POSTED ON October 10th  - POSTED IN AbledConditions, AbledHealth, AbledResearch, AbledWellness
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AbledResearch Post banner shows a close-up photo of someone holding a lancet in one hand just after pricking the forefinger of their other hand to be able to take a blood sugar reading from the drop of blood on that finger. The headline reads: Abled research: Diabetes breakthrough: 15 years of work pays off getting stem cells to produce insulin.
AbledResearch photo shows an image of highlighted cells in a mouse. The caption reads: Human stem cell-derived beta cell islet-like clusters are producing insulin in a mouse.

A Giant Leap Forward Towards A Cure For Diabetes

Researchers never want to jinx their work by using black and white terms like ‘cure’, but Harvard stem cell researchers are tantalizingly close to what amounts to a cure for Type 1 Diabetes.

For millions of diabetics around the world, this is the biggest hope yet that might bring an end to daily insulin injections, the thousands of times each year they have to prick their finger with a lancet to test their blood sugar levels, or having to wear external insulin pumps while also fearing the disease’s potential long-term side effects such as blindness, kidney disease, amputations, strokes and heart attacks.

Doug Melton, Harvard’s Xander University Professor and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator who leads the team of researchers at the lab that bears his name, says  “we are now just one-pre-clinical step away from the finish line.” That’s about as close to saying ‘cure’ as you can get without actually saying it.

And he’s got two good reasons for not wanting to over-state the possible outcomes before the definitive conclusions are reached – he has two grown children with Type 1 diabetes. When his, then, infant son Sam was diagnosed 23 years ago, Professor Melton dedicated his career to finding a cure for the disease.

In work that has just been published in the journal Cell, the Melton lab researchers have, after 15 years of trying and failing and trying and failing, have finally made a giant leap forward in diabetes research by being able to use human embryonic stem cells to produce human insulin-producing beta cells equivalent in most every way to normally-functioning beta cells.

As Professor Melton told the Harvard Gazette“There have been previous reports of other labs deriving beta cell types from stem cells. No other group has produced mature beta cells as suitable for use in patients,” he said. “The biggest hurdle has been to get to glucose sensing, insulin-secreting beta cells, and that’s what our group has done.”

Part of that hurdle is being able to produce those beta cells in the massive quantities needed, not only for cell transplantation, but also for pharmaceutical purposes. In this research, some stem cells came from human embryos, but Professor Melton’s team was able to reprogram human skin cells into a stem-cell-like-state  – a technique that is obviously more ethically acceptable.

The challenge with Type 1 diabetes is that it’s a metabolic response in the body’s immune system that goes rogue and kills off all the beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. About 150 million beta cells are needed for transplantation into a single patient and the final pre-clinical step involves protecting those cells from the immune system by using an implantation device. The device Melton is collaborating on with Professor Daniel G. Anderson and his colleagues at MIT and the Koch Institute has, so far, protected beta cells implanted in mice from immune system attacks for many months while they continue to produce insulin.

The lab-grown cells, currently being tested in primates, are just one step – albeit a few years – away from being clinically-trialled in humans.

And what do the Melton offspring think of this? Their father who also is Co-Scientific Director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and the University’s Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology  — both of which were created more than a decade after he began his quest — said that when he told his son and daughter, they were surprisingly calm. “I think like all kids, they always assumed that if I said I’d do this, I’d do it,” he said with a self-deprecating grin.

Others are more willing to make a big deal about this. Richard A. Insel, M.D., the Chief Scientific Officer at the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) which along with the Helmsley Charitable Trust has contributed funding, says“JDRF is thrilled with this advancement toward large-scale production of mature, functional human beta cells by Dr. Melton and his team.”

Elaine Fuchs,  the Rebecca C. Lancefield Professor at Rockefeller University, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator who is not involved in the work, hailed it as “one of the most important advances to date in the stem cell field.”

Jose Oberholzer, Associate Professor of Surgery, Endocrinology, and Diabetes, as well as Bioengineering, at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Director of the Islet and Pancreas Transplant Program and Chief of the Division of Transplantation, called the discovery bigger than the discovery of insulin and says the work “will leave a dent in the history of diabetes. Doug Melton has put in a lifetime of hard work in finding a way of generating human islet cells in vitro. He made it. This is a phenomenal accomplishment.”

Felicia W. Pagliuca, Jeff Millman and Mads Gurtler of the Melton Lab are co-first authors on the Cell paper.

Other funding for the research, for which Professor Melton and his colleagues are extremely grateful, came from the National Institutes of Health, The Harvard Stem Cell Institute, the JPB Foundation, and Howard and Stella Heffron.

Description of Video

The beginning shows a spinner flask containing red culture media and cells, the cells being too small to see. Inside the flask you can see a magnetic stir bar and the flask is being placed on top of a magnetic stirrer. 

This is followed by a time-lapse series of magnified images showing how cells start off as single cells and then grow very quickly into clusters over the next few days. The size of the clusters is the same as the size of human islets at the end.

The final image shows 6 flasks, enough for 6 patients, spinning away. If you look closely, you can see particles spinning around, the white dust or dots are clusters of cells, each containing about 1000 cells.

Credit: Mikey Segel

AbledResearch photo shows Harvard's Xander University Professor Doug Melton whose team has announced a major breakthrough in Diabetes Research. Banner: Related Coverage.

Transcript of NPR Report

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We’re going to turn now to health news of an advance that could eventually lead to a cure for diabetes. Before the discovery of insulin in the 1920s, diabetes was a feared disease that often led to a rapid death. Today, insulin injections to control blood sugar levels are a mainstay of therapy for Type 1 diabetes. They’re also used by many with the Type 2 form of the disease.

But insulin injections aren’t a cure. People can still suffer complications, including heart attacks and blindness. NPR’s Rob Stein reports on work by scientists at Harvard that could someday eliminate the need for injections.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: For Harvard cell biologist Doug Melton, the search for something better than insulin shots for diabetes has been a very personal quest.

DOUG MELTON: My six-month-old son Sam came down with diabetes some 20 years ago. And some years later, my 14-year-old daughter Emma also came down with Type 1 diabetes. Since that time, I don’t know how to say it except that I’d do what any parent would do, is to say that I’m not going to put up with this. And I want to find a better way.

STEIN: Now, Melton and his colleagues are reporting in the journal Cell that they finally found that better way. They figured out how to mass-produce the kind of cells that naturally produce insulin in the body – cells that could be transplanted into patients so their bodies could control their blood sugar normally.

MELTON: We are reporting the ability to make hundreds of millions of cells – the cell that can read the amount of sugar in the blood which appears following a meal and then squirt out or secrete just the right amount of insulin.

STEIN: They did this using human embryonic stem cells. They can be turned into almost any kind of cell in the body. But for 15 years the researchers tried and failed and tried and failed to find just the right mix of chemical signals that would coax human embryonic stem cells into becoming insulin cells. Finally, they came up with a recipe that works.

MELTON: A short way of saying this might be like if you were going to make a very fancy kind of new cake – like I do know, a raspberry chocolate cake with vanilla frosting or something. You pretty much know all the components you have to add. But it’s the way you add them and the order and the timing, how long you cook it, et cetera. The solution to that just took a very long time.

STEIN: And when Melton and his colleagues transplanted the cells into mice with diabetes, the results were clear and fast.

MELTON: We can cure their diabetes right away in less than 10 days. This finding provides the kind of unprecedented cell source that could be used for cell transplantation therapy in diabetes.

STEIN: Other scientists are hailing the research as a big advance.

MELTON: Well, it’s a huge landmark paper. I would say it’s bigger than the discovery of insulin.

STEIN: Jose Olberholzer is a professor of bioengineering at the University of Illinois.

JOSE OLBERHOLZER: The discovery of insulin is important and certainly saved millions of people. But it just allowed patients to survive but not really to have a normal life. The finding of Doug Melton would really allow to offer them really something that I would call a functional cure, you know. They wouldn’t really feel any more being diabetic if they got a transplant of these kinds of cell.

STEIN: Now, Melton and others caution there’s still a lot more work to do before they’re ready to try this in people with diabetes. For one thing, they need to come up with a way to hide the cells from the immune system, especially for people with Type 1 diabetes, so the immune system doesn’t attack and destroy the cell. Melton and his colleagues are working on that. And they think they may have come up with a solution – a kind of protective shell.

MELTON: We’re thinking about it as sort of like a teabag were the tea stays inside, the water goes and then the dissolved tea comes out.

STEIN: And so if you think about a teabag analogy, we would put ourselves inside this teabag.

STEIN: But that’s not the only problem. Some people have moral objections to anything that involves human embryonic stem cell research because it destroys human embryos. Daniel Sulmasy, a doctor and bioethicist at the University of Chicago shares that view.

DANIEL SULMASY: If, like me, someone considers the human embryo to be imbued with the same sorts of dignity that the rest of us have, then in fact this is morally problematic. It’s the destruction of an individual unique human life for the sole purpose of helping other persons.

STEIN: Melton says he’s also found a way to use another kind of stem cell – cells that don’t destroy any embryos. He’s trying to figure out if they work as well and hopes to start testing his insulin cells in people with diabetes within three years. Rob Stein, NPR News.

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Previous Breakthrough Discovery About New Hormone To Treat Type 2 Diabetes

In 2013, HSCI Co-Director Doug Melton and postdoctoral fellow Peng Yi discovered a hormone that holds promise for a dramatically more effective treatment for type 2 diabetes. The researchers believe that the hormone might also have a role in treating type 1, or juvenile, diabetes.

Harnessing The Potential Of Stem Cells

HSCI Co-Director Doug Melton speaks at TEDxBeaconStreet in 2013 about the potential of stem cell biology for regenerative medicine, with a focus on finding new treatments for diseases such as diabetes.

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POSTED ON March 4th  - POSTED IN AbledNews
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AbledNews Post Banner shows a photo of Oscar Pistorius standing in the High Court in Pretoria facing the camera with a gallery of spectators behind him. The text reads: The Trial of Oscar Pistorius: Was it Pre-Meditated Murder Or A Tragic Accident?
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Oscar Pistorius is a South African sprinter and Paralympic Champion who became the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics in 2012 after the Court of Arbitration for Sport overturned an International Association of Athletic Foundations ban that had barred him from competitions because they felt his artificial legs gave him an unfair advantage over able-bodied competitors. Five days after the death of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, on February 19, 2013, during a hearing at the Magistrate Court in Pretoria, Pistorius admitted to unintentionally shooting Steenkamp at his home on Valentine’s Day 2013. He went on to state that he had mistaken his girlfriend for an intruder and shot her through a locked bathroom door in the home. Consequently, Pistorious faced a charge of premeditated murder that would result in a mandatory life sentence in the event that a guilty verdict was reached. Source:

Reeva Steenkamp was a South African model and television personality who was shot and killed on February 14, 2013, by her boyfriend, Paralympian and Olympian Oscar Pistorius.


Born in Cape Town, South Africa, on August 19, 1983, Reeva Steenkamp began modeling when she was in her teens. Steenkamp was shot and killed on February 14, 2013, at the Pretoria, South Africa home of her boyfriend, paralympic and Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius. Pistorius later admitted to unintentionally shooting Steenkamp, and he now faces a charge of premeditated murder.

Early Life

Reeva Steenkamp was born in Cape Town, South Africa, on August 19, 1983, to Barry Steenkamp and his second wife, June. She moved with her family to Port Elizabeth as a child and began modeling when she was in her teens. Following her graduation from St. Dominic’s Priory High School in Port Elizabeth, Steenkamp earned a law degree from the nearby Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in 2005.

Commercial Success

Continuing to model throughout her teens and 20s, Reeva Steenkamp had become one of South Africa’s most sought-after models by the early 2000s, appearing in advertisements for Avon Cosmetics, Toyota, KFC, Cardinal Beer, Tiger Beer and various other mainstream brands, according to the website of talent management firm Capacity Relations. She was also twice named one of the “100 Sexiest Women in the World” by For Him Magazine and served as an ambassador for EVOX Nutrition. In 2012, Steenkamp was recruited as a celebrity contestant for season 5 of the reality show Tropika Island, filmed in Jamaica, on which contestants compete for a monetary prize of 1 million rand ($113,500).

Tragic Murder

Tragically, on February 14, 2013, Steenkamp was found dead at the Pretoria, South Africa home of her boyfriend, famed paralympic and Olympic star Oscar Pistorius, a double-amputee sprinter. According to police reports, Steenkamp was shot and killed on morning of Valentine’s Day 2013, with bullet wounds to the hip, head and one arm. Soon after her death was reported, it was announced that Pistorius was a suspect in Steenkamp’s murder. On February 19, 2013, during a hearing at the Magistrate Court in Pretoria, Pistorius admitted to shooting Steenkamp at his home five days earlier, but not intentionally. According to his testimony, he had mistaken her for a burglar and shot her through a bathroom door in his home. Pistorious is now facing a charge of premeditated murder and a maximum term of life in prison, if found guilty. The first episode (season 5) of Tropika Island, featuring Steenkamp, aired just days after the model’s death, on February 16, 2013. Source:

South African Paralympic star Oscar Pistorius is on trial, accused of murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp but he also faces three other charges.

Pre-meditated murder The prosecution says Mr Pistorius deliberately shot Ms Steenkamp in the early hours of 14 February 2013 – Valentine’s Day following an argument. He has pleaded not guilty, saying he heard a noise coming from the bathroom and went to investigate. Fearing there was an intruder, he went with a gun in his hand and then fired four rounds in quick succession after hearing a subsequent noise. He says he did not mean to pull the trigger. He also denies the couple had an argument that night. If convicted of pre-meditated murder, he could face life in prison.   Culpable homicide If he is acquitted of murder, under South African law, the judge must then consider whether he is guilty of the lesser charge of culpable homicide, or manslaughter. Mr Pistoruis has not been asked to plead on this charge but his statement that he did not mean to pull the trigger would imply a not-guilty plea. On this charge, the judge will need to assign a degree of negligence. The higher the negligence, the longer the prison term. If convicted on this charge, he could face up to 15 years.   Discharging firearms in public – two counts First count: He allegedly discharged a firearm at Tasha’s restaurant on 11 January 2013. The court heard that this happened at lunchtime, when more than 200 people were present, and children were near their table. The charge not only points to discharging a firearm in a public place but the reckless handling of the said firearm. Mr Pistorius blamed his friend Darren Fresco for passing him a loaded gun but he denies pulling the trigger. Chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel said it must have been a “miracle”. Second count: He allegedly fired a gun through a car sunroof while with then girlfriend Samantha Taylor and friend Darren Fresco on 30 November 2012. He has admitted getting angry after a police officer inspected his gun which was lying on a car seat, when they were stopped for speeding. But he denies firing a gun, as alleged by both Ms Taylor and Mr Fresco. He could face five years in prison on each count.   Illegal possession of ammunition Mr Pistorius is charged with being in possession of .38 ammunition, which would be illegal because he does not have a licence for a gun that takes that ammunition, or a permit to be in possession of it or a dealer’s licence which would allow him to be in possession of the bullets. Mr Pistorius told the court the bullets belonged to his father and he had them for safe-keeping. Mr Nel says his father has refused to make a statement confirming this. The prescribed sentence on this count is 15 years in prison.   Source: BBC    

Oscar Pistorius has been found guilty of culpable homicide (similar to a manslaughter charge in other countries) in the shooting death of his former girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

Pistorius, 27, admits firing the bullets that killed Steenkamp, but he says he mistakenly thought he was defending himself from an intruder. Prosecutors say the two had an argument and he deliberately murdered the model and law school graduate, who was 29.

Following closing arguments, Judge Thokozile Masipa and two court Assessors had to review an estimated 4,000 pages of the trial, before the judge delivered the verdict over two days – September 11 and 12.

Had the Judge not believed the athlete’s claim that he thought there was an intruder, she could have found him guilty of murder and sentenced him to a prison term ranging from 15 years to life. South Africa does not have the death penalty.

Masipa appeared to accept the claim that Pistorius did not know that Steenkamp was the person he was shooting at, but still found him to be negligent in firing the gun, and ruled him guilty of culpable homicide. She also found him guilty of negligence on one firearms charge that resulted from him firing a handgun under a table in a Johannesburg restaurant after the loaded weapon had been passed to him. She dismissed two other firearms charges for lack of evidence.

A verdict of culpable homicide leaves the sentence at Judge Masipa’s discretion, and it will be delivered October 13.

The athlete has been granted bail until the sentencing despite the claim of Prosecutor Gerrie Nel that Pistorius might seek to escape justice by killing himself or fleeing South Africa. He will be allowed to stay with his uncle, Arnold Pistorius.

AbledNews Post link banner headline shows a photo of Oscar Pistorius getting a hug from his uncle, Arnold Pistorius, before the verdict is read in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria. They are both dressed in suits with ties Large red letters: 'The Sentence' are super-imposed over the photo. The headline reads: The Oscar Pistorius Trial: The Fallen Hero of Overcoming Disability Meets His Fate.
AbledNews photo of Judge Thokozile Masipa reads the verdict in the Oscar Pistorius trial.
AbledNews photo of Oscar Pistorius listening to the verdict being read in court. His brother Carl sits in a row in front of him in a wheelchair after being badly injured in a high speed car crash.
AbledNews photo shows the parents of victim Reeva Steenkamp sitting in the gallery in the courtroom.
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South Africa’s ‘Trial of the Century’

The murder trial of Olympic & Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius is over and the verdict is in, but this isn’t the end of the story.

Was it murder or a tragic case of mistaken identity? Those were the lines drawn between the Prosecution and the Defence as South Africa’s Golden Boy of the 2012 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games, double-amputee Oscar Pistorius, faced trial for murder in the death of his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp. Check here for the latest developments and share your opinion in our AbledPoll in the column to the right.

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Second Day Of Pre-Sentencing Hearing Brings Revelation Of ‘Blood Money’

AbledNews photo shows three separate photos of, from left to right, Barry Steenkamp pinching the top of his nose with his fingers as he listens to testimony; the second shows June Steenkamp outside the court looking to her left, and the last photo shows Oscaar Pistorius pinching the top of his nose between his eyes as his glasses ride up on his head in the courtroom.

Day 2 of the sentencing hearing for Oscar Pistorius heard a probation officer hired by the Defense reveal to the court that the Paralympian athlete had offered almost 370,000 South African Rand (US$ 33,367 | 21,000 GBP | 26,387 Euros)  as a lump-sum payment to the parents of Reeva Steenkamp as compensation for the death of their daughter.

Annete Vergeer told the court the financial gesture was an indication of Pistorius’ grave remorse for taking the model’s life. Steenkamp’s parents, relatives and friends shook their heads in disbelief when Vergeer also said that the double-amputee should not be imprisoned because prison would ‘break’ him and would be an ‘excessive punishment’ that puts the disabled Pistorius at risk for poor hygiene, AIDS and even gang rape.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel was quick to fire back that a lump-sum payment made possible by the sale of the athlete’s car had been immediately rejected by the family, with Reeva’s mother insisting they did not want ‘blood money’, and that monthly payments deposited into an account, after the Steenkamp’s lawyer told the Pistorius’ legal team they were struggling financially because Reeva had regularly sent them money, would be paid back. It totals about 105,576 South African Rand (US$ 9,528 | 6,000 GBP | 7,539 Euros)

The parent’s lawyer, Dup de Bruyn, said, “The Steenkamps don’t want any money and there will be no civil case; they want closure.”

We have a series of reports on the day from SABC Digital News:

Outrage Over Suggestion Oscar Pistorius Face Only House Arrest

AbledNews photo shows Oscar Pistorius sitting on the prisoner's bench in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria South Africa. He is dressed in a suit and tie and wearing glasses as he looks down at the smartphone he is browsing. The caption reads: Oscar Pistorius, described as a 'broken man' by psychologist, awaits the start of the hearing.

Rather than face a jail term for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, a Correctional Services social worker, Joel Maringa, told a South African court today that Oscar Pistorius should be sentenced to ” three years of correctional supervision” – which amounts to partial house arrest – and community service, such as cleaning work at a museum in Pretoria.

The suggestion sent a shockwave through the gallery in the courtroom, which included the parents of the victim.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel called the recommendations “shockingly inappropriate”, describing them as “no sentence.” Nel, who was nicknamed ‘the pit bull’ during the lengthy murder trial, is pushing for a lengthy prison term for the disgraced Olympic and Paralympic athlete.

The sentencing hearing at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria on a charge of culpable homicide – the equivalent of a ‘manslaughter’ charge in the U.S. and Canada – also heard from a psychologist who described Pistorius as ” a broken man who has lost everything.”

Dr. Lore Hartzenberg told the court Pistorius had lost “his love relationship with Miss Steenkamp” as well as his “moral and professional reputation”, friends and “his career”.

On cross-examination, Prosecutor Nel asked her, “Would you not expect a broken family?”, pointing out that Steenkamp’s father, Barry, had suffered a stroke as the result of the killing of his daughter.

Judge Thokozile Masipa adjourned the court session early after Nel requested more time to review documents before calling at least two of the State’s witnesses on Tuesday.

A report on the day from South Africa’s SABC Digital News:

Abled Photo shows Oscar Pistorius outside the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria on the second day of the verdict being read in his murder trial. He is wearing a white shirt and dark tie with the black chalk-striped suit and is surrounded by bodyguards. The caption reads: The legal drama of the Oscar Pistorius Case will drag on long after the Sentence.

Pistorius Murder Acquittal CAN Be Overturned;

Sentence CAN Be Increased;

Many U.S. viewers following the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius likely mistakenly thought that the so-called Blade Runner had successfully, and once and for all, dodged a murder verdict when Judge Thokozile Masipa found him not guilty of pre-meditated murder in the shooting death of Reeva Steenkamp.

In the United States, his acquittal on the murder charge could not be appealed because of ‘double jeopardy’ laws. However, in South Africa, it can be.

Matthew Galluzzo is a criminal defense attorney with Galluzzo & Johnson LLP and a former Manhattan prosecutor in New York City. in 2012, he worked as a consultant in South Africa with their National Prosecuting Authority. He has also commented on the Oscar Pistorius Trial for the BBC, CNN, NBC, Arise TV and other media organizations.

Mr. Galluzzo, in the following commentary, which is also posted on his company’s blog, provides an insightful analysis of the verdict in the Pistorius trial and sets up what the next steps will be.

The Oscar Pistorius Verdict Analyzed and Next Steps

Over the course of two days (yesterday and today), Judge Masipa issued her verdict in the South African murder trial of former paralympian sprinter Oscar Pistorius. After a lengthy explanation of her factual findings and legal conclusions, she declared him not guilty of murdering his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, but convicted him of a lesser charge called culpable homicide. To begin to understand this verdict, we have to consider first South African trial procedural.

The verdict itself was delivered in a way unfamiliar to most American audiences. In the U.S., when a verdict is reached by a judge or jury in a criminal case, the verdict is simply read aloud by the judge or jury foreperson: “Guilty” or “Not Guilty.” These verdicts come without explanation.  Not so in South Africa; the judge reads aloud pages and pages of factual findings and conclusions about the evidence that was presented (with this process sometimes taking days) while the defendant agonizingly waits for the verdict at the end: guilty or not guilty.

Also, unlike in the United States, in South Africa, there are no jury trials (they were abolished in response to concerns that the country’s history of apartheid would often make fair jury trials nearly impossible). Thus, judges always decide the verdicts in criminal cases. (In the U.S., defendants can typically waive juries and request that their judges decide guilt or innocence in a similar fashion).

In South Africa, every criminal case has two issues to be decided: the facts (i.e. what happened) and the legal conclusions to be drawn from those facts (i.e. based on these facts, what, if anything, is the accused guilty of doing). The judge is responsible for deciding both aspects, and, unlike in the United States, has to explain in writing the reasons for the conclusions. Notably, however, in this case Judge Masipa exercised her right to appoint two assessors to help her decide the facts. Those two assessors sat next to her throughout the trial, and together, they arrived at the factual conclusions. Interestingly, it is quite possible that the two assessors could have collectively overruled the judge’s determinations as to the facts, as they are essentially determined by majority vote in these situations. Thus, the factual conclusions recited by the judge during the delivering of the verdict might not have actually been her own personal conclusions (though it sounded as if they were from the way that she was speaking about them).

Once the factual determinations have been made, the  judge is sole arbiter of the legal conclusions to be drawn from the facts. Thus, although the factual findings were collectively decided by the assessors and her, the ultimate verdict in Pistorius’ case was Judge Masipa’s alone.

The factual conclusions are too numerous to list in detail here, but essentially, Judge Masipa acquitted him of the most serious charge by ruling that Pistorius did not intentionally kill his girlfriend. A conviction for that charge would have carried a life sentence (though life sentences are effectively reduced to 25 years in their system). However, she instead concluded that he was “negligent” in the manner in which he had fired his firearm, and that said negligence resulted in Steenkamp’s death. As a result, he was found guilty of culpable homicide, a lesser charge that carries a potential maximum sentence of 15 years and no minimum sentence (meaning that he could conceivably receive a sentence of no jail).

Pistorius has already posted bail pending sentence, meaning that he is still physically at liberty (somewhat) until his sentencing hearing. At that time, all parties (the prosecution, the defense, and the victim) will have the opportunity to be heard as to the appropriate sentence for Mr. Pistorius. Judge Masipa will then be responsible for deciding his sentence. However, even assuming that he is sentenced to a prison term at that time, Mr. Pistorius most likely will be allowed to remain at liberty on bail until he has exhausted his appeals. The appellate process can last years, and unless and until his appeal has been decided in a manner unfavorable to Pistorius, he probably will not actually start to serve his prison sentence.

Notably, in contrast to the American system of appeals, a sentence could actually be INCREASED ON APPEAL.

That doesn’t happen in the U.S., but an appeals court in South Africa can raise sentences that they determine to have been inappropriately low. Thus, I do not expect Judge Masipa to give Pistorius a sentence without prison, as such a sentence would almost certainly be criticized and increased on appeal after a public outrage.

Also, of particular note here, is the fact that the State (prosecution) might actually be able to get Pistorius’ acquittal for murder OVERTURNED ON APPEAL. Americans may assume that this is impossible because of our system’s double jeopardy rules, but in fact, appeals of acquittal can be made where the decision to acquit was wrong as a matter of law, not fact. Appeals of this sort are possible precisely because trial judges are required to explain their findings of fact; such a thing would be more difficult in the American system because no one ever knows from the judge or jury what factual determination (s) led to the decision to acquit.

In South Africa, murder can be either intentional – meaning that the killer wanted to kill a person and intentionally did so – or reckless, meaning that a person did an intentional act knowing full well that it might result in someone’s death. For example, if I throw a brick out of the 14th story of a Manhattan building onto a sidewalk, I might not be intentionally aiming for someone’s head, but I am obviously aware that I could kill someone on the sidewalk.  This would be a reckless murder. Thus, the critical question in deciding whether someone is guilty of reckless murder is whether the result of the action was foreseeable by the defendant.

Here, Judge Masipa concluded that the State had not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Pistorius intentionally killed his girlfriend. Also, she seemingly concluded that it had not been sufficiently proven that he intended to kill the person that he believed to be a burglar in his bathroom, because he was frightened (though this is a highly questionable factual conclusion, in the author’s opinion… I would tend to believe that shooting a high-powered handgun four times in someone’s direction at short range indicates an intention to kill).

This author has already written in detail about how an acquittal for murder was going to be almost impossible for Pistorius as a matter of law; now, South African legal scholars are suggesting that an appeal by the State could be successful as a result of the legal error suggested in this blog post and the previous one by this author.

In South Africa, deadly force is justified in self-defense only where the threat is objectively imminent and deadly.  Obviously, here, the person behind the bathroom door was not an imminent threat to Pistorius; after all, it was his girlfriend. Moreover, it was not reasonable to assume that the person was armed or dangerous without having made any inquiries whatsoever.

But, the Judge’s error was this: she concluded that he had not committed “reckless murder” (the South Africans use the word “dolus eventualis” in lieu of “recklessness” for legal purposes) because he did not foresee the possibility that Steenkamp was in the bathroom. But that is the wrong question! The question should have been: was it foreseeable that the PERSON – whoever it was – in the bathroom would die as a result. The question for reckless murder (or dolus eventualis) is this: “did the person intentionally perform an act while reckless to the possibility that a DEATH of a PERSON would result?”, and NOT “did the person intentionally perform an act while reckless to the possibility that a death of a PARTICULAR SPECIFIC PERSON would result?”

Since Pistorius’ use of force was not reasonable under the circumstances (indeed, she found it to have been “negligent”), then the only way he is not guilty of this reckless murder crime is if one somehow concludes that the death of THE PERSON in the bathroom was unforeseeable to Pistorius when he shot four times at close range into that tiny chamber. Frankly, that conclusion would be logically indefensible, and Masipa failed to even address it in her findings.

As such, I think there is a decent chance that Pistorius is convicted ON APPEAL of a charge for which he was acquitted at trial, but we shall see.

The Shadow Of Race On The Oscar Pistorius Trial

Reuters reporter Ed Cropley wrote an excellent overview of how the shadow of race hung over and impacted the Oscar Pistorius trial. As he put it, “In a fitting reminder of how South Africa has changed in the 20 years since apartheid, the fate of Pistorius, a wealthy white man from privileged roots, rests in the hands of a 66-year-old black woman from Soweto, Judge Thokozile Masipa.”

Written as a part of a prelude to the verdict being handed down, we provide this relevant excerpt:

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Since it first broke on the morning of Feb. 14 last year, the case has gripped millions around the world who saw Pistorius as the embodiment of triumph over adversity, a man whose lower legs were amputated as a baby but who reached the semi-finals of the 400 meters at the London Olympics in 2012.

That same year, Time magazine included him in its list of the world’s 100 most influential people, “the definition of global inspiration”.

In sports-mad South Africa, the shooting caused an even bigger impact, the stunning downfall of a sporting hero feted by black and white alike in a society still divided by its racist past.

But as the trial unfolded that sentiment changed.

The prosecution painted a picture of Pistorius as a gun-obsessed hot-head – he faces three other weapons-related charges – who handled a loaded pistol in a packed restaurant and whooped with joy when he blew apart a water-melon with a high-calibre pistol, likening the red mush to brains.

With many glued to the live court broadcast, post-apartheid South Africa was forced to look in the mirror and ask itself some uncomfortable questions, not least about male attitudes to violence and the reality of whites and blacks still inhabiting largely different worlds.

Why, commentators asked, of 34 witnesses called were only two – a security guard and police ballistics expert – black?

Why, Masipa aside, were nearly all the leading protagonists white in a nation where whites are just 10 percent of the population?

Was South Africa really so dangerous that Pistorius and his friends were justified in feeling the need to carry handguns?

And, as backdrop to it all, the universal white suburban fear: how to protect yourself from an intruder – assumed to be black – in the middle of the night, a fear hardwired by years of apartheid propaganda about the ‘swart gevaar’ (black danger).

Some even wondered aloud whether Pistorius would be on trial at all had his victim really been a black male burglar rather than a white, female model.

“This imaginary body of the paranoid imaginings of suburban South Africa has lurked like a bogeyman at the periphery of this story for the past year.

“It is perhaps the most atavistic of white South African fears,” wrote South African novelist Margie Orford at the start of the trial. “The threatening body, nameless and faceless, of an armed and dangerous black intruder.”

(Additional reporting by Nomatter Ndebele; Editing by Will Waterman)

(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2014. Click For Restrictions


‘Blade Runner’ Will Be Sentenced October 13th


Judge rules Prosecution failed to prove pre-meditated murder of Reeva Steenkamp.

Olympic and Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius was found guilty of culpable homicide after fatally shooting his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp through a locked bathroom door in the early hours of Valentine’s Day in 2013.

Judge Thokozile Masipa found that the prosecutors have failed to prove that the sprinter had planned out the murder although they successfully established the fact that Pistorius was being “negligent” and acted “hastily” by firing his gun in fear that there could be an intruder on the other side of the bathroom door in his luxury Pretoria home.

“A reasonable person, therefore, in the position of the accused with similar disability would have foreseen the possibility that whoever was behind the door might be killed by the shots,” the judge said.

Though acquitted of premeditated murder, Pistorius was found guilty of negligence stemming from one firearms charge that resulted after he fired a pistol under a table in a Johannesburg restaurant. He was, however, acquitted on two other firearms charges including illegal possession of ammunition and firing a pistol out of the roof of a car.

The so-called ‘Blade Runner’, a double amputee, could face up to 15 years in jail on the culpable homicide charge. His sentence will be handed down on October 13.

June Steenkamp, the mother of the dead 29-year-old model and reality TV star, was angry at the verdict.

“Justice was not served. I just don’t feel this is the right sentence,” the grieving mother told NBC News. “I won’t believe his story and that’s the difference.”

“I don’t care what happens to Oscar,” she added. “It’s not going to change anything because my daughter is never coming back. He’s still living and breathing and she’s gone . . . forever.”

Before his fall from grace, Pistrorius was a winner of six gold medals at three Paralympics sprinting events. Nicknamed the “Blade Runner” for his carbon-fibre prosthetics, Pistorius was once held to be a symbol of “triumph over adversity” and was credited with forging the way for athletes with disabilities to compete against able-bodied runners during the London 2012 Olympics.


Paralympic Champion Faces Final Part Of Verdict Friday


Oscar Pistorius did not intentionally kill his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in the early morning hours of Valentine’s Day 2013.

That was the ruling of Judge Thokozile Masipa in the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, South Africa. At that moment, Oscar Pistorius broke down into sobs. But the verdict is not complete. After a day long court session in which she read through the very lengthy overview of the case, Pistorius still faces a verdict on Friday on the charge of culpable homicide, or as it’s referred to in the United States – manslaughter. The Paralympic champion also faces additional gun charges and illegal possession of ammunition.


What happens after the final verdict is handed down?

If the so-called ‘Blade Runner is found guilty of culpable homicide, he will be taken to the court’s holding cells where he will wait while his attorneys apply for an extension of his bail which would allow Pistorius to be released pending the sentencing phase.

At most, Oscar Pistorius could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted on the culpable homicide charge, but mitigating factors, that a the judge has already cited, such as his disability, his diagnosis of anxiety disorder and his frail emotional state, whether put-on or not, could result in a more lenient non-custodial sentence.

Once the sentencing phase begins, both the Prosecution and the Defense will call another round of witnesses to testify in support of  aggravation or mitigation of the sentence to be followed by another round of closing arguments from both sides.

Plus the gun and illegal ammunition charges Pistorius is facing could also result in either a harsh penalty of up to 5 years in prison or a mitigated result.

And then, even if convicted, there is a lengthy appeals process in South Africa which could drag on for some time. This drama won’t be over anytime soon


Report from on events leading up to the verdict:


AbledNews photo shows a retweet of a photo from SkyNews of Carl Pistorius arriving at the court in a wheelchair and with his legs in braces following injuries suffered in a high speed car crash.

Paralympian Oscar Pistorius hugged his family and lawyers after arriving at the High Court in Pretoria at around 9am ahead of judgment in his murder trial.

Pistorius pushed his ay through a media contingent outside the court after he arrived in a white SUV.

He embraced his aunt and shared a long hug with his brother Carl, who arrived earlier in a wheelchair.

Pistorius also hugged his lawyer Brian Webber and greeted the rest of his legal team.

The Steenkamp family just looked at him as he arrived in court. He greeted them, saying, “Morning,” and nodded his head slightly.

Pistorius was escorted to the dock, and bowed his head after taking his seat.

The mock-up toilet cubicle that had previously been in court was no longer there.

His sister Aimee arrived later in court, wearing a black skirt and jacket.

Pistorius’s uncle Arnold was also in court, with a serious look on his face.

Steenkamp’s uncle Michael Steenkamp was also in attendence.

Judge Thokozile Masipa was expected to start handing down judgment in the case at 9.30am.

Pistorius said he thought an intruder was behind the door of the toilet in his Pretoria home when he shot through it. He fired four times, killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on February 14, 2013.

The State says the murder was premeditated.

When the trial started on March 3, Pistorius pleaded not guilty to the murder charge, and to three firearm-related charges.


Oscar Pistorius Trial Judge Will Deliver Verdict In 5 Weeks

At the end of closing arguments today in the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius, Judge Thokozile Masipa announced that she will deliver the verdict in the case on Thursday, September 11 at 9:30 AM local time. There are no jury trials in South Africa, so, over the course of those five weeks, Judge Masipa and two legal assistants (called assessors) will review up to 4,000 pages of court transcripts. Since Pistorius has admitted that he shot and killed Steenkamp, the key issue is: What was his intent? The spectrum of interpretation on that question in quite wide. At one extreme end, if Judge Masipa and the assessors find that he made a mistake and responded reasonably, the verdict would be not guilty aand he would be acquitted of the murder charge. It’s a question mark as to whether he would go free, because he is facing other firearms related charges. At the other end of the spectrum, if Pistorius is found guilty and the Judge and assessors believe that Pistorius shot Steenkamp with premeditated intent to kill, he would be sentenced to life in prison, with a 25 year minimum. If pre-meditation is not found, that minimum falls to 15 years. If there is reasonable doubt that Pistorius knew his girlfriend was behind the door, he will not be convicted of murder, but if the judge finds he acted unreasonably, he could be convicted of culpable homicide, in which case, the Judge, herself, would formulate the sentence. For more information, click on the tab ‘What Are The Charges’ under the photos of the main ‘characters’ in this trial.

August 8, 2014 Defence Closing Arguments Resume To Completion

Pistorius Defence Cites State Mistakes & Poor Evidence Handling

The lead Defence attorney in the Oscar Pistorius murder trial came out swinging and pointing fingers at prosecution mistakes and accused investigators of tampering with crime scene evidence. Barry Roux argued that Oscar Pistorius should be evaluated as ‘reasonable disabled person with anxiety, not as an ordinary reasonable man’. He said if the court finds that his client was ‘reasonable’, then he must be acquitted. The ‘anxiety defence’ was a major point in Roux’s closing arguments as he reminded the court that Pistorius had his legs amputated in childhood because of a congenital defect and that he suffers from anxiety. Roux used that argument to compare his client to an abuse victim who suddenly snaps after a long period of abuse. Roux emphasized that the burden of proof in this case is on the state, which he accused of ignoring other reasonable scenarios and facts. We have an overview of today’s closing arguments by the Defence from SABC News in South Africa in the video below, and you can watch the full video record of the day in court in the column to the right.

August 7, 2014 Closing Arguments Begin

Prosecutor Argues Oscar Pistorius ‘Dropped The Baton Of Truth’

The man who’s come to be know as ‘the bulldog’ sank his legal teeth into the character of Olympic sprinter and Paralympic champion Oscar Pistorius as closing arguments began in the murder trial of the so-called ‘Blade Runner’ who has admitted shooting his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp, in the early morning hours of Valentine’s Day in 2013. At issue is whether the shooting was a pre-meditated act versus a tragic accident because Pistorius claims he thought there was an intruder in his bathroom. The prosecution is arguing that Pistorius intentionally shot Steenkamp repeatedly through a bathroom door after a loud argument. Prosecutor Gerrie Nel  compared the trial, which began on March 3rd, to a relay race and called Pistorius a ‘deceitful’ witness who ‘dropped the baton of truth’ and cannot escape a murder conviction for his actions. Nel argued before the High Court in Pretoria, South Africa before Judge Thokozile Masipa and two legal assistants who will determine the fate of the fallen Paralympic champion. There are no jury trials in the country. Reading from a 100 page argument, Gerrie Nel said the prosecution is focusing on 13 incongruities it identified in the testimony of Pistorius. Nel mocked the loud sobs and uncontrolled crying that punctuated the ‘Blade Runner’s’ time on the witness stand as ‘well-calculated and rehearsed emotional outbursts to deflect the attention and avoid having to answer questions”. He called Pistorius one of the worst witnesses he had ever encountered. We have a detailed overview of the Prosecution’s closing arguments as well as the brief start of closing arguments by lead Defence attorney Barry Roux from South Africa’s SABC Digital News. Sources: CNN | ABC | SABC |

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Courtroom Video Archive of Day 2 of the Sentencing Hearing of Oscar Pistorius

Courtroom Video Archive of Day 1 of the Sentencing Hearing of Oscar Pistorius

Summary of Day 1 in the sentencing hearing from SABC Digital News

Though the title of the following video is mislabeled  at the source, this is the courtroom video from Friday, September 12, 2014 – the second and final day of the reading of the verdict in the Oscar Pistorius trial.

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Report from SkyNews on footage leaked from a U.S. production company that was commissioned by the Oscar Pistorius Defence team. It was never used in court and was sold to an Australian television network which produced a special report on it. That video follows this one.

Documentary on key questions in the Pistorius case:

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POSTED ON December 18th  - POSTED IN AbledNews
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AbledNews Post Banner shows 60 year old Cecil WIlliams, a blind African American man lying on a gurney in a hospital emergency room with the top of his head banadaged and stroking his black labrador guide dog Orlando on the side of his head. The headline reads: Miracle In NYC: Guide Dog Tries To Save Master - Both Fall Under Train And Survive.

Insurance Coverage Ending For Valiant Guide Dog – Facing Adoption


It was a horrifying scene that unfolded for Tuesday morning commuters in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood. It had tragedy written all over it as 60 year-old Cecil Williams, who is African American and blind, fainted and fell back onto the tracks at the 125th Street subway station as a north-bound A-train was coming towards the platform. He pulled his 10 year-old black labrador guide dog Orlando with him.


There was no way this was going to have a good ending as the front car and half of the second car rumbled over them. What happened next is being called the 125th Street Miracle. 


A construction flagger shouted to Williams to lay flat between the tracks, and save for a gash on his head, that’s what saved him and Orlando.


Because he admitted to taking insulin and some other medications, it’s quite likely Williams might have been suffering from a low blood sugar. Emergency workers were able to get him onto a backboard and placed a neck brace on him and carried him up to the platform where EMS crews checked his vital signs and took him to the hospital.



Early media reports were calling Orlando a Seeing Eye guide dog, however, that’s a misnomer. James Kutsch Jr., President and CEO of the famous guide dog school confirmed to that Orlando was not trained by the Seeing Eye, whose name is also a registered trademark, but rather by Guiding Eyes For The Blind.


In this photo, Laura Meddens, the Co-Founder of stands with her new Seeing Eye dog Nugget next to a statue of Seeing Eye Co-Founder Morris Frank and his guide dog Buddy. Nugget is a beautiful chocolate brown labrador, while Buddy is a female German Shepherd. Laura has shoulder-length blond brownish blond hair and is wearing a brown coat with lambswool trim and black boots. The statue of Morris Frank shows him wearing a grey suit with a white shirt and red tie. The photo was taken in Morristown, New Jersey, the headquarters of the Seeing Eye.


The Seeing Eye is the most famous guide dog school in the world, founded in 1929, and headquartered in Morristown, New Jersey.


Abled® CoFounder, Laura Meddens trained with her first guide dog Wagner, a Golden Retriever, there in 2006. She is currently finishing training with her new guide dog Nugget, after ‘Waggie’ (as he was nicknamed) lost his battle with canine lymphoma and erlichia (tick disease) in May, 2013.


In the photo to the left, Laura is standing with Nugget next to the statue of Seeing Eye Co-Founder Morris Frank and his guide-dog Buddy in Morristown.




Many onlookers to the near-tragedy at the subway station wondered why Cecil Williams was so close to the edge of the platform with his back to the tracks, but he was likely disoriented as he felt more faint – diabetics suffer from perceptual narrowing if their blood sugar drops too low and are often mistaken for being drunk. Other bystanders pointed out that his guide dog Orlando was trying to pull him away from the edge of the platform.

Many people wondered why someone didn’t step forward sooner to pull Williams away from the edge of the platform.


Because Orlando turns 11 in January, he’ll be retired as a service dog and as a result, WIlliams will lose the insurance coverage that pays for his food and veterinary costs, forcing Williams to have to put him up for adoption because he can’t afford to keep him.


Good samaritans have already started two crowdfunding campaigns to help Cecil Williams keep Orlando. As of Thursday morning, an campaign had raised over $64,000, surpassing its $50,000 goal, while a campaign at had raised over $37,000 of an increased $50,000 goal. We’ll keep an eye on the fundraisers over the course of the next week and provide you with updates.



Photo shows Co-Founder Laura Meddens on the right hugging her Seeing Eye trainer Janice Abbott with Laura's new Seeing Eye dog Nugget, a chocolate labrador,  sitting in front of them.


Laura Meddens (R) and Nugget and their Seeing Eye trainer Janice Abbott (L) wish Cecil and Orlando a speedy recovery and many safe and happy years together. Photo by John Keane – The Seeing Eye®

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Imposter Makes A Mockery Of Sign Language And Security Arrangements 


UPDATE: Dec.19/2013:  South African media are reporting that Thamsanqa Jantjie’s wife, Siziwe, took her husband to a hospital in for a check-up earlier this week,  where it was suggested he be admitted immediately.


She said, “The past few days have been hard. We have been supportive because he might have had a breakdown.” 


Jantjie was reportedly supposed to have gone to Sterkfontein on December 10 for a check-up. However, following the offer to interpret at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela held at FNB Stadium in Soweto on the same day, Jantjie contacted the hospital to reschedule the appointment.


Other media have reported that Jantjie had been previously institutionalized for just over a year when he was found not fit to stand trial for being part of a mob that “necklaced” , or set fire to a tire placed around the neck of each of two men found with a stolen television in 2003. “Necklacing” had been common during the period of the violent opposition to the South African government’s Apartheid laws.


A mystery man seen by millions of TV viewers around the world supposedly performing sign language for deaf viewers has been identified as a member of the African National Congress political party. It became immediately apparent to any deaf or hearing viewers who know any of the various forms of sign language that the man, identified as Thamsanqa ‘Thami’ Jantjie, was gesturing gibberish.



The exposure of this fake has become a major embarrassment for the government of South Africa, especially in the area of security. Jantjie was wearing an official security pass to the memorial at Johannesburg’s FNB / Soccer City Stadium which has a capacity of 95,000 seats. Hard questions are being asked about why he wasn’t vetted properly and allowed to stand next to some of the 91 heads of state, including U.S. President Barack Obama, who were in attendance.



One of the first to notice something was wrong and post about it on Twitter was Bruno Peter Druchen, National Director of Deaf Federation of South Africa – DeafSA. Francois Deysel, a South African Sign Language trainer from Cape Town also joined the chorus, as did Wilma Nehoudt, deaf Member of the South African Parliament, Vice-President of the World Federation of the Deaf and National Vice Chairperson DeafSA.


Photo shows Tweets about the fake interpreter. The first by Bruno Peter Druchen reads: Please get rid of this CLOWN interpreter, please! to which Francois Deysel responds: Please can someone ask the interpreter to step down from the stage, it is embarrassing and making a mockery of our profession. Wilma Newhoudt tweets: ANC linked interpreter on the stage with dep president of ANC is signing rubbish, He cannot sign. Please get him off.


It became even more apparent the man was a fake when he was seen onscreen at the same time as an insert of a ‘real’ translator was shown.



Fake Interpreter / Fake Excuse?


However, in an interview with South Africa’s The Star newspaper and published on their iol news website, Jantjie claims he suffered a schizophrenic episode. He claims he doesn’t know whether it was the magnitude of what he was doing or the happiness he felt throughout the day that might have triggered the attack while on stage.


Suddenly, he says, he lost concentration, and started hearing voices and hallucinating. “There was nothing I could do. I was alone in a very dangerous situation. I tried to control myself and not show the world what was going on. I am very sorry, it’s the situation I found myself in.”


Read the full interview at iol news.


Calls to the translation service he works for were not returned, and comment threads at various online publications were filling up with angry reactions and links to older videos showing Jantjie signing nonsense on other occasions, with commenters rebuking him for now slandering persons with mental illness as well as those who are deaf or hearing impaired.


Johan Blaauw, Chairman of the SA Translator’s Institute told iol News that the same man was used to interpret the proceedings at the ANC elective conference in Mangaung last year and there were complaints made against him then.


“The ANC did not do anything,” said Blaauw. “I’m afraid this thing has left the whole of South Africa with egg on its face.”


The South African government is investigating.

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Researchers recommend doctors avoid using common first-line drugs like Tamiflu which could help build resistance 


In April of this year, researchers in China discovered the first examples that the Influenza A (H7N9) ‘bird flu’ virus had the ability to mutate and develop resistance to oseltamivir, more commonly know as Tamiflu.


Now a separate team of researchers at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York has confirmed it and published their results in the journal Nature Communications.


Nicole Bouvier, who led the team, emphasized there is no cause for alarm . . . yet, saying, “these H7N9 viruses seem to transmit fairly inefficiently overall”.


Photo shows greyscale photo of the H7N9 strain of the Influenza A virus as seen under an electron microscope taken at the U.S. Centers For Disease Control, showing the filaments and spheres of the virus that look like a string of pearls.

 Photo of the H7N9 strain of Influenza A as seen under an electron microscope. Source: CDC


For their study, Bouvier’s team worked with a mutated version of the H7N9 virus which was sampled from an infected patient in China to assess its resistance to drugs and how infectious it was before and after treatment.


They found it highly resistant to Tamiflu, and that it was still infectious. In fact, it infected  human cells in a laboratory dish, and spread between laboratory animals just as efficiently as a non-mutated virus.


“This is unusual, as it is known that when seasonal influenza viruses gain resistance to drugs, it usually happens at a cost to the virus – the cost being a reduced ability to transmit between hosts and to grow within them,” they wrote.


The researchers make a point of saying that while this doesn’t make it any more likely that H7N9 will develop into a global human pandemic, it does mean doctors should be cautious with their use of anti-viral medicines to treat H7N9 cases, and should evaluate using drugs other than Tamiflu, such as GlaxoSmithKline‘s Relenza.


A different team of researchers in the United States counters that it’s not impossible that H7N9 could eventually become easily transmissible between humans, but it would have to undergo multiple mutations first.


Nevertheless, scientists around the world are on alert for any signs that the virus is developing that ability.


You can follow our ongoing coverage of the spread of the H7N9 virus here.


The Latest H7N9 Stats To Date:


A map of Asia from the World Health Organization shows the locations of confirmed cases of H7N9 infection as of the 25th of October, 2013. The map also details the progression of cases from the beginning of the year with 4 cases and 3 deaths in february; 33 cases and 18 deaths in March; 94 cases and 23 deaths in April; 2 cases in May; no cases or deaths in June; 2 cases and 1 death in July; no cases or deaths in August or September; 2 cases in October for a total to date of 137 cases and 45 deaths.


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“It felt like there was a hundred needles just going in one spot.”

That’s how one of five children described excruciating pain that seemed to come out of nowhere. The girls, aged 7 to 11, had been smashing limes with rocks and adding them to soda water as part of a backyard pool-side lemonade stand. Innocent enough.

But the next day, the girls – Bailey, Candy, Jazmyn, Jewels and Reyghan- broke out in blistering burns all over their bodies and faces that were so painful their parents rushed them to Emergency at the local hospital in Fresno, California.

The diagnosis? Phytophotodermatitis, skin irritation caused by a reaction between photosynthesizing chemicals found in citrus fruits and ultraviolet light from the sun. The burns can be seen on the girls’ arms and legs, sometimes in patterns of splashes and drips, and on their faces because they dared each other to drink the lime/soda concoction.

Here’s a report from ABCNews on the case:


 Read more on this story at




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AbledNews: Special Report: Tracking the new killer viruses

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Epidemiologists around the world are tracking a pair of new viruses that are leaving a deadly toll


The U.S. government has declared a public health emergency over a recently discovered coronavirus that originated in Saudi Arabia that is, so far, carrying a more than 50 percent mortality rate. It’s called Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). The U.S. emergency designation came to facilitate the quicker release of tests designed to track it.

Most cases of MERS have clustered in Saudi Arabia, but have also been tracked to Jordan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Travelers have carried the infection to Germany, Italy, Tunisia and the U.K.

Doctors don’t know where the virus originated but suspect an animal, such as a bat. The big fear associated with this virus is that it’s similar to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus that infected over 8,000 people and killed almost 800 of them in 37 countries in 2003.

It was also thought to have originated in bats, which are a natural reservoir for a coronavirus, and it was thought that the infection spread to humans either directly or through other animals such as the masked palm civets found in China’s Guangdong Province.

However, MERS may prove to be five-times more deadly than SARS. Most people infected with MERS-CoV develop severe acute respiratory illness with symptoms of fever, cough, and shortness of breath. So far, about half of them died. Some people were reported as having a mild respiratory illness.

Men wearing surgical masks as a precautionary measure against the novel coronavirus, speak at a hospital in Khobar city in Dammam May 23, 2013. Saudi Arabia has announced another death from the SARS-like novel coronavirus (nCoV) in its central al-Qassim region, bringing the total number of deaths in the kingdom to 17. REUTERS/Stringer


MERS UPDATE as of July 11, 2013: From the World Health Organization (WHO) 

The Ministry of Health (MoH) in Saudi Arabia has announced an additional laboratory-confirmed case of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) infection in the country.

The patient is a 66 year-old man from Asir region with an underlying health condition. He is currently in critical but stable condition.

In addition, a Qatari patient earlier confirmed with MERS-CoV infection, who was being treated in the United Kingdom died on 28 June 2013.

Globally, from September 2012 to date, WHO has been informed of a total of 81 laboratory-confirmed cases of infection with MERS-CoV, including 45 deaths.

Based on the current situation and available information, WHO encourages all Member States to continue their surveillance for severe acute respiratory infections (SARI) and to carefully review any unusual patterns.


H7N9 Bird Flu

H7N9 is a sub-type of an avian influenza A virus that was discovered in China in March of this year. This strain has infected over 130 people and killed 37 of them, which gives it a mortality rate, after adjustments for missing data, of around 36, percent which is much less deadly that the H5N1 virus that killed about 70 percent of infected persons.

However, researchers warn against complacency; the World Health Organization said H7N9 appeared to spread much faster than the previous H5N1 virus and called it ‘one of the most lethal influenza viruses’ it had ever seen.

The infection rate subsided after China shutdown many of its live animal markets, but scientists warn the real threat is yet to come towards the end of the year when the annual flu season picks up.

Photo of two women working at the chicken market in Xining, China surrounded by cages full of chickens


H7N9 UPDATE: First Human to Human Transmission Reported

The British Medical Journal, now know simply as BMJ, is reporting what’s believed to be the first documented case of human to human transmission of the H7N9 bird flu.

This all occurred between March and May of this year, but is only just now coming to light.  According to BMJ, a 60 year old man in eastern China who frequently visited live poultry markets developed a fever and cough about five to six days after his last exposure to the birds and was taken to the hospital on March 11.

His condition quickly worsened and he was transferred to Intensive Care on March 15. His 32-year-old daughter, who was said to have been in previously good condition, tended to his oral care and cleaning while in the hospital and did not wear any protective masks or clothing.

She developed symptoms of H7N9 six days after her last contact with her father and was admitted to the hospital on March 24, transferred to ICU on March 28 and died of multi-system organ failure on April 24.

Her father also died in the ICU of multi-system organ failure on May 4 after developing deteriorating pulmonary function. 

The encouraging news from this report is that many other people who were exposed to these two patients did not get sick, leading medical officials to theorize that, at least as far as the current data shows, H7N9 may only be capable of limited transmission, but that may also be the result of warmer temperatures in the affected region and the closing of some bird markets in those regions.

The true test of this will be later this year when the annual flu season arrives.


Global Influenza Update From The World Health Organization


Global Influenza Map from the World health Organization as of July 5, 2013. The current statistics follow in the text below.



• As of 5 July, a total of 133 cases of H7N9 have been reported from China (132 from China’s National Health Family and Commission, and 1 from Taipei Centers for Disease Control) including 43 deaths.

• Influenza activity in the northern hemisphere temperate zones remained at inter-seasonal levels.

• In most regions of tropical Asia influenza activity decreased, except for Sri Lanka and Viet Nam where influenza A activity remained relatively high. 

• In Central America and the Caribbean, influenza activity remained low or similar compared to previous weeks, except in Cuba and the Dominican Republic where high influenza activity was reported and in Costa Rica, El Salvador and Panama, where influenza activity began to increase.

• Influenza activity in the southern hemisphere increased considerably in South America and in Southern Africa but remained low in Oceania. In South America, respiratory syncytial virus remained the predominant circulating virus, but the proportion of influenza positive viruses continued to increase. 




A CDC Scientist harvests H7N9 virus that has been grown for sharing with partner laboratories for research purposes.


We’ve compiled FAQs on both viruses from the Centers For Disease Control to give you some quick reference answers on the respective outbreaks and what you can do to be more ‘abled’ in reducing or preventing your exposure to them, as well as treatment options if you aren’t able to avoid them.





What is MERS?

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is a viral respiratory illness. MERS is caused by a coronavirus called “Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus” (MERS-CoV).

What is MERS-CoV?

MERS-CoV is a beta coronavirus. It was first reported in 2012 in Saudi Arabia. MERS-CoV used to be called “novel coronavirus,” or “nCoV”. It is different from other coronaviruses that have been found in people before.

How was the name selected?

The Coronavirus Study Group (CSG) of the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV) decided in May 2013 to call the novel coronavirus “Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus” (MERS-CoV)  [1.7 MB, 5 pages].

Is MERS-CoV the same as the SARS virus?

No. MERS-CoV is not the same coronavirus that caused severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003. However, like the SARS virus, MERS-CoV is most similar to coronaviruses found in bats. CDC is still learning about MERS.

What are the symptoms of MERS?

Most people who got infected with MERS-CoV developed severe acute respiratory illness with symptoms of fever, cough, and shortness of breath. About half of them died. Some people were reported as having a mild respiratory illness.

Does MERS-CoV spread from person to person?

MERS-CoV has been shown to spread between people who are in close contact. Transmission from infected patients to healthcare personnel has also been observed. Clusters of cases in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the UK, France, Tunisia, and Italy are being investigated.

Is CDC concerned?

Yes, CDC is concerned about MERS-CoV. The virus has caused severe illness in most infected people, and about half of them have died. Also, the virus spreads from person to person and has spread between countries. CDC recognizes the potential for the virus to spread further and cause more cases and clusters globally, including in the United States.

Has anyone in the United States gotten infected?

So far, there are no reports of anyone in the United States getting infected with MERS-CoV.

What is CDC doing about MERS?

CDC works 24/7 to protect people’s health. It is the job of CDC to be concerned and move quickly whenever there is a potential public health problem. CDC is closely monitoring the MERS situation and working with WHO and other partners to understand the risks of this virus. CDC is engaged in the following ways:

  • CDC developed molecular diagnostics that will allow scientists to accurately identify MERS cases. CDC also developed assays to detect MERS-CoV antibodies. These lab tests will help scientists tell whether a person is, or has been, infected with MERS-CoV. CDC will evaluate genetic sequences as they are available, which will help scientists further describe the characteristics of MERS-CoV.
  • As part of routine public health preparedness in the United States, CDC is providing MERS-CoV testing kits to state health departments. CDC is also updating guidance for public health departments, healthcare providers, and laboratories.
  • CDC is offering recommendations to travelers when needed. CDC is also helping to assess ill travelers returning from affected areas.
  • In addition, CDC participated in international public health investigations of past MERS cases in Saudi Arabia (October 2012) and Jordan (May 2013). CDC continues to provide advice and laboratory diagnostic support to countries in the Arabian Peninsula and surrounding region.

Can I still travel to countries in the Arabian Peninsula or neighboring countries where MERS cases have occurred?

Yes. WHO and CDC have not issued travel health warnings for any country related to MERS.

For more information, see CDC’s travel notice on A Novel Coronavirus Called “MERS-CoV” in the Arabian Peninsula.

What if I recently traveled to countries in the Arabian Peninsula or neighboring countries and got sick?

If you develop a fever and symptoms of lower respiratory illness, such as cough or shortness of breath, within 14 days after traveling from countries in the Arabian Peninsula or neighboring countries(1), you should see your healthcare provider and mention your recent travel.

How can I help protect myself?

CDC advises that people follow these tips to help prevent respiratory illnesses:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, and help young children do the same. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact, such as kissing, or sharing cups or eating utensils, with sick people.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs.

Is there a vaccine?

No, but CDC is discussing with partners the possibility of developing one.

What are the treatments?

There are no specific treatments for illnesses caused by MERS-CoV. Medical care is supportive and to help relieve symptoms.

Is there a lab test?

Lab tests (polymerase chain reaction or PCR) for MERS-CoV are available at state health departments, CDC, and some international labs. Otherwise, MERS-CoV tests are not routinely available. There are a limited number of commercial tests available, but these are not FDA-approved.

What should healthcare providers and health departments do?

For recommendations and guidance on the case definitions; infection control, including personal protective equipment guidance; case investigation; and specimen collection and shipment, see Update, Case Definitions, & Guidance.



Countries in the Arabian Peninsula and neighboring countries: Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Palestinian territories, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Yemen.

Content source: National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, Division of Viral Diseases




What is H7N9?

“H7N9” is the designation for one subtype of influenza viruses that is sometimes found in birds, but that does not normally infect humans. Like all influenza A viruses, there also are different strains of H7N9. Beginning at the end of March 2013, China reported human and bird (poultry) infections with a new strain of H7N9 that is very different from previously seen H7N9 viruses.

Is this new strain of H7N9 infecting humans?

Yes. While H7N9 viruses had never before been detected in people, from March 31 through April 30, 2013, China reported more than 126 cases of human infection with this new H7N9 virus.

How are people getting infected?

This virus has been found in birds (poultry) in China in some of the same areas where human infections have happened. Available evidence suggests that most people have been infected with the virus after having contact with infected poultry or contaminated environments.

How do people get infected with bird flu viruses?

Human infections with bird flu viruses are rare, but have happened in the past, usually after close contact with infected birds (both live and dead) or environments contaminated with bird flu virus.

Infected birds can shed a lot of flu virus, for example, in their droppings or their mucus. If someone touches an infected bird or an environment contaminated with virus and then touches their eyes, nose or mouth, they may be infected with bird flu virus. There is some evidence that infection may also occur if the flu virus becomes airborne somehow, such as when an infected bird flaps it wings. If someone were to breathe in airborne virus, it’s possible they could get infected.

Is infection with this virus serious?

Most of the reported cases of human infection with this virus have had very serious illness. There also are reports of some milder illness and one possible report of a person who tested positive for the virus who did not have any symptoms.

What are the symptoms of illness with this virus?

Symptoms have started with high fever and cough. A lot of the cases have progressed to very serious illness, including severe pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), septic shock and multi-organ failure leading to death.

Is this virus spreading from person-to-person?

Chinese health authorities are investigating this situation very carefully. They are following up on close contacts of infected people to find out if they have gotten infected. This is important to find out whether there has been person-to-person spread of this virus. So far, hundreds of close contacts have been checked and there has not been any evidence of ongoing spread of this virus from person-to-person.

Is it possible that this virus will spread from person-to-person?

Yes. Based on what we know about human infections with other bird flu viruses, it’s possible and even likely that there will be some limited person-to-person spread with this virus. The important factor will be to determine whether this virus gains the ability to spread easily from one person to another. Sustainable human to human spread is needed for a pandemic to start. Health officials are watching the situation closely for this.

Is there a vaccine to protect against this new H7N9 virus?

No, right now there is no vaccine to protect against this virus. CDC and others are working to develop a vaccine candidate virus that could be used to make a vaccine if it is needed.

Are there medicines to treat illness associated with this virus?

CDC recommends oseltamivir (Tamiflu®) and zanamivir (Relenza®) for treatment of H7N9. Most of the H7N9 viruses that have been studied are likely susceptible (sensitive) to the two influenza antiviral drugs that are used to treat seasonal flu. Those drugs are oseltamivir (Tamiflu®) and zanamivir (Relenza®) (neuraminidase inhibitors). Like seasonal influenza viruses, avian A(H7N9) viruses are resistant to the influenza antiviral drugs known as the adamantanes.

It’s important to note that influenza viruses may acquire genetic changes which can make one or more influenza antiviral drugs less effective. This happens with seasonal influenza viruses and could happen with H7N9 viruses found in China. As new H7N9 virus isolates are received, CDC will conduct ongoing testing to determine the susceptibility of other H7N9 viruses to existing antiviral drugs. More information about antiviral resistance is available at Influenza Antiviral Drug Resistance: Questions & Answers.

What is the risk from this virus in the United States right now?

No cases of human or bird infection with this H7N9 virus have been detected in the United States. At this time, the risk to people in the United States is considered to be low.

Is it possible that human cases of H7N9 flu will be found in the United States?

Yes. The most likely scenario for this right now would be H7N9 infection in a traveler from China. Many people travel between China and the United States. CDC issued a health alert for public health officials and clinicians in the United States to be on the look-out for flu symptoms in travelers who are returning from countries with bird flu. CDC has issued guidance for isolating, testing, and treating such patients. However, since this virus does not seem to be spreading easily from person-to-person, a few cases in the United States with travel links to China would not change the risk of infection for the general public in the United States.

How are H7N9 virus infections diagnosed in people?

There are currently no tests available over the counter or at a doctor’s office that can quickly detect and distinguish between the H7N9 virus and other flu viruses. However, a more sophisticated test that specifically detects H7N9 virus has been developed by CDC for use by qualified public health laboratories in the United States and internationally. This test involves collecting a respiratory tract (i.e., nose, throat, lung) sample from a sick patient. The sample is then sent to a public health laboratory where a procedure known as rRT-PCR (real-time reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction) is conducted. rRT-PCR is very accurate and sensitive at detecting flu viruses. This procedure typically provides results within 4 hours; however, the time involved in processing and reporting results may vary depending on the laboratory.

Does CDC recommend that people delay or cancel trips to China because of H7N9 flu?

Since H7N9 is not spreading easily from person-to-person at this time, CDC does not recommend that people delay or cancel trips to China. The World Health Organization also is watching this situation closely and does not recommend any travel restrictions.

What advice does CDC have for people traveling to China?

CDC advises travelers to China to take some common sense precautions, like not touching birds or other animals and washing hands often. Poultry and poultry products should be fully cooked. CDC will update its advice for travelers if the situation in China changes. This guidance is available at Avian Flu (H7N9) in China.

Should travelers to China get a prescription for antivirals before their trip?

At this time, CDC does not recommend prescribing antiviral drugs for prevention or self-treatment of H7N9 flu. CDC recommends that travelers to China follow common sense precautions to protect themselves and monitor their health during and after their trip. Anyone with fever, coughing, or shortness of breath within 10 days of traveling to China should see a doctor and tell the doctor about the recent travel to China.

What does CDC advise for people in the United States with regard to H7N9?

CDC does not have any new or special recommendations for the U.S. public at this time regarding H7N9.

Is CDC worried that an H7N9 pandemic will start?

This is a serious public health situation and it’s possible that a pandemic could start if this virus were to change to spread easily between people. CDC is preparing for that possibility.

What is CDC doing in response to H7N9?

CDC is following this situation closely and coordinating with domestic and international partners, including China CDC and the World Health Organization. On April 8, 2013 CDC activated the Emergency Operation Center (EOC) at Level 2 (limited activation) to support the management of the emerging H7N9 situation in China. CDC also is sending a team to China to support the domestic outbreak response.

In addition, CDC is taking routine preparedness measures, including:

  • Developing a candidate vaccine virus that could be used to make vaccine if it becomes necessary.
  • Distributing a new test kit developed by CDC that can detect this virus and which can be used by other public health laboratories.
  • Conducting animal studies to learn more about the severity of disease associated with this virus and how the virus spreads.
  • Conducting studies on blood samples to see whether there is any existing immunity to this virus in the population.
  • Conducting ongoing testing to determine H7N9 susceptibility to the licensed influenza antiviral drugs, oseltamivir (commercially known as Tamiflu®) and zanamivir (Relenza®) as well as investigational antiviral drugs.
  • CDC also is gathering more information to make a more thorough public health risk assessment. This is an evolving situation and there is still much to learn.

Content sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD)

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