Episode 157: Don Layman on the role of dietary protein in muscle, health, and disease

Today we have one of the world’s foremost authorities on dietary protein and amino acids, Dr. Donald Layman. He is known for his extensive research on muscle development as well as his studies of metabolic regulation for obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Don is a professor emeritus in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. He spent 31 years on the faculty before stepping away in 2012. Much of Don’s research over the years investigated the impact of diet and exercise on adult health problems related to obesity, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

His lab at Illinois particularly focused on understanding metabolism. He conducted clinical trials for nearly two decades that helped create a new understanding about how to optimize people’s macronutrient balance and metabolism. In addition to his work on metabolism, Don has also conducted extensive research into ways to enhance body composition, increase energy levels and monitor blood sugar.

Today Don works as Director of Research for the American Egg Board and is a nutrition consultant for the National Dairy Council and The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. He also is the Chief Science Officer for Qivana, a natural products marketing company that promotes the weight-loss program that Don developed in his lab at the University of Illinois.

Show notes:

[00:04:02] Marcas asks Don what it was like growing up on a farm in a small town in northern Illinois.

[00:04:29] Marcas asks how small the town was that Don grew up in.

[00:05:16] Don explains how he first became interested in science.

[00:05:39] Don talks about how he realized in college that he wasn’t as good at math as he thought he was. He shares how this shifted his focus away from chemical engineering.

[00:06:27] Marcas asks if Don’s natural intuition and interest for biochemistry stemmed from growing up on a farm.

[00:07:10] Ken mentions that as Don was studying biochemistry, he started looking into protein synthesis with a professor by the name of Arlen Richardson, who was known for his aging research. Ken asks Don to talk about this period and how his interest in protein and muscle evolved.

[00:08:27] Marcas asks Don to explain for listeners the importance of protein as it relates to metabolism and what he means when he talks about protein turnover.

[00:09:36] Marcas mentions that we hear a lot about the need to maintain muscle as we grow older, but that back in the ‘70s and ‘80s when Don was starting his career, there wasn’t much of a focus on muscle, except in terms of athletic performance. Marcas goes on to explain that largely because of Don’s research, we now know that protein is critical in terms of helping people stay healthier as they age. Marcas asks Don to give a sense of just how important protein is for our health span and aging.

[00:12:35] Ken asks if it is true that the inefficiency in muscle protein synthesis begins as early as one’s thirties.

[00:14:11] Ken asks Don to talk about the right amount of protein an individual should consume and mentions that there is much confusion on this issue, largely due to the food pyramid’s recommended daily allowance for protein of 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight.

[00:15:51] Ken mentions that Don has talked in the past about how 40 percent of women who are 60 and older consume less than the RDA for protein, which is likely the bare minimum. Ken asks if it is reasonable to say that a plant-based diet for older women could be risky.

[00:17:13] Ken asks Don to address the claims that high-protein diets are not good for you, and that too much protein can harm your liver and kidney.

[00:18:47] Marcas shifts gears to talk about the quality of protein consumed. Marcas explains that it is much easier for carnivores to get the right amount of protein than vegans, largely because the amino acid leucine is vital for muscle repair and replacement, and leucine is very low in plant-based foods. Marcas asks Don to talk about the difficulty vegetarians and vegans have in consuming enough protein.

[00:21:07] Ken mentions that we hear a lot about the need to adopt a more plant-based diet, but that Don is on record saying that we already have a plant-based diet. Ken asks Don to elaborate on this.

[00:22:23] Marcas asks Don to talk about America’s plant-based diet in relationship to the obesity epidemic.

[00:23:18] Marcas shifts gears to talk about Don’s 1998 paper that set out to define the role of protein in regulating muscle protein synthesis at the level of translation initiation, which is the rate-limiting step in protein synthesis. Marcas asks Don to talk about this study and its significance.

[00:26:00] Ken mentions that Don followed up the aforementioned 1998 paper with a parallel article titled “Leucine Supplementation Enhances Skeletal Muscle Recovery in Rats Following Exercise.” This study showed a link between protein, specifically leucine, to muscle initiation factors. Ken asks Don to talk about the significance of this paper.

[00:28:08] Ken pivots to discuss mTOR, or mammalian target of rapamycin, and explains that there’s confusion about mTOR and protein because public discourse about mTOR is full of mixed signals. Ken explains that we have had several guests on STEM-Talk to discuss mTOR, including David Sabatini, episode 70, who discovered mTOR. Ken asks Don to give an overview of mTOR. (Some other STEM-Talk interviews that covered mTOR include Keith Baar, episodes 62 and 63, and Matt Kaeberlein, episode 139.)

[00:30:33] Ken mentions the difference between chronic and pulsatile activation of mTOR.

[00:32:58] Ken asks Don about his 2005 paper titled “Dietary Protein and Exercise Have Additive Effects on Body Composition,” a paper that demonstrated the synergy of protein and exercise.

[00:36:50] In a follow-up question, Marcas asks how this protein-diet and exercise combination that Don proposes can help in the maintenance of weight loss.

[00:39:28] Ken asks about the advantages of protein in terms of thermogenesis and satiation.

[00:42:04] Marcas asks Don what sort of exercise people should do to build muscle after correcting their protein intake. Marcas asks if exercise should be focused on muscle building or aerobics.

[00:45:27] Ken mentions that Marcas led a clinical trial in 2011 at the University of Alabama Birmingham that showed how men and women in their 60s and 70w who underwent supervised weight training developed muscles that were as strong as those of the average 35- to 40-year-old. Ken asks Marcas to share how this study demonstrated that the neuromuscular system of older adults could be robustly responsive to resistance training.

[00:48:54] After describing his clinical trial that looked at supervised weight training for men and women in their 60s and 70s, Marcas asks Don for his thoughts on prescriptive dosing of exercise for older adults.

[00:51:45] Marcas asks Don if there is an optimal timing of protein intake relative to exercise to get the maximum benefit.

[00:53:42] Marcas mentions Don’s website “Metabolic Transformation,” and the work Don has done with his former student Dr. Gabrielle Lyon on the concepts of muscle centric health and protein centric diets.

[00:56:46] Ken asks Don to walk listeners through what happens while we sleep and why it is important to start the day with a substantial amount of protein at breakfast.

[00:59:21] Marcas asks, considering Don’s recommendation of forty grams of protein at breakfast, what Don generally eats for breakfast.

[01:01:46] Ken asks how many grams of protein people should aim for at dinner and lunch.

[01:03:29] Marcas circles back to intermittent fasting and time restricted eating and asks Don if he thinks they are effective strategies for weight loss and maintenance.

[01:06:02] Marcas mentions that Don’s former student, Gabrielle Lyon, has a book coming out that builds off a lot of the research she and Don have worked on together. Marcas asks Don what he knows about the book, which is titled “Forever Strong: A New Science-Based Strategy for Aging Well.”

[01:07:14] Ken asks Don about a panel discussion that Don was part of at the American Society of Nutrition conference in Boston over the summer. Don talks about some of the key points that came out of the discussion, which was titled “The Global Nutrition Transition: Improving Nutrient Analysis and Monitoring of Metabolic Markers.”

[01:10:07] Ken closes the interview asking how Don spends his time now that he has stepped away from his day-to-day duties at Illinois.


Learn more about IHMC

STEM-Talk homepage

Ken Ford bio

Ken Ford Wikipedia page

Marcas Bamman bio

Donald Layman bio

Metabolic Transformation website




Episode 156: Josh Hagen discusses optimizing performance in athletes and warfighters

Today’s interview is with Dr. Josh Hagen, the director of the Human Performance Collaborative at Ohio State University and an Associate Research Professor in the university’s Department of Integrated Systems Engineering.

Joining co-host Ken Ford for this episode is IHMC’s Chief Strategic Partnership Officer Morley Stone who has a long history with Josh has and been instrumental in his career.

Today we talk with Josh about his work at the Human Performance Collaborate, which brings together multi-disciplinary teams of researchers, sports scientists, data scientists, and practitioners with the goal of optimizing human performance in Ohio State athletes.

Within the human performance research area, Josh leads two areas: Sport and Tactical Performance Science and Recovery Science. At Ohio State, Josh works with other performance-science researchers to evaluate the physical traits and capabilities of athletes. Josh and his colleagues then collaborate with coaches and athletic trainers to make adjustments in the weight room, on the field, and during recovery after training or competitions.

In addition to his work at Ohio State, Josh also is working on federally funded projects in human performance with Special Operations Command, The Air Force Research Laboratory, the Office of Naval Research and several private foundations. Josh joined IHMC in 2022 in a collaborate role as a Visiting Senior Research Scientist.

Josh is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati where he studied and earned a Ph.D. in materials science and engineering. He spent 11 years at the Air Force Research Laboratory, which is where Morley and Josh first worked together. After his stint at the Air Force Research Laboratory, Josh headed for West Virginia University as the director of the Human Performance Innovation Center at the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute before moving to the Ohio State University.

Show notes:

[00:03:39] Morley starts the interview asking Josh if he played a lot of sports as a kid.

[00:03:54] Morley asks if it is true that in addition to being a bit of a jock, Josh was also a nerd growing up.

[00:04:34] Josh talks about the high school chemistry teacher who got him excited about science.

[00:06:05] Morley asks how Josh ended up at the University of Cincinnati.

[00:07:06] Morley mentions that after Josh earned his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, he worked for a private company before deciding he did not want to spend his career in chemical engineering. Morley asks about the advice that one of his professors gave Josh at the time.

[00:09:03] Ken mentions that it was at the Materials Directorate at the Air Force Research Lab, where Josh first met Morley. Ken asks Morley what he remembers about the young Josh.

[00:11:19] Ken turns the question to Josh and asks him about his first impressions of Morley.

[00:12:12] Ken mentions that after Josh completed his graduate work, he again went to work in the private sector, and again found it unfulfilling. Josh talks about calling Morley to see if he had a job opening.

[00:13:51] Morley mentions that in 2018, Josh left the Air Force and went to work at West Virginia University, where he became the director of the Human Performance Innovation Center at the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute. Morley asks Josh how that job came about and what sort of work went on in that lab.

[00:15:46] Ken mentions that after Josh’s time at West Virginia, Morley offered Josh a job at Ohio State University, where Morley was, at the time, the senior vice president for research at Ohio State. Ken asks what this time was like for Josh.

[00:17:17] Morley mentions that in Josh’s role as the director of the Human Performance Collaborative, he works with a multidisciplinary team, and largely worked with two populations, sports athletes and the military. Morley asks Josh to give a sense of how Josh’s lab works with both groups.

[00:20:18] Morley asks Josh to explain what he means by “the need to understand performance on a system level.”

[00:23:14] Ken asks Josh about the use of Heart Rate Variability monitoring on Ohio State’s wrestling team.

[00:26:34] Morley references a video in which Josh talks about using training load monitors in work with athletes. Morley asks Josh to explain how they work and how one uses them to get more insight into an athlete.

[00:29:13] Morley asks Josh what the biggest change he has seen in how athletes approach the off season.

[00:32:03] Morley mentions that Josh was part of a longitudinal study that looked at changes in a baseball player’s maximal strength as a result of resistance training. The study focused the impact the exercise had in terms of total home runs per game across three years of training in four competitive seasons for four teams. Morley asks Josh to talk about this study.

[00:33:40] Morley switches topics to Josh’s research and studies on wearables and other technologies related to enhancing human performance. Morley mentions Josh’s 2020 paper that examined the use of commercially available heart rate devices to derive an estimate of core body temperature in division-1 NCAA football players, The goal was to find a viable tool to identify heat stress in players. Morley asks Josh to talk about the findings of this study and their significance.

[00:38:18] Ken mentions Josh’s 2020 paper on monitoring neuromuscular performance in military personnel. Ken goes on to mention that there is a high standard that elite tactical forces must meet in terms of physical readiness. He asks Josh how he conducted this study, as well as the importance of closely monitoring neuromuscular performance in military troops.

[00:43:08] Ken asks about Josh’s study on popular commercial off-the-shelf wearables that give health data for consumers.  Ken asks about their accuracy.

[00:48:57] With respect to Josh’s sleep study, Ken asks, which of the nine devices tested was more effective.  Or, Ken wonders, did they all have about same level of accuracy and effectiveness.

[00:50:16] Ken mentions some of the problems with sleep monitoring devices, particularly their inability to accurately track sleep staging. Ken asks Josh if he has any advice for people on what sleep device they should use and how they should approach using it.

[00:53:12] Morley brings up the case of first responders and mentions that firefighters are three times more likely to die on the job than any other occupation. Morley goes on to mention that while there is a great deal of attention paid to developing better equipment and gear to protect firefighters, not as much attention has been paid to understanding the physiological and biological processes that firefighters experience as a part of their job. Morley asks about Josh’s study conducted on firefighters titled “Biomarker and Biometric Indices of Physical Exhaustion in the Firefighting Community.”

[00:57:52] Morley asks Josh about his work with the Air Force’s 711th Human Performance Wing, particularly Josh’s project that he has led for the past decade called STRONG (signature tracking or optimized nutrition and training) which aims to develop physical training routines and nutritional approaches that can enhance a warfighter’s performance and resilience.

[01:01:09] Morley asks what are some of the technologies Josh has explored in the STRONG lab.

[01:02:59] Ken asks if there is a difference in the error bars between more and less expensive bio impedance measurement devices in comparison to dexa scans.

[01:04:01] Ken asks Morley to give an overview of IHMC’s research project that involves Josh, Ohio State University, and the STRONG lab, called AAPEX (Assessing and Augmenting Performance in Extreme Environments). Ken explains that this project aims for real time assessment of a special operator’s cognitive performance over long-duration missions, often in extreme environments, as well as developing wearable devices and an integrated system that will help warfighters overcome fatigue and stress by continually sensing and assessing their performance.

[01:08:28] Ken asks Josh about his use of the Smartabase platform, which is a commercial human performance optimization platform used for sports teams, military, and other organizations. Ken also asks why Josh is a fan of this platform and what it offers.

[01:12:45] Morley closes the interview by asking Josh how someone goes from working for a private company developing spearmint and other flavors to working with elite warfighters and athletes.


Josh Hagen bio

Learn more about IHMC

STEM-Talk homepage

Ken Ford bio

Ken Ford Wikipedia page

Dawn Kernagis bio

Episode 155: Chris McCurdy discusses kratom’s benefits and possible risks

Today we have the world’s foremost authority on kratom returning to STEM-Talk after five years to give us an update on his research. Shortly after his 2018 interview on episode 61,  Dr. Christopher McCurdy and his lab at the University of Florida received two major grants from the National Institute of Drug Abuse to investigate the medical efficacy of kratom and its alkaloids, which we discuss in today’s show.

Mitragyna speciosa, or kratom, is an herbal leaf from a tropical evergreen tree in the coffee family.  It is native to Southeast Asia where it has been used in herbal medicine for hundreds of years. Kratom has become increasingly popular in the United States and throughout the world for recreational purposes. But kratom is also becoming recognized in the medical and research communities for its treatment for chronic pain as well as its potential to alleviate opioid withdrawal symptoms.

For more than 25 years, McCurdy has studied the design, synthesis, and development of drugs to treat pain, anxiety, and substance-abuse disorders. For the past 15 years, Chris and his lab have turned a lot of their attention toward kratom and its chemical components to better understand its potential to treat a multitude of conditions.

Chris is a professor in the Medicinal Chemistry Department in the College of Pharmacy at the University of Florida. He also is director of the of school’s Translational Drug Development Core and an Associate Dean for Faculty Development.

Our interview with Chris comes on the heels of Florida passing the Kratom Consumer Protection Act, which mandates that kratom products sold in the state meet a high standard of product purity. In today’s interview, we talk to Chris about the protection act as well as:

— The numerous studies he has been able to conduct thanks to his lab’s two grants from the National Institute of Drug Abuse.

— The disparity between the traditional use of kratom and the new often highly concentrated manufactured products sold in the U.S.

— His lab’s study examining the effects of lyophilized kratom tea and its ability to alleviate withdrawal symptoms of opioid-dependence.

— The potential of kratom alkaloids to serve as treatment of various substance abuse disorders.

— The benefits and risks associated with CBD usage.

Show notes

[00:03:21] Dawn opens the interview welcoming Chris back to STEM-Talk and mentions that his last appearance was episode 61 in 2018. Dawn explains that Chris has devoted much of his research to kratom, or Mitragyna speciosa, which is a traditional Southeast Asian medicine. It has been used by indigenous populations for centuries to increase endurance, enhance mood, treat pain, and mitigate opioid withdrawal symptoms. Dawn asks Chris to give a short overview of kratom and why it is attracting so much attention recently.

[00:09:14] Ken mentions that at the time Chris first appeared on STEM-Talk, he was in the process of attracting funding to take a deep dive into kratom, which he has now secured from the National Institute of Drug Abuse. Ken asks Chris to give a general overview of the research they are conducting with this grant and what they are finding.

[00:15:19] Dawn mentions that in Chris’s last interview on STEM-Talk, he mentioned that researching kratom was difficult due to a lack of standardization and asks if this has changed.

[00:21:11] Ken asks about a Thai product that is a freeze-dried leaf, which is coming to the US market, and if this product is more like what is used in Southeast Asia as opposed to the ground leaf material available in the U.S. market.

[00:24:29] Dawn mentions that in 2020, Chris and a colleague published an article in the journal Current Opinion in Psychiatry on the need to address the disparity between the traditional use of kratom and the new often highly concentrated manufactured products sold in the U.S. and other countries. Dawn asks Chris to talk about the points made in this article.

[00:32:35] Ken follows up on the previous discussion asking how the alkaloid strength and combination may change not only due to the processing of the kratom leaf material, but also as a factor of time.

[00:36:33] Dawn asks about a paper that Chris and his colleagues published  in the journal Addiction Biology, which reported on research conducted with rats and looked at two of the major psychoactive constituents of kratom: mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, with an eye toward understanding their potential therapeutic value as well as their abuse potential.

[00:44:12] Ken mentions that in November of 2020, Chris and his team published an article reporting on research examining the effects of lyophilized kratom tea with an eye toward determining if kratom alleviated withdrawal symptoms of opioid-dependence. Ken asks about the findings of this study.

[00:50:21] Ken asks Chris what the difference is between the lyophilized kratom tea and other preparations.

[00:54:20] Dawn mentions an article that Chris published in January and was tagged by the International Association of Pain Management as its paper of the week. Dawn explains that the paper addressed the potential of kratom alkaloids to serve as treatment of various substance abuse disorders. These alkaloids may serve as a blueprint for the development of novel therapies to treat these disorders. Dawn asks Chris to summarize this paper and its findings.

[00:58:51] Dawn shifts the conversation to talk about CBD and explains that the FDA has said that further research needs to be done to determine how much CBD can be consumed before harm is caused. Chris has gone on record saying that we need to balance consumer desire for CBD products with a regulatory framework to ensure safety. Dawn asks Chris about the benefits and risks associated with CBD usage.

[01:07:19] Ken asks Chris about a recent bill signed into law called the Florida Kratom Consumer Protection Act, which mandates that kratom products sold in Florida meet a very high standard of product purity. It also establishes labeling requirements and limits sales to consumers aged 21 and older. Ken asks Chris to talk about this legislation and why he was in favor of it.

[01:13:13] Dawn closes the interview mentioning that Chris has certainly had a lot on his plate over the past five years. She asks what he foresees for his research over the next five years.


Christopher McCurdy bio

Learn more about IHMC

STEM-Talk homepage

Ken Ford bio

Ken Ford Wikipedia page

Dawn Kernagis bio


Episode 154: Orthopedic surgeon Brian Cole discusses advances in the treatment of knee, elbow and shoulder injuries

Today we have Dr. Brian Cole, an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in cartilage restoration, orthobiologics, and advanced surgical techniques for the treatment of knee, elbow, and shoulder injuries. He is the team physician for the NBA’s Chicago Bulls and the co-team physician for the Chicago White Sox. He also is the host of the Sports Medicine Weekly Podcast.

Brian practices orthopedic sports medicine at Midwest Orthopaedics. He also is a professor of Orthopaedics, Anatomy and Cell Biology at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. He is Managing Partner of Midwest Orthopaedics and is the department’s Associate Chairman and the Section Head of the Cartilage Research and Restoration Center. In addition to this work, he also serves as the Chairman of Surgery at Rush Oak Park Hospital.

In today’s interview, we talk to Brian about his cutting-edge research into ways to treat knee, shoulder, and elbow injuries.  Brian shares his novel approach to dealing with ACL tears, one of the most common sports injuries, and his investigations of methods to enhance the healing and recovery time following ACL reconstructions. He also talks about new advances in minimally invasive surgical techniques for many common injuries.  We have a particularly interesting conversation with Brian about exciting developments in the use of stem-cell treatments as well as the use of bone marrow aspirate to treat injuries.

Show notes:

[00:03:53] Marcas opens the interview mentioning that Brian was in the eighth grade when he fell in love with a popular sit-com from the 1970s,  “The Bob Newhart Show.” Marcas asks Brain what he loved about the show and what impact it had on him.

[00:05:07] Brian enrolled in the University of Illinois after graduating from high school. Marcas asks Brian if knew he wanted to major in biology and psychology when he arrived on campus.

[00:05:58] Ken mentions that after Brian’s undergrad, he travelled upstate to the University of Chicago, where he earned an MD and an MBA. Ken asks what led Brian to pursue both an MD and MBA.

[00:09:52] Ken explains that after the University of Chicago, Brian moved to New York City for an orthopaedic research fellowship in metabolic bone disease at the Hospital for Special Surgery. Brian also decided to do his residency there as well. Ken asks how that came about.

[00:11:31] Marcas mentions that after Brian finished his fellowship and residency, he went to the University of Pittsburgh for a sports medicine fellowship. Marcas asks what led Brian there and what drove his interest in sports medicine.

[00:13:10] Marcas asks Brian about a fortuitous phone call he received when he was a fourth-year resident.

[00:14:34] Ken explains that Midwest Orthopaedics is one of the nation’s most respected private orthopaedic practices.  Ken notes that through a partnership with Rush University Medical Center, Midwest has developed a national reputation as a leader in sports medicine; hip, knee, spine, and cartilage restoration; as well as shoulder care and pain management. Rush also is an academic medical center that includes a 671-bed hospital and is a center for basic and clinical research. Ken asks Brian to describe the scope of the work that goes on at Midwest and Rush.

[00:17:20] Marcas comments that Brian is also the head team physician for the Chicago Bulls and the co-team physician for the Chicago White Sox, and asks Brian to describe some of the work that he does in that capacity.

[00:20:09] Marcas explains that Brian treats a wide range of patients with injuries and pain, from athletes to non-athletes, and from children to senior citizens, and that he has performed more than 20,000 surgeries over the course of his career. Marcas asks Brian to give a sense of the patients he sees and what his average day at the office is like.

[00:24:00] Ken points out that Brian is known for focusing on treating the patient and not the x-ray or MRI. Ken goes on to say that x-rays and MRIs often bog down both the practitioner and patient with too much information. Brian often refers to this overload as BARF and VOMIT. Ken asks Brian to explain what he means by BARF and VOMIT.

[00:31:56] Marcas reflects that a few decades ago, the only way to help someone with the loss of cartilage in the knee was to surgically go into the knee and clean up the debris. Bone on bone pain makes it difficult to walk, get up and down in a chair, and climb stairs. Marcas asks Brian to explain the range of options available to patients today in this regard.

[00:35:31] Ken mentions that in the past couple of decades, there have been numerous advancements in how to treat patients with shoulder, elbow, and knee injuries via non-surgical means, ranging from biochemical to pharmacological to diet and rehabilitation. Ken asks Brian to give an overview of these nonsurgical methods and the status of evidence supporting each.

[00:39:08] Ken explains that weight loss is often an effective approach to reducing knee pain, and that for every pound a person loses, it leads to a five-to seven-pound reduction at the level of a person’s joints below their waist. Ken asks Brian to talk about the importance of this and how he and others in the practice discuss this with their patients.

[00:43:06] Marcas explains that ACL tears often require surgery and are among the most common injuries for athletes and workers in physically demanding jobs, with approximately 500,000 ACL tears each year. Marcas asks Brian to give a sense of what happens to a person when they experience an ACL injury.

[00:46:05] Marcas comments that according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, ACL tears have skyrocketed among 14- to 18-year-olds, increasing by 148 percent over the past 10 years. Marcas asks what is causing this increase.

[00:48:28] Ken follows up on the previous question mentioning that there is a critical need to develop novel strategies to enhance ACL healing and accelerate recovery time after an ACL reconstruction. Ken goes on to mention that Brian has a study that was designed to assess the effect of bone marrow aspirate concentrate to reduce recovery time and asks about the findings of this study.

[00:51:03] Marcas comments that in the late 1900s, cultured chondrocytes implanted beneath a periosteal patch were used as a treatment for chondral injuries. Animal studies had demonstrated hyaline-like repair. Along with encouraging early clinical results, this led to the widespread implementation of autologous chondrocyte implantation, or ACI, in the U.S. and Europe. Marcas goes on to say that many clinical studies supported the long-term efficacy and durability of ACI, but today, scientists are investigating alternative methods of enhancing the biological repair and the surgical technique using ACI. Marcas asks about Brian’s paper – titled  “Current Status of Autologous Chondrocyte Implantation” –that recently appeared in Sports Medicine Reports.

[00:53:52] Ken asks Brian to discuss meniscal tears, which are the most common pathology of the knee, and one of the most common pathologies in sports medicine. Ken mentions that Brian coauthored an editorial in the Journal of Arthroscopic and Related Surgery that pointed out the most important first step in terms of treatment is determining whether the injury is an acute traumatic tear or a degenerative one.

[00:56:11] Ken asks Brian about the use of bone marrow aspirate, or platelet-rich plasma, as a source of growth factors in progenitor cells in rotator cuff repair, a topic on which Brian has a paper coming out highlighting reductions in re-tear rates.

[00:58:30] Marcas mentions that Brian has also been involved in a few biomechanics studies looking at fixation of soft tissue to bone and also fixation of soft tissue using sutures, and asks Brian to give a sense of why this work is important.

[01:00:31] Marcas explains that current research on osteoarthritis and treatments for it are moving beyond the diseased joint, integrating other articular tissues, including synovium, fibrocartilage, and bone, as well as periarticular structures like muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Marcas asks how this model affects treatment plans.

[01:03:43] Marcas explains that until recently, the impact of inflammation on OA pathogenesis was perhaps underappreciated, as OA was not considered an inflammatory disease. He goes on to explain that the field seems to have shifted in this thinking to now include effects of inflammation on periarticular tissues. Marcas asks Brian what his thoughts are on this.

[01:08:05] Ken mentions that one of the more promising developments in the field is the use of stem-cell treatments of various kinds, and to this point Ken mentions that there are a number of different approaches. Ken asks Brian to talk about this and perhaps separate fact from fiction on the matter.

[01:10:23] Ken asks about cultured stem cells, which are used in treatments for which thousands of Americans travel overseas for each year. Ken asks if there are studies that show increased efficacy in any of these methods.

[01:11:29] Ken mentions that Brian also specializes in the treatment of glenohumeral arthritis, which is a degenerative joint disease affecting the shoulder, and is characterized by the degeneration or wearing away of the protective cartilage covering the ends of the bones in the joint. Ken asks Brian to explain what the standard of care is for this disease.

[01:13:41] Marcas asks what the average lifespan of a modern shoulder replacement can be expected to be.

[01:15:44] Ken asks how reverse shoulder replacement compares to anatomical shoulder replacement.

[01:17:10] Ken asks about a 2019 study in the British Medical Journal that reported the risks associated with shoulder replacement surgery for arthritic conditions is much higher than previously thought. Ken explains that the study found that one in four men aged 55 to 59 were at risk of needing further revision surgery, and that the risk of serious adverse events like heart attacks and major blood clots within 90 days of surgery were much higher than previously estimated, particularly in people over 85 years of age.

[01:21:29] Marcas closes the interview mentioning that Brian, in addition to his medical practice, is also in the podcast business, hosting a weekly show called “Sports Medicine Weekly Podcast with Dr. Brian Cole.” Marcas asks Brian to discuss the range of topics covered in the podcast.

Episode 153: Dominic D’Agostino discusses new advances in the study of nutritional ketosis

Today we have our good friend and colleague Dr. Dominic D’Agostino returning for his third appearance on STEM-Talk. Dom, as most of our longtime listeners know, is well-known for his research into the ketogenic diet and the physiological benefits of nutritional ketosis. Since our last conversation with Dom in 2019, a tremendous body of research has been added to the literature about the therapeutic potential of ketosis. The high-fat, low-carb ketogenic diet has been linked to advances in the treatment of Alzheimer’s, cancer, migraines, type-2 diabetes, psoriasis, sleep apnea, psychiatric disorders, traumatic brain injuries as well as a host of other diseases and disorders, which we cover in today’s interview.

In episode 14 of STEM-Talk, we talked to Dom about his development and testing of metabolic therapies involving the ketogenic diet for a wide range of diseases and conditions. In episode 87, Dom returned to reflect on his 10 years of research focused on the high-fat/low-carbohydrate diet.

In today’s interview, we talk to Dom about this latest work as well as his extensive research on hyperbaric oxygen. Dom is a tenured Associate Professor in the Department of Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology at the University of South Florida Morsani. He specializes in neuroscience, molecular pharmacology, nutrition, and physiology. Dom also is our colleague and a research scientist here at the IHMC.

Show notes

 [00:02:50] Dawn opens the interview mentioning Dom’s recent IHMC Evening Lecture, in which he mentions the film “First Do No Harm” starring Meryl Streep. The film is based on the true story of a four-year-old boy diagnosed with severe epilepsy, whose extreme seizures continued despite extensive medical treatments. The boy’s mother reached to Dr. John Freeman, a physician who had successfully treated patients with a ketogenic diet. Dawn asks Dom to give some context about this fictional film based on a true story.

[00:05:05] Dawn asks Dom to discuss the many evidence-based applications of the ketogenic diet that he highlighted in his IHMC evening lecture.

[00:07:11] Ken asks Dom about another story involving Russell Winwood, a man with severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, also known as COPD. Russell reached out to Dom with respect to treating his COPD with a ketogenic diet.

[00:11:21] Ken asks if Russell only engaged in the ketogenic diet or if also used exogenous ketones.

[00:12:10] Ken mentions that the ketogenic diet has the broad potential to be an anti-inflammatory diet. Ken goes on to mention that COPD is an inflammatory disease. As Dom’s case report suggested, Ken wonders if the ketogenic diet has the potential to have strong therapeutic effects for other inflammatory conditions as well. Ken asks what other conditions Dom thinks might benefit from therapeutic ketosis.

[00:14:02] Dawn mentions that Dom has been busy since his last appearance on STEM-Talk, having authored or collaborated on more than 40 papers, one of which garnered a lot of attention and was published in Frontiers in Neuroscience. This paper investigated whether therapeutic ketosis via ketone esters could represent a viable way to treat epilepsy and other seizure disorders. Dawn asks Dom to elaborate on this paper’s findings and their significance.

[00:16:26] Ken mentions that those listeners who are unfamiliar with ketone esters may want to check out our interview with Dr. Brianna Stubbs. Ken asks Dom to give a quick primer on ketone esters and why so many researchers in the field are excited about their potential.

[00:19:20] Ken mentions that in addition to ketone salts and ketone esters, there are other product formulations out now, like the one from a company called Kenetik. Ken asks Dom what he thinks about this formulation.

[00:23:33] Dawn mentions that Dom has had a number of animal studies published since 2019 looking at ketone induced neuroprotection and asks Dom to give an overview of some of this work.

[00:25:57] Dawn asks Dom about his research on Angelman Syndrome, which is a rare genetic and neurological disorder that causes seizures, developmental delay, loss of body movements, and lack of speech. Dawn mentions that Dom was a part of a mouse study that explored whether ketone supplementation could mimic the ketogenic diet as an anticonvulsant, as well as the effects of ketone esters on behavioral and metabolic outcomes. The results of this study were promising, and Dawn asks Dom to talk about some of the key takeaways.

[00:29:37] Ken mentions that it makes sense that the ketogenic diet would elevate NAD (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide) levels. Ken asks Dom whether this same effect is observed with exogenous ketones.

[00:30:32] Ken mentions that in the last decade there have been numerous human studies that have investigated the therapeutic role of ketogenic diets in various neurological disorders, with recent work looking into the potential therapeutic effects of ketosis on Alzheimer’s disease. Ken asks Dom to touch on some of this research, and also mentions that episode 59 of STEM-Talk with Steven Cunnane focused a good bit on Alzheimer’s in the context of exogenous ketones.

[00:35:02] Dawn mentions that Dom was part of two studies that examined the effects of a ketogenic diet on athletic performance. Dawn goes on to explain that high-carbohydrate, low-fat diets have been the standard for athletes for years, but recent research has challenged the superiority of carb loading. Dawn mentions that former IHMC colleague Dr. Andrew Koutnik published a study that had middle aged athletes undergo two different 31-day isocaloric diets, one which was high carb, and the other ketogenic. Dawn explains that both Dom and Jeff Volek participated in this study and asks Dom what the key takeaways were.

[00:37:46] Ken explains that Dom and Jeff Volek also collaborated with Andrew Koutnik on another study on the crossover effect. Before diving into that study specifically, Ken asks Dom to explain what the crossover effect is.

[00:40:13] Dawn mentions that Dom has been a part of many studies that have demonstrated the positive impact of a ketogenic diet, but addressing the elephant in the room, Dawn asks Dom what his thoughts are on the fact that some individuals respond to the ketogenic diet by developing a marked elevation of LDL cholesterol on the ketogenic diet, otherwise known as the lean mass hyper-responder phenotype. Dawn specifically asks Dom about an article he and other researchers published in the Journal of Clinical Lipidology on this topic, titled “Elevated LDL-cholesterol levels among lean mass hyper-responders on low-carbohydrate ketogenic diets deserve urgent clinical attention and further research.”

[00:45:16] Dawn explains that there is no one-size fits all diet, with some people breezing through a ketogenic diet and others who do not tolerate it as well. She mentions that Dom had a review published a few years ago that examined genetic and other markers in an effort to identify how people might respond to a ketogenic diet, the goal being to identify individuals who were most likely to benefit from a ketogenic diet, and pinpoint individuals who might be at risk of adverse health outcomes because of the diet. Dawn asks Dom to walk through this review and explain its findings.

[00:50:03] Ken mentions that Dom has done a lot of research on hyperbaric oxygen, which is a well-established treatment for decompression sickness, which is a risk among divers. Ken goes on to explain that hyperbaric oxygen therapy is now being used to treat several medical conditions including traumatic brain injury. There is controversy, however, regarding this therapy. Ken asks Dom to give a short primer on hyperbaric oxygen and why it has lately attracted so much attention.

[00:52:56] Dawn follows up by jumping into a discussion about the NASA project NEEMO that sends crews of astronauts, aquanauts, engineers, and scientists to live in a facility at the bottom of the Atlantic, known as Aquarius. It is the world’s only undersea research station. Dawn explains that NEEMO provides a good analog for space exploration, by mimicking the high physiological stress environment that astronauts experience during space missions. Dawn explains that she was on the crew of NEEMO 21 and Dom was on the crew of NEEMO 22, and Dom’s wife was a NEEMO support diver during NEEMO 22. She later became a part of the all-women crew in NEEMO 23. Dawn asks Dom to talk about his experience on NEEMO as well as the research he conducted.

[00:57:58] Dawn asks about Dom’s paper he published after his experience on NEEMO, titled “Human Adaptations to Multiday Saturation on NASA NEEMO,” which explored the physical and psychological effects of living in a multiday hyperbaric environment. Dawn asks Dom to discuss this paper’s findings and its significance.

[01:04:25] Ken mentions that Dom and his wife have moved to a farm and asks what life on the farm is like.


Dominic D’Agostino USF bio

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Ken Ford bio

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Dawn Kernagis bio


Episode 152: Mark Shelhamer talks about the effects of spaceflight on humans and NASA’s Planned Mars Mission

Today we have the former chief scientist of NASA’s Human Research Program, Dr. Mark Shelhamer. Mark specializes in neurovestibular adaptation to spaceflight.

He is an otolaryngology professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the director of the school’s Human Spaceflight Lab. He also the director and founder of the Bioastronautics at Hopkins initiative.

In addition to his work with NASA, Mark is an advisor to the commercial and consumer spaceflight industry. In today’s interview, we talk to Mark about some of this work, as well as the research he conducted on the first all-civilian crew that successfully orbited the Earth for three days in a SpaceX capsule.

We mostly talk to Mark, however, about how the harsh conditions of space imperil humans. We have a fascinating discussion about Mark’s role in NASA’s planned human mission to Mars and how he is investigating ways to maintain the health and performance of astronauts on such a long-duration spaceflight.  We also discuss how the lessons Mark is learning about how the lessons of human spaceflight can be applied to healthcare on Earth.

Show notes:

[00:02:42] Dawn starts the interview mentioning that Mark grew up in Philadelphia in the ‘70s. She asks Mark what he was like as a kid.

[00:03:32] Dawn asks if it is true that Mark played drums in a band in school.

[00:03:54] Ken asks Mark to talk about an uncle who was key in fostering Mark’s interest in math and science.

[00:05:31] Ken mentions that Mark was only 10 years old when he took up an interest in electronics and asks what sparked that and what electronics he specifically found interesting.

[00:08:14] Dawn mentions that Mark attended Drexel University and initially wanted to become an electrical engineer but changed his mind somewhere along the way. Dawn asks what caused this shift.

[00:10:20] Ken asks Mark why he selected to attend MIT after Drexel.

[00:13:52] Ken asks Mark how he ended up at Johns Hopkins after finishing his studies at MIT.

[00:15:52] Dawn mentions that when Mark arrived at Johns Hopkins as a postdoc fellow in 1990, he continued the research he had been doing at MIT on sensory motor physiology and modeling, including astronaut adaptation to space flight. Dawn asks Mark to give an overview of this research as well as how he tracked back into studying astronauts.

[00:17:15] Ken mentions Mark’s 2007 book “Nonlinear Dynamics in Physiology: A State-Space Approach,” which provides mathematical-computational tools for analyzing experimental data. Ken asks Mark to talk about the book and its goals.

[00:20:43] Ken mentions that Mark has done quite a bit of research into motion sickness and vestibular issues, and asks about his more recent work on Space Motion Sickness.

[00:24:53] Dawn explains that on Mark’s Wikipedia page, there’s a reference to his pioneering work on a multidisciplinary approach to human space flight research. She asks Mark to give an overview of this work.

[00:29:17] Dawn explains that spaceflight has widespread effects on many different body systems at the same time, and that Mark has been an advocate for developing approaches to examining all these interactions in a rigorous way. Dawn asks if Mark feels that we should be taking this rigorous multidisciplinary approach and applying it to terrestrial medicine as well.

[00:34:08] Ken asks Mark to talk about some of the progress he has made in convincing certain groups that they need to embrace a multidisciplinary approach to their research.

[00:38:37] Dawn mentions that getting people, especially groups, to change their approach to research can be a daunting task. She goes on to mention that Mark has been quoted as saying “If there’s one thing I’m known for, it’s banging my head against the wall trying to convince people to do integrative research.” Dawn asks Mark how many scars he has on his forehead from these efforts.

[00:43:00] Dawn asks Mark to talk about his informal expertise on the history of NASA’s early stages of human spaceflight.

[00:48:54] Dawn explains that we may be on the cusp of another exciting time with NASA’s Artemis program and plans to return to the moon. Dawn also mentions that two years ago, the first all-civilian crew was sent on a 3-day mission orbiting Earth by SpaceX in a Falcon rocket. Dawn explains that there were several research projects related to Inspiration4 and that Mark was the principal investigator for one of them. Dawn asks Mark to talk about this project, which is part of a NASA-supported experiment to test and study astronauts through the year 2033.

[00:57:16] Ken points out the success of Apollo 17’s scientific inquiries thanks to Jack Schmitt being a scientist who had the chance to fly the mission as an astronaut. Ken and Mark talk about the importance of having more subject-matter experts go into space so that detailed spontaneous scientific observations can be made.

[01:00:16] Dawn mentions that in 2013, Mark took leave from Johns Hopkins to serve as the chief scientist of NASA’s Human Research Program. In this capacity, Mark particularly looked at the effects of space radiation on people as well as the behavioral risks of being confined with a small group of people in tight quarters on a long-duration spaceflight. Dawn asks Mark to talk more about this research.

[01:04:43] Mark Ken and Dawn discuss the psychological, mechanical, and physiological pros and cons of artificial gravity for a Mars mission.

[01:07:39] Dawn mentions that most human research has been focused on keeping people healthy in space. However, one thing that Mark is excited about is the potential of spaceflight research to enhance terrestrial healthcare. Dawn mentions that not everyone sees the broader scientific value of human spaceflight research. To address this, Mark and a group of colleagues published a paper in 2020 titled, “Selected discoveries from human research in space that are relevant to human health on earth.” Dawn asks Mark to talk about what some of the reservations are that people have about the ability of spaceflight research to enhance terrestrial healthcare.

[01:12:23] Ken mentions that this 2020 paper looked at five areas of physiology that support Mark’s contention of the broader implications of spaceflight research. Ken asks Mark to discuss these and their potential relevance to scientific and medical issues on Earth.

[01:17:53] Ken starts a dialogue about the assessment of risk for a Mars mission, as well as proposing pharmacological interventions for things like bone loss in long duration space flights.

[01:21:03] Ken explains that NASA estimates that it will take around seven months to get to Mars with a good planetary alignment. Ken goes on to explain that NASA is planning to send humans to Mars in the 2030s and asks Mark to give his thoughts about a future Mars Mission and the role that human research might play in enabling such missions.

[01:26:08] Dawn explains that in addition to Mark’s NASA work, he also has projects involving SpaceX and Blue Origin, and mentions that he must be very busy at the moment.

[01:26:45] Dawn mentions that Elon Musk has gone on record as saying that SpaceX will land humans on Mars by 2026 and asks Mark what his take on this is.

[01:28:16] Ken asks if it is true that Mark remains an avid ham radio hobbyist and still plays drums in his spare time.

[01:29:32] Dawn mentions that Mark’s high school is so proud of what he has accomplished in his career that last year he was inducted into his high school’s inaugural Hall of Fame class.

[01:31:15] Dawn asks if Mark’s previously mentioned connection to the Hubble Space telescope research program is in fact his wife.

[01:31:48] Dawn mentions that she has heard that Mark is a cat person and to close the interview asks Mark about that.

Episode 151: John Ioannidis talks about the bungled response to COVID-19

Back in early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. John Ioannidis wrote an article in March of 2020 questioning government statistics about the fatality rate associated with COVID-19. The backlash was swift and brutal and John’s reputation as one of the most influential scientists in the world took a beating.

Today, John makes his second appearance on STEM-Talk to discuss his extensive research into the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the public shaming he received in 2020 for questioning the World Health Organization’s prediction of a 3.4 percent fatality rate associated with COVID-19.

John also talks about his most recent peer-reviewed paper that looked at the age-stratified infection fatality rate of COVID-19 in the non-elderly population.  The study found that the pre-vaccination fatality rate for those infected may have been as low as 0.03 percent for people under 60 years old, and 0.07 percent for people under 70, far below the World Health Organization’s prediction of a 3.4 percent fatality rate.

In today’s episode, John walks us through this paper, which was published in January, as well as what he describes as the U.S. government’s bungled response to COVID-19. He also discusses the importance of collecting reliable data in the future to guide disease modelers and governments before they make decisions of monumental significance like lockdowns. He goes on to share how he underestimated the power that politics and the media, or powers outside of science, can have on science.

Over the past two decades, John’s research has earned him a global reputation as a consummate physician and researcher, which contributed to The Atlantic describing John in 2010 as one of the most influential scientists alive. He is a professor of Medicine, Epidemiology and Population Health as well as a statistician and professor of biomedical data science at Stanford University.

Back in 2018 when we interviewed John on episode 77 of STEM-Talk, we talked to him about his 2005 paper questioning the reliability of most medical research. The paper, titled, “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False,” found that much of the medical science reported in peer-reviewed journals is flawed and cannot be replicated. The paper is the most citied article in the history of the journal PLoS Medicine and has been viewed more than 3 million times.

Show notes:

[00:03:16] Dawn opens the interview welcoming John back to STEM-Talk. his last appearance being in 2018. Dawn explains that when John last appeared on STEM-Talk in 2018, he was described by Atlantic Magazine as “one of the most influential scientists alive.” But in the intervening years, John became public enemy number one in 2020 after a paper he published questioning government statistics about COVID 19’s fatality rate. Dawn asks John if it’s fair to say that he has been on a rather rocky ride for the past few years.

[00:03:54] Dawn explains that John was trained at Harvard and Tufts universities in internal medicine and infectious disease, and asks John what led him to study infectious disease.

[00:04:54] Ken asks John about his initial thoughts in 2019 when he first heard the reports coming out of China about COVID-19.

[00:05:52] Ken explains that in March of 2020, John fell into some hot water for writing a piece questioning the 3.4 percent fatality rate associated with COVID-19. John found this number to be inflated and wrote that while COVID-19 was indeed a threat, it did not behave like the Spanish Flu or a pandemic that would lead to a 3.4 percent fatality rate. Ken asks John how he came to this conclusion.

[00:08:37] The article that John wrote in 2020 was titled “A fiasco in the making? As the coronavirus pandemic takes hold, we are making decisions without reliable data.” John argued in his article that the data collected in the first three months of the pandemic was “utterly unreliable.” He went on to write that no one had a good way of knowing how many people were infected and therefore how the pandemic would evolve over time. Dawn asks John what could have been done so that governments and health agencies could have more accurately estimated incidents of new infections, particularly in the early months of the pandemic.

[00:10:19] Dawn mentions that John initially supported the lockdown, but only as a temporary measure, and that he was of the mind that after February of 2020, we had missed the window to nip the pandemic in the bud. Dawn goes on to say that John believed that if we had acted earlier and more aggressively with testing, tracing, and isolating, like in South Korea, that we could have significantly slowed the spread of the virus. Dawn asks if John still feels this way now.

[00:12:53] Dawn mentions that John wrote that the bulk of the mortalities related to COVID-19 occurred in people with limited life expectancy rather than young people. Dawn goes on to say that John was criticized for this, accused of minimizing the lives of the elderly and was even referred to as a “heartless granny killer.” Dawn asks John to expand on his point that age predicts mortality better than comorbidities.

[00:15:16] Ken follows up regarding the disproportionate infections in nursing homes, mentioning that, among other stories, New York City showed very negative outcomes in terms of nursing-home populations.

[00:16:13] Dawn asks if John investigated the nosocomial spread of COVID-19.

[00:17:53] Ken mentions that one of the things we heard early on in the pandemic, was talk of flattening the curve so that we wouldn’t overwhelm hospitals. Ken asks John for his thoughts about this.

[00:20:04] Dawn asks John what he thought of the Great Barrington Declaration, a paper that questioned school closings, lockdowns, travel restrictions and other governmental responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Dawn goes on to mention that one of the authors of that paper, Dr. Martin Kulldorff, was our guest on episode 132 of STEM-Talk. Dawn goes on to say that Martin and his co-authors recommended protecting senior citizens and others who were most at risk from COVID, while allowing young people and others who face minimal risk to lead their normal lives. Dawn asks John about the recommendations found in the Great Barrington Declaration.

[00:23:26] Ken mentions that outrage propagated by social media and news sources became such a negative force that it shut down civil discourse in public and academic circles. Ken goes on to say that this led to harsh control over conversations regarding important topics. There were swift attacks against anyone who dissented with official narratives, no matter how well founded someone’s opinions were. Ken asks John about his experience now that he has being on the receiving end of these brutal attacks.

[00:27:00] Ken follows up and agreees that the self-censorship among scientists with regards to COVID-19 has been severe and problematic.

[00:28:33] Dawn brings up John’s recent paper published in January of this year in Environmental Research. Dawn explains that this paper points out that the largest burden of COVID-19 is carried by the elderly, but that 94 percent of the global population is younger than 70 years old, and 86 percent is younger than 60. Dawn goes on to explain that John set out to accurately estimate the infection fatality rate of COVID-19 among non-elderly people in the absence of vaccination or prior infection. Dawn asks John how he and his co-authors came together to work on this study.

[00:31:45] Dawn mentions that John’s aforementioned study reported infection survival rates around the world. John found that wealthy nations had infection survival rates of 99.962 percent for those under 60, and 99.902 percent for those under 70. In poorer nations, however, the survival rates were even better: 99.992 percent and 99.988 percent respectively. Dawn goes on to mention that John and his co-authors speculate that lower obesity rates in poorer countries may have improved their survival rates, and asks John how the U.S. would have fared if the obesity rate was at levels more common in the 1970s or ‘80s.

[00:35:08] Ken mentions that unsurprisingly the countries hit the hardest by COVID-19, like Italy and China, had two of the most elderly populations in the world.

[00:38:09] Dawn mentions that John’s paper noted that 44 percent of the population had already been infected with COVID-19 before Omicron arrived in the fall of 2021. Because of this, John points out in the paper that an infection rate of 50 percent would have only caused modestly higher fatality rates than seasonal flu fatalities for those under 70. Dawn asks John to elaborate on this.

[00:40:52] Dawn mentions that around the time John published his paper in STAT in March of 2020, the Imperial College of London predicted Covid-19 would kill 40 million people.

[00:41:56] Ken mentions that miscalculations like the one by the Imperial College of London were unfortunate because they prompted lockdowns and other heavy-handed responses from governments. Ken goes on to say that John wrote in 2020 that we need data to inform us about the rationale of lockdowns, mask mandates and social distancing measures. At a minimum, Ken said, we needed unbiased prevalence and incidence data for the evolving infectious load to guide decision-making. Ken asks John for his thoughts about why this never happened.

[00:46:34] Ken asks John what were some of the unintended consequences that resulted from lockdowns, school closures, and travel bans.

[00:49:47] Dawn mentions that John has published dozens of peer-reviewed COVID-19 related papers. John has mentioned before that any scientific papers will have some weaknesses. Dawn asks John what, in hindsight, he sees as weaknesses in his papers.

[00:50:41] Ken asks about John’s investigation into the recent study commissioned by the British nonprofit Cochrane that found no clear reduction in respiratory viral infection as a result of mask mandates. Ken mentions that the paper noted that the use of medical/surgical masks, including N-95 masks, were not effective in reducing the spread of acute respiratory viruses.

[00:55:02] Ken mentions a Zoom call he was on with a government official who was alone in his house wearing a mask during the Zoom call. Ken discusses the gentleman’s response after he was asked about wearing the mask even though he at home by himself.

[00:56:48] With respect to randomized controlled trials regarding the effectiveness of masks, Ken mentions that the media’s portrayal of such studies shows that the media does not understand statistics, and specifically the difference between relative and absolute risk.

[00:57:51] Ken launches into a discussion about the education of journalists in modern times, and how education in journalism should include a sophisticated understanding of statistics.

[01:00:24] Ken asks John what his thoughts are about the possibility of future pandemics and how this kind of situation might be handled differently.

[01:02:50] Ken mentions the issues created by funding agencies during times of pandemic and other world shaping events.

[01:03:41] Ken explains that trust, or lack thereof, in institutions and the media has turned out to be a key factor in people’s reaction to non-pharmaceutical interventions such as lockdowns and mask mandates and vaccine mandates. Ken goes on to say that surveys of trust are showing a substantial decline and offers that there may be strong negative consequences from this lack of trust in the future. Ken goes on to say that this trust could, of course, be reestablished through transparency and accountability and asks John if he sees this happening anytime soon.

[01:06:28] Ken closes the interview asking John if there are any other COVID-19 studies he is working on or hopes to pursue.


John Ioannidis bio

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Ken Ford bio

Ken Ford Wikipedia page

Dawn Kernagis bio

Episode 150: Barbara Thorne talks about E.O. Wilson, the conehead termite and the sociality of termites

Today we have Dr. Barbara Thorne, a termite biologist and an expert on the invasive conehead species, a Central and South American termite that has invaded South Florida.

Barbara is a research professor and professor emerita in the Department of Entomology at the University of Maryland. Since 2012 she has served as the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services science advisor on the state’s Conehead Termite Program. She also chairs the National Scientific Advisory Committee for the Conehead Termite Program.

Barbara’s research focuses on the biology of termites, which are highly social insects that form complex colony structures. She earned her Ph.D. in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology in 1983 from Harvard University where she studied with the late Dr. E. O. Wilson, a renowned biologist and naturalist.

Show notes

[00:03:14] Dawn points out that Barbara is from Southern California and asks Barbara if she were a Valley Girl since she grew up in the San Fernando Valley.

[00:03:42] Dawn mentions that it was wanderlust that sent Barbara from the West Coast to the East Coast for college and asks why she decided on Brown University.

[00:04:14] After Barbara explains that she was originally not interested in science, Ken asks what changed her mind.

[00:06:34] Dawn mentions that some kids grow up fascinated with bugs, but not Barbara, so Dawn asks what eventually triggered Barbara’s academic interest in insects.

[00:07:58] Ken asks Barbara to elaborate on how Bug Camp and E.O. Wilson’s book “The Insect Societies”  motivated her to go to Harvard.

[00:10:22] Dawn explains, for those who aren’t familiar, that E.O. Wilson was an American biologist who was recognized as the world’s leading authority on ants among other topics. He spent 40 years on the Harvard faculty and authored more than 30 books, including two that won Pulitzer Prizes. Dawn asks how Wilson became Barbara’s Ph.D. faculty advisor.

[00:14:15] Ken asks why Barbara often refers to the time she was at Harvard as the golden age for research into social insects.

[00:18:31] Dawn asks about Barbara’s initial goal for her Ph.D. dissertation, which was to investigate the evolutionary driver that created the sociality in termites, who are a completely different branch of insects from the classic social insects (ants, bees, and wasps). Dawn goes on to ask what Wilson thought of this idea when Barbara proposed it.

[00:21:22] Barbara spent 15 years in E.O. Wilson’s lab and Ken wonders if she has a favorite story about Wilson.

[00:28:29] Dawn explains that for Barbara’s postdoc research, she continued to expand on the work of her dissertation, and then began working in the field of applied termite biology and targeted applications for control. This was when chlordane, a powerful pesticide against termites, was pulled from the market. Dawn asks Barbara to talk about the significance of pulling chlordane from the market and how this created an opportunity for her.

[00:31:30] Ken asks Barbara what led her to join the faculty at the University of Maryland in the early 1990s.

[00:33:59] Dawn mentions that during Barbara’s time at Maryland, she investigated her hypothesis of accelerated inheritance as a driver for the evolution of eusociality in termites, following up this research in a 2003 paper in PNAS. Dawn goes on to explain that the paper provided experimental evidence for the powerful selective forces driving the evolution of eusociality in termites, a question that perplexed Charles Darwin. Dawn asks Barbara to talk about why Darwin was confused by the existence of social insects and how Barbara approached this question in termites.

[00:49:16] Dawn mentions that Barbara expanded on the previously mentioned research with a study in 2009, using genetic markers to demonstrate that in merged colonies, offspring from both original, unrelated families can become new reproductives and even interbreed. Dawn asks Barbara to explain why this observation is important.

[00:50:33] Ken explains that Barbara helped put together a TED-Ed video lesson last year that depicted a conehead termite queen as she begins her reign as one of the longest living insects in the animal kingdom. Ken goes on to mention that this video was a collaboration with Thomas Johnson Volda, and Ken asks how the idea for the video came to be.

[00:53:20] Dawn explains that since September of 2012, Barbara has served as the science advisor for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and is helping the state target the invasive conehead termite. Dawn goes on to mention that this species was the focus of Barbara’s Ph.D. dissertation research in Central America. Dawn asks how Barbara was approached to aid in handling this species invasion into Florida.

[00:55:11] Dawn mentions that conehead termites have expansive tastes, which makes them a serious problem in Florida, and asks Barbara to give a sense of the damage that the conehead termites are causing.

[01:01:34] Ken mentions the similarities between the current situation with conehead termites and the Formosan termite invasion into North America.

[01:05:38] Ken explains that in Pensacola, the home of IHMC, the historical district has many homes built in the 1800s and early 1900s that are made from very strong, dense, old-school wood, the kind of wood that is harder for termites to get into. Ken goes on to ask if it is true that Barbara has described the cheap, fast-growing wood used in today’s structures as a kind of candy for termites.

[01:09:14] Ken mentions that we recently had Barbara’s husband Dr. Ed Weiler on STEM-Talk, episode 148. Ken goes on to mention that Ed and Barbara listened to the interview together and Ken asks what she thought of Ed’s episode.

[01:13:11] Dawn closes the interview asking Barbara what she and Ed get up to now that they’re both retired.


Barbara Thorne bio

Reign of the Termite Queen video

Learn more about IHMC

STEM-Talk homepage

Ken Ford bio

Ken Ford Wikipedia page

Dawn Kernagis bio


Episode 149: Jeff Volek discusses ketogenic diet to improve metabolic health and treat disease

Dr. Jeff Volek has been investigating how humans adapt to ketogenic—and carbohydrate-restricted diets for the past 30 years.  Today, Jeff returns to STEM-Talk to discuss a growing accumulation of studies supporting a ketogenic diet as a way to improve metabolic health, as well as research confirming the relative safety of dietary fat.

Jeff is a professor in the Department of Human Sciences at Ohio State University. He is known for his research on the clinical application of ketogenic diets in the management of insulin resistance and type-2 diabetes. His research particularly aims to understand individual variability, including how well-formulated ketogenic diets alter fatty acid composition, lipoprotein metabolism, gut microbiome and overall metabolic health.

Jeff has performed several prospective diet studies that demonstrate that well-formulated ketogenic diets result in substantial improvements in (if not complete reversal of) metabolic syndrome and type-2 diabetes. In today’s episode, we talk to Jeff about:

— How a well-formulated ketogenic diet results not only in weight loss, but also leads to substantial improvements in insulin resistance as well as improvements in a number of cardio-metabolic biomarkers associated with metabolic syndrome.

— The remarkable progress that has been made in the science of low-carbohydrate nutrition in the past 30 years.

— How Jeff’s research has expanded to look at a well-formulated ketogenic diet’s potential in the treatment of mental health, heart disease and cancer.

— An initiative Jeff is conducting to address how the poor metabolic health of the nation is impacting our military troops and therefore poses a significant threat to the future of the military and our nation’s defense.

— We also ask Jeff about his thoughts on the recent popularity of fasting and time-restricted eating.  We then ask what his own daily dietary intake looks like.

Show notes

[00:02:48] Ken opens the interview welcoming Jeff back to STEM-Talk. Ken mentions that Jeff, who appeared on episode 43,  has perhaps published more research on the ketogenic diet and its effects on humans than anyone. While most STEM-Talk listeners are familiar with Jeff’s research, Ken points out that many people might not know that Jeff was once an accomplished powerlifter, achieving impressive numbers for his body weight. Ken asks Jeff what his best lifts were, and if his background in powerlifting inspired him to study exercise physiology.

[00:05:25] Dawn mentions there is a paradigm shift in terms of low-carb diets and the public perception regarding the relative safety of dietary fat.  Americans have long been led to believe that saturated fats lead to obesity and heart disease. Dawn goes on to explain that in the last 20 years, there has been a steady accumulation of studies supporting carbohydrate restriction as well as the relative safety of dietary fat. Jeff addressed this in a paper in Science titled “Dietary Fat: From Foe to Friend?”, and also a paper in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology titled “Saturated Fats and Health: A Reassessment and Proposal for Food Based Recommendations” Dawn asks Jeff to talk about this research and what listeners should take from it.

[00:08:37] Ken mentions that Jeff at one point in his life demonized fat, and was a strong advocate for low-fat diets. Ken asks what changed his mind on this issue.

[00:10:04] Dawn mentions that when Jeff was interviewed back in 2017, he was in the early stages of launching Virta, a company that was founded in 2014 to address the type-2 diabetes epidemic that we’re seeing in the United States and across the world. Dawn asks Jeff to explain what type-2 diabetes is and how it’s different than type-1.

[00:13:36] Ken explains that diabetes is a major cause of blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke and lower-limb amputation. In light of this, Ken asks Jeff if we know how many deaths can be annually attributed to diabetes.

[00:14:54] Dawn explains that Virta’s website describes the company’s program as “blood sugar control without the drugs.” Virta works with diabetics to not only lower their blood sugar, but help them lose weight, eliminate their need for insulin and other medications, and restore their metabolic health. Dawn asks Jeff to give an overview of Virta and the progress being made in its endeavors.

[00:17:57] Dawn mentions that Virta has had a number of recent papers and trials that have demonstrated some amazing results. With a paper in Nutrients last year that reported on the results of a two-year pilot study that highlighted the effectiveness and sustainability of Virta’s intervention in reversing a variety of metabolic conditions. Dawn goes on to explain that Virta was able to help 97 percent of its prediabetic patients in the two-year study to avoid type-2 diabetes. She asks Jeff, as the chief science officer of Virta, for his thoughts about the successful outcomes being seen by Virta’s trials and studies.

[00:19:48] Ken shifts to talk about Jeff’s work at Ohio State. Jeff joined the university in 2014, and in the past decade has established the Volek Low-Carbohydrate Laboratory, which specializes in dietary carbohydrate restriction and nutritional ketosis. Ken asks Jeff to give an overview of the lab and the research that goes on there.

[00:22:56] Dawn mentions that Jeff’s lab also has a team of registered dietitians who work with clients on a variety of approaches to low-carb and ketogenic diets. Dawn asks Jeff to talk about the services the lab provides.

[00:24:59] Ken explains that a lot of people have the belief that a ketogenic diet is only about losing weight. Jeff, however, stresses that a well-formulated ketogenic diet results in not only weight loss, but also substantial improvements in insulin resistance and improvements on a number of cardio-metabolic biomarkers associated with metabolic syndrome. Ken asks Jeff to talk about the wide range of benefits people experience as a result of a ketogenic diet.

[00:28:15] Dawn asks Jeff to talk about the symposium he and Ken as well as some other folks put together at Ohio State that addressed the remarkable progress that has been made in the science of low-carbohydrate nutrition. Jeff goes on to describe some the key takeaways from the symposium.

[00:31:20] Dawn asks Jeff to talk about his lab’s research into cancer and how research has shown that the majority of tumors use glucose as their primary fuel source.

[00:34:01] As a follow-up, Ken mentions the STEM-Talk interview with Colin Champ that centered on ketogenic cancer research.

[00:34:17] Ken asks Jeff about a couple of pilot ketogenic diet cancer studies that are currently underway in his lab, as well as a pilot study that is specifically looking at advanced-stage breast cancer.

[00:37:15] Dawn mentions that while weight loss is a common outcome of consuming a ketogenic diet, a question that has been rather controversial in the research community is whether there are metabolic improvements as a result of carbohydrate restriction that are independent of weight loss. Dawn explains that Jeff published a study last year in the Journal of Clinical Investigation Insight that found more than half of your obese study participants who were suffering from metabolic syndrome no longer met the criteria for metabolic syndrome at the end of a four-week low-carb diet, even though the participants didn’t lose any weight. The results demonstrate that irrespective of weight loss, a low-carb diet improves a host of metabolic problems. Dawn asks Jeff to talk about this study and the significance of its findings.

[00:41:27] Ken mentions that Jeff’s lab is currently doing work with the military, going on to mention that Jeff’s lab received funding a few years ago to look into whether a ketogenic diet could help the military deal with its ongoing challenge of obesity among the troops.  The subsequent study showed that participants lost an average of 17 pounds after 12 weeks on the ketogenic diet, and as a group, the participants lost more than five percent of their body fat, and almost 44 percent of their visceral fat, and had a 48 percent improvement in their insulin sensitivity. Ken asks Jeff to go into further depth about this study and its findings.

[00:46:07] Ken asks about Jeff’s project, currently underway, called “Strategies to Augment Ketosis,” or STAK. It’s a comprehensive initiative that is going to address the physical and financial toll attributed to the pervasive poor metabolic health of the nation and how this impacts our military troops, especially veterans, and therefore poses a significant threat to the future of the military and our national defense. Ken explains that there are multiple layers of research involved in STAK, many of which utilize ketone esters, and asks Jeff to explain what ketone esters are for those listeners who have not listened to episode 54 of STEM-Talk with Brianna Stubbs.

[00:48:41] Dawn explains that one of the major topics being examined in STAK is sleep deprivation, which is a major problem in military populations, with only one in three U.S. Army Active-Duty Soldiers estimated to get their target of seven hours of sleep on duty days. Given that insufficient sleep leads to a drop in performance and an increase in errors, it is an important problem to solve. There is evidence that ketone ester supplements may lessen the adverse effects of sleep deprivation, and thus STAK will further explore this possibility. Jeff talks about the clinical trial he is putting together, which will look at whether ingesting a ketone ester supplement twice daily can improve cognitive and physical performance during short-term sleep restriction.

[00:51:45] Ken follows up, asking Jeff what the rationale is for his hypothesis that ketosis will mitigate the negative effects of sleep deprivation.

[00:53:48] Dawn explains that another element of STAK is exploring the effects of ketone esters and the sustained long-term effects of a ketogenic diet on type-2 diabetes and heart failure. Dawn asks Jeff to talk about this study, and why he thinks ketones would be beneficial for the heart.

[01:00:28] Dawn asks about the STAK study looking at the possibility of delaying or preventing the progression of diabetic nephropathy.

[01:02:24] Ken shifts to talk about work Jeff’s lab is doing on metabolic psychiatry. Ken goes on to explain that we have known for a long time that food choices can alter a person’s neurochemistry, but we are just now beginning to research the impact that macronutrients can have on our mental and emotional well-being. Jeff discusses this work and explains what metabolic psychiatry entails.

[01:05:58] Dawn mentions that a common struggle for physicians who are strong proponents of a ketogenic diet is getting their patients to stick to it. Dawn goes on to mention our recent interview with Vyvyane Loh who talked about how some of her patients struggle with the diet and so she often ends up recommending a less stringent low-carb diet instead. Dawn asks Jeff his thoughts on this, as well as the critique of the ketogenic diet that it is not sustainable.

[01:12:03] Dawn talks about the so-called keto flu being a hurdle that many people feel they can’t overcome, and asks Jeff what his thoughts and advice are about this.

[01:16:08] Ken mentions the current popularity of fasting and time-restricted eating. Going on to say that while fasting is an effective way to get into ketosis, Jeff has reservations about fasting, particularly those that last beyond 24 hours.

[01:20:36] Dawn mentions the surge in new products on grocery shelves advertised as keto breads, keto donuts, keto bagels, etc. Dawn asks Jeff what his thoughts about the flood of keto-branded products we’re seeing.

[01:25:56] Dawn describes Jeff as a walking testimonial for ketogenic and low-carb diets. Jeff has followed a low-carb diet for more than 20 years, all the while maintaining a healthy body weight and lipid profile. Dawn asks Jeff to share with listeners what his daily dietary intake looks like and how the diet benefits him.

[01:29:07] Dawn closes the interview by asking Jeff where he sees the field of ketogenic research going in the next decade, and if the dietary recommendations might change in that time. Dawn goes on to mention that Jeff published a recent article with several prominent co-authors titled






Episode 148: Ed Weiler on the Hubble and James Webb space telescopes, Mars rovers and NASA’s search for life

Our guest today is Dr. Ed Weiler, a retired NASA scientist who spent 20 years as the chief scientist for the Hubble Space Telescope, the forerunner of the James Webb.

During his 33-year NASA career, Ed wore many hats, including Associate Administrator of the Science Mission Directorate; Center Director of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Associate Administrator for NASA’s Space Science Enterprise, chief of the Ultraviolet/Visible and Gravitational Astrophysics Division and director of the Astronomical Search for Origins Program.

In today’s episode, we talk to Ed about:

— NASA’s accomplishments in the past year, including the Perseverance mission, the success of the James Webb telescope, and the launch of Artemis-1.

— Ed’s experience as the Chief Scientist for the Hubble Space Telescope during its early development.

— Ed’s time as the director of NASA’s Astronomical Search for Origins program.

— Ed’s role in the development of the New Horizons space craft and its mission to fly by and study Pluto and it’s moons.

— Ed’s belief that in the next 20 to 50 years, we will be able to the prove the existence of other life in the universe.

Show notes

[00:02:59] Dawn opens the interview mentioning that she and Ed share a common experience of going through the selection process to become a NASA astronaut.

[00:03:55] Dawn mentions that instead of becoming an astronaut, Ed joined NASA in 1978 as a scientist, serving in a variety of science leadership roles throughout his career, eventually retiring in 2011 after 33 years of service. Dawn asks Ed to talk about his various accomplishments at NASA.

[00:05:57] Dawn asks Ed about his feelings toward the various accomplishments of NASA in recent years since his retirement, such as the Perseverance mission, the success of the James Webb telescope, and the launch of Artemis-1.

[00:08:42] Ken asks Ed to discuss the recent images from the James Webb telescope, images that have captured the public’s imagination.

[00:12:10] Dawn asks if it’s true that Ed decided to become an astronomer and go to work for NASA when he was only 13 years old.

[00:15:36] Dawn mentions that we have had several guests on STEM-Talk that cite the Apollo missions as their inspiration for pursuing a career in science. Dawn points out that Ed was already in grad school when Neil Armstrong first stepped on the moon. Dawn asks Ed about watching the moon landing on the campus of Northwestern University.

[00:16:48] Ken asks about Ed’s experience as the Chief Scientist for the Hubble Space Telescope during its early development.

[00:25:01] Dawn points out that after graduating from Northwestern University, Ed joined the research staff at Princeton while also working at the Goddard Space Flight Center. In 1978, Ed became a staff scientist at NASA headquarters and Dawn asks how that position came about.

[00:29:45] Dawn mentions that Ed was also the director of NASA’s Astronomical Search for Origins program and asks Ed to talk about that experience.

[00:33:03] Ken mentions that in 1998, Ed became the Associate Administrator for Space Science for the first time. Ken goes on to mention when Ed was first approached about the position, he said “not in a million years.” Ken asks what eventually changed Ed’s mind.

[00:37:10] Dawn asks Ed about his first stint as NASA’s Associate Administrator, where he oversaw several successful missions and set in motion an ambitious Mars exploration mission.

[00:43:43] Dawn asks Ed to talk about the role he played in the development of the New Horizons craft and its mission to fly by and study Pluto and its moons.

[00:45:46] Ken mentions that when Ed’s first tenure as Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate ended in 2004, he took over the leadership of the Goddard Space Flight Center, which is one of the premier institutions for space and earth science missions. Ken asks Ed to talk about the work he did at the center.

[00:50:06] Dawn mentions that Mike Griffin, our guest on STEM-Talk episodes 23 and 134, was the NASA Administrator in 2008, and asked Ed to return as Associate Administrator. Dawn asks why Ed was brought back again and what he was asked to accomplish.

[00:56:47] Ken asks Ed about one of his priorities at NASA, which was RTGs (Radio-Isotope Thermo-Electric Generators).  Ken asks Ed why this was a priority, and what that experience was like.

[01:00:21] Dawn mentions that Ed was an early proponent of STEM education, and during his time as Associate Administrator at NASA, he required all project proposals to set aside one to three percent of their budget for STEM education. Dawn goes on to ask Ed about a letter he received from a Mexico City student in the early days of Hubble that made an impression on him.

[01:06:38] Dawn mentions that Ed has been quoted as saying that in the next 20 to 50 years, we will be able to prove the existence of other life in the universe. She asks Ed why he’s so confident about that.

[01:14:13] Ken follows up on the previous question and asks Ed what his thoughts are on the Pentagon’s recent report on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP), which Ken and Dawn discussed in episode 127 of STEM-Talk. While the study does not imply that these UAPs are extraterrestrial crafts, the report does indicate that they are likely physical objects of some kind.  Ken asks Ed what he thinks these objects are?

[01:20:32] Dawn wraps up the interview by mentioning that Ed has been known throughout his career for building effective teams and, toward that end, he would often take his staff water skiing.

Ed Weiler Wikipedia page

Learn more about IHMC

STEM-Talk homepage

Ken Ford bio

Ken Ford Wikipedia page

Dawn Kernagis bio



Episode 147: Gwen Bryan talks about advances in wearable robotic devices and exoskeletons

Today’s interview is with IHMC’s Dr. Gwen Bryan, a research scientist who investigates wearable robotic devices aimed at augmenting human performance in clinical, occupational, and military applications.

She is particularly focused on maximizing the benefits of powered exoskeletons. At IHMC, Gwen leads the exoskeleton team, which is developing a novel augmentative device that continues IHMC’s research on mobility devices for people with spinal cord injury. The team also is researching a powered exoskeleton to aid government employees whose work involves nuclear site remediation.

Gwen and her team’s effort, which utilizes a human-centered research approach, is uniquely situated to expand exoskeleton research and technology because of the expertise and collaboration that’s available among IHMC’s robotics and human-performance research groups.

Gwen joined IHMC after completing her Ph.D. in the Stanford Biomechatronics Lab. Outside of work, Gwen enjoys soccer, weightlifting, painting and snowboarding. She also is a dog mom to two very adorable shelter dogs, Bandit and Oreo.

Show notes:

[00:02:32] Dawn asks Gwen what it was like growing up in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

[00:03:02] Dawn mentions that it seems science was a part of Gwen’s life early on. Dawn goes on to mention that Gwen’s father was an engineer, and her mother was a nurse and asks how her parents having these backgrounds influenced her.

[00:03:35] In addition to a science background, Gwen’s mother is also a clarinetist who instilled a love for the arts in Gwen.  Dawn asks Gwen about her painting and how art benefits other aspects of her life.

[00:04:17] Ken asks Gwen what she was like as a kid.

[00:04:59] Ken asks Gwen to talk about a rafting trip she took with her cousin through the Grand Canyon.

[00:06:27] Dawn asks Gwen how chocolate chip cookies factored into her third-grade science fair project.

[00:08:04] Dawn mentions that fitness became a part of Gwen’s life following an injury she had as a senior in high school. Exercise, particularly weightlifting, helped alleviate her back pain. Dawn asks Gwen what her fitness journey taught her about her body, and ultimately, how that experience gave her insights into the work she does today.

[00:09:16] Ken asks Gwen how she chose to go to the University of Texas in Austin.

[00:10:38] Dawn mentions that Gwen transferred to the University of New Mexico for her undergraduate work. Dawn asks Gwen what motivated her to apply her interest in mechanical engineering into robotics.

[00:11:28] Ken asks Gwen what was involved in her transfer from the University of Texas to New Mexico.

[00:12:34] Ken asks Gwen what led her to the Stanford Biomechatronics Lab.

[00:13:38] Ken asks Gwen to talk about her internship with the Sandia National Research Labs.

[00:14:40] Dawn shifts to talk about Gwen’s current research focus on wearable robotics, particularly exoskeletons, mentioning that when the public hears this term most people generally think either insect exoskeletons or Ironman. Dawn asks Gwen to describe the exoskeletons she works on.

[00:15:25] Dawn mentions that the potential uses of exoskeletons to help people with limited or no lower-limb mobility seems, in some respects, clear, but the application has been limited, and asks why that is.

[00:16:40] Dawn asks what some other applications of exoskeletons are that are important to know about.

[00:18:35] Ken mentions that during Gwen’s doctoral work at Stanford, she developed the first cable-driven exoskeleton to assist all the three leg joints — hips, knees, and ankles — and asks Gwen to talk about how that design was developed and what made it special in the exoskeleton field.

[00:20:10] Ken explains that Gwen’s work also developed novel control systems for exoskeletons by using feedback from real-time physiological measurements of the user – coined human-in-the-loop optimization (HILO). Ken asks Gwen to talk about this strategy, and why it is an important innovation.

[00:21:56] Ken asks Gwen to talk about what she learned about the impact of exoskeleton assistance on walking economy when assisting the hips, knees, or ankles individually versus simultaneously.

[00:22:58] Dawn asks if the multi-joint strategy depends on the walking task, mentioning that it seems as though demands change for different joints when walking faster; or up and downhill; or carrying load.

[00:23:49] Dawn explains that the laboratory emulator approach seems to have led to many fundamental findings. Dawn goes on to ask, however, about the limitations of assisting people in the real world in an approach that has users stuck on a treadmill and in the lab.

[00:25:02] Dawn asks if exoskeletons are a ‘one-size fits all’ technology, or if they need to be customized to each individual.

[00:26:08] Ken mentions that Gwen is involved in a couple of exoskeleton projects at IHMC, and asks first about the Eva project, which has allowed Gwen to return to working with Sandia National Laboratories.

[00:28:16] Dawn asks what other applications Eva, or exoskeletons in the same vein, might have in rehabilitative or therapeutic settings.

[00:29:01] Dawn asks about IHMC’s Quix, another exoskeleton that Gwen is working on, which has been primarily used to help people with lower-body paralysis gain movement. Dawn goes on to mention that the team has been looking into rehabilitative applications that Quix could serve in as well, and asks Gwen to discuss new developments with this project.

[00:31:27] Ken asks Gwen to share some final thoughts on exoskeleton and what she sees as the grand challenges facing exoskeleton development.

[00:33:18] Dawn asks about Gwen’s passion for cultivating interest in STEM among girls and young women and why that is so important to her.

[00:34:59] Gwen talks about some of the mentors in the field that helped her along the way.

[00:36:11] Dawn asks Gwen about her two rescue dogs, Bandit and Oreo, to close the interview.


Gwen Bryan bio

Learn more about IHMC

STEM-Talk homepage

Ken Ford bio

Ken Ford Wikipedia page

Dawn Kernagis bio

Episode 146: Dan Pardi talks about behaviors to improve healthspan

Our guest today is Dr. Dan Pardi, the CEO of humanOS.me, a digital health training application. Dan is well-known for his research into sleep and has collaborated with many high-performing organizations, from Silicon Valley venture capitalists to companies like Adobe, Salesforce, Workday, Pandora, Intuitive Surgical, and more.

He also works with several branches of the U.S. Military to help elite warfighters maintain vigilant performance in both combat and non-combat conditions.

Dan’s podcast, humanOS Radio, is the official podcast of the Sleep Research Society, the Canadian Sleep Society, and a content partner of the Buck Institute on Aging. Dan collaborated with more than 100 science professors around the globe to create his digital humanOS application.

Dan has a Ph.D. in cognitive neuroscience from Leiden University in the Netherlands and Stanford University in the United States. He has a master’s degree in exercise physiology from Florida State University and currently lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife, two young boys, and their dog, Wally.

Joining STEM-Talk host Dr. Ken Ford for today’s conversation with Dan is Dr. Marcas Bamman, a senior research scientist here at IHMC. Marcas was a STEM-Talk guest on episode 116. In today’s interview with Dan, we cover his early career in bioinformatics and how a trip to Moscow led to his doctoral research of sleep and treatments for narcolepsy.

He also talks about the Loop Model to Adopt and Sustain Health Behaviors, a program he developed during his Ph.D. studies. The Loop Model became the core of his company, humanOS.

Finally, Dan talks about the concepts of “actual health,” health-performance experts and a shift in what aging means, which he believes is important to improving the quality of life for all of us.

Show notes:

[00:03:19] Marcas starts the interview by asking Dan to talk about his years growing up in Northern California’s Marin County.

[00:04:06] Ken asks Dan about building radio-controlled cars with his father.

[00:05:11] Marcas explains that Dan’s father was a successful businessman who, after a successful career as a salesman for Remco selling kitchenware, started his own company in California that grew to 200 employees. Dan has been quoted as saying that one of the lessons he learned from his father was the value of relationships. Marcas asks how that lesson has affected Dan’s life.

[00:06:29] Dan talks about his passion for basketball and how his time at the Cap Lavin camp influenced his early life.

[00:08:15] Marcas mentions that Dan’s “science life” seems to have begun with a seventh-grade science-fair project that ended up landing him a job with Nike. Marcas asks Dan to talk about that story.

[00:09:26] Ken mentions that Dan went to the University of San Francisco for his bachelor’s degree and then went to Florida State for his Masters in Exercise Physiology. Ken asks what led Dan to FSU.

[00:10:26] Ken asks why Dan decided to pursue a career in cancer research, going to work at the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Northern California after graduating.

[00:12:04] Marcas commends Dan for being ahead of his time by leveraging the new technological development of the internet portal to empower life scientists while he was working with the Bioinformatics Biotech DoubleTwist, and asks what that experience was like.

[00:13:41] Ken asks Dan how a trip to Moscow led Dan to pursue a Ph.D. at Leiden University and Stanford, after already working in the industry for 10 years.

[00:15:17] Marcas explains that Dan’s Ph.D. research at the Zeitzer Circadian Biology Lab at Stanford University focused on gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), sleep and ingestive behavior. Marcas asks what was most interesting about this research for Dan.

[00:16:24] Marcas asks about a randomized controlled trial that Dan conducted to look into ecologically relevant amounts of sleep loss. This trial enrolled 50 participants and manipulated their next-day alertness by randomly assigning different levels of sleep. Dan talks about the findings of this study.

[00:21:50] Marcas explains that while Dan was working on his Ph.D., he developed a behavior model called the Loop Model to Adopt and Sustain Health Behaviors. Marcas goes on to explain that Dan has presented this model at several healthcare conferences, such as Stanford Medicine X and Health 2.0, and asks Dan to explain what this model is and how it works.

[00:24:53] Marcas mentions that Dan’s company, humanOS.me, is described as a digital health training application and asks what this means.

[00:26:23] Ken mentions that simply giving people more information doesn’t drive changes in health-related behaviors, and asks how humanOS.me approaches things differently to address this problem.

[00:29:03] Ken asks if Dan sees any downsides in tracking health markers. Ken mentions that STEM-Talk listeners often ask about the quality of data collected, but Ken goes on to say that there are also problems of becoming hyper-focused on things like sleep and food to the point where these things are no longer pleasurable experiences at all.

[00:35:02] Ken asks about the concept of health, mentioning that in 1948 the World Health Organization defined “health” as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Ken mentions that this definition has been criticized for being too demanding and asks Dan what his thoughts are on this definition.

[00:37:51] Marcas mentions that a biogerontologist named Suresh Rattan at Aarhus University in Denmark, defines health as the maintenance of homodynamic space, and asks Dan to explain for listeners what this means.

[00:42:44] Marcas asks Dan what he means by “Actual Health,” the concept that is the core of the upcoming book that Dan is co-authoring with STEM-Talk guest Josh Turknett.

[00:44:56] Marcas mentions that Dan has been working on developing the concept of a health performance expert, and to set the stage for this discussion, Marcas asks what Dan’s views are on the gaps in our current healthcare system and how these might be addressed.

[00:50:17] Ken mentions that he likes that Dan’s idea of a health performance expert is something that should develop independently, even in coordination with, the current sick-care system. Dan elaborates on this idea.

[00:57:47] Marcas explains that in Dan’s TED talk on optimizing light for health, he opened by talking about the impact of microgravity on health. Marcas asks Dan to talk about why he chose to open with that topic.

[0:59:47] Ken shifts to talk about the difference between age and aging, making the point that we often think of aging as a continual decline from our peak but goes on to say that age and aging are more nuanced than that infers.

[01:07:20] Marcas mentions that from an evolutionary biology perspective, age and experience are valuable to the success of one’s progeny and the tribe one’s offspring inhabit, as the grandparent hypothesis posits. Marcas asks if Dan agrees that this emphasizes the importance of working at preserving our cognitive functioning as we age.

[01:10:27] Marcas asks Dan to talk about his personal practices to maintain or improve overall health, and what the key ingredients of optimized health are.

[01:16:36] Marcas asks Dan what he hopes will be the key takeaway for people to remember from this episode.



Dan Pardi bio and IHMC lecture

Learn more about IHMC

STEM-Talk homepage

Ken Ford bio

Ken Ford Wikipedia page





Should this not be a link to Marcas?

Episode 145: Ken answers questions about hypersonic flight, sentient AI, ketogenic vs Mediterranean diets, and more

It’s time for another Ask Me Anything episode where STEM-Talk cohost Dawn Kernagis asks Ken questions submitted by listeners.

In this episode, Ken and Dawn weigh in on:

—  Whether AI is becoming sentient.

— How women in midlife might protect their bodies from the negative effects of a slowing metabolism.

— A Stanford study that compared a low-carbohydrate diet with a Mediterranean diet.

— Whether fasting helps optimize cognitive performance.

— The future of hypersonic technology.

— And a lot more.

If you have a question after listening to today’s episode or any episode of STEM-Talk, email your question to STEM-Talk Producer Randy Hammer at rhammer@ihmc.org.

Show notes

[00:02:45] Dawn begins the AMA with a question for Ken that was inspired by the Mark Mattson interview, episode 133. Mark talked about skipping breakfast and in his recent book,  “The Intermittent Fasting Revolution,”

Mark points out that bodybuilders often skip breakfast and do their weight training in a fasted state, which has the effect of optimizing both muscle building and cognitive performance. The listener mentions that they feel more cognitively sharp in a fasted state but as soon as they break their fast, they don’t feel as sharp. The listener asks Ken if this is normal.

[00:04:35] A listener asks Ken about a recent news story in which a Russian robot broke a boy’s finger during a chess match. The listener goes on to state that several of their friends have jumped to the conclusion that this is proof robots are becoming sentient beings and asks Ken for his take is on this given Ken’s AI background.

[00:06:02] A listener asks another AI question, this one regarding the Washington Post’s reporting on a Google engineer who was fired over claims he made while at the company that an AI chatbot he had been testing had become sentient. The engineer claimed in an interview with The Guardian that the chatbot, LaMDA, was afraid of being turned off, had read “Les Miserables” and that it had emotions. Google maintains that LaMDA is merely responding to prompts designed for it. The listener asks Ken what would be an appropriate test for gauging AI sentience and what other thoughts Ken has about this story.

[00:08:32] A listener mentions that they have been following the ketogenic diet for 18 months and have lost 40 pounds. Recently they checked their liver enzymes GGT, AST, TSH and found they were elevated above “normal” and their Alpha fetoprotein marker was measured at 10.3. The listener asks Ken what he has learned about the ketogenic diet’s impact on the liver.

[00:09:48] A listener asks about a recent paper regarding a Stanford study that compared low-carbohydrate diets with a Mediterranean diet. The listener mentions that in the Stanford study the diets had three similarities – no non-starchy vegetables, no added sugars and no refined grains. The key difference in the diets was that the low-carb diet avoided legumes, fruits, and whole grains while the Mediterranean diet included them. The study measured glucose control and cardiometabolic risk in people with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. The study found that comparative outcomes did not support a sufficient benefit to justify people avoiding legumes, whole fruits, and whole grains to achieve the metabolic state of ketosis. The listener asks Ken for his thoughts on the study and in his answer, Ken mentions an interview Dr. Ben Scher did with one of the study’s authors, Dr. Lucia Aronica.

[00:14:57] A listener mentions in their question that they found the Mike Griffin and Mark Lewis interviews both fascinating and worrying. The listener’s key concern is that China and Russia are ahead of the U.S. in terms of hypersonic capabilities. The listener goes on to mention that they recently saw “Top Gun Maverick” and asks if it is reasonable that someday we will see jets with human pilots that are capable of flying 10-to-20 times the speed of sound, as depicted in the film; or will these sorts of aircrafts need to be operated by AI or humanoids.

[00:18:17] A listener sends a question that reads, “They say that 50 is the new 30, but after listening to STEM-Talk, I now know that I can expect my metabolism to fall off the “50-cliff” once I meet the chronological milestone of turning 50 years old.”  The listener says it’s her understanding that hormonal changes related to midlife, especially for women, are key drivers of metabolic changes that lead to everything from brain fog to weight gain. The listener would like to know what she and other women can do to ward off the negative effects of aging and a slowing metabolism.

[00:19:53] A listener mentions that in the Satchin Panda interview, Dr. Panda says that black coffee in the morning probably won’t break an overnight fast, but that coffee with cream will. The listener goes on to say that they listened to a Dave Asprey podcast in which he said drinking “Bulletproof Coffee” with two tablespoons of butter and two tablespoons of brain octane fuel was okay in the morning because it will elevate a person’s blood ketones to 0.7 millimoles per liter within 30 minutes. The listener asks Ken for his thoughts on this advice.

[00:22:33] Dawn closes the AMA with a listener question asking if Dr. Ford has any particular pet peeves that he is willing to share.


Learn more about IHMC

STEM-Talk homepage

Ken Ford bio

Ken Ford Wikipedia page

Dawn Kernagis bio

Episode 144: Jason Fung on how fasting and a low-carb diet improve insulin resistance and metabolic health

Our guest today is Dr. Jason Fung, a Toronto-based nephrologist, and the best-selling author of “The Obesity Code,” “The Diabetes Code,” and “The Cancer Code.” Jason is best known for his success in combining a low-carb diet with intermittent fasting to help thousands of overweight patients reverse their type 2 diabetes, lose weight, and improve their metabolic health.

Jason is the author of the blog “The Fasting Method” and the co-founder of the Intensive Dietary Management program, an initiative that provides low-carb dietary guidance and counseling on various fasting regimes. Jason is also the co-author with Jimmy Moore of “The Complete Guide to Fasting,” which looks at the history and culture of fasting and how it helps people improve their metabolic health.

In today’s episode, Ken is joined by Visiting IHMC research scientist Dr. Tommy Wood and together, they and Jason discuss:

  • How in the beginning of his practice, Jason prescribed insulin for type 2 diabetes patients.
  • How a series of landmark studies starting in 2008 changed Jason’s mind about using glucose-lowering medication for type 2 diabetes.
  • Jason’s realization that type 2 diabetes is largely a dietary disease and therefore requires a dietary solution rather than a pharmaceutical one.
  • The origins of Jason’s Dietary Management program, which counsels overweight and obese patients to follow a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet to reduce insulin.
  • A critique of the “eat less, move more” strategy acclaimed by many obesity experts.
  • Mark Mattson’s research into the powerful impact of intermittent fasting on metabolic health and a recent paper that questioned the effectiveness of time-restricted eating when compared to daily calorie restriction.
  • Recent research and evidence that fasting during chemotherapy may reduce the side effects of the treatment.

Show notes:

[00:02:25] Tommy opens the interview mentioning that Jason was born and raised in Toronto and asks what drew Jason to science as a kid.

[00:03:43] Tommy mentions the irony that Jason has written several best-selling books, yet Jason was not fond of English or writing when he was in school.

[00:04:53] Ken mentions that after graduating from high school, Jason stayed close to home and attended the University of Toronto, entering into medical school just after turning 19 to study internal medicine, eventually specializing in nephrology. Ken asks Jason what intrigued him about becoming a kidney specialist.

[00:06:36] Tommy asks Jason what led him to go to UCLA after medical school for his specialty training in kidney disease at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

[00:07:37] Tommy mentions that Jason has been practicing clinical nephrology in Toronto since 2001, and that in those early years of his practice, Jason saw patients with type 2 diabetes and prescribed medications to keep their blood glucose low. When that didn’t work, he would prescribe insulin, which is the standard medical practice. Tommy asks what Jason observed during these early years of his practice.

[00:09:28] Ken mentions that in 2008, two landmark studies were published, the ACCORD study and the ADVANCE study (a summary of ADVANCE). These studies were followed by two more studies, the ORIGIN and VADT studies, all four of which demonstrated that using blood glucose-lowering medication for type 2 diabetes didn’t necessarily have the expected benefits. Ken asks Jason to talk about how these studies were eye-opening for him and confirmed his own experience in treating patients.

[00:16:27] Tommy explains that in 1972 Robert Atkins published the “Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution,” which shared his findings on the effectiveness of low-carb, high-fat dieting. Tommy goes on to mention that in the late 1990s, a string of Atkins-styled diet books surged in popularity, with most physicians being opposed due to the conventional wisdom that these high-fat diets would cause heart disease. As a result, several trials were launched in the early 2000s to prove this point. Tommy asks Jason to talk about how these trials revealed that the real story is more nuanced than people might think.

[00:20:42] Ken mentions that even though Jason and countless other doctors were appalled at the notion that high-fat diets were being promoted as safe and effective, Jason and other physicians had virtually no nutritional training during their years in medical school. Ken asks if, in hindsight, Jason believes this is something that needs to change.

[00:24:49] Tommy explains that Jason’s realization that type 2 diabetes was largely a dietary disease and therefore required a dietary solution rather than a pharmaceutical one led him, along with Megan Ramos, a medical researcher, to establish the intensive Dietary Management program in Scarborough, Ontario, in 2011. The object of this program is to counsel overweight and obese patients to follow a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet to reduce insulin. Tommy asks about the results of this initiative.

[00:28:56] Tommy points out that when when Jason started seeing positive results with his patients losing weight and getting off their medications with a high fat diet, Jason started giving lectures around Toronto. He  eventually posted a six-part lecture on the etiology of obesity on YouTube and starting a blog, “Intensive Dietary Management,” which evolved into “The Fasting Method.” This all received good feedback and opened the door for Jason to write a book, “The Obesity Code.”

[00:30:43] Ken explains that Jason’s book begins with a critique of the “eat less, move more” strategy acclaimed by many obesity experts.  Jason points out in the book that while this sounds like a reasonable approach to weight loss, the approach has generally been ineffecitve. Ken asks Jason to elaborate on this.

[00:37:08] Tommy explains that there is substantial experimental evidence that the “eat less, move more” approach is not particularly effective advice for individuals in an environment that promotes being sedentary while surrounded by hyperpalatable, calorie-dense, low-protein food. Tommy goes on to say that this does not imply that an integrated calorie balance model is incorrect, only ineffective. Tommy asks Jason for his thoughts.

[00:46:58] Ken mentions that in Mark Mattson’s appearance on STEM-Talk, he talked about his recently published book, “The Intermittent Fasting Revolution: The Science of Optimizing Health and Enhancing Performance.” Ken goes on to say that in this interview Mark talked about a paper he had in the New England Journal of Medicine that highlighted how studies in animals and humans have shown that eating in a six-hour window and fasting for 18 hours has been shown to have positive effects on lifespan and a wide range of chronic disorders including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancers, and neurodegenerative brain diseases. However, a recent paper that appeared in the same journal reported that a year-long study among patients with obesity found that a regimen of time-restricted eating was not anymore beneficial – with regard to reduction in body weight, body fat, or metabolic risk factors – than daily calorie restriction. Ken asks Jason for his opinion on this recent study.

[00:55:54] Ken mentions that Jason’s answer has circled back to efficaciousness versus effectiveness, and asks if Jason would agree that fasting is a more effective method than calorie restriction to lose weight because it is easier to follow.

[00:57:52] Tommy asks if Jason agrees that calorie restriction is efficacious but not effective because it is hard for people to follow.

[00:58:45] Tommy asks Jason about his third book in what has been referred to as the wellness series, “The Cancer Code.”

[01:02:35] Ken explains that there is obviously a genetic aspect to cancer, but our environment also plays a huge role in the development of cancer. Jason points out in his book that a Japanese woman who moves from Japan to San Francisco often doubles and or triples her risk of cancer. Ken asks what makes the environment of the U.S. such a risk factor, and what makes the environment in Japan protective.

[01:05:47] Ken mentions that there is also evidence that fasting during chemotherapy may reduce the side effects of the treatment. Ken asks Jason to talk about this and how fasting might also increase the efficacy of chemotherapy.

[01:07:50] Tommy mentions that he understands that Jason weighs the same as he did in high school, and asks what his diet and fasting protocol look like.

[01:11:15] To wrap up the interview, Ken  asks Jason for his take on rapamycin and concerns about the risk-reward ratio of using rapamycin as a prescription medication.


Learn more about IHMC

STEM-Talk homepage

Ken Ford bio

Ken Ford Wikipedia page

Tommy Wood IHMC bio

Tommy Wood University of Washington bio

Jason Fung  bio


Episode 143: Ben Bikman on the roles of insulin and ketones in metabolic function

Today’s episode features the author of “Why We Get Sick,” Dr. Ben Bikman, a biomedical scientist at Brigham Young University.

Ben is known for his research into the contrasting roles of insulin and ketones as key drivers of metabolic function.

In “Why We Get Sick,” Ben takes a deep dive into insulin resistance and metabolic health. The book particularly focuses on the role that insulin resistance plays in many of today’s most common diseases: heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s.

Ben and his colleagues at the Bikman Lab investigate the molecular mechanisms behind the increased risks of disease that accompany obesity and excess visceral fat. Much of the research at the Bikman Lab particularly focuses on the etiology of insulin resistance and how it disrupts mitochondrial function.

In today’s interview, STEM-Talk cohosts Drs. Ken Ford and Dawn Kernagis talk to Ben about:

  • How insulin resistance is tied to multiple chronic diseases.
  • The relevance of ketones in mitochondrial function.
  • How so many of our modern chronic diseases are self-inflicted and driven by insulin resistance.
  • How many of the hallmarks of aging are a consequence of insulin resistance.
  • The theory that the longest-lived people are likely the most insulin sensitive.
  • The benefits that occur with carbohydrate reduction as a result of increasing insulin sensitivity.
  • Ben’s thoughts about the degree of intermittent fasting needed to induce autophagy in humans.

Show notes:

[00:02:32] Dawn begins the interview asking Ben about his early life growing up in a small farm town in southern Alberta, Canada, as one of 13 children.

[00:02:48] Dawn asks Ben what he was like as a kid and what made him stand out from his 12 brothers and sisters.

[00:06:01] Dawn asks about Ben’s mother’s influence and how she wanted her sons to be Renaissance men.

[00:08:29] Ken asks about Ben’s experience as a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Missionary in Samara, Russia.

[00:15:18] Dawn mentions that while Ben went into his undergrad majoring in exercise science, he wasn’t that interested in science at the time. It wasn’t until he began working on his master’s degree at BYU with Dr. Will Winder that he developed a true interest in science.

[00:19:49] Dawn asks Ben how he ended up at East Carolina University for his Ph.D. in bioenergetics.

[00:21:42] Ken mentions that Ben, after completing his Ph.D. moved to Singapore for his postdoc work at the Duke National University of Singapore. Ken asks how that came about.

[00:25:49] Dawn mentions that Ben is well-known for his work on insulin resistance, stemming from his time at East Carolina when he realized that insulin resistance is tied to many different chronic diseases. Dawn asks what was Ben’s ah-ha moment that led him to focus his research on insulin resistance.

[00:27:49] Dawn mentions that much of Ben’s work is focused on the role of elevated insulin in regulating obesity and diabetes, as well as the relevance of ketones in mitochondrial function. Dawn asks if it is correct that Ben has been on a sort of mission as a professor to teach a new generation of doctors and nurses how insulin resistance works, and why it is so relevant in terms of chronic disease.

[00:29:56] Ken mentions that Ben began to take his message about insulin resistance beyond the classroom, appearing on podcasts and making YouTube videos, and also giving a speech to the student body at BYU, titled “The Plagues of Prosperity” making the case that the human race is currently eating itself into metabolic disarray.

[00:32:31] Ben’s book “Why We Get Sick” points out that historicall, people got sic because of infectious diseases. In modern times, due to sanitation, vaccines, and antivirals, that is less of an issue. Today more people are afflicted by chronic illnesses, many of which are related to metabolism. Dawn explains that the overarching message of the book is that these diseases are, in part, self-inflicted, and partially driven by insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia. Dawn goes on to say that while it is fairly well-known that insulin resistance plays a role in cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, many people may not know that it also contributes to neurological disorders, reproductive health, kidney disease, gastrointestinal disorders, and even reduced muscle mass, bone loss, and even hearing loss.

[00:34:42] Ken explains that Ben has often pointed out that many of the hallmarks of aging are partially a consequence of insulin resistance. Ben has also pointed out in his book the theory that the longest-lived people are likely the most insulin sensitive. Ken asks Ben to elaborate on this.

[00:41:36] Ken mentions that in Ben’s book, he explains that there are three primary causes of insulin resistance, the most obvious one being chronically elevated insulin levels. In addition to this, however, the second category is stress hormones including cortisol and epinephrine. The third cause is inflammation. Ken asks Ben to elaborate on these three causes.

[00:45:15] Dawn asks Ben to talk about why our healthcare system has a glucose-centric view of metabolic health.

[00:50:26] Ken points out that there’s a lack of consensus on what optimal levels of insulin should be. He also points out that most Americans do not have optimal levels of insulin since most are metabolically unhealthy. Ken asks Ben for his thoughts on what a person’s optimal level of insulin should be.

[00:53:34] Ken brings up the problem with the reliance on “normal” readings since unhealthy people skew the average and therefore what is considered normal. Ken asks Ben to talk about how this leads to people who are ketogenic being flagged by their physicians because their insulin levels are low according to their charts.

[00:59:25] Dawn asks Ben why he believes building and using muscle is a key component in the fight against insulin resistance.

[01:01:03] Dawn mentions that Ben advises people to control carbohydrates, prioritize protein, and “fill with fat.” Dawn asks about the numerous benefits seen with carbohydrate reduction via increasing insulin sensitivity and lowering hyperinsulinemia.

[01:03:55] Ken asks Ben to give a quick primer on the process of autophagy, with respect to intermittent fasting.

[01:07:54] Ken mentions that a lot of the research about autophagy and fasting uses rodent models.  Autophagy is activated much more quickly and to a much greater extent in rodents than in humans. In light of that, Ken asks Ben if we know to what degree intermittent fasting induces autophagy in humans and how long a fast would have to be to incur that effect.

[01:11:01] Ken asks Ben to explain how the standard American diet drives fat storage in the body and slows a person’s metabolic rate.

[01:16:53] Dawn brings up that recent studies have shown that ketones are not only viable fuel sources for all cells with mitochondria but are also legitimate signaling molecules that elicit advantageous changes in inflammation, cognition, oxidative stress, and more. Additionally, ketones may be relevant metabolic fuel in the context of physical activity and athletic performance. Dawn mentions that further exploration of this can be found in episode 94 of STEM-Talk with John Newman on the topic of beta-hydroxybutyrate, or BHB, and episode 54 with Briana Stubbs on the topic of ketones and athletic performance. Dawn goes on to mention that in a paper published by Ben in 2018, in a special issue of the International Journal of Molecular Science, Ben wrote about the effects of ketones on metabolic function. He reported on the results of a study that sought to shed light on the specific effects of the ketone body BHB on muscle cell mitochondrial physiology. Dawn asks Ben to walk listeners through the results of this study and its implications.

[01:20:54] Ken mentions that looking at the role of ketones on the maintenance of muscle, it appears that ketones have less of an anabolic role and more of an anti-catabolic role, which produces a strong protective effect against sarcopenia. Ben talks about this.

[01:23:02] Ken mentions that we could make a serious dent in our obesity and type-2 diabetes epidemics if people would think more seriously about insulin and if more physicians tested for it. Ken asks Ben what research, in this regard, are he and his colleagues excited for on the near-term horizon.

[01:27:03] Dawn shifts topics to ask Ben what his exercise routine looks like.

[01:30:29] Dawn closes the interview by asking Ben if he still plays any instruments.


Ben Bikman bio

Ben Bikman Lab

Learn more about IHMC

STEM-Talk homepage

Ken Ford bio

Ken Ford Wikipedia page

Dawn Kernagis bio


Episode 142: Vyvyane Loh discusses weight management, ketogenic diet, and the treatment of metabolic diseases

Our interview today is with Dr. Vyvyane Loh, a board-certified physician in obesity and internal medicine. She is the founder and leader of Transform Alliance for Health, a Boston preventive-care practice that  specializes in weight management and the treatment of chronic metabolic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and dyslipidemia.

She and her staff are known for helping people lose 50 pounds or more and getting their type-2 diabetic patients off their many medications. Vyvyane has spent her medical career developing expertise in immunology, metabolic syndrome, fat metabolism, clinical nutrition, and preventive medicine.

In today’s interview, we discuss how abdominal, or visceral, fat is linked to a wide range of metabolic disorders. Vyvyane goes on to explain how there’s a clearcut association between obesity and decreased brain volume that rarely gets discussed. When her overweight patients complain about their behavior around food and how they consistently give in to snacks that patients know are bad for them, Vyvyane explains how the challenges they are facing is often a result of the brain struggling with decreased blood flow and the shrinkage of neurons.

Vyvyane also shares how a patient asked Vyvyane if she knew anything about the Atkins diet, and although she didn’t, Vyvyane ended up doing the diet along with her patient. This led Vyvyane to start seriously researching whether a ketogenic diet could help people not only lose weight, but also reverse chronic disease.

Toward the end of today’s interview, we explore Vyvyane’s interest in macrophages, which are specialized cells involved in the detection and destruction of bacteria and other harmful organisms.

We also have a nice discussion about how Vyvyane took some time off from practicing medicine to enroll in the writing program at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina in 1999. She spent the next two years writing a novel, “Breaking the Tongue.”  Set in Singapore during World War II, her book was nominated for the prestigious International IMPAC Award in fiction and was selected by the New York Public Library as one of its top 25 books of 2004.

If you are interested in finding out more about Vyvyane, check out her website, vyvyanelohmd.com. Also, Vyvyane launched a podcast this week, which you also can find on her website. Episode one looks at “Metabolism: What It Is, And How It Affects Your Health.”

If you enjoy today’s interview with Vyvyane and the many other interviews we’ve had on STEM-Talk discussing the treatment and prevention of chronic metabolic diseases, you may want to check out the upcoming virtual conference on Targeting Metabesity.

Our cohost Dr. Ken Ford will be one of nearly 70 speakers, including many former guests on STEM-Talk, talking about the growing evidence that the major chronic diseases of the day share common metabolic roots and as a result may also share common solutions.

To find out more about the conference, follow this link to the Targeting Metabestiy home page where you find a program guide and list of speakers. If you would like a free ticket to the conference, click on this link where you will find instructions on how to receive a code for complimentary admission that is being offered to STEM-Talk listeners.

Ken will be moderating a session on emerging research related to endogenous and exogenous ketosis in health and disease as well as the role of ketones in mild traumatic brain injury and the prevention and treatment of cancer.

If you have enjoyed the interviews we’ve had on STEM-Talk with Drs Steven Austad, Colin Champ, James Kirkland, John Newman, Brianna Stubbs, Jeff Volek and Morley Stone, who are all speaking at the conference as well, you should find the talks by the over 70 speakers quite interesting and beneficial.

So, click here to request a free registration and we will make sure to send a you a code for a complimentary ticket.

Show notes

[00:04:45] Dawn mentions that, based on the interviews she’s listened to with Vyvyane, that writing and dance have been passions of hers since she was a child. Dawn then asks Vyvyane at what point did she become interested in science.

[00:05:25] Dawn asks Vyvyane how she ended up in the states attending Boston University.

[00:06:25] Ken asks why Vyvyane decided to double major in biology and classics.

[00:08:14] Ken mentions that Vyvyane’s classics advisor has a connection to the town of Seaside, near where IHMC is located.

[00:09:01] Dawn shifts topics to talk about Vyvyane’s research, and asks about TOFI, which stands for “Thin Outside, Fat Inside.” It refers to people who outwardly appear thin, but have a disproportionate amount of adipose tissue in their abdomen, as well as “normal weight obesity.”

[00:10:58] Ken mentions that the TOFI phenomenon helps to highlight the relative lack of utility of BMI, which is just a function of the relationship between a person’s height and weight, meaning that people with TOFI will look fine in terms of BMI, and someone who is lean and muscular may be categorized as obese by BMI, particularly if they are not very tall. Ken asks Vyvyane to elaborate on this.

[00:12:26] Dawn explains that abdominal, or visceral, fat is of particular concern because it’s a key player in a variety of health problems, more so than subcutaneous fat. She goes on to explain that visceral fat is found deep within the abdominal cavity, where it pads the spaces between our organs. Dawn asks Vyvyane to talk about how visceral fat is linked to a wide range of metabolic disorders.

[00:14:37] Ken explains that obesity often causes endothelial dysfunction, which results in the vasculature being inflamed and damaged, resulting often in decreased blood flow to the brain. Ken asks Vyvyane to talk about her frustration with the fact that this clearcut association between obesity and decreased brain volume rarely gets discussed.

[00:17:22] Dawn mentions that it is estimated that just 12 percent of Americans are categorized as metabolically healthy. She goes on to mention that researchers at the University of North Carolina published a study that found that just one in eight American adults have optimal metabolic health.

[00:18:22] Ken asks Vyvyane what she has learned about metabolic disease in her practice that she didn’t learn in medical school or her residency.

[00:19:10] Dawn asks about the prevalence of using food to relieve stress in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and what effects of this trend Vyvyane has seen in her practice.

[00:20:13] Ken asks about Vyvyane’s practice, which she started in 2015 because she had been working in the medical system and came to the realization that she couldn’t develop a new way of providing preventive care from within the system.

[00:21:53] Dawn mentions that Vyvyane’s practice is called the Transform Alliance for Health, and the website is quoted as saying: “Chronic stress and emotional issues commonly lead to using food to self-medicate or self-soothe. The visible result, the patient’s weight, becomes the focal issue for their healthcare providers. For us, however, it is merely the physical manifestation of the patient’s internal struggle with his/her real problem. From this starting point, we work with our patients to uncover their deeper and often more complex reasons for overeating and to take charge of their lives.” Vyvyane elaborates on this approach to her practice.

[00:23:29] Dawn mentions that she listened to an interview with Vyvyane where she talked about how a ketogenic diet can often reduce inflammation and reverse metabolic disease, but that it can be hard to get people to stick to a ketogenic diet. Dawn asks if this is why Vyvyane emphasizes going on a low carb diet for her patients rather than a strict ketogenic diet.

[00:25:07] Ken asks about the struggles of having to convince patients to give up carbs.

[00:27:17] Dawn explains that non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is today one of the most common maladies in the United States, with a remarkable 30 to 40 percent of adults in this country having it. Dawn asks Vyvyane to discuss NAFLD and what she sees as its causes and the most efficacious treatments.

[00:29:07] Dawn asks about the markers Vyvyane uses in evaluating a patient’s metabolic health, including insulin resistance scores and advanced lipid panels.

[00:31:45] Ken asks about the curriculums Vyvyane offers for her patients, which explain to them the importance of sleep and mobility and strength training as a way of pressing the body’s “the reset button.”

[00:34:00] Dawn mentions that we recently had Greg Potter and Jeff Iliff on the podcast to talk about the importance of sleep and particularly how a lack of sleep can lead to many negative health outcomes. Dawn goes on to mention that something Vyvyane has emphasized in the past is the role of nocturnal blood pressure dipping during sleep. Dawn asks Vyvyane to explain what she means by that, and how a lack of it increases a person’s risk for silent strokes and kidney dysfunction.

[00:35:45] Ken asks Vyvyane to talk about her recommendations for protein intake as it relates to body composition and sarcopenia.

[00:39:18] Ken asks Vyvyane to talk about some of the immune cells that are involved in regulating metabolic health.

[00:41:34] Dawn mentions Vyvyane’s recent lecture at IHMC, titled “On the Magical Mystery Macrophage Tour, where she refers to macrophages as mysterious, specialized cells of innate immunity that play significant roles in some of our most common medical conditions ranging from cardiovascular disease to gastrointestinal disorders to obesity to osteoarthritis. Vyvyane elaborates on what these cells are and their various functions.

[00:43:02] Ken asks how and when Vyvyane first became interested in macrophages.

[00:43:41] Ken mentions that macrophages also stand out because they possess the unique ability to become polarized in response to different environmental stimuli and asks Vyvyane to explain how this works.

[00:46:22] Dawn explains that macrophages can detect products of bacteria and other microorganisms using a system of recognition receptors such as toll-like receptors or TLRs. Vyvyane explains the role and significance of these receptors.

[00:48:13] Dawn mentions that tissue-resident macrophages, or TRMs, are heterogeneous populations originating either from monocytes or embryonic progenitors and distribute in lymphoid and non-lymphoid tissues. Dawn asks Vyvyane to talk about the diverse roles that TRMs play in many physiological processes, including metabolic function.

[00:50:46] Ken mentions that current medical practice still looks at obesity through the lens of caloric balance. Ken asks what new discoveries in obesity research challenge that dogma.

[00:54:39] Dawn asks about the aspects of Vyvyane’s life outside of her medical practice such as writing, dance, and choreography.

[00:55:47] Ken mentions that Vyvyane’s novel, “Breaking the Tongue,” was selected as one of the Top 25 Books of 2004 by the New York Public Library and in 2006 was nominated for an International IMPAC Award, which is the world’s richest prize for a single work of fiction published in English. Ken explains that the novel chronicles the fall of Singapore to the Japanese in World War II, and asks Vyvyane to talk about the book and how it deals with issues of race and class.

[00:58:08] Ken mentions that Vyvyane has another novel she is working on, but that it, and her fiction writing as a whole, is on hold because she is working on a nonfiction book. Ken asks Vyvyane to talk about this new book.

[00:59:47] Dawn closes the interview asking about Vyvyane’s morning routine, which incorporates an hour of meditation. Dawn also asks what else Vyvyane does on a regular basis.


Vyvyane Loh bio

Vyvyane Loh podcast

Learn more about IHMC

STEM-Talk homepage

Ken Ford bio

Ken Ford Wikipedia page

Dawn Kernagis bio



Episode 141: Jeff Iliff on newly discovered system that clears waste from the brain

Our guest today is Dr. Jeffery Iliff, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences in the Department of Neurology at the University of Washington. Much of Jeff’s research focuses on neurodegeneration and traumatic brain injury.

He is the associate director of research at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System and a co-leader for research at the University of Washington’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.

In this episode, we talk about Jeff’s investigations into the glymphatic system, which is a newly discovered brain-wide network of perivascular spaces that facilitates the clearance of waste products from the brain during sleep. Jeff goes on to describe how he is exploring how the glymphatic system fails in the aging brain as well as in younger brains after traumatic brain injury.

Jeff and Dawn also have a conversation about their collaboration on a research project  that’s focused on how extreme stressors impact the glymphatic system. Together they are investigating a potential approach to optimizing glymphatic clearance for individuals with acute or chronic sleep deprivation.

Show notes:

[00:02:55] Dawn opens the interview asking Jeff where he grew up.

[00:03:21] Dawn asks what Jeff what he was like as a kid.

[00:04:01] Ken mentions that it wasn’t until Jeff was working as a lifeguard at a boy scout camp that he first became interested in science. Ken asks Jeff what it was about his lifeguard experience that triggered the interest.

[00:05:06] Dawn asks what led Jeff to the University of Washington as an undergrad.

[00:06:02] Ken mentions that Jeff originally intended on going into pre-med. Ken explains that Jeff changed his mind and asks about a suggestion from a girlfriend that caused Jeff to have a change of heart.

[00:07:39] Dawn points out that in addition to working in the lab as an undergrad, Jeff also worked a 48-hour shift as an EMT over the weekends. Dawn asks Jeff why he kept such a busy schedule.

[00:09:35] Ken asks what led Jeff to the Oregon Health & Science University for his Ph.D.

[00:10:53] Dawn asks if it’s true that Jeff’s wife played a big role in his decision to travel across the country to New York for his post-doc at the University of Rochester.

[00:13:06] Dawn mentions that after the second year of Jeff’s post-doc, he was promoted to a junior faculty position because he was part of the team that discovered a brain cleaning system known as the glymphatic system. The team published a paper in 2012 in science translational medicine that was the first of about ten papers that later became known as the “glymphatic papers.” After a follow-up paper in 2013, Science Magazine cited the discovery that the glymphatic system cleans the brain during sleep as one of the “Top 10 Breakthroughs of 2013.” Dawn asks what this experience was like for Jeff as a young post-doc and junior faculty member.

[00:15:55] Dawn explains that the lymphatic system is a network of vessels extending throughout most of the body that transport excess fluid and waste from the interstitial spaces between cells to the blood. She goes on to explain that these vessels are notably not found in the brain leading to the question of how interstitial fluid is cleared in the brain. Jeff’s team discovered the glymphatic system, which serves the same function in the brain as the lymphatic system in the rest of the body. This discovery turned out to be a paradigm shift and led to numerous subsequent studies. Dawn asks Jeff how the initial 2012 study came about and how they identified a distinct clearing system in the brain that serves a lymphatic function.

[00:19:59] Dawn mentions that after Jeff’s initial work in the glymphatic system, he went on to write what has become known as his sleep paper. Dawn goes on to say that for this study, Jeff used two-photon microscopy to visualize fluid moving in and out of the brain, and at some point, saw his tracer leaving the brain. Dawn asks Jeff what this experience was like.

[00:23:55] Ken asks Jeff to explain the relationship between sleep cycles and the glymphatic system.

[00:26:33] Jeff explains some of the differences in sleep between mice and humans.

[00:28:35] Ken asks if the critical role of slow-wave sleep in glymphatic function and clearance explains the potential relationship between sleep deprivation and increased risk of neurodegenerative disease.

[00:31:29] Ken asks about the impact of sleep deprivation of normal cognitive function.

[00:32:43] Ken asks if there is any research on the glymphatic function of APOE4 carriers.

[00:35:33] Ken asks about work done by Jeff’s postdoc mentor, Maiken Nedergaard, that suggests that glymphatic function can even be impacted by sleep that is outside the normal circadian rhythm, potentially explaining the increased risk of neurodegenerative disease in shift workers.

[00:38:50] Dawn mentions that Jeff’s 2013 sleep paper became the predecessor for many subsequent neuro-imaging studies looking at glymphatic function in the human brain, leading to the pursuit of new neuro-imaging techniques for the measurement of glymphatic function and asks about the developments in this area.

[00:42:36] Ken asks about Jeff’s 2014 paper in the Annals of Neurology, in which he proposed that impaired glymphatic clearance contributes to cognitive decline among the elderly and may represent a novel therapeutic target for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases associated with the accumulation of misfolded protein aggregates.

[00:46:44] Ken asks if there is thought to be a connection between glymphatic function and other disorders like Parkinson’s, vascular dementia, etc.

[00:48:45] Dawn asks about the meningeal lymphatic system, which consists of lymphatic vessels running parallel to the dural venous sinuses and middle meningeal arteries, and how it relates to the glymphatic system.

[00:52:01] Ken asks Jeff why he thinks the glymphatic system had not been identified until recently.

[00:54:48] Ken asks about Jeff’s move from the University of Rochester back to Oregon, and how Phil Knight, founder of Nike, played a role in this decision.

[00:56:14] Dawn mentions that Jeff was at Oregon for six years, but during this time became connected with a research group at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System in Seattle, which is an affiliate of the University of Washington. Dawn asks what led Jeff to return to Washington, where he currently works as a professor in the Department of Neurology and is the Associate Director for Research at the VA Center, as well as what he and his research group are currently studying.

[01:00:24] Ken asks how traumatic brain injury (TBI) affects the glymphatic system.

[01:02:44] Dawn mentions that in TBI, Aquaporin-4, or AQP4, is a water channel expressed in astrocytes throughout the central nervous system as well as in epithelial cells in various peripheral organs. The expression of this protein changes in the setting of TBI. She goes on to explain that AQP4 is involved in brain water balance, neuroexcitation, astrocyte migration, and neuroinflammation and is the target of pathogenic autoantibodies in neuromyelitis. Jeff’s 2017 paper in JAMA Neurology looked at how altered AQP4 was associated with aging brains. Dawn asks about this paper, and the implications that the loss of perivascular AQP4 localization may be a factor that renders the aging brain vulnerable to the misaggregation of proteins in neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s.

[01:05:30] Dawn mentions how the collaboration between her and Jeff’s teams involves working on several studies involving human glymphatic imaging in different settings. Dawn asks Jeff to explain the efforts in validating a non-invasive contrast-free imaging approach to visualizing glymphatic function in humans.

[01:08:30] Ken asks Jeff to explain why validating new imaging approaches against intrathecal contrast MRI is so important for the clinical and research communities.

[01:12:06] Dawn explains that the first study she and Jeff officially started working on together is funded by the Office of Naval Research, and kicked off in 2021. In this study, they are assessing the impact of extreme environmental conditions on glymphatic function in humans, ranging from hypoxia, hypercapnia, and hyperoxia. Dawn asks Jeff to talk about the status of these studies and their impact on future human glymphatic research.

[01:16:28] Dawn asks about a paper Jeff and his team published on astronaut brains post-flight and whether fluid-filled spaces in the brain, known as perivascular spaces, are enlarged post-flight.

[01:19:41] Dawn mentions that one of the biggest questions she gets about the glymphatic system is if it can it be ‘fixed’ to function better if it has been impaired. Dawn asks Jeff how he would answer this question based on the current state of research.

[01:21:46] Dawn asks Jeff if there are any nutritional or exercise approaches that might help improve glymphatic function.

[01:22:53] Ken asks if Heart Rate Variability (HRV) plays a role in glymphatic function.

[01:24:52] Dawn mentions that her and Jeff’s collaboration has expanded to include Dr. Miranda Lim at Oregon Health and Science University, Dr. Don Tucker at the Brain Electrophysiology Lab, and Dr. Jeffrey Heys at Montana State University. They are working on DoD funded study to look into a device that could potentially stimulate the glymphatic system in individuals who are acutely or chronically sleep deprived.

[02:27:10] Ken asks what should the next key studies in glymphatic research focus on.

[01:29:29] Dawn asks if Jeff still takes time off from his lab work to go watch his son’s baseball games and his daughter’s softball games.

[01:30:22] Ken asks if it’s true that Jeff is a huge fantasy football fan, and that when he was a post-doc fellow, he and some colleagues started a fantasy football league that is still going on all these years later.

[01:32:15] Dawn says she assumes Jeff is a Seattle Seahawks fan and asks Jeff if he ever had Russel Wilson on his fantasy football team.

[01:33:15] Ken asks if it is true that Jeff’s students are fans of STEM-Talk.

[01:34:19] Dawn closes the interview telling Jeff to let his students know to write a review of this episode so they can get a free STEM-Talk t-shirt.

Episode 140: Kaleen Lavin on the benefits of exercise on Parkinson’s and “inflammaging”

Today we would like to introduce you to one of our newest colleagues here at IHMC,  Dr. Kaleen Lavin, a research scientist who investigates the molecular mechanisms by which the body adapts and reacts to stressors such as exercise, training and aging.

Kaleen came onboard at IHMC last year and is known for her use of computational biology techniques as a means to understand and improve human health, performance and resilience.

She also is interested in the use of exercise as a countermeasure for a range of disease conditions, including neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease. Today we will talk to her about some of her most recent work that examined the molecular effects of exercise training in skeletal muscle and in people with Parkinson’s.

We also talk to Kaleen about her recent paper that took a comprehensive look at the current literature surrounding the molecular and cellular processes underlying the molecular benefits that exercise induces in humans. The paper appeared earlier this year in Comprehensive Physiology and was titled, “State of Knowledge on Molecular Adaptations to Exercise in Humans.”

Kaleen is a graduate of Georgetown University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in biology. She also earned a master’s in sports nutrition and exercise science from Marywood University in Pennsylvania and a Ph.D. in human bioenergetics from  Ball State University in Indiana.

Show notes:

[00:03:02] Dawn opens the interview mentioning that Kaleen grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and asks Kaleen about her passion for music as a youth.

[00:03:25] Ken asks Kaleen about her high school years and how she became  a competitive swimmer.

[00:04:26] Dawn mentions that Kaleen was an excellent student growing up, but that it wasn’t until her junior year of high school that she became interested in science. Dawn asks if it were a teacher who inspired Kaleen.

[00:05:21] Dawn asks what led Kaleen to attend Georgetown University after graduating from high school.

[00:05:57] Dawn asks if Kaleen knew she wanted to major in biology when she first arrived on campus at Georgetown.

[00:06:45] Ken asks about Kaleen’s experience of becoming a part of the Howard Hughes Program at Georgetown, which led to her gaining experience working in lab.

[00:08:47] Dawn mentions that Kaleen transitioned from competitive swimming to running during her undergraduate years, running a marathon and half marathon. Dawn asks if  Kaleen’s father, who is an avid marathoner, gave her the incentive to start signing up for marathons.

[00:13:19] Dawn asks Kaleen about a faculty advisor who noticed her passion for running and exercise and helped her decide what to pursue for her master’s degree.

[00:15:23] Ken asks Kaleen what led her to pursue her master’s at Marywood University, a small Catholic University in Scranton.

[00:16:56] Ken asks Kaleen what prompted her to pursue a Ph.D. in exercise science at Ball State University, which has one of the longest-standing human performance programs in the country.

[00:17:57] Dawn mentions Kaleen’s experience with no-breath laps as part of her training when she was in high school on the swim team. Dawn asks Kaleen to explain what no-breath laps are.

[00:19:00] Dawn asks Kaleen about a study she conducted for her master’s thesis at Marywood that examined the effects of controlled frequency breath swimming on pulmonary function.

[00:22:13] Ken asks about how Kaleen’s time at Ball State set her up for her post-doc work at Center for Exercise Medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

[00:24:31] Ken asks what it was about UAB that attracted Kaleen to do her post-doc work there.

[00:26:08] Dawn asks about a study published in 2017 by a group at UAB led by Marcas Bamman where researchers took people with Parkinson’s disease and ran them through a high-intensity exercise program, finding that you could not only help people preserve some function but also restore some function.

[00:28:52] Ken mentions that despite the awareness of Parkinson’s negative impact on motor function, there has been very little attention paid to its impact on skeletal muscle. Ken asks Kaleen to talk about her study that provided insights into the potential mechanistic roles of skeletal muscle.

[00:31:33] Dawn mentions that the research Kaleen just discussed was published in a paper titled “Rehabilitative Impact of Exercise Training on Human Skeletal Muscle Transcriptional Programs in Parkinson’s Disease.”

[00:31:51] Kaleen talks about her analysis of the dataset from the 2017 study at UAB that was led by Marcus Bamman.  Kaleen explains how she was able to identify 706 genes that were differently expressed after rehabilitative training, and how this work strengthens our understanding of skeletal muscle as a communicative tissue in exercise, aging, and neurodegenerative disease.

[00:33:38] Dawn asks Kaleen to elaborate on how she ended her paper talking about how future research is needed to determine the influence of exercise training on other levels of phenotypes in Parkinson’s Disease and how skeletal muscle may reflect or orchestrate these changes.

[00:35:31] Ken asks Kaleen to talk about her plans for a future clinical trial concerning Parkinson’s at IHMC.

[00:37:21] Dawn asks about another study Kaleen conducted that looked at why people respond differently to the same exercise. Dawn also asks Kaleen to talk about why the reduction in skeletal muscle mass with advancing age is such a serious issue.

[00:39:20] Ken follows up mentioning that sarcopenia is often thought of as a gradual decline in muscle mass, but often it is a process where there will be a slow gradual trend punctuated with large downward spikes as individuals grow older and experience illness and injury over the years.

[00:41:01] Ken mentions that for the aforementioned study, Kaleen examined what occurs at the molecular level to shed light on the impact of resistance training on muscle hypertrophy. Ken goes on to explain that, previously, the UAB lab and others had demonstrated the magnitude of resistance-training-induced muscle hypertrophy is highly variable across individuals, a phenomenon known as interindividual response heterogeneity.

[00:43:07] Dawn mentions that Kaleen used two algorithms to assess the evidence of gene networks that link muscle building to gene expressions. Dawn asks why Kaleen decided to proceed this way, and what future research possibilities does this method open up.

[00:45:20] Ken asks about the possibility that Kaleen’s study leaves open the idea that exercising in the past leaves a molecular footprint, creating a kind of “muscle memory” that can come back to help us as we age, even if we haven’t kept up the habit of exercise.

[00:54:39] Dawn mentions that Kaleen’s 2019 study on the effects of aging and lifelong aerobic exercise on inflammation supports other recent evidence that training is anti-inflammatory. Kaleen explains that the lifelong habit of exercise offers protection against “inflammaging,” which is the experience of chronic low-grade inflammation throughout the aging process. Dawn asks, however, if people who have waited till their 30s or 40s to begin the habit of exercise have passed the window of opportunity to benefit from the protective therapeutic factors that regular training confers.

[00:55:55] Dawn explains that Kaleen was recently the lead author of a paper that appeared earlier this year in Comprehensive Physiology titled, “State of Knowledge on Molecular Adaptations to Exercise in Humans.” Dawn explains that this paper was a comprehensive look at the current literature surrounding the molecular and cellular processes underlying exercise-induced benefits and adaptations in humans. Dawn asks Kaleen to explain how the study of exercise as a preventative and therapeutic treatment has been rapidly gaining momentum for the past couple of decades.

[00:57:58] Dawn mentions that the National Institutes of Health decided to fund a trial to look at the effects of exercise at the molecular level across a large group of people to build what they’re calling the Molecular Map of Exercise. Dawn asks Kaleen to talk about the consortium that the NIH is funding for this trial, and how Kaleen’s paper ties into that.

[01:01:46] Ken asks what kind of response this review paper has received from the broader community.

[01:02:49] Ken mentions that Marcas Bamman, who is helping spearhead IHMC’s new Healthspan, Resilience and Performance Complex, recruited Kaleen to become part of this initiative. Ken asks Kaleen what attracted her about this project.

[01:04:15] Dawn mentions that Kaleen is heading up a lot of the computational work at IHMC to help the institute’s researchers gain insight into why some people respond better to exercise than others on a molecular level. Dawn goes on to mention that Kaleen is currently working on a number of ongoing projects and asks her to talk about how her work plays into all this research.

[01:05:44] Kaleen talks about how it’s essential to have the right tools as researchers’ questions become more complicated. She and a colleague at IHMC recently received funding to enhance what is known as a pathway-level information extractor, a tool more commonly referred to as PLIER. Kaleen talks about how the funding for this project will allow IHMC to build up its algorithm potential and open the door for IHMC researchers to handle higher dimensions of data.


[01:07:48] Dawn asks about a paper by a group of researchers out of the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences in Stockholm, which examined acute molecular responses to concurrent exercise involving different muscles.

[01:09:56] Ken asks if Kaleen thinks that her type of muscle fiber, which is highly skewed toward Type I, has anything to do with her gravitation towards endurance sports

[01:11:39] Ken talks about the shift in muscle fiber type seen in the aging population where fast twitch fibers are lost first, leading to some older people maintaining strength but losing explosive power.

[01:13:20] Dawn asks if there is a triathlon in Kaleen’s future.

[01:14:02] Dawn asks Kaleen about the influence of muscle-fiber type on performance and how that might influence someone in terms of them gravitating toward a particular mode of exercise.

[01:15:41] Dawn closes the interview asking about Kaleen’s passion for singing and how she now sings in her church choir.


Kaleen Lavin bio

Learn more about IHMC

STEM-Talk homepage

Ken Ford bio

Ken Ford Wikipedia page

Dawn Kernagis bio


Episode 139: Matt Kaeberlein discusses healthspan, longevity, and rapamycin

In response to several requests from listeners, we have as our guest today, Dr. Matt Kaeberlein, a professor of pathology at the University of Washington. Matt is well-known for his investigations into the basic mechanisms of aging. Much of his research in this area is focused on identifying interventions that promote healthspan and lifespan.

In today’s interview, we talk to Matt about the biology of aging and what he has learned about slowing the aging process.  In 1999, Matt and his colleague Mitch McVey discovered that overexpression of the SIR2 gene is sufficient to extend lifespan in yeast. SIR stands for silent information regulator, and we have an interesting discussion about how Matt’s research and 1999 discovery have elevated SIR2 to the forefront of aging research.

Also, some of Matt’s most recent and fascinating investigations have been into rapamycin, the only known pharmacological agent to extend lifespan.  His research has shed new light on the role rapamycin plays in delaying age-related dysfunction in rodents, dogs, and humans.

We also have a fun discussion with Matt about his research showing that rapamycin may have the potential to reduce the mortality of companion dogs. The paper that came out of this research landed Matt on the front page of the New York Times and received prominent play in the national and overseas media.

Other topics we cover include:

  • Matt’s attempts to uncover the molecular mechanism behind lifespan extension via calorie restriction.
  • His research into mTOR, which is a protein in every cell, and how inhibiting mTOR has been shown to extend the lifespan of insects, rodents, and animals.
  • Matt’s 2006 study that showed fasting extends lifespan in worms more than caloric restriction.
  • And an article Matt published last year that summarized several of the most popular anti-aging diets, comparing them with classical caloric restriction.

In addition to his work in his Kaeberlein Lab, Matt is the co-director of the Nathan Shock Center of Excellence in the Basic Biology of Aging and the founding director of the Healthy Aging and Longevity Research Institute at the University of Washington. He also is the founder and co-director of the Dog Aging Project.

Show notes:

[00:02:53] Dawn asks Matt and his youth and where he grew up.

[00:03:06] Ken asks if it is true that Matt spent a good deal of his youth “up to no good.”

[00:04:20] Dawn mentions that while Matt got decent grades in school, it wasn’t until he went to college that he became studious. Dawn asks Matt if it true that he had originally decided to skip college.

[00:05:42] Dawn asks how Matt ended up in Bellingham at Western Washington.

[00:06:41] Dawn asks how in the world, despite not liking high school and working a morning shift at UPS for two years after graduating, Matt decided to head off for college and major in biochemistry of all things.

[00:08:01] Ken asks what led Matt to travel across the country to Boston and MIT’s biology program.

[00:09:57] Ken asks why Matt decided to focus his research on the biology of aging.

[00:11:57] Matt talks about what he did following his Ph.D.

[00:13:15] Dawn asks Matt what kind of research he did at the University of Washington Department of Genome Sciences for his post-doc, and how this research related to aging.

[00:15:10] Ken mentions that it was during Matt’s undergrad that he decided to focus on the question, “To what extent are the mechanisms of aging evolutionarily conserved?” Ken asks Matt what caused him to arrive at that for his central focus.

[00:19:36] Dawn mentions that the discovery by Matt, and Mitch McVey, that overexpression of SIR2 (Silent Information Regulator) is sufficient to extend life span in yeast is credited with promoting SIR2 to the forefront of aging research. Dawn goes on to mention that SIR genes are determinants of life span in yeast mother cells. Dawn asks Matt to give a quick primer on the SIR genes and their functions.

[00:20:55] Ken follows up asking about Matt’s 1999 paper that appeared in the journal Genes and Development. Matt talks about this paper and how he demonstrated that increasing the dosage of SIR2 extended lifespan.

[00:23:42] Dawn mentions that after Matt arrived at the University of Washington, he began looking at yeast and C. elegans, to see if there were key aspects of aging that could be related to humans. This research led to Matt and his colleagues publishing a paper in 2008 demonstrating quantitative evidence for conserved longevity pathways between different eukaryotic species. Dawn asks Matt to talk about how today most people agree that there are key aspects of aging shared across all animals, even down to yeast.

[00:27:27] Dawn asks about Matt’s lab and the work he does at the University of Washington as well as the work he does as the director of the Healthy Aging and Longevity Research Institute as well as the work he does as director of the Nathan Shock Center of Excellence in the Basic Biology of Aging Training Program.

[00:30:06] Dawn asks about some papers Matt published in 2004 and 2005, which attempted to uncover the molecular mechanism behind lifespan extension via calorie restriction, which has been seen across a wide variety of animals. Dawn mentions that one of Matt’s 2004 papers disproved the model that caloric restriction acts solely through SIR2 to mediate lifespan extension and asks him to talk about that discovery.

[00:36:31] Ken follows up asking Matt to talk more about his TOR and mTOR related work.

[00:39:57] Dawn mentions that Matt’s lab followed up these aforementioned papers with a study that showed fasting extends lifespan in worms more than caloric restriction, in which the worms were fasted for their entire adulthood. Matt talks about the findings and implications of this study.

[00:43:41] Ken asks about Matt’s research into rapamycin and the role it plays in increasing the lifespan of rodents and delays age-related dysfunction in both rodents and humans. Ken asks specifically about Matt’s 2016 study, the findings of which suggest that short-term rapamycin treatment late in life can not only delay aging but also influence cancer prevalence and modulate the microbiome.

[00:47:43] Dawn mentions Matt’s research that garnered the attention of the NY Times, where he began treating dogs with rapamycin and asks what prompted Matt’s interest in studying dogs and aging.

[00:51:06] Ken mentions Matt’s article in Nature published earlier this year, where he explained that the primary goal of the Dog Aging Project is to generate and facilitate discoveries on the fundamental biology of aging. He also argued that the impact of the Dog-Aging Project will go far beyond this goal and Ken asks Matt to explain what he meant by that.

[00:53:46] Dawn asks about Matt’s recent paper in eLife that looked at whether rapamycin could rejuvenate oral health in mice, and goes on to explain that periodontal disease is prevalent in elderly human populations and currently has no therapy that can effectively reverse it. Matt talks about this study and the promising results from it.

[00:56:21] Dawn asks about Matt’s recent review summary that appeared in the journal Science last year that looked at several of the most popular anti-aging diets, comparing them with classical caloric restriction. Matt gives an overview of the interventions evaluated and what insights were gained.

[01:01:38] Ken mentions that IHMC has done some studies on ketone esters and asks about Matt’s opinion on findings that suggest that ketone esters by themselves could have antiaging properties.

[01:04:59] Ken asks about Matt’s opinion that a case can be made that mTOR complex 1 is a particularly relevant and robust molecular transducer of diet-induced antiaging signals.

[01:08:41] Ken asks if mTOR complex 1 is the complex that is involved in muscle protein synthesis.

[01:11:31] Ken brings up the point that discussions of mTOR inhibition via rapamycin is often coupled with the idea of inhibition of protein synthesis which leads to confusion regarding the difference between not having enough protein in the diet and inhibiting protein synthesis. Matt brings up the point that transient inhibition of mTOR will have different effects than continued chronic inhibition of mTOR, making dosing and timing important variables in this question.

[01:13:08] Ken and Matt discuss the self-experimentation that many people have begun to do with rapamycin. They also discuss the possible interaction of rapamycin and resistance exercise in humans.

[01:14:58] Ken asks, based on all the current findings regarding rapamycin, whether Matt thinks we are at the point where people should start seriously considering rapamycin or if more research needs to be done first.

[01:17:55] Ken asks if Matt has perceived a benefit from his own personal use of rapamycin.

[01:20:06] Dawn asks Matt, as someone who lives by the motto “live long or die trying,” what are the strategies that he uses in terms of diet, supplements, and exercise.

[01:23:46] Dawn asks Matt how his dog is doing to close the interview.


Matt Kaeberlein bio

Kaeberlein lab

Learn more about IHMC

STEM-Talk homepage

Ken Ford bio

Ken Ford Wikipedia page

Dawn Kernagis bio


Episode 138: Mark Lewis discusses hypersonics and the importance of research in national defense

Today’s guest is Dr. Mark Lewis, executive director of NDIA’s Emerging Technologies Institute (NDIA ETI), a non-partisan think tank focused on technologies that are critical to the future of national defense. ETI provides research and analyses to inform the development and integration of emerging technologies into the defense industrial base.   We will discuss the Emerging Technologies Institute’s Vital Signs report, which is an evaluation of the readiness and health of the defense industrial base.

Prior to his role at the Emerging Technologies Institute, Mark was the Director of Defense Research & Engineering in the Department of Defense, overseeing technology modernization for all military services and DoD Agencies, as well as the acting Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Research & Engineering.  In this role he was the Pentagon’s senior-most scientist, providing management oversight and leadership for DARPA, the Missile Defense Agency, the Defense Innovation Unit, the Space Development Agency, Federally Funded Research and Development Centers, and the DoD’s basic and applied research portfolio.

At the Department of Defense, Mark worked closely with Mike Griffin, who appeared on episodes 23 and 134 of STEM-Talk. In today’s interview with Mark, we will again discuss hypersonics and other emerging technologies and modernization priorities that are critical to our national defense.

Mark is also the former longest-serving and is perhaps best known for his work in hypersonics.

In addition to these important defense-related roles, Mark is also a professor emeritus at the University of Maryland. He spent 25 years as a faculty member at Maryland, conducting basic and applied research in hypersonic aerodynamics, advanced propulsion, and space-vehicle design.

Show notes:

[00:03:27] Dawn opens the interview asking where Mark grew up and what he was like as a kid.

[00:04:29] When Dawn asks Mark when he first became interested in science, Mark tells a funny story form his time as president of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics?

[00:06:21] Ken asks Mark how he ended up at MIT after high school.

[00:07:46] Mark talks about taking a job as an assistant professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Maryland after earning his Ph.D. in aeronautics and astronautics at MIT.

[00:09:34] Dawn mentions that from 2002 to 2004, Mark was the director of the Space Vehicle Technology Institute. She asks Mark to give an overview of the Institute and the kind of work that goes on there.

[00:12:45] Ken mentions that in 2004, Mark became Chief Scientist of the U.S. Air Force, going on to become the longest-serving Chief Scientist in Air Force history. Ken asks Mark to explain the role of the chief scientist, and what he focused on during his time in the position.

[00:17:37] Dawn explains that in 2012, Mark became the director of the Science and Technology Policy Institute, which worked with the executive office of the President and other Executive Branch agencies. Mark talks about the kind of work the Science and Technology Policy Institute does.

[00:20:23] Dawn mentions that during Mark’s 25 years as a faculty member at the University of Maryland, he conducted basic and applied research in a variety of fields, such as hypersonic aerodynamics, space vehicle design, and advanced propulsion.  She point out that Mark, however, is best known for his work in hypersonics. She asks Mark what led him to focus on hypersonics.

[00:22:46] Ken asks Mark to explain why he decided to work under Mike Griffin (episodes 23 and 134) in the Pentagon as the Director of Defense Research and Engineering, and what that experience was like.

[00:28:19] Dawn mentions that during Mike Griffin’s time as Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, he made hypersonics the department’s number one priority. Dawn asks Mark to explain the importance of hypersonics in terms of our national defense.

[00:33:38] Ken asks Mark when he thinks an air breathing hypersonic tactical round might be available on a production basis.

[00:35:40] Ken mentions that Russia recently test-launched the RS-28 Sarmat, a liquid-fueled MIRV-equipped super-heavy intercontinental ballistic missile, sometimes referred to in the west as the “Satan II.” Mark gives his take on the RS-28.

[00:39:44] Dawn explains that in 2008, when Mark was concluding his time as Chief Scientist of the Air Force, he launched a study that became known as the Day Without Space Study. This study concluded that we would have a very hard time fighting a war without our relatively vulnerable space assets. Dawn asks Mark to talk about the importance of space in our national defense.

[00:43:03] Ken asks Mark about directed energy technology, and its importance in terms of our national defense and weapons capabilities.

[00:45:02] Mark discusses his new role as the executive director of the National Defense Industrial Association’s Emerging Technologies Institute, which is a nonpartisan institute focused on technologies that are critical to the future of our national defense.

[00:47:28] Dawn asks about the Institute’s ongoing initiative called the Vital Signs Project, which is a report that measures the well-being of the nation’s defense industrial base.

[00:48:41] Ken mentions that the 2022 Vital Signs report came out earlier this year with the defense sector receiving an overall poor grade of 69, which is three points below last year’s grade. Ken asks what effect these reports are having.

[00:49:50] Dawn explains that in 2022, the authors of the Vital Signs report assigned a failing grade in five areas, with one of the most troubling declines being in supply-chain performance. Dawn goes on to say that the report noted that the decline reflected the turbulence the economy is facing, some of it caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. She also points out that next year’s report is expected to report even greater supply chain issues and she asks Mark to explain why this is such a major problem for the Pentagon.

[00:51:57] Ken mentions that another significant drop came in productive capacity and surge readiness. He asks Mark to define what is meant by the term “surge readiness.”

[00:54:28] Dawn asks Mark for his take on the fact that U.S. government funding for research and development fell by 12 percent between 2011 and 2016, while in the same time frame China increased its R&D investments by 56 percent.

[00:58:54] Ken asks if we are doing a good job of not only researching and developing technologies for our national defense, but also pushing these developments into practical production.

[01:02:54] Ken circles back to hypersonics, explaining that the U.S. used to be the world leader in this technology, partly because of our past test-fail approach to innovation. Ken explains that there is a real resistance to that approach to research today in Congress and asks Mark if he believes we need a return to this old mindset for innovation if we are going to catch up with the Chinese and Russians.

[01:12:33] Dawn asks what Mark likes to do in his spare time.

[01:13:44] Dawn closes the interview and thanks Mark for his time.


Mark Lewis bio

Learn more about IHMC

STEM-Talk homepage 

Ken Ford bio

Ken Ford Wikipedia page

Dawn Kernagis bio