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First human stem cell test begins

Posted by arnon_k On October - 12 - 2010 ADD COMMENTS

Doctors have started a landmark clinical trial to use embryonic human stem cells to treat a man’s spinal injury.

Doctors at a special spinal cord and brain injury clinic in the United States have begun treating the first person admitted into a landmark clinical trial to study the use of embryonic human stem cells to cure serious diseases and repair devastating injuries.

The man, whose personal information is being kept confidential, was enrolled at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Georgia, on Monday, according to a press release from the Geron Corporation, which won approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2009 to begin the trial.

The Phase I trial, as it is called, will involve only eight patients and is not meant to see if the stem cells “cure” the volunteers, only that they do no harm.

The use of embryonic stem cells from unborn fetuses is controversial, especially in the United States, where it has prompted lawsuits against the government. Opponents, notably religious conservatives, believe it is unethical to use the genetic material of unborn children.

Enrollment period will last months

All eight patients in the Phase I trial will have suffered some kind of injury to their spinal cord, said Dr. Richard Fessler, a Northwestern University professor, who is leading the study.

The injury must fulfill certain criteria: The spine can be crushed but not severed, and the patient must not have an infection or a history of cancer. Patients will be provided with an independent advocate to ensure they are not pressured into making decisions. But potential volunteers have only two weeks – or 11 days once a period of “preoperative testing” is subtracted – to make their decision, Fessler said.

Since doctors will spend a month observing each patient after they are admitted before allowing a new volunteer into the study, the enrollment period will last at least eight months, he said. After that, Fessler said, doctors will not know for months whether patients are experiencing any kind of improvement in the use of motor skills or senses or bladder control.

Trumpeting of new study ‘irresponsible’

Dr. David Prentice, a senior fellow for Life Sciences at the conservative Family Research Council, a Christian advocacy group, told ABC News that Geron Corp. is “irresponsible” for flaunting its trial and that adult stem cells – instead of those from fetuses – have proven effective at treating spinal cord injuries.

Geron Corp. received approval from the FDA to test specific nervous-system cells, called oligodendrocytes, in 2009, but the government paused the trial until this year.

Geron, a publicly traded biotechnology company that has aimed primarily to develop treatments for cancer, is the first of a number of businesses looking for FDA approval to test stem cells on humans. Geron previously tested rats and mice.

The company went public in 1996 and has yet to turn a profit, posting a net loss of roughly $70.4 million in 2009.

UAE, BlackBerry resolve dispute, averting ban

Posted by arnon_k On October - 11 - 2010 4 COMMENTS

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – The United Arab Emirates on Friday backed off a threat to cut key BlackBerry services, just days before a planned ban that could have harmed the country’s business-friendly reputation.

The last-minute decision ended more than two months of brinksmanship with the Canadian company that makes the smart phones, a tool popular both with businesspeople and gadget-loving consumers in this Gulf federation.

The ban on e-mail, messaging and Web services — which the government threatened to impose over security concerns — was due to take effect Monday.

Half a million local users and thousands of BlackBerry-toting business travelers would have been affected. Dubai’s airport, the region’s busiest, handles about 100,000 passengers daily.

“It’s going to come as quite a relief,” said BlackBerry user Matthew Reed, a Dubai-based analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media, a research firm. “It was not at all clear what would happen until right up to the end.”

While a number of countries, including India and Saudi Arabia, have threatened BlackBerry crackdowns in recent months, the UAE’s proposed ban drew widespread attention because of the country’s tough negotiating stance and its role as a highly wired, tech-savvy trade and transportation hub.

The Emirates telecommunications regulator confirmed that a deal had been reached with device maker Research in Motion Ltd. that brought the devices into compliance with local laws.

The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority provided few details, but said “no suspension of service will occur” Monday as previously planned, according to a statement carried by state news agency WAM.

The wording of the announcement suggested the reprieve was permanent.

The TRA acknowledged “the positive engagement and collaboration of Research In Motion (RIM) in reaching this regulatory compliant outcome.” It wasn’t clear what concessions, if any, the Canadian device maker made to avert the ban.

TRA representatives were not available for comment Friday, the start of the local weekend.

RIM declined to comment specifically on the UAE decision.

“RIM cannot discuss the details of confidential regulatory matters that occur in specific countries, but RIM confirms that it continues to approach lawful access matters internationally within the framework of core principles” it has spelled out in the past, the company said in an e-mailed statement.

Shardul Shrimani, a telecoms analyst at IHS Global Insight, said RIM likely gave authorities some limited access to the encryption data they use to safeguard users’ messages or will allow them access to its servers.

“They must have come to some sort of agreement where there’s some limited access,” Shrimani said.

RIM’s co-CEO Jim Balsillie said last month that the company has no way of providing government officials with the text of encrypted corporate e-mails sent on its phones, but that it won’t object if individual companies that use the devices hand over their encryption keys to authorities.

Balsillie said countries that want access to BlackBerry e-mails could theoretically set up a national registry where companies doing business within their borders would have to provide government officials with the ability to peek at encrypted messages.

The consumer version of BlackBerrys carries a lower level of encryption than the ones made for corporate clients. Emirati authorities would likely want the ability to access those phones’ data as well.

Saudi Arabia in August backed down from a threat to block the popular BlackBerry Messenger service after closed-door talks with RIM, resolving for now a dispute over the phones there.

India has also put off plans to block corporate e-mail and messaging services unless RIM makes data more easily available to its intelligence and law enforcement agencies. New Delhi gave the company a 60-day reprieve starting Aug. 31.

Other countries, including Lebanon and Indonesia, have raised BlackBerry concerns but have not announced plans to block service.

UAE BlackBerry users were thrilled that a ban had been averted there Friday.

“We are very happy. It’s a good decision,” said BlackBerry user Jitendra Gianchandani, an accountant who runs a consulting company in the Emirates.

Gianchandani said he had no problem with the government potentially gaining access to BlackBerry data so long as it is trying to protect against unauthorized use and terrorist threats.

But Reed, the telecoms analyst, expects many BlackBerry owners will want more clarity on the terms of the deal.

“RIM’s big corporate clients might be wondering what kind of compromises it might have made,” he said.

The UAE city-state of Dubai hosts the regional headquarters of numerous multinational companies, many of whom ship goods through its hulking seaport, the busiest in the Middle East. The Emirati capital of Abu Dhabi is one of the world’s largest oil producers and an increasingly important source of investment capital.

BlackBerrys are popular because data sent through them is seen as highly secure.

Emirati authorities have raised concerns that the phones’ security features could be misused by terrorists and criminals. The U.S. government and some analysts say those concerns are legitimate.

Free-speech advocates have criticized the crackdown, saying it provides a convenient justification to tighten controls on the flow of information. UAE censors already patrol the Internet, blocking access to pornography and other sites deemed dangerous or offensive.

Shrimani said he was not surprised the Emirates relented in the end.

A service ban “could have had a negative impact on their economy,” he said. “So it really was in their best interest to stand back on this occasion.”

‘A new world of computing’

Posted by arnon_k On October - 8 - 2010 ADD COMMENTS

RIM unveils the PlayBook and promises raft of potential

Research In Motion (RIM), the Canadian maker of BlackBerry, is banking on its form factor tablet device “PlayBook” to retain its corporate leader crown and is offering an aggressive incentive program and tools to attract developers to its platform, as well as new business opportunities to monetise BlackBerry users more effectively.

This means more “Super Apps” will likely be on the way, with applications more deeply integrated with day-to-day life and boasting unique capabilities to enhance the user experience

“This is one of the most exciting times in our history, as we reveal the BlackBerry PlayBook, the world’s first professional tablet,” said Mike Lazaridis, President and co-CEO of RIM, speaking at the BlackBerry Devcon 2010 in San Francisco. “This device provides an uncompromised web and multimedia experience.”

The device is an ultra-mobile, ultra-thin tablet device for both work and play. Measuring less than half an inch thick and weighing less than a pound, it features a 7″ high-resolution display and comes equipped with a 1GHz dual-core processor and the new BlackBerry Tablet OS which supports true symmetric multiprocessing, enabling true multitasking and a highly-responsive touch screen experience for apps and content services.

“Last year, we took all our experience and focused on the new Tablet OS, which will fully support the new WebWorks Platform, the next-generation Java Virtual Machine and open GL, an incredible support platform for game designers and game players,” said Dan Dodge, CEO of QNX Software Systems, a provider of real time operating system software for embedded design which RIM acquired.

With support for Adobe Flash Player 10.1, Mobile AIR and HTML-5, the BlackBerry PlayBook provides users with a rich web experience, enabling them to enjoy sites, games and media on the Internet, while allowing Flash developers to use the same existing tools to produce applications which help to open new and more opportunities for developers and content publishers.

“This will enable a new world of computing that you can hold in the palm of your hand,” said Dodge.

He continued that PlayBook offers an amplified view of the BlackBerry smart phone with its larger screen for full documents and secure Bluetooth connection.

They can also use their tablet and smart phone interchangeably without syncing or duplicating data, which is a particularly useful feature for business users who want to leave their laptop behind.

In the meantime, IT departments can deploy the PlayBook to employees without security and manageability concerns that arise when corporate data is stored on other devices.

“There will be no need for enterprises to adopt new software or new data plans, as [the PlayBook] will feature out-of-the box compatibility with over 250,000 enterprise servers,” said Lazaridis.

The device is expected to be available in the United States early next year, with the international rollout beginning in the second quarter. Support for 3G and 4G will be forthcoming.

Ovum analyst Tim Renowden said the PlayBook looks a strong contender against Apple’s iPad, at least among RIM’s core enterprise customers.

RIM’s dominance of the enterprise smart phone market has come under pressure from Apple and a range of Android competitors, and since the iPad’s launch there has been a lot of discussion about the role of tablet devices in enterprise and the adoption of consumer devices by business users.

“The PlayBook is aimed squarely at enterprise users, but RIM has very deliberately included high-end multimedia and game capabilities to attract consumers – and, of course, business users are also consumers,” said Renowden.

“The PlayBook’s big advantage over the iPad for enterprise customers is that many businesses already have BlackBerry smart phones deployed, and are using the BlackBerry Enterprise Server to manage their connectivity.

“Enterprise IT managers understand the security and device management advantages that BlackBerry has over Apple, and RIM will maintain these advantages with the PlayBook, which is fully compatible with existing BlackBerry services.”

Tyler Lessard, Vice President, Global Alliance and Developer Relations at RIM, told the press briefing that there are various tools to help developers enjoy more flexibility and ease of development as well as expand their potential for monetisation.

Its new BlackBerry WebWorks is a web-based development platform that enables developers to build apps for BlackBerry in HTML-5, CSS and Java Script.

This will help developers build rich, integrated apps in days or even hours using existing skill sets with no Java.

RIM is also working with the open source developer community to access and contribute to the BlackBerry open web application platform and tooling components and share in the evolution of the web platform, as well as co-operating with leading open source JavaScript framework companies DoJo, GitHub, JQuery, Nitobi and Sencha to encourage developers to create web apps with advanced functionality.

The company also provides more tools for developers to achieve monetisation with Payment Service SDK Beta, allowing developers to add payment capabilities to their apps.

This is an Application Programming Interface (APIs) that enables a variety of payment options to make for a more convenient, faster and more secure transaction system when paying for premium and upgraded content.

While RIM will manage all business terms, including relationships with various carriers for billing, the developers will receive a revenue share of 70 percent.

Alongside that, RIM will also partner with Webtrends to launch the free BlackBerry Analytics Service early next year, to help developers gain a deep insight into how customers are using their apps, such as the frequency of use, carrier network, country, screens accessed and features used, so they may evolve their apps in ways that will drive loyalty, increase use, and lead to new revenue streams and increased monetisation.

The company will also provide an advertising service to give developers the ability to display ads in their applications with only a few lines of code.

This should create new monetisation opportunities for BlackBerry developers by simplifying the integration of advertising. Developers will receive 60 percent of the advertising revenue, with the remaining 40 percent going to RIM and the advertising host network.

Sameer Sondhi, Senior Director, Business Development, at xAD Inc, the largest local mobile advertising network in the US, said the increasing number of smart phone users is attracting advertisers, especially in the local search market, in which advertisers can sponsor search results.

The global mobile advertising is a growth market worth $3-4 billion (90.5-120 billion baht) a year and is expected to reach $15 billion (452 billion baht) by 2014.

Lessard continued that BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) will for the first time be open to third-party applications, giving developers the tools to build apps that take advantage of the social aspects of the popular BBM service.

“Access to BBM services, with over 28 million users, from within apps will revolutionise gaming, enhance multimedia experiences, and add a new dimension to location-based applications,” he said.

Christopher Smith, senior director at RIM, added: “The BBM Social Platform will help developers leverage the power of BBM in their own applications through social and community interactions, as well as increase discoverability of their applications through peer communications and referrals and viral marketing through a trusted users network.”

Developers will be able to integrate various functions of the BBM service into their applications, including chat, content sharing and invitations.

For example, users will be able to invite their BBM friends to join them in a game and then chat with while the game is being played.

Martyn Mallick, Senior Director, Business Development Strategic Alliances, at RIM said: “In the next six to 12 months, the company will leverage technology from Cellmania, which its acquired in August, to make its existing AppWorld 2.0 aid not only the ease of discovering applications and the convenience of buying merchandise, but also the system will bundle a marketing promotion package so that users may buy two games and get one free, or one discounted.”

Moreover, until the end of this year, developers can waive the submission fee to AppWorld, which will save them $200 (6,030 baht) per 10 applications.

Currently, there are more than 10,000 applications in AppWorld for a total of more than 35 million downloads.

“In the past 60 days, RIM has put lot of effort into BlackBerry 6.0, such as advertising, analytic and payment services, including its WebWorks platform, new tablet OS and AppWorld, to support the new PlayBook, which will open more multi-platform opportunities to developers,” said Mallick.

Mike Kirkup, RIM’s Director of Development Relations, said the company will promote more and more “Super Apps” which are defined as apps that deliver the most engaging experiences possible, for BlackBerry users and leverage the unique capabilities the BlackBerry platform brings in terms of experience, tight navigation with native apps, a pro-active and notification-driven OS, highly contextualised social aspects and an always-connected system designed for efficiency.

The Super App Challenge is one way to boost this Super App concept, by opening a developers’ competition at regional level across North America, Latin America and the Europe/Middle East/Africa and Asia-Pacific regions.

Four hundred Regional Selections have been announced so far at Devcon, and one winner from each region will be selected next month.

“This is the first time that we have run the challenge at regional level,” said Kirkup.

“We would like to promote the winners as local heroes to make them recognised and to help them market their applications on this platform.”

RIM will also set out on a South East Asia training developer road show to boost interest in creating local applications.

In the past 12 months, 100,000 new app developers have registered with RIM, taking the global total to 300,000.

Facebook lets users form groups and download data

Posted by arnon_k On October - 7 - 2010 ADD COMMENTS

Facebook is letting users form cozy cliques as part of a move to give people more control of their information at the world’s most popular online social network.

A “Groups” feature that lets Facebook members set up private online havens for clusters of family, co-workers, teammates, or others was unveiled Wednesday at the firm’s headquarters in the Californian city of Palo Alto.

Founder Mark Zuckerberg said that the “biggest problem” in online social networking is that people tend to divide their friends into separate circles that they interact with differently, such as co-workers or former school chums.

“Now, people can map out all the real world groups they have in a graph,” Zuckerberg said, referring to “Groups.”

“If we can do this, we can unlock a huge amount of sharing people want to do that they don’t do now because it’s too annoying or the privacy,” he said.

Groups are shared spaces in which people can communicate with tools including email lists and “group chat that is pretty killer,” he added.

“We think that what we have out of the box, version one, blows away everything else,” Zuckerberg said, referring to “groups” services offered by Internet stalwarts such as Yahoo! and Google.

Facebook also began rolling out a feature that will let people download all pictures, video, comments and other digital information they have uploaded to the social networking service.

“Download is really so you can have a copy of all your information,” Zuckerberg said. “You own your information. You should have control over it. You should be able to do whatever you want with it.”

A new “dashboard” feature to be rolled out in the coming days will let Facebook users see and manage what information in their accounts is accessed by third-party applications.

Explaining the new features, Forrester social computing analyst Augie Ray said “the dialogue during the past year that popped up over privacy issues may have caused people in Facebook to get nervous.

“What we are seeing today is a genuine desire to stop those concerns while at the same time really give people better control,” Ray said.

The new features are part of a drive to build Facebook into a “social platform” where people share and connect across the gamut of applications used to swap pictures, messages, videos and more online, according to Zuckerberg.

“We think social can be like the PC (personal computer) platform, giving people control of their information in different contexts,” he said.

“Groups” was built with the help of Hot Potato, a young New York City Internet firm that Facebook bought in August.

Hot Potato about nine months ago launched a social networking service that lets smartphone users “check-in” to let friends know what they are thinking, watching, playing, attending, listening to, or otherwise doing.

“Groups are about how we are living our lives today,” said Hot Potato founder and Facebook Groups leader Justin Shaffer. “We think this is going to change, fundamentally, how you use Facebook today.”

People forming Facebook Groups can make them open, closed, or secret.

Membership and content of open groups is public, while the content of closed groups can only be seen by members. Secret groups hide their membership and contents.

Analyst Rob Enderle of Enderle Group in Silicon Valley doubted that features Facebook started rolling out Wednesday would do much to ameliorate concerns about how safe personal data is in the online community.

“They are approaching a trust issue like you would a technology problem and patching the product,” Enderle said.

“They are turning people into mini data managers,” he continued. “But, if you don’t trust Facebook in the first place, why would you believe your Group is a contained area that Facebook won’t mine?”