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North Korea Says Nuclear Test Is Still An Option

Seoul (AFP) – North Korea said Tuesday it would strengthen its nuclear deterrent following President Barack Obama’s “dangerous” Asian tour, and would not rule out another atomic test.

There are concerns the North is preparing to conduct its fourth atomic detonation, with recent satellite images showing stepped-up activity at its main nuclear test site.

Obama’s tour, which ended Tuesday in the Philippines after taking in Japan, South Korea and Malaysia, “was a dangerous one as it was aimed to bring dark clouds of more acute confrontation and nuclear arms race to Asia,” a Pyongyang foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement official to state run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

Pyongyang would bolster its nuclear deterrent “now that the U.S. brings the dark clouds of a nuclear war to hang over the DPRK (North Korea),” the spokesman said.

“There is no statute of limitations to the DPRK’s declaration that it will not rule out a new form of nuclear test clarified by it in the March 30 statement,” he added.

The “new form” of nuclear test could perhaps lay the stage for a test based on new uranium-enrichment technology, analysts have said.

Obama’s tour “was designed for undisguised confrontation to retain a tighter grip on allies of the U.S. and encircle and contain its rivals in Eurasia, pursuant to the U.S. Asia-Pacific strategy for domination and scenario for aggression from A to Z,” the spokesman added.

While in Seoul Obama had angered the North by demanding that it abandon its nuclear weapons programme, and by threatening tougher sanctions if it went ahead with another test.

“North Korea’s continued pursuit of nuclear weapons is a path that leads only to more isolation,” he told American troops based in Seoul.

The foreign ministry spokesman said the comments showed that U.S. hostility towards the North remains unchanged, and that it is still trying to topple the state by force.

©afp.com / Ed Jones

Researchers Aim To Build Database Of Brain Health

By Lisa M. Krieger, San Jose Mercury News

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Quick: Find the fruit! Feed the fish! List a sequence of steps, in reverse!

Your online test results aren’t pass-fail. You aren’t graded. But your scores give valuable snapshots of your mental flexibility and memory, contributing to what researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, hope will someday be a vast archive of information about brain health — and the first neuroscience project to use the Internet on such a scale to advance research.

By volunteering — repeatedly over time — participants join a pool of research subjects in the new Brain Health Registry, opened Tuesday, for studies on brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, as well as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other neurological ailments.

You won’t learn your own scores; that disclosure could influence your future performance or trigger unwarranted “freak outs,” said UCSF’s Dr. Michael Weiner, founder of the registry and lead investigator of the Alzheimer’s disease Neuroimaging Initiative, the world’s largest observational study of the disease.

Rather, you will help speed up research by helping cut the time and cost of conducting clinical trials.

“To accelerate research, studies have to be done more quickly, and efficiently,” said Weiner.

One-third of the cost of running trial studies is patient recruitment — and many trials fail, or are delayed, due to problems getting enough of the right volunteers.

The traditional approach to finding participants is low-tech, such as posting notices on bulletin boards or buying ads in newspapers. And it’s time-consuming to determine if someone is even eligible to volunteer, then document that person’s family and personal medical history. Think clipboards, and pens and paper.

Frustrated by how much effort would be required to launch a giant San Francisco Bay Area-based study in Alzheimer’s prevention, “a light bulb went off in my mind,” said Weiner.

“Why not use the Internet as a way to enroll in trials,” he said, “where volunteers take a few minutes to take some online neuropsychological test to measure brain performance?”

Hundreds of other researchers could share this pooled and updated database of patient information — with participants’ identities removed — saving the time and expense of new recruitment with every new clinical trial.

“The large pool of data gathered by this registry can help the broader brain research community,” said Maria Carrillo, vice president of medical and scientific relations for the Alzheimer’s Association. “It’s paving the way or better treatment options for others,” she said.

The initial focus will be on the San Francisco Bay Area, and the goal is to recruit 100,000 people by the end of 2017. Nearly 2,000 people have already signed up during the registry’s test phase.

Volunteer Jackie Boberg of Saratoga, Calif., called the fast-paced tests “a little nerve-racking,” but enjoyed the challenge.

“I want to help any scientific efforts,” said Boberg, 62, an artist recently retired from high-tech sales and marketing at Adobe Systems Inc. “I am watching a lot of my friends help with their parents and relatives who are suffering from Alzheimer’s or other dementia, and see the toll it is takes the entire family. I feel like it is just the tip of the iceberg, as aging Baby Boomers come along.”

She cares less about her personal results than broader population-based findings.

“It is not about me. It is more about being able to contribute,” she said. “Anything I can do to help with science moving forward.”

Volunteers provide a brief personal overview — such as family history of dementia and health status — and take online neuropsychological tests designed by companies Lumosity and Cogstate to evaluate memory, attention and response times.

Later tests will reveal information about how volunteers’ brains are changing as they age.

“We’re seeking people with all kinds of problems — or are completely normal — to build this database,” said Weiner.

“It will open up the research world,” he said.

AFP Photo