Wednesday, 28 February 2018

First Bilateral Amputee Fitted with Two LUKE Bionic Arms

First private fitting of integrated powered shoulder, elbow, wrist, and hand also took place.Next Step Bionics & Prosthetics announced breakthrough advancements in the use of the LUKE arm prosthesis that will benefit a much broader range of people who are amputees. Next Step conducted the first public demonstrations of the new developments at a news conference with New Hampshire inventor and entrepreneur Dean Kamen in the Med-Tech Mill Yard in Manchester.

The LUKE arm is a modular prosthetic arm developed by DEKA Research & Development Corp. (founded by Kamen) with funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and now manufactured by Mobius Bionics LLC. The LUKE arm is configurable for levels of amputation ranging from shoulder to forearm. The hand has multiple, preprogrammed grips using four powered degrees of freedom.

Advancements announced include the following:

  • The first ever bilateral amputee fitted with two LUKE arms
  • The first private fitting of a LUKE arm featuring fully integrated powered shoulder, elbow, wrist and hand
  • The first non-investigational use of calibrated sensors capable of decoding natural muscle signals with the LUKE arm, translating the user’s thoughts into precise movements of hand and wrist

“It is so incredibly gratifying to help our patients gain dexterity, freedom of movement, and independence through this technology,” said Matthew Albuquerque, president and founder of Next Step Bionics & Prosthetics.

Ultimately, “prosthetics is an art and a science,” continued Matthew. “Technological advancements are critical, but we rely on the tried and true practices of a hands-on approach, listening and empathy to make sure that the technology is the perfect fit for the person who is relying on it.”

“I feel like I have my hands back again,” said Ron Currier, an Air Force veteran who is a bilateral, below elbow amputee, who demonstrated the use of two LUKE arms at the news conference. “I’ve always lived life as if there was nothing I couldn’t do, but always had to fight with prosthetics that just couldn’t keep up,” Ron continued. “Now, I have capability I wouldn’t have thought possible. My hope is that other amputees will have access to these advancements and be encouraged to live life on their terms, not by the limitations of their equipment.”

“The way that machines are integrated with people is as important as the technology itself,” said Dean Kamen, president, DEKA Research & Development. “The expanded use of the LUKE arm through the advancements announced is very exciting and hopeful news for veteran amputees and for the general amputee population.”

“As a veteran myself, I think it is important for veterans to know Manchester VA and our community partners are modernizing health care and advancing what is possible right here in New Hampshire,” said Alfred Montoya, acting director, Manchester VA Medical Center. “Public-private partnerships, like the collaboration our dedicated staff at the Manchester VA has with Next Step Bionics & Prosthetics and Dean Kamen, greatly expand our ability to address the needs of the veterans we serve.”

Upland birds down in Scotland

Scotland’s woodland and farmland bird numbers have increased over the past two decades, but during this time, upland birds have faced decline, according to a Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) report published on 14 February, entitled The Official Statistic for Terrestrial Breeding Birds.
The latest results reveal varied trends for Scotland’s terrestrial breeding birds, with woodland birds increasing by 67 per cent between 1994 and 2016, farmland birds increasing by 13 per cent, but upland birds decreasing by 16 per cent. 
Woodland specialists such as Great Spotted Woodpecker and Common Chiffchaff have shown the largest increases. Great Spotted Woodpeckers have had a recent expansion across Europe, possibly as a result of increased forests and woodlands becoming more connected. For farmland species, Goldfinchhas continued to increase and is now a common sight in most gardens. Common Whitethroat, a small migratory warbler, has also bounced back from its historical low associated with droughts in their overwintering grounds in the Sahel region of sub-Saharan Africa.

Northern Lapwing (J G Snowball).
Upland birds are the most concerning group, with declines for 10 out of 17 species. Among the largest declines are breeding waders, including Eurasian Curlew, European Golden Plover and Northern Lapwing. Major conservation work is underway to help tackle these declines, including extensive peatland restoration and the Working for Waders project.
Simon Foster, SNH’s trends analyst, said: “It’s wonderful to see that woodland and farmland birds are not only holding their own in Scotland, but that many are thriving. However, with some upland birds struggling, there are a lot of people and projects working hard to improve conditions for waders, some of which have seen worrying declines. We and many of our partners are hoping to see these birds fare better in the coming years.”
None of this would be possible without the enormous efforts of volunteers. The data for the report is largely collected by volunteers through the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO)/Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) Breeding Bird Survey (BBS). For anyone interested in taking part, BTO are always looking for new helpers. For more information, see
Dr Chris Wernham, Head of BTO Scotland, added: "The Scottish uplands cover a vast area and are a key part of the country's landscape. Monitoring our upland bird populations presents a unique set of challenges: these are remote, often inaccessible areas, many miles from human population centres. It is thanks to the effort and dedication of intrepid volunteers that we are able to produce this report, which highlights worrying declines among a suite of upland bird species, contrasting with increases in many woodland birds. Through initiatives within the BBS such as Upland Rovers, we hope to see continued improvements in coverage, enable greater precision in our estimates of change, in time allowing us to report trends for a greater number of species."
SNH is working on strengthening bird populations and biodiversity throughout Scotland. The Scottish Biodiversity Strategy Route Map was published by Scottish Government in June 2015. It sets out the big steps needed to implement the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy 2020 Challenge, including restoring ecosystems, conserving wildlife, and sustainably managing land, freshwater and the marine environment. The SBS 2020 Challenge is Scotland’s response to the Aichi Targets set by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, calling for a step change in efforts to halt the loss of biodiversity and restore essential services that a healthy natural environment provides.

White-letter Hairstreak breeds in Scotland

A declining butterfly appears to have started breeding in Scotland for the first time in 130 years, according to Butterfly Conservation (BC).
A handful of White-letter Hairstreak eggs were found by amateur naturalists on Wych Elm trees at Lennel near Coldstream, Berwickshire, on Sunday 4 February.
The discovery comes after Borders Butterfly Recorder Iain Cowe spotted an adult White-letter Hairstreak about 10 miles north-east of this area in 2017, which represented the first sighting in Scotland since 1884. Iain said: "The discovery of these eggs is hugely significant as it not only confirms the White-letter Hairstreak is breeding here, but one of the eggs was an old, hatched shell, so it looks like the butterfly could have been breeding here since at least 2016.
"Last year was an impossible find, but this year's egg discovery is beyond anything we thought possible."

White-letter Hairstreak egg at Lennel, Berwickshire, February 2018 (Iain Cowe).
White-letter Hairstreak, which has a distinctive 'W' marking on the underside of its wing, is widespread across England and Wales, but the butterfly has suffered a 72 per cent decline over the last decade. The butterfly's caterpillars feed on elm and the species declined dramatically in the 1970s as a result of Dutch Elm disease. For more than 10 years, a group of BC volunteers have been monitoring the butterfly and its gradual spread northwards, which experts think is most likely the result of a warming average climate.
Two of these dedicated volunteers, 70-year-old Ken Haydock and 69-year-old Jill Mills, found the White-letter Hairstreak eggs after being asked to check the elm trees at Paxton following last year's butterfly sighting. Ken, who is from Bolton, Greater Manchester, said: "It was a lovely sunny morning, and we were searching the elm trees by the River Tweed at Lennel when Jill called me over. I could see by the look on her face that she had found something.
"We were both beaming with disbelief and delight when we realised what Jill had found and within seconds I was fumbling in my pack for the camera. My hands were shaking!"
Before the discovery at Lennel, the most northern location for White-letter Hairstreak eggs was at Rothbury, Northumbs, about an hour south of Paxton.

White-letter Hairstreak (John Richardson).
Director of BC Scotland, Paul Kirkland, said: "We will need to have a few more years of confirmed sightings before we can officially class this butterfly as a resident species in Scotland. If this happens, it would take the total number of butterfly [species] found in Scotland to 34, which really would be something to celebrate."
Anyone wishing to help Butterfly Conservation Scotland monitor species like the White-letter Hairstreak should visit see how to get involved.

December ID tips: Bewick's and Whooper Swans

Much looked forward to in winter, the arrival of wild swans on our fields and waterbodies is just unusual enough to provide a frisson to anybody’s day out birding.
Bewick’s Swan, arriving from the Russian and Asian tundra, is the smaller of the two wintering species – though both are very large – and gives a more goose-like impression. Like the bigger Whooper Swan, the adult is snow white all over. Bewick’s has a shorter neck and proportionately bigger head than Whooper, as well as a smaller body and bill. However, this can be difficult to appreciate on lone birds or in single-species flocks, and it is the bill pattern to which many must turn for a firm identification.
A basal yellow beak patch is common to both species, but Bewick’s has the colour extending to less than half the length of the black bill, and it generally has a squared-off appearance, always finishing behind the nostril. The beak itself is subtly more slender with a slightly retroussée shape. Whooper Swan’s beak is more of a Roman nose, with the yellow extending in a pointed wedge shape to the very front of the nostril. The beak shape itself is longer and more triangular than Bewick’s.
Whooper is a larger species with a very long neck, often held erect, and a bulkier body and longer legs, making it stand out straight and tall when the two species are together.
Juveniles of the two are perhaps even more easily confused as their features are blurred by their generally murky grey-brown appearance. However, the bill patterns are mirrored in grey (for the yellow pattern) and dark reddish-brown (for the black), and the youngsters also show the adults’ overall size, shape and build.
It is perhaps less appreciated that the two species differ also in voice, with Whooper Swan in particular letting rip with a low, usually trisyllabic, honking bugle, frequently given in flight. Bewick’s call less often, and the sound is higher in tone, though similar and given in ones and twos.

Bewick's Swan
Adult and juvenile Bewick’s Swan (Weesp, The Netherlands, 26 January 2008) – note the dumpier, more goose-like shape of Bewick’s (Wil Leurs

Adult and juvenile Whooper Swan (Speyside, Clyde, 13 November 2007). This species is larger and looks elegant and powerful (Dave Pullan).

Long incubation's may defend birds against parasites

Some tropical birds have longer egg incubation times than their temperate cousins, even though their habitat is teeming with egg-eating predators. The reason for this has long been a mystery, but a recent study has applied new methods to confirm the evidence for the old idea that a longer development period leads to a stronger, more efficient immune system.
The University of Missouri-St Louis’s Robert Ricklefs first studied this relationship in the early 1990s, using data from the microscopic examination of avian blood samples to look for the presence of parasites, primarily those that cause malaria. He found that the longer a species’ incubation period, the lower its prevalence of parasites. However, Ricklefs remained concerned that especially low parasite loads could have been missed during microscope examination, affecting prevalence estimates.
Ricklefs's newly published study offers evidence that the answer lies in the birds’ immune systems, which may grow stronger and become more able to defend against blood parasites thanks to this longer period of development.
Advances in DNA sequencing helped find this new solution. Ricklefs and his colleagues collected blood samples from birds in the eastern United States and several Neotropical countries, and checked for the presence of parasite DNA. They then tabulated how many individuals from various bird families were sampled at each site and how many were infected with Haemoproteus or Plasmodium parasites. About 22 per cent of individual birds in both temperate and tropical regions had parasite DNA in their blood. While incubation times vary little among temperate species, there are differences among tropical birds, in which parasite prevalence was significantly lower in species with longer incubation times.
These results confirm those of the old blood smear analysis. While there is still no direct evidence for the hypothesis that a longer incubation time promotes a stronger immune system, this correlation provides a strong indication that this could be the solution to the mystery of why the embryos of some tropical birds take so long to develop.
“My interest in blood parasites was stimulated by a former graduate student, Victor Apanius, primarily in the context of community ecology. However, I had been working on the diversification of avian life histories, particularly embryo and chick growth rates, and I couldn't help but notice a connection between the two,” said Ricklefs. “I wasn’t surprised that the new results confirm the old ones so well, really, because the two techniques estimate the same attribute. However, more detailed studies of the avian immune response and how variation in host defence is related to development certainly are warranted.”
San Francisco State University’s Ravinder Sehgal, an expert on avian blood parasites, commented: “This paper is a nice follow up to the 1992 study that showed an inverse relationship between parasite prevalence and egg incubation period. It will be now be important to test the work [experimentally] to study the parasitology and explore the trade-offs between embryo growth rate and immune function.”

A big clean-up for Nature

Inspired by the BBC’s Blue Planet II, Keep Britain Tidy is back with Britain's biggest-ever litter campaign: the Great British Spring Clean.
The charity’s ambition is to recruit 400,000 volunteers to get involved with picking up litter from parks, nature reserves, streets and shorelines, and has announced its first #LitterHeroAmbassador search, as it looks for 99 local champions across the country. The campaign takes place from 2-4 March 2018, but volunteers can sign up now. 
The Great British Spring Clean has one simple aim: to bring people across the country together to clear up the litter that blights the towns, villages, countryside, beaches and seas of Britain. The ambition for 2018 is to encourage and inspire 400,000 people to get outdoors, get active and help clear up the rubbish that lies around every corner. Following the worrying sights of plastic pollution in the BBC’s Blue Planet II which sparked conversations in households nationwide, it’s clear to see that trash is trouble for the oceans, wildlife and people as 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic remain in our oceans. 
Everyone can get involved, whether they live in a big city or small community. There are many ways to make a difference, whether it’s a canal-side clean up, a tideline tidy up or simply a litter-pick in your neighbourhood. 
It costs more than £700 million to clean Britain's streets every year, which is why Keep Britain Tidy want people across the country to come together to make a difference to the environment. Litter-picks come in all shapes and sizes, so round up your troops and join the army of #LitterHeroes. To check what you can do to help in your area visit the Keep Britain Tidy website.  
Keep Britain Tidy’s first #LitterHeroes Ambassador has helped turn the tide on the litter that plagues our surroundings. Wayne Dixon, accompanied by his faithful dog Koda, is a man on a mission. His aim is to encourage as many people as he can to clean our beaches, streets, cities and countryside, and Keep Britain Tidy are recruiting 99 more ambassadors to join him. Wayne is urging everyone to become #LitterHeroes and join him on his mission to clean up the country. 
Why not go above and beyond, and care for the environment on your doorstep to help keep Britain tidy? If you think you have what it takes to join the growing army of #LitterHeroes who are on a mission to create change this spring then sign up on the Keep Britain Tidy website.

Legal challenge to DEFRA Hen Harrier plan

Today (26 February 2018) campaigners are have launched a crowdfunding campaign to help pay for a judicial review of the decision by Natural England, the government's adviser for the natural environment in England, to issue licences that would allow Hen Harrier eggs and chicks to be removed from active nests on grouse moors.
Known as brood management, this highly controversial practice then involves raising the chicks in captivity and releasing them back into the environment at a later date.

Hen HarrierCampbeltownArgyll (Eddie Maguire).
Dr Mark Avery, former Conservation Director at the RSPB, has engaged a legal team to fight this case and has set up a crowdfunding campaign on the Crowd Justice website to fund it. The case is estimated to cost £25,000, and Dr Avery is hoping to raise £5,000 through the campaign. 
Dr Avery said: "Instead of tackling the key issue of criminality, Michael Gove's DEFRA is planning something called 'brood management' which involves removing Hen Harrier chicks from nests near grouse moors. That might help grouse moor owners but it won't help Hen Harriers. It's a bizarre proposal and I believe it is illegal, because alternative sensible and effective actions are available. We need to challenge this mad scheme. Hen Harriers can't hire lawyers, so we must do it for them. We need #justice4henharriers."

Hen HarrierCampbeltownArgyll (Eddie Maguire).
The RSPB commented: “The idea that brood management is about helping Hen Harriers is nonsense. It is about facilitating unsustainable intensive land management which is destroying our uplands. To be clear, the RSPB is implacably opposed to this.” An online poll in September 2015 found that 80 per cent of more than 1,000 respondents were against this approach.
Chris Packham, TV presenter and wildlife advocate, resigned as President of the Hawk and Owl Trust when it supported brood management, citing “differences over policy”.