News That Matters

12/05/2023 ---- 19/05/2023

The skies over Kyiv have been filled with missiles as Russia continues its relentless assault on Ukraine, with the latest attack leaving casualties in the Black Sea port of Odesa and blasts heard in Vinnytsia, Khmelnytsky, and Zhytomyr regions. Despite the intensity, Ukraine's Air Force has managed to shoot down the majority of Russian missiles. As the frequency of attacks increases, Ukraine's army is now at "an increased state of readiness" for a counter-offensive.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has rejected a peace plan involving territorial concessions to Russia, while the G7 leaders have agreed on sanctions to "starve Russia's war machine." A summit was recently held in Hiroshima, Japan, where the G7 nations issued a joint statement on imposing further sanctions and measures. The United States plans to cut off about 70 companies from Russia and other countries from US exports, and the UK Prime Minister has announced a ban on Russian diamonds and imports of metals, with Britain targeting additional individuals and companies involved in Putin's "military-industrial complex." The G7 is also expected to announce restrictions on the export of rough diamonds from Russia.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will attend the G7 summit in Hiroshima on Sunday. Germany has announced a new military aid commitment worth €2.7 billion ($2.91 billion) to Ukraine, and US President Joe Biden has authorized the training of Ukrainian pilots on American F-16 fighter jets. The training will take place outside Ukraine at sites in Europe and will run for several months. Some NATO members have already begun training Ukrainian pilots.

As sanctions on Russia have thus far failed to deter Putin's aggression, Zelenskiy has been visiting London and European capitals, seeking logistical support and additional economic sanctions on Russia. The inflationary costs of sanctions have weakened the western alliance behind Ukraine.

As G7 leaders meet in Hiroshima, Japan, to discuss Ukraine and China containment, European powers have unified their military strategy in Ukraine. Zelenskiy has been visiting Italy, Germany, France, and the UK to discuss a counter-offensive. The G7 plans to tighten sanctions enforcement and debate Russia's total military humiliation and convincing the global south to join the containment effort. New Europe hawks argue for Russian military defeat and Ukraine's NATO membership, while French President Emmanuel Macron argues against humiliating Russia, calling for a European security architecture.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida focuses on the relationship between the G7 and the global south, promising $75 billion for infrastructure by 2030. As the global south resists US domination and seeks influence in global affairs, Ukraine opens dialogue with non-aligned states, focusing on post-Soviet diplomacy. To succeed, the G7 needs to share the world stage and regain the global south's trust. As tensions escalate and the world watches, the future of Ukraine and global diplomacy hangs in the balance.


Barbara Brigham was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in September 2020, a disease with an 88% fatality rate and notorious for its difficulty to treat. Now cancer-free, Brigham credits an experimental personalized cancer vaccine by BioNTech. The results of this groundbreaking study were published in Nature.

The study involved 16 participants, with 8 responding positively to the vaccine. These responders produced T-cells that attacked their tumors and persisted for at least two years. Dr. Vinod Balachandran, a cancer surgeon at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, led the study, which aimed to test the safety and feasibility of the therapy. Plans for larger clinical trials are in progress.

Creating the personalized vaccine involved sequencing the genetic code from tumors and patients' blood, identifying altered genes, and creating personalized mRNA vaccines. Patients received eight doses of the vaccine, followed by six months of chemotherapy and a final booster. The vaccine was infused into the bloodstream to stimulate a different part of the immune system, where T-cells were made.

Not all participants developed an adequate pool of programmed T-cells in response to the vaccine. Researchers theorize that the removal of the spleen may affect the vaccine response. A larger trial is needed to determine statistical significance.

The mRNA vaccines were tested as a treatment for pancreatic cancer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, with Dr. Balachandran leading the first clinical trial. Phase 1 trial results were reported on May 10 in Nature. Of the 16 patients, 8 showed activated T cells and delayed recurrence of pancreatic cancers. A larger, randomized clinical trial is set to open, with multiple sites in various countries.

The initial laboratory discovery and collaboration with Genentech and BioNTech led to this potential treatment. Research on immune protection in long-term pancreatic cancer survivors was published in Nature in November 2017. The mRNA vaccine technology was used to deliver neoantigens to patients as vaccines, with an individualized therapeutic mRNA cancer vaccine tailored to each patient's tumor. The clinical trial was completed in 18 months, ahead of schedule, with funding and support from Stand Up To Cancer, Lustgarten Foundation, Ben and Rose Cole Charitable PRIA Foundation, and Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation.

At an 18-month median follow-up, patients with vaccine-expanded T cells (responders) had longer median recurrence-free survival compared to non-responders (13.4 months, P = 0.003). Adjuvant atezolizumab, autogene cevumeran, and mFOLFIRINOX induced substantial T cell activity that may correlate with delayed PDAC recurrence.

In conclusion, this experimental personalized cancer vaccine offers a glimmer of hope for pancreatic cancer patients like Barbara Brigham. While the results are still preliminary, they show promise for a future where more people can overcome this deadly disease. As larger clinical trials are underway, the medical community eagerly awaits further developments in this groundbreaking research.


Scientists now predict a 66% chance that the critical 1.5C global warming threshold will be surpassed between now and 2027, a significant increase from the World Meteorological Organisation's (WMO) 2020 estimate of less than 20%. This acceleration in global warming is attributed to human activities, such as carbon emissions, and the likely occurrence of an El Niño weather pattern.

The 2015 Paris Agreement aimed to limit global temperature rise to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. The warmest year on record was 2016, with global temperatures reaching 1.28C above pre-industrial levels. Researchers are now 98% certain that this high mark will be broken before 2027. However, the Paris Agreement threshold would only be considered passed if temperatures stay at or above 1.5C for 20 years.

WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas warns that we should expect temporary breaches of the 1.5C level with increasing frequency. High carbon emissions from human activities and the likely appearance of an El Niño weather pattern are contributing to these rising temperatures. The Arctic is expected to experience warming three times greater than the global figure over the next five northern hemisphere winters. Northern Europe, including the UK, is likely to see increased rainfall from May to September over the next five years.

The El Niño weather phenomenon is predicted to develop this summer with over a 90% chance and is likely to stretch into winter, according to the NOAA Climate Prediction Centre. This would be the first El Niño since 2018-2019, and it typically increases global temperatures by around 0.2 degrees Celsius overall. 2023 is predicted to be hotter than 2022, possibly the fifth or sixth hottest year on record. The NOAA also estimates a 50% chance that 2023 will be the hottest year on record.

El Niño's strongest influence on weather patterns occurs during the colder months. In Europe, this means drier and colder winters in the north and wetter winters in the south. In the US, northern states can expect dryer and warmer weather, while the Gulf Coast and Southeast may experience intense rainfall and flooding. The El Niño weather pattern can also affect monsoons in India and rainfall in South Africa, potentially reducing them. East Africa could see more rains and flooding, while Indonesia and Australia may face an increased probability of bushfires. Coral bleaching and die-off are more likely, with damaging effects on marine life along the Pacific Coast due to the suppressed upwelling phenomenon.

In conclusion, the world is on the brink of surpassing a critical global warming threshold, driven by human activities and the likely occurrence of an El Niño weather pattern. As we approach this tipping point, the consequences become increasingly severe, from extreme weather events to devastating impacts on ecosystems. It is now more urgent than ever that we take action to reduce our carbon emissions and mitigate the effects of climate change. The future of our planet depends on it.


Turkey's presidential election is heating up, with incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan facing a close race against chief challenger Kemal Kilicdaroglu. The election reflects the deep polarization of Turkish society, a century after the foundation of the modern Turkish republic by Kemal Ataturk. Incomplete results show Erdogan leading with over 49% of the vote, while Kilicdaroglu trails with around 45%. As both candidates claim victory, the race is likely to go to a run-off.

Erdogan's People's Alliance of parties has won a majority in parliament, according to preliminary figures. However, opposition parties have pooled resources to challenge his presidency. Kilicdaroglu, who promises to revive Turkish democracy and relations with NATO allies, has resonated with voters by advocating for the scrapping of excessive presidential powers.

Turkey currently faces a cost-of-living crisis, with inflation rates reaching 44%, exacerbated by Erdogan's economic policies. The government has also been blamed for its slow response to the double earthquakes that struck the country in February. Despite these challenges, Erdogan's support remains strong, with his AKP party and nationalist ally MHP securing 316 out of 600 seats in parliament.

Erdogan's government has accused the West of plotting against him, further fueling the divisions within the country. As the expected run-off approaches, it remains unclear how close the race will be. Speculation also surrounds the 5% of votes that went to a third candidate, ultranationalist Sinan Ogan.

In this high-stakes election, the future of Turkey hangs in the balance. The outcome will shape not only Turkey's future but also its relationships with the international community. With the race too close to call, Turkey's next chapter is about to be written, and its outcome will have lasting effects on the nation and beyond.


The US ambassador to South Africa, Reuben Brigety, has accused the country of supplying weapons to Russia after a Russian ship was allegedly loaded with arms in Cape Town in December. South Africa has denied the claims and announced an independent inquiry. The US has expressed concern about South Africa's relationship with Russia, including its participation in military exercises with Russia and China. South Africa abstained from a UN vote condemning the invasion and refused to join the US and Europe in imposing sanctions on Russia. President Cyril Ramaphosa has stated that the US ambassador's comments will be investigated.

South Africa's ties with Russia stem from its membership in the BRICS alliance and long-standing ties with the African National Congress (ANC). Historically, South Africa's arms industry has sold weapons to countries across the continent. South African authorities expect the US to provide evidence for the claims.

The European Union is discussing plans to target those helping Russia evade international sanctions. The European Commission proposed new measures to crack down on circumvention during the 11th round of sanctions. EU-Russia trade is heavily restricted, with a new focus on people, companies, and countries suspected of acting as transit destinations for sanctioned products. The 11th round of sanctions could target companies or countries accused of selling sanctioned goods to Russia. The EU may use access to its internal market, criminal proceedings, or a blacklist as leverage against sanctions evasion. China has warned against extraterritorial sanctions and may impose countersanctions.

Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Qin Gang recently visited Germany, France, and Norway from May 8 to 12, 2023, aiming to strengthen dialogue and trust between China and Europe. The main theme of the visit was promoting bilateral practical cooperation. During the visit, agreements were made to strengthen cooperation on COP28 and biodiversity. Europe is currently reflecting on its perception and strategy towards China.

In Ukraine, ground troops commander Oleksander Syrsky reported advancements around the eastern hotspot town of Bakhmut. The battle for Bakhmut is the bloodiest and longest since the Russian invasion on February 24, 2022. Kyiv aims to tire the Russian army and draw resources to Donbas before launching a counter-offensive, with preparations "nearing completion."

China's special envoy for Eurasian affairs, Li Hui, is set to visit Ukraine, Poland, France, Germany, and Russia starting May 15, aiming to communicate with all parties on a political solution to the Ukraine crisis. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin announced Li's visit, stating that China aims to play a constructive role and build international consensus on ending hostilities, starting peace talks, and preventing escalation.

As global tensions rise, the need for open dialogue and cooperation becomes increasingly vital. With South Africa facing accusations of supplying arms to Russia, the EU tackling sanctions evasion, and China pushing for peace in Ukraine, the world watches and waits for resolutions to emerge.


Imagine a world where our understanding of human genetics is no longer based on a single reference genome, but rather on a diverse and inclusive representation of our species. This is what scientists have accomplished with the creation of a new "pangenome" draft, which incorporates the DNA of 47 individuals from every continent except Antarctica and Oceania. This groundbreaking achievement has the potential to revolutionize our ability to diagnose diseases, discover drugs, and understand genetic variants, as it takes into account the genetic diversity between individuals and populations that was previously missed.

The project, funded by the US National Human Genome Research Institute, is still in its draft stage, with researchers aiming to include 350 people by mid-2024. This scientific milestone has been detailed in papers published in Nature and its partner journals, marking a significant step forward in the field of genomics.

The human genome is made up of 3.2 billion base pairs, and the new reference adds an impressive 119 million base pairs to the library. This is a far cry from the first draft of the human genome, which was released in 2001 and only fully completed in 2022. The 47 anonymous individuals included in the pangenome project had previously participated in the 1000 Genomes Project completed in 2015. To ensure a more inclusive representation of human genetic diversity, the team is currently recruiting new individuals to represent Middle Eastern and African ancestry populations not included in the 1000 Genomes Project.

Ethical considerations and "the principle of justice" are key elements of this endeavor, as the Human Pangenome Reference Consortium presents the first draft of the human pangenome reference. This pangenome contains 47 phased, diploid assemblies from genetically diverse individuals, covering over 99% of the expected sequence in each genome and boasting an accuracy of over 99% at structural and base pair levels.

The draft pangenome captures known variants and haplotypes, revealing new alleles at structurally complex loci. In addition to the 119 million base pairs of euchromatic polymorphic sequences, it also includes 1,115 gene duplications relative to the existing reference GRCh38. A significant portion of the additional base pairs, 90 million to be exact, are derived from structural variation.

When the draft pangenome was used to analyze short-read data, it reduced small variant discovery errors by 34% and increased the number of structural variants detected per haplotype by 104% compared to GRCh38-based workflows. This demonstrates the increased accuracy and potential benefits of using the pangenome as a reference. The assemblies are highly contiguous and accurate, with 1,115 protein-coding gene families within the reliable regions of the full set of assemblies experiencing a gain in copy number in at least one genome.

In conclusion, the creation of the new human pangenome marks a significant step towards a more inclusive and accurate understanding of human genetics. By incorporating the DNA of individuals from diverse populations, this pangenome has the potential to revolutionize our ability to diagnose diseases, discover drugs, and understand genetic variants. As the project continues to expand and include even more individuals, we can look forward to a future where our knowledge of human genetics is truly representative of the diverse tapestry of humanity.


Two European Union parliamentary committees have backed the world's first rules for generative AI systems like ChatGPT in Europe, marking a groundbreaking move. The draft AI Act, which governs products and services using AI systems, has been approved by the European Parliament committees on civil liberties and consumer protection. The Act, first proposed in 2021, categorizes AI into four ranks, with riskier applications facing tougher rules that require transparency and accuracy. Policing tools for crime prediction are expected to be banned, while remote facial recognition technology will be prohibited, except for countering specific terrorist threats. ChatGPT and similar generative AI are considered high-risk systems.

The AI Act will be presented to the full parliament next month for adoption. However, it could take years before the new rules become law across the EU's 27-member bloc, given the long bureaucratic process involved. The European AI Strategy aims to make the EU a world-class hub for AI, focusing on excellence and trust. The Commission plans to invest €1 billion per year in AI through Horizon Europe and Digital Europe programs, mobilizing additional investments to reach an annual investment volume of €20 billion over the digital decade. The Recovery and Resilience Facility makes €134 billion available for digital initiatives, and access to high-quality data is deemed essential for building high-performance AI systems.

The EU is also strengthening its strategic partnerships with countries like India and Singapore through the establishment of the Trade and Technology Council (TTC) and other cooperative agreements. The International outreach for the human-centric AI initiative promotes the EU's vision on sustainable and trustworthy AI.

The Coordinated Plan on Artificial Intelligence aims to accelerate investment, act on strategies and programs, and align AI policy to avoid fragmentation in Europe. The European AI Alliance, established in 2018, facilitates open policy dialogue on AI. Language Technologies (Natural Language Processing) make Europe's Digital Decade accessible for everyone, promoting research, job creation, and innovation through better and safer robots while safeguarding ethical aspects of progress.

The proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council laying down harmonized rules on artificial intelligence (Artificial Intelligence Act) was introduced on April 21, 2021. Its objective is to ensure AI systems are safe and respect existing laws on fundamental rights and Union values, ensure legal certainty, enhance governance and effective enforcement, and facilitate the development of a single market for AI applications.

Prohibited AI practices include those that contravene Union values, and restrictions and safeguards will be put in place for remote biometric identification systems for law enforcement purposes. High-risk AI systems will be subject to mandatory requirements for trustworthy AI and conformity assessment procedures, while transparency obligations will be imposed on chatbots and deep fakes.

As the world watches, Europe takes the lead in pioneering rules for generative AI systems. This bold move sets the stage for a future where AI is not only advanced but also safe and respectful of fundamental rights and values.