Cuba is opening up to the World

OK, let’s begin by saying that this might not be considered good news. Will Cuba opening up to the World be good for locals and visitors?

cuba

From a tourist perspective

There are arguments that Cuba is special because it’s been untouched by the modern world. There is no Mcdonalds or Starbucks, internet is still in it’s infancy and the country could be viewed as one being in a time warp!

So if Cuba is to change, then will this be good for the tourist experience, or will Cuba just become another sun and sea destination.

From the locals perspective

Cuba is likely to be very over run, very soon. Corporate America is lining up to steam and make things, well American!

If you look at other countries that have opened up to the west, perhaps Vietnam being a good example, then will every local stand to benefit from this massive change? It’s hard to say, Cuba is so unique, and we can only guess as to whether the locals are keen.

Could Cuba become the Vietnam success story of the Western Hemisphere?
Could Cuba become the Vietnam success story of the Western Hemisphere?

Here are some views from around the web on the potential good news coming Cuba’s way. By the way, Don’t be left with huge medical bills if you have not taken out travel insurance for the over 80s for any trips to the Caribbean.

Cuba, open at last

Are you a bit curious as to what Cuba is really like, now that we Americans can get there more easily since the U.S. embargo has been somewhat lifted?

Having been to Cuba “illegally” a few times – my first in 1989 – my recent trip in December 2015 was done legally, and I’m pleased to let you know all about this captivating island.

In December I flew from LAX on the first direct charter flight from the West Coast to Havana. The American Airlines charter had 133 passengers, mostly Cuban Americans, and leaves every Saturday from AA gate 41 at 12:30pm.

This flight is arranged by CubaTravelServices.com, a Los Angeles–based company that’s taken Americans to Cuba legally for years. You can arrange airfare, visa and fees through CTS. Including all taxes the total comes to $960 for a week, Saturday to Saturday. Arrival into Havana is 8:30 p.m. EST.

What to expect

Cuba, the largest island in the Caribbean, is more than just cigars and 1950s cars. It has some of the best beaches in the Caribbean, along with some of the best fishing, diving and music culture in the world. Its countryside is green, fertile, and welcoming to all.

I would suggest you visit Cuba sooner than later, though; as many as 10 million Americans are projected to visit yearly once the embargo is lifted totally. That number might overwhelm Cuba’s infrastructure… which it’s working on, since an estimated 700,000 Americans visited Cuba in 2014. New upscale hotels are going up to accommodate more travelers.

Havana has 3 million of Cuba’s 11 million inhabitants, and is the hub for its number-one industry: tourism. It’s also Cuba’s center for commerce, music, dance, and the theatre scene. Havana has the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Cuba; you’ll see some beautiful historic buildings being restored in the capital.

Cuba was the #1 tourist destination in the Caribbean for Americans in the ’40s and ’50s, so if you’re curious as to why, and what to see once you’re there, here are a few ideas.

If you go

Cuba is as safe as any country I’ve been to, and I’ve been to 130. You can walk around at night without fear, and its streets are cleaner than Tijuana. Some buildings look dirty just because they’re so old.

If you are travelling to Cuba you should always take out travel cover such like  seniors cover 85 because medical bills will be very expensive, and while Cuba has a good level of medical care, as a tourist you will not have a right to this.

After my recent visit, what touched me most were the Cubans themselves. Friendly and happy despite being poor by world standards, and welcoming towards Americans. They look forward to getting to know us better.

As one Cuban told me, “we like America, it’s our government that doesn’t so we hope you come and enjoy our warmth”.

Cuba, USA 

The Obama Administration took another step in implementing the change in US policy toward Cuba that the president announced in December of 2014. Specifically, the administration again loosened sanctions and export restrictions related to trade with and travel to Cuba through amendments made by the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR) and Export Administration Regulations (EAR), respectively. These amendments, which took effect on January 27, 2016, reflect the Obama Administration’s continued commitment to reduce US sanctions against Cuba in areas that encourage US engagement with, and empowerment of, the Cuban people.

While the changes make it easier for individuals and entities subject to US jurisdiction to trade with and travel to Cuba, significant restrictions on these activities remain in place, particularly where the activity is unrelated to furthering the needs of the Cuban people. In some areas, the administration has reached the limits of what it can do to remove restrictions on Cuba without Congressional action, and such action remains unlikely anytime soon.

The amendments can be divided into two broad categories: trade-related and travel related. The implications of each are outlined below.

Trade-Related Amendments

OFAC and BIS have significantly eased trade-related restrictions involving Cuba through the following changes:

Financing

OFAC has eliminated payment and financing restrictions for most types of authorized exports and reexports to Cuba other than agricultural commodities and items. Previously, payment and financing terms for authorized exports were restricted to cash-in-advance or third-country financing.

The current limits on travel by U.S. citizens to Cuba and what they can do once they get there, as well as restrictions on U.S. businesses that want to do business in Cuba, are regulated by both the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the U.S. Department of Commerce. Behavior by travelers is largely regulated by the Department of the Treasury’s Cuban Assets Control Regulations which were enacted on July 8, 1963, under the Trading With the Enemy Act.
This Is Happening: U.S. Eases Cuba Travel Restrictions, Drops Many License Requirements

The actions today do not completely open Cuba to travel from U.S. nationals, they just remove some of the red tape and pave the way for bigger changes later. People are still not legally allowed to travel to Cuba if they don’t fall into one of twelve categories, and those that are allowed to travel are still technically not allowed to engage in tourism.

Interestingly, while it is permissible to travel to Cuba for professional meetings, the new regulations specifically state: “Travel-related transactions are authorized, provided that the purpose of the meeting or conference is not the promotion of tourism in Cuba.”

The complete text of the new Treasury regulations are available here, while the complete text of the Commerce regulations are available here. They’re also embedded, below.

Below we’ve paired common questions with text from the regulations in order to answer the most frequently asked questions about travel to Cuba.

Mini-Brains could have huge impact on drug research

Firstly what are Mini Brains?

Miniature brains that show electrical activity akin to “a primitive type of thinking” could revolutionise how some drugs are tested and reduce the need for animals in research, according to scientists who have developed the structures. Human mini-brains, made from the neurons of a full-sized brain, will be mass-produced to replace animals in drugs testing, in a move that is likely to transform research and development in pharmaceuticals.

cancer-research

What have the various News reporters been saying about Mini Brains?

These tiny mini-brains contain all the cell types found in a real brain.

Researchers often rely on animal models like mice to evaluate how new drugs will affect the human brain or to better understand how the brain functions. But in recent years, scientists have turned to “mini-brains”—tiny lab-grown balls of brain cells—to test pharmaceuticals or better understand the causes of some diseases. While many of these brains are sophisticated enough to mimic the structure of the human brain, they also have limitations: They take several months to grow, and each one varies slightly, which inhibits researchers from getting rapid, consistent results from their experiments.

Now, researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health have developed a technique for making mini-brains more quickly and consistently, which they believe could allow mini-brains to replace animal testing for a variety of experiments. Dr. Thomas Hartung, a professor of environmental health sciences and one of the researchers behind the project, presented the work on Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington, D.C.

The cells were working together as they would in a real brain.

Like other mini-brains, these are made from pluripotent stem cells—ones capable of producing any cell or tissue the body may need—that have been isolated from skin. But while others are isolated to a single plane (or as Hartung describes it, “like pan-fried eggs sunny side up”), the cells in these mini-brains are kept suspended by being constantly shaken as they develop. After eight weeks, the mini-brains were each just 350 micrometers in diameter but when hooked up to an EEG, they showed activity—indicating to the researchers that the cells were working together as they would in a real brain. And while the initial batches contain 800 mini-brains each, Hartung believes the system could expand to grow thousands per batch.

It was an otherwise normal day in November when Madeline Lancaster realized that she had accidentally grown a brain. For weeks, she had been trying to get human embryonic stem cells to form neural rosettes, clusters of cells that can become many different types of neuron. But for some reason her cells refused to stick to the bottom of the culture plate. Instead they floated, forming strange, milky-looking spheres.

“I didn’t really know what they were,” says Lancaster, who was then a postdoc at the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology in Vienna. That day in 2011, however, she spotted an odd dot of pigment in one of her spheres. Looking under the microscope, she realized that it was the dark cells of a developing retina, an outgrowth of the developing brain. And when she sliced one of the balls open, she could pick out a variety of neurons. Lancaster realized that the cells had assembled themselves into something unmistakably like an embryonic brain, and she went straight to her adviser, stem-cell biologist Jürgen Knoblich, with the news. “I’ve got something amazing,” she told him. “You’ve got to see it.”

Lancaster and her colleagues were not the first to grow a brain in a dish. In 2008, researchers in Japan reported1 that they had prompted embryonic stem cells from mice and humans to form layered balls reminiscent of a cerebral cortex.

Autism emphasis

The Johns Hopkins team created the iPSCs by reprogramming the skin cells of a patient with a specific disease or non-disease background. For example, Hartung and his colleagues are very interested in autism because cases of the disorder are doubling every 10 years in the US. ‘This cannot be explained by genetics because genes are not changing that fast, so there must be environmental factors,’ he said.

As a result, the team is making mini-brains from the cells of autistic children, and this allows them to then test the effects of various compounds on that disorder. ‘This is the first time that you really can test gene–environment interactions on a personalised basis,’ Hartung explained. ‘I could imagine similar applications for even testing whether an individual would react favourably to a certain drug or not.’ While such a possibility would be far too costly at the moment, he believes that these mini-brains could facilitate personalised medicine in the near future.

Around five labs in the world have developed similar brain models, but the Johns Hopkins model is different because it is better standardised, according to Hartung. Many of the other models take up to nine months to develop, and they are all unique, Hartung said. ‘These were the Ferraris, the Maseratis – the beautiful almost brain-like structures,’ he remarked. ‘We only produce mini-brains – mini-coopers – but they are all the same, and this allows us now not to compare different brains, but to compare different drivers.’ He stressed that their mini-brains can be used to compare different drugs and toxicants to better understand their various effects.

Hartung is now applying for a patent on the mini-brains and is also creating a spin-off called Organome to produce and sell them. He said nobody should have an excuse to still use animal models, which come with ‘tremendous limitations’, including cost and time.

 

Latest good news from the fight against cancer

The fight against cancer continues worldwide and we have selected a number of good news stories from around the world regarding the research into cures for cancer.

Our first news story comes from Australia and is about a new cancer treatment has helped nearly 80% of those in a trial of patients with leukaemia.

From Yahoo News

Lives are being saved in Melbourne in a world-first trial of a potentially revolutionary cancer drug that comes in the form of a single tablet.

Some patients with an advanced form of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL), the most common type of leukaemia affecting about 1000 Australians each year, have been given a new lease on life with the invention of the new anti-cancer drug, venetoclax.

The drug has been in the works for five years.

Three Victorian centres – The Royal Melbourne Hospital, the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute – began phase-one trials of it with severely ill patients in 2011.

There are 116 patients trialling the pill, which they take daily.

Professor Andrew Roberts, a haematologist at The Royal Melbourne Hospital, says 79 per cent of participants had promising responses to the drug.

One of those is Rod Jacobs, 63, who credits it with saving his life.

He was diagnosed with CLL in 2009 and given chemotherapy, but the cancer returned in 2012.

Mr Jacobs was accepted into the trial in 2013 and today not even the most sensitive medical test can detect cancer his blood.

“The results were fantastic – my quality of life has improved immensely,” Mr Jacobs told reporters in Melbourne on Thursday.

“I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for this drug.”

Professor Roberts says 20 per cent of the trial participants achieved complete remission.

“This is a very exciting result for a group of people who often had no other treatment options available,” he told reporters.

Professor John Seymour, chair of the haematology service at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, said the new drug not only worked quickly, but had significantly milder side-effects than conventional treatments.

Unlike chemotherapy patients, trial patients felt only mild nausea.

However, as these results came from the first trial involving humans, it could take years until the drug is available to the public.

 

From the National Student

University of Southampton researchers have developed a revolutionary new form of treatment, known as Immunotherapy, which uses a person’s internal functions to fight cancer.

Cancer Cell

The research has been conducted by specialists and has had positive test results on a number of patients being treated at Southampton General Hospital.

Early forecasts suggest that a cancer immunotherapy vaccine could be available within 15 years, developed within a new state-of-the-art facility being built in the grounds of the Tremona Road hospital.

The Southampton Centre for Cancer Immunology, which will cost £25 million to build, will attract the finest cancer research brains under one roof and transform the lives of tens of thousands of patients who will benefit from their discoveries. It will create 60 new jobs and put Southampton firmly on the world treatment stage.

Tim Elliott, professor of experimental oncology at the University of Southampton, will be the director of the new centre.

“This is the first time researchers have felt comfortable talking about a cure. The excitement comes from the fact that there are now trials of Immunotherapy” explained Elliot.

Part of the reason that cancer is so dangerous is often the lack of effective treatment. However, Southampton scientists have made what could be a potentially game-changing breakthrough in their attempts to find a cure.

After years of minimal progression in the field, Immunotherapy, which supercharges the immune system to recognise and destroy cancerous cells, could provide the answer. Additionally, the treatment may actually provide patients with long-lasting protection against future growth.

“I think we will see vaccines used in Immunotherapy in patients with all types of cancer within 15 years” said Elliot.

cancer-research

 

From CNN

Nymox Announces Prostate Cancer Clinical Trial Results From Completed 18 Month Endpoint Nymox Pharmaceutical Corporation (NASDAQ:NYMX) today announced results from the completion of the Company’s U.S. 40 month (18 month outcomes) localized prostate cancer Phase 2 NX03-0040 clinical trial of fexapotide triflutate (NX-1207). The study successfully met its pre-determined endpoints. Cancer progression clinical outcomes were significantly improved in the fexapotide treated patient groups.

The clinical trial commenced in February 2012 at 28 U.S. investigational clinical trial sites and enrolled 147 patients with low grade localized (T1c) prostate cancer. The study lasted 40 months overall from the first patient randomized to the last patient 18 month endpoints.

Results from the completed 18 month outcome study after a single injection of fexapotide included the following:

  • Absence of tumors (Primary Endpoint) controlled for size in baseline area: fexapotide 15 mg superior to control (p=.035); crossover fexapotide 15 mg superior to control (p=.002); crossover fexapotide overall superior to control (p=.014).
  • 75.5% reduction in biopsy proven prostate cancer Gleason upgrades (pathological progression) after 18 months in fexapotide 15 mg treated patients compared to control (p=.0055). 71.7% reduction in prostate cancer Gleason upgrades in fexapotide treated patients overall (p=.0045 vs controls).
  • 84.8% reduction after 18 months in surgery or radiotherapy instituted for prostate cancer Gleason upgrade (biopsy worsening) in fexapotide treated patients overall compared to control group (p=.014).
  • 54.8% reduction after 18 months in surgery or radiotherapy instituted for all causes with or without prostate cancer Gleason upgrade in fexapotide 15 mg treated patients compared to control (p=.026).
  • Significant improvement for fexapotide patients compared to controls in 4 out of 4 Secondary Endpoints. Tumor volume reduction in the treated area, combined dosages (p=.04); tumor volume change in prostate overall, fexapotide patients overall (p=.014); median tumor grade outcome in the treated area, all dosages (fexapotide median benign, vs control median Gleason 3+3), and superior median tumor grade in prostate overall, fexapotide 15 mg vs controls.
  • Consistent safety results with no significant drug-related adverse events and no significant related sexual adverse events.
  • Overall superior results for the fexapotide 15 mg dose compared to the 2.5 mg dose (dose-response).
  • Other statistically significant improvement outcomes in fexapotide patients compared to controls, to be presented comprehensively at medical meetings.

“These results demonstrate that a single targeted office injection of fexapotide has led to statistically significant improvement in outcomes with much less surgery or radiotherapy required after 18 months. This means a reduction in patient discomfort, and a reduction in permanent side effects and life changes when the more invasive treatments are required,” said Paul Averback, CEO of Nymox.

BBC to cut jobs with enforced cutbacks

After years of sending their staff on jollies at the expense of the British tax payer through the stealth tax that is the BBC TV Licence, finally the technological age has caught up with Auntie.

After showing complete left wing bias during the 2015 General Election the BBC is facing the fact that there is a £150m shortfall in funding and the gravy train is going to be soon hitting the buffers.

Looking for travel insurance over age of 85 then visit the various comparison sites.

Various BBC stories from around the web.

From CITYAM

The BBC will cut over 1,000 jobs due to a £150m shortfall in its licence fee income, director Lord Tony Hall has confirmed.

With the number of households owning television sets falling as audience’s consumption practices change, the broadcaster’s income from license fee subscriptions has diminished.

The BBC said the financial challenges “means additional savings must now be found” and that it aims to save £50m from the slim down.

Hall said creating a “simpler, leaner, BBC is the right thing to do and it can also help us meet the financial challenges we face.

“We’ve already significantly cut the costs of running the BBC,” he explained, “but in times of very tough choices we need to focus on what really matters – delivering outstanding programmes and content for all our audiences.”

Professional and support areas will be most affected by the cuts, management layers will be removed and the number of its overall divisions reduced as part of Hall’s wide-ranging attempts to improve efficiency and make savings at the broadcaster.

Wage restraints, pay-off caps and a reduction in senior managers have already been implemented as part of his remodelling plan. Properties have also been vacated and sold off in order to cut costs – last month its Media Village site in White City was sold and sublet for £87m.

The £145.5 annual licence fee has been an issue of much contention in recent weeks, after culture secretary John Whittingdale called it “regressive” and argued it hit the poor the hardest.

However, Hall has said the licence hee has got “10 years life in it”.

From the Press Gazette

he BBC is to cut more than 1,000 jobs, including many managerial roles, the corporation has announced.

The cuts come as the corporation seeks to become “simpler, leaner and more effective for the future”.

They were announced by director general Tony Hall in a speech to staff this morning from the BBC’s Media Cafe. It was streamed on the corporation’s intranet.

The cuts announcement comes after reports the BBC discovered a £150m shortfall in funding from licence fee in 2016/17.

The cuts would amount to around one in 20 BBC staff going.

The BBC said it could deliver £50m in savings from “merging divisions, cutting down management layers, reducing managers and improving processes”. It said that more than 1,000 jobs would be lost as a result.

Asked where the other £100m – making up the rest of the shortfall – would come from, a BBC spokesperson said this would be announced “in due course”.

The BBC said it would reduce the number of divisions by “joining up technology teams across Digital, Engineering and Worldwide”, and said: “Further changes are also possible.”

It has also pledged to “reduce the number of layers from the top to the bottom of the organisation. In some places there are currently ten layers of people and management and this will be cut to a maximum of seven in the future.”

The statement also said that the BBC will “reduce management roles in all areas of the BBC. A simpler organisation will inevitably require fewer managers, especially at senior levels.”

And it will also bid to “simplify and standardise procedures across the BBC particularly looking at how professional and support areas such as marketing and communication, finance, HR, IT support and legal are structured and can be simplified.”

In a statement this morning, the corporation said: “Over recent years the BBC has built an impressive savings record that will deliver over £1.5bn of savings a year by 2017. Much of this has been done through cutting administration and property costs, pay and headcount restraint, plus tough decisions like more daytime repeats and shared sports rights.

“A new independent study by PwC being published today ranks the BBC amongst the most efficient organisations in the public and regulated private sectors. Overhead costs are approximately 8 per cent of total costs and will fall to 7 per cent – well below both the public sector average of 11.2 per cent and the regulated industry average of 8.8 per cent.

“Despite the progress already made, and the realities of the licence fee being frozen for seven years, a new financial challenge means additional savings must now be found.

“The licence fee income in 2016/17 is now forecast to be £150m less than it was expected to be in 2011. This is because as more people use iPlayer, mobiles and online catch-up, the number of households owning televisions is falling. It also provides further evidence of the need for the licence fee to be modernised to cover digital services.”

Director General Tony Hall said: “A simpler, leaner, BBC is the right thing to do and it can also help us meet the financial challenges we face.

“We’ve already significantly cut the costs of running the BBC, but in times of very tough choices we need to focus on what really matters – delivering outstanding programmes and content for all our audiences.”