Episode 137: Greg Potter discusses lifestyle changes for better health and sounder sleep

Today we return with the second half of our two-part interview with Dr. Greg Potter, a British researcher who specializes in circadian biology, sleep, diet, and metabolism. In this second part of our interview, host Ken Ford and Greg continue their conversation about circadian biology and cover topics ranging from insomnia, sleep apnea, time-restricted eating, exercise, nutrition, and supplementation.

In part one of our interview, episode 136, Ken talked to Greg about how he became interested in circadian biology and the importance of synchronizing our lifestyles to be in tune with our circadian rhythms. Greg also explains why he decided to specialize in sleep and what his research has taught him about the role and importance of melatonin, a hormone that helps control the body’s sleep cycle.

Dawn Kernagis was traveling during our talk with Greg and couldn’t join Ken to co-host the interview.  Greg gained attention in the U.S. and Europe for his research into the importance of biological rhythms and sleep and how they affect people’s lives. His work has been featured in the BBC World Service, the Washington Post, Reuters and other scientific journals and news outlets.

In addition to being a science writer and sleep consultant, Greg also is an entrepreneur who co-founded Resilient Nutrition in 2020, a company that leverages science to produce foods and supplements geared toward helping people feel and perform better. Greg earned undergraduate and master’s degrees in exercise science from Loughborough University in England a Ph.D. from the University of Leeds.

Show notes:

[00:03:12] Ken opens part two of our interview with Greg by asking him about continuous positive airway pressure machines, known as CPAPs, that are used for sleep apnea and related disorders, and how these devices relate to circadian rhythms and quality of sleep.

[00:05:47] Ken brings up chronotypes, the concept that some people are better suited to an earlier or later sleep schedule. Ken goes on to say that during our interview with Satchin Panda, he argued that chronotypes are largely a myth. Ken asks Greg how much he thinks chronotypes are the product of environment as opposed to evolutionary biology and genetics.

[00:10:27] Ken asks what an example would be of an advanced chronotype.

[00:11:54] Ken asks Greg about chrononutrition, which is the relationship between a person’s nutrition and their body clock.

[00:20:46] Ken mentions that muscle protein synthesis comes up as a problem for people getting older who begin a fasting diet which is generally good for their health but prevents them from maintaining or gaining substantial muscle mass, as their protein demands are higher than they were in youth. Ken asks Greg his thoughts on a pulsatile approach to fasting and protein intake for this cohort.

[00:23:39] Ken asks Greg about chronopharmacology, what it is and how it might tie into nutrition.

[00:25:21] Ken asks Greg to explain his stance that we should re-engineer our lifestyles to better mimic certain aspects of our distant ancestors to protect ourselves from chronic diseases and revive the kinds of energy we had as children. Greg explains what aspects of our ancient ancestors we ought to emulate.

[00:29:07] Ken mentions a paper Greg published on sleep and bodyweight, and asks Greg to expound on the relationship between sleep and weight regulation.

[00:33:54] Ken asks if Greg thinks it is true that there is now an “epidemic” of sleep loss.

[00:36:57] Greg gives a list of advice for people to optimize their sleep.

[00:40:57] Ken mentions that many people enjoy a little wine or other drink before bed because they feel as if it helps them fall asleep. Ken asks Greg to talk about how this can damage a person’s sleep.

[00:43:52] Ken asks when people should go to bed, and how much sleep is needed for a person on average, and how much variation there is in the quantity of sleep needed between people.

[00:49:12] Ken asks Greg what people should consider when selecting sleep supplements.

[00:52:39] Ken mentions that during the COVID-19 pandemic, Greg ventured into the world of entrepreneurship and launched a new company, Resilient Nutrition. Ken goes on to say that Greg has recently launched a new product called Switch On, which Greg has called the first supplement specifically formulated to mitigate some of the negative effects of lost sleep. Ken asks Greg to talk more about this.

[00:57:45] Greg talks about the importance of unwinding at the end of the day and some strategies to aid in that, as well as the importance of having a healthy attitude towards sleep.

[01:01:14] Ken ends the interview asking Greg if sexual activity prior to sleep influences the quality as well as the duration of sleep.



Episode 136: Greg Potter talks about circadian biology and the importance of sleep

Today we have part one of a two-part interview with Dr. Greg Potter, a British researcher who specializes in circadian biology, sleep, diet, and metabolism. Greg gained attention in the U.S. and Europe for his research into the importance of biological rhythms and sleep and how they affect people’s lives. His work has been featured in the BBC World Service, the Washington Post, Reuters and other scientific journals and news outlets.

In addition to being a science writer and sleep consultant, Greg also is an entrepreneur who co-founded Resilient Nutrition in 2020, a company that leverages science to produce foods and supplements geared toward helping people feel and perform better. Greg earned undergraduate and master’s degrees in exercise science from Loughborough University in England before heading off to the University of Leeds for his Ph.D.

Ken Ford’s STEM-Talk co-host Dawn Kernagis is traveling and was not able to join him for today’s interview with Greg.  In this first part of the interview, Ken talks to Greg about his youth and academic background and how he became interested in circadian biology. Greg also goes into detail about why he decided to specialize in sleep and what his research has taught him about the role and importance of melatonin, a hormone that helps control the body’s sleep cycle. Be on the lookout for part two of Ken’s interview with Greg, which covers a number of topics ranging from insomnia, sleep apnea, time-restricted eating, exercise, and nutrition.

Show notes:

[00:05:03] Ken opens the interview asking if it’s true that Greg’s curiosity and fascination with building things as a child led him to tell his uncle he wanted to be an engineer when he grew up.

[00:06:22] Greg talks about how he and his older siblings lived on the campus of the school where their parents taught.

[00:07:35] Ken asks Greg why he abandoned the idea of being an engineer and instead applied for an art scholarship to senior school.

[00:08:28] Ken asks what kind of art Greg liked to make.

[00:09:17} Ken asks how a rugby injury in Greg’s childhood sparked his initial interest in science.

[00:10:33] Ken asks why Greg took a year off before attending university, and what he did during that time.

[00:11:04] Greg talks about his first experience with research, which came during a physiological society studentship in his second year of university, where he worked under Dr. Johnathan Folland.

[00:12:59] Ken asks about Greg’s experiences as an undergrad when he coached sprinters and worked as a personal trainer and massage therapist.

[00:14:18] Ken mentions that Greg must have been a good coach because in addition to training sprinters, he also helped two men break the Atlantic Rowing World Record.

[00:16:01] Ken mentions that Greg finished his undergraduate degree in exercise science at Loughborough around the same time as the 2012 London Olympic games. The Great Britain Olympic Team used Loughborough as its base. Greg talks about what a great experience that was for him as a recent graduate who had an interest in elite athletic performance.

[00:16:42] Ken asks about Greg’s experience in between his undergraduate and graduate studies, where he took an internship in the sports science and sports medicine department of the Rugby Football Union.

[00:17:36] Ken mentions that while at Loughborough pursing a master’s degree, Greg began to pay more attention to the role of biological rhythms and sleep in people’s lives. That prompted him to pursue a Ph.D. at the University of Leeds, researching circadian rhythms, sleep, nutrition, and metabolism. Ken asks why Greg developed an interest in these research topics and what led him to the University of Leeds.

[00:19:58] Ken mentions that Greg has become best-known for his work on sleep, asking about a paper Greg published in Endocrine Reviews in 2016 on circadian rhythm and sleep disruption. Ken goes on to ask Greg to explain how circadian rhythms are generated by biological “clocks” and why it is disruptive to good health if we disrupt these rhythms.

[00:28:36] Ken asks about the distinction between the body’s master clock and peripheral clocks, and what are some examples of these peripheral clocks and the roles they supposedly play.

[00:32:15] Ken mentions that Greg has spoken about how humans once lived by two clocks, a biological one and an environmental one. Ken goes on to explain that these clocks were likely in sync for our ancestors, but that today people seem to have a third clock, which Greg has referred to as a social clock. Greg explains what this social clock is and why it has such a profound impact on humans.

[00:37:03] Ken asks about the effects of shift work on people’s circadian rhythms, mentioning a paper Greg co-authored with Tommy Wood, a frequent guest on STEM-Talk. Ken also points out that Satchin Panda (STEM-Talk episode 79) has produced research on shift work.

[00:40:04] Ken asks Greg what the current best practices are to optimize health and performance for those who can’t avoid shift work.

[00:46:24] Ken mentions that some of the issues around shift work have to do with melatonin. Ken asks Greg to talk about the role and importance of melatonin as well as his thoughts on supplementing it.

[00:52:36] Ken mentions that ConsumerLab reported that some over the over-the-counter melatonin they tested was not dosed appropriately. Greg talks about the different pharmacokinetics of melatonin, such as timed release, and under what circumstances which pharmacokinetics are more appropriate.

[00:56:11] Ken ends part one of the interview asking Greg to talk about REM sleep disorder and what advice he has for people who suffer from the disorder.

Episode 135: Elaine Lee discusses human performance, resilience and healthspan

Our guest today is Dr. Elaine Choung-Hee Lee, an assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Connecticut. Much of Elaine’s research focuses on understanding the mechanisms of resilience and investigating ways to help humans improve their stress resistance, adaptation and healthspan.

Elaine’s research is focused not only on understanding fundamental biology, but also on what can be done to manipulate our biology to optimize health and performance as well as preventing disease.

At her UConn research center, called the EC Lee Laboratory, she and her colleagues use genomic and other technologies to ask questions about what makes high-performing athletes and warfighters so elite.

In today’s interview, you’ll hear how an early passion for Marvel comics and superheroes helped nudge Elaine into a science career. You’ll also learn about some of her lab’s projects that range from improving warfighter resilience to studying the effects of exercise and supplementation on our immune functions.

Show notes:

[00:03:07] Dawn asks Elaine about when she became interested in superheroes.

[00:04:02] Elaine shares who her favorite Marvel hero is.

[00:05:20] Dawn asks Elaine what her favorite Marvel movie is.

[00:05:42] Ken asks when Elaine first became interested in science.

[00:06:50] Dawn mentions that Elaine had many obsessions growing up, including running and rowing, and goes on to mention that Elaine even became a rower at the University of Connecticut, asking what drew her to these sports.

[00:09:09] Ken asks what Elaine’s experience on the rowing team was like.

[00:11:43] Dawn mentions that Elaine graduated with her bachelors in nutritional sciences in 2002 and asks if that was her original intent when she first arrived at college.

[00:13:38] Dawn asks Elaine to talk about her passion for research and how the focus of her work grew from her experiences as an athlete and coach.

[00:16:14] Dawn comments that Elaine’s early experiences in genetics and nutritional sciences played a role in her career and asks what some of those early experiences were.

[00:17:49] Dawn asks Elaine if it’s fair to say that she is not merely interested in biology, but in what people and researchers can do to manipulate biology in a way that can result in functional changes for broader populations.

[00:19:13] Ken mentions that Elaine stayed at the University of Connecticut for her masters and doctorate degrees in kinesiology, asking why decided on that specialization.

[00:21:34] Dawn mentions that Elaine went for a post-doc fellowship at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory in Salisbury Cove, Maine, and asks how that opportunity came about.

[00:23:59] Dawn mentions that during Elaine’s post-doc, she and Dr. Kevin Strange co-authored a paper in the journal of Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, titled “Osmosensitive gene expression in C elegans is regulated by conserved signaling mechanisms that control protein translation initiation.” Dawn goes on to mention that this paper was selected in 2012 by the Cellular and Molecular Physiology Section of the American Physiological Society as one of six finalists for its annual research recognition award. Dawn asks why this paper attracted such attention.

[00:28:56] Ken mentions that Elaine was also selected as the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory’s “Outstanding Mentor of the Year” in 2012.

[00:32:18] Dawn mentions that Elaine’s research over the years has focused on understanding the mechanisms of stress resiliency, and ways to improve stress resistance, adaptation and healthspan, asking how Elaine became interested in this angle of research.

[00:34:00] Dawn asks Elaine to talk about her use of C elegans and why they are so useful for her research into stress and resilience.

[00:38:21] Dawn mentions that Elaine’s work on the mechanisms of osmosensing and adaptation in response to osmotic stress and infection, asking her to give a brief explanation on what osmosensing is.

[00:40:45] Ken asks how well the work in C elegans translates to human athletes.

[00:43:33] Dawn asks about a study that looked at intracellular and surface heat shock protein 70 expression, as well as early apoptosis and heat tolerance of lymphocytes during 11 days of whole-body heat acclimation.

[00:48:15] Dawn asks about a paper that Elaine and Ken Strange wrote in 2012  in the American Journal of Physiology-Cell Physiology which that demonstrated for the first time that inhibition of protein translation protects extant proteins from damage brought about by an environmental stressor, and further asks how this paper challenged some widely held views about chemical chaperones.

[00:50:16] Ken asks about a paper Elaine worked on with Jeff Volek and Stephen Phinney, that looked at the metabolic characteristics of keto-adapted ultra-endurance runners.

[00:54:22] Ken mentions that last year, Elaine was one of the lead authors of a study that looked at how endocrine response to strenuous experience in the heat can serve as an indicator of the amount of strain experienced by the person. Elaine talks about the findings and significance of this study.

[00:56:01] Dawn asks about Elaine’s lab at UConn, called the EC Lee Laboratory, where Elaine and her colleagues study the physiology and genetics of resilience. Elaine talks about how her lab uses genomic technologies to determine what make an elite athlete.

[00:58:43] Elaine talks about her lab’s project looking at Aronia fruit in stress resilience and longevity.

[01:02:20] Ken asks what the findings have been for human performance in the heat with respect to the Aronia fruit supplement study.

[01:03:12] Dawn asks about Elaine’s project focused on enhancing warfighter resilience.

[01:06:13] Dawn asks about Elaine’s research on exercise and supplementation interventions on immune function.

[01:08:54] Dawn asks about Elaine’s research on transfer RNA (tRNA) and aminoacyl tRNA synthetases relate to the switches that regulate the genes that are important in protecting cells during stress and aging.

[01:12:32] Ken notes the disparity in many of the “omics” fields, in that they haven’t delivered many actionable changes in human performance, and asks Elaine to briefly talk about what she thinks might be necessary to bridge this gap.

[01:14:22] Ken asks Elaine to briefly explain what network physiology is.

[01:15:53] Ken mentions that electrolytes and electrolyte replacement have been a hot topic in sports performance for several years. He asks Elaine what the current ability is to personalize electrolyte replacement, and how does the baseline diet and individual differences in electrolyte loss factor in and are we able to leverage this for better performance.

[01:18:44] Dawn asks what advice Elaine gives when people ask her what they can do in terms of exercise, diet, and supplementation to improve their cognitive and physical performance as well as their healthspan.

[01:21:35] Dawn asks what Elaine does with her spare time.

[01:22:57] To close the interview, Dawn asks Elaine what she finds so rewarding about a career in science.


Elaine Lee Lab

Elaine Choung-Hee Lee bio

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Episode 134: Mike Griffin discusses America’s hypersonic arms race with Russia and China

Our guest today is Dr. Michael Griffin, the Pentagon’s former Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering. During his two and a half years as undersecretary, Mike made hypersonic weapons and defense against them his number one priority.

In today’s episode, Mike talks about the history of hypersonic technology; why he made it his number one priority at the Department of Defense; and why Russia’s and China’s growing hypersonic capability represents a serious threat to America’s national security.

Our interview with Mike was conducted on March 23, one month following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The weekend prior to our interview with Mike, Russia reported that it used a hypersonic missile to strike a Ukrainian military facility.

This is Mike’s second appearance on STEM-Talk. He was our guest on episode 23 back in 2016 when we talked to him about his tenure as NASA Administrator from April of 2005 to January of 2009.

Mike holds numerous academic degrees, including a BS in physics from Johns Hopkins, five master’s degrees, and a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from the University of Maryland. In addition to serving as NASA Administrator and Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, his long career has included numerous other academic and corporate positions.

Show notes

[00:04:33] Dawn welcomes Mike back to the podcast, mentioning that when Mike was last on STEM-Talk in 2016, he talked about space exploration and his tenure as NASA administrator. Dawn goes on to mention that since then, Mike served a two-and-a-half-year stint as the Pentagon’s first research and engineering undersecretary, a position Congress created in 2018. Mike talks briefly about his perspectives on hypersonics research and development in the U.S. as well as in China and Russia.

[00:05:36] Ken asks Mike to give a brief definition of hypersonics, given that during his time as undersecretary, he made hypersonics his top priority.

[00:09:59] Ken mentions that last weekend, Russia reportedly used hypersonic weapons in Ukraine. Ken asks if Mike has any thoughts as to why the Russians are using hypersonic weapons in Ukraine as opposed to other less expensive weapons that would have sufficed from a military perspective.  Ken wonders whether the use of hypersonics was primarily for strategic messaging.

[00:12:26] Ken asks Mike about his op-ed in Breaking Defense that he recently co-authored and was titled, “Rethinking the hypersonic debate for relevancy in the Pacific.”

[00:15:17] Ken points out that many U.S. leaders view China as primarily a trading partner and a source of inexpensive goods rather than a power that regards the U.S. as an adversary.

[00:16:49] Mike describes hypersonics in more detail and explains the implications for national security.

[00:18:28] Dawn mentions that hypersonic technologies are often thought of as relatively new. Mike talks about how the first hypersonic systems were actually used during World War II by the Germans.

[00:19:34] Ken explains that the aerodynamic heating that occurs at hypersonic speeds is very intense. As a result, the propulsion technology, airframe materials and thermal management involved in hypersonics is very demanding. Ken goes on to say that in the mid-1950s, this was an issue the Air Force had to overcome during its development of the Atlas Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. Ken asks Mike to discuss aerodynamic heating caused by hypersonic speeds and how it was handled with respect to the Atlas missile.

[00:23:12] Ken asks about the challenges NASA faced in overcoming aerodynamic heating on the Command Module for the Apollo missions during reentry, which would reach speeds up to Mach 35.

[00:23:49] Dawn explains that hypersonic weapon systems fall primarily into two classifications: air-breathing cruise missiles and hypersonic boost-glide systems. She asks Mike to give an overview of these two systems and asks if as a country we should invest in both.

[00:30:01] Ken asks Mike whether a powered cruise missile or a hypersonic boost-glide system is more challenging to develop and deploy.

[00:32:44] Ken explains that the United States has actively pursued the development of hypersonic weapons as a part of its conventional global strike program since the early 2000s. Ken adds that partly thanks to Mike’s efforts, the Pentagon and Congress have recently shown a renewed interest in the development and deployment of hypersonic systems, possibly due to the existence of operational Russian and Chinese hypersonic systems. Ken asks Mike when he thinks the U.S. might have operational hypersonic capability and what it might be like.

[00:35:00] Ken asks Mike about the balance between developing hypersonic weapons and developing a new type of defense system to counter the Russian and Chinese threat.

[00:40:41] Ken follows up by asking if the space development agency is adequately funded and staffed for the task of developing a detection and defense system for hypersonic weapons.

[00:42:59] Dawn asks why the United States fell behind in hypersonic technology when in the ‘60s the U.S. was the leader in this field, developing the X-15 aircraft that flew at hypersonic speeds.

[00:45:12] Dawn mentions that the bedrock of military thinking since the start of the nuclear age has been the psychology of Mutually Assured Destruction, but that hypersonic missiles compress the time that a military will have to take defensive steps or retaliate. She asks if we are entering an era where the pressure to strike first is greater than ever.

[00:49:02] Dawn asks if Mike thinks Washington, Moscow and Beijing might have serious discussions about the development and deployment of hypersonic technology that will eventually lead to treaties being negotiated by the superpowers.

[00:53:05] Ken mentions that he recently listened to an interview with Dr. Mark Lewis, a former Air Force Chief Scientist, in which Mark and Dr. Dick Hallion remarked that the Russians and Chinese are indeed ahead of us in hypersonic technology. They pointed out China’s and Russia’s advantage is at least partly because they benefited substantially from the research, reports and papers that were produced by NASA and the Air Force. Ken asks if this view matches Mikes own observations.

[00:55:30] Ken asks if there are any other nations, aside from Russia and China, with active hypersonics development programs.

[00:56:56] Ken asks if Mike thinks our universities are producing the engineering brainpower we need to compete with the Chinese and Russians.

[00:59:24] Dawn shifts to talk about NASA’s Perseverance Rover, which landed on Mars a year ago. She asks if Mike Agrees with NASA’s description of the landing as a pivotal moment for the United States and space exploration.

[01:02:17] Ken mentions that Mike has long been an advocate for the human exploration of Mars. Ken also points out that Mike’s proposed strategy is to begin by returning to the Moon, which NASA is planning to do with the upcoming Artemis mission. NASA’s goal is to build a long-term human presence on the Moon. Ken asks Mike to discuss the strategy for the Artemis mission.

[01:06:12] Dawn asks why Mike believes that returning to the moon and human exploration of Mars should be a national priority.

[01:07:17] Dawn asks Mike for his thoughts about the likelihood of the U.S. working together with Russia again on space missions, given the conflict in Ukraine as well as the decision to suspend a joint European-Russian mission to Mars because of Ukraine.

[01:09:30] Dawn closes the interview asking about Mike’s new company that he co-founded called LogiQ Inc, which provides high-end management, scientific and consulting services.


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Episode 133: Mark Mattson talks about the benefits and science of intermittent fasting

Our guest today is Dr. Mark Mattson, who is affectionally known as the godfather of intermittent fasting. The National Institute of Health describes Mark as “one of the world’s top experts on the potential cognitive and physical health benefits of intermittent fasting.”  He is considered a leader in the area of cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying neuronal plasticity and neurodegenerative disorders and has made major contributions to understanding the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and stroke, and to their prevention and treatment.

After spending nearly 30 years researching calorie restriction and intermittent fasting, Mark has written a book on the topic, “The Intermittent Fasting Revolution: The Science of Optimizing Health and Enhancing Performance.” Our interview with Mark came the day after MIT Press released his book.

This is the second time Mark has appeared on STEM-Talk. When we interviewed him back in 2016, intermittent fasting didn’t register on Google’s list of top-10 searches related to diet and eating plans. By 2019, however, intermittent fasting was more widely searched on Google than any other diet. Today, intermittent fasting and the ketogenic diet jockey for Google’s top spot for diet searches.

We talk to Mark in this interview about how, as the title of his book suggests, we are indeed in the midst of an intermittent fasting revolution. In today’s episode, Mark walks us through our evolutionary history and how it has sculpted our brains and bodies to function optimally in a fasted state. We talk about ways our overindulgent sedentary lifestyles have negatively impacted not only our waistlines, but also the size of our brains. After describing the various ways to go about intermittent fasting, Mark dives into the science behind fasting. This leads to a fascinating discussion about the metabolic switch that transitions a person from the utilization of glucose to the utilization of fat-derived ketones and how research is showing that this switch becomes an important factor in the treatment of not only cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s, but also a range of other diseases and disorders like cancer, diabetes, inflammation, kidney, and heart disease.

Mark is on the neuroscience faculty at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He recently retired from the National Institute of Aging where he led its neuroscience laboratory for the past 20 years.

Show notes:

[00:04:16] Dawn opens the interview congratulating Mark on his new book and asks how long it took him to write it.

[00:05:09] Dawn mentions that when Mark was last on STEM-Tall in 2016, intermittent fasting was just beginning to come to the public’s attention, and that today it is almost impossible to pass a grocery store checkout counter without seeing a rack of magazine covers touting intermittent fasting. Dawn asks Mark for his thoughts about what happened in the past decade to suddenly spark so much public interest in fasting.

[00:08:20] Ken mentions the title of Mark’s new book, “The Intermittent Fasting Revolution: The Science of Optimizing Health and Enhancing Performance.” Ken asks Mark to expound on the idea that we are witnessing a revolution of interest in intermittent fasting.

[00:10:39] Dawn explains that the first chapter of Mark’s book begins with an overview of how evolution sculpted humans and animals to function best in a fasted state. Mark, in this section of his book, makes the point that fasting is not a diet, but an eating pattern that puts a person into a fat-burning state. Dawn asks Mark to briefly walk through this evolutionary history.

[00:13:06] Ken mentions that Yuval Noah Harari, author of, “Sapiens: A Grief History of Human Kind,” has said that ancient foragers were the most knowledgeable and skillful people in history. Ken asks Mark to weigh in on Harari’s point that the size of the average brain in Homo Sapiens has actually decreased since the age of hunters and gatherers.

[00:17:10] Dawn asks Mark to talk about how our modern overindulgent sedentary lifestyles are having negative impacts on our brains.

[00:18:20] Dawn mentions that fasting was relatively popular in the U.S. at the turn of the 20th Century and mentions Josh Turknett, who was recently on STEM-Talk, pointed out that Upton Sinclair actually wrote a book about fasting in 1911.  Dawn mentions that Mark in his book also writes about Sinclair as well as Dr. Edward Dewey, who in 1900 wrote “The No-Breakfast Plan and the Fasting Cure.” Dawn asks why society turned its back on fasting when a century ago it was quite popular.

[00:19:55] Ken asks Mark to explain how he first became interested in researching intermittent fasting in the 1990s.

[00:22:10] Dawn explains that Alzheimer’s disease ultimately affects almost half of the population over the age of 85, and that diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s often start 15 years before serious symptoms are noticed. Dawn asks Mark to explain the hallmarks of brain aging in relation to these diseases.

[00:24:55] Ken asks about the evidence for fasting-induced autophagy in humans, and how much fasting is required to activate it.

[00:26:22] Dawn asks about the emotional impact of Alzheimer’s and mentions that Mark’s father was diagnosed with the disease.

[00:29:57] Mark expounds on his observations that Alzheimer’s and many other diseases of neural degeneration and cognitive decline are largely metabolic diseases.

[00:31:45] Ken asks if the loss of muscle mass could have an impact on Alzheimer’s due to the role skeletal muscle plays in glucose storage.

[00:33:11] Ken mentions that Mark writes in his book that fasting is characterized by an increase in the concentration of ketones in the blood, and that fasting therefore can be thought of as a ketogenic diet. Ken goes on to mention that in a relatively sedentary person it typically takes about 12 hours to deplete their liver glucose stores and trigger ketones. Ken asks Mark to walk through the chain of events that happen once glucose in the liver is depleted.

[00:34:59] Dawn asks Mark to give a brief description of some of the more popular ways of fasting such as time restricted eating, prolonged fasts, fasting mimicking diets, and the 5:2 fast.

[00:37:40] Dawn mentions that Gary Taubes came on STEM-Talk last year to talk about his new book “The Case for Keto: Rethinking Weight Control and the Science and Practice of Low-Carb/High-Fat Eating.” Dawn asks if there are differences in terms of the benefits of intermittent fasting and a low-carb ketogenic diet.

[00:39:48] Ken asks Mark what distinguishes fasting from caloric restriction, and why does fasting yield benefits beyond what we see in caloric restriction.

[00:42:10] Dawn asks about Mark’s work today at Johns Hopkins.

[00:44:50] Dawn mentions that one of the key takeaways from Mark’s new book is that metabolic syndrome can often be completely reversed by the adoption of a lifestyle that includes intermittent fasting and exercise. Mark points out that there are studies of animals and humans, however, that show intermittent fasting alone can reverse metabolic syndrome. Dawn asks if Mark believes that a combination of exercise and intermittent fasting is still the best approach.

[00:46:33] Ken asks about Mark’s 2019 study that looked at how intermittent fasting improves mood and cognition, which found that hippocampal neuronal networks adapt to intermittent fasting by enhancing GABAergic tone, which is associated with reduced anxiety and improved hippocampus-dependent memory.

[00:49:37] Dawn asks about another of Mark’s studies published in 2019 that highlighted what research has revealed so far about the effects and benefits of intermittent fasting.

[00:53:06] Dawn asks Mark to briefly discuss why switching the metabolic switch from glucose to ketones seems to have a near system-wide effect, improving outcomes in diabetes, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, kidney disease as well as stroke.

[00:55:13] Ken mentions that intermittent fasting seems to have benefits for a wide swath of our generally overweight and metabolically unhealthy population but wonders if it might be inappropriate in the long-term for vulnerable populations such as the elderly experiencing sarcopenia.

[00:59:45] Dawn explains that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. and that the fourth leading cause of death is stroke. She goes on to explain that the combination of obesity, insulin resistance, hypertension and aging are the major risk factors for cardiovascular disease and stroke, but there are now studies that show intermittent fasting can reduce stroke and heart disease. Dawn asks Mark which of these findings he thinks shows the most promise.

[01:01:22] Ken asks about the new book Mark is currently working on, which has the working title of “Sculptor and Destroyer: The Story of Glutamate, the Brain’s Most Important Neurotransmitter.”

[01:04:39] Ken closes the interview asking when the new book is set to go to the publisher.


Mark Mattson bio

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Episode 132: Martin Kulldorff discusses vaccines, lockdowns, school closings and the global response to COVID-19

Our guest today describes the global response to COVID-19 as one of the biggest public-health fiascos in history. As you would expect, he gained quite a bit of notoriety for this contrarian view. Dr. Martin Kulldorff is an epidemiologist and biostatistician who has spent the past 30 years researching infectious diseases as well as the efficacy and safety of vaccines.

He is internationally known for his statistical and epidemiological methods for the early detection and monitoring of infectious diseases. A former Harvard Medical School professor who today is the Senior Scientific Officer at the Brownstone Institute, Martin worked with the Centers for Disease Control on its current system for monitoring potential vaccine risks. Today, the U.S. and other countries around the world use Martin’s detection methods to monitor COVID-19.

Martin made national headlines in October of 2020 when he and Dr. Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford and Dr. Sunetra Gupta of Oxford published the Great Barrington Declaration, a paper that questions school closings, lockdowns, travel restrictions and other governmental responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. The three authors recommended “focused protection” instead, a policy of protecting senior citizens and others who are most at risk of dying from COVID while allowing young people and others who face minimal risk of death to resume their normal lives.

The three authors were immediately skewered for what critics called a radically dangerous approach for pandemic management.

At STEM-Talk, however, we appreciate that a curious, open, and even skeptical mind is at the heart of the scientific method. Because of that, we have invited Martin to sit down with us to discuss the Great Barrington Declaration as well as his views about pandemics and the best ways to safeguard the public. We also review with Martin the age-adjusted mortality rates of states like Florida, New York and California which had quite different responses to COVID-19.

Ironically, co-host Dawn Kernagis learned on the morning of our interview with Martin that she had contacted COVID. So, she has to skip today’s discussion. (Note to listeners: It was just a mild case and Dawn is already back on her feet.)

But in today’s fascinating episode, Martin and host Ken Ford discuss:

— The safety of vaccines, including the coronavirus vaccines.

— Martin’s thoughts about the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children.

— The Great Barrington Declaration and the concerns it raised about the physical, mental-health and economic impacts of the prevailing COVID-19 responses.

— The effectiveness of natural immunity compared to vaccine-induced immunity.

— Whether hospitals should be hiring caregivers with natural immunity rather than firing them.

— Martin’s thoughts about Sweden, which was the only Western nation that did not impose lockdowns or close its schools and daycare centers in response to COVID-19.

— What age-adjusted COVID mortality rates for the U.S. have to say about the different approaches states used in response to the pandemic.

Show notes:

[00:05:20] Ken opens the interview mentioning that Martin was born in Lund in 1962 in southern Sweden, but grew up in Umea, a university town in northeast Sweden. Ken asks what prompted Martin’s family to move to Umea when he was two years old.

[00:05:47] Ken mentions as an aside that he once spent an enjoyable week at the University of Umea visiting Lars-Erick Janlert.  Ken served as the external expert for a PhD dissertation.

[00:07:00] Ken asks Martin what he was like as a child.

[00:07:32] Ken asks what drew Martin to math, and if it came naturally to him.

[00:08:15] Martin talks about his decision to attend Umea University and major in mathematical statistics.

[00:09:09] Ken asks why Martin moved to the United States and to attend Cornell University as a Fullbright Fellow for his postgraduate studies, and why he decided to earn his Ph.D. in operations research.

[00:10:39] Ken asks about the software Martin developed called SaTScan, which analyses spatial, temporal, and space-time data for the purposes of geographical and hospital-disease surveillance.

[00:14:13] Ken asks why Martin returned to Sweden to be an assistant professor in statistics at Uppsala University after receiving his Ph.D.

[00:15:26] Ken asks when and why Martin became primarily focused on diseases and epidemiology rather than other fields where statistics is applicable.

[00:16:47] Ken mentions TreeScan, a data mining software package that Martin developed which looks for excess risk in a large number of individual cells in a database as well as in groups of closely related cells. Ken asks Martin to talk about how this software is used for disease surveillance and what some of its key features are.

[00:18:09] Ken mentions that Martin is also the co-developer of the R-Sequential software program used for exact sequential analysis, with his key scientific contribution to it being the development of the statistical and epidemiological methods used in this software. Martin gives an overview of what these methods include.

[00:20:01] Ken asks why Martin returned to a university setting when he left the National Cancer Institute to work at the University of Connecticut.

[00:20:50] Ken mentions that in 2002, Martin took a position as a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham Women’s Hospital. Martin talks about how much of his research at the time was focused on developing new statistical and epidemiological methods for disease surveillance and looking at ways to optimize health outcomes for individuals and populations.

[00:21:43] Ken asks Martin to talk about his work with a CDC working group that looked at the Measles-Mumps-Rubella Vaccine, also known as the MMR vaccine.

[00:25:34] Ken mentions that Martin had been a member of the FDA’s Drug Safety and Risk Management Advisory Committee and asks Martin to talk about this work.

[00:28:06] Ken asks about Martin’s work as part of the World Health Organization’s Disease Mapping Advisory Group in 1997.

[00:29:07] Ken asks Martin to describe how his methods and contributions to the development of statistical and epidemiological methods for early identification of infectious disease outbreaks are being used today to monitor COVID-19 in the U.S. and abroad.

[00:30:18] Ken mentions that much of Martin’s research today focuses on developing and applying new disease surveillance methods for post-market drug and vaccine safety surveillance. Ken also mentions that a significant number of people today have concerns about the safety of not just the coronavirus vaccines, but all vaccines. Ken asks what insights Martin can share with people about the safety of the coronavirus vaccines as well as vaccines more generally.

[00:32:57] Ken mentions that Martin has helped develop key parts of the U.S. vaccine safety system, and in 2020 he became a member of the CDC’s Covid Vaccine Safety Technical Work Group which reviewed COVID-19 vaccine safety data on a weekly basis when the U.S. began its vaccination program. Ken goes on to mention that in April of 2021, the CDC removed Martin from the work group after he publicly disagreed with the agency’s pause of the Johnson and Johnson COVID vaccine for older Americans. Ken asks Martin what his key objections were to the pause of the J&J vaccine and what were the issues that led to his removal from the safety group.

[00:38:32] Ken explains that the CDC is now recommending the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children 5 through 11 years old, as well as children 12 to 17. Ken asks what Martin’s thoughts are on this and what advice does he have for parents about giving this to their children.

[00:41:59] Ken explains that Martin has been an outspoken critic of not only the U.S. response to COVID-19, but also the global response, which he has described as the biggest public health fiasco in history. Ken goes on to mention that Martin and two other scientists – Sunetra Gupta fron Oxford and Jay Ghattacharya of Stanford – wrote The Great Barrington Declaration, which raised concerns about the damaging physical, mental-health, and economic impacts of the prevailing COVID-19 responses. Instead of Lockdowns, Martin and his colleagues recommended focused protection. Ken asks why Martin thinks lockdown policies have produced devastating effects on short and long-term public health.

[00:44:53] Martin elaborates on the concept of focused protection and how it is fundamentally different than the lockdown approach.

[00:49:00] Ken mentions that Martin has made the point that nurses and caregivers who have recovered from COVID-19 have stronger and longer-lasting immunity than vaccinated people who have not been infected with COVID-19. Ken asks Martin to elaborate on his position that hospitals should be hiring caregivers with natural immunity rather than firing them if they refuse to take the vaccine.

[00:51:47] Ken mentions that a recent Israeli study conducted in early 2021, that looked at a group of people who had contracted coronavirus and thus had natural immunity. The study demonstrated that natural immunity confers longer lasting and stronger protection against infection, symptomatic disease, and hospitalization than two-dose vaccine-induced immunity. Ken mentions that this study has not been peer-reviewed yet and it only focused on Israelis who received the Pfizer vaccine, but asks Martin to give his initial thoughts about what this research shows in terms of an immune hierarchy related to the coronavirus.

[00:54:23] Ken asks if we know if there is a difference of degree of protection afforded to individuals infected by different variants of COVID-19.

[00:55:54] Ken mentions the John Snow Memorandum, published in in The Lancet,[85] which is a response by 80 researchers denouncing the Great Barrington Declaration. Ken explains that the memorandum contends that the idea of herd immunity is a “dangerous fallacy unsupported by the scientific evidence.”

[00:58:49] Ken mentions that Martin has been a proponent of the approach that has been followed by Sweden, which was the only Western country that did not close its schools or daycare centers, asking Martin to talk about Sweden’s response and some of the key lessons and insights that we should take away from it.

[01:03:37] Ken explains that Martin and his co-authors of the Great Barrington Declaration have been fiercely criticized, with William Haseltine, a former Harvard Medical School professor saying herd immunity was just another word for mass murder. Ken goes on to explain that Haseltine, in 2020, said that if we allowed the virus to spread in an attempt to reach herd immunity, that we were looking at two to six million American deaths. Ken goes on to say that this has not happened either in the U.S. or in Sweden, and asks Martin if he thinks there is more openness today in the research community to the points raised in the Great Barrington Declaration, as well as Sweden’s response to COVID-19.

[01:08:57] Ken mentions that lockdown policies affect working class people the most, those who cannot perform their work over Zoom. It affects people like policy makers the least. Ken and Martin discuss how different the pandemic has been for the Zoom class compared to the working class.

[01:11:43] Ken explains that New York State and California both had long periods of strict lockdowns in 2020 and 2021 while Florida had a shorter lockdown period and reopened businesses and tourism and schools much sooner than most states. Ken goes on to mention that Florida has also rejected mask and vaccine mandates and that a lot of people have second-guessed Florida’s approach to COVID. But in terms of age-adjusted COVID mortality rates, Florida is much like Sweden in that the catastrophe that was supposed to happen didn’t. Ken explains that New York had one of the highest age-adjusted COVID mortality rates while Florida and California had mortality rates lower than the national average. Ken asks Martin for his take on Florida and California’s identical outcomes although the two states had starkly contrasted responses to the virus.

[01:14:56] Ken asks about the increase in hospitalizations among children with the Omicron variant.

[01:18:20] Ken asks if Martin thinks we should start to accept that we can’t eliminate COVID and its variants, much like the flu, and instead should work towards mitigating risks in the future.

[01:24:06] Ken mentions that Martin recently left Harvard and has joined the Brownstone Institute as its Senior Scientific Director. Ken explains that Brownstone was founded in 2021 to respond to the COVID crisis and provide a “safe haven” for scientific research. When accepting his new role, Martin said that “governments, universities and scientific leaders have failed us during this pandemic, resulting in the biggest health fiasco in history.” Ken asks what Martin hopes to accomplish through his work with Brownstone.

[01:27:10] Ken talks about how non-medical experts like engineers, computer scientists and mathematicians are increasingly analyzing medical research and producing sophisticated observations that are at times at odds with medical orthodoxy. Ken asks Martin if he believes this kind of research by so-called outsiders should be encouraged or, like some suggest, should be censured.

[01:31:02] As Ken closes the interview asking Martin if it is true that something besides COVID also weighs heavily on Martin’s mind.


Martin Kulldorff  Brownstone Institute page

Martin Kulldorff Wikipedia page

Learn more about IHMC

STEM-Talk homepage

Ken Ford bio

Ken Ford Wikipedia page

Dawn Kernagis bio



Episode 131: Christopher Logothetis discusses advances in prostate cancer therapies

Our guest today is Dr. Christopher Logothetis, one of the nation’s foremost experts on prostate cancer. Chris has spent nearly five decades at MD Anderson in Houston developing therapies for prostate cancer as well as conducting research into the underlying biology of the disease.

Aside from skin cancers, prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men, claiming a man’s life every 15 minutes in the United States, according to the Prostrate Cancer Foundation. Since the 1970s when Chris joined the staff at MD Andersen, which is the nation’s top-ranked hospital for cancer care, he has been dedicated to the treatment, research, and prevention of genitourinary cancers such bladder, kidney, testes and penis cancer. For the past 25 years, he has focused primarily on prostate cancer and the development of effective chemotherapy treatments.

Today, Chris is the director of MD Anderson’s Genitourinary Cancer Center and the director of the Prostate Cancer Research Program.

Show notes:

[00:03:23] Dawn opens the interview mentioning that Chris went to medical school in Greece and asks if he grew up there as well.

[00:03:43] Ken asks Chris when he first became interested in science.

[00:04:09] Dawn asks if there were a particular teacher or class that prompted Chris’ decision to pursue medicine.

[00:04:39] Dawn asks what led Chris to attend the University of Athens School of Medicine.

[00:05:10] Dawn mentions that in the ‘60s and ‘70s, talking about cancer was almost taboo and asks Chris to talk about the stigma that surrounded cancer for quite some time.

[00:05:57] Ken asks if Chris knew he wanted to specialize in cancers when he first started medical school in Athens or if that interest developed later.

[00:07:06] Dawn mentions that Chris graduated from medical school in 1974 and then took off for Chicago where he had an internship at Cook County Hospital. Dawn asks about the experience, and if it were a culture shock to go from Athens, Greece to Chicago in the 1970s.

[00:08:54] Dawn asks what took Chris to Texas and MD Anderson after his time in Chicago.

[00:09:36] Dawn mentions that after Chris finished his fellowship, he joined the faculty at MD Anderson, and is now coming upon his 50th anniversary there.

[00:09:51] Chris explains his view that we need to better understand the drivers of cancer and goes on to talk about what we currently know about these drivers.

[00:12:06] Ken asks about the significance of the Human Genome Project on cancer research.

[00:13:49] Dawn mentions that along with new technologies, there evolved a strategy of what is called co-clinical investigation where researchers study the mouse, but in parallel look at the difference and similarities with humans. She asks him about how that integrated data required a new language to bring it all together, which is now known as Prometheus. Dawn asks Chris to talk about Prometheus and how this has led to an accelerated understanding of cancer biology.

[00:20:47] Dawn mentions that Chris has studied a range of genitourinary cancers throughout his career, such as germ cell tumors, bladder, and renal cancers, but that his interest in prostate cancer is a more recent development. Dawn asks what led to this specific interest.

[00:23:12] Dawn explains that metastatic cancer was first cured in 1956 when methotrexate was used to treat a rare tumor called choriocarcinoma. She goes on to say that since then, chemotherapy drugs have been used to treat mixed germ-cell tumors and has led to dramatically improved survivorship among patients with metastatic germ-cell tumors. She also mentions that in 1982 Chris published a paper in the journal Cancer titled, “The growing teratoma syndrome,” at which time, tumor growth following chemotherapy for mixed germ-cell tumors had been considered a reliable indicator of a persistent active carcinoma, with the rule being that if the cancer didn’t respond to treatment that operations were futile. Dawn explains that in Chris’ 1982 paper, he demonstrated that you could alter a tumor with chemotherapy in such a way that surgery could now cure it where previously could not. Chris expounds on this paper and its significance.

[00:27:21] Ken mentions that Chris had another paper where he described the spiral diagram of cancer progression, where the cancer sends a message to the host, which sends a message back in a cycle over time. Ken goes on to say that Chris’ conclusion was that this interaction between the cancer and the host eventually evolves into the patient’s body and becomes, in a sense, complicit in the cancer’s growth. Chris goes on to explain the spiral of cancer progression.

[00:31:19] Dawn points out that in the spring of 2021, Chris published a paper in Clinical Cancer Researched titled “Radium-223 Treatment Increases Immune Checkpoint Expression in Extracellular Vesicles From the Metastatic Prostate Cancer Bone Microenvironment.”Dawn goes on to explain that Radium-223 is a radiopharmaceutical used to treat metastatic cancers in bone. Bone-targeting radiotherapy with Radium-223 prolongs the survival of patients with metastatic prostate cancer. Treatment, however, is often followed by a detrimental relapse and progression. Dawn explains that despite this, Chris detailed in his aforementioned paper a treatment strategy that could potentially increase the effectiveness of Radium-223.

[00:34:24] Ken mentions that prostate-specific antigen test, or PSA, has become controversial for its utility as a screen, and asks Chris for his thoughts on the matter.

[00:36:09] Ken asks if a change in PSA levels in a patient over time is more of an elucidating marker than a single high value at one point in time.

[00:38:20] Dawn mentions that Chris wrote in a paper that appeared in the Journal of Cell Science & Therapy. “When we aspire to cure cancer, we need to search no further than a curable cancer such as germ cell tumor of the testis, also known as TGCT.” Dawn asks Chris to expound on this paper and how TGCT provides us invaluable lessons about curing other intractable solid tumors.

[00:41:18] Ken mentions that Chris and his colleagues at MD Anderson and the School of Medicine at the University of Thessaly in Greece wrote an opinion piece that ran in European Urology titled “Prostrate Cancer: Quo Vadis?” The article stressed that utility measures are urgently needed for the clinical application of new diagnostics to reduce excessive intervention. Ken asks Chris to provide more background on this piece and describe the type of diagnostics he and his colleagues recommend in it.

[00:44:27] Dawn explains that while there has been some very promising research into the development of a stress response therapy, metastatic prostate cancer remains an incurable disease, and no effective therapies have yet come out of the research. She goes on to say that Chris addressed this issue in a 2018 article in Science Translational Medicine titled “ER stress in prostate cancer: A therapeutically exploitable vulnerability?” The article was in response to a paper that also appeared in Science Translational Medicine titled “Development of a stress response therapy targeting aggressive prostate cancer.” Dawn asks why Chris wrote this response, and since the publishing of these papers, if there has been much progress in developing effective therapies that target these aggressive prostate cancers.

[00:49:12] Dawn mentions that prostate cancer is a highly heritable disease with disparities in incidence rate across ancestry populations, with the Prostate Cancer Foundation saying that this is one of the largest health disparities in all of medicine. Dawn asks Chris what his thoughts are on this in light of his investigations into the issue.

[00:51:29] Ken explains that there is a precision prostate cancer screening in development called the “Smith Test,” which is something that could help address the disparities in incidence rates across ancestry populations. He goes on to say that the test is described as a simple blood test, similar to a cholesterol test, that would be able to indicate the lifetime risk of prostate cancer of any man. Chris gives his thoughts on this effort.

[00:55:35] Since the death rate from prostate cancer dropped more than 50 percent since the establishment of the Prostrate Cancer Foundation in 1993, Dawn asks Chris about research on the horizon that gives Chris the most hope.

[00:58:27] Dawn mentions Chris’ evening lecture at IHMC titled “Addressing Paradoxes in Health Care,” and asks Chris to give a short summary of his talk.

[01:02:25] Dawn asks if Chris is currently considering retirement anytime soon.

[01:04:16] Ken asks about Chris’ passion for sailing.

[01:06:40] Dawn closes the interview asking if it is true that Chris is such an avid sailor that he has a sailboat in Greece as well as Texas, and that he does some of his best work on sailboats.


Christopher Logothetis bio

Learn more about IHMC

STEM-Talk homepage

Ken Ford bio

Ken Ford Wikipedia page

Dawn Kernagis bio


Episode 130: Josh Turknett talks about holistic approaches that help people end chronic migraines

Our guest today is Dr. Josh Turknett, the author of “The Migraine Miracle” and “Keto for Migraine,” two books that have helped thousands of people use a holistic approach to end their chronic migraines. Josh is often referred to as “public enemy number one to migraines” everywhere.

He is a neurologist, musician, author, and entrepreneur. He has more than two decades of experience in the field of cognitive and behavioral neuroscience. Josh practices medicine in Atlanta at the Turknett Center for Neurology and Cognitive Enhancement.

In today’s episode, we talk to Josh about his own history with migraines and how migraine is a common and complex neurological disorder that includes a genetic component.

Josh earned a bachelor’s degree in cognitive neuroscience from Wesleyan University, an M.D. from Emory University, and completed his residency training at the University of Florida.

In addition to his medical practice, Josh also is the founder of Brainjo, a company that creates educational resources that utilize a system of instruction based on the science of learning and neuroplasticity. He’s a musician who plays in the band The Georgia Jays and teaches people to play the clawhammer banjo, fingerstyle banjo, fiddle and ukulele. As if he didn’t have enough to do, Josh also is the president of Physicians for Ancestral Health and the chief medical officer for humanOS, which was recently acquired by Restore Hyper Wellness. Josh also is the host of the Intelligence Unshackled podcast, which explores the many ways that human potential is constrained and how people can go about optimizing it.

Show notes:

[00:03:22] Dawn opens the interview asking Josh about his mother’s struggles with migraines.

[00:04:59] Dawn asks Josh how old he was when he first started having migraines.

[00:06:15] Ken asks Josh how he first became interested in science.

[00:08:24] Dawn asks Josh how he ended up in the Connecticut at Wesleyan University for his undergraduate degree.

[00:09:35] Ken asks if Josh knew he wanted to major in neuroscience when he first arrived at Wesleyan or if that was a later decision.

[00:10:49] Dawn asks if it is true that Josh’s girlfriend at the time played a role in his decision to move back to Atlanta to go to medical school at Emory after his undergrad.

[00:11:55] Dawn asks what motivated Josh to attend the University of Florida for his residency after being a lifelong Gator-hater.

[00:14:39] Ken mentions that despite all the hype around neuroscience when the field was emerging, the last major breakthrough in neurology was in the ‘90s with the discovery of triptan drugs for migraines. Ken asks if we have made any major neurological advances since then, and if not, why?

[00:17:41] Ken asks Josh what he would suggest to today’s neurology residents and neuroscience graduate students who might want to avoid the recent failures of the modern approaches to treating neurological disease.

[00:19:57] Dawn explains that a migraine is a complex neurological disorder affecting 15 to 20 percent of the population, with many subtypes including a genetic component. Dawn asks Josh what is currently understood about the genetic component of migraines.

[00:21:28] Ken asks Josh at what point in his career did he decide to specialize in migraines.

[00:23:17] Dawn asks Josh to explain to people who have not suffered from migraines what it feels like to experience a cascade of symptoms such as numbness, tingling, visual disturbances, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, fatigue, and blinding headaches.

[00:25:15] Ken asks Josh what the difference is between cluster headaches and migraines.

[00:26:49] Dawn mentions that people can start to feel the onset of a migraine 48 hours before the pain sets in, a phase called the prodrome. Josh explains what the prodrome is and what its symptoms are.

[00:28:03] Dawn mentions the fact that the pain of a migraine is preceded by an aura, which is often a frightening but temporary neurological disturbance that sets off an alarm of an impending migraine headache. She asks Josh what is known about auras.

[00:30:11] Ken asks if the auras experienced by migraine sufferers is similar to the experiences some people have preceding an epileptic seizure.

[00:30:41] Ken asks if people bounce back immediately once the migraine is over, or if there is a recovery period involved.

[00:31:53] Dawn switches to the topic of how diet and lifestyle can help people manage their migraines by asking Josh about how his interest in ancestral health, and the ancestral way of eating.

[00:34:43] Ken asks Josh what discoveries led him to write his 2013 book, “The Migraine Miracle.”

[00:38:12] Dawn mentions that the ketogenic diet has become extremely popular over the past few years. Dawn goes on to say that while the ketogenic diet has been largely understood to help people with weight loss, epileptic seizures, metabolic disorders, and many other health issues. Dawn asks Josh to talk about how when his book “Keto for Migraine” came out, there weren’t many references to how a low-carb/high-fat diet could help people with their migraines.

[00:42:16] Dawn mentions that in “Keto for Migraine” Josh points out that the typical version of the ketogenic diet can make migraines worse. Given that, Dawn asks what the keys are for maximizing the benefits of keto for the migraine brain.

[00:43:12] Dawn asks Josh to address how ketosis impacts blood cholesterol testing.

[00:45:46] Ken asks what other things Josh has learned about ketosis and the migraine brain.

[00:48:42] Ken mentions fasting as a way to induce ketosis, and asks if Josh utilizes fasting, either for himself or as a recommendation for his patients.

[00:51:43] Although fasting has become a popular fad in recent years, the journalist Upton Sinclair wrote a best-selling book back in 1911 called “The Fasting Cure.” Dawn asks Josh about the interesting things he learned from reading Sinclair’s book.

[00:53:34] Ken asks if Josh has investigated the possibility of a connection between migraines and gut health, given the multitude of disorders now being associated with a breakdown in the gut.

[00:56:25] Dawn mentions that in addition to Josh’s medical practice, he is a musician, playing banjo for the Georgia Jays. He also is an entrepreneur, a business consultant, and is currently the president of the Physicians for Ancestral Health, a role previously held by Tommy Wood. Dawn asks how Josh can manage this wide variety of roles and interests.

[00:58:49] Dawn asks how long Josh has been playing banjo. Josh also talks about the band he plays with, the Georgia Jays.

[01:00:08] Dawn mentions Josh’s book “The Laws of Brainjo,” a compilation of articles about the fundamental principles of learning, described by Josh as a neuroscience-based system of instruction for learning as well as an owner’s manual for molding a musical mind at any age. Josh gives a brief overview of his Brainjo system.

[01:03:33] Ken mentions Josh’s recent IHMC lecture about how the significant reduction in cognitively demanding activities that occurs over a typical human lifespan may be a driving force in the development of cognitive decline and dementia, a phenomenon described as the Demand Driven Decline Theory. Ken asks Josh to touch on the Demand Driven Decline Theory and on some of the key points from his lecture.

[01:08:04] Dawn mentions that a previous STEM-Talk guest, Dr. Dale Bredesen has proposed a multi-modal model that includes toxic exposures, stressors, diet, genetics, and hormonal effects as drivers of cognitive decline that need to be individually assessed and addressed based on the patient. Dawn goes on to explain that in this model, the capacity of the brain slowly decreases over time as injury accumulates, until supply of cognitive function no longer meets demand. This model contrasts Josh’s Demand Driven Decline Theory and given that there is evidence to support both theories, Dawn asks Josh how they might be reconciled.

[01:11:15] Ken asks Josh to reiterate the importance of adults doing things they are not good at, and if Josh has any thoughts on how we can encourage and support people to continue to learn new skills.

[01:15:09] Dawn mentions that in 2018, Josh launched the Intelligence Unshackled podcast, which explores the potential of human intelligence. Dawn goes on to mention that on the show’s home page, Josh points out that the human brain has far more potential than most people realize and that releasing that potential requires people to understand and address the ways in which their brains are limited or shackled. Josh talks about what led him to enter the podcast world and gives an overview of his show.

[[01:18:01] Dawn mentions that Josh plays tennis in his spare time, asking if this is something he has always done, or an interest taken up later in life.

[01:19:24] Ken asks if it is true that another part of Josh’s daily routine is a walk with his wife.

[01:20:19] Ken closes the interview mentioning that a little birdie, perhaps a Georgia Jay, told him that Josh and his family have a special musical tradition at Christmas.


Josh Turknett website

Josh Turknett Amazon page

Georgia Jays

Learn more about IHMC

STEM-Talk homepage

Ken Ford bio

Ken Ford Wikipedia page

Dawn Kernagis bio



Episode 129: Morley Stone talks about biomimetics and human performance augmentation

Our guest today is Dr. Morley Stone, the former Chief Technology Officer for the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and former Senior Vice President for Research at Ohio State University, who is now IHMC’s Chief Strategic Partnership Officer. Morley is recognized as an international leader in biomimetics and human performance.

In today’s interview, we talk to Morley about his time as AFRL’s chief technology officer as well as his stint as the chief scientist for the Air Force’s 711th Human Performance Wing, which is responsible for providing technical oversight of projects geared to optimize human performance for the nation’s air, space, and cyberspace forces. We also have a fascinating conversation with Morley about his early career and research into biomimetics, which is the study of using biological structures, materials and principles as models for the development of new materials, structures, and devices.

In his new role at IHMC, Morley will become the institute’s point person for public- and private-sector partnerships. He also will work with IHMC’s scientists and research staff to help coordinate and implement the multitude of scientific projects the institute has in its pipeline.

Show notes:

[00:03:07] Dawn mentions that Morley grew up in a small steel producing town in Pennsylvania and asks him what he was like as a kid.

[00:03:56] Ken asks Morley about his days as wrestler growing up and why he still today views wrestling as a special sport.

[00:05:00] Dawn asks about Morley’s move to Dayton, Ohio, when he was 17.

[00:05:36] Dawn asks how Morley decided upon Wright State as opposed to the University of Dayton.

[00:05:57] Morley tells the story of how a girl in college pointed out an ad for an internship and how that helped him decide to become a biochemistry major.

[00:06:43] Dawn asks what happened to the girl who pointed out the aforementioned ad.

[00:08:28] Ken asks Morley to talk about the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) and the role of the lab’s Materials and Manufacturing Directorate.

[00:09:53] Dawn mentions that after earning his bachelor’s degree, Morley had a short stint as a materials research engineer at the directorate before heading off to Carnegie Mellon University to work on a Ph.D. in biochemistry. Dawn asks why Morley chose to attend Carnegie Mellon.

[00:11:08] Dawn mentions that in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, Morley had the good fortune to work with scientists who had the foresight to know that there was going to be a radical change in material science, which up until that point had been dominated by metals and ceramics. Morley talks about the most important lessons he learned from these colleagues and mentors.

[00:12:41] Dawn asks about Morley’s time as a research biologist, and eventually principal research biologist, at the Materials and Manufacturing Directorate after his Ph.D.

[00:14:41] Ken asks Morley to explain biomimetics and discuss the systems that Morley and his colleagues looked at during his time at the Materials and Manufacturing Directorate, ranging from infrared sensing to instances of biological camouflage.

[00:18:01] Dawn mentions that the creation of nanoscale materials for advanced structures has led to a growing interest in the area of biomineralization, she goes on to say that during Morley’s time at the directorate, he especially researched the process of biomineralization and the assembly of nanostructured inorganic components into hierarchical structures, which led to the development of a variety of approaches that mimic the recognition and nucleation capabilities found in biomolecules for inorganic material synthesis. Morley discusses his 2002 paper in Nature Materials where he described the in vitro biosynthesis of silver nanoparticles using silver-binding peptides.

[00:21:20] Dawn asks about Morley’s 2004 paper in Advanced Materials where he and his colleagues had taken a protein that was responsible for thermal sensing and incorporated it into an array.

[00:23:21] Ken asks about the follow-up paper to Morley’s aforementioned 2004 paper, published in 2005 in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. It was titled “Polypeptide-Templated Synthesis of Hexagonal Silica Platelets.”

[00:25:28] Dawn asks Morley about his time as program manager in DARPA’s Defense Science Office from 2003 to 2006.

[00:27:30] Morley explains what the Heilmeier Catechism is.

[00:28:51] Dawn asks about Morley’s time as senior scientist for Molecular Systems Biotechnology in the Human Effectiveness Directorate of the Air Force Research Laboratory.

[00:31:25] Ken mentions that in a 2011 report that ran in The Armed Forces Journal, Morley laid a foundation for how the Department of Defense could play a leadership role in human performance augmentation as a way of developing the “quantified warrior” as he described it. Ken goes on to mention that he cited this paper in a 2014 article he co-authored with Clark Glymour for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists titled “The Enhanced Warfighter.” Ken asks Morley to talk about his paper and the changes that he has seen in the field since it was published.

[00:35:31] Dawn asks what led Morley in 2018 to become the senior vice president for research at Ohio State University.

[00:36:33] During a meeting recently held at IHMC, a young academic asked Morley why he left the lab and working directly in applied research to pursue more of a leadership role. Morley responded by saying, “I’m going to be very clear that there’s nothing as fun as when you’re a bench scientist.” Dawn asks Morley why he thinks this.

[00:40:00] Ken asks Morley what it is about the various leadership roles that he has had over the years that he finds most rewarding.

[00:42:36] Dawn asks why Morley recently joined IHMC and how he sees his new position as the institute’s Chief Strategic Partnership Officer.

[00:44:26] Ken mentions that during Morley’s time at DARPA he focused on biologically inspired robotics. Now that Morley is working at IHMC, Ken asks how it feels to be working with a robotics lab that also draws its inspiration from biology.

[00:45:40] Ken asks Morley what he likes to do with his spare time now that he and his wife have settled into Pensacola.


Morley Stone bio

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Episode 128: Tommy Wood talks about high-fat diets and the metabolic flexibility of the human gut

In today’s episode, Dr. Tommy Wood returns for his fifth appearance on STEM-Talk. Tommy is a UK-trained physician and an assistant research professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington. He also is a visiting research scientist and a valued colleague of ours here at IHMC.

Today’s interview focuses on a new paper that Tommy just had published by the American Society for Microbiology. It’s titled, “Reframing Nutritional Microbiota Studies To Reflect an Inherent Metabolic Flexibility of the Human Gut: A Narrative Review Focusing on High-Fat Diets.”

We discuss the paper and follow up on some research Tommy has done since his last appearance on STEM-Talk, a two-part interview that took place a little more than a year ago. In that two-part interview, episodes 110 and 111, we touched on Tommy’s research into the importance of metabolic health and how only one in eight Americans is considered metabolically healthy.

We also talk to Tommy about a new grant he just received to examine the effects of azithromycin on premature brain injury in a ferret model. As part of this grant, Tommy will be collaborating with his wife, Dr. Elizabeth Nance, who also is an assistant professor at the University of Washington and was our guest on episode 71 of STEM-Talk.

Show notes:

[00:03:15] Dawn opens the interview mentioning Tommy’s new paper published by the American Society for Microbiology titled “Reframing Nutritional Microbiota Studies to Reflect an Inherent Metabolic Flexibility of the Human Gut: A Narrative Review Focusing on High-Fat Diets.” Dawn mentions that in our last interview with Tommy, he talked about the importance of insulin sensitivity and metabolic health, yet as Tommy has pointed out, more than 80 percent of Americans have some kind of metabolic disease or dysfunction. Given that, Dawn asks Tommy to revisit key points regarding insulin resistance; the importance of metabolic health; and why so many Americans struggle with this issue.

[00:06:18] Ken points out that the common view held in much of the nutritional-microbiota research is that high-fat diets are harmful to human health, at least in part through their modulation of the gut microbiota. Ken goes on to say that there are a number of studies that support the inherent flexibility of the human gut and our microbiota’s ability to adapt to a variety of food sources, suggesting a more nuanced picture than the commonly held view. Ken asks Tommy to give an overview of the gut microbiome and how research in the past decade has explored the effects of the gut microbiome on our metabolism, immune systems, our sleep, and our moods and cognition.

[00:09:50] Dawn asks Tommy to explain the history of how fat, and high-fat diets, became public enemy number one in many circles, including gut microbiome research.

[00:12:46] Ken mentions that there are many limitations when it comes to preclinical nutritional research, with many studies on the role of fat in the diet being based on animal models, particularly rat models, which presents several problems since the natural diet of a mouse is low in fat and high in carbohydrates.

[00:15:50] Ken asks Tommy about the need for a more nuanced view of fat and our microbiota’s ability to adapt to different food sources.

[00:17:33] Ken points out that while people might throw around the term “healthy gut microbiota,” the research into the gut microbiota is so new that we don’t yet know for sure what a healthy gut microbiota should look like.

[00:21:22] Ken asks Tommy how we should go about reframing the debate about fat and high-fat diets to better reflect the overall evidence.

[00:23:48] Dawn mentions that in the past decade, researchers have significantly improved our understanding of the gut microbiome. She asks about Tommy’s belief that there is a need to understand the gut microbiome in an evolutionary context as well.

[00:25:18] Tommy gives an overview of the gut-barrier function and its role in health and disease.

[00:25:31] Dawn asks Tommy to talk about the significance of the study by Duke University’s David Lawrence that Tommy cited in his aforementioned paper, which highlights how quickly and reliably the human gut microbiota adapts to dietary changes.

[00:30:42] Dawn mentions that there is a lot of research supporting the therapeutic effects of a ketogenic diet on overall health in the context of epilepsy and multiple sclerosis. She asks if there is any such research that focuses on the gut.

[00:34:01] Dawn asks about the assertion in Tommy’s aforementioned paper that while butyrate production may be reduced on a ketogenic diet, other molecules can potentially take butyrate’s place to maintain the gut barrier function, an assertion that challenges many assumptions about normal metabolic pathways in the gut.

[00:36:21] Ken asks if there have been any studies that Tommy knows of that have assessed the effects of ketones, or a ketogenic diet, on the gut barrier function.

[00:39:50] Dawn asks about the mouse models and preclinical studies that show that ketogenic diets or ketones are cancer suppressive.

[00:40:52] Ken mentions that Tommy addresses three objections concerning the effects of fat and protein on our gut microbiota in his paper, asking Tommy to briefly go over these objections and his responses to them.

[00:45:42] Dawn asks Tommy what he believes are the questions that need to be asked or answered when it comes to nutritional microbiota research.

[00:46:36] Dawn mentions Tommy’s 2020 IHMC evening lecture about nourishing the human brain titled “Brain Health Across the Lifespan.” Dawn asks about the grant Tommy just received to examine the effects of azithromycin on premature brain injury in a ferret model.

[00:48:35] Dawn asks Tommy what it is about azithromycin that he finds particularly exciting as a potential neuroprotective agent.

[00:50:52] Ken mentions that Tommy will be collaborating on the grant with his wife, Dr. Elizabeth Nance, a faculty member of the University of Washington who was our guest on episode 71 of STEM-Talk. Ken asks Tommy how he and his wife’s work on this project will intersect.

[00:53:42] Dawn asks Tommy how Elizabeth is doing.

[00:54:26] Ken asks how Tommy’s findings on neuroprotection in babies might be transferable to adults looking to optimize their neural health.

[00:59:02] Dawn closes the interview asking Tommy about his dogs and his most important goal in life.


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Tommy Wood bio

Tommy Wood talk on brain health


Episode 127: From UFOs to fasting to the keto flu, Ken & Dawn answer questions

It’s time for another Ask Me Anything episode. In today’s show, Ken and Dawn tackle a wide range of listener questions about:

— Protein intake on a ketogenic diet.
— A new study on the efficacy and safety of MDMA-assisted therapy.
— The Pentagon’s new report about UFOs.
— Virta Health’s two-year pilot study that demonstrated people diagnosed with prediabetes had normalized their glucose through carbohydrate restriction.
— The FDA’s controversial approval of the Biogen Alzheimer’s disease drug Aduhelm.
— The deepest man-made pool and diving research facility that just opened in Dubai.
— Strategies to deal with the so-called “keto flu.”
— And a lot more. Enjoy.

00:02:49 A listener asks Ken about protein intake on a ketogenic diet. The listener says they have heard some experts say that protein intake should be fairly low on a ketogenic diet while other experts suggest protein needs might actually be higher than what is generally recommended. The listener, who is physically active and on a ketogenic diet but isn’t seeing much muscle growth, asks Ken what the research says about what proper levels of protein on a ketogenic diet.

00:05:05 A listener asks Ken about STEM-Talk’s interview with Gordon Lithgow, episode 120 of STEM-Talk, mentioning that Ken and Gordon referenced arginine AKG, a supplement often used by athletes and bodybuilders to improve their performance and reduce muscle fatigue. The listener asks if arginine AKG, or calcium AKG, or something else can help them recover from exercise as they get older. In his response, Ken discusses a 2017 meta-analysis by Robert Wolfe. Ken also mentions two essential amino acid blends, MAP Master Amino Acid Pattern. The other blend is called Mass Pro Synthagen.

00:12:09 A listener mentions in their question that there is a new study that just came out in Nature Medicine looking at the efficacy and safety of MDMA-assisted therapy for people diagnosed with severe PTSD. Nearly 70 percent of the participants who received MDMA therapy no longer qualified for a diagnosis of PTSD after two months of treatment. The listener asks Ken and Dawn if they have read this study and what their thoughts are. Ken in his response mentions two STEM-Talk episodes that touched on MDMA-assisted therapy, David Rabin in Episode 99 and Rachel Yehuda in episode 101.

00:14:37]A listener asks Ken what the justification for spending almost $3 billion on the Perseverance Mars mission is, going on to ask with all the needs here on Earth, how does NASA and Congress justify the billions that will be needed for a manned mission to Mars.

00:19:06 A listener asks how Dawn’s research on glymphatic function in extreme environments is going.

00:22:31 A listener asks Kens for his thoughts on the recent media coverage of the Pentagon’s new report on more 100 UFOs, or “unidentified aerial phenomena,” that the Pentagon cannot explain.

00:25:49 A listener mentions that Virta Health is wrapping up its data collection of a five-year trial that looks at nutritional ketosis as a treatment for type-2 diabetes and prediabetes. Virta recently published the results of its two-year pilot study that demonstrated people diagnosed with prediabetes had normalized their glucose in the blood through carbohydrate restriction. The listener asks Ken to comment on this two-year pilot study since Ken is affiliated with Virta. In his response, Ken mentions Amy McKenzie’s 2021 paper.

00:27:17 A listener asks Ken about the controversial FDA approval of the Biogen Alzheimer’s disease drug Aduhelm. Despite murky clinical trial results, the drug was fast-tracked, even though it will cost a person $56,000 annually.

00:30:57 A listener asks Dawn, given her diving background, about the deepest man-made pool and diving research facility that just opened in Dubai.

00:33:44 A listener asks Ken about a study that ran in JAMA that found that fasting for 12 hours or more led to minimal weight loss and significant muscle loss. The listener mentions that these results go against the research of some previous STEM-Talk guests like Satchin Panda, and asks Ken to weigh in on these results and the design of the study. In his response, Ken refers to several well-done studies and a 2019 paper by Tinsley, titled, “Time Rest Restricted Feeding Plus Resistance Training In Active Females, a Randomized Trial.”

00:37:21 A listener asks Ken about the new center for human performance that IHMC is looking to build in Pensacola.

00:38:07 A listener mentions a study that ran in PLOS Medicine which reported that men and women whose workout routines consistently included resistance exercise were less likely to become obese. The listener asks if, based on this, whether what we do in terms of exercise, particularly resistance training, is just as important as the foods we eat and the diets we follow.

00:40:28 A listener mentions Dawn’s research in neuroprotection in stressful environments and asks if Dawn is also looking at applying these findings to clinical scenarios, such as surgery, anesthesia, and radiation.

00:42:00 A listener asks Ken about how to deal with the “keto flu” mentioning that he remembers being given salt tablets by his coach when he was younger, but is unable to find them now. In his response, Ken mentions Robb Wolf’s LMNT electrolyte product and an article on Virta Health’s website that addresses electrolytes and the importance of managing potassium and sodium as part of a well-formulated ketogenic diet.


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Episode 126: Christoffer Clemmensen discusses therapeutic strategies to correct obesity and its disorders

Our guest today is Dr. Christoffer Clemmensen, an associate professor and lead researcher at the University of Copenhagen’s Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research.

Christoffer’s lab at the university explores pharmacological and therapeutic treatments for obesity and its related diseases and disorders. He and his colleagues focus on dissecting the neuroendocrine signals involved in coordinating appetite, food-motivated behavior, energy expenditure, glycemic control, and lipid metabolism.

We have a fascinating discussion with Christoffer about his lab’s efforts to turn molecular and physiological insights into innovative therapeutic strategies that Christoffer hopes someday can reduce obesity and its associated metabolic disorders. Christoffer is a native of Denmark who earned his Ph.D. in Molecular Pharmacology from the University of Copenhagen in 2013.

Joining Ken for today’s interview is IHMC colleague and senior research scientist Dr. Marcas Bamman, who was our guest on episode 116. Marcas is the founder and former director of the University of Alabama at Birmingham Center for Exercise Medicine.  Marcas joined IHMC last year as a Senior Research Scientist.

Show notes:

[00:03:24] Marcas asks Christoffer about growing up in a small rural town in Denmark in the 1980s and ‘90s.

[00:04:05] Christoffer’s talks about his days as an elite tennis player when he was a youth.

[00:04:41] Ken asks Christoffer when he first became interested in science.

[00:05:48] Marcas asks Christoffer what changed his mind about wanting to study computer science at university.

[00:07:04] Christoffer explains how he decided to attend University of Copenhagen.

[00:08:19] Marcas mentions that Christoffer’s original focus at university was on exercise biology, but that he became fascinated by the mechanisms of obesity and that interest took him in a new direction. Marcas asks how that shift in interest came about.

[00:10:01] Marcas follows up on the previous question and asks if there were a particular instance that persuaded Christoffer to switch from focusing on exercise to focusing more on weight control and obesity.

[00:10:40] Ken asks what led Christopher to pursue a Ph.D. in molecular pharmacology after attaining a bachelor’s degree in exercise biology and a master’s degree in human biology.

[00:12:11] Marcas asks Christoffer why he went to Munich, Germany, as a postdoctoral fellow at the Helmholtz Diabetes Center after completing his post-doc at the University of Copenhagen.

[00:14:00] After mentioning that Christoffer eventually became the group leader at Helmholtz, Ken asks Christoffer why he then transitioned back to the University of Copenhagen.

[00:14:52] Marcas asks Christopher to talk about the big questions that get to the heart of his research.

[00:16:20] Ken mentions that Christoffer is now an associate professor at the Nova Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research at the University of Copenhagen, where he is the head of the Clemmensen Group. Ken goes on to mention that the Clemmensen Group’s website says the lab focuses on dissecting the neuroendocrine signals that coordinate appetite regulation, food-motivated behavior, energy expenditure, glycemic control, and lipid metabolism. Ken asks if Christoffer could give an overview of what all these research focuses entail.

[00:18:17] Marcas mentions that obesity and its related diseases, such as type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, have become serious problems affecting the world’s public health and global economy. Marcas goes on to say that Christoffer’s 2019 paper titled Emerging hormonal-based combination pharmacotherapies for the treatment of metabolic diseases” makes the observation that the treatments we have been using to deal with this problem have not been able to effectively reverse the staggering rates of obesity we’re witnessing around the world. Marcas asks Christoffer to talk about this paper and how it underscored the need for better treatments of obesity.

[00:19:48] In light of the need to target multiple signaling pathways to effectively treat obesity that Christoffer described in his 2019 paper, Ken asks Christoffer to explain the hormonal-based pharmacotherapies that he has been looking into as potential treatments for obesity.

[00:21:58] Marcas asks Christoffer why an overwhelming majority of people who do manage to lose weight end up gaining the weight back, and what are the most effective therapies to help keep the pounds off once a person does lose weight.

[00:23:56] Marcas mentions that Christoffer followed his 2019 paper with a review in PLOS Biology that looked at the evolutionary and environmental perspectives on human body weight. The paper asks the question, “Why are we not all obese?” Marcas, considering that poignant question, asks Christoffer why everyone isn’t prone to gaining weight in the same way.

[00:26:44] Ken mentions that he has heavy doubts that our species experienced a recent biological change that would have caused a massive increase in obesity within the last 30-80 years, given that only a few decades ago most people were slender.

[00:27:52] Marcas asks about the elusive slimming gene, mentioning that biologists have identified the physiological agents that keep our fat mass from becoming too low, but have had trouble understanding the exact mechanisms that regulate excess fat. He asks Christoffer to expound upon the current research as well as evidence dating back to the 1950s for the existence of a blood-borne, weight-gain preventive molecule.

[00:30:09] Ken asks Christoffer about other factors that regulate energy balance in the body.

[00:32:10] In light of the fact that a chronic state of positive energy balance leads to weight gain, Ken asks Christoffer what he believes is the key pathway to target, whether it be appetite control, energy expenditure, or a combination of both.

[00:34:14] Marcas asks Christoffer to explain the remarkable differences between brown fat and white fat, and in this context to summarize his 2018 paper in nature communicationsthat described the potent effects of stimulating brown fat thermogenesis with a drug called icilin.

[00:37:14] Marcas mentions that Christoffer’s paper in PLOS Biology addressed how geneticists are starting to uncover potential weight-gain defense genes. The paper, however, argues that for humans to fully benefit from such research, physiologists will have to play a role in the interpretation of such genetic discoveries. Marcas asks Christoffer what kind of collaboration he thinks is necessary between physiologists and geneticists.

[00:39:08] Ken asks if the fact that the human genome has stayed stable throughout the rise in obesity over the past several decades suggests that epigenetic modifications play a role, and if Christoffer thinks that differences in obesity susceptibility across individuals might be partially explained by differences in the epigenome.

[00:41:28] Marcas asks what the current status of pharmacological obesity treatment is and if Christoffer anticipates that landscape changing in the near future.

[00:43:43] In terms of translating promising results in rodents to humans, Ken asks Christoffer to describe the specific challenges we face in using rodents to understand obesity in humans.

[00:47:18] Ken mentions the overreliance on weight and BMI as measurements as opposed to body composition, which depreciates the value of muscle as an energy storing organ.

[00:49:03] Marcas mentions that the model for pharmacological treatment of obesity seems to be leaning towards suppression of appetite. Marcas asks if such an agent were to be found, how successful does Christoffer think it would be in the long term if the pharmacotherapy was given in the absence of a behavioral change.

[00:51:16] Marcas asks Christoffer to elaborate on his belief in the importance of omic-methods as well as how he is using such methods in his own research.

[00:53:17] Ken asks about the greatest benefits, as well as the challenges, of using an untargeted approach to metabolomics profiling, which Christoffer wrote about in his 2020 article addressing molecular changes in the body following bouts of endurance and resistance exercise.

[00:56:05] Ken asks how Christoffer decided which metabolites to study more closely in the aforementioned study.

[00:57:14] Marcas mentions that Christoffer’s aforementioned 2020 study focused on physiological changes that took place within a few hours of exercise. Marcas goes on to mention that efforts are underway to better understand such acute molecular changes in the context of longer-term training, as the acute responses to exercise in a sedentary human are likely to be much different than the acute response of a trained individual. Marcas asks how we can learn from the range of responses in trained vs. untrained states as it pertains to weight management mechanisms or other health benefits.

[00:59:08] Marcas brings up Christoffer’s most recent paper published earlier this year in Nature Communication, in which Christoffer asks the question: How does the exercise-and-appetite-related protein GDF15 act in different contexts? Marcas goes on to mention that the paper found that GDF15 acts differently based on whether it is endogenously produced or pharmacologically applied and asks Christoffer to talk about this in more depth.

[01:04:00] Marcas explains that exercise-response molecules, of which there are a number, are dose dependent, which is to say that they are produced more, or stay in the body longer, depending on the mode and or intensity of the exercise. He goes on to ask if GDF15 has any dose dependency associated with it in respect to the magnitude of elevation and time it stays elevated.

[01:06:30] Marcas congratulates Christoffer on his research gaining more attention and his lab growing to about a dozen people.

[01:07:57] Marcas asks Christoffer what he does to stay in shape and if he still plays tennis.

[01:08:52] Ken closes the interview asking if this is Christoffer’s first podcast interview in English and if Christoffer enjoys listening to podcasts.


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Episode 125: Gary Taubes addresses common arguments used against ketogenic diets

Today we have the second part of our interview with science and health journalist Gary Taubes. In the first part of our interview, episode 124, we talked to Gary about his new book “The Case For Keto: Rethinking Weight Control and the Science and Practice of Low-Carb/High-Fat Eating.”

In today’s episode, we talk in detail about a growing body of research and evidence that demonstrates the health benefits and safety of ketogenic diets. We also address why there remains stubborn resistance to low-carb/high fat diets in some nutrition circles. Plus, Gary responds to common arguments used against the ketogenic diet, ranging from health and safety and climate change to claims that ketogenic diets don’t work for women.

Gary turned to journalism back in the 1970s after receiving his master’s degree in aeronautical engineering from Stanford University. Today, he continues to practice journalism and is the founder and director of the Nutrition Science Initiative.

Be sure to check out part one of our interview, as well as our 2016 interview with Gary which followed the release of his New York Times best-seller “The Case Against Sugar.”

Show notes:

00:02:58 Ken starts part two of our interview with Gary by mentioning that there is now substantial evidence supporting the efficacy and safety of low-carb diets. Ken mentions more and more physicians are prescribing this way of eating to their patients and large numbers of people are having success losing weight and managing type-2 diabetes using ketogenic diets. In light of that information, Ken asks Gary for his thoughts on why the U.S. News and World Report annual diet ranking stubbornly continues to describe the ketogenic diet as a detrimental way to eat.

00:09:25 Ken asks Gary to respond to some of the common arguments against the ketogenic diet ranging from human health and safety to climate change.

00:12:50 Ken asks about the claim that people on a ketogenic diet might lose a lot of weight in the short term but gain that weight back in the long term.

00:13:56 Gary tackles the criticism that ketogenic diets do not work for women.

00:16:02 Ken asks Gary to address concerns about the supposed unsustainability of ketogenic diets, noting how it is possible some people might have difficulty maintaining the diet for long periods of time.

00:19:20 Ken supposes that perhaps some of the anxiety surrounding a low-carb/high-fat diet has to do with LDL cholesterol. Ken mentions that some people on the diet, often referred to as hyper-responders, experience elevated levels of LDL and are warned by their physicians that this increases risk for heart disease. Ken asks Gary what he thinks the road forward should be for hyper-responders and others who are anxious about their LDL levels.

00:28:55 Dawn mentions that in 2018, Lancet published a study that aimed to make sense of the increasingly crowded world of low-carb diets. The authors, a team from Harvard, studied more than 15,000 American adults (aged 45-64) from four different communities over a 25-year period using dietary questionnaires. Dawn goes on to explain how these questionnaires revealed that consumers of both extremely low-carb diets and extremely high-carb diets had higher death rates over the course of the study. The lead author of this study was quoted as saying, “Our findings add to the growing evidence that animal-based low-carbohydrate diets are associated with increased mortality and therefore should be discouraged in the long term.” The last line of the paper reads, “Alternatively, when restricting carbohydrate intake, replacement of carbohydrates with predominately plant-based fats and proteins could be considered as a long-term approach to promote healthy aging.” News outlets described this paper as “the most comprehensive study of carbohydrate intake done to date.” She asks Gary to respond to this study and its conclusions.

00:39:31 Dawn asks what Gary’s ideal study design would look like to examine the safety and efficacy of the ketogenic diet.

00:42:30 Considering the recent birth of initiatives like EAT-Lancet, Dawn asks Gary if he sees the diet-science world moving in a more positive direction.

00:45:36 Ken asks Gary to elaborate on his view that the tools and equipment we use in science often shape the way researchers perceive the phenomena they observe.

00:50:21 Dawn asks Gary what it’s like being married to someone who prefers a mostly vegetarian diet.

00:51:52 Dawn mentions that even more than nutrition science or public health in this country, Gary’s interest has always been understanding the difference between good science and bad science. Dawn asks when Gary will write a book on that topic.

00:53:35 Ken mentions how the media often promulgates the notion that “science proceeds by consensus,”and that if the majority of scientists agree on a topic it is societally decided to be true. He goes on to say that this, of course, is not how science works, and the increasing attempts to squash criticism of established thinking parallel Gary’s career since the early 2000s. Ken asks if Gary has any more thoughts on this phenomenon.

00:57:12 Dawn closes the interview by asking if it is true that Gary had a high school guidance counselor who tried to put Gary in his place by saying Gary was “no Einstein.”


Gary Taubes bio

Gary Taubes on Amazon

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Episode 124: Gary Taubes makes a case for the ketogenic diet and its metabolic benefits

Today we have journalist Gary Taubes making a repeat appearance on STEM-Talk to discuss his new book, “The Case for Keto: Rethinking Weight Control and the Science and Practice of Low-Carb/High-Fat Eating.”

Our interview with Gary in 2016, episode 37, followed the release of his book, “The Case Against Sugar,” which went on to become a New York Times best seller. “The Case for Keto” is Gary’s fourth book about diet and chronic disease.

Gary made national headlines in 2002 when he wrote an article for the New York Times Magazine challenging the low-fat orthodoxy that had held sway in America since the 1970s. In the article, titled “What if It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie,” Gary wrote that perhaps Dr. Robert Atkins with his Atkins Diet was correct in suggesting that it’s not fat that makes us fat, but carbohydrates.

Our conversation with Gary covered a lot of ground, and we have divided his interview into two parts. Today we talk to Gary about his reasons for writing the new book and how opinions on a low-carb and high-fat diet have changed over the past 20 years. In part two of our interview with Gary, we dig deeper into his efforts to set the record straight about the role of diet and weight control in preventing chronic diseases, as well as the role that diet plays in helping people improve their health spans.

Gary turned to journalism back in the 1970s after receiving his master’s degree in aeronautical engineering from Stanford University. Today, he continues to practice journalism and is the founder and director of the Nutrition Science Initiative.

Show notes:

00:03:43 Dawn welcomes Gary back to STEM-Talk and asks how things went for him as a writer during COVID-19 and the lockdowns.

00:04:24 Dawn gives some background on Gary’s new book The Case for Keto, which is his fourth book to follow and expand upon a 2002 article he wrote for the New Times Magazine titled, “What if It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie?” She asks Gary if he ever anticipated writing four books about the relationship between diet and chronic disease when the article came out 20 years ago.

00:06:09 Ken mentions that Gary’s New York Times Magazine article questioned the effectiveness of low-fat diets, which the government’s dietary guidelines had been recommending since the late 1970s. Ken adds that almost overnight Gary become public health enemy number one, and asks Gary if he expected so much pushback as a result of the article.

00:10:53 Dawn describes how the release of Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which draws on work by both Gary and Dr. Atkins, seemed to change consumers’ eating habits. Dawn then asks Gary if he remembers seeing or being surprised by the disappearance of pasta and bread from restaurants and grocery shelves.

00:14:41 Ken notes that in the blurb Michael Pollan wrote for the jacket of Gary’s 2007 book, Good Calories, Bad Calories, Michael said the book would change the way people think about eating. While Gary’s work did not end up changing national heart, health and diet guidelines, low-carb and ketogenic diets have become quite popular since then. Ken asks Gary what he thinks is driving this interest in keto.

00:19:41 Dawn describes Gary’s 2011 best seller Why We Get Fat as a condensed summary of the research contained in Good Calories, Bad Calories combined with new research on hormonal-based weight gain. She mentions Gary’s argument that the medical community and the federal government has misinterpreted scientific data on nutrition over the past several decades in developing a U.S. food policy that recommends a low-fat diet. Dawn notes there has recently been a steady accumulation of studies supporting carbohydrate restriction and the safety of saturated fat since Gary’s first two books came out. She asks Gary if this trend has been rewarding to watch.

00:22:47 Ken mentions that Gary’s new book, The Case for Keto, is an attempt to rectify decades-old misunderstandings people have had about the ketogenic diet, weight control, and health span. Gary explains why he chose to tackle the topic.

00:27:15 Dawn notes that although the medical community is beginning to see the benefits of a ketogenic diet, many doctors still promote the low-fat Mediterranean diet because they believe it is safer in the long term. Gary outlines the relative safety of the ketogenic diet compared to a Mediterranean.

00:34:02 Ken asks Gary for his thoughts on the cartoonish portrayals of ketogenic diets that describe them as being comprised of Crisco, butter, and bacon.

00:38:55 Dawn notes that there are many degrees of carbohydrate restriction that can be termed low-carb and asks Gary if there is a threshold that people should aim for in order to derive the metabolic benefits of a low-carb diet. She also asks whether a ketogenic diet provides additional benefits over a low-carb diet that simply limits carbohydrates.

0042:49 Gary ends part one of the interview by discussing the effects of burning fat for fuel rather than carbs.

Episode 123: Steve Chien talks about AI, Mars rovers, and the possibility of intelligent alien life

Episode 123 Steve Chien talks about AI, Mars rovers, and the possibility of intelligent alien life

Today’s interview is with Dr. Steve Chien.  Dr. Chien is JPL Fellow, Senior Research Scientist, and Technical Group Supervisor of the Artificial Intelligence Group and in the Mission Planning and Execution Section at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology.

In 2018, Steve and Ken were appointed to the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, an independent commission tasked with providing the President and Congress a blueprint for advancing AI and associated technologies to address future national security and defense needs of the United States. The commission recently released a 756-page reportwhich found that the nation is unprepared to compete in a future enabled by AI and that the U.S. could soon be replaced as the world’s AI superpower. The report was two years in the making and offers strategies and recommendations to strengthen and protect the nation’s economy, technology base, and national security.

In today’s podcast, we talk to Steve about the report and what he learned over the past two years serving on the commission.

Steve heads up the Artificial Intelligence Group at JPL.  JPL is the lead for deep space robotic exploration for NASA. For the past several years, he has worked on the Perseverance Rover mission, which landed on Mars back in February and used an automated ground-based scheduling system called Copilot that Steve and his JPL colleagues developed.

Steve joined JPL more than 30 years ago and last year was named a JPL Fellow, an honor that recognizes people who have made extraordinary technical and institutional contributions to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory over an extended period. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign where he earned a doctorate in computer science.

Show notes:

00:04:09 Dawn opens the interview welcoming Steve to the show and asking about his background. Dawn mentions that Steve grew up in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, where he enjoyed basketball, Dungeons and Dragons and attempting to reinvent Decision Theory.

00:05:33 Dawn asks how Steve ended up as a computer science major rather than an economics major.

00:07:01 Dawn asks Steve if it is true that he graduated from the University of Illinois with a bachelor’s degree in computer science at the age of 19.

00:07:41 Dawn asks Steve what he did after attaining his Ph.D.

00:09:18 Ken asks Steve to describe his interest in the search for life beyond earth.

00:11:0 Ken mentions that Pascal Lee, a planetary scientist from NASA Ames Research Center, recently discussed the search for intelligent life in our galaxy on STEM-Talk, episode 121. Ken explains that the discussion centered around the Drake Equation, which was developed to produce a probabilistic estimate of the number of active, communicative extraterrestrial civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy, with Pascal’s conclusion being that the solution to the Drake Equation is likely N = 1. Ken asks Steve about his thoughts on the likelihood of intelligent life in our galaxy.

00:14:23 Dawn mentions that the Perseverance rover is currently maneuvering across the surface of Mars. She asks Steve, as the head of the Artificial Intelligence Group at JPL, NASA’s lead for deep-space robotic exploration, if he could talk about the work he specifically did on the Perseverance rover including the rover’s scheduling system.

00:16:38 Ken mentions that the success of the Perseverance mission so far has rekindled discussions of sending humans to Mars. Ken asks what Steve’s thoughts are on Pascal Lee’s proposal to take a measured approach to sending humans to Mars and that we should first return to the Moon.

00:18:47 Dawn asks Steve about the purpose of the 756-page report by the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence that Ken and Steve worked on for more two years.

00:20:16 Dawn asks Steve for his thoughts on the case being made in the media that China is on the verge of replacing the U.S. as the world’s AI superpower.

00:22:13 Ken mentions that in 2016 the National Security Agency was hacked and some of the agency’s cyber tools and code were leaked for any nation, cybercriminal, or terrorist to use, with Russia exploiting some of these leaked cyberweapons to shut down Ukraine in 2017. Ken goes on to mention that he and Steve’s report explains that the limited use of AI-enabled attacks to date represents the tip of the iceberg, and he asks Steve to explain the risks we face in this new and developing AI-enabled world.

00:26:19 Dawn explains that the commission’s report details how AI will enable new levels performance and autonomy for weapon systems, which of course raises several ethical and strategic issues. When it comes to the use of lethal force, Dawn asks Steve how can we ensure that AI-enabled and autonomous weapons are used in safe, reliable, and appropriate ways.

00:28:27 Ken states that for decades, the U.S. led the microelectronics industry. Today, however, we are almost entirely reliant on foreign sources to produce the semiconductors that power the AI algorithms used for our defense systems and other technologies. Ken asks how important it is for the U.S. to recommit to rebuilding a state-of-the-art microelectronics industry domestically.

00:29:56 Dawn explains that the commission and its report spent a lot of time focused on AI and the competitive challenges the U.S. faces from other nations. She goes on to ask if it is also important that we maintain our world-standing as the overall technological leader beyond just AI. She asks Steve how the U.S. can ensure that we are competitive in a world dominated by AI-associated technologies such as biotechnology, quantum computing, 5G, robotics and microelectronics.

00:32:12 Ken asks Steve to address the vital importance of getting a sufficient portion of our most talented kids in the U.S. interested in STEM.

00:34:39 Steve explains why he believes that we need to get more kids and adults interested in practical statistics.

00:39:51 Dawn closes the interview asking Steve what he likes to do in his spare time.


Steve Chien bio

NSCAI website

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Ken Ford bio

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Episode 122: James Kirkland on targeting senescent cells to reverse age-related diseases

In today’s episode, we talk about zombie cells, a term used to describe senescent cells because of their refusal to die. Our guest on this topic is Dr. James Kirkland, a geriatrics specialist and researcher at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, who is known for his research into the role that senescence and senescent cells have on age-related dysfunction and chronic disease.

As senescent cells build up in the body, they promote cellular aging and a host of chronic conditions related to aging, such as dementia, cancer, atherosclerosis, diabetes and arthritis. In today’s interview, we focus on Jim’s 2015 study where he and his colleagues at Mayo were the first to report on the potential of senolytic drugs to selectively kill zombie senescent cells. Jim’s paper in Aging Cell has been hailed as a major breakthrough in aging research.

Jim is the director of the Robert and Arlene Kogod Center of Aging at Mayo and the president of the American Federation for Aging Research. The goal of James’ lab and research is to develop methods to remove senescent cells to delay, prevent, alleviate or partially reverse age-related chronic diseases.  Jim and his colleagues believe that doing this will help extend people’s health span, and, more important, prolong the period of life where people can live free of disabilities caused by chronic disease.

Show notes:

00:03:20 Jim starts the interview talking about growing up in Canada.

00:03:31 Dawn asks him when he became interested in science.

00:04:05 Ken mentions that he understands that Jim had an interest in becoming a physician at a very early age, and given Jim’s previous comments, asks if it was Jim’s childhood observations of his grandparents’ aging that drove his interest in geriatrics.

00:04:39 Dawn asks how Jim ended up at the University of Toronto.

00:04:51 Dawn mentions that Jim received his medical degree in 1977 and completed his residency at Toronto General Hospital. Dawn goes on to ask why, after this, did Jim decide to go overseas to study at the University of Manchester.

00:05:37 Dawn mentions that after Jim’s experience in Manchester, he moved back across the Atlantic to work at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), where he mainly studied adipose tissue.

00:06:11 Dawn asks what role Jim’s research at NIH played in his Ph.D., which he earned from the University of Toronto in 1990.

00:07:19 Dawn mentions that in 2007 Jim became the director of the Kogod Center on Aging at the Mayo Clinic and asks how Jim ended up at that position.

00:07:54 Dawn asks Jim to clarify the difference between lifespan and healthspan.

00:09:26 Ken mentions that Jim’s research throughout his career has focused on cellular aging and senescent cells. Ken asks what initially triggered Jim’s interest in senescence.

00:11:42 Dawn mentions Jim’s 2015 paper in Aging Cell, where Jim and his colleagues at the Mayo Clinic were the first to report on the potential of senolytic drugs, which selectively kill senescent cells. Dawn goes on to ask Jim about his research leading up to this breakthrough paper.

00:14:47 Dawn asks Jim to talk about two senolytic compounds that he and his colleagues identified called dasatinid and quercetin, and what the significance of their discovery is.

00:17:20 Ken mentions the senolytic agent called fisetin, which is another agent showing benefit in rodent studies and is now being used in human clinical trials. Ken mentions that some authors have described fisetin as having roughly twice the senolytic potency as quercetin. Ken asks Jim to explain where fisetin fits into the senolytic landscape.

00:19:18 Dawn mentions that Jim began his aforementioned 2015 paper by writing about how the research shows that the healthspan of mice is enhanced by killing senescent cells using a transgenic suicide gene. Jim goes on in that paper describing how a series of experiments by he and his colleagues demonstrated the efficacy of senolytics to alleviate symptoms of frailty and extend health span. Dawn asks Jim to explain the process and results of these experiments.

00:22:13 Dawn mentions that not only did Jim’s findings support the idea that senescent cells could one day be used for treating cardiovascular disease and frailty, but also raised the possibility that these agents have the potential to target a multitude of disorders. Dawn asks Jim to explain this potential and why he believes that the clinical application of senolytic agents could be transformative.

00:24:31 Dawn explains that Jim followed up on his 2015 paper with a clinical trial involving a small group of diabetic kidney patients. This trial led to the publishing of “Senolytics Decrease Senescent Cells in Humans” in The Lancet. Jim explains how this study was designed.

00:27:38 Ken brings up Jim’s 2018 paper in Nature Medicine titled “Senolytics improve physical function and increase lifespan in old age.” Ken asks Jim to describe how he was able to demonstrate that with senolytic drugs he could delay the onset of virtually all age-related diseases that kill mice.

00:31:52 Dawn mentions that despite the promising potential of senolytic drugs, Jim cautions that there could be dangerous side effects, and that people should not be taking these drugs yet. Jim explains his safety concerns, as well as his estimated length of time it will take to test the safety of such anti-aging drugs.

00:33:42 Ken mentions that some STEM-Talk listeners have been experimenting with fisetin on themselves, using the Mayo protocol, which involves taking 20 mg/kg body weight of oral fisetin on two consecutive days and repeating the same dose, one month later. Ken asks if this is the same protocol used in the human clinical trials of fisetin.

00:36:02 Dawn mentions that diabetes and obesity are also associated with the accumulation of senescent cells in fat and other tissues. She mentions that Jim’s paper in Aging Cell in 2019 implicated cellular senescence as a causal factor in obesity-related inflammation and metabolic derangements. Jim explains how he was able to demonstrate that senolytic agents show promise in terms of treating obesity-related metabolic dysfunction and its complications.

00:37:59 Jim talks about a more recent paper he published in Nature Communications that explored the possibility of transplanting organs from older doners to younger recipients. In this study Jim did heart transplants from old mice to young mice as well as young mice to old mice. Jim explains what he found in this study and what its potential significance is.

00:41:39 Ken mentions that Jim’s lab has a number of human clinical trials underway and asks Jim to share the range of conditions which these trials are reviewing.

00:43:36 Ken explains that at IHMC researchers are very interested in skeletal muscle, both in the context of aging and human spaceflight. Ken talks about the declines in physical functioning Jim mentioned in his aforementioned 2018 paper. Ken wonders if after transplantation of senescent cells into mice, if there were a direct or local role for senescence in skeletal muscle cells in the mechanisms of frailty with aging.  If so, Ken asks if there is any evidence so far that specific tissues can be targeted with senolytics.

00:45:27 Ken asks if senescence plays a possible role in muscle atrophy associated with human spaceflight.

00:46:49 Ken asks if bedrest increases senescence.

00:48:28 Dawn mentions that Jim’s 2017 paper in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society titled “The Clinical Potential of Synolytic Drugs” is a good primer for those listeners interested in learning more about these agents. Dawn mentions that since this paper is more than four years old, she wonders if there is anything new Jim would add to it.

00:51:26 Dawn closes the interview asking if Jim feels good about the work his lab is doing and if he feels like he is making progress toward his goal of slowing down and even reversing the symptoms of aging.


James Kirkland bio

Robert and Arlene Kogod Center of Aging

Mayo Clinic

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Ken Ford bio

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Episode 121: Pascal Lee on the Mars mission and our search for alien life in the galaxy

It has been nearly a month since NASA’s Perseverance rover landed on Mars. So far, the rover hasn’t detected any signs of past life on the planet. But scientists have determined that several of the rocks on Mars are chemically similar to volcanic rocks on Earth. This, of course, has caused quite a bit of buzz. So, the double-secret-selection committee decided it was a perfect time to invite the chairman of the Mars Institute onto the show to get his take on the Perseverance and the Mars Mission so far.

Actually, this is Dr. Pascal Lee’s second appearance on STEM-Talk. Pascal is a planetary scientist and director of the NASA Haughton-Mars Project at NASA Ames Research Center who was our guest in 2016 on episode 17.  Back then we talked to Pascal about his annual visits to the High Arctic’s Devon Island, which is the Earth’s largest uninhabited land that has geological characteristics similar to what scientists believe we will find on Mars.

Today we catch up with Pascal and his Haughton-Mars Project. We also talk to him about Perseverance and a host of other Mars-related topics.

We ask Pascal if he thinks we’ll find signs of life on Mars, or if he believes we will ever find signs of alien life in our galaxy. We also get Pascal’s thoughts about future manned missions to Mars and whether humans will ever colonize the Red Planet. And after listening to today’s interview, be sure to check out Pascal’s artwork and his recent paintings of Mars.

Show notes:

00:03:15 Dawn opens the interview welcoming Pascal back to STEM-Talk, mentioning that the last time he was on the podcast he was about to spend his 20th consecutive summer on Devon Island, the Earth’s largest uninhabited land with geological characteristics similar to what Pascal believes we will find on Mars. Dawn goes on to mention that due to COVID-19, last year’s trip to Devon Island was canceled and asks him about his disappointment.

00:05:11 Ken asks if Pascal is confident that he’ll return to Devon Island this coming summer.

00:05:36 Dawn mentions that it takes several stops and trips to reach Devon Island. She asks who makes those travel arrangements and how the journey plays out.

00:08:25 Ken asks about Pascal’s polar bear guard dog, Apollo, inquiring as the protocol when Apollo alerts the team about a nearby polar bear.

00:10:48 Dawn mentions the Webby Award-winning documentary filmed by a team at Google who came to visit Pascal on Devon Island in 2018 called “Mars on Earth: A Visit to Devon Island”. Dawn asks Pascal what he thought of the documentary.

00:12:20 Ken asks Pascal to elaborate on the space suit that he was planning to test on Devon Island last summer but couldn’t because the trip was canceled.

00:16:39 Dawn asks about the glove Pascal wants to test that may enable single-handed drone operation.

00:20:11 Dawn mentions that the atmosphere of Mars is around 60 times less dense than the Earth’s. She asks Pascal about the challenges of flying a drone on Mars.

00:22:15 Dawn asks Pascal to elaborate on his recommendation that scientists study the Inuit culture and history in relation to long-duration space travel.

00:26:01 Ken mentions NASA’s Perseverance rover, which landed on Mars in February and relates that Steve Jurczyk, the NASA acting administrator, described Perseverance’s landing on Mars as a pivotal moment for the United States and space exploration. Given that NASA has landed rovers on Mars before, Ken asks Pascal what makes this particular landing especially significant.

00:28:10 Dawn mentions that NASA recently released recordings of the Perseverance rover driving on the surface of Mars. Dawn goes on to ask what the particular significance is of the audios.

00:29:41 Dawn asks what NASA means when it describes Perseverance as a “robotic astrobiologist.”

00:32:36 Ken asks Pascal to discuss the Mars helicopter, Ingenuity, that made its flight to mars attached to the belly of Perseverance. Pascal describes some of the challenges NASA and its engineers face in attempting to produce powered flight on the surface of Mars.

00:41:06 Dawn mentions that Perseverance is just one of three Mars missions that are currently underway. She explains that The United Arab Emirates and China also have crafts that have reached Mars, with all three of these missions being launched in July of 2020. Dawn asks Pascal to explain what he knows about both of these missions.

00:43:56 Ken asks if Pascal knows what type of entry, decent, and landing method the Chinese mission is employing.

00:45:01 Ken asks Pascal to describe the leading theory regarding what happened to the water that may have once been on the surface of Mars. Pascal also explains his own theory on this topic.

00:51:15 Ken asks Pascal to describe how he would go about testing his theory regarding the water of ancient Mars if he were the NASA Administrator.

00:59:15 Dawn mentions Avi Loeb, who is a Harvard astrophysicist and author of the book, “Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth,” argues that aliens have already visited the Earth. Given recent news stories about the uptick of reports from Navy and Air Force pilots observing UFOs, Dawn asks Pascal if he believes we are alone in our galaxy.

01:09:54 Pascal gives his thoughts on what is behind all the UFO sightings often talked about in the media.

01:13:16 Dawn asks Pascal to elaborate on his thought that a manned mission to Mars will require a measured approach consisting of several milestones, including taking a round trip to Mars without landing.

01:18:57 Ken mentions that he agrees with Pascal’s perspective that Phobos and Deimos, the two moons of Mars, are a spectacular choice for human exploration.

01:22:14 Ken mentions that in addition to being a planetary scientist, Pascal is an accomplished artist. Ken asks if Pascal was able to get more painting done this year as a result of COVID-19.

01:23:18 Dawn asks Pascal to name some of his what some of his favorite pieces of artwork.

01:24:44 Dawn mentions that the last time Pascal was on STEM-Talk, Pascal got the chance to talk about his children’s book “Mission to Mars,” written in the hopes of inspiring children to take an interest in science and space travel. Dawn goes on to say that Pascal had also mention that he was working on a book for adults tentatively titled “From Earth to Mars.” Dawn asks how that book is coming.

01:25:17 Dawn closes the interview asking Pascal to elaborate on his thoughts that we are on the verge of a great age of the renewal of human exploration.


Pascal Lee bio

Pascal Lee artwork

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Episode 120: Gordon Lithgow on alpha-ketoglutarate’s potential to affect healthspan and lifespan

Ever since Cell Metabolism published a study that found the naturally occurring metabolite alpha-ketoglutarate reduces inflammatory signaling as well as chronic inflammation, listeners have been asking Ken and Dawn for their take on the paper. Today, we have the author of the paper, Dr. Gordon Lithgow, as our guest on STEM-Talk. We talk with Gordon in-depth about his study and the potential of alpha-ketoglutarate to have positive effects on lifespan and healthspan.

Gordon is a professor and vice president of Academic Affairs at the Buck Institute in Novato, California, where his research focuses on uncovering genes and small molecules that prolong lifespan through enhanced molecular stability. Today we cover Gordon’s research into alpha-ketoglutarate in the second part of a two-part interview. In part one, episode 119, we asked Gordon about his fascination with C elegans, a microscopic worm that Gordon and other geneticists study and often use for their research. He particularly covered two of his studies involving C elgans: one that looked at the role that protein homeostasis plays in aging;  and another study that found vitamin D3 improves protein homeostasis and slows aging.

A native of Scotland, Gordon researched the biology of aging at the University of Manchester in England before moving to the Buck Institute in 2000. Gordon is married to Dr. Julie Andersen, who was our guest on episodes 117 and 118 and who also is a researcher at the Buck Institute.

Show notes:

00:03:20 Dawn opens part two of our interview with Gordon by mentioning his most recent paper on alpha-ketoglutarate, which has generated a lot of buzz. This study suggests there is a metabolite that one can buy in a health food store that may have a positive effect on lifespan as well as healthspan. Dawn goes on to mention that alpha-ketoglutarate (AKG), is a naturally occurring metabolite. She notes that previous studies on it have shown that blood plasma levels of AKG can drop up to 10-fold as we age. Dawn asks Gordon to explain what AKG is and how it is involved in so many of our fundamental physiological processes.

00:07:41 Ken mentions that in the study, Gordon fed the mice calcium AKG. Ken asks why Gordon chose calcium AKG as opposed to arginine AKG, which is a dietary supplement often used by athletes and bodybuilders to improve their performance and reduce muscle fatigue.

00:09:22 Dawn mentions that when Gordon’s paper came out in Cell Metabolism, Gordon was quoted as saying, “The nightmare scenario has always been life extension with no reduction in disability.” Dawn goes on to state that this study showed that the middle-aged mice who were treated got healthier over time, and that even the mice that died early saw improvements in their health. Dawn asks Gordon to elaborate on this apparent extension in healthspan.

00:12:41 Dawn asks Gordon about the significance of the finding in his study that calcium AKG reduced inflammatory signaling, as well as chronic inflammation, as it relates to degenerative aging.

00:14:57 Ken asks if Gordon’s study has been replicated in any other strains of mice.

00:18:54 Dawn mentions that Ponce De Leon Health, which is based in Florida, is marketing a formulation of calcium AKG under the brand name Rejuvant. She goes on to mention that Gordon and his colleagues at the Buck worked with Ponce De Leon Health to develop the product and that Gordon owns stock in the company. Dawn asks Gordon to give an overview of this partnership and address the concerns that some people may have about a potential conflict of interest.

00:21:17 Ken asks Gordon to explain how the dose of calcium AKG used in the mouse study compares to the dose recommended for humans via the commercial supplement, noting that the dose seems to be substantially and proportionally higher for mice.

00:22:03 Ken asks why Ponce De Leon Health is marketing different formulations of its product for men and women, and what the difference is between the two formulations.

00:24:53 Dawn asks with regard to the consistent positive longevity effects of AKG in C elegans and now mice, if these positive effects are translational to humans.

00:27:39 Ken mentions that there are several biomarkers for determining biological age, and goes on to mention that Ponce De Leon Health distributes a product called “True Age,” a test of biological age based on epigenetic markers. Ken asks if Gordon has any thoughts on this, and what biomarker does he use to evaluate biological age in his research and why.

00:31:09 Dawn mentions that an article published in the Mercury News in San Jose, Calif.,  interviewed a number of scientists who were very impressed by Gordon’s AKG study and its results. A handful of scientists, however, were quoted as saying that while “AKG is likely to be safe, it is possible there are side effects.” Dawn asks Gordon if he knows of any side effects of AKG that people need to be aware of.

00:32:37 Dawn mentions a paper published in Nature communications by Gordon and some international colleagues titled “Polyunsaturated fatty acids and p38-MAPK link metabolic reprogramming to cytoprotective gene expression during dietary restriction”which used a genetic model of dietary restriction in C elegans. Dawn goes on to mention that the paper shows that dietary restriction results in increased levels of long chain omega 6 and 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids including linoleic acid and EPA, which are known to signal increased expression of cytoprotective and detox genes that increase lifespan. Dawn asks Gordon to talk about how genetic models of dietary restriction both do and don’t reflect true dietary restriction in animal models and humans.

00:36:01 Ken follows up on the previous question by asking Gordon if he thinks that the metabolic reprogramming seen in the C elegan model gives any insight into how intakes of dietary polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) might alter health outcomes in humans. Ken goes on to mention that Gordon noted in his paper that supplementing C elegans with monounsaturated fats decreased lipid peroxidation, but exogenous fish oil both increases peroxidation and decreases lifespan. Ken notes that this seems to be in stark comparison to humans, where much time, research and money has been poured into creating various fish oil formulas to improve human health. Gordon provides his thoughts on this matter.

00:39:38 Dawn mentions that when Gordon first joined the Buck institute and started looking at aging and disease, the word geroscience did not exist. She goes on to mention that today there are hundreds of companies around the world devoting themselves to the idea of geroscience. Gordon discusses how he and his colleagues came up with this word and what it refers to.

00:42:07 Dawn says that it is an exciting time to be in the field of aging. She asks Gordon where he thinks the future of aging research is headed, and what are some questions that he and his colleagues at the Buck will be addressing in the years to come.

00:45:31 Dawn closes the interview by mentioning that Gordon’s wife, Julie Andersen (episodes 117 and 118), said Gordon was the cook in the house. Dawn goes on to note that she understands Gordon makes a turmeric curry about every week. Dawn asks if there is any special reason for this fondness of curry, and why the choice of turmeric.


Gordon Lithgow lab

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Episode 119: Gordon Lithgow talks about the biology of aging and prolonging lifespan

Episode 119: Gordon Lithgow talks about the biology of aging and prolonging lifespan

Our guest today is Dr. Gordon Lithgow, a professor and vice president of Academic Affairs at the Buck Institute in Novato, California. Gordon’s research focuses on uncovering genes and small molecules that prolong lifespan through enhanced molecular stability.

Because our conversation with Gordon was so extensive and fascinating, we have split his interview into two parts. In today’s part one of the interview, we talk to Gordon about his background and early studies as well as his fascination with C elegans, a microscopic worm that Gordon and other geneticists study and often use for their research. We particularly talk in depth about two of Gordon’s studies involving C elgans: one that looked at the role that protein homeostasis plays in aging;  and another study that found vitamin D3 improves protein homeostasis and slows aging.

A native of Scotland, Gordon researched the biology of aging at the University of Manchester in England before moving to the Buck Institute in 2000. Gordon is married to Dr. Julie Andersen, who was our guest on episodes 117 and 118 and who also is a researcher at the Buck Institute.

In part two of our interview with Gordon, we talk to him about a recent study of his that found the naturally occurring metabolite alpha-ketoglutarate reduces inflammatory signaling as well as chronic inflammation. The study has generated quite a bit of buzz because it suggests there’s a readily available metabolite that may have positive effects on lifespan and health span. As a result, Ken and Dawn have been getting numerous questions from listeners about alpha-ketoglutarate and Gordon’s recent study that ran in Cell Metabolism, which Gordon talks about in depth in part two.

Show notes:

00:03:59 Dawn opens the interview asking Gordon about growing up in a steelwork town outside of Glasgow, Scotland.

00:04:22 Dawn asks Gordon what he was like as a kid.

00:05:07 Dawn asks Gordon how a young boy who had aspirations of becoming a professional rugby or soccer player suddenly becomes passionate about birdwatching.

00:07:07 Gordon talks about how he went to the University of Strathclyde after high school and how he was the first in his family to attend college.

00:07:48 Dawn asks Gordon why he shifted his academic interests from microbiology to genetic engineering.

00:09:05 Ken asks what led Gordon to attend the University of Glasgow for his doctorate after getting a degree in microbiology.

00:10:04 Ken asks why Gordon went to Switzerland after receiving his doctorate.

00:10:57 Ken asks what prompted Gordon to head to Boulder, Colorado, and why he became so interested in the biology of aging.

00:12:57 Dawn mentions that while Gordon was working in Tom Johnson’s lab during his post-doc, Gordon made what Tom referred to as an amazing discovery. Gordon had found that a single heat shock to worms increased their lifespan by 15 percent. Dawn asks Gordon to talk about this discovery as well as his paper that ran in PNAS.

00:15:46 Ken mentions that because of Gordon’s discovery, many people have developed an interest in sauna.

00:16:57 Dawn mentions that a number of years after discovering that heat shocking increased the lifespan of worms, Gordon followed up on that study and demonstrated that giving the worms repeated mild hormetic heat treatments increased their lifespan even more. Dawn goes on to ask if, since this follow-up study, Gordon has a better understanding of hormesis mechanisms at the cellular and molecular level and how that might relate to the prevention and treatment of different diseases.

00:18:02 Dawn mentions that Julie Anderson, Gordon’s wife, was interviewed for STEM-Talk episodes 117 and 118. Dawn goes on to say that when she asked Julie how she and Gordon met,  Julie said, “I was having a transatlantic relationship with Gordon and we met because we’re nerds.” Dawn asks if Gordon would like to respond to this assertion that he’s a nerd, and whether it is true that he ended up at the Buck Institute on Julie’s coattails.

00:20:40 Dawn asks Gordon what are the main questions which have motivated his research.

00:23:07 Dawn mentions that in Gordon’s work he screens natural compounds like vitamins and minerals to determine if they have the potential to affect lifespan. Gordon does this by studying C elegans, tiny nematode worms that are found in rotting fruit and on the backs of snails. Dawn asks why Gordon and other geneticists are so found of using C elegans in their research.

00:25:54 Ken mentions that a lot of Gordon’s recent research with C elegans has looked at the role that protein homeostasis plays in aging. Ken asks Gordon to give an overview of the role that proteins play in determining lifespan.

00:29:07 Ken asks Gordon about his paper in Aging Cell which indicated that the accumulation of insoluble proteins with diverse functions could be a general feature of aging. The paper also showed that many hundreds, if not thousands of proteins, undergo conformational change during aging and come out of solution. Gordon explains what this conformational change is and what it means to come out of solution.

00:29:58 Dawn mentions that, as Gordon has already pointed out, we know that proteins sustain lots of damage in the normal course of metabolism. Dawn asks Gordon to discuss how he and other researchers are trying to better understand the mechanisms of normal aging that are likely to accelerate age-related pathologies and diseases.

00:32:16 Dawn asks why Gordon started looking into how excessive dietary iron affects protein homeostasis in worms.

00:35:11 Dawn asks Gordon for his thoughts on whether or not his findings on the effects of iron in worms may have some physiological relevance for humans.

00:35:42 Ken, in light of the effects iron has on health asks Gordon what effects other metals could potentially have on protein homeostasis and overall physiology.

00:37:02 Dawn shifts to talking about Gordon’s research into vitamin D. Dawn mentions that in Gordon’s interview with Rhonda Patrick, who back in 2016 was one of STEM-Talk’s first guests, appearing in episode 3, Gordon told Rhonda a story about how someone came to the office and suggested studying vitamin D, to which Gordon said “No way. There’s nothing new to learn about vitamin D.” Dawn asks what changed his mind.

00:40:55 Ken mentions that in Gordon’s study, which appeared in Cell Reports, he observed that vitamin D3 improves protein homeostasis and slows aging. Ken states that the obvious takeaway is that it is important to maintain appropriate vitamin D serum levels. He asks if Gordon was able to determine what the appropriate level is for humans.

00:44:43 Dawn asks if Gordon has looked at whether vitamin D deficiency in older adults might explain why seniors and nursing-home residents have an elevated risk when it comes to COVID-19.

00:47:35 Ken shifts to asking Gordon about some work he did a few years ago with two other labs where they dug into the issue of experimental reproducibility. Ken asks Gordon to give a brief background of this research.

00:51:08 Ken closes part one of our interview with Gordon by mentioning that reproducibility is considered a cornerstone of experimental science. Ken asks what Gordon thinks are the primary drivers of irreproducibility in science and what Gordon thinks can be done better.


Gordon Lithgow lab

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Episode 118: Julie Andersen talks about urolithin-A’s potential to prevent and treat neurodegenerative diseases

Today we have part two of our conversation with Dr. Julie Andersen, a professor at the Buck Institute who is conducting fascinating research into the metabolite compound urolithin-A.

Laboratory experiments have demonstrated urolithin-A’s ability to induce mitophagy, which is a selective recycling of mitochondria by autophagy, a process that cleans defective mitochondria and becomes less efficient during aging. Julie’s research has focused on the potential of urolithin-A to prevent and treat such diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease.

In part one of our interview with Julie, she talked about her interest in aging and age-related diseases as well as her early studies into developing new therapeutics for neurodegeneration.

Julie has been with the Buck Institute since 2000 and has published more than 170 papers.

Show notes:

00:02:15 Dawn starts the second part of our interview asking Julie how the composition of bacteria in the gut affects brain function.

00:07:08 Ken asks Julie to explain what urolithin-A is, where it comes from, and why her lab and others are so interested in it.

00:10:49 Ken mentions that a study was recently published which showed that giving urolithin-A to older mice resulted in a 42 percent improvement in endurance while running compared to a control group of mice of the same age. Ken goes on to ask Julie what it is that makes urolithin-A so impactful.

00:12:43 Dawn mentions that it is known that production of urolithin-A seems to be dependent on the presence of certain gut microbes. She goes on to ask Julie what types of gut microbes are most important in the conversion of ellagic acid.

00:13:33 Ken asks if people vary in terms of how efficiently they convert ellagic acid into urolithin-A, and if so, how much variance is there.

00:14:43 Julie explains what she has learned about how to better analyze the gut microbiome composition from her studies with mice.

00:15:51 Ken asks if there is a test one can take to see if they are a urolithin-A producer.

00:16:19 Ken mentions the June 2019 paper by Chris Rinsch’s team in Nature Metabolismwhich showed a striking up-regulation of mitochondrial gene expression, including some induction of mitophagy genes in the skeletal muscle of older adults after 4 weeks of oral urolithin-A supplementation. He goes on to say that given the well-documented mitochondrial dysfunction in Parkinson’s disease, which seems to be ubiquitous, he asks what Julie’s thoughts are on the use of urolithin-A supplementation in Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s

00:19:22 Dawn mentions that Julie wrote a paper titled “Senescence as an Amyloid Cascade: The Amyloid Senescence Hypothesis,” about the intersection of amyloid-beta oligomers and cellular senescence in Alzheimer’s disease, cautioning against completely rejecting the amyloid hypothesis. Dawn asks if the intersection of senescence with amyloid burden help to address the lack of correlation between amyloid burden and disease burden in both animal models and humans.

00:26:22 Dawn asks about the compound “C1” that Julie’s lab has demonstrated boosts autophagy and, as a result, shows promise in treating Alzheimer’s.

00:30:27 Dawn mentions Mitopure, which is a commercially available oral formulation of urolithin-A from a Swiss company called Amazentis. This product provides urolithin-A directly regardless of one’s diet or microbiome composition. Dawn goes on to ask if Julie has any thoughts on the benefits of this product.

00:32:23 Dawn asks if there is any evidence that urolithin-A taken orally can cross the blood-brain barrier to reach key target cells in the brain.

00:35:05 Dawn asks if the high concentration of peroxidation-sensitive lipids in the brain, which contribute to its sensitivity, is something that will eventually build regardless, or are there modifiable factors that can alter the susceptibility of lipid species in the brain to peroxidation.

00:36:06 Julie talks about the potential role of senolytics in the treatment of neurodegenerative disorders, and what the current barriers are to implementing them.

00:39:29 Dawn mentions that Julie has recently written about the senolytic effects of lithium. The results of this study suggested that lithium might be beneficial to COVID-19 patients.

00:31:21 Dawn asks Julie about the shift in the conversation about aging from lengthening lifespan, to increasing the quality of life, to achieve a relatively disease-free state for the longest time possible.

00:48:04 Dawn closes the interview asking Julie about using her down time during COVID to learn to play the mandolin and speak Spanish.


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