Fake malaria drugs a growing problem: experts

Fake or poor quality malaria drugs are boosting resistance in parts of southeast Asia, a problem that is likely to worsen unless tighter regulations are adopted, US experts said Monday.

“The malaria parasite has a history of adapting to drugs and adapting to insecticides,” Regina Rabinovich, director of infectious diseases at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, told a hearing of US lawmakers.

“Drug resistance to the most effective drug available, artemisinin-based combination therapy, is developing and has been recognized in southeast Asia.”

Last month, the World Health Organization said resistance to artemisinin appeared to be spreading in the region from the Cambodia-Thailand border, where it was first detected in 2009, and possibly moving into Myanmar.

Half of the world’s population is exposed to the mosquito-borne disease which kills 860,000 people every year, according to the WHO.

According to Roger Bate of the American Enterprise Institute, research has shown that about half the malaria drugs that failed quality control tests also contained some artemisinin.

“So they are directly contributing to resistance,” he told lawmakers at the House subcommitee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights.

“Resistance is being noticed on the Thai, Cambodian, Burmese borders and resistance is likely to increase,” he said.

“Fake and substandard antimalarial medications are a significant and probably growing problem.”

While the actual number of poor quality drugs in circulation is unknown, “it is certainly not a negligible amount,” he added, and the problem is festering because these medications are not illegal in the countries affected.

“Simply getting the medical regulatory authorities to control what is on the market for anti malarials I think is important,” said Bate.

The sale and use of monotherapies, which contain just one active agent, have long been known to contribute to resistance. Experts favor combination therapies which last longer.

Bate said that coordinated action to get monotherapies off the market in Africa has shown some success, “but some companies in China, India and Vietnam are still producing them and this is a major contribution to resistance.”

In addition to tougher regulations, researchers need to focus on developing new drugs against malaria, and consider making sure they cannot be sold or distributed as monotherapies, the panelists urged.

“The goal now going forward is the new drugs we develop need to be made as fixed dose combinations immediately, and never be sold or available as single entities,” said Dennis Schmatz, president of Medicines for Malaria Venture North America, Inc.

“And that will definitely extend the life of any of those new drugs we develop going forward.”

Rabinovich echoed that point, saying that the drugs of today will not be effective tomorrow.

“Research and development is essential because the preventive and curative tools that are available today and are so effective at controlling malaria are not sufficient to control malaria in the long term or for eradication due in part to the development of resistance,” she said.

Dual-core Meizu MX fully unveiled

After some teases and leaks, Meizu’s finally unveiled its next flagship phone MX to keep China entertained for 2012. While the quad core flavor won’t be here until next year, this dual core model will be available in mainland China starting from ¥2,999 ($470) on January 1st (like with the M9 last year), and Hong Kong is still expecting an early January release. The full spec list now includes a 4-inch 960 x 640 ASV display, 1.4GHz Samsung Exynos 4210 dual core chip, 1GB of LPDDR2 RAM, 16GB of storage (32GB version to launch later), 0.3 megapixel front-facing camera, a secondary mic for noise cancellation and a 1,600mAh battery. Oh, that circular button at the bottom? It’s just a physical home button instead of an optical trackpad as previously rumored.

Globetrotters will be pleased to know that the 10.3mm-thick MX will pack pentaband 3G with HSPA+, so all you need is a Micro SIM to get the phone working. As for software, it’ll come with Meizu’s heavily customized Android 2.3.5 initially (dubbed Flyme OS) but will eventually get the 4.0 update, as already promised by CEO Jack Wong. On the multimedia front you’ll again find native support for FLAC audio plus various video formats like MKV, MP4 and AVI; along with a micro-USB port that supports S/PDIF digital output, USB host plus MHL; and an eight megapixel f/2.2 backside-illuminated camera (which does smile detection and panorama shot) with 1080p 30fps recording. Head on over to Meizu’s website for the full lowdown — it’ll be a good way to practise your Chinese, too.

 

iPads become child’s play

NEW YORK (AP) — Make room in the toy box for the iPad.

Crayola allows tots to doodle on the iPad using its iMarker just as they would a crayon on a coloring book. Tweens are able to belt out their favorite Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez tunes on a Disney microphone that turns the tablet into a karaoke machine. And technology accessories company Griffin enables teens to fly its toy helicopter by using the iPhone as a remote control.

This holiday season, toy makers have turned Apple Inc.’s pricey tablet and smartphone into playthings for kids. They figure in this weak economy, parents will be willing to splurge on toys for their children that utilize devices they already have — or want — themselves.

Tiffany Fessler of Gainsville, Ga., certainly was willing to do that even though when she initially bought her $829 iPad she never imagined she’d be sharing it with her 20-month-old son. But whenever she sat down to check emails on the iPad, he’d climb into her lap wanting to use it.

So, Fessler decided to get him the $29.99 Crayola iMarker, which transforms the iPad into a digital coloring book using a Crayola’s free ColorStudio HD application that parents can download. Kids can draw and color using the iMarker, which has a soft tip so it doesn’t scratch the tablet’s glass screen.

“When you have a screaming toddler in a restaurant or any public area, you want to have something to calm him down with,” says Fessler, 39. “This is just another way to keep him entertained.”

That the iPad and iPhone have infiltrated the $22 billion toy market this season is no surprise. Smartphones and tablets — particularly Apple products — are more popular than ever with people of all ages. This year, Apple is expected to double the number of iPhones sold to 90.6 million worldwide, according to research firm Gartner, while the number of iPads sold is expected to triple to 46.7 million.

And Apple products have a certain “cool factor” with kids that toy companies, which can make up to half of their revenue during the holidays, are hoping to tap into. In fact, the iPad and iPhone are among the most coveted electronics this holiday season among kids. About 44 percent of 6- to 12-year-olds want the iPad this year, according to a survey by research firm Nielsen. The iPod touch came in the No. 2 spot with 30 percent, followed by the iPhone at 27 percent.

Not to mention, anyone who’s a parent knows all too well that babies and older kids alike love to fiddle with or drool all over mommy’s iPad. Nearly 40 percent of 2-to 4-year-olds have used a smartphone, iPad or video iPod, according to a survey by nonprofit group Common Sense Media. That number rises to 52 percent for 5- to- 8 year olds. And even 10 percent of infants have used one of the devices before their first birthday.

“It’s mostly something for kids to use in the car or at the doctor’s office,” says Chris Baynes, a toy analyst. “It’s a way to get the kid to be quiet.”

With that in mind, Crayola teamed up with Nashville, Tenn.-based Griffin Technology, which is mostly known for selling iPhone and iPad cases and car chargers, to make the iMarker and the ColorStudio HD app for kids. The iMarker, which is like a stylus that resembles a Crayola marker, is targeted at children ages three and up.

“Regardless of who they buy it for, once it is in the household, we know that kids use it,” says Vicky Lozano, vice president of marketing at Crayola, which makes the iMarker.

Other toy makers also have gotten into the game:

— Griffin’s $49.99 remote-controlled toy helicopter is aimed at teens over 14. Called the “HELO TC,” it flies using a device that plugs into an iPhone, iPad or iPod. A free app turns the touchscreen of the devices into a cockpit that controls the helicopter.

— Mattel Inc.’s Fisher-Price unit is selling “The Laugh and Learn Apptivity Case” aimed at babies for $15. The case locks the iPhone into a colorful, easy to grab case that looks like a big round rattle. The case stops babies from making unwanted calls and protects the iPhone from something else: drool. Parents can open up three free apps that play music, read words aloud and count numbers. The company plans to release an iPad version of the case this spring.

— Disney has three offerings. The “Disney Spotlight” microphone, which is $69.99 or $99.99 for a wireless version, plugs into the iPad and allows kids to sing along to Disney songs from shows such as “Hannah Montana” — or to their own music — and record their own music video. Disney’s $79.99 AppClix digital camera enables kids to upload their pictures to an iPad and a free app allows them add Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck into the photos. And Disney teamed up with Canadian toy maker Spin Master to create “Appmates,” a toy car based on the characters from the company’s “Car’s 2” animated movie. One car sells for $12.99 while a two-pack goes for $19.99. Using a free app, kids can “drive” on different courses by moving the car across the iPad screen.

— Spin Master, which makes toys such as Air Hogs and Bakugan, started a new line this year of toys for the iPad and iPhone called “AppFininity.” Its first toy in the line is the $19.99 AppBlaster, a plastic gun for kids over age eight. After slipping an iPhone or iPad touch on top of the AppBlaster, kids can shoot at aliens that pop up on the screen.

Analysts say these toys are just the beginning of a new niche for toy makers. Indeed, most of the companies say they plan to roll out more products for smartphones and tablets — including some that use Google Inc.’s Android software— next year.

“I think it’s going to be a growing segment,” says Jim Silver, editor-in-chief at toy review website TimeToPlaymag.com. “Next year, there will be even more (products) than you can possibly imagine.”

Rivers, Chargers gouge reeling Jaguars

jacksonville, Fla. (AP) — No matter how many interceptions he threw, no matter how many turnovers he committed, Philip Rivers refused to play it safe.

He knew things would change.

They finally did. On “Monday Night Football” no less, and with his San Diego Chargers in the deepest of holes.

Rivers threw for 294 yards and three touchdowns, burning Jacksonville’s depleted secondary early and often, and the Chargers beat the Jaguars 38-14 to snap a six-game losing streak.

The Chargers (5-7) had been waiting for the three-time Pro Bowl selection to return to form. Some questioned whether it would happen this season. But Rivers never lost faith even though he leads the NFL in interceptions (17) and turnovers (21) and was a key part of the team’s disappointing slide.

“It’s been a rough six weeks,” Rivers said. “I haven’t put a complete game together, but I don’t care about the numbers. I just want to win.”

Rivers was nearly perfect against Jacksonville (3-9), adding to the team’s tumultuous week.

He completed 22 of 28 passes — hooking up with Vincent Brown, Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd for long scores — before sitting out the final few minutes. Rivers finished with a 146.1 QB rating, by far his highest of the season.

The Chargers scored on five of their first six drives, then sent most of the home crowd scrambling for the exits with Ryan Mathews’ 31-yard TD run in the fourth. Mathews ran 13 times for 112 yards.

“That’s the type of chemistry coming into this season we knew we had,” tight end Antonio Gates said. “We stayed on course despite what we’ve been through these last six weeks. That we were able to get a win tonight speaks volumes for this team.”

It was a much-needed victory for a team that trails Denver and Oakland by two games in the AFC West with four to play.

And it was another blow to the Jaguars, who endured the most sweeping changes in the 17-year history of the franchise last week.

Team owner Wayne Weaver fired coach Jack Del Rio and announced he was selling the club to Illinois businessman Shahid Khan. Interim coach Mel Tucker fired receivers coach Johnny Cox, reassigned quarterbacks coach Mike Sheppard and waived starting receiver Jason Hill.

The moves seemed to invigorate a franchise that had seemingly gone stale in Del Rio’s ninth season. Fans showed up energized for a prime-time game that signaled the start of a new era. Some wore “Yes We Khan” T-shirts. Other donned fake mustaches to emulate the owner-in-waiting.

It made little difference on the field, mostly because Jacksonville’s defensive injuries proved too much to overcome.

The Jaguars played without their top three cornerbacks — Rashean Mathis, Derek Cox and Will Middleton — and lost safety Dwight Lowery (shoulder) and defensive end John Chick (knee) during the game.

“No excuses here,” Tucker said. “We won’t allow ourselves to go down that road.”

Rivers took advantage of the injuries, picking on a pair of cornerbacks who were signed off the street in recent weeks.

Rivers threw a 22-yard TD pass to Brown and a 35-yarder to Jackson on the final two drives of the first half as the Chargers overcame a brief deficit to seize control. Those scores came in the final 2:32 of the half.

The opening drive of the third quarter didn’t take long, either. On the fifth play, Rivers found Floyd deep down the right sideline for a 52-yard score. Floyd, activated Monday night after missing six games with a hip injury, beat Ashton Youboty badly on the play. Floyd finished with four receptions for 108 yards.

“He’s just an outstanding player,” Chargers coach Norv Turner said of Rivers. “Like any quarterback, it starts with protection, with the guys up front. He’s missed Malcom. We’ve missed Malcom. When Philip has all his guys, and he can operate like he did today, he’s as good as anybody.”

It was the second TD given up by Youboty, who was replaced on the next possession by Morgan Trent, signed five days ago.

The biggest cheer for the Jaguars came late in the third quarter, when Weaver was shown on the stadium’s large video board. Weaver and his wife received a standing ovation.

The $760 million sale must be approved by the NFL later this month. Khan chose not to attend the game, which turned out to be a good move.

“I don’t think anyone has been through anything like that,” said Maurice Jones-Drew, who finished with 188 total yards. “This is a $9 billion business. Other than that, we played football. We’ve got to figure out how to keep going for four quarters and not two.”

Jones-Drew was the lone offensive star for Jacksonville — again. He finished with 97 yards rushing and 91 yards receiving. He leads the NFL in rushing with 1,137 yards.

MJD caught a 9-yard touchdown pass from Blaine Gabbert to cap a 79-yard drive at the start of the second quarter. The Jaguars managed only 27 yards in the opening quarter.

After a three-and-out by the Chargers, Gabbert and Drew hooked up on a 48-yard shovel pass. It was a beautifully executed play, with Gabbert flicking the ball five yards with his left hand to Drew, who had the middle of the field all to himself and ran down to the 4-yard line.

Chargers cornerback Antoine Cason broke up a potential touchdown pass to Jarett Dillard, but on third-and-goal from the 5, Gabbert found Cecil Shorts in the back corner of the end zone to give the Jaguars a 14-10 lead.

It was all San Diego after that, mostly due to Rivers.

Notes: Chargers C Nick Hardwick (neck) left in the first half, but later returned. … LB Donald Butler (foot) left the game and did not return. … The Chargers improved to 18-2 in December and January under Turner. … The Jaguars have lost 12 of their last 15 games, dating to last season. … Gabbert completed 19 of 33 passes for 195 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception, his best game since early October. … An overlooked play was offensive tackle Guy Whimper’s 17-yard reception. He showed soft hands and nimble feet. Chargers S Eric Weddle didn’t seem to want any part of tackling the 302-pound lineman.

Humanoid robots go on show

London (CNN) — When it comes to building cutting-edge robots, it seems their designers have a tendency to create them in their own likeness.
These eerily life-like, and occasionally just eerie, robots are just some of the exhibits that went on display Thursday at the Robotville Festival at London’s Science Museum.
From the Italian-built iCub, which learns by playing with people, to CHARLY, which is being used to help autistic children, these robots mimic humans in order to help them learn about people and communicate with them.
Read more: Snake-arm robot

The exhibition doesn’t just feature humanoid robots — there are also robots that swim and ones that swarm, some that explore and others designed for domestic use.
It is being run in partnership with EUNIC and the European Commission Robotics program and ends on December 4.

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