Posts Tagged ‘cat’


93-year-old Mary Derr sits on her bed near her robot cat she calls “Buddy” in her home she shares with her daughter Jeanne Elliott in South Kingstown, R.I. Buddy is a Hasbro’s “Joy for All” robotic cat, aimed at seniors and meant to act as a “companion,” it has been on the market for two years. Derr has mild dementia, and Elliott purchased a robot earlier this year to keep her mother company.

By MICHELLE R. SMITH

Imagine a cat that can keep a person company, doesn’t need a litter box and can remind an aging relative to take her medicine or help find her eyeglasses.

That’s the vision of toymaker Hasbro and scientists at Brown University, who have received a three-year, $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation to find ways to add artificial intelligence to Hasbro’s “Joy for All” robotic cat .

The cat, which has been on the market for two years, is aimed at seniors and meant to act as a “companion.” It purrs and meows, and even appears to lick its paw and roll over to ask for a belly rub. The Brown-Hasbro project is aimed at developing additional capabilities for the cats to help older adults with simple tasks.

Researchers at Brown’s Humanity-Centered Robotics Initiative are working to determine which tasks make the most sense, and which can help older adults stay in their own homes longer, such as finding lost objects, or reminding the owner to call someone or go to a doctor’s appointment.

“It’s not going to iron and wash dishes,” said Bertram Malle, a professor of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences at Brown. “Nobody expects them to have a conversation. Nobody expects them to move around and fetch a newspaper. They’re really good at providing comfort.”

Malle said they don’t want to make overblown promises of what the cat can do, something he and his fellow researcher — computer science professor Michael Littman — said they’ve seen in other robots on the market. They hope to make a cat that would perform a small set of tasks very well.

They also want to keep it affordable, just a few hundred dollars. The current version costs $100.

They’ve given the project a name that gets at that idea: Affordable Robotic Intelligence for Elderly Support, or ARIES. The team includes researchers from Brown’s medical school, area hospitals and a designer at the University of Cincinnati.

It’s an idea that has appeal to Jeanne Elliott, whose 93-year-old mother, Mary Derr, lives with her in South Kingstown. Derr has mild dementia and the Joy for All cat Elliott purchased this year has become a true companion for Derr, keeping her company and soothing her while Elliott is at work. Derr treats it like a real cat, even though she knows it has batteries.

“Mom has a tendency to forget things,” she said, adding that a cat reminding her “we don’t have any appointments today, take your meds, be careful when you walk, things like that, be safe, reassuring things, to have that available during the day would be awesome.”

Diane Feeney Mahoney, a professor emerita at MGH Institute of Health Professions School of Nursing, who has studied technology for older people, said the project showed promise because of the team of researchers. She hopes they involve people from the Alzheimer’s community and that “we just don’t want to push technology for technology’s sake.”

She called the cat a tool that could make things easier for someone caring for a person with middle-stage dementia, or to be used in nursing homes where pets are not allowed.

The scientists are embarking on surveys, focus groups and interviews to get a sense of the landscape of everyday living for an older adult. They’re also trying to figure out how the souped-up robo-cats would do those tasks, and then how it would communicate that information. They don’t think they want a talking cat, Littman said.

“Cats don’t generally talk to you,” Littman said, and it might be upsetting if it did.

They’re looking at whether the cat could move its head in a certain way to get across the message it’s trying to communicate, for example.

In the end, they hope that by creating an interaction in which the human is needed, they could even help stem feelings of loneliness, depression and anxiety.

“The cat doesn’t do things on its own. It needs the human, and the human gets something back,” Malle said. “That interaction is a huge step up. Loneliness and uselessness feelings are hugely problematic.”

http://www.njherald.com/article/20171219/AP/312199965#//

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A veterinarian appears to have been infected with a strain of avian flu known as H7N2 that spread among more than 100 cats housed at New York City animal shelters. If confirmed, this would be the first known transmission of this bird flu strain from cat to human, officials said.

New York City health officials said the vet has recovered from a mild illness, and there’s no sign that the flu has spread to shelter workers or those who’ve adopted cats.

Still, the city’s top health official is calling for caution.

“Our investigation confirms that the risk to human health from H7N2 is low, but we are urging New Yorkers who have adopted cats from a shelter or rescue group within the past three weeks to be alert for symptoms in their pets,” city Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said in a health department news release.

“We are contacting people who may have been exposed and offering testing as appropriate,” she said.

According to officials, the outbreak of H7N2 struck cats that lived at Animal Care Centers of NYC shelters. H7N2 is a subtype of influenza A virus, also known as avian or bird flu.

More than 160 employees and volunteers were tested, and only the veterinanian, who worked with sick cats, appears to have been infected, officials said. The vet’s case has yet to be definitively confirmed.

Officials said they’ve contacted more than 80 percent of people who adopted cats from the animal shelter, and there’s no sign that any of these people have been infected.

There have only been two previous documented cases of transmission of the avian flu subtype to humans in the United States, and neither was linked to cats or to other humans, city health officials said.

For now, the city’s health department is urging people to avoid close facial contact and nuzzling with ill cats.

One cat diagnosed with the avian flu died, while the others are expected to get better. Adoptions of cats have been halted for the time being, and the sick cats will be quarantined.

Officials said no other shelter animals have been infected. For the time being, officials are urging New York City residents to not drop off cats at the Animal Care Centers of NYC shelters.

http://m.medicalxpress.com/news/2016-12-bird-flu-strain-cat-human.html

A pair of new studies links childhood cat ownership and infection with the parasite Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii) with later onset schizophrenia and other mental illness. Researchers published their findings in the online Schizophrenia Research and Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica.

In the Schizophrenia Research study, investigators compared two previous studies that suggested childhood cat ownership could be a possible risk factor for schizophrenia or another serious mental illness with a third, even earlier survey on mental health to see if the finding could be replicated.

“The results were the same,” researchers reported, “suggesting that cat ownership in childhood is significantly more common in families in which the child later becomes seriously mentally ill.”

If accurate, the researchers expect the culprit to be infection with T. gondii, a parasite commonly carried by cats. At this point, though, they are urging others to conduct further studies to clarify the apparent link between cat ownership and schizophrenia.

The Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica study was a meta-analysis of 50 previously published studies to investigate the prevalence of t. gondii infection in people diagnosed with psychiatric disorders compared with healthy controls.

In cases of schizophrenia, researchers said evidence of an association with T. gondii was “overwhelming,” CBS News reported. Specifically, people infected with T. gondii were nearly twice as likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia as people never infected with the parasite, according to the report.

The meta-analysis also suggested associations between T. gondii infection and bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and addiction. No association, however, was found for major depression.

—Jolynn Tumolo

References

1. Fuller Torrey E, Simmons W, Yolken RH. Is childhood cat ownership a risk factor for schizophrenia later in life? Schizophrenia Research. 2015 April 18. [Epub ahead of print].

2. Sutterland AL, Fond G, Kuin A, et al. Beyond the association. Toxoplasma gondii in schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and addiction: systematic review and meta-analysis. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica. 2015 April 15. [Epub ahead of print].

http://www.psychcongress.com/article/studies-link-cat-ownership-schizophrenia-other-mental-illness


Infection with the common parasite Toxoplasma gondii promotes accumulation of a neurotransmitter in the brain called glutamate, triggering neurodegenerative diseases in individuals predisposed to such conditions.

Written by Honor Whiteman

This is the finding of a new study conducted by researchers from the University of California-Riverside (UC-Riverside), recently published in PLOS Pathogens.

T. gondii is a single-celled parasite that can cause a disease known as toxoplasmosis.

Infection with the parasite most commonly occurs through eating undercooked, contaminated meat or drinking contaminated water.

It may also occur through accidentally swallowing the parasite after coming into contact with cat feces – by cleaning a litter tray, for example.

Though more than 60 million people in the United States are believed to be infected with T. gondii, few people become ill from it; a healthy immune system can normally stave it off.

As such, most people who become infected with the parasite are unaware of it.

Those who do become ill from T. gondii infection may experience flu-like symptoms – such as swollen lymph glands or muscle aches – that last for at least a month.

In severe cases, toxoplasmosis can cause damage to the eyes, brain, and other organs, though such complications usually only arise in people with weakened immune systems.

The new study, however, suggests there may be another dark side to T. gondii infection: it may lead to development of neurodegenerative disease in people who are predisposed to it.

To reach their findings, lead author Emma Wilson – an associate professor in the Division of Biomedical Sciences at the UC-Riverside School of Medicine – and colleagues focused on how T. gondii infection in mice affects glutamate production

How a build-up of glutamate can damage the brain

Glutamate is an amino acid released by nerve cells, or neurons. It is one of the brain’s most abundant excitatory neurotransmitters, aiding communication between neurons.

However, previous studies have shown that too much glutamate may cause harm; a build-up of glutamate is often found in individuals with traumatic brain injury (TBI) and people with certain neurodegenerative diseases, such as multiple sclerosis (MS) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

The researchers explain that excess glutamate accumulates outside of neurons, and this build-up is regulated by astrocytes – cells in the central nervous system (CNS).

Astrocytes use a glutamate transporter called GLT-1 in an attempt to remove excess glutamate from outside of neurons and convert it into a less harmful substance called glutamine, which cells use for energy.

“When a neuron fires, it releases glutamate into the space between itself and a nearby neuron,” explains Wilson. “The nearby neuron detects this glutamate, which triggers a firing of the neuron. If the glutamate isn’t cleared by GLT-1 then the neurons can’t fire properly the next time and they start to die.”


T. gondii increases glutamate by inhibiting GLT-1

n mice infected with T. gondii, the researchers identified an increase in glutamate levels.

They found that the parasite causes astrocytes to swell, which impairs their ability to regulate glutamate accumulation outside of neurons.

Furthermore, the parasite prevents GLT-1 from being properly expressed, which causes an accumulation of glutamate and misfiring of neurons. This may lead to neuronal death, and ultimately, neurodegenerative disease.

“These results suggest that in contrast to assuming chronic Toxoplasma infection as quiescent and benign, we should be aware of the potential risk to normal neurological pathways and changes in brain chemistry.” – Emma Wilson

Next, the researchers gave the infected mice an antibiotic called ceftriaxone, which has shown benefits in mouse models of ALS and a variety of CNS injuries.

They found the antibiotic increased expression of GLT-1, which led to a reduction in glutamate build-up and restored neuronal function.

Wilson says their study represents the first time that T. gondii has been shown to directly disrupt a key neurotransmitter in the brain.

“More direct and mechanistic research needs to be performed to understand the realities of this very common pathogen,” she adds.

While their findings indicate a link between T. gondii infection and neurodegenerative disease, Wilson says they should not be cause for panic.

“We have been living with this parasite for a long time,” she says. “It does not want to kill its host and lose its home. The best way to prevent infection is to cook your meat and wash your hands and vegetables. And if you are pregnant, don’t change the cat litter.”

The team now plans to further investigate what causes the reduced expression of GLT-1 in T. gondii infection.

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/310865.php

If you’ve ever watched a cat lick itself or another cat and thought, “I wish I could lick that cat, too,” there’s a Kickstarter project just for you.

LICKI is a silicone brush shaped like a giant tongue that will supposedly allow you to bond with your cat by licking it.

“Cats groom each other as a form of social bonding,” the Kickstarter page from Jason O’Mara of PDX Pet Design stated. “There’s also evidence to suggest that cats view and treat their human captors as large cats. As a human, you’re left out of the intimate licking ritual. At best, you have a one-sided licking relationship with your cat.”

In theory, the LICKI would help the affection run both ways, no actual cat-licking necessary. On the other hand, it does look pretty weird.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/lick-your-cat-licki_us_574d21abe4b055bb1172936f

Two studies published in the journals Schizophrenia Research and Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica attribute this association to Toxoplasma gondii – a parasite found in the intestines of cats. Humans can become infected with the parasite by accidentally swallowing it after coming into contact with the animal’s feces.

T. gondii is the cause of a disease known as toxoplasmosis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 60 million people in the US are infected with the parasite, though the majority of people are not aware of it.

People with a healthy immune system often stave off T. gondii infection, so it does not present any symptoms. However, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to infection and may experience flu-like symptoms – such as muscle aches and pains and swollen lymph nodes – as a result, while more severe infection may cause blindness and even death.

Previous studies have also linked T. gondii infection to greater risk of mental disorders. In November 2014, for example, Medical News Today reported on a study claiming the parasite is responsible for around a fifth of schizophrenia cases. Now, new research provides further evidence of this association.

T. gondii infection ‘may double schizophrenia risk’

For one study, Dr. Robert H. Yolken, of the Stanley Laboratory of Developmental Neurovirology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, MD, and colleagues assessed the results of two previous studies.

These studies had identified a link between cat ownership in childhood and development of later-life schizophrenia and other mental disorders, comparing them with the results of a 1982 National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) questionnaire.

The NAMI questionnaire – conducted around a decade before any data was published on cat ownership and mental illness – revealed that around 50% of individuals who had a cat as a family pet during childhood were diagnosed with schizophrenia or other mental illnesses later in life, compared with 42% who did not have a cat during childhood.

The questionnaire, the researchers say, produced similar results to those of the two previous studies, suggesting that “cat ownership in childhood is significantly more common in families in which the child later becomes seriously mentally ill.”

“If true,” the authors add, “an explanatory mechanism may be T. gondii. We urge our colleagues to try and replicate these findings to clarify whether childhood cat ownership is truly a risk factor for later schizophrenia.”

In another study, A. L. Sutterland, of the Academic Medical Centre in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and colleagues conducted a meta-analysis of more than 50 studies that established a link between T. gondii and increased risk of schizophrenia.

They found that people infected with T. gondii are at more than double the risk of developing schizophrenia than those not infected with the parasite.

The team also identified a link between T. gondii infection and greater risk of bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and addiction.

“These findings suggest that T. gondii infection is associated with several psychiatric disorders and that in schizophrenia, reactivation of latent T. gondii infection may occur,” note the authors.

The CDC recommend changing a cat’s litter box every day to reduce the risk of T. gondii infection, noting that the parasite does not become infectious until 1-5 days after it has been shed in the animal’s feces.

They also recommend feeding cats only canned or dried commercial foods or well-cooked meats; feeding them raw or undercooked meats can increase the presence of T. gondii in a cat’s feces.

It is important to note that cat feces are not the only source of T. gondii infection. Humans can contract the parasite through consuming undercooked or contaminated meats and by drinking contaminated water.

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/295012.php