Adult Stem Cells Eliminate Need for Embryo Killing

first_imgAs another fight looms over presidential policy on embryonic stem cells, here’s what the latest news shows about the efficacy of adult stem cells.Controlling Congestive Heart Failure (Tufts University). Researchers at Tufts are testing injections of adult stem cells in dogs for the control of congestive heart failure. “Stem cell studies of the heart-valve disease in dogs could benefit humans, too,” the subtitle says. How would it work? “Injecting stem cells into a dog’s bloodstream should allow them to travel to the heart, where they theoretically could promote regeneration of damaged valves.” That these are not embryonic stem cells is clear from a paper in the journal Stem Cells referred to in the press release: “Stem cells evaluated in these studies included mesenchymal stem-stromal cells (MSC, 17/19 trials), olfactory ensheathing cells (OEC, 1 trial), or neural lineage cells derived from bone marrow MSC (1 trial), and 16/19 studies were performed in dogs.”Stem Cells Could Restore Vision After Eye Disease (Live Science). This study uses induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC), which are adult cells coaxed back into a stem-like state without the need for harvesting embryos. “A new technique using stem cells can restore vision in mice that have end-stage eye disease, a condition that is thought to bring irreversible vision loss,” reporter Stephanie Bucklin writes. The iPSCs grow retinal tissue that is transplanted into the eye. Although the test results from mouse experiments are preliminary, the initial results at RIKEN are “very promising” for human treatments eventually. A related story in Medical Xpress says, “Stem cell therapy reverses blindness in animals with end-stage retinal degeneration.”Researchers use stem cells to regenerate the external layer of a human heart (Penn State). Using heart progenitor stem cells, researchers achieved successes that “bring them one step closer to regenerating an entire heart wall” using adult stem cells. One team member said, “We are making progress on that inner layer, which will allow us to regenerate an entire heart wall that can be used in tissue engineering for cardiac therapy.”Rebuilding the Salivary Gland After Radiation (UC San Francisco). Radiation treatments for head and neck cancers often lead to salivary gland damage. Researchers at UCSF are following the salivary stem cells in mice with fluorescent markers to see how they regenerate gland tissue by sending signals between nerves and tissue. Humans have salivary stem cells, but the signaling is disrupted after radiation damage. If they can understand the signaling in mice, it may have application to humans. One scientist “hopes that their research will one day enable the development of stem cell therapies for gland regeneration in human patients,” by calling their own salivary stem cells back into action.Embryos and EthicsGiven the successes noted above, why do some labs and their institutions still clamor for embryonic stem cells? (See yesterday’s post.) In some cases labs work with mice, which is ethically acceptable given one’s view of animal rights, but animal tests portend ethical issues if applied to humans.Scientists reprogram embryonic stem cells to expand their potential (UC Berkeley). These researchers are trying to coax embryonic stem cells to have the “totipotent” properties of a zygote. While mentioning induced pluripotent stem cells as an alternative to embryonic cells, the article makes no mention of ethics. But on a side issue, the article does debunk another “junk DNA” myth that retrotransposons are useless:Long regarded as “junk DNA,” retrotransposons are pieces of ancient foreign DNA that make up a large fraction of the mammalian genome. For decades, biologists assumed that these retrotransposons serve no purpose during normal development, but [Lin] He’s findings suggest they may be closely tied to the decision-making of early embryos.“An important open question is whether these retrotransposons are real drivers of developmental decision making,” said Todd MacFanlan, a co-author of the current study….Baby Farms of the Future? Docs Warn of Ethical Issues from New Tech (Live Science). Here’s a case where both iPSCs and embryonic stem cells could be used for evil. What if stem cells are used to make sperm cells and egg cells? What if they are united to become live human embryos? Could governments use these to build baby farms or armies of clones? Rachael Rattner shows that “in vitro gametogenesis” may be a new worry on the horizon. And since skin cells that drop off your body could be coaxed into iPSCs and used to make gametes, you could become a parent without your knowledge.Ethics Has ConsequencesWe end with contrasting issues the can result from policy about abortion.Armenia raises alarm as abortions of girls skew population (Medical Xpress). As with China after its one-child policy led many couples to abort girls, Armenia faces a gender crisis from sex-selective abortions rising in that region. Did anyone see this coming? “The majority-Christian Caucasus country of some three million has the third highest rate of abortions of female foetuses in the world, a figure that rose sharply after the breakup of the Soviet Union.” That must mean Christian-in-name-only, because Jesus Christ would certainly not approve such a practice. The Soviet Empire has its dirty hands on this problem: “Abortion is still the primary means of family planning in Armenia, as it was in the Soviet era, and it is available free of charge on the state health service.”A year on, mothers of Brazil’s Zika babies struggle (Medical Xpress). The flip side of abortion policy is caring for the mothers who carry their babies to term. Brazil has a new kind of crises: a flood of mothers having to care for babies with microcephaly, a brain handicap resulting from mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus. Many affected mothers have inadequate access to health care, and no knowledge of how to care for special needs babies who may never learn to speak and typically have multiple health problems, including blindness. On top of that, the culture in that country puts social stigmas on having a sick baby. “I have had to put my whole life on hold and live for the baby,” a mother named Brenda complains. “But as far as the government is concerned, you have to be extremely poor in order to receive a subsidy.”That last story is not substantially different from any other kind of situation involving the handicapped. The writer of the article assumes that government is the answer. Government can help, but there are many other relief organizations that can and do offer assistance to needy families. Here is a new need arising from a new virus that provides an opportunity for religious care organizations to step up and help, just like they do for other disasters. Some pregnant women were encouraged by governments and NGOs to test for Zika infection in order to decide whether to abort.Abortion is never the answer for those who value human life. The only policy to avoid the nightmare scenarios of baby farms, skewed gender populations and sales of baby body parts (see yesterday’s entry) is to view all human life as exceptional and worthy of protection. That said, we cannot just walk away from needy mothers who did choose life. Religious support organizations already do fantastic services for medical missions, wheelchairs for the world and other relief work. It would be good to see them prove to the Zika mothers that God-fearing pro-lifers are their best friends.(Visited 61 times, 1 visits today)FacebookTwitterPinterestSave分享0last_img read more

One killed in West Bengal during panchayat poll nomination filing

first_imgSporadic violence was reported from several districts of West Bengal on Monday during filing of nominations for the Panchayat elections.One person was shot dead in Suri block of Birbhum district. Police is yet to confirm the person’s political affiliation.Apart from incidents of alleged assault on Opposition party workers by Trinamool Congress (TMC) cadres in the districts of Murshidabad and Paschim Medinipur, two photojournalists and a reporter were assaulted in Murshidabad. One photojournalist was assaulted in Birhum.Meanwhile, Bengal’s Congress leadership said that they would approach the Calcutta High Court regarding the outbreak of violence during filing of nominations.The West Bengal State Election Commission on Saturday night announced that filing of nominations will take place from 11 am to 3 pm on Monday.last_img read more

Five naxals held in Chhattisgarh

first_imgFive naxals were arrested from two places in Chhattisgarh’s insurgency-hit Bijapur district, the police said on Tuesday.While three cadres were picked up from Potenar village under Jangla police station limits, two others were held from the forest of Basaguda police station area on Monday, a local police official told PTI. Separate teams of District Force and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) were involved in these operations.Those arrested from Jangla area are identified as Lekam Balram (38), Alma Rama (32) and Aalam Pandu (51) who all are lower-rung cadres, he said, adding that Balram and Rama were carrying reward of ₹10,000 and ₹5,000, respectively, on their heads.Two cadres who were arrested from the forest of Chipurbhati and Putkel villages are identified as Veko Podia (27) and Punem Hunga (27), both active members of Dandakaranya Adivasi Kisan Majdoor Sangthan (DAKMS), a frontal wing of Maoists, he said.They all were allegedly involved in incidents of torching vehicles, putting up Maoist pamphlets and posters and damaging roads, the official said.last_img read more

Kashmir’s first Ashok Chakra awardee hails from hotbed of militancy

first_imgFresh snowfall only added to the prevailing deafening and eerie silence at Kulgam’s Batagund village, home to 38-year-old Nazir Ahmad Wani, the Kashmir valley’s first ever awardee of the Ashok Chakra — India’s highest peacetime military decoration. Ironically, the district also became a hotbed of militancy last year.Also Read Kashmir’s first Ashok Chakra for Lance Naik Nazir Ahmad Wani  Lance Naik Wani’s posthumous military decoration is least talked about in militancy-affected Kulgam, which saw 26 civilian deaths either near encounter sites or in street protests. At least 15 local militants were killed in more than 50 major operations conducted in the district.At the spare three-storey house of the Wanis, younger brother Mushtaq Ahmad is reticent and all guests are not welcome. “A few days ago, locals knocked on our door and broke the news about the award. The fact of the day is we lost him,” said the younger Wani, referring to his brother.Curious locals are keeping a tab on all guests visiting the house.“Kulgam has suffered the most in 2018,” said Majid Ganai, a local resident. “It was a year of funerals. We saw militants, informers, soldiers and policemen, all locals, returning home draped in coffins. Funerals were also only occasions of celebrations. Wani’s feat could hardly be discussed in these times,” he added.The Wanis’ neighbours said Wani had been shooed away by militant commander Mohammad Ayoub from nearby Bhan village, who had rejected his offer to join militancy. In 1992, Wani joined the Ikhwan, a local name for an irregular counter-insurgency force drawn from locals. Married to his school-time sweetheart Mahajabeen in 2002, Wani’s two children, Athar, a Class 10 student, and Shahid, a Class 8 student, would shuttle between Jammu and the Valley “to ensure their safety”. Wani would always drop by uninformed at home, as the militants stepped up attacks on local soldiers, killing at least three members of the armed forces in their houses.Regularised in the Army in 2004, his counter-insurgent colleague Mukhtar Ahmad Malik alias Mukhtar Gola’s killing saw Wani pledging to go after the killers. In September, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militants shot Malik dead inside his house in Shurat village. The killing was filmed on a mobile phone by the militants, who fired from inside the pheran, a long woolen robe.One-and-half months later, Wani volunteered to take on the LeT’s Umar Ganai and his five associates, the main suspect behind Malik’s killing, on November 25 in Hirapur village in Shopian. Ganai and Wani shot each other dead in the encounter, said a police officer, declining to be identified.The citation for the award, issued by the Rashtrapati Bhawan, reads: “Lance Naik Wani epitomised qualities of a fine soldier. He always volunteered for challenging missions, displaying great courage under adverse circumstances, exposing himself to grave danger in the line of duty.”Meanwhile, Governor Satya Pal Malik said Wani would always be an inspiration for the generations to come and motivate them to work selflessly for the safety and security of the country.last_img read more

Kusal Perera 153 scripts Sri Lanka’s miracle 1-wicket win vs South Africa in Durban Test

first_imgBrief scores – Sri Lanka (191 & 304/9) beat South Africa (235 & 259) by 1 wicket to take an unassailable 1-0 lead in 2-match series. Kusal Perera (153*), Dhananjaya de Silva (48), Keshav Maharaj (3/71). ScorecardKusal Perera played the innings of a lifetime and pulled off a miracle victory for Sri Lanka on Saturday, scoring 153 not out off 200 balls, as the visitors beat the hosts by 1 wicket to take an unbeatable 1-0 lead in the two-match Test series in Durban.Chasing a daunting target of 304, the Lankans were reduced to 83 for 3 on Day 3 and had lost half their side at 110 on the fourth day when Kusal Perera and Dhananjaya de Silva joined forces to add 96 runs for the sixth wicket.De Silve departed on 48 but Perera carried on and batted smartly with the tail-enders to take Sri Lanka closer to the target.He brought up his second Test hundred in just 146 deliveries in the 74th over of the fourth innings and went on to cross his highest score of 112 with a six to reach 112 with Sri Lanka needing 52 runs at that stage. The shot also took the team past 250.for Kusal Perera, His second century in Tests! #SAvSL #KJP pic.twitter.com/2ld5tYki35Sri Lanka Cricket (@OfficialSLC) February 16, 2019His last wicket partnership with Vishwa Fernando had reached 26 runs by then with Perera scoring all the runs while the latter didn’t even open his account for 15 deliveries.The Proteas strangely decided not to take the second new ball after the 80-over mark by which time Sri Lanka had reached 262, needing another 42 runs to win with Kusal Perera on 120 and Fernando yet to get off the mark after facing 20 deliveries.advertisementSouth Africa skipper Faf du Plessis was visibly under pressure by that point and had multiple discussions with veteran fast bowler Dale Steyn who was operating from one end.After the second meeting with the skipper in the 81st over, Steyn finally decided to take the new ball with one ball left in the over and Fernando on strike, but the latter managed to survive yet again.With Kagiso Rabada being introduced into the attack, Perera decided to take him on and carried on playing his shots. He was unable to get the strike back in the 83rd over and with Steyn operating with the new ball, Fernando had to survive or find a way to get off strike.In the second ball of the over, Fernando managed to edge the ball past second slip to collect five runs to get off the mark and get Perera on strike again for the third ball. Against all odds, Perera smacked a six over deep mid-wicket off the fourth ball to bring down the deficit to just 23 runs. The shot also brought up the fifty-run partnership for the final wicket with Fernando scoring just 5 runs from 23 balls.Perera smashed another two sixes off the next two overs from Steyn and Rabada to take Sri Lanka within touching distance from victory which finally came in the third ball of the 86th over as the left-hander finished the match with his 12th boundary to trigger massive celebrations at the Kingsmead stadium.Perera and Fernando’s unbroken partnership for the final wicket reached 78 off 95 balls, which is a record for Sri Lanka against South Africa in Test cricket. Fernando just managed 6 runs in the incredible stand. The win was also Lanka’s first in Durban after 7 years.WHAT.A.VICTORY! Sri Lanka won the 1st Test vs South Africa by 1 wicket!Kusal Perera 153 NOT OUT!SA 235, 259 vs SL 191, 304/9 (85.3 Ovs) #SAvSL pic.twitter.com/MefWB4CjnsSri Lanka Cricket (@OfficialSLC) February 16, 2019For the dejected Proteas, Keshav Maharaj finished with 3 wickets while Dale Steyn and Duanne Olivier bagged two wickets.Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada took a wicket each but the combined force of all these top-class bowlers just couldn’t dislodge the final Sri Lankan wicket and thus, ended up on the losing side despite dominating the match for the better part of four days.Also Read | South Africa vs Sri Lanka, 1st Test Day 4 in Durban: As it happenedAlso Read | Kusal Perera speechless after pulling off epic Test victory vs South Africa in DurbanAlso Read | Kusal Perera take a bow: R Ashwin lauds Sri Lankan match-winner after Durban Test heroicslast_img read more

Photo: Nebraska’s Mike Riley Brags About The Huskers Dominating “On & Off The Field”

first_imgNebraska coach Mike Riley walks onto the field.LINCOLN, NE – SEPTEMBER 03: Head coach Mike Riley of the Nebraska Cornhuskers walks onto the field before the game against the Fresno State Bulldogs at Memorial Stadium on September 3, 2016 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska defeated Fresno State 43-10. (Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images)“There’s No Place Like Nebraska” is a Huskers’ fight song and somewhat of a mantra for the Lincoln, Neb.-based college football program. When it comes to the academic success of its players, the mantra is true. No program has produced more Academic All-Americans than the Huskers. With school’s APR scores set to come out today, Nebraska coach Mike Riley felt it was appropriate to boast about his team’s success off the field. Is being an Academic All-American important to you? Look no further than Nebraska! #Huskers pic.twitter.com/G0W1dB7zzD— Mike Riley (@Coach_Riley) May 27, 2015It’s always nice to see program’s putting an emphasis on the student part of being a student-athlete.last_img read more

Britain takes aim at social media company bosses in world first

first_imgLondon: Britain will make social media bosses personally liable for harmful content and shut down offending platforms under a government action plan published Monday — the first of its kind anywhere. The long-delayed and eagerly anticipated proposals lay the groundwork for legislation that could be passed in the coming months. They were drawn up after consultations with social media moguls such as Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg and have faced little resistance from other platforms that have also been blamed for allowing the spread of hate and abuse. Also Read – Saudi Crown Prince ‘snubbed’ Pak PM, recalled jet from USSome of the proposals have sparked concerns from free speech groups. “What we’re proposing today is that companies that deal with user-generated content should take greater responsibility for keeping those users safe,” culture and media minister Jeremy Wright told BBC radio. “These are world-leading proposals. No one in the world has done this before.” The proposed regulations would see social media companies accept “duty of care” obligations that require them to identify and remove “online harms”. Also Read – Record number of 35 candidates in fray for SL Presidential pollsThose that fail would be first issued warnings and then hit progressively with more punitive sanctions. The government paper suggests that these include “the creation of new liability (civil fines or extended to criminal liability) for individual senior managers”. The most serious would see internet service providers block non-compliant websites and apps. “This would only be considered as an option of last resort and deploying such an option would be a decision for the independent regulator alone,” the plan says. The regulations would only apply in Britain and should have no immediate impact on users elsewhere in the world. But they may prompt other governments to take notice and follow suit. Wright suggested the fines would be substantial. He noted that those available to European Union authorities implementing the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) rules on data privacy reached “up to four percent of a company’s turnover”. “We think we should be looking at something comparable here,” Wright told BBC television. Wright’s office is navigating a minefield of problems regulating an industry that largely functions outside the bounds of existing legislation — and whose harms are open to interpretation and remain undefined. A joint letter sent by media executives to the British government in February stressed that legislation must be “technically possible to implement in practise… (and) “be targeted at specific harms”. The government paper lists both “harms with a clear legal definition” and “harms with a less clear legal definition”. The first include terrorist activity and a range of cyber-stalking and hate crimes. The second lists disinformation and “violent content” as a whole. What types of harm fall where would be established by a new regulator whose enforcement powers would be funded by the social media companies themselves. The social media boom was born in the spirit of a libertarian Silicon Valley ethos of innovation and non-interference from government. But the industry is now facing a litany of dangers that range from the spread of state propaganda to promotion of teen suicide and — most graphically last month — the live broadcast of the slaying of 50 Muslim worshippers in New Zealand. The techUK industry lobby group admitted Monday that platforms’ attempts at self-regulation have fallen short. But it also urged the government to avoid “creating discrepancies in law between the online and offline worlds”. “Government have said that this will apply to all user-generated content (and) not only to big tech firms,” techUK policy chief Vinous Ali said. “If we are going to throw the net out so widely we need to make sure the proposed regulator takes a risk-based and proportionate response.” Britain’s Article 19 free speech group also warned that the proposed legislation “could violate individuals’ rights to freedom of expression and privacy”.last_img read more

Fruitseller shot dead by criminals

first_imgKolkata: A fruit seller was shot dead by some miscreants at Kamarhati on Monday night.Later police arrested three youths from Kamarhati area. The deceased identified as Saheb Ali of Kamarhati used to sell fruits near the Kamarhati police outpost. On Monday around 7 pm an altercation broke between three youths and Ali over some issue. After a few minutes, local residents heard a firing sound and saw Ali fell the ground. Immediately, the three youth fled from the spot. Ali was immediately rushed to a private hospital where doctors declared him brought dead. Meanwhile, Belgharia police station was informed. Later, his family members lodged a murder complaint. Police started a probe and came to know that the three youths were talking about some monetary transaction. Police came to know that Ali had borrowed money from one Asif of Kamarhati for business. To be clear about the motive police started searching for Asif. After he was detained, Asif confessed that he had gone there to recover his money along with two others identified as Pappu and Nepali. They had plan to threat Ali. To terrify him, Nepali brandished a gun at the time of altercation. But the bullet fired accidentally. After Asif’s statement, police nabbed Pappu and Nepali from a hideout in Kamarhati area. The accused persons have confessed to the crime.last_img read more

11 Chinese among 13 suspects remanded in custody for girls trafficking in

first_imgLahore: Eleven Chinese were among 13 suspects remanded in custody by a Lahore court on Thursday for a probe into a transnational gang allegedly involved in forced prostitution of Pakistani girls and running an organ trade racket. Judicial Magistrate Amir Raza directed the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) officials to complete the probe within two days and produce the suspects in court on May 11. During the last few days, the FIA) has arrested more than 40 Chinese nationals and 15 of their local facilitators from Lahore, Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Faislabad cities for their alleged involvement in arranging fake marriages of Pakistani women, removing their organs and forcing them into prostitution. Also Read – Saudi Crown Prince Salman ‘snubbed’ Pak PM Imran, recalled his private jet from US: Report read more

The Patriots Arent Quite Their Usual Dominant Selves This Year

Playoff %Playoff % This year, though, New England is a perfect 5-0 at home but only 3-3 on the road — respectable but nowhere near the league’s best. (The Pats have also been outscored by 11 points in away games, against a road schedule that ranks just 28th in average opposing Elo.) And this might come up in the playoffs, unlike so many seasons in which the Pats had home-field advantage through the AFC title game.1Since 2010, New England has played a total of 15 non-Super Bowl playoff games — of which 13 have been hosted at Gillette Stadium. Right now, New England is in line for the AFC’s No. 2 seed behind the Kansas City Chiefs, but only a half-game separates them from the fourth-seeded Steelers.Owning the turnover battleTurnover margin is one of the most important factors in determining who wins or loses any football game. Conventional stathead wisdom, though, tells us that outlier turnover seasons — whether avoiding them on offense, forcing them on defense, or both — are unsustainable. While there are some ways a team can influence its tendency to have more takeaways than giveaways, a lot of it also comes down to luck.Unless, of course, you’re the Patriots. New England perennially dominates this category, ranking first by a mile from 2010 through 2017 with a +116 turnover differential, almost double that of the next-best team. A lot of that is a function of having Tom Brady at QB; he’s tied for the second-lowest interception percentage of any passer in NFL history. But the Pats are also great at avoiding fumbles — only the Falcons had coughed it up fewer times since 2010, and no team had lost fewer fumbles than the Pats. And their defense had forced the second-most turnovers of any team this decade (behind the Giants), ranking second in interceptions and tied for third in fumbles recovered.Such opportunism has historically paid big dividends for New England, but this year’s squad is still trying to recapture that formula. The Pats are currently +5 in turnovers, which ranks ninth in the league but is nothing special by their standards. Brady has his highest interception rate since 2013 (his seven picks already are only one off of his full-season total from last year), driving a big overall increase in giveaways per game, though the team is being more careful in recent weeks. And while the Pats have forced at least one turnover in all but one game this season, they are tied for eighth-to-last in the league in games with three or more takeaways, six behind the league-leading Bears.Yards and pointsIn addition to — and correlated with — their dominant turnover differential, the Patriots have always had another trick up their sleeves in terms of winning extra games. It involves their yards per point (YPP): essentially, how efficiently they turn field position into scores on offense and how inefficiently they force opponents to do the same. By definition, when you have a lower YPP than the opponent, you will win more often because you’re trading field position for points at a more favorable rate than they are.Like turnover margin, YPP is supposed to be pretty inconsistent from year to year, bouncing around with a team’s luck at picking up key first downs and converting red zone chances, along with the all-important knack for “bending but not breaking” on defense. Yet the Pats dominate this category so thoroughly and so consistently, it might be the single biggest factor in their ongoing success. Not only had they ranked first in both offensive and defensive YPP since 2010, but their net YPP differential of +5.6 was more than double the No. 2 Packers’ +2.5 mark over that span.(This is one of the big reasons that worries about the Patriots’ defense always need to be tempered. Belichick’s team has traditionally punched above its weight in terms of points allowed, just because it always makes opponents work so hard to turn gains on the field into rewards on the scoreboard.)This season, the Pats remain among the top net YPP teams, ranking fourth, but they are not quite dominating like usual. They rank just seventh in offensive YPP and sixth on defense, with a net YPP of +2.8, which trails the Bears, Saints and Chiefs. On top of the increase in turnovers per game from above, New England’s efficiency rankings on third down and in the red zone are worse, and the team has slipped in those same “situational” categories on defense. And if you want another cause for the Patriots’ YPP decline, their net starting field position is -2.6 yards per drive this season (meaning the opponent starts 2.6 yards closer to the end zone than the Pats), after a decade in which that number was a league-best +4.6.In other words, many of the little things that usually add up to that massive YPP advantage for New England aren’t quite working as well so far this year. But the good news for the Pats is that their turnover margin and net YPP tend to improve radically from this point in the season onward, in no small part because Belichick specifically tries to build a tough, physical team that thrives in bad weather. So even in a relative down season by their key indicators, don’t be surprised if the Patriots build them up at least some before season’s end.Gronk smash!Tight end Rob Gronkowski has long been the Pats’ not-so-secret weapon on offense, helping the team transition seamlessly from the powerful Randy Moss-Wes Welker offense of a previous era to the version that’s been terrorizing the league for most of this decade.But the famously fragile Gronk has appeared to show his age and mileage this season more than perhaps ever before. He’s missed three games with various ailments, and when he has played, he’s been limited to just 63.0 yards per game with a career-low 0.25 touchdown catches per contest. Gronkowski’s reduced mobility has hurt his trademark ability to rumble after the catch for spectacular gains, and it’s made him much less of a focal point in the offense than he’s accustomed to being. When on the field, Gronk has seen only 18.7 percent of the targets in the Pats’ passing game, his lowest number since getting 17.7 percent as a rookie.But Gronk’s influence on the Patriots’ offense remains undeniable. In the eight games the star tight end has played in 2018, Brady’s passer rating is 98.2; in the three he missed, it dropped to 91.6 (league average is 94.9). Even with Gronkowski playing in a more limited physical condition than usual, producing less of a statistical footprint than before, this is confirmation that he’s still one of the biggest engines driving the Patriots’ success. The biggest question might simply be what kind of durability Gronkowski’s banged-up body will have over the rest of the season.Brady stays ageless … sort ofAlong with Belichick, the one constant in New England’s dynasty has been No. 12 under center. Brady has probably been the single most valuable player in the NFL this century, and he’s been crucial in engineering five Super Bowl titles for the Patriots with his consistency, leadership and ability to rally the team back from seemingly insurmountable deficits.But at 41 — an age at which almost no other QB has ever been productive — there is a near-constant watch for any sign of slippage in Brady’s performance. And he has been a bit less sharp statistically than in years past. His adjusted net yards per attempt index at Pro-Football-Reference.com, which measures passing efficiency relative to the league (where 100 is average), is 111 this year, down from 117 last season and 138 the year before that. It hadn’t been so low since Brady was barely above average (102) in 2013.Of course, there are reasons for Brady’s decline that go beyond his advanced age, from Gronk’s aforementioned absences to a four-game suspension for top target Julian Edelman at the start of the season and a WR corps in flux early on before adding Josh Gordon and shuffling roles for the likes of Phillip Dorsett and (WR-turned-RB) Cordarrelle Patterson. But Brady has managed to work around weird receiving situations before — and, in fact, his passer rating was better over the season’s first four games (94.0) than it’s been over the four most recent ones (90.8).Combine that with a ProFootballFocus grade that’s down a bit from last season (though still sixth-best among QBs) and those ubiquitous stats about Brady’s off-target throws (at 22.1 percent, no qualified passer has thrown an errant pass more frequently this year), and it’s fair to ask whether Brady is playing at quite the same level as he did over the past few seasons. Whether because of Brady or the receivers, the Pats are currently tied for eighth in adjusted net yards per attempt — their worst showing since (again) 2013, a season that saw New England fall short in the AFC title game.2Though it does bear mentioning that six of the eight Super Bowl champs this decade ranked among the top 10 in ANY/A, right in line with the Pats’ current performance. Taken altogether, these numbers reveal a Patriots squad that is not fully playing at the level it’s used to at this stage of the season. And that shows up in big-picture indicators such as Elo or even point differential, where the Pats’ +58 margin is its weakest of the decade through 11 contests. But even so, a lessened version of the Patriots still ranks among the league’s top teams. And as we mentioned above, the Vikings will be a good opponent for Belichick to use as a measuring stick for his roster. According to our combination of matchup quality (i.e., the harmonic mean of the teams’ Elo ratings in each game) and game importance (how likely it is to swing either team’s odds of making the playoffs), this will be the fourth-best game of the week: HOU95.73.8CLE1.31.45.21462 GB6.13.0ARI<0.1<0.13.01412 BUF56JAX55BUF 24, JAX 21-13.0– WSH38.9%+/-19.5PHI23.7%+/-11.130.61525 NO81NO83NO 31, ATL 17-0.9– CIN75%CIN63%CLE 35, CIN 20+13.4– The best matchups of Week 13Week 13 games by ranking of average Elo ratings (using the harmonic mean) plus ranking of total potential swing for the two teams’ playoff chances, according to FiveThirtyEight’s NFL predictions CHI96.33.9NYG<0.1<0.13.91474 KC99.90.2OAK<0.1<0.10.21479 IND29.514.5JAX0.10.114.71468 IND68IND70IND 27, MIA 24-0.6– SEA74.910.5SF<0.1<0.110.51460 HOU58HOU63HOU 34, TEN 17+2.3– PIT70PIT69DEN 24, PIT 17+0.0 Home teams are in bold.The scoring system is nonlinear, so readers’ average points don’t necessarily match the number of points that would be given to the average reader prediction. DEN13.010.7CIN6.45.316.01453 Game quality is the harmonic mean of the Elo ratings for the two teams in a given matchup.*Average change is weighted by the likelihood of a win or loss. (Ties are excluded.)Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group LAC88.27.0PIT93.95.612.61619 DET1.31.6LAR>99.9<0.11.61550 LAC84LAC85LAC 45, ARI 10-0.9– MIA5.13.9BUF1.31.35.21425 Here’s a surprise: The New England Patriots are 8-3, leading the AFC East, with some of the best odds in the conference of winning the Super Bowl.Oh, right. I’ve just described basically every Pats season in recent memory. This is the ninth consecutive season that New England has won at least eight of its first 11 games. The team’s current Elo rating of 1641, however, is the lowest it’s been through the same stage of the season since 2009 (and we don’t talk about that season).So what are we to make of these Patriots, then? After overcoming the typical early season hiccups, is this year’s version ready to build championship momentum down the stretch like normal? Or is there still something a little bit off about a team that was showering its punter (of all players) with praise after an uncharacteristically modest win over the lowly New York Jets last week?In advance of New England’s showdown Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, let’s take a look at some of the Patriots’ calling-card metrics to see whether this season is business as usual in Foxboro.Road warriors?One of the Pats’ most eye-catching statistics during Bill Belichick’s time as head coach has been their near-invincibility at home, where they’ve won 87 percent of their games this decade. But their road record — winning more than 70 percent of the time away from Gillette Stadium — could be even more remarkable. From 2010 to 2017, the Pats’ winning percentage on the road was about 10.5 percentage points higher than what we’d expect from their home record — the third biggest gap in the NFL (behind the Cowboys and Eagles): NE77NE82NE 27, NYJ 13+0.4– Team ACurrentAvg. Chg*Team BCurrentAvg. Chg*Total ChangeGame Quality BAL46.118.0ATL4.23.121.01539 While the game has a lot more at stake for Minnesota, whose spot in the playoffs is still not fully locked in, there is still plenty for the Patriots to play for as well. Not only will this game affect seeding for the postseason (Elo says the Pats currently have a 60 percent chance of securing a first-round playoff bye), but it will also be another telling data point as to whether the Pats can get back to their mega-dominant form of the recent past, or if they’ll be merely good — but mortal — according to their signature metrics.FiveThirtyEight vs. the readersIf you want to know where your team stands, FiveThirtyEight’s Elo ratings are a good indicator. You can check them out in our NFL prediction interactive, which simulates the rest of the season 100,000 times and tracks how often each team should make the playoffs and win the Super Bowl. Did you know you can also pick against the Elo algorithm in our prediction game? Try it out, and maybe you can climb up our giant leaderboard.Here are the games in which Elo made its best — and worst — predictions against the reader picks last week: CHI53CHI59CHI 23, DET 16+2.9– MIN62.813.6NE99.11.014.61610 OUR PREDICTION (ELO)READERS’ PREDICTION MIN71MIN60MIN 24, GB 17-10.0– DAL65DAL67DAL 31, WSH 23-0.5– Elo’s dumbest (and smartest) picks of Week 12Average difference between points won by readers and by Elo in Week 12 matchups in FiveThirtyEight’s NFL prediction game On average, Elo beat our readers by 18.9 points in the game last week, bringing its record to 11 wins and one loss so far this season. Readers had the best pick of Week 12 — rightly pumping the brakes on Cincinnati’s chances of beating the Browns — but they were punished for picking against Elo in the Bills’ upset over the Jaguars, and they didn’t show enough faith in the victorious Vikings, Eagles and Bucs.Among individual users who did better than average, congrats are in order to Ryan Gnizak, who led all users in Week 12 with 263.5 points, and to Greg Chili Van Hollebeke, who held on to a slim lead for the entire season with 934.5 points. Thanks to everyone who has been playing — and if you haven’t, be sure to get in on the action! You can make picks now and still try your luck against Elo, even if you haven’t played yet.Check out our latest NFL predictions. CAR62CAR57SEA 30, CAR 27+4.1– BAL83BAL81BAL 34, OAK 17-2.3– TB63TB58TB 27, SF 9-5.7– PHI80PHI69PHI 25, NYG 22-8.1– DAL60.313.3NO>99.90.113.31635 PICKWIN PROB.PICKWIN PROB.ResultREADERS’ NET PTS TEN20.57.2NYJ<0.1<0.17.21417 CAR30.914.9TB0.70.815.71492 read more