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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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He Gave Away Free Oxygen To Those Who Needed It, Then People Burned Down His Home

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He Gave Away Free Oxygen To Those Who Needed It, Then People Burned Down His Home

Peru is being ravaged by a deadly second wave of the Coronavirus pandemic. Few parts of the country are as badly affected as the remote Amazonian villages in the northeast of the country and cities like Iquitos.

The country has been one of the worst hit by the pandemic. For several months last year, it topped the per capita death charts. Officially, 1.2 million have been infected here while 43,880 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University.

One man’s effort to help those who have been most impacted, has nearly cost him his life.

As Peru now faces a daily oxygen shortage of 100 tons, Peruvians are becoming desperate for whatever oxygen they can get their hands on. Oxygen mafias are rising up to steal oxygen products and sell them on the black market for obscene prices.

Juan Torres Baldeón is a good samaritan who has, by his own estiamte, donated free oxygen to 8,000 desperate families in the jungle city of Iquitos. With his generosity, he’s likely saved hundreds if not thousands of lives in the process. But his generosity has also come with risks.

It began with crooks infiltrating the long lines outside Baldeón’s warehouse. The problem became so severe that the police and the military had to be called in to maintain order.

“We only give oxygen to those with prescriptions,” Baldeón told VICE News. “Normally, just half a tank, unless the patient is really sick, because we have to ration what we have. But we kept finding people in the queue who didn’t have a prescription, and when you asked them the name of the patient, they didn’t know what to say.”

Then he began receiving threatening phone calls, demanding he surrender his entire lifesaving supply of oxygen or leave his city behind.

That was when the criminals, who Baldeón believes are a local cocaine cartel, made their move.

In late January, Baldeón had left his home to go to the gym but quickly had to return. When he got back home, his office/home and four others alongside it were on fire.

“They probably thought I was inside,” he told VICE. “There’s nothing left now, just ashes. I feel for my neighbors. They didn’t even have anything to do with the oxygen.”

Thanks to Covid-19, oxygen has become a necessity for so many.

From Lima to Mexico City, residents have been forced to stand in line for hours on end and search far-flung neighborhoods to refill their oxygen tanks.

Normally, refilling a 10,000 liter tank of oxygen would cost around 100 Sols ($27). But with Covid-19 forcing so many to seek care at home with supplemental oxygen, some are paying more than $1,000.

Baldeón isn’t the only person to be threatened over oxygen supplies.

In Peru’s capital city of Lima, a district mayor was forced to send his family abroad following death threats that he received after setting up a municipal oxygen plant and distributing the essential gas to needy families, including to those from outside his district.

Yet even outside of Peru, his family remain unsafe, and they have had to change hotels after their whereabouts were discovered by the criminals, who also threw a grenade at his house.

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Chingona 105-Year-Old Abuela Says She Survived Spanish Flu, 3 Husbands, And COVID-19 By Eating Gin-Soaked Raisins

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Chingona 105-Year-Old Abuela Says She Survived Spanish Flu, 3 Husbands, And COVID-19 By Eating Gin-Soaked Raisins

For Lucia DeClerck, nine gin-soaked raisins have kept doctors and pandemics away. The grandmother of 11 great-great-grandchildren celebrated her 105th birthday on January 25 in Mystic Meadows Rehab and Nursing Center in Little Egg Harbor, New Jersey.

That same day she was diagnosed with Covid-19.

Staff members at her nursing center say DeClerck was pretty much asymptomatic and was in the facility’s COVID-19 unit for 14 days.

Now a COVID-19 survivor, DeClerck is the oldest person at her nursing home, according to The New York Times, and has survived two pandemics. DeClerck was born in 1916 in Hawaii to parents who came from Guatemala and Spain. She was two years old and living in Hawaii when the Spanish flu broke out. Since that time, she has survived two world wars, survived three husbands, and one out of her three sons. 

“She’s just been open with everything in life and I think that has really helped her because she hasn’t hesitated to do whatever she’s wanted to do,” DeClerck’s son, Henry Laws III, told CBS Philly in an interview.

Speaking about her secret to longevity, DeClerck says it takes equal parts belief and diet.

“Pray, pray, pray. And don’t eat junk food,” she told the New York Times before going on to explain that the nine gin-soaked golden raisins she eats every morning might have helped in her survival.

According to DeClerck she has eaten the special recipe every morning for most of her life.

“Fill a jar,” she explained giving NYT her recipe. “Nine raisins a day after it sits for nine days.” The New York Times describes her diet as being a part of a ritual that her children and grandchildren chalk up to being just one in the entirety of “endearing lifelong habits, like drinking aloe juice straight from the container and brushing her teeth with baking soda. (That worked, too: She did not have a cavity until she was 99, relatives said.)”

“She is just the epitome of perseverance,” DeClerck’s 53-year-old granddaughter, Shawn Laws O’Neil explained. “Her mind is so sharp. She will remember things when I was a kid that I don’t even remember.”

Ms. DeClerck, tested positive for the virus on her 105th birthday, just one day after she had gotten her second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

“At first, she said she was scared. She did not like being isolated, and she missed the daily chatter from the parade of caregivers at Mystic Meadows Rehabilitation and Nursing, a 120-bed facility in Little Egg Harbor,” reports the New York Times. “Within two weeks she was back in her room, holding her rosary beads and wearing her trademark sunglasses and knit hat.”

According to O’Neil, DeClerck has a new nickname amongst her two surviving sons, five grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren, and 11 great-great-grandchildren: “The 105-year-old badass who kicked Covid.”

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