Author Archives: sonia

Silicon Valley’s 40 OVER 40 list!

Thanks, TechCrunch! While most publications put together a “40 under 40″ list, TechCrunch decided to take on the myth that only young people innovate. Here’s their 40 OVER 40 list of SV digerati.

Frank Barbieri, who put together the list with Sarah Buhr, wrote a thoughtful post explaining why he felt it was time for such a list to be created.

“The myth of older founders is pernicious: too comfortable, they don’t think big enough, not hungry enough, etc. Elon Musk doesn’t think big enough? Hadi Partovi is resting on his laurels with the founding of code.org? Where does the correlation of age to the myth of The Valley hero/heroine come from? One of the very founders of Silicon Valley itself Robert Noyce founded Intel when he was 41.”

In a related side note, Twitter is currently being sued for age discrimination (lawsuit filed last week). Here’s the story from SF Weekly.

Science Fiction Becomes Science-Fact: Two Strategies for Repairing Humans

Here’s my first article in a series for Slate magazine on longevity. Thanks to Prudential for sponsoring my obsession with health extension!

“Not long ago, it would have sounded like science fiction to discuss growing human organs in the lab or re-writing DNA. Yet today both are realities that will change the world and allow for longer and healthier lives.

Already, lab-grown bladders, windpipes and blood vessels have been successfully created and implanted into humans. Most recently, tissue engineering pioneer Dr. Anthony Atala and his team at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine announced another breakthrough: lab-made vaginas—one of the most complex organs made to date. In four girls with MRKH syndrome, a medical condition in which the vagina and uterus are underdeveloped or absent, Dr. Atala’s team was able to create new organs that functioned normally, dramatically increasing each patient’s quality of life.

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Read more here.

US regulators fast-track novel leukemia therapy

The FDA is looking to speed up the availability of a new technique that put 89 percent of cancer patients into remission. Here’s the story.

“The personalized immunotherapy known as CTL019 was developed by the University of Pennsylvania and was designated a “breakthrough therapy” by the US Food and Drug Administration.

That means the experimental therapy will benefit from a speedier than average review process and will get extra attention from the FDA toward development for market.”

KQED Launches ‘PriceCheck’ to Make Health Costs Transparent

It’s rather amazing that no one has done this yet. Kudos to KQED for launching this new database. To contribute your data, click here. From the KQED blog:

“It’s well known to health policy types, but less so to consumers, that health care prices are utterly lacking in transparency and wildly variable.

If you’ve ever looked at a bill for a health care procedure — and been astounded by the numbers you see — or thought that you would like to find the best price on an elective procedure – and been astounded that there’s no easy way to compare prices — KQED is launching a new project for you.”

New method for delivering stem cells helps heal bone

From Singularity Hub:

“One trouble with stem cells is that they don’t stay put. When doctors put cardiovascular progenitor cells in the heart to heal damage from a heart attack, the cells are whisked away in the bloodstream in a matter of hours.”

[...]

“University of Rochester biomedical engineer Danielle Benoit encapsulated bone progenitor cells in a hydrogel wrapper and placed it on the bone she aimed to heal. Benoit hoped the wrapper would result in fewer stem cells being washed away and more sticking around to do the work of healing the bone.”

‘Bionic pancreas’ for diabetes patients passes test

From AP:

“Scientists have made big progress on a “bionic pancreas” to free some people with diabetes from the daily ordeal of managing their disease. A wearable, experimental device passed a real-world test, constantly monitoring blood sugar and automatically giving insulin or a sugar-boosting drug as needed, doctors said Sunday.”

Baby’s genome sequenced before birth

From MIT Tech Review:

“An infant delivered last week in California appears to be the first healthy person ever born in the U.S. with his entire genetic makeup deciphered in advance.

His father, Razib Khan, is a graduate student and professional blogger on genetics who says he worked out a rough draft of his son’s genome early this year in a do-it-yourself fashion after managing to obtain a tissue sample from the placenta.”

An At-Home Medical Device That Cuts Out Trips to the Doctor

This seems like a super-cool device! I hope the FDA approves it quickly — I want one.

From Wired:

“The iPhone has enabled all sorts of crazy interactions, but a new device called Cue could be the first iOS accessory that uses boogers as a primary user input. The tabletop analyzer brings the power of a medical laboratory into the home and allows people to test their levels of testosterone, inflammation, vitamin D, and fertility with small amounts of blood, saliva, or nasal swabs.”

Ageism in Hollywood

Norman Lear, producer of ground-breaking shows such as All in the Family, Maude, and The Jeffersons says he’s facing agism among those who fund TV shows. The 91 year old, who loves to take on controversial issues, says that no one is interested in hearing about his idea of a comedy in a retirement village.

“They don’t want to touch the demographic,” he said. Apparently, he said, there’s only room for one old person (that would be another comedy veteran, Betty White, who actually is a few months older than Lear) on network television today. The name of the show Lear has been pitching is Guess Who’s Dead?, a title that got a huge laugh from the audience.”

The world is getting fatter — a huge problem

A new study published in the Lancet today showed that almost 29% of the world’s population, or 2.1 billion people, are obese. The reason this is such a huge problem is that being overweight increases one’s risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, stroke and cancer. New technologies are being developed that will allow people to live longer, but they can only do so much. Obesity is one of the biggest threats to human longevity.

Here’s a few article about the study:

LA Times
WSJ

Learning from girls who don’t age

This is a really well done story about children with ‘syndrome X,’ a condition of severe developmental arrest. Perhaps the most famous of these cases was Brooke Greenberg, who as a teenager still looked like an infant. Genome sequencing will likely reveal the mutations at the core of this disorder, and aging theorists are interested in it since it may offer clues as to how to slow aging.

Self-healing plastics with a ‘vascular system’

Super-interesting use of 3D printing. Self-healing plastic modeled on the human body. The next remake of Robocop should definitely include this tech. From the WSJ:

“In their demonstration, the scientists managed to close the equivalent of a bullet hole more than 35 millimeters in diameter punched through a 3-millimeter piece of plastic parallel to the floor. They did this by using a pair of chemical compounds delivered through microchannels embedded in the plastic, much like human blood vessels.”

[...]

“Such networks can be produced using 3-D printing, said Nancy Sottos, one of the scientists. The group also showed that it could speed up or slow down the chemical reactions depending on the kind of damage to be repaired—a bullet hole, for example, might have cracks radiating out from it.”

Biologists Create Cells With 6 DNA Letters, Instead of Just 4

The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) has just announced that it has created cells with an expanded genetic alphabet — an X and a Y added to the regular ACTG of DNA. This is a huge win for the field of synthetic biology. Here’s the Wired story.

“We now have a cell that survives and lives with more information in its genome,” said Floyd Romesberg, the synthetic biologist at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California who led the work.

Having more letters to work with potentially opens the door to a huge range of novel molecules. (A rough analogy: Just think how many crazy new words you could spell with 39 letters instead of the usual 26). With further refinements, synthetic cells might one day be used to create–or evolve–proteins that don’t exist in nature, as well as new sequences of DNA and RNA, any of which could be useful for research, diagnosing disease, or creating new therapies. But that’s still a ways off.”

RMF Conference — photo with Dr. Atala

I was honored to be on a panel tonight with tissue engineering pioneer Dr. Anthony Atala, Patient advocate Katie Jackson, and science artist Kelly Milukas. It was a fun panel and a great discussion about how to get more community members involved in supporting life-saving advances in regenerative medicine. Our audience, mainly scientists, wowed me after the discussion with stories of their world-changing work.
Atala

Stem cells used to repair animal hearts and human muscle

More good news from the regenerative medicine scene. One of the studies was conducted by Dr. Stephen Badylak, whose work was profiled in my book. Here’s the story from USA Today:

Two new studies out today show both the incredible promise of stem cell research and its current limitations.

In one, published in the journal Nature, researchers showed that they could repair damaged hearts by injecting these versatile stem cells into macaque monkeys. Heart disease is the leading cause of death, and if the same process can work in people, it could benefit hundreds of thousands a year.

In the other study, published in Science Translational Medicine, five men were able to regrow leg muscles destroyed by accidents or military service. The researchers, from the University of Pittsburgh, inserted into the men’s muscles a “scaffold” of muscle tissue from a pig. Through aggressive physical therapy right after the surgery, the men’s own stem cells were encouraged to populate the scaffold and substantially rebuild their leg muscles.

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Value in retraining older individuals

“Age should no longer determine the appropriate end of a working life,” writes the Economist Magazine. This seems reasonable to me, especially given that people are healthier now than ever before (and thus able to work longer). But as the magazine points out, there will be a divide between older, well-educated, individuals and those who spent their careers in less-skilled areas. Those who are well-educated are more likely to stay in the workforce, while those with fewer skills are more likely to take retirement even if they are still in good health. From the article:

“Some 65% of American men aged 62-74 with a professional degree are in the workforce, compared with 32% of men with only a high-school certificate. In the European Union the pattern is similar.”

How to address this divide? The Economist suggests training programs — also not a bad idea. “Today, many governments are understandably loth to spend money retraining older folk who are likely to retire soon. But if people can work for longer, that investment makes much more sense.” Here’s another link to the longer briefing.