Medical advances realise the Avatar dream

By Orla Ni Sheaghdha

James Cameron’s film Avatar may fall into the science fiction category but the idea of virtual bodies existing for people may not be as unrealistic as some might think. Technological advances in the medical world have brought forward the idea of “medical avatars” being used in the treatment of patients in the future. In 2006, the Virtual Physiological Human (VPH) initiative was set up across Europe to investigate the use of ICT in the development of treatment of patients. The project will span over ten years and is currently costing the European Commission about 350 million euro to fund. There are over 20 active VPH projects across Europe, each improving on the recent innovations in the research of biotechnology and medical advances.

The aim of the project is to make diagnosis of varying diseases more all-encompassing. Rather than seeing the human body as a collection of individual organs, the virtual body would allow it to be seen as a single multi-organ system. This “medical avatar” would contain both medical data of the person in question and detailed knowledge about how their bodily systems work. This combining of information would make it easier to diagnose current symptoms, to anticipate any future illness, and to predict the side- effects of any drugs used for treatment. The response of the virtual body to any treatment drugs could be tested before any prescriptions given to the actual patient. This is being researched in the preDICT programme, one of several projects being run by the VPH initiative. The advantages of this particular aspect of the project include a reduced need for animal experimentation when testing new drugs. It also allows for the elimination of any drug-related allergies without incurring risk to the patient themselves.

The Avatar is soon to become a reality

Other perceived benefits of the VPH initiative include the preventative approach it takes to the treatment of diseases, particularly various forms of cancer and Alzheimer’s Disease. NeoMARK is a project for an ICT enabled prediction of cancer reoccurrence. IMMPACT looks at the use of images in Ablation cancer treatment. PredictAD aims to use patient data to make healthcare in Alzheimer’s Disease more personalised. These are just a few of the innovations being put forward by the VPH initiative and it is yet to be seen what the results will yield.

For now, the pseudo-bodies are still in the test stages but it may not be too long before members of the public will have their own avatar. Scientists and medical experts working on the project are satisfied with the progress of the initiative and it could only be a matter of years before the real world merges with the virtual. One director’s dream is close to realisation.

Google To Enter Fashion Market

by Paul Foy

Sarah Jessica Parker to have own virtual shop on Google's new fashion site

Internet search engine giant Google, will this Wednesday delve into the fashion business  by a launching a new website, believed to be called boutiques.com.

The fashion industry is the fourth largest industry globally, with revenues cautiously estimated at £310 billion worldwide. It is believed to be worth £37 billion in the UK alone, meaning this has the potential to be a very lucrative move for Google.

The fashion industry publication Women’s Wear Daily (WWD), reports that Google is not planning to sell directly to clients itself, instead the website will direct users towards already established retailers such as Asos.

The site will feature a live data feed from its retail partners, allowing pictures to appear and making the site look like a high end boutique rather than a search results page.

Fashion designers such as Tory Birch and Oscar de la Renta have been hired to set up there own virtual shops within the site, along with Sarah Jessica Parker, Katie Holmes and various other celebrities.

Users will be encouraged to establish profiles, in which they will add their preferences, and will hence be easier to successfully target with selective advertising and marketing efforts.

Google is not alone in trying to tap the fashion market; ebay recently launched fashion specific areas, although it is doubtful that this will have the same appeal to advertisers as Google’s effort.

Traditionally, there are items that do not sell well online, such as high end fashion, top quality jewelery and antiques, but this is clearly changing.

Plans for a similar idea for an art-sales website, Art.sy, backed by Rupert Murdoch’s wife Wendi Deng, Google’s Eric Schmidt, Roman Abramovich’s girlfriend Dasha Zuhkova and super-dealer Larry Gagosian were leaked last week.

But just how much sophisticated consumers of art or fashion are willing to buy online remains unclear. As one fashion executive told WWD: “It’s incumbent upon us to be open to and explore new areas. In the business sense, the bricks-and-mortar business is not growing by leaps and bounds. It’s become more of a market share question.”

Spain and Portugal Pressure Dublin, But No Irish Bail Out Request say’s EU

by Paul Foy

Irish Finance Minister Brian Lenihan

Portugal and Spain have called on the Irish Government to accept financial help from the EU, as countries borrowing rates suffer as a result of the Irish crisis.

Irish Finance Minister, Brian Lenihan will discuss the crisis tomorrow with his European counterparts in Brussels, and the Spanish and Portuguese are hoping that Ireland will accept the aid to protect the rest of it’s Euro Zone partners. But the European commission today confirmed that Ireland has not applied to tap the 60 billion euro rescue fund.

This goes against claims made by Fine Gael, the main opposition party at the weekend, that the government had already applied to the EU for aid.

Fine Gael’s financial spokesman, Michael Noonan said: “I’m extremely concerned. I think the reports (of an imminent bailout) over the weekend are true … I think there is European intervention underway.”

Calls to request the bail out reached fever pitch this week, as interest on Ireland’s 10 year bonds reached 9%, although this has now subsided to 8.3%. The Bank Of Spain governor, Miguel Ángel Fernández Ordóñez, said he hoped that an “appropriate reaction” from Ireland would calm the markets further.

He later told reporters: “The situation in the markets has been negative due in some part to the lack of a decision by Ireland. It’s not up to me to make a decision on Ireland, it’s Ireland that should take the decision at the right moment.”

If Ireland where to tap the monetary fund, Britain could have to pay up to 7 billion, as the previous government signed an agreement the day before David Cameron was made Prime Minister, which makes Britain responsible for 13.6% of the 50 billion pound fund. This could fall directly to British tax payers, depending on how any deal were to be structured

The UK government declined to say how much an Irish rescue package could cost British taxpayers. “There has been no application (from the Irish government for emergency funding) and we won’t speculate on it,” said a spokesman for the Treasury this morning, but Prime Minister David Cameron said  Ireland was a key trading partner and its stability was very much in the country’s interests:

“If you look at the Irish economy, Ireland is an enormously important trading partner with Britain. It’s a fact that we actually export more to Ireland than we do to Brazil, Russia, India and China combined,” he told parliament.

“Now, that is a rebuke to us, we’ve got to do better with those other countries. But Ireland is an extremely important trading partner and stability in the Irish economy and success in the Irish economy is very much in Britain’s interest.”

Dublin is resisting pressure to ask for help because the bailout terms would be severe. Ireland would have to partially surrender sovereignty over its budget and could also be forced to increase its low corporation tax rate of 12.5%, a cornerstone for attracting foreign direct investment from major multinational corporations such as Dell.

The Irish Govt has funds the keep the country running until Summer 2011, which makes it unlikely that it is facing the same fate as Greece. It is probable that this time will be used to try and kick start the economy, starting with an upcoming budget in which savage cuts are expected across the board.

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