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The Japanese startup Attuned devised a 55-question test for companies to give their employees to find out exactly what motivates them.

The test uses AI to score each employee by how much they are motivated by competition, autonomy, feedback, financial needs, and seven other values.

Companies are paying thousands of dollars to use the service, which can also track when workers are becoming less motivated over time.

If you’ve ever led a team at work before, you know how hard it can be to keep people motivated.

But one Japanese startup is using technology to make that easier than ever.

The Tokyo-based company Attuned offers what it calls “predictive HR analytics” to help companies understand what makes each of their employees tick. And companies in Japan are paying thousands of dollars for the chance to get a better read on their workers.

It’s a simple process: When a company signs on with Attuned, its employees take a 55-question online test in which they’re presented with pairs of statements, such as “Planning my day in advance gives me a sense of security,” and “I prefer to be able to decide which task to focus on at any given time.” The test-taker must choose which of the two statements applies to them better, and whether they “strongly prefer” it, “prefer” it, or just “somewhat prefer” it:

Once the test is complete, Attuned churns out a unique “motivational profile” scoring each employee in 11 key human values, including “competition,” “feedback,” “autonomy,” “security,” and “financial needs.”

Areas in which the employee scores particularly high are labeled “need to have” motivators for that person, while lower scores indicate “nice to have” or “neutral” motivators. How each employee scores in certain areas can clue managers in to what kinds of work environments they’ll thrive in and what will keep them motivated, Casey Wahl, the American founder of Attuned, said.

“Maybe it’s, ‘Hey, you want to have drinks on a Friday night?’ if socialization is important for you,” Wahl told Business Insider. “For somebody else it’s different. Maybe it’s a financial incentive, or maybe, say, ‘OK, if you nail this product, you can have more autonomy; you can run this project that you’ve been wanting to do for a while.”

The technology can also help managers find common ground with their workers. Wahl recalled an employee of his who took issue with the location of Attuned’s office on a Tokyo backstreet instead of a more popular, high-trafficked area. As it turned out, the employee had scored high in the “status” category, suggesting a need to work for a well-known brand or in a position of prestige.

“This is something where, because I don’t value it, I can’t give her what she wants easily,” Wahl said. “Now that I see this, I can say, OK, she’s coming from this point of view. So it’s going to take a lot of the emotion and everything out of it.”

Attuned charges $1,960 for a basic yearly subscription, with prices varying based on the size of the company. The subscription also includes “pulse surveys” — short, 30-second follow-up quizzes that employees take every two weeks to see how their motivators change over time. Attuned uses AI to tailor the surveys to the individual based on answers they’ve previously given.

Wahl says the surveys can identify faster than ever when workers are feeling less motivated, allowing managers to act before the workers get frustrated and leave the company.

At the hiring level, the technology can also predict which departments a prospective employee might be well-suited for, say, if they’re motivated by high competition or require a lot of autonomy.

And they can help hiring managers recognize if someone might not be a good fit at all. Wahl said that after one client started screening potential hires with the Attuned test, its “mis-hire” rate — the percentage of new hires who left the company within six months — dropped from 35% to 8%.

“Management, up until now, has been art,” Wahl told Business Insider. “And we’re bringing some science to it.”

https://www.businessinsider.com/employee-motivation-survey-attuned-japan-startup-2019-1

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By Lucy Huang

Ants infected with fungal pathogens steer clear of other cliques within the colony—avoiding wider infection, and allowing for a sort of immunity. Lucy Huang reports.

It’s peak cold and flu season, which means taking a lot of preventive measures. Frequent hand-washing is a must. As is avoiding co-workers or friends who are sick. But we humans are not the only animals that change behavior to keep diseases at bay. So do ants.

“So there are the foragers and the nurses– it’s two different groups of work.”

Nathalie Stroeymeyt of the University of Lausanne. She and colleagues observed ants to see their reaction to the presence of a pathogen.

“With the nurses staying inside the nurse taking care of the brood and being made of young workers. And the foragers are all the workers at outside of the nest to collect food and defend the territory.”

Forager ants are at greater risk of getting exposed to diseases because they leave the safety of the nest. So the researchers sprayed a common fungus on a small group of forager ants and then followed their movements to see the way other ants reacted.

“We marked all ants in the colony was individual labels, which carries these two-dimensional bar code marks like QR code which is automatically detected and recorded using a tracking system.”

After the infection, the nurse and forager ants stayed within their cliques and interacted less outside of their work group. The researchers also saw that forager ants spent more time outside of the nest.

“They increase that amount by 15 percent so by quite a long large amount.”

The researchers also measured the amount of fungus on each ant and saw that it was almost completely contained within the foragers group. Some nurse ants and even the Queen did have trace amounts of the fungus’ spores on them but the amount was small enough that they could easily groom them off of their bodies. The study is in the journal Science. [Nathalie Stroeymeyt et al., Social network plasticity decreases disease transmission in a eusocial insect]

Not only does the cliquish behavior stop the spread of the fungus, “but it allows you to develop immunization. Something that’s quite interesting in these ants that’s been shown by other study is that when you receive very small amount of these spores, you don’t have an increase in mortality risk because it’s low enough that you can heal, it’s sort of boost your immune defenses and protect you against later exposure to the same pathogen.

Seems that in their ability to avoid infecting other members of the community, ants may be more advanced than we are.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode/ants-stick-to-cliques-to-dodge-disease/

by Mike McRae

Once a month, a 33-year-old Irish man would fill a syringe with his own semen and squirt it into the veins and muscles of his right arm, hoping it would make his chronic lower back pain go away.

Physicians came across this unusual case when its subject admitted himself into a Dublin hospital following several days of lower back pain brought on by lifting a heavy object.

Following an examination, medical staff discovered his lower right arm was red and slightly swollen, with signs of a fairly serious subcutaneous infection. An X-ray revealed signs of an abscess deep under the skin.

The patient disclosed it was most likely caused by recent injections of his own semen. Apparently back pain was an ongoing problem for the gentleman, and he’d come up with a rather innovative plan to treat it by introducing his own ejaculate intravenously and intramuscularly.

For the previous year and a half he’d been giving himself a monthly shot of his own self-made tonic. In the wake of his most recent bout of back pain, he had even upped his dose to several injections.

The case study is outlined in an Irish Medical Journal article playfully titled “Semenly” Harmless Back Pain: An Unusual Presentation of a Subcutaneous Abscess. Its authors dug into the literature – both clinical and alternative – for some kind of explanation, but came up empty handed.

“A comprehensive review of EMBASE, PubMed, Google scholar and the wider internet was conducted with an emphasis on intravenous semen injection for the treatment of back pain as well as for other medical and non-medical uses,” the authors write.

“Although there is a report of the effects of subcutaneous semen injection into rats and rabbits [in 1945], there were no cases of intravenous semen injection into humans found across the literature.”

Alleged health benefits of semen have been debated in the literature. It’s occasionally injected just under the skin in minuscule amounts to test for allergic reactions, and has been contested as a way to treat semen-sensitivities.

But when it comes to reducing pain, let alone specifically treating back injuries, this is pretty much unheard of.

The patient was diagnosed with cellulitis – a bacterial infection of the skin – and the doctors gave him intravenous antimicrobial drugs; but before they could administer further treatment, he discharged himself.

This research was published in the Irish Medical Journal.

https://www.sciencealert.com/patient-injected-himself-with-semen-thinking-it-would-cure-his-back-pain

By Nina Avramova

An international team of scientists has developed a diet it says can improve health while ensuring sustainable food production to reduce further damage to the planet.

The “planetary health diet” is based on cutting red meat and sugar consumption in half and upping intake of fruits, vegetables and nuts.

And it can prevent up to 11.6 million premature deaths without harming the planet, says the report published Wednesday in the medical journal The Lancet.

The authors warn that a global change in diet and food production is needed as 3 billion people across the world are malnourished — which includes those who are under and overnourished — and food production is overstepping environmental targets, driving climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.

The world’s population is set to reach 10 billion people by 2050; that growth, plus our current diet and food production habits, will “exacerbate risks to people and planet,” according to the authors.

“The stakes are very high,” Dr. Richard Horton, editor in chief at The Lancet, said of the report’s findings, noting that 1 billion people live in hunger and 2 billion people eat too much of the wrong foods.

Horton believes that “nutrition has still failed to get the kind of political attention that is given to diseases such as AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria.”

“Using best available evidence” of controlled feeding studies, randomized trials and large cohort studies, the authors came up with a new recommendation, explained Dr. Walter Willett, lead author of the paper and a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan school of public health.

The report suggests five strategies to ensure people can change their diets and not harm the planet in doing so: incentivizing people to eat healthier, shifting global production toward varied crops, intensifying agriculture sustainably, stricter rules around the governing of oceans and lands, and reducing food waste.

The ‘planetary health diet’

To enable a healthy global population, the team of scientists created a global reference diet, that they call the “planetary health diet,” which is an ideal daily meal plan for people over the age of 2, that they believe will help reduce chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease, stroke and diabetes, as well as environmental degradation.

The diet breaks down the optimal daily intake of whole grains, starchy vegetables, fruit, dairy, protein, fats and sugars, representing a daily total calorie intake of 2500.

They recognize the difficulty of the task, which will need “substantial” dietary shifts on a global level, needing the consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar to decrease by more than 50%. In turn, consumption of nuts, fruits, vegetables, and legumes must increase more than two-fold, the report says.

The diet advises people consume 2,500 calories per day, which is slightly more than what people are eating today, said Willett. People should eat a “variety of plant-based foods, low amounts of animal-based foods, unsaturated rather than saturated fats, and few refined grains, highly processed foods and added sugars,” he said.

Regional differences are also important to note. For example, countries in North America eat almost 6.5 times the recommended amount of red meat, while countries in South Asia eat 1.5 times the required amount of starchy vegetables.

“Almost all of the regions in the world are exceeding quite substantially” the recommended levels of red meat, Willett said.

The health and environmental benefits of dietary changes like these are known, “but, until now, the challenge of attaining healthy diets from a sustainable food system has been hampered by a lack of science-based guidelines, said Howard Frumkin, Head of UK biomedical research charity The Wellcome Trust’s Our Planet Our Health program. The Wellcome Trust funded the research.

“It provides governments, producers and individuals with an evidence-based starting point to work together to transform our food systems and cultures,” he said.

If the new diet were adopted globally, 10.9 to 11.6 million premature deaths could be avoided every year — equating to 19% to 23.6% of adult deaths. A reduction in sodium and an increase in whole grains, nuts, vegetables and fruits contributed the most to the prevention of deaths, according to one of the report’s models.

Making it happen

Some scientists are skeptical of whether shifting the global population to this diet can be achieved.

The recommended diet “is quite a shock,” in terms of how feasible it is and how it should be implemented, said Alan Dangour, professor in food and nutrition for global health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. What “immediately makes implementation quite difficult” is the fact that cross-government departments need to work together, he said. Dangour was not involved in the report.

At the current level of food production, the reference diet is not achievable, said Modi Mwatsama, senior science lead (food systems, nutrition and health) at the Wellcome Trust. Some countries are not able to grow enough food because they could be, for example, lacking resilient crops, while in other countries, unhealthy foods are heavily promoted, she said.

Mwatsama added that unless there are structural changes, such as subsidies that move away from meat production, and environmental changes, such as limits on how much fertilizer can be used, “we won’t see people meeting this target.”

To enable populations to follow the reference diet, the report suggests five strategies, of which subsidies are one option. These fit under a recommendation to ensure good governance of land and ocean systems, for example by prohibiting land clearing and removing subsidies to world fisheries, as they lead to over-capacity of the global fishing fleet.

Second, the report further outlines strategies such as incentivizing farmers to shift food production away from large quantities of a few crops to diverse production of nutritious crops.

Healthy food must also be made more accessible, for example low-income groups should be helped with social protections to avoid continued poor nutrition, the authors suggest, and people encouraged to eat healthily through information campaigns.

A fourth strategy suggests that when agriculture is intensified it must take local conditions into account to ensure the best agricultural practices for a region, in turn producing the best crops.

Finally, the team suggests reducing food waste by improving harvest planning and market access in low and middle-income countries, while improving shopping habits of consumers in high-income countries.

Louise Manning, professor of agri-food and supply chain resilience at the Royal Agricultural University, said meeting the food waste reduction target is a “very difficult thing to achieve” because it would require government, communities and individual households to come together.

However, “it can be done,” said Manning, who was not involved in the report, noting the rollback in plastic usage in countries such as the UK.

The planet’s health

The 2015 Paris Climate Agreement aimed to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Meeting this goal is no longer only about de-carbonizing energy systems by reducing fossil fuels, it’s also about a food transition, said professor of environmental science at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, in Sweden, who co-led the study.

“This is urgent,” he said. Without global adaptation of the reference diet, the world “will not succeed with the Paris Climate Agreement.”

A sustainable food production system requires non-greenhouse gas emissions such as methane and nitrous oxide to be limited, but methane is produced during digestion of livestock while nitrous oxides are released from croplands and pastures. But the authors believe these emissions are unavoidable to provide healthy food for 10 billion people. They highlight that decarbonisation of the world’s energy system must progress faster than anticipated, to accommodate this.

Overall, ensuring a healthy population and planet requires combining all strategies, the report concludes — major dietary change, improved food production and technology changes, as well as reduced food waste.

“Designing and operationalising sustainable food systems that can deliver healthy diets for a growing and wealthier world population presents a formidable challenge. Nothing less than a new global agricultural revolution,” said Rockström, adding that “the solutions do exist.

“It is about behavioral change. It’s about technologies. It’s about policies. It’s about regulations. But we know how to do this.”

https://www.cnn.com/2019/01/16/health/new-diet-to-save-lives-and-planet-health-study-intl/index.html


Case Western Reserve researchers cure drug-resistant infections without antibiotics

Biochemists, microbiologists, drug discovery experts and infectious disease doctors have teamed up in a new study that shows antibiotics are not always necessary to cure sepsis in mice. Instead of killing causative bacteria with antibiotics, researchers treated infected mice with molecules that block toxin formation in bacteria. Every treated mouse survived. The breakthrough study, published in Scientific Reports, suggests infections in humans might be cured the same way.

The molecules cling to a toxin-making protein found across Gram-positive bacterial species, called AgrA, rendering it ineffective. Treating mice with the therapeutic molecules effectively cured infections caused by methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). S. aureus is notorious for its ability to overcome even the most potent antibiotics. Its resistance arsenal is broad, limiting therapeutic options to treat infections.

In a mouse model of S. aureus sepsis, treatment with small molecules alone resulted in 100 percent survival, while 70 percent of untreated animals died. The small molecules were as effective in promoting survival as antibiotics currently used to treat S. aureus infections. The molecules also appear to give antibiotics a boost. Septic mice treated with a combination of the small molecules and antibiotics had 10x fewer bacteria in their bloodstream than mice treated with antibiotic alone.

“For relatively healthy patients, such as athletes suffering from a MRSA infection, these molecules may be enough to clear an infection,” said Menachem Shoham, associate professor of biochemistry at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and senior author on the study. “For immunocompromised patients, combination therapy with the molecules and a low-dose antibiotic may be in order. The antibiotic in the combination could be one to which the bacteria are resistant in monotherapy, because our small molecules enhance the activity of conventional antibiotics, such as penicillin.”

With support from the small molecules, previously obsolete antibiotics could reenter the clinic.

Said Shoham: “This could provide a partial solution to the looming, global threat of antibiotic resistance.”

If available, antibiotics kill most bacteria, but a small number of bacteria with natural resistance survive. Over time, antibiotic-resistant bacteria multiply and spread. By Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates, at least two million Americans get an antibiotic-resistant infection annually. For some infections, effective antibiotics are no longer available. Disarming bacteria of disease-causing toxins represents a promising alternative to dwindling antibiotics.

Eliminating toxins frees up the immune system to eliminate bacterial pathogens instead of antibiotics, said Shoham, who also is affiliated with Q2 Pharma, Ltd., Haifa, Israel. “Without the toxins the bacteria become harmless. And since they don’t need the toxins to survive, there is less pressure to develop resistance.”

The small molecules work against multiple bacterial species. The new study included preliminary experiments showing the molecules prevent three other bacterial species from killing immune cells.

“These results indicate broad-spectrum efficacy against Gram-positive pathogens,” wrote the authors.

Added Shoham: “We have proven efficacy not only against MRSA but also against Staphylococcus epidermidis, which is notorious for clogging catheters, Streptococcus pyogenes that causes strep throat, Streptococcus pneumoniae, and other pathogens.”

Shoham led the study in collaboration with colleagues from the departments of biochemistry and dermatology and the Center for RNA and Therapeutics at Case Western Reserve University. The researchers developed two small molecules, F12 and F19, both of which potentiate antibiotic efficacy in the mouse models. The researchers are now working to commercialize both potential drugs. Case Western Reserve University has issued a license to Q2Pharma, Ltd., a biopharmaceutical startup company in Israel, to perform additional preclinical studies and develop F12 and F19 for clinical trials. Their initial trials will focus on patients suffering from systemic multi-drug resistant infections.

This research was supported by a Transformational Award to Menachem Shoham by the Dr. Ralph and Marian Falk Medical Research Trust Bank of America, N.A., Trustee. Some in vitro studies were supported by NIH/NIAID Preclinical Services under contract numbers HHSN272201100012I and HHSN27200007.

Greenberg, M, et al. “Small-molecule AgrA inhibitors F12 and F19 act as antivirulence agents against Gram-positive pathogens.” Scientific Reports. 2018 Oct 1;8(1):14578. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-32829-w. PMID: 30275455.

Bringing the filtering abilities of a fuel cell into the blood vessels of living organisms, a new device could cut down on toxic effects of cancer treatment.

At the heart of this approach — recently tested in pigs — is a tiny, cylindrical “sponge” created by 3-D printing. Wedged inside a vein near a tumor being treated with chemotherapy, the sponge could absorb excess drug before it spreads through the body — thus lessening chemotherapy’s harmful side effects, including vomiting, immune suppression or even heart failure.

A human study could launch “in a couple of years, if all the stars are aligned,” says Steve Hetts, a neuroradiologist at the University of California, San Francisco who came up with the drug-capture concept. He worked with engineers at UC Berkeley and elsewhere to create and test prototypes.

A test of the most recent prototype showed that the absorber captured nearly two-thirds of a common chemotherapy drug infused into a nearby vein, without triggering blood clots or other obvious problems in the pig, Hetts and his colleagues report January 9 in ACS Central Science.

The study addresses a major need, says Eleni Liapi, a radiologist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine not involved with the new work. Existing methods for controlling chemotherapy delivery do not fully block drug escape, she notes. “A technological advancement to reduce unwanted circulating drug is always welcome.”


This image shows a cross-sectional view of a new 3-D printed cylindrical device that could cut down on toxic side effects from cancer treatment. Resin coatings (gold) bind to a chemo drug used to treat liver cancer, experiments show.

Chemo is often delivered intravenously in the hope that some treatment reaches the cancer site. In a more localized form of chemotherapy used to treat hard-to-remove tumors, the drug travels through catheter wires snaked into arteries going straight to the tumor. Although this technique, known as transarterial chemo embolization, or TACE, is given to tens of thousands of people each year, typically some of the injected drug bypasses the tumor site and slips into general circulation where it can wreak havoc elsewhere.

Hetts uses the transarterial method to treat babies with a rare eye tumor called retinoblastoma – and it was those experiences that birthed the “sponge” idea in the first place. After the chemotherapy ran its course through transarterial catheters, the infants’ eye tumors shrank. However, several weeks later, their blood cell counts tanked, suggesting to Hetts that some of the chemo drugs were escaping the eye and affecting other cells. Those observations eight years ago led Hetts to think that “if only I had a device I could put into the vein to bind up the excess drug, then maybe these little babies wouldn’t get the side effect” of immune suppression.

Heart surgeons use a similar “filter” to remove bits of cholesterol plaque from arteries of people with atherosclerosis, a disease characterized by the clogging and hardening of arteries. Hetts envisioned a similar device for chemotherapy treatment — “but not just a dumb, inert membrane to capture debris,” he says. “I wanted a ‘smart’ membrane that chemically binds to a drug.”

Instead of trying to develop a drug-trap device for a super rare tumor — retinoblastoma has just 300 new cases per year in the United States — Hetts’ team focused on a chemo drug for liver cancer, which is estimated to strike more than 40,000 Americans this year and kill three-quarters of them.

Anand Patel, a trainee in the Hetts’ lab with a bioengineering background, tested a batch of resins and found several that could bind to this drug, known as doxorubicin. To optimize the resins and get them onto the tips of guide wires, Patel sought help with “cold call” e-mails to local professors. Nitash Balsara — a UC Berkeley chemical engineer with expertise in polymer chemistry and membranes — “was actually crazy enough to return my e-mail with interest,” says Patel, who now works as an interventional radiologist in the Los Angeles area.

Balsara’s lab develops materials to regulate ion flow in batteries and fuel cells. As it turns out, these filtration processes are “very similar to those that we needed to capture excess chemotherapy drugs from the blood,” Patel says. The team worked with Carbon, Inc., a 3-D printing company in the San Francisco Bay area, to get the drug-binding material onto a 30-millimeter-long, cylinder-shaped “sponge” about as wide as a drinking straw. Hee Jeung Oh of UC Berkeley spent more than a year working out how to attach the drug-binding material to the 3-D printed cylinder with crisscrossing struts.

In experiments, the team injected the liver cancer drug through the pigs’ leg and pelvic veins — which are similar in width to human liver veins, Hetts says. Before infusing the chemotherapy drug, the researchers inserted the 3-D printed sponge a few centimeters from the infusion site — as well as catheters above and below the sponge for collecting blood samples to measure drug absorption over time. Within a half hour, the device absorbed, on average, 64 percent of the liver cancer drug.

The next round of studies will monitor the capture of doxorubicin by drug sponges inserted directly into the pigs’ liver veins.

https://www.sciencenews.org/article/new-3d-printed-sponge-sops-excess-chemo-cancer-drugs

The world’s oldest desert is to be blessed with one of the most listened-to songs – Africa by Toto. Namibian artist Max Siedentopf has set up a sound installation in the coastal Namib Desert to play on loop, in tribute to the soft rock classic. The 1982 track is quadruple platinum, and was the most streamed song in 2017, with over 440m views on YouTube.

Mr Siedentopf tells the BBC it is set to play forever, with solar batteries “to keep Toto going for all eternity”.

The almost five-minute song has remained popular in today’s pop culture, and has been subject to memes and even entire Reddit pages.

“[I] wanted to pay the song the ultimate homage and physically exhibit ‘Africa’ in Africa,” explains the 27-year-old artist. “Some [Namibians] love it and some say it’s probably the worst sound installation ever. I think that’s a great compliment.”

He has chosen an undisclosed spot in the 55-million-year-old Namib desert to set up six speakers attached to an MP3 player with the single track on it. Mr Siedentopf says he hopes the song will play for another 55 million years. “Most parts of the installation were chosen to be as durable as possible, but I’m sure the harsh environment of the desert will devour the installation eventually.”

Until then, only the most loyal Toto fans will be able to find this “treasure” among the sands, Mr Siedentopf says.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-46861137