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Google Awards Peruvian Scientist For Her Research That Could Change How People Are Diagnosed

As we near the end of a decade, Google has awarded $500,000 in funding to two Peruvian scientists to continue their quest to use artificial intelligence to diagnose autism, a method that would be affordable and accessible for underprivileged communities. The Google Research Awards for Latin America (LARA) aims to elevate world-class Latin American researchers in academia and their students by funding a selection of cutting-edge projects. This year, the Peruvian University Cayetano Heredia produced the seventh annual awards winners, esteemed researcher Mirko Zimic and his 27-year-old student Macarena Vittet. 

The research duo was awarded $500,000 to fund another two years of research and development of a portable, non-invasive system to diagnose autism at an early age for low-income children.

Over the next two years, Mirko Zimic and Macarena Vittet will now be able to produce a product that will diagnose autism in just two minutes.

CREDIT: MACARENA VITTET / FACEBOOK

According to Andina, the award-winning research will eventually produce a portable system that will record eye movements while the child watches two videos. The eye movements are presumed to signify where the child’s attention is grabbed. The system will also analyze facial gestures to measure emotions. Combined, these measurements are meant to detect neurological abnormality in the child in less than two minutes, and without any highly specialized training. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be difficult to diagnose since there is no one medical test. Diagnosing ASD is a lengthy two-step process in the United States. A doctor might rely on parents’ assessment of their child’s behavior along with their own developmental screening. During the screening, the doctor would talk and play with the child and observe how they learn, speak, behave, and move. The second step is a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation, which might include “a hearing and vision screening, genetic testing, neurological testing, and other medical testing,” according to the CDC. The evaluation is meant to be thorough and likely done by specialists like a Developmental Pediatrician, Child Neurologist or Child Psychologist.

Often, the kind of extensive, specialized screening processes to diagnose ASD is not available to low-income children.

CREDIT: @INVESTIGAUPCH / TWITTER

It is a universal truth that affordable and fair access to healthcare is highly correlated with wealth. Wealthy, urban areas are often where specialized doctors congregate. For low-income families, the burden of travel expenses and the ability to take time off to transport their children to meet with an ASD specialist may be impossible. While facial recognition technology has become a controversial topic as governments across the globe begin to rely on the technology to monitor its citizens, these Peruvian scientists are putting the technology to good use. 

The researchers’ next task is to standardize the algorithm that will be used to diagnose ASD. Treatment for any disease is almost always preceded with a diagnosis. Developing a tool that doesn’t require extensive education for the medical provider to use, or extensive time for the parent and child will allow for the most vulnerable populations to get the diagnoses they need to get help.

Google chose the autism diagnosis project as the winner out of 670 applications.

CREDIT: MACARENA VITTET / FACEBOOK

Vittet is currently working towards her Master’s degree in Public Health at University Cayetano Heredia but has been working in ASD diagnosis in children since 2017. Alongside research to aid in early diagnosis, Vittet wants to work to create public policy that supports parents of children with ASD.

“I also aim to work towards the development of measures and policies that can support both the parents of children with ASD and the children, themselves, leading them to have better performance and allowing them to integrate into society. I believe that research in this field is crucial especially in countries like Peru, where mental health, despite its drastic impact on society, is not yet a priority,” Vittet said on her LinkedIn page.

“Let’s hope that we can obtain a result that will fill a gap within a community that is not well-known in the country,” Vittet told Andina.

Nearly half of Google’s award recipients have focused their research on creating health tools.

CREDIT: @UCINOTICIAS_PE / TWITTER

Engineering Director of Google Latin America, Berthier Ribeiro-Nieto, told Andina that “Almost half of the projects awarded by Google use health technology tools. Alongside Zimic and Vittet’s award are 24 other winning projects of the Google LARA 2019. The country with the highest number of representative winners was Brazil, with 15 winning projects, followed by Colombia with five winning projects, Chile with two, and Peru with one winning project. “All these initiatives are aimed at solving various problems that affect people, such as skin cancer classification, automatic detection of Aedes aegypti breeding areas, pest detection, lung nodules detection and more,” Ribeiro-Neto told the outlet. Felicidades!

READ: For HBO’s Autism Fundraiser Lin-Manuel Called In To Curse Out Jon Stewart

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A 14-Year-Old Girl Won A $25K Prize After Making A Discovery That Might Lead To A Covid-19 Cure

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A 14-Year-Old Girl Won A $25K Prize After Making A Discovery That Might Lead To A Covid-19 Cure

JOSEPH PREZIOSO / Getty

Since the report of its first case from China to the World Health Organization (WHO), the coronavirus has claimed more than 1.1 million lives across the globe. In the United States alone, there have been more than 219,000 deaths according to the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering. So of course, scientists and doctors across the globe are on the hunt for a coronavirus treatment. Amongst them includes 14-year-old Anika Chebrolu.

The student from Frisco, Texas recently won the 2020 3M Young Scientist Challenge for a discovery that could prove helpful in giving potential therapy to Covid-19.

Chebrolu won the 2020 3M Young Scientist Challenge for a design that utilizes in-silico methodology “to discover a lead molecule that can selectively bind to the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.”

“The last two days, I saw that there is a lot of media hype about my project since it involves the SARS-CoV-2 virus and it reflects our collective hopes to end this pandemic as I, like everyone else, wish that we go back to our normal lives soon,” Chebrolu told CNN in an interveiw.

The Indian American teen submitted her project when she was in 8th grade, initially not intending at all for it to be centered on finding a cure for Covid-19. According to CNN, her initial goal had been to use in-silico methods to identify a lead compound that would attach to a protein of the influenza virus.

“After spending so much time researching about pandemics, viruses and drug discovery, it was crazy to think that I was actually living through something like this,” Anika explained.”Because of the immense severity of the Covid-19 pandemic and the drastic impact it had made on the world in such a short time, I, with the help of my mentor, changed directions to target the SARS-CoV-2 virus.”

Speaking to CNN, Chebrolu explained that she had been driven to find cures to viruses after learning about the 1918 flu pandemic and discovering that nearly 2 million people die from the flu despite annual vaccinations and anti-influenza drugs.

“Anika has an inquisitive mind and used her curiosity to ask questions about a vaccine for Covid-19,” Cindy Moss, a physician and judge for the 3M Young Scientist Challenge, told CNN. “Her work was comprehensive and examined numerous databases. She also developed an understanding of the innovation process and is a masterful communicator. Her willingness to use her time and talent to help make the world a better place gives us all hope.”

In addition to winning the 3M Young Scientist Challenge, Chebrolu won a $25K prize.

According to CNN, she enjoys dancing Bharatanatyam, which is an ancient Indian dance, and says her efforts have just begun.

“My effort to find a lead compound to bind to the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus this summer may appear to be a drop in the ocean, but still adds to all these efforts,” she told CNN. “How I develop this molecule further with the help of virologists and drug development specialists will determine the success of these efforts.”

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Gloria Estefan Reveals She Contemplated Suicide In Her Teens In Episode of ‘Red Table Talk: The Estefans’

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Gloria Estefan Reveals She Contemplated Suicide In Her Teens In Episode of ‘Red Table Talk: The Estefans’

Photo: Lars Niki/Getty Images

In an emotional “Red Table Talk: The Estefans” episode, Gloria Estefan opened up about a particularly dark time in her life.

In the special episode dedicated to mental health, Estefan revealed to her daughter, Emily and her niece, Lili, that she once contemplated suicide as a teenager.

“I’ve always felt very good in my own skin, except when I was fifteen, and my dad had already spent a year at home and I was taking care of him. And he was heading downhill fast,” she explained on RTT.

Photo: Red Table Talk: The Estefans/ Facebook Watch

Estefan went on to describe how her mental health crisis was largely due to her father’s declining emotional state and physical health after he returned from fighting in the Vietnam War.

“Even though my father survived the Vietnam War, he still became a casualty of combat,” she said. “His exposure to ‘Agent Orange’–a poison used for warfare–resulted in his diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.”

According to Estefan, being a teenaged girl having to take care of her sick father took a deep emotional toll on her.

“He lost his ability to speak, he couldn’t walk, he would stand up to try to go to the bathroom and he would fall and he would soil himself,” she said. “I would have to bathe him. He would be crying, embarrassed. And trying to make me feel better. That’s what would kill me.”

She also explained that she didn’t want to burden her loved ones with her painful feelings. “I didn’t want to tell my mother that I was starting to feel cracks in my armor. I didn’t want to tell my grandmother because I didn’t want to worry her,” she said.

Estefan was visibly emotional as she told her daughter and niece that she even had specific fantasies about taking her own life–which is one of the major warning signs of a suicidal person.

“I knew where [my father’s] gun was and I started having desperation thoughts,” she said. “I remember going to the place thinking, okay the gun is there, but what if instead I hang myself because that might be bloody? I had even picked out the tree that I might do it on.” Her daughter Lili looked distressed as Estefan recounted this painful time in her life.

Estefan says what “got her through” her suicidal episode was “thinking of other people that she loved” and how they would react to living without her. “I took myself through the whole process [of what would happen afterward],” she said. “I think it helped, for me, to imagine what life was going to be like forever for the people that I loved.”

After she got through this dark emotional period, Estefan said she got her life back by “focusing on school” and eventually meeting her husband, Emilio, which also helped bring her out of her depression.

The powerful episode aired on Wednesday and includes special guests Karla Souza and Lele Pons who also talk about their mental health battles. You can watch it on Facebook Watch here.

If you or someone you love is depressed or contemplating suicide, please don’t hesitate to call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) at any time for support.

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