the past. There was some poor, shoddy work carried out,” he said.

“We have proposed together with the Department of the Environment a construction industry register of Ireland – a standards body, which means in the future anybody involved in construction should be competent and should have experience and the skills that they have their insurance that they have health and safety and basically that they are professional builders.

“It’s a way of getting the cowboys out of the industry.”

He said it has already been set up as a voluntary system with 850 signed up to date but the CIF is now waiting on the government to make it a statutory body.

Reacting the Government’s new “Rebuilding Ireland” housing plan announced by Simon Coveney he said numerous strategies have been published over the years which are now “on a number of shelves around the place”.

“All of these strategies are certainly big on targets but they certainly lack the focus on the capacity of the industry to deliver.

“The best time to build forestry is 20 years ago and the second best time is yesterday,” he said adding that housing is similar to planting forests.

While he said the ambitiousness of the report is “very good” he added that “we are at least five years too late with this strategy”.

Mr Parlon pointed out that last year we began building around 8,000 houses and it appears that there will less started this year.

“So when you hear the targets that are out there you begin to wonder. The industry now is going to have to reach a massive level of output, and have four times the amount of commencements in four years’ time than we are doing now, so that’s a massive ramp-up.

Child homelessness has increased by 37% in six months

  

There has been a 37% increase in the number of homeless children over the last six months.

New figures from the Department of the Environment has provided a snapshot of the homeless situation in Ireland month. The stats show that there were 2,206 children living in emergency accommodation during the course of a week in June 2016.

That’s up from 1,616 children who were living in a similar situation in a week in December.

The count was taken during the week of 20-26 June and show that 1,078 families were living in emergency accommodation. Six months previously that figure was 775.

The figure for adults in emergency accommodation was 3,625 in December. This has now risen to 4,152, a 14.5% increase over six months.

The figures also demonstrate the extent of the homeless problem is Dublin, an area which accounts for more than two-thirds of the national figure.

The figures come as the government today announced a planned €5 billion spend on social housing over the next five years along with other measures to fight homelessness.

These include the phasing out of hotels for emergency accommodation and increased rental supplements.

Richard Bruton wants lessons in coding for Ireland’s primary school pupils

Minister wants primary curriculum to include coding as it teaches creative problem-solving

      

Richard Bruton, Minister for Education and Skills, who believes an early start in coding will help children fulfil their potential.

Primary school children could learn computer coding under proposals drawn up by Minister for Education Richard Bruton. He has asked the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment to consider approaches to introducing the teaching of coding in primary schools.

“For the generation of children recently born and starting to enter primary school, creative thinking and problem-solving skills will be absolutely key to how they develop . . . and achieve their potential,” Mr Bruton said.

“In particular, their ability to think critically and develop solutions in the digital world will be vital for their prospects in life. I am determined that we should continually improve the education system in this area.”

The council will be consulting on a new framework for the primary curriculum this year and is developing a new primary mathematics curriculum. It aims to have a draft new curriculum for mathematics for junior infants to second class next spring.

CoderDojo success

Mr Bruton has written to the council in recent days to request it to consider coding as part of the review. “The success of the CoderDojo project is a fantastic example of the benefits of teaching coding to young children. Hugely popular with children, it teaches creative problem-solving skills in a manner that engages and excites them,” he said.

“I believe that we must learn from successful programmes like this to improve the experience and outcomes of the education system for our children.”

Policy makers and the technology sector say there is an acute shortage of skilled graduates to fill gaps in the tech sector. A series of measures, such as bonus points for maths in the Leaving Cert and reforms to the senior cycle curriculum, are aimed at increasing the numbers going on to study science, technology, maths and engineering.

The introduction of coding classes is likely to be controversial, however, among some educationalists who argue that narrow skills should be taught much later in the school system.

Mr Bruton said these skills could improve outcomes for children. “At the heart of everything we are trying to do as a Government is to use our economic success to create a fair and compassionate society – and ultimately to make life a little bit easier for people.

Fluctuating cholesterol linked to lower mental ability scores “A study finds”

   Greater fluctuations in low-density lipoprotein (LDL), which is linked to heart disease, have been associated with lower scores in mental ability tests (file photo)

Roller-coaster levels of “bad” cholesterol may lead to poorer mental performance in older adults, a study has found.

Greater fluctuations in low-density lipoprotein (LDL), which is linked to heart disease, were associated with lower scores in mental ability tests.

Participants with the highest LDL variability took 2.7 seconds longer on average than those with the lowest to finish one test that deliberately confused words and colours.

The test involved naming the ink colours of words describing a different colour – for instance, the word blue written in red.

Lead researcher Dr Roelof Smit, from Leiden University Medical Centre in the Netherlands, said: “While this might seem like a small effect, it is significant at a population level.”

“Our findings suggest for the first time that it’s not just the average level of your LDL-cholesterol that is related to brain health, but also how much your levels vary from one measurement to another.”

A total of 4,428 people aged 70 to 82 from Scotland, Ireland and the Netherlands took part in the Prosper study. All either had pre-existing artery disease or were at high risk of developing the condition.

More LDL variability was also associated with lower brain blood flow and bright areas showing up on brain scans which have been linked to blood vessel dysfunction. The findings are reported in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.

Scientific breakthrough after South African boy finds turtle fossil

   

A fossil discovery by an 8-year-old South African boy has helped scientists redefine why turtles have shells.

While it has generally been accepted that the modern turtle shell is largely used for protection, a new study by an international group of scientists, including those from the Evolutionary Science Institute at Wits University, suggests the broad ribbed proto shell was initially an adaptation, not for protection, but rather for burrowing underground.

The big breakthrough came with the discovery of several specimens, the oldest of which was a 260 million year old partially shelled proto turtle, Eunotosaurus africanus, from the Karoo Basin of South Africa.

Several of these specimens were discovered by two of the studies’ co-authors, Dr Roger Smith and Dr Bruce Rubidge from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg but the most important specimen was found by 8-year-old Kobus Snyman on his father’s farm in the Western Cape.

This specimen, which is about 15cm long, comprises a well preserved skeleton together with the fully articulated hands and feet.

Rubidge thanked Snyman saying he would “shake his hand” because without the finding the study would not have been possible.

An artistic rendering shows an early proto turtle Eunotosaurus (foreground) burrowing into the banks of a dried-up pond to escape the harsh arid environment present 260 million years ago in South Africa. (Supplied, Andrey Atuchin)

Puzzled scientists

Lead author for the study, Dr Tyler Lyson of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science said that a shell for protection initially seemed like an obvious answer.

“…the earliest beginnings of the turtle shell was not for protection but rather for digging underground to escape the harsh South African environment where these early proto turtles lived”.

The early evolution of the turtle shell had long puzzled scientists.

“We knew from both the fossil record and observing how the turtle shell develops in modern turtles that one of the first major changes towards a shell was the broadening of the ribs,” said Lyson.

While distinctly broadened ribs may not seem like a significant change, scientists say it has a serious impact on both breathing and speed in four-legged animals.

Ribs are used to support the body during locomotion and play a crucial role in ventilating your lungs. Distinctly broadened ribs stiffen the torso, which shortens an animal’s stride length and slows it down and interferes with breathing.

‘Boring bones’

“The integral role of ribs in both locomotion and breathing is likely why we don’t see much variation in the shape of ribs,” said Lyson.

Lyson added: “Ribs are generally pretty boring bones. The ribs of whales, snakes, dinosaurs, humans, and pretty much all other animals look the same. Turtles are the one exception, where they are highly modified to form the majority of the shell.”

The study included authors from the United States, South Africa and Switzerland.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 18th July 2016

Ireland’s first-time home buyers may get aid under a new scheme

Irish Government is considering tax relief and top-ups in effort to tackle the housing crisis

   

A scheme to help first-time home buyers in Ireland with tax relief and State top-ups of mortgage deposit savings is being examined by the Government.

A scheme to help first-time home buyers with tax relief and state top-ups of mortgage deposit savings is being examined by the Government.

The Help to Buy scheme is under consideration as part of efforts to tackle the housing crisis, but will not be included in Minister for Housing Simon Coveney’s action plan for housing, to be announced tomorrow.

While Mr Coveney will reiterate the programme for government’s plan to introduce such a scheme, details are being withheld until October’s budget.

Mr Coveney had pushed for it to be included in his action plan but Minister for Finance Michael Noonan said tax measures can only be announced on budget day.

Mr Noonan last night emphasised that the Government does not want to cause any market disruption.

He said when former Tánaiste Michael McDowell proposed abolishing stamp duty in 2006, it contributed to a slump in house sales.

Mr Noonan said he is prepared to backdate Help to Buy measures to this month.

Mr Coveney is understood to have pushed for a top-up scheme in recent weeks. A similar scheme operates in the UK, where mortgage deposit savings are topped up by 25%, to a limit of £3,000.

Similar approach

The Fianna Fáil party proposed a similar approach in its election manifesto, although it said the top-up would be restricted to €5,000 per person, or €10,000 per couple.

It is understood that Mr Noonan and others raised concerns with Mr Coveney that such a scheme could drive up demand and house prices at a time when few homes are being built.

Of concern to all Ministers is the difficulty in saving for a mortgage deposit in Dublin and other urban areas due to the Central Bank lending rules.

One Government source suggested the value of Help to Buy would have to be around €10,000 to have a tangible effect.

The emerging scheme is a mixture of a deposit top-up and tax relief, modelled on the Home Renovation Incentive Scheme. VAT relief targeted at first-time buyers also featured in discussions.

The programme for government contains a proposal to temporarily reduce VAT on new affordable homes and apartments from 13.5% to 9%.

Four new gold mines discovered by gold mining firm Conroy Gold in Ireland

   

Gold found in the Republic is officially owned by the State and extracted under licence.

Irish gold mining firm Conroy Gold and Natural Resources has found four new gold zones on its Glenish target in Monaghan.

The discovery was made in a 150 metre-wide structural corridor in the western part of the Glenish gold target.

It included intersections of 2.25 metres grading 2.65 g/t gold, at a depth of 18 metres, 2 metres grading 1.59 g/t gold at a depth of 27.75 metres; 2.75 metres grading 1.43 g/t gold at a depth of 36 metres and 3 metres grading 1.76 g/t gold at a depth of 64.25 metres.

The Glenish gold target spans some 147 hectares.

The gold mineralisation in the drilling area remains open in all directions.

Mining activity in Ireland requires a licence from the State, but “recreational” panning is allowed.

That’s defined as activity that uses only hand-held, non-motorised equipment. The Department of Communications, Energy and National Resources asks panners to seek permission from various parties, including relevant landowners and the National Parks and Wildlife Service, to ensure the site they wish to use isn’t environmentally sensitive.

Precious metals in the ground are the property of the State but panners are allowed to keep small quantities “as a souvenir”. Any finds which return more than 20 gold flakes or individual nuggets that weigh more than two grammes are to be notified to the department.

But selling the gold is a no-no. That’s defined by law as ‘working’ of minerals – which requires permission from the Government.

A global study shows stroke is largely preventable

10 risk factors are the same worldwide, with some regional variations

   

Ten risk factors that can be modified are responsible for nine of 10 strokes worldwide, but the ranking of those factors vary regionally, says a study led by researchers of the Population Health Research Institute (PHRI) of McMaster University.

The prevention of a stroke is a major public health priority, but the variation by region should influence the development of strategies for reducing stroke risk, say the authors of the study published in The Lancet today.

  1. Stroke is a leading cause of death and disability, particularly in low-income and middle-income countries. The two major types of stroke include ischaemic stroke caused by blood clots, which accounts for 85% of strokes, and haemorrhagic stroke or bleeding into the brain, which accounts for 15% of strokes.
  2. The study led by Dr. Martin O’Donnell and Dr. Salim Yusuf of the Population Health Research Institute at McMaster and collaborators from 32 countries, builds on findings from the first phase of the INTERSTROKE study which identified ten modifiable risk factors for stroke in 6,000 participants from 22 countries. This full-scale INTERSTROKE study added 20,000 individuals from 32 countries in Europe, Asia, America, Africa and Australia, and sought to identify the main causes of stroke in diverse populations, young and old, men and women and within subtypes of stroke.
  3. “This study has the size and scope to explore stroke risk factors in all major regions of the world and within key populations,” said O’Donnell, a principal investigator for the PHRI and professor of translational medicine at HRB-Clinical Research Facility, NUI Galway.
  4. “We have confirmed the ten modifiable risk factors associated with 90% of stroke cases in all regions, young and older and in men and women. The study also confirms that hypertension is the most important modifiable risk factor in all regions, and the key target in reducing the burden of stroke globally.”
  5. The investigators looked at the different risk factors, and determined the proportion of strokes which would be cut if the risk factor disappeared.
  6. The number of strokes would be practically cut in half (48%) if hypertension was eliminated; trimmed by more than a third (36%) if people were physically active; and shaved by almost one fifth (19%) if they had better diets. In addition, this proportion was cut back by 12% if smoking was eliminated; 9% for cardiac (heart) causes, 4% for diabetes, 6% for alcohol intake, 6% for stress, and 27% for lipids (the study used apolipoproteins, which was found to be a better predictor of stroke than total cholesterol).
  7. Many of these risk factors are known to also be associated with each other (such as obesity and diabetes), and when were combined together, the total for all 10 risk factors was 91%, which was similar in all regions, age groups and in men and women.
  8. However, the importance of some risk factors appeared to vary by region. For example, the importance of hypertension ranged from practically 40% in Western Europe, North America, and Australia to 60% in Southeast Asia. The risk of alcohol was lowest in Western Europe, North America and Australia but highest in Africa and south Asia, while the potential impact of physical inactivity was highest in China.
  9. An irregular heart rhythm, or atrial fibrillation, was significantly associated with ischaemic stroke in all regions, but was of greater importance in Western Europe, North America and Australia, than in China or South Asia.
  10. However, when all 10 risk factors were included together, their collective importance was similar in all regions.

“Our findings will inform the development of global population-level interventions to reduce stroke, and how such programs may be tailored to individual regions,” said Yusuf, a professor of medicine of McMaster’s Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine and director of the PHRI. “This includes better health education, more affordable healthy food, avoidance of tobacco and more affordable medication for hypertension and dyslipidaemia.”

Along with the study, The Lancet published a related comment from New Zealand researchers Valery L. Feigin and Rita Krishnamurthi of the National Institute for Stroke and Applied Neurosciences, of Auckland’s University of Technology.

They said the key messages from the study were that stroke is a highly preventable disease globally, regardless of age and sex; that the relative importance of modifiable risk factors means there should be development of regional or ethnic-specific primary prevention programs, and that additional research on stroke risk factors is needed for countries and ethnic groups not included in INTERSTROKE.

“Now is the time for governments, health organizations, and individuals to proactively reduce the global burden of stroke. Governments of all countries should develop and implement an emergency action plan for the primary prevention of stroke,” they wrote.

Meanwhile: –

Too much red meat could harm your kidneys?

A study now reveals

     

Red meat consumption now linked to kidney failure, say’s researchers

Eating red meat may boost the risk for kidney failure, but swapping even one daily serving of red meat for another protein may reduce the risk, a large study from Singapore suggested.

Red meat intake is strongly associated with an increased risk of end-stage renal disease, the loss of normal kidney function. The relationship was also “dose dependent”, which means the higher the consumption, the greater the risk.

The association held up even after compensating for factors that could skew the results, such as lifestyle and other health conditions, the study authors noted.

“Our findings suggest that patients with chronic kidney disease or the general population worried about their kidney health can still maintain protein intake but consider switching to plant-based sources,” said Dr Woon-Puay Koh, professor in the office of Clinical Sciences at Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore.

“However, if they still choose to eat meat, fish, shellfish and poultry are better alternatives to red meat,” said Koh, one of the study authors.

The study adds new data to a conflicting body of evidence on the relationship between protein in-take, particularly red meat, and kidney disease, experts noted.

“It adds useful and additional information to our knowledge base, but I’m not sure if it necessarily tips the scale one way or another,” said Dr Allon Friedman, a nephrologist and associate professor of medicine at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis.

“My opinion is that it’s still perfectly fine for individuals who are otherwise healthy to consume red meat in moderation,” he said.

Dr William Mitch, professor of nephrology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, said that plenty of studies have shown that low-protein diets may benefit people who already have kidney damage.

However, in the general population, there’s no persuasive evidence that eating a lot of protein causes kidney damage,” he said.

Red meat has been implicated in recent reports and studies as potentially harmful to human health. The World Health Organisation (WHO) last year warned of a possible link between red meat and cancer. Similarly, a November 2015 study in the journal of cancer found that meat cooked at high temperatures could potentially affect kidney cancer risk.

For the new study, researchers followed more than 63,000 Chinese adults in Singapore for an average of 15.5 years.

The food questionnaires were used to gather data on people’s daily protein consumption. The records on the incidence of end stage renal disease came from a nationwide renal registry.

About 97 percent of red meat intake in the study population consisted of pork. Other protein sources included poultry, fish, shellfish, eggs, dairy products, soy and legumes.

Although pork may appear white after being cooked, but it still considered red meat, said the US Department of Agriculture.

People consuming the highest amounts of red meat had 40 percent increased risk of developing end stage kidney disease, compared with people who ate the lowest amounts, the study found.

No association was found with poultry, fish, eggs or dairy products, while soy and legumes appeared to be slightly protective. The study also found that replacing one serving of red meat with another protein reduced the risk of kidney failure up to 62 percent for poultry.

Here are six ways to nail that CV once and for all & bag your dream job

    Swiss Resume and Cover Letter Template - Helping You Save Time & Get The Dream Job You Deserve - Instant Download:     

Interviews have changed a lot?

If you’re sick of your jobs, then stop talking about it and go for a change. From networking to that CV, here are top tips towards making that move:

  1. The compelling CV: Stop talking about your duties and focus on your achievements. It may seem obvious that you should be outlining your duties in previous roles, but what employers want to see is results. Focus not on what you did but what you did well. Your cv has one job – to get you the interview so make sure it’s a world class document.
  2. Start Networking: Go to industry talks and conferences and start meeting people. Employers will always look to the people they know, then they’ll look for recommendations, before finally advertising a job.  Employers want to avoid having to go through cvs and interview processes by being referred a great person from someone they trust.
  3. Don’t copy and paste: You may feel as though you have spent so long perfecting your CV and cover letter that you just need to change the name of the recipient and fire it off. This is the worst tactic to use. No matter how well-written a cover letter is, it will never read as well as one written specifically for that job.
  4. Stand out at interview: Do your preparation – talk to people who work there, look at their social media pages, see if they have been in the news recently. You will find a huge amount about the organisation that often the interviewer sitting across from you does not know. It shows that you have a genuine interest in the job.
  5. Pick up the phone: We all hear people talking about how many jobs they’ve applied to, only to be ignored or rejected. But how many of those people have ever actually picked up the phone and called in? Everyone relies so heavily on the internet these days that a single phone call can be enough to differentiate you.
  6. Prove your enthusiasm: One of the most common things candidates will bring up in an application is their enthusiasm for the role. While enthusiasm is better than indifference, don’t just say you’re enthusiastic about your line of work, prove it by pointing to things you have accomplished with that enthusiasm.
  7. Go for jobs you actually want: If you are not sure if you want to work for the company you have an interview with, you certainly are not going to convince someone else. So do your research talk to friends, find a job and a company you love – this is not easy it takes time and effort but doing a job you love means never working a day in your life.

Hummingbirds process the world much differently than other birds of flight?

Says an UBC study?

    

When you spend time engaged in 100 kilometre per hour dives and fly 50 km/h in tight spaces you tend to see the world a little differently.

Hummingbirds can move as fast as your car and stop on a dime to feed from a flower, which requires some specialized image processing abilities, according to Roslyn Dakin, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia.

“We wanted to know how they avoid collisions and we found that hummingbirds use their environment differently than insects to steer a precise course,” she said. “They are really amazing flyers, they are capable of hovering and dramatic acceleration and stopping.”

Bees process their distance from objects by how quickly objects pass through their field of vision, like the telephone poles that race by you when you drive a car. But hummingbirds are doing something else.

The tiny speedsters chart their course based on how quickly images get larger, an indication they are getting close and pose a hazard. Things that get smaller are likely moving away and pose no risk.

“They tend to steer towards smaller features and away from larger features,” she explained.

The researchers spent months building and programming a 5.5 metre-long flight chamber to capture the hummingbirds’ reactions to visual queues, in other words, find out how they steer in flight.

“We took advantage of hummingbirds’ attraction to sugar water to set up a perch on one side of the tunnel and a feeder on the other, and they flew back and forth all day,” said co-author Douglas Altshuler, a zoology professor. “This allowed us to test many different visual stimuli.”

Hummingbirds react strongly — adjusting their altitude — when presented with projected images of patterns moving up or down, rising as their environment appeared to move upward.

“That is a trait they share with flies,” said Dakin.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 15th July 2016

More than 259,000 vacant homes in Ireland

CSO figures show number of empty Dublin holiday properties ‘up 190% in five years’

      

Preliminary figures published by the Central Statistics Office on July 14th show the total population is now 4,757,976.

The number of vacant holiday homes in Dublin city centre has nearly trebled in five years.

Publishing preliminary statistics from the April 24th census, the CSO said there had been a “noticeable increase”, up from 322 in 2011 to 937 this year – an increase of 190%.

The housing crisis in some parts of the State appears to have manifested itself in the census, with figures showing the number of vacant dwellings has fallen by 29,889 (13.8%).

In total, there are 259,562 vacant homes, including 61,204 vacant holiday homes, up 1,809 (3%) on the last census.

Vacancy rates for housing vary widely by county but the overall rate stands at 12.8%.

Carlow experienced the largest fall in the number of vacant dwellings from 3,202 in 2011 to 2,417 in this year’s census – a drop of 26.9%.

In Leitrim, the county with the highest vacancy rate in 2011, the number of vacant homes fell by just 3.7%.

Donegal, where the vacancy rate was 28.4% five years ago, has seen the number of vacant dwellings fall by just 97 units or less than 1%, the CSO said. This brings the vacancy rate to 28.2%.

The census provided information on the number of vacant dwellings for the first time in 2006 and the results showed there were 266,322 vacant dwellings (including holiday homes) in Ireland at that time, with a vacancy rate of 15%.

Vacancy rate

By 2011 the number of vacant dwellings had increased by 23,129 to 289,451, while the overall vacancy rate (14.4%) had fallen.

According to the 2016 preliminary census figures, household formation has fallen behind population growth and household sizes are also getting bigger in urban areas, bucking the trend of previous censuses. In rural areas, household sizes are getting smaller, the CSO’s statisticians said.

The number of occupied households increased between 2011 and 2016 by just over 49,000, or 3%.

Asked how the CSO identified housing as vacant, senior statistician Deirdre Cullen said the 4,663 enumerators were provided with very detailed notes. “It’s vitally important that we get it right,” she said.

Enumerators were instructed to call to every dwelling four, five, six and even seven times.

“They call several times; they talk to neighbours.”

If the house was vacant, neighbours might identify it as a holiday home or a property that was just visited at weekends. Overgrown gardens, for sale signs and an absence of post were also indicators a home was vacant.

“It’s really just on-the-ground knowledge by talking to people,” Ms Cullen said.

Airbnb, which allows people book short-term stays in homes of their choice around the world, insisted earlier this year that its services were not taking housing off the market.

Figures from the Airbnb website back in March showed the number of properties available to rent in Dublin for short-term holidays exceeded the number available for long-term letting.

At that point there were 1,748 apartments or houses available for holiday lettings on the site.

Ireland’s lobbyists call for investment after ‘vote of confidence’ in Republic population growth

Groups say more money needed to cope with growing population

     

Ibec chief executive Danny McCoy said the coming years would see “significantly increased pressure” on services, housing and infrastructure.

The growth in the population is “a vote of confidence” in the Republic’s future, but there is an “urgent need” for the Government to invest in services if the State is to be equipped to cope, according to lobbyists reacting to Census 2016.

Danny McCoy, chief executive of employers’ group Ibec, said the coming years would see “significantly increased pressure” on services, housing and infrastructure.

“We need a long-term approach to planning and development. The rapidly growing population is a vote of confidence in the country’s future.

“While many countries struggle to confront the problems of a declining population, Ireland must address those presented by a young, rapidly growing population.”

Mr McCoy said the shift in population from the western seaboard to the east was “a concern”. If economic activity was focused predominantly on the capital it would stretch resources, push up costs, and leave other parts of the State behind.

“It is creating a worrying economic and social imbalance. A new Atlantic-cities strategy is needed to ensure complementary growth between Dublin and other cities in terms of size, infrastructure, population and other resources.”

Crucial

Chambers Ireland director of policy Mark O’Mahoney said it was “crucial” that Government prioritises increased capital investment “in the short term”.

“We recognise that efforts have been made and that there are limited resources. However, it is only through sustained capital investment that Ireland can avoid future infrastructural bottlenecks that will hinder our economic growth.”

Simon Communities spokeswoman Niamh Randall said the figures were “unacceptable” when there are over 6,000 men, women and children in emergency accommodation “with no place to call home”.

“That there are 198,358 vacant units at a time when we are experiencing the worst housing and homeless crisis is scandalous. Clearly, having more effective housing stock management across the country must be addressed urgently.”

Irish exports slow in first four months

Major concerns have been flagged over currency fluctuations hitting exports.

   

The Irish trade surplus fell by over €4bn in the first four months of this year.

Statistics released by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) reveal that the number of exports exceeding imports declined from €20.3bn in 2015 to €16bn this year.

Exports to the UK declined by €162m in the year to April. Irish importation of UK products also slowed, down over €116 million compared to the January to April sequence for 2015.

Ireland’s trade surplus with the UK was €1.4bn for the first four months of the year. Germany imported €2.2bn worth of Irish goods, followed by France with €1.9bn.

Irish exports to the US were down by €480m, while Irish imports from the US fell by €771m. Exports to China were up €215m.

Obesity causes premature death, concludes a study of studies

Even overweight people risk earlier death than those of normal weight, research shows

  An overweight child and adult

Men who are obese are at much higher risk of premature death than obese women, according to the study of studies published in the Lancet medical journal.

Obesity and excess weight do shorten lives, according to a major review across five continents which sought to find a definitive answer to a controversial question.

While obesity is a known risk for heart disease, stroke, cancer and type 2 diabetes, which can all be life-shortening, the impact of obesity alone has been much disputed. Overweight and obesity are measured by BMI – body mass index – which charts weight against height. Many argue that it is a seriously flawed measure because it does not allow for the muscle that replaces fat in very fit people, such as athletes.

A large group of international researchers has attempted to overcome the problems of previous studies by analysing a vast amount of data collected in smaller studies, on 3.9 million adults worldwide. They found that even overweight people risked an earlier death than those of normal weight.

“On average, overweight people lose about one year of life expectancy, and moderately obese people lose about three years of life expectancy,” said Dr Emanuele Di Angelantonio, the lead author, from the University of Cambridge.

“We also found that men who were obese were at much higher risk of premature death than obese women. This is consistent with previous observations that obese men have greater insulin resistance, liver fat levels and diabetes risk than women.”

The researchers in the Global BMI Mortality Collaboration looked at the risk of early death between the ages of 35 and 70. Men of normal weight (with a BMI of 18.5 to 25) have a 19% risk of an earlier death and women a 11% chance. For those who are moderately obese, with a BMI of 30 to 35, that rises to 29.5% for men and 14.6% for women.

If obesity does directly cause early deaths, they calculate that if all those who are overweight or obese were instead of normal weight, one in seven early deaths could be avoided in Europe and one in five in north America, where obesity rates are higher. “Obesity is second only to smoking as a cause of premature death in Europe and North America,” said co-author Prof Sir Richard Peto, from the University of Oxford.

“Smoking causes about a quarter of all premature deaths in Europe and in North America, and smokers can halve their risk of premature death by stopping. But [being] overweight and obesity now cause about one in seven of all premature deaths in Europe and one in five of all premature deaths in North America.”

New initiative launched to save threatened bee species in Ireland

    

Bumblebee (left) collecting pollen from a mullein and the Irish honey bee (right)

A new initiative has been launched to save Ireland’s declining bee population, following the news that one third of our 98 bee species are endangered.

The National Biodiversity Plan seeks to protect Ireland’s pollination services.

More than 68 governmental and non-governmental organisations across Europe have agreed to the shared plan, which notes 81 actions everyone can take part in to make our gardens pollinator friendly.

“If you’re a pollinator, finding enough food is the biggest challenge you have to face.” said Dr Úna FitzPatrick from the National Biodiversity Data Centre, who chaired the plan steering group.

She added “gardens can play a crucial role by acting as pit stops for busy bees as they try to move around the landscape”.

The plan includes a list of low-cost and practical actions to suit gardens of any size.

The most important thing people can do in their garden is to make sure there are bee-friendly flowers in bloom from March to October.

Dr Erin Jo Tiedeken, the project officer for the All-Ireland Plan, recommends lavender, heather, comfrey, lungwort and catmint as a great food source for bees.

The plan suggests cutting your garden lawn slightly less often to allow wildflowers such as dandelions and clovers to grow.

It also warns not to use pesticides that are harmful to pollinators.

The implementation of the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan is being coordinated by the National Biodiversity Data Centre with funding provided by the Heritage Council and Bord Bia.

New underwater microscope shows the beauty of coral turf on the ocean floor

Benthic Underwater Microscope   Benthic Underwater Microscope   Benthic Underwater Microscope

Left, Two polyps connect their gastrovascular openings at night this is dubbed ‘polyp kissing, (On right picture) Stylophora on the left of the picture and Pocillopora on the right were placed close together to induce competition. When corals compete for dominance, they emit mesenterial filaments, string-like structures,

Researchers used the instrument to capture images of coral turf wars and a previously unknown phenomenon dubbed “coral polyp kissing.”

Researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego have developed a diver-operated underwater microscope that can examine small-scale biological processes on the ocean floor. Referred to as the Benthic Underwater Microscope (BUM), this revolutionary tool is able to take photographs and videos of microorganisms in their native habitats without interfering with their natural settings.

Prior to the development of the BUM, scientists were forced to remove organisms from the ocean in order to analyze them with microscopes, preventing them from fully understanding the context of ecological processes.

Oceanographer Jules Jaffe led the team that developed the microscope, and he considers the instrument essential to conducting research in the ocean. “To understand the evolution of the dynamic processes taking place in the ocean, we need to observe them at the appropriate scale,” Jaffe explained.

Jaffe and his team brought the BUM to coral reefs off the coasts of Maui, Hawaii and in the Red Sea to test it in the field. While using the microscope in the Red Sea, the researchers observed corals of different species firing string-like filaments from their stomach cavities towards one another in a “coral turf war.” The filaments secreted enzymes that dissolved coral tissue in an effort to reduce competition from neighboring species. The researchers also observed individual coral polyps on a single colony embracing each other, a previously unknown phenomenon they dubbed “coral polyp kissing.”

Off the coast of Maui, the team used the BUM to observe coral bleaching, a phenomenon that occurs when waters are too warm. The change in water temperature puts stress on corals, causing them to expel algae that live in their tissue and turning them completely white. The microscope revealed a previously undiscovered honeycomb pattern formed by expelled algae as it grew on the surface of the bleached coral.

Jaffe and his team published their observations in the journal Nature Communications and also produced a video describing their research. Watch Andrew Mullen, one of the authors of the study, explain how the BUM works and see some of the beautiful footage below.