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.


Learn more about IHMC

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Ken Ford bio

Ken Ford Wikipedia page

Dawn Kernagis bio

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.


Learn more about IHMC

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Ken Ford bio

Ken Ford Wikipedia page

Dawn Kernagis bio

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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Ken Ford bio

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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

Learn more about IHMC

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Ken Ford bio

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Dawn Kernagis bio



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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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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Episode 117: Julie Andersen talks about her research into aging and neurodegenerative diseases

Our guest today is Dr. Julie Andersen, who is best known for her research into aging and age-related diseases. A professor at the Buck Institute Buck Institute for Research on Aging, an independent biomedical research institute that researches ways to extend the healthy years of life, Julie and her colleagues at Buck have focused on understanding the underlying age-related processes driving neurodegenerative diseases in order to identify novel therapeutics.

Because our conversation with Julie was so fascinating and long, we have divided it into two parts. In today’s part one of her interview, we talk to Julie about her youth and early career. We also talk to her about the potential of of rapamycin to protect brain cells and mitochondria in a mouse model of Parkinson’s disease as well as her thoughts about the Amyloid Cascade Hypothesis. In part two, which will go live in a few weeks, we have an in-depth conversation with Julie about her research into the neuroprotective properties of urolithin A.

In terms of Julie’s background, she received her Ph.D. from UCLA and did her post-doc in the department of neurology at Harvard. In 2000 Julie joined the Buck Institute.

Show notes:

[00:03:33] Dawn opens the interview asking if it is true that Julie was a quiet kid who normally sat in the back of the classroom.

[00:03:52] Dawn mentions that Julie was born in Montana but that she grew up in northern Idaho. Dawn asks what it was that brought Julie’s family to Idaho.

[00:04:29] Dawn asks Julie what interests she had growing up.

[00:05:05] Ken remarks on the fact that one of Julie’s favorite books is a biography of Clementine, Winston Churchill’s wife, and asks where Julie’s interest in Clementine came from.

[00:05:46] Dawn mentions that for Julie’s undergraduate degree, she went to Washington State University, where her father was a professor. Dawn asks if Julie knew from the start that she was going to focus her undergraduate studies on plant physiology.

[00:07:03] Ken asks Julie took her to UCLA for her Ph.D.

[00:08:16] Dawn asks Julie what led to travel across the country to Boston for her post-doc.

[00:09:26] Julie explains why she eventually returned to California after her Ph.D.

[00:11:32] Dawn asks Julie to tell the story of how meeting someone she described as “a fellow nerd” at an aging conference eventually led her to taking a position at the Buck Institute.

[00:14:34] Ken remarks that Julie must like working at the Buck, given she has remained there for the last 20 years. Julie describes what is it about the Buck Institute that makes it such a special place.

[00:17:51] Dawn mentions that for the past 20 years, Julie and her lab at Buck have looked at a lot of different aspects of neurodegeneration, with a heavier concentration on autophagy in the past five years. Dawn goes on to mention that Julie has especially been investigating a natural bioactive known as urolithin A. Before diving into all of this work specifically, Dawn asks Julie, what drew her to the study of neurodegeneration to begin with.

[00:19:55] Ken asks what prompted Julie’s current focus on autophagy.

[00:24:11] Dawn explains that degradation of damaged mitochondria via lysosomal autophagy is a key cellular pathway in the maintenance of mitochondrial homeostasis.  Disruption of this pathway contributes to the progressive cell loss that is associated with Parkinson’s disease. She goes on to mention that Julie published the results of a study in 2015that found rapamycin can protect brain cells and mitochondria in a mouse model of Parkinson’s disease. Julie explains the significance of this study and talks about the importance of rapamycin in the research of therapies for Parkinson’s disease.

[00:30:44] Dawn asks Julie to explain the concept, and the significance of, transcription factor EB (TFEB), which is a protein that is encoded in humans by the TFEB gene, and is a master regulator of autophagy and lysosomal function. Julie explains how this has become a potential target for treating Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

[00:32:41:] Ken mentions that much of Julie’s work has focused on cellular senescence. Ken asks for Julie to describe the concept of senescence, as well as its impact on neurodegenerative diseases.

[00:41:26] Ken mentions that exposure to the herbicide paraquat is associated with increased risk of idiopathic Parkinson’s disease. He goes on to mention that Julie published a study in 2017 that showed exposure to certain environmental toxins promotes accumulation of senescent cells in the aging brain. Julie talks about her finding that therapies targeting senescent cells may constitute a strategy for treatment of sporadic Parkinson’s disease.

[00:46:47] Dawn ends part one of the interview by mentioning that Julie followed up her 2017 study with another study that examined whether one could screen known neurotoxicants for their ability to cause astrocytes, which are a mitotic-cell type in the brain important for maintaining neuronal health, to undergo senescence. Julie ends the interview with a discussion about the study, titled “Screening Method for Identifying Toxicants Capable of Inducing Astrocyte Senescence.”


Learn more about IHMC

STEM-Talk homepage

Ken Ford bio

Ken Ford Wikipedia page

Dawn Kernagis bio




Episode 116: Marcas Bamman on the many benefits of exercise and strength training

Our guest today is Dr. Marcas Bamman, an internationally recognized researcher known for his scientific contributions to the biology of human skeletal muscle and medical rehabilitation.

Marcas recently joined IHMC as a Senior Research Scientist. He is the founder and former director of the University of Alabama at Birmingham Center for Exercise Medicine. Marcas and the UAB center are recognized as world leaders in the biological mechanisms underlying exercise-induced adaptations and their clinical utility in disease prevention, treatment and rehabilitation. At IHMC, he will expand his research aimed at maximizing the performance and resilience of elite warfighters.

One of Marcas’ first projects at IHMC is working with the institute’s Chief Science Officer Tim Broderick on a DARPA-sponsored program. This research is aimed at developing a revolutionary platform to enhance training and resilience of elite service members. Tim talked about the program, called the Peerless Operator Biologic Aptitude project, during his interview on episode 112 of STEM-Talk.

In today’s interview, we talk to Marcas about the Peerless project as well as his earlier research into the many ways that exercise and strength training can induce a multitude of health benefits.

Show notes:

[00:03:11] Dawn opens the interview by asking Marcas where he grew up.

[00:03:21] Dawn asks Marcas what sports he played given that he is now an exercise scientist.

[00:03:45] Dawn mentions that in addition to being good at basketball and soccer in high school, that Marcas was also good in his chemistry and mathematics classes.

[00:04:47] Dawn asks if it is true that Marcas was the sports editor of his high school newspaper.

[00:05:25] Dawn asks Marcas why he decided to pursue science despite having a promising future as a sportswriter.

[00:06:08] Ken asks if Marcas decided to attend Kansas State University after high school because it was the same school his father had attended.

[00:06:59] Ken asks what led Marcus to the University of Alabama Birmingham for his master’s degree.

[00:08:09] Dawn asks if it is true that Marcas met his wife Deanna in a fitness center.

[00:09:00] Marcas explains the non-traditional rout he took to earning his doctorate at the University of Florida.

[00:14:05] Dawn mentions that while Marcas was working at NASA, he worked on a study that had people go through 14 days of bedrest in an effort to mimic space flight. The resulting paper appeared in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise and was titled, “Resistance Exercise Prevents Plantar Flexor Deconditioning During Bed Rest.” Dawn asks about the study and its findings, as well as how Marcas was able to convince people to spend 14 days in bed.

[00:19:47] Marcas explains how he ended up back at UAB following his dissertation.

[00:20:32] Ken asks what Marcas’ overarching question was that drove his research when he began his career at UAB.

[00:22:24] Dawn mentions that Marcas has played a major role nationally in the recognition and growth of exercise medicine. Dawn asks how Marcas first became interested in this concept of exercise as medicine.

[00:24:06] Dawn asks Marcas to talk about his research that has shown that exercise can help prevent and delay health problems, and that different types of exercise can bring about different health benefits.

[00:29:38] Dawn mentions that in 2011 Marcas established the University of Alabama Birmingham Center for Exercise Medicine (UCEM), which has become well known nationally as a leader in exercise medicine. Marcas gives an overview of how the center came about and the research that is conducted there.

[00:34:23] Marcas gives an overview of a clinical trial he conducted in 2011 which showed that men and women in their 60’s and 70’s who underwent supervised weight training developed muscles that were as large and strong as those of the average, untrained 35- to 40-year-old.

[00:37:34] Dawn asks if there is any evidence suggesting that male and female older adults need different types of exercise training for maximal health benefits.

[00:40:06] Ken asks Marcas about his research into how a person’s genetic background determines their response to exercise, which helps explain why some individuals are more naturally suited to one type of exercise over another.

[00:44:42] Marcas shares that while some people may not gain as much muscle from exercise as others, everyone responds in a positive way to exercise.

[00:45:56] Dawn asks if Marcas thinks there will ever be a drug developed that will give people the same kind of benefits as exercise.

[00:47:12] Ken mentions that there have been some drug trials that have shown an ability to increase muscle size in older adults. He goes on to mention that these changes have not translated into functional outcomes or patient benefits. He asks if there might be a sweet-spot for people who are limited in the amount of exercise they are able to do to maximize the benefits of minimal exercise with one of these drugs.

[00:48:35] Ken mentions that PPAR-delta agonists have shown substantial promise for specific populations.

[00:50:10] Ken explains that there are studies suggesting that exercise can help prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s. He goes on to ask, in light of all the many benefits of exercise, why doctors are not prescribing exercise as a treatment rather than merely writing drug prescriptions.

[00:54:05] Dawn asks if the American Heart Association’s recommendations that people get at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity a week (including two days a week of moderate to high-intensity strength training) falls in line with what Marcas would recommend.

[00:56:11] Dawn mentions that in 2017 Marcas published a paper looking into the dose-response effects of exercise in older individuals. Dawn asks if Marcas can elaborate on this paper and explain whether he thinks establishing an effective dose of exercise might have both scientific and practical merit.

[01:01:21] Dawn explains that due to COVID-19 many people are avoiding gyms. She asks if Marcas has any recommendations for people who are struggling to keep their muscles in shape during this pandemic.

[01:03:31] Ken explains that sedentary adults can lose 30 to 40 percent of the total number of fibers in their muscles by the time they are 55. This is significant because many neuromuscular and chronic inflammatory diseases are closely associated with muscle weakness, skeletal muscle atrophy, and muscle fatigue. It’s a serious issue, and one of the reasons that the NIH launched a six-year, $200-million-plus study called the NIH Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity Consortium which is targeting an enrollment of about 2,000 sedentary people and 300 highly active/trained people.  Ken asks Marcas, as a part of this ambitious study, to give an overview as to how the study is being conducted and what researchers hope to learn.

[01:07:49] Dawn mentions that even though the merits of exercise are well known, the biggest difficulty is getting people to maintain a healthy exercise regimen. She asks for Marcas’ opinion in regards to the balance between applied and basic science from a funding point of view and how to best maximize solving the problems associated with a lack of exercise.

[01:10:18] Dawn mentions that Parkinson’s disease is the most common motor neurodegenerative disease. She goes on to mention that Marcas, earlier this year, had a paper in Frontiers in Physiology about a study that set out to identify transcriptional networks that may contribute to resistance-training-induced neuromuscular remodeling in Parkinson’s disease. Dawn also asks about Marcas’ 2014 paper that found high intensity exercise improved muscle mass, mitochondrial function and physical capacity in people with Parkinson’s.

[01:15:09] Dawn mentions that with Marcas’ move to IHMC, he is transitioning from clinical populations to now working on Department of Defense-focused work. She points out that he will be taking the same sorts of questions and principles he once explored with clinical populations and now attempt to apply them to other areas. Marcas explains this transition.

[01:16:58] Marcas talks about his reasons for leaving his well-established lab at UAB and coming to IHMC.

[01:18:51] Ken mentions that one of Marcas’ first projects at IHMC is a DARPA-sponsored program aimed at developing a revolutionary platform to enhance training and resilience of elite service members known as the Peerless Operator Biologic Aptitude project. Marcas gives an overview of this project and his role in it.

[01:22:09] Marcas talks about his recent experience taking a building on an Air Force base in San Antonio and converting it into a human-performance lab for the Peerless project.

[01:24:06] Ken harkens back to Marcas’ aforementioned 2011 paper examining the adaptation in older individuals to resistance training. Ken asks in regards to this if the study looked at muscle power, which he says seems to be the worst of the muscular-function declines in older adults.

[01:26:44] Dawn asks about another project that Marcas is working on, which is being sponsored by the Office of Naval Research and is called Precision High-Intensity Training Through Epigenetics, or PHITE. Dawn explains that this trial is trying to determine if the effect of exercise dose on performance optimization and the underlying molecular mechanisms of that phenomenon with a focus on epigenetics.

[01:30:43] Marcas tells an interesting story about his experience of zero gravity back when he worked at NASA.

[01:32:53] Marcas explains what his exercise routine consists of.

[01:34:08] Dawn asks Marcas what sort of diet he follows.

[01:36:14] Ken closes the interview asking Marcas about the things he likes to do when he is able to find some spare time in his busy schedule.


Learn more about IHMC

STEM-Talk homepage

Ken Ford bio

Dawn Kernagis bio

Marcas Bamman bio

Episode 115: Ken and Dawn answer listener questions about ketogenic diets, Viagra, methylene blue, fasting, Mars and more

It’s that time again for another Ask Me Anything episode. And we must say, listeners sent us a wealth of excellent questions for this round of Ask Me Anything.

In today’s podcast, Ken and Dawn answer questions that range from blood-flow restriction to swimming induced pulmonary edema to intermittent fasting to methylene blue to low-carb diets, and much, much more.

If you have questions you want to send to Ken and Dawn for an Ask Me Anything episode, email your question to STEM-Talk Producer Randy Hammer at rhammer@ihmc.org.

Show notes: 

[00:02:24] In light of Ken’s former experience in wrestling, a listener asks about wrestlers who perform neck bridges to strengthen their neck.  The listener wonders if Ken thinks neck exercises are important and, if so, what does he does in that regard. In his response, Ken mentions a neck-strengthening device, Iron Neck.

[00:06:12] A listener asks Ken and Dawn about their morning routines and what scientific journals they read and if they could each give a few book recommendations.

[00:08:16] A listener asks Dawn, in light of her accepting a position at the University of North Carolina, if she will continue working with IHMC and  co-hosting STEM-Talk.

[00:09:13] A listener asks if and how Dawn sees crossover between the research on humans in extreme environments that she did at IHMC, and the clinically oriented work she is doing now.

[00:10:37] A listener mentions that they have recently started using blood-flow restriction training in their workouts thanks to STEM-Talk and have enjoyed the experience. The listener goes on to mention, however, that they are noticing they feel light headed when going for a run after a blood-flow restriction resistance workout. The listener asks Ken if he has any knowledge of this phenomenon, or other side effects of blood flow restriction exercise.

[00:12:56] A listener mentions that they have just finished reading Denise Minger’s “Death by Food Pyramid” which explains that no nutrition-oriented classes are required for a Harvard medical degree, which is also true of about 70% of medical schools in the nation. The listener goes on to mention, from their own experience, that people are often told to consult their doctor when thinking about the potential benefits of new diets. Doctors and even nutritionists, however, generally prescribe the Mediterranean diet and do not seem to know much about low-carb diets. The listener asks Ken who one should consult when wanting to start a ketogenic diet. In his response, Ken mentions several resources, including the websites Virta Health and Diet Doctor; and the books “The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living” as well as “The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance.”

[00:15:22] A listener, who is a triathlete, asks Dawn for advice about performance in extreme environments, particularly in regards to swimming induced pulmonary edema. They also go on to ask about Dawn’s thoughts on Sildenafil, also known as Viagra. In her response, Dawn mentions a paper by Dr. Richard Moon of Duke University, “Swimming-Induced Pulmonary Edema: Pathophysiology and Risk Reduction with Sildenafil.”

[00:20:08] A listener asks Ken a question about an article they read about a study out of the University of Glasgow that was published in Nature Scientific Reports. The listener highlights a quote from the press release announcing the publication of the article: “There is no magic diet, or magic food, for weight control. Instead, people have to find the best way to eat fewer calories. Low-carb diets have had a lot of hype from media and celebrities, but they are no better than high-carb diets. Their evidence is generally poor, and our earlier research found low-carb diets are associated with some vitamin deficiencies, with more diabetes, not less. We can’t stop people cutting carbohydrate, and it may suit some people at least in the short-term, but there should be a health warning.” The listener goes on to ask Ken if it is indeed true that contrary to the article, there is, in fact, a growing body of evidence in support of low carb diets.

[00:22:55] A listener writes to Ken saying that they have read a lot about the 5:2 Diet, and the neuroprotective and longevity benefits it has in mice. They go on to ask Ken if there are any studies showing similar benefits in humans. Ken mentions that there are indeed studies in the works on intermittent fasting. He also recommends that for those listeners who are interested in intermittent fasting to check out three STEM-Talk episodes: Mark Mattson, episode 7; Steve Anton, episode 68; and Satchin Panda, episode 79.

[00:26:22] Ken follows up with the previous question, mentioning that several listeners have asked about a recent study published in JAMA titled: “Effects of Time Restricted Eating on Weight Loss and Other Metabolic Parameters in Women and Men with Overweight and Obesity.”

[00:28:52] A listener mentions that they have a friend who was just diagnosed with type-2 diabetes and who was prescribed a “Mediterranean Diet” by their doctor. The listener goes on to mention that they encouraged their friend to listen to Episode 43 of STEM-Talk with Jeff Volek, as well as to check out VIRTA Health. The listener asks Ken to give an update on how Jeff is doing, and if there is a possibility of a second interview with him on STEM-Talk.

[00:31:59] A listener asks about erythropoietin, or EPO, which has been shown to promote the formation of red blood cells by the bone marrow, and has been used as a performance enhancer drug by athletes as well as an “anti-aging” drug by older people. Ken gives his take on this drug and its applications. He also shares his thoughts on anti-aging, a term he isn’t fond of.

[00:35:57] Ken is asked a follow-up question about his knowledge about intermittent hypoxic training.

[00:37:40] A listener asks about Ken’s experience with methylene blue, which was the topic our two-part interview with Dr. Francisco Gonzalez-Lima, episode 106 and episode 107. Ken mentions that he will include links to two methylene blue products, one from Mitolab, the other from Troscriptions TX.

[00:40:54] A listener shares their experience on the ketogenic diet and says they found that they are a “hyper responder” to ketosis,  which in part means that their cholesterol numbers spike. The listener, who has since shifted to a low-carb diet but not ketogenic diet, asks Ken for thoughts on hyper-responders which might mitigate negative cholesterol numbers or if cycling on and off ketosis might work. In his answer on the research and science behind hyper responders, Ken mentions a study by Jeff Volex and his colleagues – “Paradox of hypercholesterolaemia in highly trained, keto-adapted athletes” – which reported an increased incidence of greatly elevated cholesterol in keto-adapted ultra-endurance athletes. Ken also mentions another study that just came out: “Saturated Fats and Health: A Reassessment and Proposal for Food-Based Recommendations.”

[00:52:26] A listener mentions that the trajectory between Earth and Mars will next be the closest in 2033. They ask Ken, with his connections to NASA, if he thinks that a mission to Mars in 2033 is likely, and what are the potential commercial benefits of going to Mars.

[01:00:48] Dawn congratulates Ken on his recent recognition as a “Florida Living Legend.”After congratulating him on this achievement, she asks him to explain a little bit about this award.


Learn more about IHMC

STEM-Talk homepage 

Ken Ford bio

Dawn Kernagis bio


Episode 114: Lilianne Mujica-Parodi talks about how diet and ketones affect brain aging

Our guest today is Dr. Lilianne Mujica Parodi, the director of the Laboratory for Computational Neurodiagnostics at Stony Brook University.

We will be talking to Lily about her paper in PNAS last year that revealed neurobiological changes associated with aging can be seen in a person’s late 40s, a much younger age than what was previously thought.  She and her colleagues at Stony Brook also found that this process may be prevented or even reversed based on dietary changes that involve minimizing the consumption of simple carbohydrates. The study’s targeted experiments  showed that the biomarker for brain aging could be reliably modulated with consumption of different fuel sources. The study showed that decreasing  glucose and increasing ketones resulted in the stability of brain networks.

Much of Lily’s work over the years has been focused on developing neuroimaging tools. In today’s interview, we talk to her about functional magnetic resonance imaging, also known as fMRI, which measures the small changes in blood flow that occur with brain activity. It may be used to examine the brain’s functional anatomy, evaluate the effects of stroke or other disease, and even guide brain treatment. Functional magnetic resonance imaging also can detect abnormalities within the brain that cannot be found with other imaging techniques.

Show notes:

[00:03:08] Dawn opens the interview asking Lily what she was like as a child.

[00:04:20] Dawn mentions that Lily grew up in Maryland near the National Institute of Health. Lily talks about her experiences interning at the NIH in her senior year of high school.

[00:09:41] Dawn asks what brought Lily to Georgetown University.

[00:10:29] Ken asks about Lily’s experience at Georgetown University, where she majored in physics and philosophy.

[00:15:16] Lily explains why she went to Columbia University after graduating from Georgetown.

[00:19:14] Dawn asks about Lily’s research that led to her receiving the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation Young Investigator Award in 2000.

[00:22:44] Dawn asks about Lily’s experience giving a lecture at the NIH while she was wrapping up her doctorate at Columbia.

[00:27:00] Dawn asks what brought Lily to Stony Brook.

[00:30:30] Ken asks Lily what attracted her to biomedical engineering.

[00:32:58] Dawn mentions that much of Lily’s work at Stony Brook has been focused on developing neuroimaging tools. Dawn goes on to ask why neuroimaging has not provided the anticipated success for psychiatry and neurology that the electrocardiogram provided for cardiovascular medicine.

[00:39:04] Ken mentions that Lily is the director of the Laboratory for Computational Neurodiagnostics. Lily gives an overview of the lab and the research conducted there.

[00:44:00] Dawn mentions that Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, also known as fMRI, measures small changes in blood flow that occur with brain activity, and can be used to examine the brain’s functional anatomy, and evaluate various insults, diseases, and abnormalities, that cannot be found with other imagining techniques. Dawn asks Lily to explain the technology of fMRI and its various applications.

[00:45:59] Ken asks about Lily’s 2016 paper published in the Frontiers of Neuroscience journal, that ran under the title, “Signal Fluctuation Sensitivity: An Improved Metric for Optimizing Detection of Resting-State fMRI Networks.”

[00:49:36] Lily discusses her lab’s involvement in the development of a technology called “Near-Infrared Spectroscopy,” which is an attempt to replicate MRI-type imaging in an ambulatory environment such as an emergency room or a rural environment.

[00:51:36] Dawn asks what led Lily to start researching diets and particularly the ketogenic diet.

[00:56:59] Ken mentions that there are two key factors linked to age-based cognitive impairment, those being: insulin resistance and glucose hypometabolism. Lily explains how these two phenomena affect the brain.

[00:59:33] Ken asks about Lily’s 2019 paper in PNAS, titled, “Diet Modulates Brain Network Stability, A Biomarker for Brain Aging, in Young Adults.” Lily explains how this study was conducted and what its results were.

[01:05:53] Dawn mentions that there have been studies showing that ketones provide greater energy to cells than glucose, even when the fuels are calorically matched. Ketones also have been shown to benefit cardiovascular health. Dawn asks Lily to explain how her study and experiments provided the first evidence for equivalent benefits in the brain.

[01:09:22] Ken asks about the better-known structural MRI measures of brain age, such as declining hippocampal size.

[01:14:16] Ken asks what the response to Lily’s aforementioned paper has been.

[01:16:31] Dawn asks Lily what her diet looks like.

[01:17:04] Dawn follows up asking Lily about her exercise routine.

[01:18:08] The interview ends with Dawn asking Lily how she spends her spare time.


Episode 113: Peter Pirolli discusses information foraging, AI and the future of human interaction with technology

Today’s interview features Dr. Peter Pirolli, a colleague and senior research scientist here at IHMC since 2017.  He previously was a fellow at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) and is known for his research into human information interaction. Peter’s work on information foraging theory led to his book “Information Foraging Theory: Adaptive Interaction with Information.

Peter received his doctorate in cognitive psychology from Carnegie Mellon University in 1985 and throughout his career his research has involved a mix of cognitive science, artificial intelligence, and human-computer interaction. His current interests include disruptive mobile-health technologies for precision behavioral medicine to support healthy behavior.

Right now, Peter is working closely with IHMC’s Chief Science Officer Tim Broderick on a DARPA project that Tim discussed in his recent STEM-Talk interview, episode 112. Peter also talks about the project and the work that he, Tim and others at IHMC are doing to increase the biologic aptitude of elite warfighters.

In today’s interview, Peter also discusses his role as the principal investigator of a project that the National Science Foundation recently awarded to IHMC. Peter and his colleagues will be working on improving epidemiological models that will be able to more accurately forecast the rate of infections and deaths related to COVID-19.

Show notes:

[00:02:42] Dawn opens the interview by quizzing Peter about how he took up surfing at the age of 40.

[00:05:48] Ken mentions that Peter grew up in Canada, but that his father, who is Italian, decided to move the family to Italy when Peter was 8 years old. Peter discusses what that was like.

[00:08:37] Dawn mentions that Peter liked to go camping and canoeing as a kid, and developed a love for astronomy. Dawn asks if it is true that Peter used to keep NASA scrapbooks.

[00:10:52] Peter tells the story of the role his mother played in his decision to go to Trent University in Ontario.

[00:12:45] Dawn asks why Peter decided to major in psychology and anthropology despite his childhood fascination with astronomy.

[00:14:47] Dawn asks what attracted Peter to Pittsburg and Carnegie Mellon University for graduate school.

[00:16:12] Ken mentions that at Carnegie Mellon, Peter had the opportunity to meet and work with Herb Simon and Alan Newell, who back in the 1950s were the early pioneers of artificial intelligence. They won the Turing Award in 1975 for their contributions to artificial intelligence and the psychology of human cognition. Ken goes on to mention that Simon also won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1978.  Ken asks how Peter, with a background in psychology and anthropology, got to work with these pioneers of the field of AI.

[00:17:59] Ken mentions that one of his favorite works from Simon and Newell was their physical symbols concept and the papers that arose from that.

[00:19:54] Ken mentions that Simon and Newell were interested in developing computational models that could mimic and simulate what the human mind was doing. In addition to AI, they also conducted research that looked at information processing, decision-making, problem-solving, organization theory and complex systems. Ken asks Peter how working with these pioneers influence his later research and career.

[00:22:57] Ken asks Peter to elaborate on the concept that Simon introduced known as “satisficing.” It’s a concept credited with revolutionizing economics by introducing the idea of “bounded rationality” where people have limited time and resources with which to gather data to draw their conclusions, as opposed to the “rational man” concept which assumes that a person making a decision uses all conceivably relevant information to inform their decisions.

[00:25:54] Dawn mentions that in Peter’s time at CMU, he became interested in building artificial intelligence systems to tutor people one on one. Peter elaborates on this work and explains how it led him to travel across the country to work in Berkeley, California.

[00:28:42] Ken mentions that Peter is particularly well-known for developing the concept of “information foraging” with Stuart Card in the late 1990’s. The concept was inspired by animal behavior theories and how animals forage for food.

[00:33:42] Dawn explains that Peter’s work on information foraging led him to write his book “Information Foraging Theory: Adaptive Interaction with Information.” Dawn goes on to ask Peter about the concept of “high information scent” and what the significance of that is.

[00:36:35] Dawn asks Peter to give an overview of his book which is aimed at an interdisciplinary audience.

[00:39:10] Ken asks about Peter’s concept of “cooperative information foraging.”

[00:41:33] Dawn mentions that the emergence of smartphones as a ubiquitous device led Peter to become interested in the possibilities of using them to support behavioral change in people. Dawn asks Peter to discuss the research he is conducting on ways to use smartphones to support health and lifestyle changes as well as alter habits.

[00:44:28] Dawn shares her thoughts about how it is more effective to do this sort of research in the real world rather than studying people in a laboratory environment.

[00:45:46] Dawn then mentions that one of the primary reasons that scientists study people in a lab is to control outside variables that could potentially influence or bias outcomes. She asks Peter how he studies people in the field and integrates these outside variables in his analysis.

[00:47:19] Ken mentions that after knowing Peter for decades and admiring his work, Ken was able to convince Peter to join IHMC in 2017 as a senior research scientist. Peter explains what attracted him to IHMC.

[00:50:17] Dawn mentions that Tim Broderick, who is the chief science officer here at IHMC, was just on STEM-Talk and discussed the interdisciplinary research team that he has put together for the Peerless Operator Biologic Aptitude project, otherwise known as PEERLESS. Dawn mentions that Peter is a key player in PEERLESS, which is a project designed to increase the biologic aptitude of warfighters so that they can increase their adaptability and resilience in extreme conditions. Peter discusses the project as well as his role in it.

[00:54:09] Ken mentions that Peter became the principal investigator of a project related to COVID-19 that was just recently awarded to IHMC by the National Science Foundation. Ken asks Peter about the project, which will be working on improving epidemiological models that forecast the rate of infections and deaths related to COVID-19.

[00:59:12] Dawn mentions that she has heard Peter talk about his belief that his interdisciplinary background is responsible for the productivity and success he has had throughout his career. Dawn asks Peter to talk about the importance of an interdisciplinary background in an academic world that insists on specialization.

[01:02:17] Ken asks Peter to give his advice for young scientists currently attending college.

[01:04:39] Peter tells the story of how he almost drowned as a result of hypothermia while surfing.

[01:09:43] Ken asks about the quote Peter has on his website from Cormac McCarthy’s book “the road.”

[01:13:46] Dawn mentions that she understands Peter has recently been reading William Gibson’s books and asks if Peter believes that the idea of uploading our minds to the cloud is possible or just science fiction.

[01:15:17] Dawn closes the interview mentioning a photo on Peter’s website of him on a paddleboard with his dog Jake, and asks if Jake enjoys paddle-boarding as much as he looks like he does in the photo.

Episode 112: Tim Broderick discusses biotechnology and increasing the biological aptitude and careers of elite special forces

Our guest today is Dr. Tim Broderick, the chief science officer here at IHMC. Tim is a surgeon and biomedical scientist who joined IHMC last year.

Tim has had a fascinating career as a researcher, surgeon and aquanaut. He is well-known as a pioneer in laparoscopic, robotic and telerobotic surgery.

He also has led multiple ground, flight and undersea-based biomedical research projects. As a result, he is an honorary NASA flight surgeon and a NOAA undersea saturation diver.

Tim spent four years as a DARPA program manager where he conceived and established five high-impact biotechnology projects that included revolutionary programs focused on precision diagnosis and treatment of military-relevant diseases and injuries. Over the years, he  has developed a substantial portfolio of cutting-edge Department of Defense research. In today’s interview, Tim gives an  overview of a fascinating project, called Peerless Operator Biologic Aptitude, which he and his colleagues at IHMC are currently working on.

Show notes:

[00:03:09] Dawn opens the interview asking Tim about growing up in in Cincinnati and going to Cincinnati Reds games in the 1970s with his family.

[00:04:59] Ken asks if growing up in the Apollo era and witnessing the moon landing as a child influenced his interest in science and space.

[00:06:16] Tim recounts a story about his father saving someone’s life at church when Tim was a child and how that had a profound impact on him.

[00:07:13] Tim tells another story from his college days when he saved a man who nearly had his arm chopped off by a machete.

[00:11:22] Dawn asks if it is true that as a teenager Tim would regularly dress up as Scooby-Doo.

{00:13:39] Dawn asks if Tim always knew he wanted to be a doctor since he grew up in a family full of doctors.

[00:15:21] Ken asks why Tim decided to attend Xavier University in Cincinnati.

[00:16:41] Dawn mentions that she has rarely heard of someone heading off to college with the idea of double majoring in chemistry and computer science, and asks how that came about.

[00:21:17] Dawn mentions that Tim graduated in four years and in 1986 decided to stay in town for medical school at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. Dawn asks what drew him there.

[00:22:58] Ken asks if Tim knew he wanted to become a surgeon when he started med school.

[00:26:37] Dawn asks what lead Tim to go to Richmond, Virginia, for his residency as a surgical resident at the Medical College of Virginia.

[00:28:23] Dawn asks about how Tim’s interest in minimally invasive surgery during his residency, which led to him becoming the director of surgical research at VCU’s Minimally Invasive Surgery Center.

[00:29:32] Ken mentions that while Tim was working at VCU he became a consulting surgeon for telemedicine and robotics for the NASA Medical Informatics Technology Applications Consortium. Ken asks what that work entailed.

[00:32:32] Ken asks about Tim’s early work in laparoscopic robotic and telerobotic surgery.

[00:38:00] Ken asks about how Tim’s experience in remote surgery for astronauts led him to become an aquanaut and a crew member for NASA’s NEEMO 9.

[00:40:24] Dawn mentions that it was Tim’s support that was one of the reasons that Dawn had the chance to join NEEMO as a crew member. She goes on to mention that Tim logged time underwater as a NEEMO aquanaut when he returned to the project several years after NEEMO 9 for NEEMO 12. Tim describes what his research was focused on for that mission.

[00:43:33] Dawn notes the similarities between an operational environment such as NEEMO, spaceflight and the operating room. Dawn asks if Tim’s experiences in the operating room crossed over into his work on the NEEMO mission.

[00:45:08] Tim shares some of his favorite memories from his time underwater with NEEMO.

[00:49:48] Dawn mentions that beginning in the year 2003, Tim spent seven years as a senior scientist and trauma portfolio manager for the US Army Medical Research and Material Command Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center. Tim describes the work he did during this period.

[00:50:49] Dawn asks about Tim’s time as a program manager for DARPA, specifically about his development of biocompatible nanoplatforms that enabled in vivo diagnostics.

[00:55:55] Ken ask about Tim’s development of modular therapeutic nanotechnologies that permit flexible targeting of tissues for improved treatment of diseases such as antibiotic resistant bacterial infections and traumatic brain injury.

[00:59:29] Dawn asks how Tim ended up becoming the chief science officer at the Wright State Research Institute after his work at DARPA.

[01:00:17] Dawn mentions that what she likes most about Tim’s work is its focus on direct development of solutions for the end-user, similar to what is done at IHMC. Dawn asks how this type of work differs from basic science, and what drew Tim to this sort of research.

[01:03:10] Ken mentions that prior to joining IHMC, Tim

collaborated with IHMC on a project called PHITE for short. Tim expands on this multi-institutional effort and explains its goals and methods.

[01:06:30] Ken talks about how last year Tim came to IHMC as chief science officer and a senior research scientist.

[01:09:01] Dawn explains that Tim has assembled an interdisciplinary research team at IHMC to develop science and technology with the aim of raising the performance of elite warfighters in roles such as special operations and fighter pilots. She asks about a project called Peerless Operator Biological Aptitude, or PEERLESS for short. Tim discusses how this project is being designed to increase the biological aptitude of warfighters so that they can increase their adaptability and resilience in extreme conditions.

[01:13:43] Ken mentions that another important aim of PEERLESS is to develop science and technology that might contribute to extending the career of warfighters in the special-operations community, and asks Tim to elaborate on this concept.

[01:15:30] Tim talks about the stellar team he has put together including not only IHMC researchers but other organizations as well.

[01:18:20] Tim explains that when he wants to take some time to get away, he likes to spend time at the beach with his family.

[01:18:54] Dawn ends the interview mentioning that Tim also enjoys listening to classical music and asks if it is true that he has three daughters who play the violin.


Learn more about IHMC

STEM-Talk homepage

Tim Broderick bio

Ken Ford bio

Dawn Kernagis bio


Episode 111: Tommy Wood talks about lifestyle approaches to improve health span and lifespan

Today we have the second of our two-part interview with Dr. Tommy Wood. Ken and Dawn talk to Tommy about his ongoing research into lifestyle approaches that can improve people’s health span, lifespan and physical performance. Tommy also talks about the physiological and metabolic responses to brain injury and how these injuries can have long-term effects on brain health.

In part one of our interview, episode 110, Tommy shared his thoughts on the research he has done on the importance of metabolic health as a way to for people to protect themselves from COVID-19. Tommy also talked about his work on developing accessible methods to track human health and longevity and his research on ways to increase the resilience of developing brains.

Tommy is a UK-trained physician who is also a colleague of ours here at IHMC. In addition to being a research assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington  in the division of neonatology, Tommy occasionally spends time at IHMC as a visiting research assistant. For a more detailed explanation of Tommy’s background, check out the introduction to part one of our interview, episode 110. We also recommend checking out Tommy’s earlier appearances on STEM-Talk, episodes 47 and 48.

Show notes:

[00:02:50] Dawn continues our interview with Tommy asking why some people refer to Alzheimer’s as type-3 diabetes.

[00:05:00] Dawn refers to a chart that Tommy incorporated into his IHMC lecture in February of this year, which was part of a paper that showed how glucose responds with age. Dawn asks Tommy to walk listeners through what the chart details.

[00:06:38] Dawn asks if Tommy agrees with Art De Vany, who in his most recent appearance on STEM-Talk, said that insulin resistance is associated with nearly every major disease that people worry about today.

[00:07:38] Tommy talks about the mean amplitude of glycemic excursions and how this is the best predictor of cognitive functions.

[00:09:31] Dawn asks about the waffle/fast-food study, and what the results of that paper mean for the effect of the modern American diet on health and cognitive ability.

[00:11:00] Dawn asks about the effects of stress on memory and mood.

[00:13:39] Dawn posits that we see many a public-service announcement about the dangers of smoking and alcohol consumption, and asks if the case could be made that we should also have public service announcements about the dangers of high blood sugar, as it is even more of a public-health issue than smoking and alcohol consumption.

[00:15:42] Tommy transitions to talking about the importance of sleep in regards to brain health.

[00:17:01] Ken mentions that in response to the common advice of getting eight hours of sleep, Tommy has made the point that perhaps more important than the number of hours is the quality of those hours of sleep.

[00:20:15] Dawn asks Tommy about the use of Tylenol PM, or Ambien before bed for those people who have difficulty getting to, or staying, asleep.

[00:22:07] Ken asks if it is true that muscle mass and body composition are exceptionally important in regards to brain robusticity.

[00:24:43] Ken asks about Tommy’s favorite paper, “1,026 Experimental Treatments in Acute Stroke,” and why he loves this paper so much.

[00:27:31] Tommy gives an overview of what happens as a result of an acute brain injury across the lifespan.

[00:29:35] Tommy discusses Creatine, which is a compound derived from amino acids that has been shown to be effective in treating brain injuries.

[00:32:56] Dawn asks Tommy what he has learned in terms of the overall therapeutic effects of ketones.

[00:40:20] Dawn asks what would be one question that Tommy wishes health experts contemplated more often, in terms of health span, and what would be his answer to said question.

[00:42:35] Dawn mentions that Tommy has done a lot of work helping individuals overcome chronic health conditions, and has thought about ways to scale these processes using digital means. Tommy gives advice to people seeking to develop scalable solutions designed to engineer sustained health.

[00:45:33] Ken mentions that Tommy espouses an “ancestral” approach to supporting health, referring to the diet and lifestyle of our Paleolithic ancestors, and the influence that geography had on these factors for various populations of ancient people. Ken asks if there is reason to think that genetics influence the relative importance of animal foods and plant foods for brain health.

[00:49:30] Dawn asks if the effects that animal husbandry has on climate change, which can contribute negatively on our health, outweigh the benefits that consuming animal products have for our health.

[00:52:42] Dawn asks if there are any plant foods that support our brain health.

[00:57:05] In regards to pro-longevity pharmaceuticals, which have not been very fruitful, Dawn asks if Tommy thinks that there are other factors regarding diet and lifestyle that can boost the healthspan more, and that people should be paying closer attention to, rather than waiting for a drug to extend their longevity.

[01:00:53] Ken asks if Tommy has changed his thinking with respect to lifestyle determinants of health since his first appearance on STEM-Talk.

[01:02:54] Ken brings up that Tommy often talks about the fact that the brain is capable of repairing itself and even growing as we age, but in order to do this it requires stimulation. Ken asks what are the best ways for people to stimulate their brains.

[01:05:27] Dawn asks Tommy to explain why learning to walk is, cognitively speaking, more difficult than learning biochemistry, and how this relates to the demand-driven decline theory, as well as the grandmother hypothesis.

[01:09:28] Dawn asks if Tommy is on his way to becoming a barbecue master, given his wife’s praises about his cooking.

[01:10:38] Ken asks if Tommy ever craves fish and chips.

[01:11:52] Dawn asks how Elizabeth is doing, now that she and Tommy share a home with two boxers.

[01:14:05] Dawn mentions that a little birdy told us that in Tommy’s medical school yearbook, each person was assigned with a fictional disease, and that Tommy’s was the acronym SHHH. Dawn asks what SHHH stands for and if Tommy has changed at all since then.


Tommy Wood bio

Tommy Wood Researchgate bio

Two new papers by Tommy Wood:

Variability and sex-dependence of hypothermic neuroprotection in a rat model of neonatal hypoxic–ischaemic brain injury

The Future of Shift Work: Circadian Biology Meets Personalised Medicine and Behavioural Science

Learn more about IHMC

STEM-Talk homepage

Ken Ford bio

Dawn Kernagis bio


Episode 110 : Tommy Wood talks about nourishing developing brains and the importance of metabolic health

Dr. Tommy Wood is a UK-trained physician who is making his third appearance on STEM-Talk. Earlier this year before the COVID-19 outbreak, Tommy gave a well-attended lecture at IHMC about the latest research on building and preserving brain health across people’s lifespans. The lecture was so popular we invited Tommy to join us for another STEM-Talk interview.

Tommy is a research assistant professor of pediatrics in the University of Washington Division of Neonatology. He was our guest on episodes 47 and 48 of STEM-Talk. Tommy received his undergraduate degree in biochemistry from the University of Cambridge and a medical degree from the University of Oxford. In addition to working with newborn infants who have brain injuries, Tommy also develops performance optimization strategies for athletes such as Formula 1 racecar drivers and Olympians.

As in our first STEM-Talk interview with Tommy, our conversation was so long and wide-ranging that we have divided it into two parts. In today’s episode, we talk to Tommy about the importance of metabolic health, especially as a way to protect ourselves from COVID-19. We touch on Tommy’s work at developing accessible methods to track human health and longevity, and also his research an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington where he studies ways to increase the resilience of developing brains.

In part two of our interview, we talk to Tommy about his continuing research into lifestyle approaches to improve health span and lifespan and physical performance. We also have a fascinating discussion about the physiological and metabolic responses to brain injury and their long-term effects on brain health.

 Show notes:

 [00:05:15] Dawn asks about an article Tommy and a colleague recently wrote, in which Tommy points out that it is becoming increasingly clear that underlying conditions associated with suboptimal metabolic health appear to be associated with poor outcomes in patients with COVID-19. Considering the nature of these underlying conditions, such as obesity and hypertension, he argues that lifestyle-based approaches to protecting ourselves from COVID-19 are likely to be one of our best tools in addressing this ongoing pandemic as well as future pandemics. Tommy summarizes his key points from the article.

[00:09:38] Dawn mentions that when Tommy was last interviewed on STEM-Talk, he had just become a senior fellow at the University of Washington and was in the process of moving permanently to the U.S. She goes on to mention that when she asked Tommy what brought him to the states, he said “a girl,” who he ended up marrying. The girl turned out to be Elizabeth Nance who was interviewed on episode 71 of STEM-Talk. Dawn asks how Elizabeth is doing.

[00:10:51] Tommy gives an overview of his work as a research assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington in the division of neonatology, where his focus is on ways to increase the resilience of developing brains and also ways to treat neonatal brain injuries.

[00:12:45] Dawn explains that Tommy gives a disclaimer at the beginning of his talks that “many of my best ideas are stolen.” She asks what are his best sources for ideas.

[00:14:42] Dawn mentions that when Elizabeth was on STEM-Talk, she mentioned that Tommy was constantly reading paper after paper, to the point that it is dizzying to look at Tommy’s computer screen. Tommy describes his research methods and how he goes about collecting material.

[00:16:51] Ken mentions that Tommy’s current research interests include the physiological and metabolic responses to brain injury and their long-term effects on brain health. Ken asks about this as well as Tommy’s work to develop easily accessible methods to track human health, performance, and longevity.

[00:18:59] Dawn asks why even as a neonatal neuroscientist, Tommy is still interested in working with football players, Formula 1 drivers, and Alzheimer’s patients. Dawn goes on to say that while most neuroscientists specialize in one of the populations, Tommy prefers to look at the brain from cradle to the grave.

[00:21:44] Tommy explains how he uses Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to explain to people what their brain needs.

[00:23:48] Dawn mentions that Tommy finds recent brain-age studies to be particularly fascinating because they are just now beginning to show how fetal/neonatal exposures effect adult aging.

[00:26:01] Tommy explains the energy demands of the developing brain, and why it takes up 75% of an infant’s metabolic rate.

[00:27:12] Dawn mentions that Tommy published a paper last year about the potential use of exogenous ketones for neonatal neuroprotection, which starts with the idea of ketones being essential for the newborn brains.

[00:28:53] Ken notes that ketone bodies play a major role in the central nervous system during myelination, not only as a source of energy, but a source of carbon for lipid biosynthesis. Tommy explains the significance of this function of ketone bodies.

[00:30:47] Ken asks about unsaturated fats, and their role in brain development.

[00:32:14] Dawn asks about the significance of the mother’s diet during infant development, mentioning the work of the late Sheilla Innis, a researcher and proponent of the nutritional needs of babies, children, and expectant mothers.

[00:34:13] Dawn mention’s that linoleic acid is a polyunsaturated omega 6 acid that is one of two essential fatty acids for humans. She goes on to explain that since the early ‘60s, the amount of linolenic acid in Americans has increased dramatically, and that it has also has increased dramatically in women’s breastmilk. She asks if this is a problem.

[00:36:54] Ken mentions that in the lecture Tommy gave at IHMC, he talked about how people may be suffering from a deluge of processed oils that have become staples of our modern diet. Ken asks Tommy to clarify this and explain the issue with processed oils, and what his advice is on how to deal with that issue.

[00:41:11] Dawn explains that Docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, is a type of omega-3 fat. Since our bodies can only make a small amount of DHA, we need to consume it directly from food or a supplement. There have been studies that have shown women who consume 600 to 800 mg of DHA daily during pregnancy reduced their risk of early preterm birth. Dawn asks about the risks low DHA in an expectant mother and if it raises a mother’s risk for a preterm birth.

[00:43:07] Dawn mentions that reducing preterm birth is critically important because depending on how prematurely a child is born, they have about a 30% to 50% chance of dying or having a severe disability. She asks what recommendations Tommy has for expectant mothers in terms of reducing premature births.

[00:45:30] Dawn asks about something Tommy said in his recent lecture at IHMC, where he quoted Ken as saying, “Humans have, roughly since agriculture, become dumber, weaker, and more frail.”

[00:47:35] Ken asks Tommy, given the rise of Alzheimer’s and dementia, and the prevalence of the modern western lifestyle, how does one prevent the brain from declining over time.

[00:49:48] Tommy gives an overview of the Amyloid-beta precursor protein, which is a large membrane protein that normally plays an essential role in neural growth and repair. Later in life, however, Amyloid-B can become corrupted and can destroy nerve cells, which leads to the loss of thought and memory in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

[00:51:06] Tommy explains why despite the billions spent by the pharmaceutical industry on trials aimed at targeting Amyloid-beta, there have been no promising results.

[00:54:01] Dawn mentions that Tommy and his wife wrote a recent paper where they argued that Amyloid-B is an epiphenomenon of neuronal stress. Dawn asks Tommy to discuss this paper and their conclusions.

[00:55:30] Ken asks about the most common neuronal stressors, including inflammation from sleep deprivation. Tommy gives a list of the common stressors a person needs to pay attention to for optimal brain health.

[00:57:53] Tommy discusses the importance and function of the microglia, better known as the immune system of the brain.

[00:59:26] Dawn mentions that inflammation is associated with almost all neurological disorders. She asks Tommy to discuss this as well as the role of fatty acids in inflammatory signaling.

[01:02:13] Tommy explains the difference between acute and chronic inflammation.

[01:03:41] Tommy talks about his research into how modulating microglia can reduce oxidative stress.

[01:06:18] Ken mentions that the problem with modulating the microglia is that they have long memories. He goes on to ask what the solution is to this problem and how does one reduce microglial activation.

[01:08:50] Dawn mentions our interview with Francisco Gonzalez Lima, where the drug methylene blue was discussed. She goes on to mention that she and Tommy have been discussing the potential use of this drug in preventing cognitive decline in those working at high altitudes. She asks Tommy about the potential use of methylene blue as a protection against acute brain stress or injury.

[01:11:36] Ken ends part one of our interview with Tommy by mentioning everyone agrees that maintaining insulin sensitivity is critically important, but that here in the U.S., we’re not doing a good job of that, with about 82% of Americans having some kind of metabolic disease. Tommy explains why this is such a major health issue.

Episode 109: Robb Wolf discusses whether eating meat is bad for you and the environment … and his new book “Sacred Cow”

Today’s guest is Robb Wolf, who is making his third appearance on STEM-Talk. He has a new book, which is being released today, the same day as our interview with Robb goes live. His new book, “Sacred Cow: Why Well Raised Meat Is Good For You and Good For The Planet,” takes a critical look at the assumptions and also the misinformation about meat and provides contrarian views that are science-based showing that meat and animal fat are essential for our bodies.

Robb is a former research biochemist who is also the  author of two other New York Times bestsellers, “The Paleo Solution” and “Wired to Eat.” Robb’s career includes a stint as a review editor of the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism,  a consulting role for the Naval Special Warfare Resiliency Program,  and membership on the board of directors and advisors for Specialty Health, Inc. He also is on the board of the Chickasaw Nation’s Unconquered Life Initiative and works with a number of innovative startups with the focus on health and sustainability.

In today’s interview, Robb talks about his move from Reno, Nevada, to the hill country of Texas, the science that supports the importance of meat and fat in a healthy diet, his transition to a ketogenic diet, and how improving our metabolic health is one of the most important things we can do to protect ourselves against COVID-19.

[00:03:52] Ken opens the interview mentioning that Robb is making his third appearance on STEM-Talk. He was a guest on episode 27 of STEM-Talk, and also helped Ken co-host an interview with Allan Savory, episode 40. Ken then asks Robb about his move from Reno to the hill country of Texas.

[00:05:57] Dawn mentions that Robb has started a new podcast since his last appearance on STEM-Talk. The new podcast is The Healthy Rebellion Radio, and replaces the Paleo Solution. Dawn explains that this new show follows a Q&A format, and features Robb and his wife, Nicki Violetti, answering listener questions. Dawn asks what prompted Robb and Nicki and to start this new podcast.

[00:08:12] Dawn asks for an update on a project Robb discussed on episode 27 called the Reno Risk Assessment project, which was a program of diet and lifestyle changes that he and Nicki developed to improve health and performance of police and fire departments.

[00:14:07] Dawn asks about the motivations and origins of Robb’s work with the Chickasaw Nation and its “Unconquered Life” project.

[00:18:31] Dawn asks Robb about his comments that improving metabolic health is one of the most important things a person can do to protect themselves during the COVID-19 pandemic.

[00:20:52] Dawn mentions that researchers at the University of North Carolina published a paper last year that showed only 12% of Americans have optimal metabolic health. The report pointed out that those with poor metabolic health included many people of normal weight. Dawn follows up by asking Robb if he also has found this to be true in his work with people.

[00:24:09] Ken asks for Robb’s take on BMI, which can often be misleading.

[00:25:21] Dawn asks if Robb’s personal diet has evolved since his previous appearance on STEM-Talk.

[00:33:16] Ken mention’s that Robb’s new book, which is scheduled to come out the same day as this episode goes live, is titled, “Sacred Cow.” Ken goes on to say that Robb and his co-author, dietician Diana Rogers, look at the quandaries we face in raising and eating animals. The book  particularly focuses on cows, which Robb describes as not only the largest of our farmed animals, but also the most maligned. Ken begins the discussion of the book by asking Rob why he decided to take on the vegans and the topic of eating animals.

[00:38:22] Dawn asks Robb for his take on one of the two major arguments against the consumption of animal products: that eating foods such as beef and chicken and cheese are bad for our health, and what the true science is behind these two claims.

[00:42:58] Dawn asks what happens when people replace meat and dense protein sources with plant-based alternatives like grains, legumes, peas, nuts and the like.

[00:45:33] Robb discusses the White Oak Pastures Life Cycle Analysis on the beef they raise and how it compares to the Beyond Burger, in terms of net carbon emissions, and other environmental factors.

[00:49:56] Dawn mentions that an international team led by Bradley Johnston, an epidemiologist at Dalhousie University, conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis and found very weak evidence that eating red meat is a health risk. Dawn goes on to mention that these authors received significant backlash for their scientific findings as well as attacks  that were both personal and political and motivated more by emotional entrenched beliefs than by science. Dawn asks Robb for his opinion on the study as well as the backlash the authors received.

[00:54:45] Ken mentions that the way the authors of this study have been savaged for publishing their findings reminds him of John Ioannidis, who was the guest on episode 77 of STEM-Talk. Ken mentions that Ioannidis argued that evidence-based medicine has been hijacked by researchers with vested interests and personal bias. Ken asks for Robb’s advice for people who are looking for the best information on what is right for their bodies, and how to avoid this sort of biased research.

[00:58:21] Ken asks Robb to explain how he addresses the argument that beef supposedly is the most environmentally destructive food, and a serious threat to the environment, in his book.

[01:05:42] Ken asks Robb about his analysis of Allan Savory’s work, who appeared on STEM-Talk, episode 40, who argued that increasing the number of livestock on grasslands, rather than fencing them off, is a way to stop desertification.

[01:07:53] Dawn asks Robb about the argument that cattle husbandry is extremely water intensive. Robb discusses a study out of the Netherlands which shows that raising beef requires less water per pound than raising avocadoes or walnuts.

[01:09:48] Ken mentions that the New York Times recently published an opinion piece titled, “The End of Meat is Here,” with the subtitle, “If you care about the working poor, about racial justice, and about climate change, you have to stop eating animals.” Robb gives a counterview on those claims.

[01:12:57] Dawn mentions that Bill Gates, on his website, has a review he wrote of Vaclav Smils’ book, “Should We Eat Meat.” Gates writes that there are indeed environmental issues that need addressing in terms of raising livestock. Gates’ review, however, goes on to explain the many benefits to the poor and developing countries in regards to the introduction of meat into their diets. Robb gives his take on the constant drumbeat in the media for the elimination of meat from our diet despite data such as what is discussed in Gates’ review.

[01:16:59] Ken asks Robb about his take on the PRIME Act, or the Processing Revival and Intrastate Meat Exemption Act. Ken explains that the current law requires processing of all beef, pork and lamb to be slaughtered and processed in USDA inspected facilities or state facilities, which are often hundreds of miles away from small farms and ranches. Whereas the PRIME Act would give ranchers and farmers another more local-based option for processing and marketing their meat, and also give local restaurants, grocery stores and other food-service establishments the ability to more affordably source local meat.

[01:22:53] Dawn mentions that Robb is part of a team that has put together a  Sacred Cow website. The website focuses on the moral, environmental and nutritional issues we face in raising and eating animals, particularly the cow. Robb discusses the website and how people can order his book.

[01:25:18] Dawn asks about the film Robb and his co-author, Diana, are working on, which is designed to be complimentary to the book.

[01:26:05] Dawn asks how Robb and Diana met and what lead them to start working together.

[01:29:08] Dawn asks Robb for his advice for people who decline eating meat for religious or other reasons that have nothing to do with the environment.  She asks Robb to talk abou optimizing and maintaining metabolic health if you’re a person who doesn’t eat meat.

[01:30:59] Robb explains the 30-day challenge he gives readers in “Sacred Cow,” which helps people transition to a healthful and conscientious diet, as well as a way to support sustainable farms.

[01:34:14] Ken asks if Robb senses that the mainstream medical community is opening up to the idea of ketosis and fasting as tools to help people lose weight and improve their health.

[01:38:26] Dawn mentions that Robb and Nicki co-founded one of the first CrossFit affiliates in the country in 2004, where they worked a lot with people on their diet and exercise regimens. Dawn asks Robb to give an update on the gym.

[01:39:13] Ken asks what Robb’s training looks like since many gyms are closed due to COVID-19.

[01:42:51] Dawn closes the interview asking Robb if it’s true that he and Ken are working on a book together.

Episode 108: Ken and Dawn tackle questions ranging from AI to amino acids to methylene blue to ketosis to COVID-19

Because of the number of questions that keep pouring in, today we have another Ask Me Anything episode.  We also have been receiving requests to do more of these shows, so we plan to record more frequent AMA episodes in the future. If you have questions for Ken and Dawn, email them to STEM-Talk producer Randy Hammer at rhammer@ihmc.us.

In today’s episode we touch a little bit on COVID-19, but most questions revolve around diet and sleep and brain health. Ken also explains the meaning behind IHMC’s name and Dawn shares why she tweaked her vegetarian lifestyle to now include fish in her diet. Plus, Ken weighs in on the dangers of AI, real and imagined. It’s a fun, wide-ranging episode. Enjoy!

Show notes:

[00:02:28] Dawn opens the AMA with a listener question for Ken about his thoughts on social distancing.

[00:03:19] A listener asks Dawn about the long-term pulmonary effects for survivors of COVID-19, and how this will impact divers.

[00:04:49] Dawn reads a listener question for Ken about the U.S. relationship with China in regards to drug manufacturing: “During your interview with Katherine Eban, you made a comment about how current events related to COVID-19 truly highlight the fault in our dependency on Chinese manufacturing for our pharmaceuticals. That was just a few months ago…Where do you see our relationship with China heading with respect to drug manufacturing in the future?”

{00:06:54] Ken talks about the need for each individual to take responsibility for the pharmaceuticals they ingest and recommends listening to Katherine’s Eban’s STEM-Talk interview and checking out her website, which has a wealth of information about generic drugs.

[00:07:19] A listener asks Dawn about her shift from strict vegetarianism to occasionally adding fish into her diet. The listener wonders if this came about as a result of some of the discussions on STEM-Talk, or if her decision was inspired by something else?

[00:09:07] A listener asks Ken if he uses branch chain amino acids, and if so how?

[00:11:52] Ken talks about how combining essential amino-acid supplementation with mechanical loading via resistance training is a powerful strategy to combat the age-related loss of muscle function and mass that often leads to sarcopenia in the older population.

[00:14:45] Dawn poses a listener’s question to Ken about why nutritionists seem to almost unanimously tolerate intermittent fasting or time-restricted eating, but oppose the ketogenic diet. The listener goes on to ask if there is any difference between getting into ketosis through diet versus fasting.

[00:17:30] A listener asks Ken, who was an early adopter of a low-carb ketogenic diet, how his understanding of low-carb and healthy diets has changed as research has progressed.

[00:19:25] A listener talks about how their adoption of time-restricted eating has led to late-night binge eating. The listener asks if it is true that skipping breakfast makes it harder to suppress ghrelin, sometimes referred to as “the hunger hormone.” The listener is curious about this because so many STEM-Talk guests talk about how they skip breakfast.

[00:22:45] A listener asks Dawn: “In your podcast with Francisco Gonzalez-Lima, you talked about the potential role of methylene blue in protecting individuals exposed to environmental hypoxia. Do you know of any studies that have looked at this potential application of methylene blue?”

[00:26:05] A listener asks Ken about adding legumes back into one’s diet after losing weight through the ketogenic diet, and if the weight will return if legumes are reintroduced.

[00:29:20] A listener asks how Ken came up with the name “Institute for Human and Machine Cognition,” and what all the name entails?

[00:30:51] A listener asks Dawn about the replication of extreme environments in a lab setting when studying human performance in various extreme environments.

[00:34:56] A listener asks Ken: “There was some recent news coverage about how tanks are being driven by artificial intelligence and how machine guns are being equipped with facial recognition software…As I listened to the interview that Dawn did with you a while back, you said you didn’t agree with Elon Musk’s rather dark vision of rogue robots going around killing people…I’m curious if your thoughts about weaponized robots and the dangers of AI have changed over the past couple of years. And what do you see as the future?”

[00:37:14] In responding to a listener’s question about the best ways to improve a person’s mental health, Ken recommends throwing away your TV, limiting your time on social media, taking walks in forests, get better sleep, have more sex, and listen to STEM-Talk. He goes on to expand on some of these ideas.

[00:38:27] A listener asks if Ken has ever used the Ooler sleep device, and if so, what does he think of it?

[00:39:32] Dawn answers a listener’s question about what her research into the brain’s lymphatic system in extreme environments is yielding.

[00:41:54] A listener asks Ken to elaborate on a speech he gave in which he said people should strive to be better animals. Ken explains what he meant and adds that people should also recognize and embrace that we are all part of the animal kingdom.

[00:42:56] A listener mentions that there are several activity and sleep-tracking devices in the form of a ring, and that during the Peter Attia episode, Ken and Peter discussed the Oura ring and another ring that Ken said he was evaluating. The listener asks about the results of that evaluation.

[00:46:59] Ken asks Dawn if it’s true that you have better glymphatic function when you sleep on your side?

[00:47:52] A listener asks how the collection of health-related data via smartphones and wearables will impact the diving community. The listener goes on to ask if Dawn sees the diving community moving toward collecting such physiological parameters to define such things as decompression.

[00:50:14] Ken asks Dawn about underwater eye-tracking studies.

[00:51:32] Dawn closes the AMA with a listener’s question about natural sleep aids to maintain healthy sleep during the COVID-19 crisis and the disruption of sleep schedules that many people are experiencing in quarantine.

Learn more about IHMC

STEM-Talk homepage

Ken Ford bio

Dawn Kernagis bio