Research Picks July 2015

Miners versus farmers in Ghana

Mining could be a major factor in food security in Ghana, according to researchers in Ghana and the USA. They have studied mining and agriculture for the period 1989 to 2007 and carried out a preliminary statistical analysis that lends support to the idea that mining has not led to a reduction in agricultural acreage increase despite expansion of mineral concession. They did find that there is evidence of a relationship between mining and a decline in maize, sorghum and cocoyam production. Real impacts of mining operations on agriculture may be more pronounced at the farming community or district level, the team reports. However, they subscribe to the hypothesis that “resource curse” occurs conditionally, and it may be offset by proactive policies and sufficiently good institutions being proactive in regulating both sectors.

Owusu-Ansah, F. and Smardon, R.C. (2015) ‘Mining and agriculture in Ghana: a contested terrain’, Int. J. Environment and Sustainable Development, Vol. 14, No. 4, pp.371–397.

Remote control lab-on-a-chip

Piezoelectric devices that can act as switches and actuators in so-called “lab-on-a-chip” technology, microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) could be very useful for running such devices and adding novel functionality for a range of industries where inexpensive, portable chemical analysis, medical diagnostics and more are needed. Piezolelectric materials change shape when a voltage is applied to them (conversely, they generate a voltage when squeezed). Researchers in India have now demonstrated what amounts to “remote control” for piezoelectric materials using magnetic resonant coupling to induce the shape-shifting without direct application of electricity to the piezoelectric material. Such a non-contact energy transfer system will be a boon to developers of MEMS as the problem of “wiring up” a piezoelectric actuator is removed from the requirements.

Nayak, P.P., Kar, D.P. and Bhuyan, S. (2014) ‘Energy transfer to piezoelectric component through magnetic resonant coupling’, Int. J. Nano and Biomaterials, Vol. 5. No. 4, pp.280–286.

Colorectal cancer clue

Colorectal cancer is a leading cause of cancer death in men and women. Now, a team from Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India, have developed a computer system that can identify the presence of polyps from still frames grabbed from a video colonoscopy. Polyps are often a feature of the precancerous colon. Their computer system reduces the amount of information needed to identify polyps automatically and can rapidly process still images from colonoscopy. Tests on images from optical colonoscopy video database provided by American College of Gastroenterology demonstrated proof of principle. The process works well offline, but now the team hopes to develop it further so that polyps can be identified while video colonoscopy is being carried out and so provide the medical professionals with an instantaneous warning of something untoward in the patient’s colon that could be treated sooner, rather than later.

Biswas, M. and Dey, D. (2015) ‘Hilbert-Huang transform-based video analysis for detecting colon polyps using composite similarity measure’, Int. J. Telemedicine and Clinical Practices, Vol. 1, No. 2, pp.141–156.

Parkinson’s disease detection

Early detection of Parkinson’s disease might be possible through analysis of the patient’s voice given that 9 out of 10 patients suffer symptoms that affect their voice early in the disease. Measurements of several vocal parameters such as pitch, jitteriness, shimmer, glottal pulse and intensity in healthy people and PD patients provides the necessary data to demonstrate an algorithm that can then analyze the vocal parameters of undiagnosed patients when they present early to a physician. Although there is no cure for PD, early treatment can stave off the worst symptoms for some time and improve quality of life for many patients.

Vikas and Sharma, R.K. (2015) ‘Analysis of voice for differentiating Parkinson’s disease affected persons from healthy persons’, Int. J. Telemedicine and Clinical Practices, Vol. 1, No. 2, pp.174–185.

Author: David Bradley

Award-winning, freelance science writer based in Cambridge, England.