Tech Roundup: Brazilian university to send pioneer burn treatment to Beirut hospitals

. Aug 07, 2020
Beirut: Brazilian researchers to send pioneer burn treatement to Lebanon Tilapia skin used on burn victim. Photo: UFC

You’re reading The Brazilian Reports weekly tech roundup, a digest of the most important news on technology and innovation in Brazil. This week’s topics: Brazilian researchers’ endeavor to find out if Covid-19 can be detected in speech, Brazilians reject having their private messages tracked, and researchers in Ceará that use tilapia fish skin for burns reach out a helping hand to Beirut. 

Scientists in Ceará offer tilapia skin to treat Beirut burn victims

Researchers from the Federal University of Ceará plan to donate

the entire stock of their pioneer burn treatment using tilapia skin to help victims of this week&#8217;s <a href="">massive Beirut explosion</a>, which has killed at least 154 people and injured another 5,000. The full donation would amount to nearly 40,000 square centimeters of fish skin.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Transfer. </strong>Despite their willingness to make the donation, moving the material is a big challenge, says Edmar Maciel, from the burn institute at the Fortaleza-based Doctor José Frota Institute, and also one of the creators of the project. &#8220;It is very difficult because of the custom procedures of each country,&#8221; he tells <strong>The</strong> <strong>Brazilian Report. </strong>This morning, Dr. Maciel said the project is in contact with the Foreign Affairs Ministry, the Rio de Janeiro Health Secretary, and Secretary of Fisheries Jorge Seif — all parties that are seeking to make the donation possible.&nbsp;</p> <ul><li>Dr. Maciel says the project is conducting studies in seven countries — Colombia, Argentina, the U.S., Canada, the Netherlands, and Guatemala — but donations are still very challenging. In July, the project tried to donate tilapia skin to help treat burn victims of a fuel truck explosion in Colombia.&nbsp;</li></ul> <p><strong>The project. </strong>Since 2015, researchers at the UFC have been working with the skin of tilapia fish as a biomaterial in a highly-renowned project to treat burn victims. Besides being used for bandages, the technique has also been employed in wounds, gynecological surgeries, and regenerative medicine.</p> <p><strong>Out of this world. </strong>In May 2019, the university announced that it was providing samples of its biomaterial bandages to be <a href="">tested in space by Nasa</a>. The experiments aimed to find out how the fish skin behaved in different conditions of atmospheric pressure, radiation, and gravity.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Why it matters. </strong>Initiatives such as this one highlight the importance of the scientific work being done at public universities in Brazil. While lack of funding is nothing new for Brazilian students and researchers, the sector has faced many strains since Jair Bolsonaro became president.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Can Covid-19 be detected by voice? Brazilian scientists want to find out</h2> <p>A team of researchers from the University of São Paulo&#8217;s Medical School and the Institute of Mathematics and Statistics (IME-USP) is leading a study to develop &#8220;<a href="">Spira</a>,&#8221; a tool that would allow Covid-19 to be detected by voice, using machine learning and artificial intelligence. So far, over 11,000 voices have been collected.&nbsp;</p> <ul><li>Spira stands for “System for the Early Detection of Respiratory Insufficiency through Audio Analysis.</li></ul> <p><strong>How it works. </strong>Scientists have fed a computer with voices of both Covid-19 patients and healthy people, and then teach the computer to differentiate them. The system will then attempt to find patterns in the two groups.&nbsp;</p> <ul><li>The project is currently employing two different methods: small data and big data. While the first involves researchers looking at data individually to create a hypothesis based on visual and hearing observations of the recorded voices, the second involves AI and machine-learning techniques. </li><li>A third method is still under study, as it requires a larger universe of data — it would consist of creating a mathematical model based on speech, Marcelo Finger, one of the researchers, tells <strong>The Brazilian Report.</strong></li></ul> <p><strong>Promising. </strong>Mr. Finger expects to present a report on the findings of the two employed methods by year-end, though early results are promising. &#8220;We know it is possible to get something, now we need to be sure that what we are obtaining is what we are proposing ourselves to find,&#8221; he says<strong>.&nbsp;</strong></p> <ul><li>While the first indications are encouraging, early findings are being scrutinized by the researchers themselves. &#8220;We are in the stage of criticizing our results, we will not dive in headfirst just because we got a good number,&#8221; says Mr. Finger.&nbsp;</li></ul> <p><strong>The motivation</strong>. <strong>&#8220;</strong>This is a very strange disease because the person who gets sick doesn&#8217;t seem to understand how sick they are, so somehow they think they&#8217;re O.K., but suddenly they get very sick,&#8221; explains Anna Sara Shafferman, a professor at the University of São Paulo. &#8220;What we started to see is that people only go to the hospital at a very advanced stage.&#8221;</p> <ul><li>Meanwhile, emergency departments in hospitals are crowded with patients presenting mild symptoms that do not necessarily require immediate assistance. Spira would seek to help both of these patient groups.&nbsp;</li><li>&#8220;Everybody is very worried, and people panic because of Covid-19, and if you could say: well, I can use this app and keep calm and not go to the hospital because I&#8217;m well, or on the contrary, go to the hospital because you&#8217;re sicker than you feel, this would be very useful,&#8221; says the professor.&nbsp;</li></ul> <p><strong>The potential. </strong>If the project turns out to be successful, it could help mitigate the strain on public health services, as only people who are in a severe state will be encouraged to seek emergency help and less serious cases will be encouraged to stay at home. Ms. Shafferman also says the tool could be used for other diseases that involve respiratory failure.&nbsp;</p> <ul><li>It also has the potential to be an inclusive and democratic tool, as it would only require users to download a smartphone app or call a hotline.&nbsp;</li></ul> <iframe src="" width="100%" height="232" frameborder="0" allowtransparency="true" allow="encrypted-media"></iframe> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>9 in 10 Brazilians don&#8217;t want their private messages tracked</h2> <p>A new survey conducted by pollster Datafolha and commissioned by Facebook found that 87 percent of Brazilians are opposed to the idea of their personal messages on social media being monitored. For the first time, the survey also revealed that eight in every 10 Brazilians support punishment for those who fund the spread of misinformation.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> The so-called &#8216;Fake News&#8217; bill, approved in the Senate at the end of June, proposes that messaging apps monitor users&#8217; messages and retain records of these communications.&nbsp;</p> <ul><li>The information retained by the companies would include records of forwarded messages, including users&#8217; contact information, the date and time of the forwarded message, and the total number of users who received said messages.&nbsp;</li><li>This was just one of many points criticized in the bill by civil society entities. The highly-controversial proposal is currently pending in the lower house.&nbsp;</li></ul> <p><strong>Punishment. </strong>This was the first time Datafolha had asked its survey sample for opinions on the funding of misinformation. For 80 percent of the respondents, punishment is extremely important. The same survey reveals that Brazilians see a collective responsibility in fighting fake news, shouldered by the press, authorities and governments, citizens, social media companies themselves, schools, NGOs, and private messaging apps.&nbsp;</p> <ul><li>More than 70 percent also declared they have received &#8220;dubious content&#8221; or misinformation from friends and relatives.&nbsp;</li></ul> <p><strong>What else? </strong>Almost 65 percent of the respondents said they are against having to provide personal documents — such as scanning personal IDs — in order to own a social media account. This refers to another point of the &#8216;Fake News Bill,&#8217; which requires users to show proof of identity in order to join social networks. Internet civil rights entities consulted by <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> have said the bill &#8220;<a href="">treats all Brazilians as potential criminals</a>.&#8221;&nbsp;</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Take note</h2> <ul><li><strong>Data protection. </strong>Our Daily Briefing today <a href="">explained</a> how the pandemic has created confusion around Brazil&#8217;s General Data Protection Law (LGPD). Set to come into force this month, its application has been postponed to May 2021 by a government-issued decree. But Congress can still weigh in and make the country follow the original dates.</li><li><strong>Fake news 1</strong>. This week, <a href="">the International Fact-Checking Network</a> (ICFN) introduced its Fake News Chatbot in Portuguese. The feature connects users to fact-checking experts. &#8220;By texting &#8216;oi&#8217; or &#8216;olá&#8217; [hello, in Portuguese] to +1 (727) 291-2606, any Portuguese speaking WhatsApp user can easily access quality-verified information about the pandemic,&#8221; explains the IFCN. In Brazil, the chatbot is operated in partnership between IFCN and the Rio de Janeiro Technology and Society Institute (ITS Rio).&nbsp;</li><li><strong>Fake News 2. </strong>WhatsApp Messenger is also moving ahead with measures to fight misinformation. As reported by <a href="">Tecmundo</a>, the messaging app introduced a feature in some countries this week — Brazil included — by which messages that are considered suspicious by the app will be shown alongside a magnifying glass icon, encouraging users to research the reliability of the content being received.&nbsp;</li><li><strong>Broadband. </strong>Brazil&#8217;s National Telecommunications Agency (Anatel) released a report this week on customers&#8217; complaints to telecoms services in the first half of 2020. On the year-to-year comparison, there was a reduction of two percent in the volume of complaints. When compared to the second semester of 2019, dissatisfaction grew nearly seven percent. Fixed broadband was biggest gripe for Brazilians, with complaints rising 40 percent in the first six months of the year.</li><li><strong>Political ads. </strong>As part of a move to increase transparency in political advertising on its platforms, Facebook announced this week that users in Brazil will now be able to choose if they wish to see political and election ads on their feeds. Additionally, these ads will now come labeled as &#8220;paid for by&#8221; and &#8220;electoral advertising.&#8221;</li><li><strong>Hacked. </strong>Vakinha, one of Brazil&#8217;s largest crowdfunding platforms, had its users&#8217; information leaked in a global hack this week that targeted 18 services around the world, reports <a href=";infoid=54426&amp;sid=18">Convergência Digital</a>.

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Laís Martins

Laís Martins is a Brazilian journalist pursuing a master's degree in Media and Globalization. Her coverage is focused on politics, human rights, and society. Previously, she worked for Reuters Brasil.

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