Research Picks Extra – March 2017

Social networking in The Caribbean

Much has been researched and written about the impact of smart phones and social networking in young people in the developed regions of North America, Europe and Asia, and in the developing world, but a new study from researchers at the University of Liverpool, UK, focuses on The Caribbean, an important historical and cultural region of more than 700 islands of 13 sovereign states and 17 dependencies and a population of almost 44 million people. The research literature is yet to reach a consensus on the psychosocial issues surrounding mobile and social networking among young adults. There has been scant regard for The Caribbean in this context so far, this new research could perhaps raise awareness and stimulate greater discussion and wider research.

Hunter, S.M. and Halkias, D. (2016) ‘The psychosocial impact of mobile social networking among young adults in Jamaica’, Int. J. Technology Enhanced Learning, Vol. 8, Nos. 3/4, pp.264–278.


Bollywood pirates

What factors influence whether movie fans will illicitly download copyright materials from the internet and specifically who are the Bollywood pirates? Researchers in India have questioned hundreds of consumers of between 16 and 60 years of age, male and female to investigate. 16-30 year olds were more likely to illegally downloading copyright movies, the team found. Both males and females were as likely as each other to be involved. However, they found that the most common repeat offenders are students who report their perception that movie “piracy” is a victimless crime. Movie piracy and other breaches of copyright law are not victimless crimes, of course, and yet the industries must be failing to fulfil the needs of a large proportion of their market, perhaps in terms of pricing and expediency of movie releases for piracy to be such a large problem.

Gupta, P.K. and Venkataramani, B. (2017) ‘Demographic factors contributing to online movie piracy of Hindi films produced in Mumbai’, Int. J. Process Management and Benchmarking, Vol. 7, No. 3, pp.354–370.


Targeted post-op clot-buster coatings

Thrombolytic drugs, colloquially known as clot-busters, are used in medicine to dissolve coagulated blood that forms in blood vessels and can, without such treatment, lead to serious health problems such as deep-vein thrombosis, myocardial infarction, pulmonary embolism, and stroke. Scientists in Czech Republic have developed novel site-specific thrombolytic and anticoagulant biomaterials that avoid the problems of severe bleeding seen as an important side-effect of current clot-busting drugs. The team’s development of biomaterial coatings are being tested as linings for vascular grafts that will preclude post-operative clot formation and hopefully save lives in those requiring such surgery who would normally require long-term clot-busting drugs.

Beran, M., Drahorad, J., Molik, P., Urban, M. and Krajicek, M. (2017) ‘Site-specific thrombolytic and anticoagulant biomaterials’, Int. J. Nanotechnol., Vol. 14, Nos. 1/2/3/4/5/6, pp.31–37.


Pumpless pumping

The miniaturisation of chemical equipment in the form of so-called “lab-on-a-chip” devices and microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) and their even smaller “nano” counterparts continues apace. Such devices are already being used as environmental sensors and analytical tools in medicine and biomedical research. Their potential is ironically huge as they are the chemical analogue of electronic integrated circuits that might be developed into mobile devices for use in the clinic, the home and industry. One of the significant obstacles yet to be overcome regards the power supply for such devices and the requisite pumps to move tiny droplets of liquids within. An intriguing discovery by researchers from France and New Zealand suggests that some of the necessary fluid flow might be driven by the very mixing of disparate liquids within specific channels, or capillaries, in a device rather than an external pressure being required. They have demonstrated the spontaneous motion of a slug of miscible liquids in a capillary tube and suggest that this “passive actuation mechanism could prove an attractive alternative in digital microfluidic systems for which bulky pumping systems would usually be required.

Sellier, M., Verdier, C. and Nock, V. (2017) ‘The spontaneous motion of a slug of miscible liquids in a capillary tube’, Int. J. Nanotechnol., Vol. 14, Nos. 1/2/3/4/5/6, pp.530–539.

Toxicology, rinsing out the poison chalice

Until the industrial revolution almost the complete gamut of poisons and toxins lay in the natural realm. Lethal alkaloids from toxic plants, arsenic-containing rocks, noxious fumes from fires and plenty of other sources of risk. It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution and the maturation of alchemy to chemistry, that synthetic chemicals became an issue. In the 19th and 20th century, chemists identified literally tens of millions more chemicals in nature and in their laboratories and turned what was essentially a world of arsenic and old lace into the vast chemical space of toxicity we know, but cannot comprehend fully today.

According to Thomas Hartung of the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in Baltimore, Maryland, USA and also of the University of Konstanz, Germany, toxicology as a science has not evolved to keep pace with the chemical revolution. Writing in the International Journal of Risk Assessment and Management, Hartung highlights ten problems that must be addressed if toxicology is to be dragged kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century, albeit almost two decades late. These are the ten reasons toxicology has to change:

  1. because we treat different substances very differently depending on product category or geographic region, while we treat substances the same, which have very different uses
  2. because throughput and costs of current testing cannot satisfy the societal testing needs and do not allow early assessments in product development and design guidance
  3. because predictivity for humans (and even of different animal species) is limited
  4. because precautionary approaches from drug development adapted to other areas produce too many false-positives
  5. because animal use is seen more and more critically by a general public, thus affecting legislation
  6. because new products (biological, cell therapies, genetically modified and functional food (nutraceuticals), medical countermeasures to biological and chemical terrorism and warfare agents, as well as medical devices and nanoparticles) are not always suitable for traditional tests
  7. because new and emerging hazards (e.g., endocrine effects, childhood effects such as asthma and behavioural issues, obesity, and cardiovascular effects) are not adequately covered
  8. because mixture effects of toxicants cannot be adequately addressed
  9. because individual susceptibilities and vulnerable subpopulations cannot yet be covered
  10. because science in general has to raise research and publication standards

Hartung concedes that it is relatively easy to criticise and yet the issues seem obvious in his analysis and that change is needed. He suggests that given the intransigence in the world of international toxicological policies and methods this overarching issue must be overcome first before these ten issues can be addressed. “While current approaches are still needed, there is room for substantial change,” he says. “To meet the challenges of the 21st century, revolution rather than evolution is required.”

Hartung, T. (2017) ‘Evolution of toxicological science: the need for change’, Int. J. Risk Assessment and Management, Vol. 20, Nos. 1/2/3, pp.21–45.

What’s the skinny on your local science park?

Local knowledge networks can have a significant impact on the innovative capacity of firms in the area. The examples of Silicon Valley, “Silicon Fen” (the hub of companies in and around Cambridge, UK) and many others have highlighted this point several times.

A new study published in the International Journal of Technology Management suggests that the “science parks” that are a common feature of such hubs have many benefits. These benefits offer synergies that assist the development of companies and ultimately the success of their products and services and their bottom-line profitability. There are countless examples of internationally renowned companies that emerged initially as small startups with low-key premises on a science park.

Among those benefits, explain Isabel Díez-Vial and Ángeles Montoro-Sánchez of the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain, are shared resources, machinery and other facilities, testing laboratories, and an overarching perception of legitimacy. Moreover, it is the flux of well-educated, innovative and motivated people who manage and work for these companies that contributes enormously to the effect. Science park companies that develop from startup and are still in business after three years are among the greatest beneficiaries of the science park setup. By virtue of their location and assuming they are outward looking, they will inevitably benefit from taking part in the local network and gain greater innovation due to the knowledge provided by others. To benefit the most they are obliged to invest time and effort in the development of new links between companies and with academia and to increase centrality and strengthen relationships within the hub.

However, the study also shows something of a downside to the science park culture after this initial boost to residents. Díez-Vial and Montoro-Sánchez have found that as companies get older and as a consequence spend longer in a given location whether or not they upgrade to bigger premises on the science park or extend their buildings, the benefits decline as the years go by. It is therefore important for new companies and entrepreneurs heading for the science park to recognise the initial buzz may well fade as their company matures.

“Science parks have been increasingly considered as a nurturing environment for business start-ups and lead to the development of growth-oriented firms,” the team reports. That said, now is the time to investigate how the pros and cons affect companies, both young and old, with a view to providing entrepreneurs and company managers with a clearer perspective on whether they will be better off in or out of the science park.

Díez-Vial, I. and Montoro-Sánchez, Á. (2017) ‘From incubation to maturity inside parks: the evolution of local knowledge networks‘, Int. J. Technology Management, Vol. 73, Nos. 1/2/3, pp.132-150.