Macular degeneration: ‘I’ve been given my sight back’

Doctors have taken a major step towards curing the most common form of blindness in the UK – age-related macular degeneration.

Douglas Waters, 86, could not see out of his right eye, but “I can now read the newspaper” with it, he says.

He was one of two patients given pioneering stem cell therapy at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London.

Cells from a human embryo were grown into a patch that was delicately inserted into the back of the eye.

‘Couldn’t see anything’

Douglas, who is from London, developed severe age-related macular degeneration in his right eye three years ago.

The macula is the part of the eye that allows you to see straight ahead – whether to recognise faces, watch TV or read a book.

He says: “In the months before the operation my sight was really poor and I couldn’t see anything out of my right eye.

“It’s brilliant what the team have done and I feel so lucky to have been given my sight back.”

The macula is made up of rods and cones that sense light and behind those are a layer of nourishing cells called the retinal pigment epithelium.

When this support layer fails, it causes macular degeneration and blindness.

Doctors have devised a way of building a new retinal pigment epithelium and surgically implanting it into the eye.

The technique, published in Nature Biotechnology, starts with embryonic stem cells. These are a special type of cell that can become any other in the human body.

They are converted into the type of cell that makes up the retinal pigment epithelium and embedded into a scaffold to hold them in place.

The living patch is only one layer of cells thick – about 40 microns – and 6mm long and 4mm wide.

It is then placed underneath the rods and cones in the back of the eye. The operation takes up to two hours.

‘Incredibly exciting’

Prof Lyndon da Cruz, consultant retinal surgeon at Moorfields, told the BBC: “We’ve restored vision where there was none.

“It’s incredibly exciting. As you get older, parts of you stop working and for the first time we’ve been able to take a cell and make it into a specific part of the eye that’s failing and put it back in the eye and get vision back.”

However, he does not call this a “cure” as completely normal vision is not restored.

Only one diseased eye was operated on in each patient.

So far the patients, the other is a woman in her early sixties, have maintained improved vision in the treated eye for a year.

They went from not being able to read with their affected eye at all, to reading 60 to 80 words per minute.

Eight more patients will take part in this clinical trial.

Doctors need to be sure it is safe. One concern is the transplanted cells could become cancerous, although there have been no such signs so far.

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    Prof Pete Coffey, from the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, said: “This study represents real progress in regenerative medicine.

    “We hope this will lead to an affordable ‘off-the-shelf’ therapy that could be made available to NHS patients within the next five years.”

    More than 600,000 people have age-related macular degeneration in the UK. It’s the leading cause of blindness and the third globally.

    Both patients in the trial had “wet” age-related macular degeneration.

    This form of the disease is caused by abnormal blood vessels growing through the retinal pigment epithelium and damaging the macula.

    Dry age-related macular degeneration is more common and caused by the retinal pigment epithelium breaking down.

    It is hoped the patch will be able to treat both forms of the disease.

    Dr Carmel Toomes, from Leeds Institutes of Molecular Medicine, said: “What’s exciting about this study is that the patients recorded an increase in vision.

    “To see an improvement is a good sign that this therapy may help patients in the future, although further studies are needed before real conclusions can be drawn.”

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XFEL: UK signs up to super X-ray laser machine

The UK has formally joined the European XFEL, a super-bright X-ray laser.

The machine, which is sited in Germany, produces high-energy pulses that are focussed on a target at the end of a 3.4km-long tunnel complex.

These X-ray shots instantly destroy that target but just as they do so they also capture its deepest structure.

Scientists will use the machine to make movies of biological and chemical reactions as they happen at the atomic scale – among myriad applications.

New drugs and new types of materials with novel properties are almost certain to follow from these intricate and detailed investigations.

Dr Allen Orville, who leads the team set up to prepare British scientists to use the facility, says XFELs represent a paradigm shift for research.

“And it’s really true: you blow up the sample with the X-ray pulse,” he chuckles. “But that’s OK because the data is in the X-ray photons and they travel at the speed of light, whereas the sample blows up only at the speed of sound,” he told BBC News.

Many nations around the world employ circular machines called synchrotrons that do very similar sorts of work.

Large crystals of biomolecules, say, are put in the path of a tightly focussed X-ray beam and the way this light is then bent betrays the arrangement of atoms in the target sample. But the X-rays generated by the linear XFEL are about a billion times brighter than in the circular laboratories.

What also sets the XFEL apart is the super-fast time structure in its flashes.

It will deliver trillions (1,000,000,000,000) of X-ray photons in a pulse lasting just 50 femtoseconds (0.000,000,000,000,05 sec).

Two-thousand-seven-hundred of these pulses are organised into bunches that then strike the target at a rate of 10 a second.


How to make super-bright flashes

  • At the head of the XFEL, bunches of electrons are first sped up to near-light-speed in a super-cold, evacuated accelerator
  • The particles are directed down long undulators – magnetic systems that produce a slalom course for the electrons
  • As they wiggle back and forth in the undulators, the fast-moving electrons emit very bright X-ray flashes
  • The particles interact with this great sea of X-rays and begin to organise themselves into even tighter groupings
  • This intensifies the brilliance of their emission and gives it coherence – the X-rays are “in sync” and laser-like
  • Having done their job, the electrons are siphoned off, leaving the X-ray flashes to hit their experimental targets

    It allows for time-resolved investigations that are beyond what is possible in standard synchrotrons. For example, scientists will use a jet to stream a slurry of tiny crystals in front of the beam, priming them with another laser so that chemical reactions are triggered at just the right moment to be caught by the pulses.

    “We’ve developed a method called acoustic droplet ejection (ADE),” explains Dr Orville.

    “We eject small droplets – nano-litres-worth of droplets, maybe pico-litres-worth of droplets – through the air directly into the beam, or on to a conveyor belt that brings the droplets into the beam.

    “And the beauty of that second system, where we launch on to a tape drive to bring the droplets into the beam, is that it allows us to separate the time structure for initiating a reaction from the interaction zone. So, we can actually queue up a whole series of droplets – and as they progress towards the X-ray machine, they get a little bit older; they get further into the reaction cycle.”

    XFELs permit scientists to watch high-speed biology in action, to follow every step in complex catalytic processes such as photosynthesis in plants.

    Britain is handing over a £30m up-front membership fee to be part of the Hamburg-based XFEL and will be paying a further £2.5m a year towards operating costs. But there are in-kind contributions as well.

    The UK has already delivered an advanced camera called the Large Pixel Detector. It collects the diffracted X-ray photons passing through samples at a rate of 4.5 million frames per second.

    Membership was sealed in a ceremony on Monday in Berlin where Sir Sebastian Wood, Britain’s Ambassador to Germany, signed the accession documents.

    The UK had indicated when the European XFEL project was first approved back in 2007 that it wanted to be a shareholder, but this desire got knocked sideways almost immediately by the global financial crisis.

    A renewed commitment was then made in 2014 and the Berlin signature now makes it concrete.

    The organisation that oversees British science – the UKRI (UK Research and Innovation) – recently initiated a road-mapping exercise that aims to set out which facilities the country should be involved in, both at home and abroad.

    The key is to identify long-term preferences, such as the European XFEL, the LHC and the forthcoming giant astronomy telescope known as the Square Kilometre Array.

    “We want out investments to be on a considered, long-term basis,” said Dr Brian Bowsher, the chief executive of the Science and Technology Facilities Council, which comes under the UKRI.

    “In the past I think we may have reacted to events without looking at them in the round. And I think the production of the infrastructure roadmap will be really helpful to the UK science community.”

    The UK’s Science Minister, Sam Gyimah, said: “The incredible XFEL will help us better understand life threatening diseases by using one of the world’s most powerful X-ray machines. Working with our international partners, the super-strength laser will help develop new medical treatments and therapies, potentially saving thousands of lives across the world.

    “Through our modern Industrial Strategy, we are investing an extra £4.7bn into research and development. I am determined that we continue to secure our position as being a world-leader in science, research and innovation and I can’t wait to see the results that come from our participation in this extraordinary project.”

    UK scientists cannot just tip up in Hamburg and expect to get beam time on the XFEL. They must earn it. There are more than 50 groups across the country now working with Dr Orville’s hub at the UK’s Diamond synchrotron in Harwell, Oxfordshire.

    His aim is to make their bids for beam time as compelling as possible.

    “The Diamond XFEL hub has multiple roles: we’ll help characterise your samples; we’ll help you get preliminary data; we’ll help you make that peer review proposal. And if you get beam time, we’ll even help you collect the data. We go from the beginning of the experiment all the way through to publication,” Dr Orville told BBC News.

    The UK hopes soon to set up a fibre link between Hamburg and Harwell so that data gathered in the XFEL can be brought back to the British centre for immediate analysis.

    Jonathan.Amos-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk and follow me on Twitter: @BBCAmos

Barclays on the radar of activist investor

“Activist shareholder” are two words almost guaranteed to make chief executives choke on their morning coffee.

It usually means that someone with a lot of money thinks the CEO is not doing a very good job of running the company and maximising its value.

The news that activist investor Edward Bramson has taken a 5% share in Barclays had an instant effect, pushing the share price sharply higher as investors reflected on his track record of increasing the value of companies by muscling his way onto the board, shaking up the management, returning cash to shareholders by selling off bits of the acquired business and improving what’s left.

More from Simon Jack

The question is just how “activist” does Mr Bramson intends to be. According to Barclays insiders the early indications are – not very.

They point to Mr Bramson’s previous investment in buyout group 3i, in which he played a very passive role and for now portray his investment as a vote of confidence in a company that could be about to experience a couple of positive catalytic moments.

First, settling with the Department of Justice over Barclays’ role in selling risky mortgages. The inevitable – but hard to estimate – fine has been hanging over the company as a known unknown for many years.

The second is the future of the CEO, Jes Staley, who has been under investigation by the financial watchdog for his attempts to unmask an anonymous whistleblower. Both these issues could be resolved in the next few weeks. That could give Barclays shares a boost if resolved positively as far as shareholders are concerned – namely a reasonably proportionate fine and Mr Staley surviving.

Mr Staley has already taken a pretty sharp axe to Barclays – exiting 20 countries including the whole of Africa where it had operated, sometimes controversially, for a century.

But one task that remains outstanding is separating the very profitable Barclays retail bank from its underperforming investment bank. If Mr Bramson agitated for that to happen, he would be on a direct collision course with Mr Staley – and then sparks could start to fly.

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Pressure mounts on Zuckerberg to face data breach concerns

Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg is facing intensified calls to appear in person at investigations into the social network’s conduct.

His company has been accused of failing to properly inform users that their profile information may have been obtained and kept by Cambridge Analytica, a data firm widely-credited with helping Donald Trump win the 2016 US presidential election.

Facebook said on Friday it had blocked Cambridge Analytica from Facebook while it investigated claims the London-based firm did not, as promised, delete data that was allegedly obtained using methods that were in violation of Facebook’s policies.

Both Cambridge Analytica and Facebook deny any wrongdoing.

Despite pledging that in 2018 he would “fix” his company, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has managed to avoid engaging with the site’s growing number of critics – instead sending lawyers or policy bosses to various committee hearings.

The man in charge of Britain’s investigation into Russian meddling in the democratic process said he too wanted to press Mr Zuckerberg on the issue.

“I will be writing to Mark Zuckerberg asking that either he or another senior executive from the company appear to give evidence in front of the committee as part our inquiry,” said Damian Collins MP.

“It is not acceptable that they have previously sent witnesses who seek to avoid asking difficult questions by claiming not to know the answers.”

Mr Collins also said he would be recalling Cambridge Analytica chief executive Alexander Nix to parliament to answer more questions.

“It seems clear that he has deliberately misled the committee and parliament,” Mr. Collins said.

Cambridge Analytica and Mr Nix have denied any wrongdoing.

Deleted tweets

In an attempt to get out ahead of a story in the New York Times and Observer newspapers, Facebook made an announcement late Friday night, California time, that it was blocking Cambridge Analytica from using Facebook while it investigated claims the inappropriately-obtained data had not been deleted as promised.

This was followed by remarks from Alex Stamos, the firm’s chief security officer, who wrote and then deleted a series of tweets. He objected to the word “breach” being used to describe how data from as many as 50 million peoples’ user profiles may have been obtained without explicit user consent.

“I have deleted my tweets on Cambridge Analytica,” he later wrote.

“Not because they were factually incorrect but because I should have done a better job weighing in.”

Christopher Wylie, a Canadian data analytics expert who worked with Cambridge Analytica, revealed how it and its partners harvested data belonging to mostly US voters. Over the weekend, he announced he had been suspended from Facebook.

Skip Twitter post by @chrisinsilico

Suspended by @facebook. For blowing the whistle. On something they have known privately for 2 years. pic.twitter.com/iSu6VwqUdG

— Christopher Wylie (@chrisinsilico) March 18, 2018

Report

End of Twitter post by @chrisinsilico

On top of its initial statement, Facebook on Sunday said it was conducting a “comprehensive internal and external review” into whether the data, gathered via an app created by Global Science Research (GSR), still existed.

GSR was set up by University of Cambridge associate professor Aleksandr Kogan and his colleague Joseph Chancellor. According to the Guardian, Mr Chancellor was given a job at Facebook as a researcher just months after GSR carried out the data-gathering exercise that Facebook now says violated its policies.

Facebook has not commented on the calls for Mr Zuckerberg to appear in front of the several committees expressing a desire to hear from him.

But one analyst warned that this controversy is a direct threat to Facebook’s business model, and therefore Mr Zuckerberg will be expected to put investors at ease, sooner rather than later.

“This has potential to grow into something a lot more onerous,” said Daniel Ives from GBH Insight.

“So he has to get ahead of this storm before it turns into a hurricane.”

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Stem cell transplant ‘game changer’ for MS patients

Doctors say a stem cell transplant could be a “game changer” for many patients with multiple sclerosis.

Results from an international trial show that it was able to stop the disease and improve symptoms.

It involves wiping out a patient’s immune system using cancer drugs and then rebooting it with a stem cell transplant.

Louise Willetts, 36, from Rotherham, is now symptom-free and told me: “It feels like a miracle.”

A total of 100,000 people in the UK have MS, which attacks nerves in the brain and spinal cord.

Just over 100 patients took part in the trial, in hospitals in Chicago, Sheffield, Uppsala in Sweden and Sao Paulo in Brazil.

They all had relapsing remitting MS – where attacks or relapses are followed by periods of remission.

The interim results were released at the annual meeting of the European Society for Bone and Marrow Transplantation in Lisbon.

The patients received either haematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) or drug treatment.

After one year, only one relapse occurred among the stem cell group compared with 39 in the drug group.

After an average follow-up of three years, the transplants had failed in three out of 52 patients (6%), compared with 30 of 50 (60%) in the control group.

Those in the transplant group experienced a reduction in disability, whereas symptoms worsened in the drug group.

Prof Richard Burt, lead investigator, Northwestern University Chicago, told me: “The data is stunningly in favour of transplant against the best available drugs – the neurological community has been sceptical about this treatment, but these results will change that.”


Multiple sclerosis

  • Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a condition which can affect the brain and/or spinal cord
  • It can cause problems with vision, arm or leg movement, sensation or balance
  • Average life expectancy is slightly reduced
  • It is estimated that there are more than 100,000 people diagnosed with MS in the UK

    Source: NHS


    The treatment uses chemotherapy to destroy the faulty immune system.

    Stem cells taken from the patient’s blood and bone marrow are then re-infused.

    These are unaffected by MS and they rebuild the immune system.

    Prof John Snowden, haematologist and director of blood and bone marrow transplantation at Sheffield’s Royal Hallamshire Hospital, told me: “We are thrilled with the results – they are a game changer for patients with drug resistant and disabling multiple sclerosis”.

    Prof Basil Sharrack, neurologist and director of MS research at Royal Hallamshire Hospital, told me: “This is interim analysis, but with that caveat, this is the best result I have seen in any trial for multiple sclerosis.”

    ‘Lived in fear’

    Louise was diagnosed with MS in 2010 when she was only 28.

    She told me: “MS ruled my life and I lived in fear of the next relapse.

    “The worst time was not being able to get out of bed because I had no stability in my body – I struggled to walk and even spent time in a wheelchair.

    “It also affected my cognition – it was like a brain fog and I misread words and struggled to keep up with conversations.”

    The BBC’s Panorama filmed her undergoing her transplant in October 2015 and she is now back to full health.

    She got married to her partner Steve, on the first anniversary of her transplant, and their baby daughter Joy is now a month old.

    “I feel like my diagnosis was just a bad dream. I live every day as I want to, rather than planning my life around my MS.”

    The transplant costs around £30,000, about the same as the annual price of some MS drugs.

    Doctors stress it is not suitable for all MS patients and the process can be gruelling, involving chemotherapy and a few weeks in isolation in hospital.

    Dr Susan Kohlhaas, director of research at the MS Society, said the stem cell transplant HSCT “will soon be recognised as an established treatment in England – and when that happens our priority will be making sure those who could benefit can actually get it”.

    She added: “We’ve seen life-changing results for some people and having that opportunity can’t depend on your postcode.”

    Follow Fergus on Twitter.

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Reddit admits hosting Russian propaganda

Reddit has become the latest social-media platform to admit that Russian propaganda was used on its site during the 2016 US presidential election.

It follows leaks from news site The Daily Beast showing a Russian troll farm active on the website.

Co-founder Steve Huffman said that it had removed “a few hundred accounts” suspected of being of Russian origin.

In a blogpost, he said “indirect propaganda”, which was more complex to spot and stop, was the biggest issue.

“For example, the Twitter account @TEN_GOP is now known to be run by a Russian agent. Its tweets were amplified by thousands of Reddit users, and sadly, from everything we can tell, these users are mostly American and appear to be unwittingly promoting Russian propaganda.”

Conspiracy theories

Mr Huffman added: “I believe the biggest risk we face as Americans is our own ability to discern reality from nonsense, and this is a burden we all bear.

“I wish there was a solution as simple as banning all propaganda, but it’s not that easy. Between truth and fiction are a thousand shades of grey.

“It’s up to all of us—Redditors, citizens, journalists—to work through these issues.”

The @TEN_GOP account appeared to be run by Republicans in Tennessee. It tweeted a mix of pro-Trump content and conspiracy theories, as well as more obvious fake news stories.

The Daily Beast investigation suggested no outright support of any particular candidate or viewpoint and concluded that Russia’s aim was to provoke and divide Americans on the internet and, as a result, in the physical world too.

Social media ‘weapon’

Social media platforms are under increased scrutiny from the US Congress over the issue of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Facebook has given the Senate Intelligence Committee thousands of ads believed to have been purchased by Russian agents.

The Washington Post reported that Reddit was now likely to be questioned over its involvement in the “weaponisation of social media” during the election.

Special counsel Robert Mueller has charged 13 Russians with interfering in the US election, all of whom are linked to troll farm the Internet Research Agency.

Meanwhile, pressure is mounting on Reddit to clean up the content on its platform.

In February, it banned a group that was generating fake porn – imagery and videos that superimpose a person’s face over an explicit photo or video without permission.

This week, it emerged that another subreddit was sharing images of dead babies and animals being harmed.

Mr Huffman said the company was aware of the group, which currently has nearly 19,000 subscribers, and that the community was “under review”.

Twitter bot purge prompts backlash

The hashtag #TwitterLockout has trended after an apparent purge of suspected malicious bots on the social network.

Dozens of users report having had their accounts suspended until they provided a telephone number which they then had to verify, to prove they were real.

Some members have raised concerns about their amount of lost followers, and claimed discrimination against right-wing political beliefs.

Others have in turn mocked allegations of bias.

“Twitter’s tools are apolitical, and we enforce our rules without political bias,” the social network has said in response.

“Every day we proactively look for suspicious account behaviours that indicate inorganic or automated activity, violations of our policies around having multiple accounts, or abuse.

“And every day we take action on any accounts we find that violate our terms of service, including by asking account owners to confirm a phone number so we can confirm a human is behind it.

“This is part of our ongoing, comprehensive efforts to make Twitter safer and healthier for everyone.”

The firm allows automated software to be used to send tweets under some circumstances, but forbids the posted content from being misleading.

It has also issued new guidance about the use of automation and having multiple accounts.

The action follows an indictment announced last week by special counsel Robert Mueller against 13 Russian nationals and three Russian firms.

They are alleged to have used fake accounts on Twitter and other social media platforms to conduct “information warfare against the United States”.

Twitter and Facebook had faced criticism from US lawmakers earlier in the year for not having taken the problem seriously enough.

‘Junk news’

One researcher who has studied digital disinformation campaigns said a Twitter crackdown should come as no surprise.

“This is a company that’s under a lot of heat to clean up its act in terms of how its platform has been exploited to spread misinformation and junk news,” said Samantha Bradshaw from the University of Oxford’s Computational Propaganda Project.

“It now needs to rebuild trust with users and legislators to show it is trying to take action against these threats against democracy.”

Criminals hide ‘billions’ in crypto-cash – Europol

Three to four billion pounds of criminal money in Europe is being laundered through cryptocurrencies, according to Europol.

The agency’s director Rob Wainwright told the BBC’s Panorama that regulators and industry leaders need to work together to tackle the problem.

The warning comes after Bitcoin’s value fell by half from record highs in December.

UK police have not commented to the programme.

Mr Wainwright said that Europol, the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation, estimates that about 3-4% of the £100bn in illicit proceeds in Europe are laundered through cryptocurrencies.

“It’s growing quite quickly and we’re quite concerned,” he said.

  • What is Bitcoin?
  • Bitcoin – risky bubble or the future?
  • Bitcoin energy use in Iceland set to overtake homes

    There many different types of cryptocurrencies but the best known is Bitcoin. They are intended to be a digital alternative to pounds, dollars or euros.

    However, unlike traditional currencies, they are not printed by governments and traditional banks, nor controlled or regulated by them.

    Instead, digital coins are created by computers running complex mathematical equations, a process known as “mining”. A network of computers across the world then keeps track of the transactions using virtual addresses, hiding individual identities.

    The anonymous and unregulated nature of virtual currencies is attracting criminals, making it hard for police to track them as it is difficult to identify who is moving payments.

    ‘Money mules’

    Mr Wainwright said: “They’re not banks and governed by a central authority so the police cannot monitor those transactions.

    “And if they do identify them as criminal they have no way to freeze the assets unlike in the regular banking system.”

    Another problem Europol has identified involves the method that criminals use to launder money.

    Proceeds from criminal activity are being converted into bitcoins, split into smaller amounts and given to people who are seemingly not associated with the criminals but who are acting as “money mules”.

    These money mules then convert the bitcoins back into hard cash before returning it to the criminals.

    “It’s very difficult for the police in most cases to identify who is cashing this out,” Mr Wainwright said.

    He said that police were also seeing a trend where money “in the billions” generated from street sales of drugs across Europe is being converted into bitcoins.

    He called on those running the Bitcoin industries to work with enforcement agencies.

    “They have to take a responsible action and collaborate with us when we are investigating very large-scale crime,” he said.

    “I think they also have to develop a better sense of responsibility around how they’re running virtual currency.”

    ‘Too slow’

    Although British police have yet to respond to requests from Panorama, Parliament is seeking to step up regulations.

    The Treasury Select Committee is looking into cryptocurrencies and details of EU-wide regulations to force traders to disclose identities and any suspicious activity are expected later this year.

    Alison McGovern, Labour MP for Wirral South who is serving on the committee, has been calling for an inquiry into cryptocurrencies.

    “I think that will draw the attention of the Treasury and the Bank [of England] and others to how we put in place a regulatory system,” she said.

    “I think probably hand on heart we have all been too slow, but the opportunity is not lost, and we should all get on with the job now.”

    “Who Wants to be a Bitcoin Millionaire?” is a collaboration between BBC Click and Panorama and airs on BBC One on 12 February at 20:30 GMT.

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Taiwanese police give cyber-security quiz winners infected devices

Police have apologised after giving infected memory sticks as prizes in a government-run cyber-security quiz.

Taiwan’s national police agency said 54 of the flash drives it gave out at an event highlighting a government’s cybercrime crackdown contained malware.

The virus, which can steal personal data and has been linked to fraud, was added inadvertently, it said.

The Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB) apologised for the error and blamed the mishap on a third-party contractor.

It said 20 of the drives had been recovered.

Around 250 flash drives were given out at the expo, which was hosted by Taiwan’s Presidential Office from 11-15 December and aimed to highlight the government’s determination to crack down on cybercrime.

Cyber-fraud ring

All the drives were manufactured in China but the CIB ruled out state-sponsored espionage, saying instead that the bug had originated from a Taiwan-based supplier.

It said a single employee at the firm had transferred data onto 54 of the drives to “test their storage capacity”, infecting them in the process.

The malware, identified as the XtbSeDuA.exe program, was designed to collect personal data and transmit it to a Polish IP address which then bounces it to unidentified servers.

The CIB said it had been used by a cyber-fraud ring uncovered by Europol in 2015.

Only older, 32-bit computers are vulnerable to the bug and common anti-virus software can detect and quarantine it, it said.

The server involved in the latest infections had been shut down, it said.

In May, IBM admitted it had inadvertently shipped malware-infected flash drives to some customers.

The computer maker said drives containing its Storwize storage system had been infected with a trojan and urged customers to destroy them.

At the time, it declined to comment on how the malware ended up on the flash drives or how many customers had been affected.

The trojan, part of the Reconyc family, bombards users with pop-ups and slows down computer systems.

It is known to target users in Russia and India.