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Could This Device End the Use of Animals in Medical Research?

April 24, 2018 in Blogs

By Peggy Cunniff, Independent Media Institute

An “organ-on-a-chip” could represent the greatest potential for non-animal-based scientific advancement in history.

They're about the size of a computer memory stick, yet they could represent the greatest potential for non-animal-based scientific advancement in history. They're called “organs-on-chips”—and they just might change the way researchers model diseases, develop drugs and approach personalized medicine. And in the process, they'll save the lives of countless animals.

Chances are, you've heard about organs-on-chips—at least in passing. These tiny devices have been getting a lot of attention lately, both in the media and within the scientific community. But what are they, exactly?

Organs-on-chips are specially-constructed systems that are designed to replicate the structure and function of human organs. Each “organ” contains transparent channels lined with living human cells. Multiple cell types can be incorporated into these devices to better mimic the complex microenvironments of human organs. The cells can be grown in such a way that enables them to change shape and respond to physical cues in ways that are not possible with traditional cell-based models.

An organ-on-a-chip developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Imperial College London researchers recently published a study in which they found that a liver chip developed by MIT and CN Bio, a British firm, responded to a hepatitis B viral infection just like a real human liver would. (image credit: Felice Frankel/MIT)

Variations of these chips have already been developed and continue to be optimized. Among them are models of the human lung, liver, kidney, gut, bone, brain and heart, among others.

The first organ-on-a-chip to be developed was the lung-on-a-chip, which has lung and blood vessel cells grown on opposite sides of a flexible, porous platform that can expand and contract like a breathing lung. This model has been used to study chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, cancer and even the effects of smoking on bronchial cells.

There's a lot of excitement about organs-on-chips because they offer the potential of making drug development and toxicology testing faster …read more


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Watch Trump Accuser Corrobotate Stormy Daniels' Story in Live Appearance with Prominent Feminist Lawyer

April 23, 2018 in Blogs

By Cody Fenwick, AlterNet

The adult film actor Jessica Drake said she's coming forward now because “women deserve to be heard and believed.”

Jessice Drake, an adult film actor who has accused President Donald Trump of kissing her without her consent and offering her money for sex, came forward in her first live interview Monday to support Stephanie Clifford, better known as Stormy Daniels.

Clifford, who is also an adult film actor, has said she had an affair with the president in 2006, a story that he denies. She also says that she was once threatened by a man she didn't know to keep quiet about the affair. Clifford was later paid $130,000 to sign a nondisclosure agreement about her relationship with Trump ahead of the 2016 election, and she is now suing to be released from that contract.

Drake told MSNBC's Ari Melber that she can corroborate much of Clifford's story. Drake was accompanied by Gloria Allred, a prominent feminist attorney.

“I'm speaking out now not only to support Stormy but because women deserve to be heard and believed,” she said. 

She says she was with Clifford and Trump when the affair first began.

“I was actually present in the room where we were first with Donald, in the hotel room, in Lake Tahoe,” she said. Clifford kept Drake up to date about her relationship with Trump, she said. She also said that Clifford later told her multiple times about the threat she received.

In addition, Drake said that the president kissed her without her consent and said he would pay her $10,000 to come up to his room, which she assumed was a request for sex.

Melber noted that this would contradict the president's own words, as recorded by former FBI Director James Comey, that he would never pay for sex. Separately, a dossier compiled by a former British intelligence agent says that Trump was recorded by the Russians engaging with prostitutes at a hotel in Moscow, a recording which the Kremlin has allegedly used to blackmail Trump.

Watch the clip below:

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Robert Reich Takes American CEOs to Task for Their 'Shameful Silence' on Trump

April 23, 2018 in Blogs

By Robert Reich,

Corporate leaders are ignoring a basic civic duty.

Congressional Republicans would be more willing to stand up to Trump if their major financial backers – big business and Wall Street – had more backbone.

Ever since 1971, when the then-future Supreme Court justice Lewis Powell urged corporations to mobilize politically, corporate money has flooded Washington – most of it into Republican coffers.

Today, big corporations and Wall Street essentially own the Republican Party. In the 2016 campaign cycle, they contributed $34 to candidates from both parties for every $1 donated by labor unions and all public interest organizations combined.

They donate far more to Republicans than do extremists like the Koch brothers, and have far more influence over the GOP than does the Tea Party.

Which means the CEOs of America’s largest firms have the power to constrain the most dangerous, divisive, and anti-democratic president ever to occupy the Oval Office.

So why don’t they? What explains their silence?

Consider Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase, the largest bank in the United States. Dimon also chairs the Business Roundtable – the most influential confab of major CEOs in America, founded in 1972, just after Powell urged CEOs to mobilize.

Dimon has gone out of his way not to criticize the mad king. While he “strongly disagreed” with Trump’s equating white supremacists to protesters in Charlottesville last summer, he also counseled “not to expect smooth sailing” in the first year of a new administration.

Now well into Trump’s second year, with the sailing more treacherous than ever – Trump has fired most of the adults around him and grown even more erratic and unhinged – Dimon is even more conciliatory.

Asked last week how Trump is doing, Dimon gushed.“Regulatory stuff, good.” The potential summit with North Korea, a “great idea.” He regrets his 2017 prediction that Trump would be a one-term president, telling Fox Business  ”I wish I hadn’t said it, I was talking probabilistically.”

Dimon’s reluctance to criticize Trump is particularly curious given Dimon’s public laments about widening inequality, the explosion of student debt, America’s growing racial divide, the failure of inner-city schools, and the expenditure …read more


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Florida Student Hasn't Faced Disciplinary Action After Posting Horrifying Racist Prom Proposal on Snapchat

April 23, 2018 in Blogs

By Dominique Jackson, Raw Story

Members of the community are demanding more action.

A Riverview High school student in Florida is under investigation after posting a racist prom proposal, according to the Herald Tribune.

The photo was created by 18-year-old Noah Crowley, who posted the photo to Snapchat.

The sign read: “If I was black, I’d be picking cotton, but I’m white, so I’m picking u 4 prom.”

The photo quickly made it’s way to Twitter where several users bashed Crowley for being racially insensitive.

Riverview acting principal Kathy Wilks said: ″ [The post] was racial in nature and administration became aware of it last night. Many who saw the post are understandably upset with its contents as well as the subsequent commentary to the post. Riverview High School absolutely does not condone or support the message conveyed in this post.”

Wilks continued: “We are focused on ensuring that Riverview High School provides a safe and secure environment for all of our students and that all students feel welcome and understand the value that they all bring to our school community. Our guidance counselors and administrators are available for any student who wish to speak to someone regarding the issue. Riverview High School has a wonderful student population and we know our school will use this incident as an opportunity to have productive conversations about respect for one …read more


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White House Secretly Suggests the EPA's Scott Pruitt May Be on His Way Out: Report

April 23, 2018 in Blogs

By Cody Fenwick, AlterNet

The EPA administrator has faced an onslaught of allegations of corrupt behavior.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has enjoyed continued support from the White House despite a deluge of allegations of corruption, but President Donald Trump's protection of the Cabinet official may soon be coming to an end.

According to a report Monday from Bloomberg, the White House has begun signaling to Republican lawmakers behind closed doors that they shouldn't defend Pruitt too vigorously. Pruitt's pro-industry bent and critical eye toward regulation has won him favor among most conservative politicians, many of whom came to his defense when news reports found that he had received a sweetheart real estate deal from a lobbyist's wife, spent government funds excessively on his travel and on a sound-proof booth, and used a legal loophole to give his aides unapproved raises.

But as more allegations of misdeeds pile up, including some that stretch back to his time in Oklahoma, it appears the White House and other Republicans are getting ready to say goodbye to Pruitt.

Lawmakers who had defended him have started to sing a different tune, Bloomberg notes, and while the president himself had vocally supported Pruitt, that was before a Government Accountability Office report found that the administrator's $43,000 soundproof booth violated the law.

On Monday, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders' statement about Pruitt was hardly a ringing endorsement.

“Administrator Pruitt has done a good job of implementing the President's policies, particularly on deregulation; making the United States less energy-dependent and becoming more energy independent,” she said. “Those are good things. However, the other things certainly are something that we're monitoring and looking at and I'll keep you posted.”

With Pruitt's potential replacement, Deputy Administrator Andrew Wheeler, recently approved by the Senate, Trump may soon decide that the administrator is expendable.


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Trump Flips Out on NBC's Chuck Todd for Exposing 'Art of the Deal' President as a Lousy Negotiator

April 22, 2018 in Blogs

By David Badash, The New Civil Rights Movement

Trump positioned himself as the “Art of the Deal” author who is a great businessman and great negotiator. All of that has been proven false.

President Donald Trump kicked off Sunday morning with a pair of tweets, including one attacking NBC News' “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd. The president's tweet exposes once again the fact that he has over-sold his negotiating skills.

Trump positioned himself as the “Art of the Deal” author who is a great businessman and great negotiator. All of that has been proven false, with his stunning inability to pass almost all of the key legislation he wanted.

On Sunday, he revealed just how incompetent he is.

“Sleepy Eyes Chuck Todd of Fake News NBC just stated that we have given up so much in our negotiations with North Korea, and they have given up nothing,” Trump tweeted. “Wow, we haven’t given up anything & they have agreed to denuclearization (so great for World), site closure, & no more testing!”

Here's the clip of Chuck Todd Trump refers to:

It's disturbing Trump does not realize all he's given up to the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

First, he's given Kim what he craves the most: legitimacy. Trump has done this by agreeing to meet he with no planning, negotiating, or pre-conditions.

Second, he has given Kim the attention he craves, by repeatedly attacking him as “Little Rocket Man” and repeatedly threatening him. Those threats are exactly what Kim needed politically to legitimize the “need” for his nuclear program.

Third, Trump has become Kim's mouthpiece, literally quoting him in …read more


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Are Psychedelics the Answer to Addiction and Depression?

April 22, 2018 in Blogs

By Johann Hari, Salon

A new generation of research into psilocybin could change how we treat numerous mental health conditions

Roland Griffiths was trying to meditate – but he couldn’t do it. If he sat there for a few minutes, it felt as through hours were stretching out before him, like a long, slow torture. So he quit. This tall, thin young scientist, who was rapidly rising through the ranks of academic psychology, would not meditate again for twenty years — but when he returned to mindfulness, he became part of unlocking something crucial. Professor Griffiths was going to make a breakthrough — just not for himself, but for all of us.

I came to Roland Griffiths’ door towards the end of a 40,000-mile journey, from Sydney to Sao Paulo to San Francisco. I set out on this trek to interview the world’s leading experts on what causes depression and anxiety, and what really solves them, because I had been downcast and acutely anxious for much of my life, and the solutions I had been offered up to then hadn’t taken me very far.

Everywhere I went for my book “Lost Connections: Uncovering The Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions,” I heard people talking excitedly about the new research into psychedelics that was slowly creaking open. Until the mid-1960s, many reputable scientists had set up clinical trials where they gave these drugs — either plants or synthetic chemicals which induce an altered mental state – to people suffering from depression, alcoholism, and other problems. They had some quite striking early findings – and then, in a cultural panic, the research was slammed shut by the Nixon administration.

And then came Roland Griffiths.

* * *

Professor Griffiths had been a young grad student when he walked away from his attempts at meditation, pissed off. As the years passed, he rose to become a leading Professor of Psychology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Maryland, one of the best academic institutions in the world. He rose, he says, by being “certifiably workaholic,” or “pretty close to it.” He became the leading …read more


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How Philip K. Dick Redefined What It Means To Be (In)Human

April 22, 2018 in Blogs

By The Conversation

I think, therefore I am human?

Fifty years ago, Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? questioned what it means to be human in ways that have an immense lasting influence.

The action of the novel – and the Blade Runner films based on it – largely revolves around the central tension and struggle between biological humans and artificially constructed androids. Arguably, however, the story’s greatest continuing relevance is in the way it challenges a particular image of the human that has come to dominate in modern Western culture. This image portrays certain qualities – whiteness, masculinity, heterosexuality, rationalism, professional success and physical prowess – as the ideal symbols of humanity’s success.

The novel revolves around the efforts of bounty hunter Rick Deckard, in his quest to identify, track, and destroy androids posing as biological humans. Unsurprisingly, he repeatedly meets violent resistance. Both his livelihood and his life depend on his ability to tell the difference between humans and androids. Ultimately, however, Deckard is forced to face the possibility that there may not be any fundamental difference. This causes him to undergo a deep existential crisis, finding both his sense of identity, and his literal survival, severely threatened.

Deckard’s primary means of distinguishing between humans and androids is the Voight-Kampff test. Combining psychological analysis with a measurement of physiological reactions, the test seeks to determine whether a subject is capable of empathy. If the subject adequately demonstrates concern for the lives of others, they are deemed human, and allowed to live. If not, they are deemed non-human, and must be destroyed. Deckard’s transformation begins when he realises that some newer androids are capable of passing the test, and so passing for human.

Read more: Philip K Dick's androids looked like humans – but real world robots may soon feel empathy, too

A likely response to this dilemma would be to regard the test as fundamentally flawed. A better test would be needed, one based on identifying another trait as the essential feature to distinguish androids from humans. However, Deckard, and the reader with him, is …read more


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Westworld's Player Piano Is the Great Character That Keeps Getting Overlooked

April 22, 2018 in Blogs

By The Conversation

The symbol for humanity’s relationship to machinery is expanded through Westworld’s soundtrack.

Westworld returns for its hotly anticipated second season on April 22/23, simulcast in both the US and UK. The first season was a huge success – the closing episode was HBO’s highest-rated debut of all time.

Set in 2052, Westworld is a futuristic theme park populated by robotic hosts. Based on the 1973 movie by Michael Crichton, human customers pay to live out their most murderous and depraved fantasies, blurring the boundaries between performer and audience. The theme park imitates the American Old West of the second half of the 19th century – the age of steam and mechanisation that contained the seeds of modern robotics.

Much has been written about what will happen to Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood) and the other robotic hosts now that they appear to be overcoming the control of the programmers. I want to pay tribute to a hugely important character that has received far less attention – the player piano.

Westworld’s opening credits initially show what looks like an ordinary piano being played by robot hands. But then the hands move away and the piano plays itself, revealing this invention of the late 19th century that made music accessible at home in the days before the phonograph.

The piano features in Westworld’s Mariposa Saloon, run as a bar and brothel by Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton). We know pianos were used in Old West saloons, so this is certainly plausible. We later learn that there is also one in the office of robot creator Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins).

The player piano was essentially an early computer operating on a binary system. Westworld’s credits show the spool punched with holes that these pianos read, each of which indicated a note and its duration. Powered by the performer’s feet – and latterly by electricity – one could play famous, complex works without any musical competence.

This sense of vicarious performance fits neatly with the idea of rich thrillseekers shooting their way around a fake Wild West. Then there is the fact that player …read more


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What Putin's Policies Teach Us About Post-Feminist Power

April 22, 2018 in Blogs

By The Conversation

Who really runs the world?

The ability to transform yourself – and the cultural expectation that we should – has changed the way we think about authenticity. Today, celebrities are often valued less for their “natural beauty” and more for working on their appearance in transformative ways. Women admire the famous for their ability to style themselves, while countless articles are published every day about their weight loss.

On one level, this is a democratisation of attractiveness – if we learn the techniques we can all do it. But it also makes femininity a highly crafted performance.

This all ties into a wider cultural shift. In a range of ways, we now produce ourselves to be viewed by others. Instagram stars, for example, create highly crafted representations of “authentic” living. And apps can “enhance” the images posted on social media. But when we view these images, we know they are not authentic and this makes us cynical. Yet they still affect us. We can look at a food blogger and wish to be more like them, even while believing their images are stylised.

Being affected while taking a cynical stance is just one of the many contradictions of “post-feminist sensibility”. This term describes a set of ideas about “ideal” femininity that frame women’s appearance-work as enjoyable, empowering and something women choose to do for themselves.

Post-feminist sensibility works through contradictions. Women are encouraged to be whatever they want to be. Yet they must also desire a heterosexual marriage and a conventionally attractive body. They should not be too feminist, like shopping, and even consider cosmetic surgery so their vulva looks like those in porn films. All this while understanding that these desires represent a personal, empowered choice. These contradictions make attempts to live out post-feminist ideals of femininity difficult and confusing. But still, women continue to “buy into” post-feminism.

Post-feminism and Russian policy

It might seem like a tenuous link at first, but contemporary Russian domestic and overseas policy may help us understand the powerful attraction that post-feminism holds for many women. The same issues of contradiction, confusion and cynicism define …read more