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News Article | March 18, 2016
Site: http://motherboard.vice.com/

I don't think I know a single person my age who's ever booked a flight, hotel, or car through a travel agent. This is anecdotal, to be fair—there could be those in their mid-20s who recoil at the thought of using a site like Expedia or Hipmunk's mobile app—but I suspect my experience is fairly common. Why ever talk to a human again when booking a trip is just a click or tap away? And yet, while the brick-and-mortar walk-in travel agency of decades past may be largely extinct, not only do travel agents still very much exist, but the profession itself is thriving. It just depends on what you define as a travel agent, of course. The upending of the traditional travel agency industry can be pegged to the early 1990s, when airlines started to reduce the commissions they paid to agents on ticket sales—a primary source of revenue—in an effort to cut costs. Things were further exacerbated by the internet, which made it easier for travellers to book flights and hotels by themselves. In 1990, there were about 132,000 travel agents in the US, according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, but by 2014 that number had been cut nearly in half, to 74,000, and is projected to decline by another 12 percent by 2024. There's "no question," according to Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst and founder of advisory firm Atmosphere Research Group, that DIY services factor into this decline. Nevertheless, travel agents have managed to carve out a niche. For example, some trips are more complex to book than than others, either involving lots of flights, lots of people, or some combination of both. Business travellers may have to book according to corporate policies. Some travellers are overwhelmed by or distrustful of the options they see online. Others are increasingly looking for unique experiences and knowledge that a self-serve site can't provide. Basically, travel agents continue to exist for the same reason they always have: to do the things that travellers can't or don't know how to do. Seth Kaplan, an analyst and managing partner at Airline Weekly, says that while the mom-and-pop, brick-and-mortar style shops are few and far between, self-serve websites such as Expedia and Orbitz are actually licensed travel agencies in disguise, and employ many travel agents in call centres. The majority of customers might never speak to those agents, but when something goes wrong, your trip is complex enough that it's hard to manage yourself, or you don’t believe you’re getting the best deal, that's when customers pick up the phone. "The reason we have traditional travel agents is travellers want to be travellers," said Harteveldt. "They really don't want to be travel agents." Even with the advent of online services, Atmosphere's research has found that some consumer travellers "feel they're spending too much time planning their trips, that they have to visit too many websites to get all the information they want, that there's an issue with trust and credibility with the information they receive." In other words, travel agents can cut through the noise—and some even still have relationships that give them access to airline fares that aren't visible online, or rooms in hotels that otherwise appear booked. Kaplan also points to travel management companies that cater to the "corporate travel community," as another example of where travel agents still thrive. Business travellers may be in the minority of travellers (the US Travel Association says that more than three quarters of domestic trips are for leisure), but they pay more money, and this is a "huge" segment of travel agency business. "It might look like Delta is cheaper for a consumer to buy, but the company might have a contract where they get big discounts from American [Airlines] in exchange for a lot of volume," Kaplan explained, adding that a corporate travel agent would also be familiar with a particular company's policy: for example, when to book economy versus business class. But Kaplan, Harteveldt, and others in the industry say specialization is what’s really keeping travel agents in business. Rather than trying to be all things to all people, what's driving the industry nowadays are, in Harteveldt's words, "pretty savvy business operators" that are very well versed in specific things. Susan Ferrell, owner of a US agency called Travel Experts, told Travel Weekly that specialists didn't exist 25 years ago. "Back then, agents did it all. They did not pick a niche; they booked everything," she told the site. Now, it might be expertise in a destination (Japan), type of travel (budget), or type of traveller (elderly). Increasingly, there are boutique agencies that only cater to luxury trips or one-of-a-kind experiences. If there’s one thing each of these specialists still has in common, it’s that, according to Travel Weekly’s 2015 Consumer Trends report, traditional advisors "continue to attract the consumers who take the most number of trips per year, take the longest trips, and spend the most money per day." In other words: you're less likely to need one for the routine flight home you book once or twice a year, or the occasional vacation to a nearby city. But once your plans start to get more complex—or unique—you can still find a travel agent waiting to take your call. We’ve been predicting the death of travel agencies since basically the birth of the internet. While generalists have significantly declined, specialists have just cropped up to take their place, and there’s no indication those jobs are going anywhere. The internet may have hastened the profession’s decline, but until the creation of a travel AI, there are still some things computers can’t do. Update, March 19: An earlier version of this article stated that "If you can afford to jetset around the world on multiple trips a year, you can afford to pay someone to book those trips for you," which implied that it costs money to use a travel agent. Rather, while many agents do charge fees—especially when personalized research and consultation is involved—many do not, and so we've removed this line from the story to make things clearer.


Late-stage liver cancer is a major challenge for therapeutic intervention. Drugs that show promise in healthy functioning livers can cause devastating toxicity in cirrhotic livers with cancer, the researchers explained. UT Southwestern scientists crafted synthetic "dendrimer" nanoparticles that are able to provide the tumor-suppressing effect without further damaging the liver or neighboring tissue. The findings appear in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "We have synthesized highly effective dendrimer carriers that can deliver drugs to tumor cells without adverse side effects, even when the cancerous liver is consumed by the disease," said Dr. Daniel Siegwart, Assistant Professor of Biochemistry and with the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center. "We found that efficacy required a combination of a small RNA drug that can suppress cancer growth and the carrier, thereby solving a critical issue in treating aggressive liver cancer and providing a guide for future drug development." Primary liver cancer, a chronic consequence of liver disease, is a leading cause of cancer death and a major global health problem. Each year in the United States, about 20,000 men and 8,000 women get liver cancer, and the 5-year survival rate is only 17 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The percentage of Americans who get liver cancer has been rising slowly for several decades, with higher rates in Asians and in Hispanic and African-American men. Critical to understanding this problem, and developing the new therapy, was a close collaboration between Dr. Siegwart and Dr. Hao Zhu, Assistant Professor at the Children's Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern, and a practicing oncologist. "Early-stage disease can be cured with surgery, but there are few options for cirrhotic patients with advanced liver cancers," said Dr. Zhu, also Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine and Pediatrics at UT Southwestern. The recent failure of five phase III human clinical trials of small-molecule drugs to treat hepatocellular carcinoma - the most common form of liver cancer - prompted the authors to develop non-toxic carriers and explore "miRNA" therapies as a promising alternative. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are short nucleic acids that can function as natural tumor suppressors, but require delivery strategies to transport these large, anionic drugs into cells. To date, no existing carrier has been able to provide effective delivery to late-stage liver cancer without amplified toxicity, which negates the desired effect. To address this problem, UTSW scientists chemically synthesized more than 1,500 different types of nanoparticles, which allowed discovery of lead compounds that could function in the heavily compromised cancerous liver. Synthetic, man-made nanoscale compounds called dendrimers provided an opportunity to screen different combinations of chemical groups, physical properties, and molecular size, Dr. Siegwart said. This approach led to the identification of dendrimers to deliver miRNA to late-stage liver tumors with low liver toxicity. The study, conducted in genetic mouse models with a highly aggressive form of liver cancer, demonstrated that the miRNA nanoparticles inhibited tumor growth and dramatically extended survival. The multidisciplinary UTSW research team included Dr. Kejin Zhou, Liem Nguyen, Jason Miller, Dr. Yunfeng Yan, Dr. Petra Kos, Dr. Hu Xiong, Lin Li, Dr. Jing Hao, and Jonathan Minnig. The Siegwart Research Group uses a materials chemistry approach to tackle challenges in cancer therapy and diagnosis. The lab is currently focused on the development of improved materials for effective delivery of siRNA, miRNA, mRNA, and CRISPR strategies to manipulate gene expression in tumors and develop the next generation of cancer therapies. Journal reference: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences


Eckman M.H.,University of Cincinnati | Singer D.E.,Massachusetts General Hospital | Rosand J.,Research Group | Greenberg S.M.,Research Group
Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes | Year: 2011

Background-The rate of ischemic stroke associated with traditional risk factors for patients with atrial fibrillation has declined over the past 2 decades. Furthermore, new and potentially safer anticoagulants are on the horizon. Thus, the balance between risk factors for stroke and benefit of anticoagulation may be shifting. Methods and Results-The Markov state transition decision model was used to analyze the CHADS2 score, above which anticoagulation is preferred, first using the stroke rate predicted for the CHADS2 derivation cohort, and then using the stroke rate from the more contemporary AnTicoagulation and Risk Factors In Atrial Fibrillation cohort for any CHADS2 score. The base case was a 69-year-old man with atrial fibrillation. Interventions included oral anticoagulant therapy with warfarin or a hypothetical "new and safer" anticoagulant (based on dabigatran), no antithrombotic therapy, or aspirin. Warfarin is preferred above a stroke rate of 1.7% per year, whereas aspirin is preferred at lower rates of stroke. Anticoagulation with warfarin is preferred even for a score of 0 using the higher rates of the older CHADS2 derivation cohort. Using more contemporary and lower estimates of stroke risk raises the threshold for use of warfarin to a CHADS2 score ≥2. However, anticoagulation with a "new, safer" agent, modeled on the results of the Randomized Evaluation of Long-Term Anticoagulation Therapy trial of dabigatran, leads to a lowering of the threshold for anticoagulation to a stroke rate of 0.9% per year. Conclusions-Use of a more contemporary estimate of stroke risk shifts the "tipping point," such that anticoagulation is preferred at a higher CHADS2 score, reducing the number of patients for whom anticoagulation is recommended. The introduction of "new, safer" agents, however, would shift the tipping point in the opposite direction. © 2011 American Heart Association, Inc. Source


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UT Southwestern Medical Center chemists have successfully used synthetic nanoparticles to deliver tumor-suppressing therapies to diseased livers with cancer, an important hurdle scientists have been struggling to conquer. Late-stage liver cancer is a major challenge for therapeutic intervention. Drugs that show promise in healthy functioning livers can cause devastating toxicity in cirrhotic livers with cancer, the researchers explain. UT Southwestern scientists crafted synthetic “dendrimer” nanoparticles that are able to provide the tumor-suppressing effect without further damaging the liver or neighboring tissue. The findings appear in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “We have synthesized highly effective dendrimer carriers that can deliver drugs to tumor cells without adverse side effects, even when the cancerous liver is consumed by the disease,” says Dr. Daniel Siegwart, Assistant Professor of Biochemistry and with the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center. “We found that efficacy required a combination of a small RNA drug that can suppress cancer growth and the carrier, thereby solving a critical issue in treating aggressive liver cancer and providing a guide for future drug development.” Primary liver cancer, a chronic consequence of liver disease, is a leading cause of cancer death and a major global health problem. Each year in the United States, about 20,000 men and 8,000 women get liver cancer, and the 5-year survival rate is only 17 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The percentage of Americans who get liver cancer has been rising slowly for several decades, with higher rates in Asians and in Hispanic and African-American men. Critical to understanding this problem, and developing the new therapy, was a close collaboration between Siegwart and Dr. Hao Zhu, Assistant Professor at the Children’s Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern, and a practicing oncologist. “Early-stage disease can be cured with surgery, but there are few options for cirrhotic patients with advanced liver cancers,” says Zhu, also Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine and Pediatrics at UT Southwestern. The recent failure of five phase III human clinical trials of small-molecule drugs to treat hepatocellular carcinoma — the most common form of liver cancer — prompted the authors to develop non-toxic carriers and explore “miRNA” therapies as a promising alternative. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are short nucleic acids that can function as natural tumor suppressors, but require delivery strategies to transport these large, anionic drugs into cells. To date, no existing carrier has been able to provide effective delivery to late-stage liver cancer without amplified toxicity, which negates the desired effect. To address this problem, UTSW scientists chemically synthesized more than 1,500 different types of nanoparticles, which allowed discovery of lead compounds that could function in the heavily compromised cancerous liver. Synthetic, man-made nanoscale compounds called dendrimers provided an opportunity to screen different combinations of chemical groups, physical properties, and molecular size, Siegwart says. This approach led to the identification of dendrimers to deliver miRNA to late-stage liver tumors with low liver toxicity. The study, conducted in genetic mouse models with a highly aggressive form of liver cancer, demonstrated that the miRNA nanoparticles inhibited tumor growth and dramatically extended survival. The multidisciplinary UTSW research team included Dr. Kejin Zhou, Liem Nguyen, Jason Miller, Dr. Yunfeng Yan, Dr. Petra Kos, Dr. Hu Xiong, Lin Li, Dr. Jing Hao, and Jonathan Minnig. The Siegwart Research Group uses a materials chemistry approach to tackle challenges in cancer therapy and diagnosis. The lab is currently focused on the development of improved materials for effective delivery of siRNA, miRNA, mRNA, and CRISPR strategies to manipulate gene expression in tumors and develop the next generation of cancer therapies. The research was supported by the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT), the Welch Foundation, the American Cancer Society, and the Mary Kay Foundation. Additional support for individual researchers included the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), the Pollack Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund.


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A theoretical study based on computational simulations conducted by the UPV/EHU's Nano-bio Spectroscopy Research Group, in collaboration with the Japanese research center AIST, has shown that the intensity of ultraviolet light that is made to pass through a graphene nano-ribbon is modulated with a terahertz frequency. This opens up of a new field of research into obtaining terahertz radiation that has a whole host of applications. The research has been published in the prestigious journal Nanoscale. The UPV/EHU's Nano-bio Spectroscopy Research Group led by Ángel Rubio, a UPV/EHU professor in the Department of Materials Physics and director of the Max Planck Institute for Structure and Dynamics of Matter in Hamburg, has simulated the converting of ultraviolet light into radiation in the terahertz range by making it pass through a graphene nano-ribbon, and has put forward a new compact device designed to generate radiation of this type based on the phenomenon discovered. The research, conducted in collaboration with the research group led by Yoshiyuki Miyamoto of the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) of Japan, has appeared in the prestigious journal Nanoscale, published by the Royal Society of Chemistry. Low-frequency terahertz radiation has a broad range of applications, such as the characterization of molecules, materials, tissues, etc. However, right now it is difficult to manufacture small, efficient, low-cost devices to produce terahertz radiation.  This phenomenon "extends the range of applicability of radiation of this type to many other spheres in which it was not being used," explains Ángel Rubio, "owing to the fact that one would have to resort to much bigger radiation sources." To carry out this simulation, they used graphene nano-ribbons: strips cut out of sheets of graphene. In the research they concluded that UV light that exerts an effect on the nano-ribbon emits a totally different radiation (terahertz) perpendicular to the incident light. This phenomenon "opens up the possibility of generating structures that will allow the frequency range to be changed using different nanostructures," explains Rubio. "A new field of research is being opened up." Now that the existence of the phenomenon has been demonstrated, "it would be necessary to see if the same thing can be done with a different type of light source," says Rubio. In the research they used a high-intensity laser pointer so that the simulation would be correct, but it should be possible to use "more accessible light sources,” he specifies. What is more, another step to be taken in this field would be "to use a set of nanostructures instead of a single one to produce an actual device." The UPV/EHU group has worked on the proposal of the idea and its implementation in code that allows a simulation to be made on the computer, while the Japanese research center AIST has been responsible for the numerical calculations. The researchers have used novel simulation techniques of first principles, methods in which the predictive capacity is very high: the behavior of a material is predicted without using external parameters. "The simulation techniques have reached a point," concludes Rubio, "where systems that are later shown to actually behave in the same way experimentally can be predicted." The Nano-bio Spectroscopy Group is led by Ángel Rubio. The group's activity focusses on the theoretical research and modelling of electronic and structural properties of condensed matter as well as the development of new theoretical tools and computer codes to explore the electronic response of solids and nanostructures when handling external electromagnetic fields. Ángel Rubio is a UPV/EHU professor, a member of the Department of Materials Sciences, and director of the Theory Department of the Max Planck Institute for Structure and Dynamics of Matter. He has over 300 scientific publications and over 22,000 mentions in the scientific literature. His research activity is internationally recognized and he has also received numerous distinctions and awards. Source: University of the Basque Country

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