Nerve stimulation helps vegetative man

A 35-year-old man who has been in a vegetative state for 15 years is showing signs of consciousness after receiving a pioneering treatment based on nerve stimulation.


In the month since a vagus nerve stimulator was put into his chest, the man, who was injured in a car accident, has begun responding to simple orders that had been impossible before.

The findings reported in Current Biology may help to show that by stimulating the vagus nerve “it is possible to improve a patient’s presence in the world”, according to lead researcher Angela Sirigu of Institut des Sciences Cognitives Marc Jeannerod in Lyon, France.

The researchers say it may challenge the view that a vegetative state which lasts for more than 12 months is irreversible.

“Other scientists have hailed it as “a potentially very exciting finding” but have also urged caution.

After treatment, it was reported the patient could follow an object with his eyes, turn his head on request and his mother said there was an improved ability to stay awake when listening to his therapist reading a book.

The vagus nerve connects the brain to many other parts of the body, including the gut.

It is known to be important in waking, alertness, and many other essential functions.

The patient, who was picked because he had been lying in a vegetative state for more than a decade with no sign of improvement, also appeared to react to a “threat”.

Researchers spotted that he reacted with surprise by opening his eyes wide when the examiner’s head suddenly approached his face.

Changes in brain activity may show that he had shifted from being in a vegetative state to being a state of minimal consciousness.

The researchers are now planning a large collaborative study.

Dr Tom Manly of Cambridge University’s MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, described it as a “potentially very exciting finding”.

“It is very important to take into account that the patient moved from a vegetative to a minimally conscious state. That is, consciousness remains severely altered but, in contrast to the vegetative state, there is minimal but definite behavioural evidence of self or environmental awareness,” he said.

“In my view it would be fair to say that this treatment could potentially restore consciousness in some patients in a vegetative state, rather than that it can.”

Weiner sentenced in teen ‘sexting’ case

Former US Representative Anthony Weiner has been sentenced to 21 months in prison for sending sexually explicit messages to a 15-year-old girl, setting off a scandal that played a role in the 2016 US presidential election.


Weiner, 53, started to cry as the sentence was announced by US District Judge Denise Cote in Manhattan. His wife Huma Abedin, an aide to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, was not in the courtroom and has filed for divorce.

He pleaded guilty in May to transferring obscene material to a minor, and agreed he would not appeal any sentence of 27 months or less.

“I was a very sick man for a very long time, but I’m also responsible for the damage I have done,” Weiner read from a statement in court before he was sentenced. He said he was being treated, and asked Cote to spare him prison and sentence him to probation so he could continue treatment.

Weiner’s lawyer, Arlo Devlin-Brown, said that while Weiner exchanged sexually explicit messages with many women, all of the others were adults.

Cote said she believed Weiner was suffering from an addiction, and was serious about being treated. However, she said it was important to deter others from committing similar crimes.

The investigation into Weiner’s exchanges with a North Carolina high school student roiled the 2016 US presidential campaign in its final days, when authorities found emails on Weiner’s laptop from his wife.

The discovery of the emails prompted James Comey, then director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, to announce in late October that the agency was reopening its investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was US secretary of state.

Clinton has said the announcement contributed to her upset loss to Republican Donald Trump, who had accused her of endangering national security by using the private server.

Record loss won’t define Springboks: coach

Springboks coach Allister Coetzee insists he won’t punish his players for one bad performance against the All Blacks and said the record loss will not define the team.


The South African side is under siege following their 57-0 defeat to New Zealand in Albany, the worst in the country’s 126-year Test history.

But a defiant Coetzee said the Springboks won’t “hang themselves” based on what happened against the world champions.

“I want to say it up front that the Albany game doesn’t define this team,” Coetzee told reporters.

“It was one game where we were definitely poor… I’ll never sweep that under the carpet.

“The players already know it was sub-standard but again, we won five out of seven matches and in those wins, we were outstanding.

“The All Blacks showed why they were the number one team in the world. On the night they were unbelievable and it worked out for them.

“We needed the perfect storm and the ball bounced perfectly for them on the night.”

A fierce response is expected from the Springboks in Sunday morning’s (AEST) Rugby Championship clash against the Wallabies in Bloemfontein.

Coetzee is unlikely to make wholesale changes when he names his team on Thursday, despite several of his players copping heavy criticism.

Winger Raymond Rhule has borne the brunt of it after missing nine tackles against the All Blacks – but Coetzee indicated he is likely to retain his position and pointed to his performance in the 23-23 draw against the Wallabies in Perth as proof of what he is capable of.

“Don’t forget how good Raymond was against Australia,” he said.

“I’m not a coach who will look at one poor performance and chuck someone away. He was outstanding against the Wallabies.

“He was the first guy to text me and say ‘I watched the game again and I could have been better here or there’.

“In the seven tests Raymond has played, he has gained a lot of experience, so now do I just throw him out and start all over again with a new player?”

Nufarm expects more growth as profit lifts

Agricultural chemicals supplier Nufarm expects further growth in the current financial year after boosting its annual profit in fiscal 2017 despite a challenging year for the industry.


Nufarm’s full-year profit for the 12 months to July 31 soared to $114.5 million, compared to last year’s $27.5 million profit which was heavily impacted by restructuring costs.

Underlying net profit, which excludes one-off items, rose 25 per cent to $135.8 million.

Chief executive Greg Hunt says Nufarm is on track to achieve at least $116 million in net benefits from efficiency programs in fiscal 2018.

“Nufarm expects to achieve further growth in the current financial year and is continuing to assess opportunities that might arise from broader industry consolidation moves,” the company said in a statement on Tuesday.

In fiscal 2017, Nufarm lifted sales in Australia, North America and Asia, which helped offset Europe’s slight decline.

Sales in South America were ahead of the prior year but liberalisation of the market in Argentina affected the profitability of that business.

Mr Hunt said it was a challenging year for the industry, with stiff competition driven by lower crop prices and lower demand for crop protection chemistry.

But Nufarm was still able to grow revenue and maintain margins.

Shares in Nufarm were 13 cents, or 1.45 per cent, lower at $8.85 at 1024 AEST.


* Annual net profit of $114.5m, up from $27.5m

* Revenue up 11.5pct to $3.1b

* Final dividend up one cent to eight cents , unfranked

Bali fights taking extra fuel just in case

Some Virgin Australia flights bound for Bali are stopping in Darwin to take on extra fuel in case Mount Agung erupts and the planes have to turn back.


Experts believe an eruption is imminent and Virgin says it’s had to take precautionary measures.

“Some of our Bali bound flights will be making fuel stops in Darwin. This ensures that if an eruption occurs while the aircraft is en route, we will be able to get guests back to their originating port safely and quickly,” it said in a travel alert.

Jetstar is closely monitoring the situation in Bali and so far flights are operating as scheduled.

Nearly 50,000 Indonesians have fled Bali’s Mount Agung volcano region, with experts saying an eruption is imminent. It last erupted in 1963, killing about 1,100 people.

Despite these fears, Indonesian authorities say tourists continue to flock to Bali.

Arrivals at the international airport in Denpasar remain stable at about 50,000 to 60,000 per day.

“As long as the volcanic ashes don’t have any impact on Bali’s airport, it will not be closed,” an airport spokesman has told the ABC.

Seven regional airports are on stand-by to receive aircraft if diversions are required.

Bali’s primary visitor hubs are in the island’s south, about 70km from Mount Agung.

Meanwhile, Australians have been told to check their travel insurance conditions if they intend to go to Bali.

But it’s too late for anyone who doesn’t already have insurance.

“Now that the status of the Bali volcano is a ‘known event’ … it’s too late to take out travel insurance to cover delays for the volcano,” consumer group Choice warned.

The Australian government’s Smart Traveller website continues to advise travellers to exercise a high degree of caution and monitor news reports.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo is expected to visit the area on Tuesday.

Lions to return to Menin Gates

Every night, at the Menin Gate in the town of Ypres, the Last Post is played and soon it will be under the watchful eyes of a pair of Australian-funded lions.


Two shell-damaged lions from the Gate were given to Australia in 1936 in honour of the 13,000 diggers who died on the Ypres-Salient in Flanders.

Almost every one of those Australians who died in battle would have passed the large stone lions at the Gate, which is now a WWI memorial.

Usually the lions greet visitors to Canberra’s War Memorial but to mark the centenary of WWI, Australia loaned them to Ypres.

“When I was here in April, there was a lot of joking and jesting about how it would be difficult to get the lions back to Australia,” Mr Tehan said on Monday at the gates.

“As the saying goes, there is often a lot of truth in jest.

“The Australian government are going to build replicas of the lions and we want to gift them to the city,” he said.

On the stone gate are 55,000 names of British and Dominion soldiers, including 6000 Australians, with no known grave.

Since 1928, except for a period during WWII, the Last Post has been played at the Menin Gate Memorial at 8pm sharp.

The minister said the gift of the replica lions would strengthen the friendship “that was formed of blood, mud and tears 100 years ago”.

Mr Tehan joined Governor-General Peter Cosgrove and Labor MP Warren Snowdon for the Last Post and laying of wreaths.

Earlier on Monday, Sir Peter laid a wreath at the grave of Patrick Budgen, who was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously for his bravery during the battle of Polygon Wood.

Mr Tehan, Sir Peter and Mr Snowdon are to join Australians at a dawn service on Tuesday to mark the centenary of the battle of Polygon Wood.

Venezuela accuses the US of ‘psychological terrorism’ after travel ban

Venezuela has hit back at the US after Donald Trump added the South American country to its travel ban list.


“These types of lists… are incompatible with international law and constitute in themselves a form of psychological and political terrorism,” the foreign ministry said in a statement on Monday.

Venezuela was added on Sunday to a new list of countries targeted by the US ban due to what it called poor security and a lack of cooperation with American authorities.

The restrictions on Venezuela were limited to officials from a list of government agencies and their families, while full travel bans were placed on nationals from the other seven countries, including North Korea and Chad.

The Socialist government of President Nicolas Maduro said Washington was using the fight against terrorism for its own political ends.

The foreign ministry statement said the ban was seeking to “stigmatise” Venezuela “under the pretext of combating terrorism, by including it in a unilaterally drawn-up list and accusing other states of being alleged promoters of this terrible scourge”.

It rejected “the irrational decision of the United States government to once again catalog the noble Venezuelan people as a threat to their national security”.

Venezuela has been rocked by months of economic chaos and deadly protests as Maduro tries to consolidate control, including through a new Constituent Assembly that has wrested power from the opposition-dominated legislature.

Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza last week accused the US president of being “racist and supremacist” after Mr Trump told the UN General Assembly the US was ready to act to restore Venezuela’s democracy.

Most of the nations affected by the ban were part of an original travel ban on Muslim countries Mr Trump authorised shortly after taking office.

Sudan was removed from the original list after recent praise from US officials for Khartoum’s efforts in fighting terrorism.

The new restrictions replace an expiring 90-day measure that had locked Mr Trump in political and legal battles since he took office in January over what critics alleged was an effort to bar Muslims from the country.


Psychiatrists urged to focus on nutrition

Poor nutrition is contributing to the increasing numbers of people suffering mental illness, a large psychiatry conference has been told.


Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Canterbury Julia Rucklidge says a well-nourished body and brain is better able to withstand ongoing stress and recover from illness.

She says its time Australian and New Zealand psychiatrists and psychologists “get serious” about the critical role nutrition plays in mental health.

“Not a single study has shown that a western diet that is heavily processed, high in refined grains, sugary drinks and takeaways and low in in fresh produce is good for us,” Prof Rucklidge said.

“The western diet is associated with poor mental health and eating a diet more akin to the Mediterranean diet improves mental health,” she said.

For more than a decade Professor Rucklidge has been leading research investigating the role of nutrition in mental health.

A previous paper – led by Prof Rucklidge – published in the British Journal of Psychiatry showed taking macronutrients improved ADHD symptoms, including attention, hyperactivity and impulsivity, compared to participants on placebo.

Professor Rucklidge will tell the the New Zealand Conference of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists in Tauranga on Tuesday that nutrition matters and that optimising nutrition is a safe and viable way to avoid, treat or lessen mental illness.

People are what they eat, Prof Rucklidge says.

“Every time we put something in our mouths we can choose to offer ourselves something nutritionally deprived or something nourishing,” Professor Rucklidge said.

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) agrees psychiatrists need to think about the “whole person” and the relationship between mind and body, in particular nutrition.

Research has shown people with a severe mental illness die up to 25 years earlier than those without a serious mental illness, often due to preventable physical health conditions.

They experience much higher rates of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and respiratory conditions.

“Psychiatrists have a key role to play in ensuring that people with mental illness are not further burdened by avoidable chronic physical health conditions,” said Dr Kym Jenkins, President of the RANZCP.

North Korea tensions fail to break beating heart of Seoul’s Myeong-dong Markets

Diplomatic turbulence between North Korea and the United States rates a bare mumble among the humdrum of Myeong-dong Markets, deep within the heart of Seoul.


Wall-to-wall restaurants and stores selling clothing, cosmetics and accessories line the narrow streets, while one-man stalls hawking food and cheaper clothing and accessories fill the spaces between.

The myriad of veins and arteries of Myeong-dong facilitate a constant heave of locals and visitors seeking Korean culinary delights and the latest fashions. The stream of bodies flows thick and smiles are abound.

It’s hard to image what it would take to fetter the conviviality of Myeong-dong. North Korea’s recent threat to test a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific, perhaps? The North’s nuclear proclamations at the UN General Assembly may have spooked investor confidence at the big end of town, but at Myeong-dong, the Hermit Nation’s ambitions barely register a mention.

Myeong-don MarketsSBS/Darren Mara

But according to Ki Sung-min, that “keep calm and carry on” mentality may carry problems of its own. Ki has run a small barbecue chicken stall deep within the markets for two years. One of his specialities is the aptly named “Hydrogen Bomb” skewered chicken.

“It will explode in your mouth,” X says in broken English. “Very hot. Very, very hot.”

Ki says he came up with the name ‘Hydrogen Bomb’ for that particular recipe some time ago. And he has a message for North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, whose regime is determined to perfect an H-bomb of its own.

“My chicken bomb is 100 times bigger than yours, Mr Kim,” Ki says with a chuckle.

0:00 North Korea says rockets to US ‘inevitable’ Share North Korea says rockets to US ‘inevitable’

The food vendor has a “nothing-to-see-here” attitude that’s not uncommon in Seoul when discussing the North Korean threat. Make no mistake, South Koreans are watching carefully as tensions between Pyongyang and Washington rise once again. The war of words between US President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un is front-page news on a near-daily basis and Seoul has more than 3,000 bomb shelters dotted around its streets as a reminder. But Ki says there’s no use letting it stop him from living his life.

Seoul shelter SBS/Darren Mara

“We must continue, always,” he says. “Bomb or no bomb in North Korea, I must think clearly, I must work, I must love, I must continue.”

But, says Ki, this carries with it a deeper issue: that of repression.

“Sometimes we don’t talk. But we should talk more, sometimes. I think this can be a problem for the mind, if we don’t talk with friends or family. And it can be a problem for the South Korean nation if we don’t talk because we must confront this and find a solution together.”


A customer waiting for an order of Hydrogen Bomb chicken chimes in on the conversation: “I think [the North is] some kind of a threat because of its recent [nuclear] progress, but most of us generally feel safe here,” he says.

“We should continue with our daily lives.”

0:00 Nuclear test a ‘clear violation’ of UN resolutions: South Korea Share Nuclear test a ‘clear violation’ of UN resolutions: South Korea

Families share Polygon Wood diggers’ fates

A century ago Private Herbert Medhurst was declared “Fate: to be determined”, but his family never stopped looking for their son lost at Polygon Wood in Belgium.


On the eve of the centenary of the Western Front battle Pte Medhurst’s great-niece Donna Leigh told Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Dan Tehan his parents “looked for him for the rest of his days”.

“The parents thought he might have survived, so his father used to travel to Brisbane, which was a really long arduous trip at that time, and wait at the train station,” she said, standing among the war graves at Buttes New British Cemetery.

From the small Queensland town of Killarney, the 24-year-old Pte Medhurst was the second son the family lost in WWI and was one of the 5700 Australian casualties in the week-long battle.

“I too have a 24-year-old son and cannot imagine losing him in these circumstances,” Ms Leigh said.

Rosslyn Hamilton and her husband Stephen have travelled from Melbourne to mark the death of her great-grandfather Private Clarence Victor Prew, who was killed in shelling on the first day of the battle.

He signed up as a 35-year-old father of three, and was already a veteran from the Boer War.

“You do wonder why, although in Australia at that time there was a very big push for people to join up,” Mrs Hamilton said. “Whilst it’s tragic and awful, at least we know what happened to him.”

Other soldiers managed to make it home.

Neil Anderson’s grandfather James Anderson spent from 1916 to 1919 on the Western Front, seeing many of the major battles including Polygon Wood, Hellfires Gate and the final battle of Passchendaele.

He returned to the small village of Seahampton outside of Newcastle and started a family, but later died in a car crash with a drunken driver.

After 18 months of research and help from a local historian, Mr Anderson and his wife Julie travelled from the Hunter Valley to visit the battle sites Private Anderson fought at.

“This whole area was just mud,” Mrs Anderson said. “It was decimated, there wasn’t even a tree, not a blade of grass and he lived through that for three-and-a-half years. It was a miracle he even returned from here.”

For Mrs Hamilton, who is marking her third visit to Polygon Wood, the regrowth of the forest helps her feel a connection to the place her great-grandfather died.

“Life does continue, maybe not in the way you want it to be but there is growth here,” she reflects. “He’s part of the earth here, and he’ll always be part of the earth.”