Saturday, August 23, 2014

Economic Impact of an Aging Population on the Healthcare System

The second to last panel discussion features David Brindley as Moderator, Catalina Hoffman and Peter Nakada. 

I find it interesting, how the early years and the last years of life mimic each other. For many of the aging population, it is difficult to care for themselves to the degree they were able to in the past. Embarrassment and isolation can lead to depression, yet some companies aim to enhance the lives of these individuals, spurring development of new solutions, services and products that transform the quality of life of seniors. 

Introducing Hoffmann Elderly, Vitalia and The Hoffmann Method, which is a new system of personal care that takes into account the physical, psychological, cognitive and social needs of its clients, with the objective of improving the quality of life for seniors and their families. This method improves quality of life for this population. If this helps people live longer, albeit not necessarily without disease, what are the economic effects we can expect to see?

Enter Peter Nakada. Well, if you can model it, you can insure it, right? With a background in Risk Management, Peter tell us that statistical models are not the way to go, as they do not capture "regime shifts", such as advancing technology. For example, mortality rates went up during the Industrial Revolution, due to more dangerous jobs using machinery, increased pollution, etc. These are examples of the "regime shifts" that are not accounted for in statistical models. Yet another reason how you measure is just as important as what you measure. 

Studying regenerative medicine, amount of improvement was calculated, along with types of diseases that can be treated by stem cell therapy. It is up to this community to probabalize the benefits of developments such as new organ growth and stem cell treatments. In essence, we need to start thinking about the implications of longevity now, to ensure a better future tomorrow.

SENS Rejuventation Biotechnology Conference- Final Keynote with Peter Diamandis

Undoubtedly, Peter Diamandis is one of the most enthusiastic and charismatic futurists around. Holding key roles with organizations such as Singularity University (which he founded with Ray Kurzweil), Planetary Resources, Chairman at Human Longevity with Craig Ventner,  and the Ansari X Prize Foundation. 
Peter Diamandis

Peter also co-authored Abundance, which, admittedly, is my go to recommendation and reference when techno-pessimists ask me about issues contributing to a dystopian future, such as overpopulation due to people living to 120+, AI and the like. Peter mentions the 6 D's: Democratize, Demonitize, Dematerialize, Disruptive, Digitized and Deceptive.  These are characteristics of exponential growth. For example, we have been able to digitize everything from flashlights, record players and cameras (all those are on most of our smart phones). As a result, demonitization has taken place. Why pay for a record player, or camera, or flashlight if we can get them for free?
Disruption is my personal favorite. Seems like when we are able to make people uncomfortable, make them squirm a little, or when society makes fun of "that person with the crazy ideas" (like living forever) this is when exponential improvements are made. Ok, so maybe we can't live "forever" (yet), but on the journey to try, won't we at least make some huge strides in biotechnology, genetics, drug development and disease prevention?

We learn about a new XPrize; Global Learning, Empowering Young Minds Everywhere. The goal is to develop an Android application, which allows kids without formal educational systems in their country the chance to learn the basics within an 18 month period. 
Growth of mobile technologies has proven life changing for underdeveloped communities world wide, which is a positive trend which allows for individuals a glimpse of the outside world, especially for those in countries which limit and regulate media. Knowledge is power, and emerging technology coupled with the wisdom to effectively manage change are key for us techno-optimists. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

SENS Rejuvenation Biotechnology Conference- Toward a New Investment Paradigm

L-R: David Brindley, Jim O'Neil, Michael West, Neil Littman, Bernard Siegel
So, I opted for the investment panel, instead of the clinical tracks of Alzheimers and Cardiovascular Disease. Moderated by David Brindley, panelists take turns presenting their perspective, and we start off with Neil Littman from CIRM (California Institute of Regenerative Medicine). 

Molecular and Cellular Damage as the Cause of the Diseases of Aging

On the stage sits an all-star panel including Aubrey de Grey , Jeff Karp , Caleb FinchStephen Minger and Richard Baker, discussing the idea that diseases of aging may stem from molecular and cellular damage that accrues with age. I am trying to not think about the sheer brainpower and knowledge that sits just a few feet away. 

Aubrey de Grey
First up, Aubrey discusses how he first came about delineating the seven different research areas of aging, and mentions the approach of linking the "damage repair" philosophy versus the medical community approach, which separates the effects of aging into different disease categories, instead of looking at aging and its effects as a whole. Utilizing biotechnological advances and therapies for disease prevention, as well as an adjunct therapy for those already affected he feels would serve to eventually serve to solve the underlying problems. Thing is, change is hard, and paradigm shifts rarely happen without a major impetus facilitated by game changers and philanthropists. 

Jeff Karp
Jeff Karp presents next, discussing one of my favorite biotech topics- stem cells! Replacing damaged stem cells, specifically. As we age, the number of stem cells decrease and experience loss of functionality, including increased degeneration, decreased regeneration, decreased ability to maintain homeostasis.  Can we correct decreased functionality with ability to populate with young stem cells? As we age, stem cells tend to work overtime, due to decreased ability to regenerate. Is there a chance to engineer cells to specifically deliver  them to sites of the body to fill vacant niches and repair damaged cells using your stem cells?

Caleb Finch's perspective is that from an environmental context. Did you know that people who live in highly polluted areas experience cognitive decline 2-4 times faster than individuals who do not? Additionally, air pollution accelerates aging of arteries and brain amyloid. 

Did you know that GE Healthcare includes work researching the applications of stem cells? Stephen Minger manager a portfolio of human cell-based assays, expected to help the pharmaceutical industry reduce the cost of drug development. Additionally, this is expected to help them bring more effective, safer drugs to market. Stephen also talked about developing new tools for imaging living cells at the molecular level. 

Stephen Minger

Live from SENS Rejuvenation Biotechnology Conference

The smell of coffee, and sounds of familiar voices permeated the air as I approached the registration desk for the SENS Rejuvenation Biotechnology Conference in Santa Clara. Friendly faces and friends greet me, and I am reminded of at time almost exactly a year ago, when I attended SENS6 in Cambridge. I am directed to the breakfast area, where over a hundred individuals gather to catch up since they last saw each other. 

Opening remarks by Mike Kope, CEO of SENS Research Foundation, remind us of how much progress has been made in the field in the last several years, yet also reminds us we still have a way to go. Jerri Riley, VP of Outreach, outlines the agenda for the day, and thanks the audience, sponsors and exhibitors before introducing the keynote speaker, Dr. George Church, a pioneer in genomics and synthetic biology.
Mike Kope, CEO SENS RF

Next, Dr. Church discusses epigenome analysis using 3D RNA fluorescent in situ sequencing is the first topic presented, and we learn that super resolution of RNA sequences has improved, to the point of being able to view at the 10 nm scale. A unique collaboration between NIST and the FDA has been formed, in an new project called Blue Button. 
George Church

Next, we learn about Growth Hormone Receptor deficiency, which is associated with a major reduction in pro-aging signaling, cancer and diabetes in humans. Other effects include decreased body fat, decreased atherosclerosis and enhanced muscle growth. 

Another goal of Dr. Church's  is to further examine  and embrace the "outliers", those who live past 110 years, despite lifestyle habits that typically decrease life span. Is it because they have protective alleles within their genes? Variations in DNA such as MSTN -lean muscles, CCR5, FUT2, virus resistance, are just a few that have been discovered.

Another goal in aging research is to generate CRISPR viral therapeutics to rejuvenate tissues using CAS ST1-CP64 integrated cell lines, and activation using targets and effects on aging markers. Apparently, CRISPR activator therapeutics has many benefits, including up-regulation of metabolic pathways, can be packaged into a non-integrating virus, and target multiple genes/pathways contemporaneously.

As Q&A conclude the presentation, I have a chance to review the program for the day. Looks like I have a choice between three different tracks...Alzheimers, Cardiovascular Disease, and Towards a New Investment Paradigm... anyone want to vote on which track I attend? 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

A couple months ago, I received a lovely email from the mother of Avni, 15, and Anushi, 14. Interestingly enough, Joe (Health Extension Salon founder) and his wife Lisa Betts-LaCroix also received an email from their father, reflecting similar sentiments. Recalling the past school year, they discussed how their daughters found out about the Health Extension Salon, as a result of a post by Lisa on a  homeschooling   message board.
Avni  and Anushi Singhal attended the August 28 Health Extension Salon on Alzheimer’s, which is where I had the opportunity to get introduced to them by my friend and  Health Extension Salon  volunteer extraordinaire, Walter Crompton.​
After chatting with them for a few minutes that evening, their enthusiasm and knowledge ​ about topics such as genetics and stem cell research was palpable. A Freshman and Sophomore at Mountain View High School​, I really had no idea how versed these two already were in the biosciences field.
That first evening, Avni had communicated to me her desire to get hands on experience with aging research and was hoping to find the right lab. We talked about possible opportunities, and while I was at the  SENS6  conference the following week, I was able to meet with the Outreach Coordinator to discuss a potential opportunity for her. Needless to say, they knew she was a great fit upon interviewing her, and she has been with SENS interning​ ever since. Avni has been working with newly appointed  Thiel Fellowship  20 under 20 Fellow,  Thomas Hunt. ​
Recently, I had the chance to meet up with them again to discuss their achievements of the past school year, and their plans for the future.
Anushi, 14, states “I remember back in Jr. High when I first got interested in genetics reading an article about  genetically engineering trees to grow into houses,  rather than cutting down trees to build houses.”
Both Avni and Anushi have had the opportunity to seek out information in the sciences that intrigue them. Anushi recently attended a  SynBioBeta  event, “I really like how they had subject matter experts in a variety of areas of synthetic biology, even ethics and economics, and how I was able to to talk to some of them during and after the event.” Avni had the opportunity to participate in an exchange program, and spent Spring Break in Japan.
Interestingly enough, Avni’s first love of nanotechnology is what led her to expand her knowledge base in the sciences. She was able to sit in on part of a nanotechnology class at Foothill College, as well as attend the  COSMOS  program in nanochemistry. “I remember when I was reading a research paper for the first time, and had to look up every few words in order to make sense of things. That in itself was a learning process.”
Additionally, both Avni and Anushi have utilized online learning resources, such as OCW, Khan Academy and Udacity, starting before they were in Junior High. When I asked them who they view as role models, both mentioned Laura Deming, another Thiel 20 Under 20 Fellow, and Maria Teresa Ch├ívez​, a young lady who moved from Guatemala to pursue her commitment to ALS research​. “She left home and moved here, knowing almost no one, for the chance to make a difference.”
Both Avni and Anushi recommend attending events, such as Health Extension Salon, as a way to learn from experts and network. “You also get the chance to hear about the research many of the attendees are working on and learn about other forums and events,” Avni states. Additionally, Anushi will be participating in a Stanford mentorship program this coming school year, and both girls are looking into participating in an iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine) team.
Avni is also looking forward to co-leading a science newspaper at her school, which will highlight exciting science breakthroughs in a more accessible format to appeal to a broader student audience.
Avni states, “I know someone who got interested in 3D printing after a story about a young woman, who learned how to make  3D printed make-up, and now she is interested in many other applications, like tissue printing. Sometimes you need to make science relatable and easy to understand to pique someone’s interest, and scientific jargon can be a turn off.”
As the afternoon progressed, we had the chance to talk about topics such as using synthetic biology to reprogram bacteria to clean oil spills, genetically engineered rice (Golden Rice) to include additional nutrients, artificial hearts, Stanford’s VLAB Forum (where I ran into Avni a few months ago), cloning, “designer babies”, BioCurious, and STEM initiatives spreading everywhere.
I left our meeting not only in awe of the intelligence, enthusiasm, drive, and determination these two high school girls displayed, but also very impressed with how their parents ensure their daughters are afforded many opportunities to learn and grow. Silicon Valley is rich in alternative community learning opportunities, and I, for one, am ecstatic these young ladies and their parents know how to use them to their advantage.