Spinal Cord Stem Cell Therapy Success!

This is wonderful news.  From Patrick Cox, via John Mauldin:

USC neuroscientists just announced truly historic news about BioTime’s (BTX) (*see disclosure below) stem cell platform. For the first time, a quadriplegic patient with complete injury to the spinal cord has substantially recovered.

I’ve told you this was coming, but I wanted to get more information to you today as news of this long-awaited breakthrough in neurobiology spreads through the media. In fact, the news is even better than the information released by the Keck Medical Center of USC would indicate… and you should understand why.

A press release of this nature must follow strict conventions enforced by the SEC and FDA as well as traditional scientific guidelines. For example, the news release describes this spinal cord treatment, an injection of stem cells into the area of spinal cord injury, as “a procedure that may improve neurological function.” Watch the following video, however, and the only reasonable conclusion you can make is that the procedure has already done that.

Watch the entire B-roll video that USC has made available to the media. B-roll video isn’t edited as a story, of course. Rather, it’s meant to supply short video snippets for reporters. Nevertheless, most of this material is worth watching as it provides more information than is available in the extremely reserved press release, which is available here.

Note that Charles Liu, MD, PhD, says that this procedure should change the way that scientists and doctors think about spinal cord injury, making it possible to aim for full functional recovery for the first time.

The part of the B-roll that really gets me is seeing Kris Boesen, the 21-year-old man who received the treatment, wipe tears from his eyes while expressing his gratitude toward the scientists who made it possible. Prior to receiving BioTime’s stem cell therapy, Boesen was completely paralyzed from the neck down and couldn’t even lift his hands to his face.

Note also that Boesen mentions that his recovery is ongoing—from the top of the spine downward. We don’t yet know if he will regain use of his lower body, but he reports positive indications.

The critical part of this story that is entirely left out of the press release, however, is that the patient would have made a far better recovery if he had been treated promptly. Boesen was injured on March 6 but could only communicate his desire to participate in the clinical trial through head movements. He had to undergo assisted breathing therapy before he could give verbal consent.

That means that about a month of serious scarification took place before 10 million AST-OPC1 cells were injected into Boesen’s cervical spine. Scarring is the enemy of nerve reattachment and the reason that this procedure is only being administered to patients who have recently suffered spinal cord injuries.

Nevertheless, those stem cells managed to sort out and self-assemble, connecting severed nerves correctly from the upper and lower sides of the injury. This is the true power of regenerative medicine. It doesn’t rely on the surgeon’s skill. It’s the patient’s genome and the biological wisdom inherent in pluripotent stem cells that affect the cure.


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China and the “internet of cars”

From Zachs Investment Management:

The Internet of Vehicles (IoV) just might be the next milestone in the tech zeitgeist, with designs to integrate vehicle-to-vehicle, vehicle-to-roads, vehicle-to-human and vehicle-to-sensor mobile interactions. The internet-based technology is expected to equip vehicle users with better and easier-to-use navigation, road safety and location sharing tools along with other functionalities of their smartphones including entertainment apps, web browsing and (hands free) calls. Sounds like something that should be coming from Silicon Valley, but in actuality it is China that could be emerging as one of the biggest forces at its forefront.

Currently ranking as the largest market for automobiles—with 24.6 million units sold in 2015—along with having the highest number of internet users in the world, China is ripe for securing a hefty slice of the IoV revolution. And it’s already well underway.

Already, several Chinese internet/technology companies have embarked on clinching deals with the biggest automobile firms in the world. Chinese internet behemoth Baidu has managed to get automakers including Hyundai, BMW, Mercedes, Ford, Audi and Volkswagen to install its ‘CarLife’ in their units sold in China. The search engine company also teamed up with an insurer for a usage-based auto insurance project.

In 2014, Alibaba purchased Chinese interactive mapping and navigation firm Autonavi for $1.5 billion, and is looking forward to joining hands with Chinese automaker SAIC. Also, Audi has revealed plans of incorporating Chinese internet company Tencent’s WeChat app into its vehicles to allow location sharing. French automobile maker PSA Peugeot-Citroen will reportedly collaborate with Alibaba for wi-fi features in their cars sold in China, and is also planning to install apps to detect gas usage and vehicle location.

The “connected vehicle” market also spells ample opportunity for mobile service providers. Connectivity features in cars could require more data usage and faster internet speed—meaning more revenue-earning avenues would be available for internet/cellular service providers. To cash-in on this promising market, China Mobile and Deutsche Telecom partnered in October 2014 to provide 4G-based vehicle information services to connected drivers.

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Elon Musk Master Plan, Part Deux

Read the whole thing, here:  https://www.tesla.com/blog/master-plan-part-deux

And here’s the best part:

What really matters to accelerate a sustainable future is being able to scale up production volume as quickly as possible. That is why Tesla engineering has transitioned to focus heavily on designing the machine that makes the machine — turning the factory itself into a product. A first principles physics analysis of automotive production suggests that somewhere between a 5 to 10 fold improvement is achievable by version 3 on a roughly 2 year iteration cycle. The first Model 3 factory machine should be thought of as version 0.5, with version 1.0 probably in 2018.

In addition to consumer vehicles, there are two other types of electric vehicle needed: heavy-duty trucks and high passenger-density urban transport. Both are in the early stages of development at Tesla and should be ready for unveiling next year. We believe the Tesla Semi will deliver a substantial reduction in the cost of cargo transport, while increasing safety and making it really fun to operate.

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Improvements in dental fillings

It’s about time!

From iflscience:

Every year, dentists fill millions of cavities from teeth that have decayed. Ordinarily, this does its job in protecting the inner pulp from harm, but in around 10 percent of cases they fail. This requires the dentist to perform a root canal and completely remove all the infected tissue from the center of the tooth. But what if there was a way in which to encourage the tooth to repair itself?

Well that is exactly what researchers at the University of Nottingham and Harvard University are trying to achieve. They have developed a new biomaterial that they say allows the damaged pulp to regenerate a protective layer of dentin. This should help the tooth prevent infection of the site, and make for more integrated and long-term fillings, causing a significant shift in the way that dental cavities are treated.

Read the whole article for more details.

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video games suck

Wow, just wow.  From Marginal Revolution:

Here is Erik Hurst, from an excellent piece profiling Erik Hurst:

Right now, I’m gathering facts about the possible mechanisms at play, beginning with a hard look at time-use by young men with less than a four-year degree. In the 2000s, employment rates for this group dropped sharply – more than in any other group. We have determined that, in general, they are not going back to school or switching careers, so what are they doing with their time? The hours that they are not working have been replaced almost one for one with leisure time. Seventy-five percent of this new leisure time falls into one category: video games. The average low-skilled, unemployed man in this group plays video games an average of 12, and sometimes upwards of 30 hours per week. This change marks a relatively major shift that makes me question its effect on their attachment to the labor market.

To answer that question, I researched what fraction of these unemployed gamers from 2000 were also idle the previous year. A staggering 22% – almost one quarter – of unemployed young men did not work the previous year either. These individuals are living with parents or relatives, and happiness surveys actually indicate that they quite content compared to their peers, making it hard to argue that some sort of constraint, like they are miserable because they can’t find a job, is causing them to play video games.

This problem, if that is the right word for it, will not be easily solved.

The post What are young men doing? appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

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Bryan Caplan

From his notes on visiting Europe:

When I taught my German students Kuran and Sunstein’s availability cascades model, I used terrorism as a prime example.  Over a thousand people are murdered on Earth on an average day.  Every death is a tragedy, but there’s no good reason to treat the small minority of terrorist murders as disproportionately important or revealing, except in the trivial sense than countries overreact to terrorism.  I know this is an unpopular view, especially after a major attack, but I love numeracy more than popularity.

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Socially Responsible Investing

The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment (US SIF) estimates that over 18% of professionally managed assets are invested with socially responsible goals in mind, and that number is growing.

What does socially responsible investing mean, and how can you meet your fiduciary duty of choosing the best investment while also considering non-financial goals?

The first step is to identify what criteria are important to your client.  SRI comprises environmental goals, social goals (like diversity, human rights, and community investing), corporate governance issues (including executive pay), and product related criteria (such as avoiding alcohol or weapons).

Morningstar calls this ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) and this year released a new sustainability rating system similar to their 5 star rating system.  The new rating system is applied to any fund with adequate data for them to rate, and includes quantitative and qualitative evaluations.  They have published a description of the methodology which can be found on the Morningstar website.  Currently, of 106,311 open end funds listed on Morningstar, 40,575 have received sustainability ratings.  5,479 of 14,361 listed ETFs have recieved ratings.  The rating is based on data from Susatinalytics, which evaluates over 10,000 individual companies.

There are over 200 mutual funds that are advertised as having SRI/ESG goals.  US SIF maintains a spreadsheet of these mutual funds that includes detailed information on the goals and methods used by the mutual funds, and also the performance information, which is supplied by Bloomberg ESG Data Service, which evaluates over 10,500 companies for this criteria.  http://charts.ussif.org/mfpc/

ETF.com includes a filter for “principles-based” investing.  As of this writing, there are 23 ETFs that self identify in this way.

Obviously, this leads to many questions into the ESG ratings data and accuracy.  Global Initiative for Sustainability Ratings is an organization attempting to improve the information that is available.  Their website includes a kind of “rating-the-raters” information hub, http://ratesustainability.org/core/hub/ .  This includes data on 215 ratings, rankings, and indexes.

Additionally, performance still matters.  According to Deutsche Bank (https://institutional.deutscheawm.com/content/_media/Sustainable_Investing_2012.pdf), socially responsible investing may actually improve returns.   From CNBC:

David Kathman, a mutual fund analyst with Morningstar, said that based on numerous academic studies, the general consensus is that “there will be good times when a social screening will hurt you and times when it will help you, but over time it doesn’t make a difference.  It’s neutral,” he said. “Basically, a free good.”

Larry Swedroe has found studies reaching the opposite conclusion; SRI in fact imposes opportunity costs, depending on how it is implemented.

These results all indicate that there is a financial price to pay for choosing the SRI route, and it comes in the form of reduced risk-adjusted returns and less efficient diversification. However, it’s worthwhile to recognize that, for some investors, such financial consequences are not very important, or might not play a role at all. For them, their values have greater importance than maximizing risk-adjusted returns. It’s a very personal decision as to whether values or returns should drive investment.

Socially responsible investing cannot be a single checklist item, and it is currently not a simple task to identify investments that meet specific requirements.  Investor principles and monetary goals as well as the ratings themselves must all be considered


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