MEANINGLESS GOALS

Do not confuse motion and progress. A rocking horse keeps moving but does not make any progress.” – Alfred A. Montapert

There is a big difference between activity and accomplishment. This was demonstrated by a French scientist named Fabre. He conducted an experiment with processionary caterpillars. These caterpillars instinctively follow the one in front of them. Fabre arranged them in a circle on the rim of a flowerpot; thus the lead caterpillar was behind the last one. Fabre put food for the caterpillars in the centre of the flower pot. The caterpillars kept travelling around in a circle on the pot’s rim. Eventually, after a week of circling around, they dropped dead of exhaustion and starvation with food only inches away from them. We need to learn a lesson from the caterpillars. Just because you are doing something, doesn’t mean you are getting anywhere. One must evaluate one’s activity in order to have accomplishment.

If we confuse activity with accomplishment, we could be making great time but we won’t get anywhere.

THE VALUE OF A SECOND

Scientists are pretty fussy about time. At the end of 2016, the Goddard Space Flight Center added an extra second to the year. So if you felt that year dragged on a bit longer than normal, you were right.

Why did they do that? Because the rotation of the earth slows down over time, meaning the years get just a tiny bit longer. When scientists track satellites or rockets they’ve sent into space, they must get things right down to the millisecond. One scientist said this is “to make sure our collision avoidance programmes are accurate”. Basically if they get it wrong, the satellites will crash.

For most of us, a second added or lost doesn’t make much difference.

This doesn’t mean we have to count each second like scientists do, but when we know “how fleeting” life is, we can be reminded to use our time wisely.

TIME IS SHORT – SPEND IT WISELY

QUANTUM DOT DYE

MIT engineers have developed a way to store medical information under the skin, using a quantum dot dye that is delivered, along with a vaccine, by a micro needle patch. The dye, which is invisible to the naked eye, can be read later using a specially adapted smartphone.

Every year, a lack of vaccination leads to about 1.5 million preventable deaths, primarily in developing nations. One factor that makes vaccination campaigns in those nations more difficult is that there is little infrastructure for storing medical records, so there’s often no easy way to determine who needs a particular vaccine.

MIT researchers have now developed a novel way to record a patient’s vaccination history: storing the data in a pattern of dye, invisible to the naked eye, that is delivered under the skin at the same time as the vaccine.

The researchers showed that their new dye, which consists of nanocrystals called quantum dots, can remain for at least five years under the skin, where it emits near infrared light that can be detected by a specially equipped smartphone.

EFFECTIVE IMMUNIZATION

Tests using human cadaver skin showed that the quantum-dot patterns could be detected by smartphone cameras after up to five years of simulated sun exposure. “This study presents a novel approach where the medical record is stored and controlled by the patient within the patient’s skin in a minimally invasive and elegant way.”

The researchers believe the quantum dots are safe to use in this way because they are encapsulated in a biocompatible polymer, but they plan to do further safety studies before testing them in patients.

The research was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Koch Institute Support, Grant from the National Cancer Institute.

HERD IMMUNITY

Herd immunity is the indirect protection from a contagious infectious disease that happens when a population is immune either through vaccination or immunity developed through previous infection. 

When enough of the population is resistant to a germ, its spread stops naturally because not enough people are able to transmit it. Thus, the “herd” is immune, even though many individuals within it still are not.

Vaccines create herd immunity too, either when given widely or sometimes when administered in a “ring” around a new case of rare infection. That’s how diseases like smallpox were eradicated and why polio is close to being erased. Various vaccine efforts are under way for this coronavirus, but they may not be ready for more than a year.

The coronavirus is new, so it doesn’t appear that anyone is immune to it: that’s what lets it spread and why it can have such severe effects in some people.

For herd immunity to take hold, people must become resistant after they are infected.

The current germ’s rate of spread is higher than that of the ordinary flu, but similar to that of novel emergent influenzas that have occasionally swept the globe before.

RISKS TO HERD IMMUNITY

Mass vaccination has been highly successful in inducing herd immunity for many diseases, protecting those that are unable to build up immunity, such as people with immune deficiencies or whose immune systems are being suppressed for medical reasons. 

When herd immunity is well established, however, some people choose to behave as ‘free riders’, essentially benefitting from everyone else getting vaccinated, while abstaining from vaccination either because they choose not to or are actively anti-vaccination.  

When a population has too many of these free riders, the overall immunity level is compromised and herd immunity can be lost, putting everyone at risk.