Kroger: another convenience stores chain sold By Sara Ibrahim

Mergers and acquisitions are the aspects that have seen so much activity lately.

Some of those that had major effects on several other companies and shareholders is Amazon buying Whole foods late in 2017.

Rumors have risen about Walmart wanting to bid in, and that it lost to Amazon. These claims are false as Walmart is known to be the most powerful company in the world, refuted that it even entered the bid.

Kroger however, was intimidated, as its shares dropped 12% since amazon acquisitioned Whole Foods.  “The company reported an 8% drop in second-quarter profits after aggressive cost cuts aimed at overcoming competition from Walmart and other retailers” reported Business Insider.

A couple weeks back Kroger announced that is it considering a sale of its convenience stores, which resulted in a 5% jump in shares.

“We want to look at all options to ensure this part of the business is meeting its full potential,” said Mike Schlotman, Kroger’s CFO, in a premarket announcement. “Considering the current premium multiples for convenience stores, we feel it is our obligation as a management team to undertake this review.”

The 784 stores that earned $4 billion, are under consideration for sale including fuel.

Earlier last week, Kroger announced that it was selling its nearly 800 convenience store to the British operator EG group for $2.15 billion.

Later in the afternoon of the announcement the shares dropped 2%.

Though Kroger has brands that include Tom Thumb, Turkey Hill, and Kiwik shop that has annual revenues of nearly $4 billion, the supermarket gasoline dealers and Turkey Hill Dairy are Not part of the deal. Which I assume is good for Kroger.

Kroger has announced that it was looking for an acquirer earlier in October and is planning to use the money acquired from selling their convenience stores to EG group to revamp their stores, and up their technology and services.

Kroger is planning to also invest in online channels as one of its main goals at the moment is to be able to compete with the giants, Walmart, and Whole Foods that is now owned by Amazon.

By Sara Ibrahim

 

 

Amazon’s Cashier-less Store By Sara Ibrahim

 

Everyone is already talking about how Amazon made the store of the future.

On Monday, January 22 2018, Amazon opened their first cashier-less store in Seattle to the public. After a year of it being “open”- probably being tested- for Amazon employers.

Though Amazon has promised in 2016 that their store would be available for the public in 2017; a year late, but advancements and technology that defies every other store out there, so maybe people have already forgotten about their promise.

Amazon has refrained thus far from explaining how their system and technology works, but what we know is, upon entering, you have to have few things on hand: a relatively new smartphone, the Amazon Go app, and an Amazon account.

As you walk in, you have to scan your Amazon account code, which mimics what you do upon using a metro or boarding pass to get on a plane.

The shelves have sensors, and the ceiling of the store is packed with thousands of cameras that scan your movement and detects what you pick up from the shelves. It is accurate to a point where you can pick something up, change your mind, put it back on the shelf, and it would not be added to your virtual cart. However, Amazon does warn customers not to help other people, because if YOU pick something up the shelf, it will be put into YOUR cart, even if you hand it to someone else.

As for families, Amazon states that families can all shop under one account, however, they have to enter the store and scan the barcode while they are together, assuming that the group of “people”/”faces” would be put under the same account, and the sensors would be able to pick it up. So, yes, every family member can pick something up and put it in their bags/carts, and it will all be added to the virtual cart under the one account that was scanned upon entry.

In June 2017, Amazon has bought Whole foods for $13.7 billion and seems to have done that big move for several reasons, one of which to have a bigger presence and to have more stores scattered around the country for a faster and more efficient delivery.

The Amazon store, on the other hand, has fewer options than anticipated in relation to fresh food. They do sell everything packaged, and some pre-prepped meals, canned and bagged food, and dried fruits, however nothing fresh, given the difficulty of the weighing options. Also, some customers said some small hygienic options are also not available and that could be attributed to the fact that these might be hard to detect accurately. understandable I guess!

After the awe and the exasperating, slightly creepy shopping experience, once done, all you have to do is to quickly scan your code as you walk out. The feeling that you stole it all might take some time to get used to, however, it’s not long before Amazon sends you a receipt confirmation of what you paid. So yes, FAST, in an era where its all about rushing, this is the one major advantage!

So many concerns could erupt with the massive change that Amazon has opted for; JOBS!!

There are about 3.5 million cashiers around in the US, all of those who could potentially lose their jobs for automation and technology. It is hard to believe that no jobs would be lost if this method will be the method of the future, however, not all! The store is Cashier-Less yet not Employee-Less!

With that being said, customers have seen so many employees in the store, several of whom are standing, helping and aiding people as they walk in, whether be it in helping them download the app, of scan their barcodes, or standing at the checkout gate, to make sure that everything is going as smoothly as it is intended. And let’s not forget the employees who are always there to re-stock the shelves and help with any questions or concerns that customers have.

Another concern comes with privacy. The idea of having all these cameras pointed at you, following your every move and indecisive action is a tad bit creepy. Also, a question that brought up for Amazon was what happened to the customer’s privacy?
and all this data is further accessed and analyzed by more people, their response was that they do NOT use “facial recognition” features.  So, you as a person should allegedly be unknown, yet somehow the sensors and cameras are still able to detect you throughout the store.

SO I think we have to wait until we know more about how their technology works, and maybe just wait and see how fast will more amazon stores open around the state.

By Sara Ibrahim

 

 

 

 

Few years from now, we can say Goodbye to Obesity! By Sara Ibrahim

We all know the F word that everyone dreads. Yes… FAT!

Ask anyone, and they will tell you these are the result of overeating, calories, or from fatty foods.

Well true, but did you know scientifically there are two types of fat, and no not healthy and unhealthy fats! I’m talking two classifications of fat and how they are stored.

There are white and Brown FAT. Now in all the representation of fat, we get to see the white/ pale yellow fat, but brown?

Well yes, partly because white fat is the fat which stores surplus energy in adipose tissue, and is mainly in adults. More specifically as humans grow older brown fats that keep the babies warm by generating heat due to energy consumption, is replaced with visceral white fats.

Why is this important you might ask! Well rejoice, there is a new study that peeked the interest in several biotechnology companies, and other researchers.

A study and an innovative approach done at Nanyang Technological University at Singapore was developing a small “skin patch with hundreds of microneedles, each thinner than a human hair which is loaded with the drug Beta-3 adrenergic receptor agonist or another drug called thyroid hormone T3 triiodothyronine”.  Within two minutes of this patch pressed to the skin, the drug start diffusing to the white fat stored underneath the skin layer and turning them into energy-burning brown fats.

Assistant professor Xu said that the amount of drugs used in the patch is much less than that used in oral medication or in injected dose. This in turn lowers the drug costs. In fact, they estimated that the cost of materials for the patch is US $3.50.

Lab experiments on mice showed reduction in weight gain by more than 30% over four weeks, for mice on high fat diet.

Eight days later, another paper was published by the university of Connecticut and Qingdao university where researches stimulated the formation of blood vessels in white adipose tissue by blocking the receptor molecule for a growth factor knows as VEGFR1. This effect was achieved in one group of mice by means of drugs and another through genetic modification. These resulted in an increase in the conversion of white fats to brown fat, which meant the reduction in obesity and improved sensitivity to insulin.

So maybe in few years, so many can actually try these easy and cheap patches, and hopefully lead a healthier life onwards.

By Sara Ibrahim

For additional info visit:
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/12/171228100910.htm
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/01/180105142609.htm

 

 

 

In Special Education: Love is What Matters Most by Deb Aubin, M.Ed.

There is one thing that I believe almost more than anything else, special education matters. I have been a special education teacher for 34 years and have never doubted that this career was my calling. Thirty four years later plus the four in undergraduate studies, and I have never forgotten any of the precious children that walked through my classroom door. Each one has offered me insight to the human connection and beyond!

My very first “student” was Jonathan. He was a four year old autistic boy. I was still in high school. It was believed by Jonathan’s special education teacher that he needed more human involvement beyond that given by his parents and teacher. She developed a program to give Jonathan more time to learn about himself and the world around him. She interviewed and gathered five student volunteers who would work with Jonathan one night each. My night was Friday evenings.

Early on in my career, I learned that in special education as in all education, love is what matters most. If their isn’t love behind what we are teaching then their is little chance that the student will gain progress. Special education requires  tenacity, dedication, and persistence with a foundation of doing what you know is right in your heart. It is not for the weak of heart. A special educator must be gentle, yet firm and fair.  Repetition and routine go a long way in building new skills. Practice really does make perfect!
We were trained mostly by reading the novel, Son-Rise, written by Barry Neil Kaufman. Barry Kaufman wrote this book in 1976. The year I began working with Jonathan was 1978. Against all odds and all professional advice, Barry and his wife, Suzi, refused to stop loving, trying, or hoping that their son, Raun, would leave the safety of his quiet, autistic world and gradually share his life with their family. Barry Kaufman recorded their journey. Their steadfast love and tireless work ethic gave Raun back to his family. This is truly a story about love, and family. Jonathan’s story was about love and family too. Jonathan’s parents were devoted to him. They converted their home into a haven where Jonathan could feel safe, happy, and loved. As I entered Jonathan’s home, there was a tire swing between the living room and kitchen. It was there that I would greet Jonathan every Friday evening. Jonathan showed me what my calling was. My original plan was to become a registered nurse. Jonathan taught me that there was a different career that I belonged in, special education.

There is one thing about Special education that is bothering me  lately. I guess, that this “thing” is happening throughout all of education, really. This “thing” is called paperwork. This is my opinion about that. I believe wholeheartedly in Individual Education Plans (IEPs) for special education students. IEPs are after all kind of like road maps that direct teachers and special education providers on the right path when working with new students. IEPs make sure that that students receive all of the services that they need. IEPs protect the child. I also believe in data collection. I believe that the data shows us how the child is doing and takes us to where the child needs to go next. I believe in progress reports, because parents absolutely deserve to know how their child is doing. I even believe in some testing! Again, I believe that tests can be like a road map to tell us where the child and the teacher need to go next! Tests should really be for the teacher to see how well his/her teaching is reaching the students. If the lessons are not reaching the students, then the teacher may want to review his/her delivery style. That’s it! This is where I believe the paper work should end except for the occasional incident report or field trip form!  Lesson plans are really for the teacher to guide their lessons. Teachers should have them of course, but should be allowed to write them in a way that makes the most sense to them. Administrators should ask to see lesson plans during observations, but the teacher’s creativity and thought process should be allowed to shine on the lesson plans.

I saw a quote recently from “Kindness is Magic” in Queensland, Australia. “Over-planning kills magic.” I agree with this quote! My favorite thing to do is to plan amazing, interesting lessons that make memories for the students! Too much paperwork takes away from the time teachers have to plan highly-effective, creative lessons that are aimed at the student population.Too much paperwork limits the time that teachers have to go above and beyond to do what they love best…create magical lessons! I want to bring the magic and the love back in to education!
Teaching is fun, and can be so magical! Special education matters. That one “thing”, paperwork,matters too, in moderation.  It’s important to remember though, that above all however, let us not forget, that every child matters. Every child matters with no judgement;only acceptance. If Barry Neil Kaufman, Raun Kaufman, Jonathan, and all of my current and former students have taught me anything: In Special education, love is what matters most.

By Deb Aubin, M.Ed.

We can now “legally” make lethal viruses. Now what? By Sara Ibrahim

In case you have missed it, on Dec 19,2017 news came out that the Federal Ban on making lethal viruses in labs have been lifted.

Yes, you read that right!

If we start with a recap on the post. After a moratorium of three years, Dr Collins the head of NIH stated that such “work can now proceed, but only if the scientific panel decides that the benefits justify the risks”.

The article states that the “pathogen to be modified must pose a serious health threat” and that there should be “no safer way to do the research” and that the new regulations “apply to any pathogen that could potentially cause a pandemic” in three years since the moratorium, the NIH gave exceptions for 10 projects, “five were Flu related, and five concerned the MERS ( Middle East respiratory Syndrome) virus”

Lipsitch, ad epidemiologist said that in recent disease-enhancing experiments “have given us some modest scientific knowledge and done almost nothing to improve our preparedness for pandemics, and Yet, risked creating an accidental pandemic”

My thoughts on this might raise some comments from the audience involved in science.

If we think about the advantages of this; there is a possibility that with us understanding what certain mutations could lead to, we can have better understanding of the virus, and perhaps be a step ahead in providing a “possible cure”.

One might also say that, if done in safe labs, as they are planning to do, it can possibly be controlled, and with better understanding of the virus, maybe we get better understanding and better use in the medical/health field.

However, how I see it is, the risks and consequences of one risk outweighs the benefits.

Risks include but not limited to; a possible induced mutation, that might not happen in a normal virus, yet when induced could potentially be detrimental.

Pandemics due to one error are major, and pandemics at some point are hard to control. if we are talking about a lethal one, tis could erase populations before scientists can, if they were able to, find a cure.

Even with the new CRISPR Cas 9 advanced, very specific technology, there is still a possibility that scientists might not be able to go back and control the mutation that they induced. And as we know, once done, specially in CRISPR Cas 9 , there is NO Turning Back! It is , thus far, irreversible.

One more consequence, one mutation or study might show that it is harmless, and though with precautions, might be misleading. How? Well, two possibilities, one being, a certain mutation could indeed be harmless until it gets in contact with a certain element/species, where it could go haywire, and no longer become “safe” , thus causing a bigger problem to start with. Two, a mutation could be misleadingly classified as “safe” , but it is just dormant. We know that this is possible, some viruses are hidden in our DNA and move across from parent to child, before its triggered.

To be honest, it feels at times, that people in charge have been reading and watching Dystopian stories, and how the world is imagined to be a disastrous place in years to come, and instead of trying to avoid it, they think “hmmmm, what else don’t we have that would make this possible” and they work to make those disastrous futuristic worlds actually happen! Its sad and its scary, and I’m worried for what else are going to hear and what should we expect.

 

By Sara Ibrahim

ASPARTAME , the final verdict? By Sara Ibrahim

To many this is already a topic that has had enough exposure. Some of you are with and some are against.

Personally, if you asked me a couple months ago, I would have disregarded the topic, stating the obvious, that I wouldn’t mind since its zero calories.

A WIN situation, right? Well maybe.

I was intrigued to look further and deeper into it after one of my biochemistry lectures, that stated that Aspartame is actually nothing but a combination of two amino acids (protein building blocks), Aspartate and Phenylalanine. When I first heard this, I approached the professor with the generic question “but why then do they say that its harmful?”, with him saying that he doesn’t know, given form a biochemical point of view, it is harmless, this intrigued me more.

Let me break it down for you. Upon so much reading there are generally two point of views.

One group that defends Aspartame states that:

– It is nothing but natural 2 amino acids, thus the body treats it like any other protein component

– FDA , WHO (World Health Organization), ADA (American Dietetic Association), and AHA (American Heart Association) approved

– Research about it being associated with cancer is old, and have been set to question due to lack of sufficient scientific details

– Old research about it being associated with an increase in lung cancer, was wrongly dated, and wrongly associated, since only people above the age of 70 have shown an increase risk, yet back then, Aspartame have had barely been out in the market, and thus could not have been the reason

– Research done in labs, administering 100 times the allowed dosage, still showed no increased risk of cancer

The other group states however:

– It has been linked to eye problems including eye pain, blurred vision, dry eyes as well as a connection between aspartame and decreased eye vision

– Been linked to migraines and headaches. Some studies showed that people who consumed aspartame more often, had higher risk of migraines, and those who had migraines, have reported being free of pain after cutting artificial sweeteners, including aspartame

– Linked to stomach cramps and increased hunger. *

– Linked to increase in body weight. Studies have shown that since aspartame targets the same receptors as normal sugar, the brain doesn’t get the sufficient amount of energy (in Kcal) as per the sensation of sweeteners, which might in turn cause rewiring, which leads the brain to burn less calories (produce less ATP) with that particular threshold. In turn, affecting the catabolism of real sugar (real energy), causing weight gain

– Serious controversy among diabetics’ specialists. Since some studies showed that aspartame effects insulin sensitivity, causing the physicians to advice their patients to stay away from aspartame.

– some studies linked it to increase in mood disorders

– increased risk in seizures were also observed

– there were also a number of cases where hearing problems were reported.

*increased spurges of hunger could be related to the fact that was mentioned earlier regarding the taste receptors. As when the brain prepared the body for a certain amount of energy to be burned, and utilized, yet it gets non, this might cause the body to crave more in order to adjust for the misinterpretation of the message (the signals from the receptors)

From my personal experience, I have, after a long time, been able to pin down my sudden excruciating headache with the consumption of Diet sodas. However, I did think it has something to do with whatever is in the soda, yet, reading further on Aspartame, it might have been the case.

I my opinion, and this is from someone who have used sugar and artificial sweeteners alternatively, it depends on the body, but I say, better safe than sorry. To share with you what I thought were the strongest points on both arguments are; one is that Aspartame is nothing but a combination of amino acids, and as a Biochemist myself, I understand how OK this is. Yet, as someone who is also interested in the system/body as a whole, the point where the same receptors are triggered and, yet the energy is insufficient makes sense to me.

How I thought about it, is, we know that the body adapts to whatever you set it to. Your brain rewires. Your system adjusts. However, given our diverse intake form carbohydrates, to sugars, to sweeteners, to proteins and fats, the adapt might be detrimental in some respects. For example, continuous exposure to all the “sugar free”, “zero calories” food substitutes, which are usually high in artificial sweeteners, and specifically aspartame (widely used) along with continuous exposure to generic food in general; a combination of carbs to fats and proteins, then maybe this could be the reason why so many of us have problems losing weight and digesting real sugars, or even suffer from digestion problems, or etc.

I am leaving this to you to decide. Be your own judge. Stay objective.

As for me, I am taking major turns. I reduced my “artificial sweeteners” intake to the minimum, and trying to utilize other natural sweeteners like honey and maple syrup, or just plain sugar.

 

By Sara Ibrahim

Our Proteins are remarkable, but are even more so when we knew that they can conduct electricity, By Sara Ibrahim

When you think proteins, you think helices and sheets, or activation/ suppression, or even enzymatic activity. But have you ever thought Conduction/insulation? 

Back in April 2015, Kauffman and his group claimed that the electronic properties of the biomolecules are “precisely tuned to the transition point between a metal and an insulator”. 

To look at this closer, another group used a technique called the Huckel Hamiltonian method to the NMR spectra they selected from the protein Data Bank to calculate the HOMO/LUMO orbitals for proteins. Full study is in the link provided, though they did not address the amount of protein or biomolecules would be expected to be in the quantum critical state, they did mention however, that some essential steroids do fall into that category. 

Now, what’s interesting is that, in Oct 27, 2017, a paper was published saying that they caught a protein conducting electricity. 

Lindsay and his team are known to work with a technology called Recognition tunnelling which “threads single molecules down a nanopore like a thread through the eye of a needle”. It was 4 years ago when a graduate student decided to up the voltage, and that’s when the unbelievable happened. The protein started acting like a metal, with “remarkably high electronic conductance.” 

Ever since then, the lab team have been testing different phenomena, and trying to prove and disprove every route of hypothesis this finding can take, it was until Lindsay came across Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary biophysicist Gabor Vattay’s work. He had put forth the idea that proteins are “poised” at a special state between conduction and insulation based on Quantum mechanics. He had also proposed that an electrical fluctuation can kickstart a protein into being a conductor or an insulator. 

Lindsay’s finding supported his, he stated “Below a certain bias, it’s just an insulator, but when the fluctuations start kicking in, they are huge.”  

“In our experiments, we were seeing this weird behaviour in this huge protein conducting electricity, but it is not static. It’s a dynamic thing,” 

Refining the setup in further experimentations, the team was able to make a device that is able to switch the protein conductance on and off. 

So far however, Lindsay’s lab has been working with one protein, but we are hoping that this could ignite further research, and further finding which would enhance our understanding of proteins.  

Maybe with that, we get a step closer to treating neurological issues, and some diseases that have long persisted. 

By Sara Ibrahim

Mechanism Discovered that Allows Tumor Evasion from Immunotherapies, By Sara Ibrahim

Mechanism discovered that allows tumor evasion from immunotherapies

In a study made at Ludwig Cancer Research, Eynde’s lab were working on proving that though cancer immunotherapies were at time successful, the cancer immunotherapy that is based on checkpoint blockade in cancer is still ineffective. In their paper that was published on November 10th of 2017, they explained that they used autochthonous TiRP melanoma , model , which repeats the tumoral resistance observed in humans.

Immunotherapy is “treatment of disease by inducing, enhancing, or suppressing an immune response” . immune cells that are recruited to the tumor usually induce apoptosis (cell death) using the Killer T cells ; Regulatory or cytotoxic cells that originate in the bone marrow as part of the immune system.

In the paper they identify the specific molecular interaction; the interaction between FAS ( a protein on T cells) and its ligand, and how this binding “could be disrupted to improve the efficacy of cancer immunotherapies.”

Van den Eynde suggests that “If you just inject a million tumor cells in a mouse to create a tumor, you do not recapitulate this process–the interplay between the host and the tumor, the immune response that starts but then gets dampened by the tumor, or the tumor’s ultimate escape from that response.” He also states that this is what happens in clinical situations, there is no time given for the tumor to develop mechanisms to avoid the immune attack.

The research team engineered a mouse that is able to express a known antigen called P1A and a cancer-causing gene when triggered with a specific drug to be able to recreate the process. After inducing the engineered mouse with the melanoma tumor, the researchers studied the effects of cancer vaccines against the antigen P1A, and various checkpoint blockade therapies that was essentially an attack on the cancer cells via the T cells. they followed that by adoptive T Cell therapy (ACT); where T cells directed to the tumor is infused to the subject (mouse).

The results were shocking, when the ACT was translated into mice to generate tumors, the cell therapy managed to clear the transplanted tumor, however it did not affect the tumor growth in the model Eynde and his colleagues were working on. He said “To my great surprise, even injecting 10 million activated T cells specific to the P1A antigen did not affect tumor growth in this induced tumor model…We found that in the induced tumors, about half of the T cells were already apoptotic four days after ACT… This explained why they did not persist: The induced tumor behaves like a sink for these T cells. That does not happen in the transplanted tumors.”

Due to the results, and given that the cancer cells in both induced and transplanted tumors were the same, they tested for differences. The researchers found out that there is the polymorphonuclear myeloid-derived suppressor cell (PMN-MDSC) was only present in the induced tumors.

“MDSCs are a family of immune cells that are known to support the immune invasion in variety of ways.”

The PMN_MDSCs in the induced tumors shows high levels of FAS-ligand; a surface protein which induced T cell death when it binds its receptors on T cells. The study shows that “depleting the OMN- MDSC or blocking the FAS-ligand binding to its receptor restored the ability to kill induced tumors

Knowing this would aid in developing and improving the drugs that are already under process, meanwhile Eynde and his team continue to work hard to try and discover more mechanisms.

BY: Sara Ibrahim AJ

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