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

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

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

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

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

Show notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Pascal Lee bio

Pascal Lee artwork

Learn more about IHMC

STEM-Talk homepage

Ken Ford bio

Ken Ford Wikipedia page

Dawn Kernagis bio

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

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

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

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

Show notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Gordon Lithgow lab

Learn more about IHMC

STEM-Talk homepage

Ken Ford bio

Ken Ford Wikipedia page

Dawn Kernagis bio


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

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

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

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

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

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

Show notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Gordon Lithgow lab

Learn more about IHMC

STEM-Talk homepage

Ken Ford bio

Ken Ford Wikipedia page

Dawn Kernagis bio


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

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

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

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

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

Show notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Learn more about IHMC

STEM-Talk homepage

Ken Ford bio

Ken Ford Wikipedia page

Dawn Kernagis bio

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

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

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

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

Show notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Learn more about IHMC

STEM-Talk homepage

Ken Ford bio

Ken Ford Wikipedia page

Dawn Kernagis bio




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

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

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

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

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

Show notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Learn more about IHMC

STEM-Talk homepage

Ken Ford bio

Dawn Kernagis bio

Marcas Bamman bio

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

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

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

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

Show notes: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Learn more about IHMC

STEM-Talk homepage 

Ken Ford bio

Dawn Kernagis bio


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

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

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

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

Show notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Show notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Show notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Learn more about IHMC

STEM-Talk homepage

Tim Broderick bio

Ken Ford bio

Dawn Kernagis bio


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

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

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

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

Show notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tommy Wood bio

Tommy Wood Researchgate bio

Two new papers by Tommy Wood:

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

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

Learn more about IHMC

STEM-Talk homepage

Ken Ford bio

Dawn Kernagis bio


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

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

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

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

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

 Show notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Show notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn more about IHMC

STEM-Talk homepage

Ken Ford bio

Dawn Kernagis bio


Episode 107: Francisco Gonzalez-Lima discusses methylene blue and near-infrared light as therapies for cognitive disorders

Today we have part two of our interview with Dr. Francisco Gonzalez-Lima, a behavioral neuroscientist at The University of Texas at Austin.

Francisco and his colleagues at the Gonzalez-Lima Lab are recognized as world leaders for their research on the relationship between brain energy metabolism, memory and neurobehavioral disorders.

Today’s interview focuses on two interventions Francisco has explored with the aim of protecting people against neurodegeneration: low-dose methylene blue and the application of near-infrared light. Part one of our interview, episode 106, touched on Francisco’s youth and training as well as his early research into Alzheimer’s disease and brain-metabolic mapping.

Over the years, much of Francisco’s brain research has focused on transcranial lasers, memory enhancement, neuroprotection, neurocognitive disorders. Current research in the Gonzalez-Lima Lab focuses on the beneficial neurocognitive and emotional effects of noninvasive human brain stimulation in healthy, aging and mentally ill populations. This research primarily uses transcranial infrared laser stimulation and multimodal imaging.

Show notes:

Today we have part two of our interview with Dr. Francisco Gonzalez-Lima, a behavioral neuroscientist at The University of Texas at Austin.


Francisco and his colleagues at the Gonzalez-Lima Lab are recognized as world leaders for their research on the relationship between brain energy metabolism, memory and neurobehavioral disorders.


Today’s interview focuses on two interventions Francisco has explored with the aim of protecting people against neurodegeneration: low-dose methylene blue and the application of near-infrared light. Part one of our interview, episode 106, touched on Francisco’s youth and training as well as his early research into Alzheimer’s disease and brain-metabolic mapping.

Over the years, much of Francisco’s brain research has focused on transcranial lasers, memory enhancement, neuroprotection, neurocognitive disorders. Current research in the Gonzalez-Lima Lab focuses on the beneficial neurocognitive and emotional effects of noninvasive human brain stimulation in healthy, aging and mentally ill populations. This research primarily uses transcranial infrared laser stimulation and multimodal imaging.

[00:04:15] Ken begins part two of our interview mentioning he would like to talk about low-dose methylene blue and the application of near-infrared light. Ken explains that Both of these interventions act by a similar cellular mechanism that targets mitochondrial respiration via the electron transport chain. Ken asks Francisco to describe for listeners what the electron transport chain is and why it is important to the function of the mitochondria.

[00:08:22] Dawn asks what the clinical signs and symptoms of unhealthy mitochondrial function are, and what are markers of good mitochondrial health.

[00:11:41] Francisco gives an overview of the drug methylene blue, and its mechanism of action.

[00:15:02] Ken asks about the origin and history of methylene blue.

[00:17:19] Dawn asks about the potential use of methylene blue as treatment for traumatic brain injury.

[00:21:10] Ken asks how methylene blue might stimulate neurogenesis.

[00:22:42] Dawn mentions that acute brain injury such as stroke and traumatic brain injury involves the upregulation of multiple stress-related responses, she asks how the addition of a hermetic stressor such as methylene blue alters this process. She goes on to ask if there would be an optimal window of time to administer this drug relative to the injury for optimal recovery of function.

[00:23:48] Ken asks if methylene blue could be used by an individual before they engage in something that is likely to lead to brain damage, such as boxing, sports, or military operations.

[00:26:32] Ken asks about the future of methylene blue in the treatment and prevention of neurodegeneration.

[00:29:37] Ken asks if compounding pharmacies are producing oral forms of methylene blue.

[00:32:17] Francisco addresses the issue of oral versus intravenous administration of methylene blue, and if there is an optimal mode of administration for brain targeted therapy.

[00:36:15] Dawn asks about the potential use of methylene blue to protect against radiation poisoning.

[00:38:32] Francisco explains how the beneficial effects of transcranial lasers were discovered.

[00:42:11] Ken mentions that transcranial absorption of photon energy up-regulates cortical cytochrome oxidase and enhances oxidative phosphorylation. Low level near-infrared light improves prefrontal cortex-related cognitive functions, such as sustained attention, extinction memory, working memory, and affective state.  Ken asks Francisco to talk about the use of near infrared light as a targeted treatment for cognitive decline and neurodegenerative disorders.

[00:45:37] Dawn mentions that Francisco’s work and that of others suggests that low-level laser therapy stimulates the production of mitochondrial matrix water, which is depleted in deuterium. Dawn asks if this deuterium depletion could result in enhanced genomic stability and epigenetic effects.

[00:48:00] Ken asks about the use of methylene blue and ketone esters for performance in elite warfighters.

[00:49:08] Dawn brings up the Neurotherapy Effectiveness and Safety Trial (NEST), a clinical trial which successfully used laser therapy to treat acute stroke patients. She goes on to mention that the phase III of the trial was suspended at the half-way point due to lack of significance. Francisco talks about these trials and why they didn’t end up being successful.

[00:51:22] Ken asks Francisco how quickly transcranial laser therapy can alter mood or cognition.

[00:51:47] Ken asks what Francisco’s thoughts are on whole-body low-level laser therapy, such as Erchonia’s system, for musculoskeletal pain or the NovoTHOR pod.

[00:52:29] Ken asks how does one develop a dosing protocol for near-infrared light, and if overuse of commercially available low-level laser therapy units lead to side effects or unfavorable responses.

[00:53:31] Dawn asks if there are nutritional, medicinal, or other strategies that could be synergistic with either near infrared light or methylene blue.

[00:54:38] Dawn mentions that both methylene blue and various cranial laser therapy devices are available commercially online. She asks if these are comparable with what has been used for research and if these procedures are ready for at-home use by the general public.

[00:56:14] Francisco closes the interview explaining why he describes himself as a survivor and someone who is a testament to the American dream.


Francisco Gonzalez-Lima bio

Gonzalez-Lima Lab

Learn more about IHMC

STEM-Talk homepage 

Ken Ford bio

Dawn Kernagis bio



Episode 106: Francisco Gonzalez-Lima talks about brain metabolic mapping and Alzheimer’s

Our guest today is Dr. Francisco Gonzalez-Lima, a professor in the department of psychology, pharmacology and toxicology and the department of psychiatry at The University of Texas at Austin. He also is a professor at the university’s Institute for Neuroscience.

We covered so much ground in our discussion with Francisco that we have split his interview into two parts. Today’s interview focuses on Francisco’s fascinating background as a youth and Cuban expatriate as well as his early research into Alzheimer’s Disease and brain metabolic mapping. The second part of our interview, which follows in a few weeks, covers two interventions Francisco has been exploring with the aim of protecting people against neurodegeneration: low-dose methylene blue and the application of near-infrared light.

Francisco describes himself as a behavioral neuroscientist. He and his colleagues at the Gonzalez-Lima Lab are recognized as world leaders for their research on the relationship between brain energy metabolism, memory and neurobehavioral disorders.

Although he has spent most of his academic career at the University of Texas, Francisco has been a visiting neuroscientist in Germany, England, Canada and Spain, and has delivered more than 120 lectures around the world about his brain research. He also has contributed work to more than 300 scientific publications.

Over the years, Francisco’s brain research has focused on transcranial lasers, memory enhancement, neuroprotection and neurocognitive disorders. Current research in the Gonzalez-Lima laboratory focuses on the beneficial neurocognitive and emotional effects of noninvasive human brain stimulation in healthy, aging and mentally ill populations. This research primarily uses transcranial infrared laser stimulation and multimodal imaging.

Show notes:

[00:03:23] Dawn opens the interview mentioning that Francisco was born in Cuba where his father worked as a veterinarian. Dawn asks how Francisco’s family ended up leaving Cuba for Costa Rica when he was only ten years old.

[00:04:25] Ken asks if it is true that Francisco got into a lot of fights as a child.

[00:05:19] Francisco talks about his time as a child accompanying his veterinarian father to take care of cattle.

[00:06:46] Dawn asks about Francisco’s time in college, two years of which he spent in Venezuela, and how he became known as an anti-communist student leader on campus.

[00:08:18] Francisco tells the story of how he ended up going to school at Tulane University.

[00:09:13] Dawn mentions that because Francisco’s father was a veterinarian, Francisco went to Tulane with the intent of working with animals. But after watching a professor dissect a human brain in class one day, Francisco changed his major.

[00:10:17] Ken asks Francisco what lead him to decide to get a bachelor’s degree in biology and psychology.

[00:11:49] Dawn asks about Francisco’s work with Nobel Prize winner Dr. Andrew Schalley during Francisco’s last summer at Tulane.

[00:12:56] Francisco explains how he ended up of the University of Puerto Rico getting his doctorate in anatomy and neurobiology.

[00:14:28] Dawn asks Francisco how learning about electrophysiology in his doctoral studies had an impact on him.

[00:15:22] Francisco tells an interesting story of his doctoral dissertation.

[00:16:21] Dawn asks about Francisco’s work with Dr. Walter Stiehl and the papers the two of them published in the European Journal of Pharmacology.

[00:17:19] Dawn mentions that in 1981 Francisco met Henning Scheich, a German professor who had done a study involving the newly developed 2-deoxyglucose autoradiographic method. Francisco talks about why this neuroimaging approach to brain research fascinated him and led him to propose an ambitious collaborative research project with Dr. Scheich.

[00:18:27] Dawn asks Francisco to talk about the work he did with Dr. Scheich to develop the human FDG (fluorodeoxyglucose) neuroimaging method, the first functional brain imaging technique to be used in humans.

[00:19:58] Ken asks Francisco to explain the difference between functional studies and imaging studies.

[00:21:18] Dawn asks about how Francisco met a group of Texas professors at a conference in Madrid, which lead him to join the new College of Medicine at Texas A&M.

[00:22:35] Dawn mentions that in 1991, the University of Texas at Austin recruited Francisco to join its new Institute for Neuroscience and the Department of Psychology.

[00:23:32] Dawn asks about the research Francisco and his colleagues are doing in the Gonzalez-Lima lab.

[00:24:11] Ken asks what Francisco means when he describes himself as a behavioral neuroscientist.

[00:25:13] Dawn asks about Francisco’s work on the neuroimaging effects of Pavlovian conditioning.

[00:27:45] Dawn asks about the work Francisco did on habituation and sensitization.

[00:29:57] Ken mentions that the brain is designed to handle large amounts of communication and computation. He asks if Francisco can elaborate on this concept.

[00:31:10] Ken asks Francisco to describe the redundant structures of the brain.

[00:33:35] Dawn turns the discussion to Alzheimer’s Disease, mentioning we still don’t fully grasp how the brain works.

[00:35:12] Dawn mentions that in 2001 Francisco published a paper titled “Energy Hypometabolism in Posterior Cingulate Cortex of Alzheimer’s Patients: Superficial Laminar Cytochrome Oxidase Associated with Disease Duration.” The main histochemical finding of this study was that the decreased ration or the gravity of Alzheimer’s Disease was not related to any of the other things that were commonly mentioned like amyloid or tau proteins. Francisco gives an overview of this study and its significance.

[00:39:32] Ken asks if ketone uptake in the brain diminishes some cases of Alzheimer’s or TBI.

[00:41:18] Ken mentions Steven Cunane’s STEM-Talk interview and the work he has done work using neuroimaging to see if it’s possible to replace the energy lost from the glucose deficit with exogenous ketones.

[00:42:11] Ken asks about the early signs of Alzheimer’s Disease.

[00:45:27] Ken asks about the vascular hypothesis of Alzheimer’s Disease.

[00:48:16] Dawn mentions that in the past few years, there has been a lot of coverage in the media about Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease. She goes on to say that Francisco has pointed out in past interviews that EOAD is a rare genetic disease that is causally different than the most common geriatric dementia that is mistakenly called Alzheimer’s or late onset AD. Francisco discusses how this confusion has been an obstacle in advancing research.

[00:52:24] Dawn gives a preview of part two of our interview with Francisco, which will upload in a few weeks.


Francisco Gonzalez-Lima bio

Gonzalez-Lima Lab

Learn more about IHMC

STEM-Talk homepage 

Ken Ford bio

Dawn Kernagis bio




Episode 105: Art De Vany talks about healthspan, lifespan and healing the wounds of aging

Our guest today is Dr. Arthur De Vany, who we interviewed three years ago on episode 30 of STEM-Talk. Art, who is perhaps best known as one of the founders of the Paleo movement, is the author of “The New Evolution Diet: What Our Paleolithic Ancestors Can Teach Us About Weight Loss, Fitness and Aging.”

Art is a professor emeritus of economics at the University of California, Irvine. In our first interview, we talked to Art about his early research into the economics of the movie business and how he created mathematical and statistical models to precisely describe the motion-picture market.

In today’s interview, Art talks to us about the new book he’s working on that’s tentatively titled, “The Youthful Brain—A Revolutionary Program to protect the Brain, Extend Youthfulness and Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease.”

The book is a continuation of Art’s ongoing study of the human body and brain and offers his strategies for preventing brain deterioration and maintaining a healthy, lean body.

Show notes:

[00:03:13] Dawn opens the interview mentioning that it has been three years since Art’s first appearance on the podcast. She asks Art what it is about the modern Western lifestyle that sends so many people to an early grave.

[00:05:42] Dawn asks about Art’s discovery that the world’s healthiest, long-living individuals typically have low insulin.

[00:07:44] Ken mentions that Art is working on a new book that will look at brain-body signaling and provide strategies for preventing brain deterioration and maintaining a healthy lean body. Art talks about how we originally planned to write about aging, but that most aging research is bull and that nobody really understands what it is. He explains that in his mind aging is basically a directed random walk into entropy.

[00:10:11] Ken asks about one of Art’s key points, that Alzheimer’s disease and many other diseases of neural degeneration and cognitive decline are largely metabolic diseases compounded by loss of muscle mass and stem-cell exhaustion.

[00:13:09] Dawn asks about the evolution of the human brain, and how the most recent additions to the brain are the most dependent on glucose metabolism.

[00:14:22] Dawn mentions that synapses are essential to neuronal function, as they are the means by which neurons communicate signals. She asks Art to expand on the comment he made in his recent lecture at IHMC stating that “synapses are forever young but in ever need of support and protection.”

[00:16:29] Ken asks about the lactate shuttle hypothesis, which is based on the observation that lactate is formed and utilized continuously in diverse cells under both anaerobic and aerobic conditions.

[00:18:51] Dawn mentions the role of mitochondria, and how when they are not working the way they should that cells and tissues of our body become starved for energy, forcing us to rely on anaerobic metabolism. This results in a number of issues. She asks Art what we can do to maintain healthy mitochondria over our lifespan.

[00:21:25] Art gives advice for reprograming the metabolism of the aging brain.

[00:22:35] Ken asks about mTOR from an evolutionary perspective and why people have so many concerns regarding its role in cancer and degenerative disease.

[00:24:35] Art explains his view of aging as the “failure of a renewal program,” and why aging is not programmed.

[00:26:35] Dawn mentions that she has heard that Art eats just two meals a day, an early breakfast and dinner, to create a long interval between meals so his body can maintain low-insulin signaling. She asks how this brings on the defensive and repair pathways.

[00:28:52] Ken asks about Art’s exercise routine and why he prefers fasted exercise.

[00:30:46] Dawn asks about the importance of sleep, if Art still takes melatonin to help with his sleep, and what advice he has for people in terms of getting good sleep.

[00:32:56] Dawn mentions that Art has commented that physically and genetically we are built to run fast and climb trees, but given the state of the modern world she asks what is the best way to stay physically fit if we are not allowed to regularly do those things that we evolved to do.

[00:35:47] Ken asks for Art’s thoughts on why we have seen the loss of mass in the human brain, particularly in the hippocampus.

[00:41:44] Ken asks about the role of oxytocin in preserving brain mass.

[00:43:02] Dawn points out that Art is 82 years old. If aging is indeed a random walk into entropy, she asks Art what he considers a reasonable expectation is in terms of human lifespan.

[00:43:50] Dawn mentions that Art has in the past said that he was 78 years old when he first started thinking about aging.  Given that most people start having those thoughts in their 60s, she asks why it took him so long.

[00:44:55] Ken closes the interview asking Art what advice he would give to his younger self.


Art De Vany Amazon page

Learn more about IHMC

STEM-Talk homepage 

Ken Ford bio

Dawn Kernagis bio

Episode 104:  Katherine Eban talks about the dangers associated with relying on generic drugs manufactured overseas

Today’s interview is with Katherine Eban, an investigative journalist who uncovered the widespread fraud that goes on overseas in the manufacturing of U.S. generic drugs.

With the outbreak of the deadly coronavirus, which originated in China but is now spreading across the globe and United States, today’s interview is especially timely. Katherine’s recent book, “Bottle of Lies,” reveals that nearly 80 percent of the active ingredients of all brand-name and generic drugs as well as almost all of our antibiotics in the U.S. are made outside of the country, mostly in China and India. Today’s interview highlights the dangers Americans face in outsourcing the quality and safety of its brand-name and generic drugs to overseas manufacturers.

Katherine is an investigative journalist who has written award-winning stories that range from pharmaceutical counterfeiting to gun trafficking to even coercive interrogations by the CIA. Her first book, “Dangerous Doses: A True Story of Cops, Counterfeiters and the Contamination of America’s Drug Supply,” was named one of the Best Books of 2005 by Kirkus Reviews.

“Bottle of Lies: The Inside Story of the Generic Drug Boom” is a New York Times bestseller that came out in 2019 and was named one of the top 100 notable books of 2019 by the Times.

Show notes:

[00:03:16] Dawn opens the interview mentioning Katherine’s appearance on Peter Attia’s podcast.

[00:04:30] Ken asks how Katherine how she ended up living just three subway stops from where she grew up in Brooklyn.

[00:05:01] Katherine talks about how despite her talent and interest in writing, she at one point joined the circus in high school and considered going to clown school after she graduated.

[00:06:02] Dawn asks how Katherine ended up in Rhode Island to attend Brown University instead of going to Florida to attend the Ringling Brothers Clown College.

[00:06:47] Katherine talks about her time at Brown University editing the school’s literary magazine.

[00:07:24] Ken Asks about Katherine’s time at Oxford University as a Rhodes scholar.

[00:08:37] Dawn asks how Katherine, a woman who holds a Master’s degree in 17th Century English Epic Civil War Poetry, became a journalist.

[00:10:23] Dawn asks about Katherine’s first big story, which also happened to be her first story.

[00:11:49] Dawn asks Catherine long she worked at the New York Times.

[00:13:07] Katherine explains how she came to write her first book, “Dangerous Doses: A True Story of Cops, Counterfeiters and the Contamination of America’s Drug Supply.”

[00:14:56] Dawn mentions that after the publishing of “Dangerous Doses,” Katherine spent a decade investigating the generic-drug industry, an investigation sparked by a phone call from a colleague who asked for her help.

[00:16:17] Ken asks about the difference between a generic and brand-name drug, and what is involved in the process of reverse-engineering a drug.

[00:17:43] Dawn asks about the series of interviews Katherine conducted with patients sharing their experiences with generic drugs, which led to a story she wrote for “Self” magazine in 2009.

[00:20:15] Ken mentions that in the “Self” magazine article, Katherine wrote about Dr. Kesselheim, an instructor at Harvard Medical school who reviewed data from 47 clinical studies. He found no evidence that patients on brand-name cardiovascular drugs had outcomes superior to those on generics. Given this study is now 10 years old, Ken asks if anyone has revisited this analysis.

[00:21:25] Katherine tells the story of her anonymous informant that contacted her about a month after the “Self” magazine article, who went by the pseudonym “4 Dollar Refill.”

[00:22:38] Dawn mentions that over the following five years, Katherine wrote a series of articles about generic-drug quality, which culminated in a 10,000-word article titled “Dirty Medicine” published in Fortune Magazine in 2013.

[00:24:03] Dawn mentions that a reason that generic drugs account for 90% of the drugs in the U.S. is that generics are so much cheaper than brand names. She goes on to ask about how in “Bottle of Lies” Katherine explains why the low cost of manufacturing in India and China has created issues for the American consumer.

[00:25:08] Dawn asks about the Carnegie Fellowship Katherine received in the midst of working on “Bottle of Lies.”

[00:26:42] Ken asks Katherine how many interviews she had to do for her book.

[00:27:11] Katherine talks about how the plan to help Africa during the AIDS epidemic laid the groundwork for some of the corruption she laid out in “Bottle of Lies.”

[00:29:14] Katherine tells the story of Harry Lever, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic, who started noticing his patients suffering from low platelet count after taking heparin, which raised his concerns, and led him to discover that heparin had been contaminated in China.

[00:30:10] Ken asks what the average person can expect if they tell their pharmacist that they do not want the generic version of a drug that their doctor prescribed.

[00:31:26] Dawn asks if this problem is being substantially driven by insurance companies.

[00:31:56] Ken asks what it was that caused generic drugs to make up 90% of the drug supply today, when in 2009 they only made up 60%.

[00:33:16] Dawn asks about Peter Baker, a young FDA investigator, who ended up in New Delhi looking into Indian drug manufacturers.

[00:34:17] Ken asks about the obstacles Peter Baker faced.

[00:36:47] Katherine explains what the protocol is when an FDA investigator finds contamination.

[00:38:18] Dawn asks about Peter Baker’s investigation into the Wockhardt plant.

[00:41:22] Ken asks Katherine to tell the story of Ranbaxy, India’s largest drug company.

[00:44:27] Katherine how Dinesh Thakur became a whistleblower.

[00:45:51] Ken asks what happened to Ranbaxy.

[00:46:29] Katherine explains why Peter Baker eventually left the FDA despite the good work he was doing.

[00:48:18] Dawn mentions that in light of Baker’s and other FDA investigators’ discoveries of fraud and corruption in China and India, stronger regulations are needed in order to protect consumers. She asks if Katherine has a sense of what direction the FDA is headed in that regard.

[00:49:39] Ken asks if we should start producing more of our own drugs in the U.S.

[00:50:30] Katherine explains the resource on her website titled “A Guide to Investigating Your Own Drugs.”

[00:52:21] Dawn asks about Valisure, a mail-order pharmacy that tests every drug that they dispense to ensure quality.

[00:54:18] Dawn mentions that Katherine was recently in India to do some talks and book signings, but that she had concerns about the reception because the Modi Government had put out a statement saying that it was going to take action against her book.

[00:55:39] Ken asks if Katherine is working on any new projects at the moment.

[00:56:13] Ken asks if Katherine is still in touch with Harry Lever at the Cleveland Clinic, or “4 Dollar Refill.”

[00:56:47] Dawn closes the interview asking about Katherine’s 187-pound dog Romeo.


Katherine Eban website

Learn more about IHMC

STEM-Talk homepage

Ken Ford bio

Dawn Kernagis bio



Episode 103: Abe Morgentaler talks about men’s health, sex drive and the benefits of testosterone therapy

Today’s interview is with Dr. Abraham Morgentaler, an internationally known pioneer in men’s sexuality and the founder of the first comprehensive center in the U.S. specializing in men’s health.

Abe’s research has upended longstanding concepts regarding testosterone therapy, prostrate cancer and male sexuality.  He is particularly credited with research that has contradicted the established view that testosterone injections led to elevated risks for prostate cancer.

In today’s interview, we talk to Abe about testosterone deficiency and its effects on men’s health and sex drive; the biological functions of testosterone; and Abe’s work treating metastatic prostrate cancer.

Abe is the director of Men’s Health Boston and an associate clinical professor of Urology at Harvard Medical School. He is the author of “Why Men Fake It: The Totally Unexpected Truth About Men and Sex,” which was retitled “The Truth About Men and Sex” for the paperback edition. He also is the author of “Testosterone for Life: Recharge Your Vitality, Sex Drive, Muscle Mass and Overall Health.”

Show notes

[00:02:58] Dawn opens the interview mentioning that Abe grew up in Canada, asking him what his interests were as a kid other than hockey.

[00:04:28] Dawn asks what Abe’s gap year between high school and college was like.

[00:07:48] Abe explains that when he was born, his mother had some specific wishes for him. He failed at one but came through on the other.

[00:08:17] While a sophomore in college trying to find his way, Abe ended up studying sex hormones in lizards.

[00:16:32] Dawn explains that for a long time the greatest fear related to the use of testosterone therapy was that it would lead to prostate cancer. This was based on a 1941 paper by Charles Huggins from the University of Chicago, who wrote that his research found cancers were sensitive to hormonal manipulation. Dawn asks Abe to discuss how he started questioning this long-held dogma that high testosterone levels caused prostate cancer.

[00:23:29] Dawn mentions that this story is a great example of why it is important in science to question things, particularly the status quo.

[00:31:50] Abe talks about his 2006 paper, “Testosterone and Prostate Cancer, a Historical Myth,” which showed that the data contradicted the old belief that more testosterone would lead to more prostate growth.

[00:40:10] Ken mentions that Abe followed up his previously mentioned paper with another one titled, “The Saturation Model and the Limits of Androgen-Dependent Growth.”

[00:45:19] Abe talks about the exciting work he is doing helping men deal with metastatic prostate cancer.

[00:51:32] Dawn explains how Abe uses the term “low T” to describe a condition that is otherwise known as hypogonadism or testosterone deficiency syndrome. Abe describes the many biological functions of testosterone.

[00:53:27] Abe responds to the criticism that because testosterone levels decline with age, the process must be natural and, therefore, should not be treated.

[00:55:42] Abe discusses a paper that came out in 2013 in the Journal of the American Medical Association that reported increased cardiovascular risk in men given testosterone replacement, and how the study’s statistical analysis was seriously flawed.

[01:07:03] Ken mentions that in 2017, a trial by Budoff et al., published in JAMA, suggested that testosterone replacement therapy in men with low T led to more rapid progression of atherosclerotic plaques compared to placebo.

[01:13:21] Ken asks why Abe thinks that testosterone replacement therapy can actually be protective in regards to cardiovascular disease.

[01:14:19] Ken asks about the seemingly rapid drop in testosterone levels in men in the western world as reported by several papers including the Massachusetts Male Aging Study, as well as a large Finnish Study, and a 2017 meta-analysis.

[01:17:37] Dawn mentions that while most people are aware of the term menopause, most are less familiar with the term andropause, coined as the male equivalent.

[01:20:41] Abe explains why blood tests for low T can be deceiving, and alternative tests that produce more practical results.

[01:25:55] Dawn asks about Men’s Health Boston, which Abe founded in 1999, which was the first comprehensive men’s health center in the United States.

[01:29:18] Ken asks about the different modes and types of testosterone administration.

[01:33:21] Ken asks about the fears of the aromatization of testosterone to estrogen with replacement therapy.

[01:36:14] Ken asks if there are any studies looking into “super physiological” levels of testosterone, such as levels up to 2000.

[01:39:22] Ken mentions that in Abe’s book “The Truth About Men and Sex,” Abe explains that his attempt was to pull back the curtain to reveal men as they truly are, the last chapter being titled, “Men Are People, Too.”

[01:43:19] Dawn asks Abe what he likes to do in his spare time.

[01:45:36] Dawn mentions that Abe was 18 when he entered Harvard as a freshman, and asks him if he had any idea that he would still be at Harvard more than four decades later.

Episode 102: Adam Konopka talks about metformin’s effects on healthspan and lifespan

Our guest today is Dr. Adam Konopka, an assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign, who believes that aging is the greatest risk factor for just about every single chronic disease that exists.

Adam’s lab, called the Musculoskeletal Aging and Metabolism Lab, is focused on aging-related research.

In addition to doing research that looks at different ways to delay the onset of age-related diseases and functional decline, Adam also has done a lot of research related to the interaction of exercise with metformin. Adam and his colleagues had a paper in Aging Cell that suggested metformin may blunt the health benefits of exercise in healthy older adults, a study that attracted a lot of attention and was highlighted in a story in The New York Times back in June.

Show notes:

[00:03:59] Dawn opens the interview mentioning that Adam’s lab is at the University of Illinois, and asks if he decided on Illinois because he grew up in a suburb outside of Chicago.

[00:04:28] Dawn asks Adam how he ended up getting into competitive swimming.

[00:05:13] Adam explains how his involvement in swimming increased his curiosity about physiology and ways to improve performance, a line of thought that contributed to his eventual majoring in exercise science.

[00:05:49] Dawn asks Adam why he decided to minor in entrepreneurship.

[00:06:18] Dawn asks Adam about the time when a professor doing research in pediatrics gave Adam the opportunity to volunteer for a study.

[00:07:01] Ken mentions that while Adam was a student, he had the opportunity to work on a study which looked at an exercise program used by crew members aboard the International Space Station. Adam explains what his role in this study was.

[00:08:05] Adam talks about his time spent at the Mayo Clinic as a postdoctoral research fellow, where he focused his time on looking at skeletal muscle mitochondrial function.

[00:09:00] Dawn explains Adam’s notion that mitochondria contribute to obesity induced insulin resistance, a highly debated topic. Dawn goes on to mention Adam’s 2015 paper that looked at obese women who had defects in mitochondrial efficiency and hydrogen peroxide emissions. Adam explains how exercise effectively restored the mitochondrial physiology of these women to that of a leaner phenotype.

[00:10:36] Adam discusses a metformin study he was a part of while at the Mayo Clinic, where he tested a hypothesis that had been previously shown in cell culture, to learn if those findings were translatable to humans.

[00:11:51] Adam talks about the significance of his findings that metformin improved fasting and postprandial glycemia without inhibiting glucagon-stimulated glucose production.

[00:12:59] Ken asks about the two and a half years Adam spent at Colorado State and the research that he conducted there.

[00:13:32] Adam explains the mission of, and the research being done at, his lab, The Musculoskeletal Aging and Metabolism Lab, at the University of Illinois.

[00:16:25] Ken asks Adam if he has looked into rapamycin and muscle, with respect to mTOR inhibition.

[00:17:01] Dawn mentions that Adam took these earlier studies, as well as the research he did as a postdoc, and started asking questions related to the interaction of exercise with metformin.

[00:17:30] Ken mentions how this research led to Adam’s paper earlier this year, which was highlighted in the New York Times, and which cast doubt on the idea that exercise and metformin, both of which have been looked at in the context of healthspan extension, work well together in conjunction.

[00:19:24] Dawn asks if the negative effects of metformin documented in various studies are relatively modest and or negligible.

[00:20:30] Ken asks Adam to speculate on some of his findings, particularly why a certain portion of individuals dosed with metformin are likely to be negative-responders, but at the same time others are positive-responders. Adam talks on this wide variability in the response to metformin.

[00:23:12] Dawn asks about Adam’s follow-up research into exercise and metformin that he received a grant for.

[00:25:20] Ken mentions it has been suggested that people space out the taking of metformin from the time a person exercises, given that the half-life of metformin is six hours.

[00:27:03] Dawn asks if the widely reported health benefits of metformin are worth it possibly inhibiting beneficial mitochondrial adaptations to exercise in older adults.

[00:28:38] Dawn asks for Adam to speculate on the mechanisms behind how metformin blunts the adaptive response to exercise.

[00:30:48] Ken talks in regards to the NIH-funded trial into metformin called, “Targeting Aging with Metformin” or TAME. Ken asks about Adam’s paper in GeroScience titled, “Taming Expectations of Metformin as a Treatment to Extend Healthspan.”

[00:32:57] Ken mentions that he would have liked to have seen rapamycin used instead of metformin in the TAME trial.

[00:33:42] Dawn asks if Adam believes that a metformin trial in healthy individuals is currently warranted.

[00:34:38] Dawn mentions that while metformin undoubtedly helps individuals suffering from metabolic disease, it is unclear if it has any significant positive effects on already healthy individuals. She goes on to mention that this is paradoxical in light of the fact that the majority of popular interest in off-label use of metformin is in healthy individuals or the so called “worried well,” people who already follow habits of good health.

[00:36:16] Ken asks Adam how, in a perfect world, he would design a trial for healthspan-extending intervention in regards to what intervention would he pick, and how he would gauge efficacy considering that an intervention in healthy individuals would ideally need to be continued for several decades in order to determine a true effect. Ken goes on to ask what the pros and cons are of proxies for age in such a study including telomere length as well as biological and epigenetic clocks.

[00:39:26] Ken asks how Adam would adjust for lifestyle behaviors like dietary manipulation and exercise that activate similar pathways to drugs like metformin and rapamycin in his hypothetical study.

[00:40:44] Dawn asks if Adam has much expectation in extending lifespan with pharmacological methods, or if he thinks that merely healthspan will increase while we see a so-called compression of morbidity, and if he thinks that these pharmacological treatments are likely to surpass lifestyle interventions like exercise.

[00:42:39] Ken asks if Adam has looked at PPAR-D agonists, which are a class of drugs that provide some of the effects of exercise pharmacologically.

[00:43:50] Adam gives his advice to people interested in extending their healthspan.

[00:44:57] Dawn asks what Adam’s diet and exercise routine look like.

[00:46:11] Dawn mentions that she knows that Adam and his wife have a young child and closes the interview asking Adam what he does for fun in his spare time.


Adam Konopka bio

Musculoskeletal Aging and Metabolism Lab Facebook page

Learn more about IHMC

STEM-Talk homepage 

Ken Ford bio

Dawn Kernagis bio