Russia sends its first shipment of S-400 systems to China.

Image Credit: Vitaliy Nevar/TASS

The delivery of the S-400 systems from Russia to China has begun. The contract was incepted in November 2014 and will include the delivery of a control station, radar station, support equipment, spare parts and all the necessary tools for the S-400 system. The contract will not involve and technology transfer or licensed production.

China is the first country to buy the S-400 systems, while the second country is Turkey. The latter signed the contract for the purchase of the S-400 systems on September 12, 2017.

The S-400 Triumf SAM system also known by NATO as SA-21 Growler, was developed in the 1990s as an upgrade to the S-300 systems. It utilizes 4 missiles which vary from the very long range 40N6 missile (400km) to the short range 9M96E2 missile (40km). Each system costs ­$400 million and around 69 have been produced so far. Source: CSIS.

ISIS getting stronger in Afghanistan?

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ISIS or Daesh is a jihadist militant group which originated in Iraq in 1999.  In 2013, they started to capture several cities in Iraq and Syria until it managed to capture Mosul in June 2014, and then established itself as a caliphate. The terrorist organization controlled huge swathes of land in both Iraq and Syria, and also started to use its own currency while  imposing Sharia law.  In September 2015, Russia on the request of the Syrian government started conducting airstrikes from Khmeimim airbase while  United States army and the alliance were also conducting air strikes in Iraq.  This marked a change in ISIS’s luck when it started to lose territory very fast.  On 21st November 2017, Russia’s president Vladimir Putin, declared victory over ISIS in Syria. US officials reported that 98% of the territory once claimed by ISIS has been recaptured.

There have been reports that ISIS troops are now moving to Afghanistan mostly in Nangarhar’s Province, where the US military dropped the ‘mother of all bombs in April 2017. Recently, ISIS claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on a Shia cultural centre in Kabul. There also have been reports of clashes between ISIS and the local terrorist group, the Taliban, which controls huge swathes of land. The instability in Afghanistan, and its inability to get rid of the local terrorist groups might have made it an attractive place for ISIS to form their new home. The United States army have started the withdrawal of some of its forces in Iraq and planned to start moving more soldiers to Afghanistan.  At the moment around 14,000 US troops are stationed in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the US is more committed to eliminate the Taliban, which it has been fighting since 2001. According to Zamir Kabulov, head of the Middle East department in the Russian foreign ministry, many ISIS fighters have managed to move from Iraq and Syria to Afghanistan, where there may be around 10,000 fighters. If this is true, could ISIS try to take over and control huge swathes of land in Afghanistan? Hopefully they cannot.

Researchers discover that brain implants were not working by relying solely on neurons.

Image Credit: Illustration courtesy of Mohammad Reza Abidian.

A group of researchers from Michigan State University, University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering and Mayo Clinic claim that brain implants may require more than just neurons to function. The research, published in Nature Biomedical Engineering, has revealed that is also important to target glial cells too.

Brain implants work by stimulating the nervous system by targeted electrical stimulation. This will allow the implant to interfere with the abnormal brain activity, making it closer to normal. These are several types of brain implants such as cochlear implants (used for hearing-impaired people) and retinal implants. One of the most common implant nowadays is used for treating Parkinson’s disease (A neurodegenerative disorder that mostly affects the dopamine-producing neurons). The ‘deep brain stimulation’ by the implants does not treat the condition but reduces or eliminate the tremors and rigid movement associated with the condition. This type of stimulation is also known to reduce symptoms of another condition -obsessive compulsive disorder. Trials are underway to test ‘deep brain stimulation’ for treatment of other disorders. 

A neuron cell is the basic working unit of the nervous system. It’s function is to receive and send electrical messages. Around 100 billion neurons are present in the human brain and these are surrounded by what is known as glial cells which are known to be the most numerous cells in the central nervous system. These provide support as well as insulation between them. They have an important role in forming scar tissue preventing the spread of the injury. 

Takashi Kozai, the assistant professor of bio-engineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering said, “From providing growth factor support and ensuring proper oxygen and nutrient delivery to the brain to trimming of obsolete synapses and recycling waste products, recent findings show that glial cells do much more to ensure brain activity is optimized.” The weak signals from glial cells are much more difficult to detect than the strong electrical activity of the neurons. With the help of new technology researchers will be able to detect glial cell activity better. this is important as Kozai claims that “Dysfunction in glial cells has been implicated as a cause and/or major contributor to an increasing number of neurological and developmental diseases. Therefore, it stands to reason that targeting these glial cells (in lieu of or in combination with neurons) may dramatically improve current treatments.”

University students among those arrested in Iran.

Image Credit: Ben Stansall/AFP

Protests in Iran which erupted on December 28th over economic problems, have died down. These protests resulted in at least 20 deaths and thousands of arrests. Among those arrested are 90 university students, who according to Mahmoud Sadegh, an Iranian Lawyer who spoke on Iranian Students’ News Agency, are innocent.

The vice president of Tehran University, said that a committee has been formed specifically to find the arrested students.  According to Farid Mousavi, an Iranian politician, the arrests were a preventive measure and the students will be soon released.

A skin patch that prevents weight gain.

Image Credit: NTU Singapore

Christmas is over for most. If you do like food, than most probably you would have over-indulged during this season. For this reason, many would be trying to shed their newly gained fat, while some make it as a New Year’s resolution to get fitter then the previous year. Regardless of the reason, it is always good to lose weight provided that it is lost at a steady pace. Losing weight too fast can be harmful to your body and therefore refrain from trying to do so. Eating real food (vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds dairy and lean meats) and exercising regularly is the key to a healthy weight loss. So far, this is the safest way to lose weight until recently- a group of researchers from Nayang Technological University, published a study where a simple skin patch reduced weight gain and fat mass over a period of 4 weeks in mice fed a high fat diet.

The co-author of the study, Chenjie Xu, from the school of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering at NTU Singapore, and his colleagues, claimed that one day their skin patch could be used as a non-invasive strategy for both the treatment and prevention of obesity. Obesity is an ever growing problem in developed countries. In Europe, around 17% of adults are obese while in the US it is a staggering 33%. Obese people are at risk of having type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke and some forms of cancer.

The skin patch consists of hundreds of microneedles which are loaded with either Beta-3 adrenergic receptor agonist (used to treat an overactive bladder) or thyroid hormone T3 triiodothyronine (which is used to treat an underactive thyroid gland). Both of these drugs have shown to be effective in turning the white fat (bad fat- it stores the excess calorie consumed) into the energy-burning brown fat (often referred to as the good fat since it burns calories that are consumed to generate heat).

The skin patch when pressed onto the mouse’s body, releases the microneedles which break off and get embedded in the skin. They will then dissolve and release the drugs slowly into the white fat converting it to brown fat.

‘With the embedded microneedles in the skin of the mice, the surrounding fats started browning in five days, which helped to increase the energy expenditure of the mice, leading to a reduction in body fat gain.’- Prof. Xu Chenjie.

Their research paper has been published in the journal Small Methods.


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