Dr. Ken Ford Podcast Image

Dr. Ken Ford

Host of STEM-Talk
Ken Ford is founder and director of the Florida Institute for Human & Machine Cognition (IHMC), founder and CEO of the Institute for Human & Machine Cognition (IHMC) — a not-for-profit research institute located, and co-host of STEM-Talk Podcast.
Recent episodes featuring Dr. Ken Ford
Episode 95: Dickson Despommier talks about 30 years of research into intracellular parasitism
Our guest today is Dr. Dickson Despommier, a microbiologist and ecologist who is the emeritus professor of Public and Environmental Heath at Columbia University.  Our conversation with Dick covered a variety of topics and ran so long that we divided his interview into two parts. Part one covers the nearly 30 years Dick spent conducting research on intracellular parasitism, especially Trichinella spiralis, one of the world’s largest intracellular parasites. Part two of our interview with Dick focuses on vertical farming. In 1999, Dick and his students came up with the idea of raising crops in tall buildings. When his book, “The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 21stCentury,” came out in 2010, there were no vertical farms in the world. Today, there are commercial vertical farms not only throughout the United States, but also in Korea, Japan, China, England, Scotland, The Netherlands, France, Russia, Dubai, Canada and a host of other countries. Dick is the author of five books, including “People, Parasites and Plowshares.” His most recent book, “Waist Deep in Water,” is a memoir of his life-long love of fly fishing, a topic we had so much fun discussing that we touch on it in part one and part two of our interview with Dick. Show notes:  [00:03:40] Ken begins the interview by mentioning that he and Dawn are great fans of two podcasts that Dick helps co-host, “This Week in Parasitism”and “This Week in Virology.”  Ken points out that “This Week in Virology” launched in 2008, making Dick an early adapter of science-based podcasting. Ken asks Dick how he got involved in podcasting. [00:06:24] Dawn mentions that Dick was born in New Orleans, and that his parents moved across the country to San Francisco when he was only a year old. Dawn goes on to mention that as a kid Dick liked to play outdoors and collect pollywogs and dragonflies. Dick talks about how his mother encouraged him to bring home spiders and frogs and other specimens he collected on his outdoor adventures. [00:07:14] Ken mentions that when Dick was 11 his family moved again to New Jersey, asking how that came about. [00:09:06] Dawn asks about the beginning of Dick’s lifelong love of fishing that started when he was a child. [00:11:54] After Dick talks about recently spending 20 days in Wyoming, Ken and Dick begin a conversation about their favorite rivers in the state to go fishing. [00:13:57] Ken and Dick talk about their fishing bait of choice when they were kids: Wonder Bread. Ken goes on to ask Dick how his love of fishing also evolved into an interest and fascination with wading into creeks, streams and river beds. [00:14:56] Dick talks about his website “The Living River.” [00:16:39] Dawn asks about Dick’s experience with his high school biology teacher who recognized his curiosity and who played a pivotal role in shaping Dick’s scientific career. [00:20:26] Dawn mentions that Dick almost didn’t go to college, but that he eventually jumped in academics bigtime and earned a bachelor’s degree at Fairleigh, a master’s at Columbia, and his doctorate at Notre Dame. [00:22:29] Dawn asks about Dick’s experience during his postdoc at Rockefeller University where there were 12 Nobel prize winners who would sit down with him and ask questions about his research. [00:23:54] Ken asks Dick about his decision to return to  Columbia after his postdoc. [00:27:00] Ken mentions that Dick’s experience at Rockefeller cemented his approach to teaching. Ken asks Dick to talk about how when he returned to Columbia that he became as equally engaged in teaching as he was in research. [00:30:18] Dawn asks Dick about his extensive research into the parasite Trichinella spiralis, something Dick has described as “the worm that would be a virus.” [00:38:09] Dawn asks about Dick’s 1998 article for Parasitology Todayabout the Nurse Cell-Parasite complex of Trichinella spiralis, and how it is unlike anything else in nature. [00:47:19] Ken mentions that Emma Wilson, a researcher who has spent more than 15 years studying Toxoplasma gondii, was the guest on episode 93 of STEM-Talk. Ken asks Dick to discuss what is special about T. gondii. [00:51:28] Ken mentions that just recently researchers at the University of Wisconsin Madison have discovered why cats are the definitive host for Toxoplasma gondii. [00:55:33] Dawn asks about Dickson’s interest and research into ecotones, or the transition area between two biomes, a zone of high disease transmission that leads to the spread of schistosomiasis malaria and a variety of parasitic worms. [01:00:03] Ken asks about the prevalence of hookworm in the South following the Civil War and how eradicating it helped revive the Southern economy. [01:06:47] Ken points out that John D. Rockefeller and others thought they had noticed a certain malaise among many in the American South in the years after the war.  Rockefeller put together a commission that was comprised of luminaries across many disciplines who examined possible causes ranging from spiritual to social to psychological to medical. Ken asks Dick to elaborate on this interesting episode and explain how it was connected to Italian tunnel workers? [01:13:56] Ken ends part one of the interview with a humorous story about  how he dug through solid rock to build his family’s outhouse in Maine. Links: Dickson Despommier bio “The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 21stCentury” “People, Parasites and Plowshares: Learning From Our Body’s Most Terrifying Invaders” “Waist Deep in Water” Learn more about IHMC STEM-Talk homepage  Ken Ford bio Dawn Kernagis bio    
Episode 94: John Newman discusses how the ketogenic diet and fasting regulate the genes and pathways that control aging
Our guest today is Dr. John Newman, a geriatrician and researcher who is well-known for a 2017 study that found a ketogenic diet reduced the mid-life mortality of aging mice while also improving their memory and healthspan. John is an assistant professor at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging and a geriatrician in the Division of Geriatrics at the University of California, San Francisco. He also is a physician who works with older adults in the San Francisco VA Medical Center. At Buck, John studies the molecular details of how diet and fasting regulate the genes and pathways that control aging. He particularly focuses on the ketone body beta-hydroxybutyrate and how its molecular signaling activities involving epigenetics and inflammation regulate aging and memory in mice. Show notes: [00:02:51] Dawn opens the interview asking John what it was like growing up in Long Island. [00:04:20] Dawn mentions that John was described as a pretty geeky kid growing up, and asks him about his childhood. [00:05:40] Ken asks John if being the type of kid who would do all the homework in his textbooks in the first couple of months annoyed his classmates. [00:07:34] Dawn asks why John decided to go to Yale University. [00:08:45] Mentioning that Yale doesn’t have a pre-med program, Dawn asks what John decided to major in. [00:10:15] John explains how he met his wife at Yale. [00:11:28] Dawn asks John why he traveled across the country to the University of Washington after graduating from Yale. [00:12:26] Dawn asks why John decided to focus his graduate work on the progeroid Cockayne syndrome. [00:14:15] John discusses his decision to go to the University of California, San Francisco for his residency. [00:16:05] Dawn asks if John immediately joined the faculty at San Francisco after his residency. [00:17:03] Ken asks John about his work to improve the care of older adults and help them maintain their independence as they age. Ken asks for an overview of the work John and his colleagues do in this area at the Buck Institute [00:18:39] Ken mentions that a lot of John’s work focuses on the molecular details of how diet and fasting regulate the genes and pathways that control aging. Ken asks John to elaborate on this work. [00:20:04] Dawn asks what specifically attracted John to the idea of studying the ketogenic diet as an intervention in mid to later life as opposed to a diet consumed habitually throughout life. [00:23:12] Dawn mentions that John and Eric Verdin, who recruited John to the Buck institute, share an interest in looking at ketone bodies as signaling metabolites, a topic they have written about. [00:26:21] Ken talks about a conference he and Dawn attended on CBD and seizures, where Ken made the point that ketones are a metabolite of THC. [00:27:52] Ken asks John to go into more detail about how ketone bodies may link environmental cues such as diet to the regulation of aging. [00:29:08] Ken talks about how it seems clear that ketone bodies are emerging as crucial regulators of metabolic health and longevity via their ability to regulate HDAC (histone deacetylases) activity and thereby epigenetic gene regulation. He asks John to discuss how beta hydroxybutyrate may be an increasingly useful and important signaling molecule as we age. [00:34:24] Dawn mentions that John and his colleagues published paper in 2017 in Cell Metabolism titled “Ketogenic Diet Reduces Midlife Mortality and Improves Aging in Mice.” Dawn asks why John chose a cyclical rather than continuous ketogenic diet for this study. [00:37:56] Dawn asks why John decided to conduct the test of physiological function while the ketogenic diet group was off the diet, and on a standard high-carbohydrate diet. [00:40:02] Dawn mentions that Megan Roberts and her colleagues at theUniversity of California Davis were also conducting studies on the effects of a ketogenic diet on mice around the same time as John’s study, and that both were published in the same issue of Cell Metabolism. Dawn goes on to mention that Megan was recently interviewed on episode 92 of STEM-Talk where she discussed her paper,  “A Ketogenic Diet Extends the Longevity and Healthspan in Adult Mice.” Dawn adds that both Megan’s and John’s studies had similar findings but that Megan’s had the added caveat that the ketogenic diet may also improve strength and coordination. Dawn asks what John’s takeaways were from Megan’s paper and how do the two papers differ? [00:44:50] Ken mentions that he is personally looking at the effect of the ketogenic diet as a way to avoid sarcopenia and other aspects of aging. [00:46:42] John discusses possible reasons why the ketogenic diet has such pleiotropic effects on people suffering from diseases such as type 2 diabetes, epilepsy, inflammation etc. [00:50:17] Dawn mentions that one of the most frequent criticisms of the diet comes from nutritionists who say “show me the five-year data,” she asks how John would respond to that. [00:54:25] Ken asks about the “arctic variant” mutation, and how this mutant might affect ketosis. He asks John to describe the mutation and how he thinks it might be affecting ketone metabolism in the Inuit population, and how the scientific community might go about investigating this further. [01:00:06] Dawn asks if John has used exogenous ketones in his studies. [01:02:21] Dawn asks what the right overlap between the ketogenic diet and exogenous ketones is, and if exogenous ketones might be synergistic with the ketogenic diet. [01:04:17] Ken asks if there is a threshold or target blood level of ketones for people on the ketogenic diet and using exogenous ketones. [01:07:27] Ken mentions that another metabolite that has been shown to affect life span is alpha-ketoglutaric. Ken asks John to speculate as to if the mechanism of life span extension seen here is similar to BHB and if the two might be synergistic. [01:09:30] Dawn mentions that in addition to his work as a researcher at the Buck institute, John is also a geriatrician who cares for older adults who have been hospitalized at the San Francisco VA Medical Center. Dawn asks what sort of work John does with older individuals. [01:11:25] John discusses his perspective on the education and training of future geroscientists. [01:15:01] Dawn asks what the most promising interventions being investigated in geroscience are right now. [01:23:05] Dawn comments that John has been in the Bay area for more than 10 years, going on to ask if it is true that his main interests outside of work are volleyball baseball and food. [01:24:46] Ken ends the interview mentioning that a little birdie told him that John is a connoisseur of the San Francisco pastry-shop scene. Links: John Newman UCSF bio Newman Lab website John Newman ResearchGate profile Learn more about IHMC STEM-Talk homepage Ken Ford bio Dawn Kernagis bio    
Episode 93: Emma Wilson talks about Toxoplasma gondii infection and its consequences
Our guest today is Dr. Emma Wilson, a researcher who has spent the past 15 years studying Toxoplasma gondii, a protozoan parasite that infects about a third of the world’s population. She is a native of Scotland and a professor of biomedical science at the University of California, Riverside. Toxoplasma gondii is a single-celled organism found in all mammals. The primary focus of Emma’s research is the immune response in the brain following Toxoplasma gondii infection. Her 2016 research paper in the online journal PLOS Pathogens connected the Toxoplasma gondii to brain dysfunction. Show notes: [00:03:05] Emma begins the interview taking about growing up was born in Glasgow with parents who were in the acting business. [00:03:38] Emma shares how her father advised her to keep all of her doors open, which lead her as a youth to pursue everything she found interesting. [00:04:30] Dawn asks if Emma decided to major in ecology in an effort to help save the rainforests. [00:05:28] Ken asks about Emma’s experience with a “proverbial crazy professor” who showed her a room full of rattlesnakes and how that experience led to Emma’s curiosity in immunology. [00:06:54] Ken asks whether if it’s that she was paid to stand out in the bush so that mosquitos could feast upon her during a research trip to Tanzania. [00:08:16] Ken asks if Emma’s experience in Africa was limited to mosquitos or if she was able to see some of the impressive wildlife there. [00:09:26] Emma discusses her experiences after her research trip to Africa and her decision to pursue work in immunology at Dr. William Harnett’s lab at the University of Strathclyde. [00:10:32] Dawn asks about the research Emma did in Harnett’s lab. [00:11:46] Dawn mentions that Emma had the opportunity to attend a conference in Philadelphia where she met many interesting people. She goes on to ask about the conference and how she ended up spending the next five and a half years at the University of Pennsylvania. [00:13:52] Dawn mentions another conference Emma was able to attend, this one in California, where she stood out for asking so many questions. Dawn asks about how this led her to go to work at University of California, Riverside. [00:16:50] Ken mentions that the primary focus of Emma’s research at Riverside is the immune response in the brain following Toxoplasma gondii infection, further mentioning that in an episode of the podcast “This Week in Parasitism” Dr. Dickson Despommier referred to Toxoplasma gondii as the most successful parasite on Earth. Ken asks Emma to give an overview of what Toxoplasma gondii is and does. [00:18:58] Dawn asks why Toxoplasma gondii has such a high infection rate in countries such as France and Brazil, where close to 80 percent of people are infected. In the U.S., only 15 to 30 percent of people are infected. [00:20:49] Ken mentions that Eskimos, who’s traditional diet is rich in raw meat, have an almost 100 percent infection rate. [00:21:19] Ken asks how the Toxoplasma parasite prevents digestion in the stomach. [00:23:12] Emma discusses how most cases of Toxoplasma in healthy adults present little to no consequences of infection, but that congenitally infected children or people who are immunocompromised can have serious consequences. [00:25:33] Ken asks how an immunocompetent individual keeps the infection at bay and if there is any risk associated with that constantly active immune response in the brain to this infection. [00:27:32] Ken explains that cats are the only definitive host of the toxoplasmosis parasite because it can only complete its sexual reproduction cycle in the gut of a cat. He goes on to explain that cats eat rats, and sometimes rats eat cat feces, which infects the rats with Toxoplasma gondii, When the cats eat these rats the cats perpetuate the cycle. Ken asks Emma to explain how the infection changes the fundamental fear response in rodents that they naturally have to cats. [30:48] Ken mentions amazing videos on the web showing infected mice approaching cats and rubbing up against them affectionately. [00:31:50] Dawn asks if vegetarians are safe from Toxoplasma gondii infection, given that humans typically contract the parasite via uncooked meat from intermediate hosts such as sheep, cows, goats, and pigs. [00:33:03] Dawn asks if the relationship between the toxoplasmosis parasite and their host can be mutually beneficial. [00:34:24] Dawn asks if seafood can lead to infection. [00:35:33] Ken mentions that there is presently no vaccine for Toxoplasma gondii; however, there are commonsense preventative measures such as pregnant women avoiding cat litter and wearing gloves while gardening. Ken goes on to ask if there are any other ways to reduce chances of infection. [00:37:42] Dawn mentions that Emma and her colleagues at Riverside had a 2016 paper in the journal PLOA Pathogensthat described how Toxoplasma infection leads to a disruption of neurotransmitters in the brain. Dawn goes on to mention that Emma postulated that the infection triggers neurological disease in those who are already predisposed to such diseases. [00:41:45] Dawn asks if the sex of an animal changes the effect of toxoplasmosis. [00:42:36] Ken asks if Emma thinks there would be different effects on animals in the wild, in terms of toxoplasmosis infections, or if the laboratory experiments provide a good model for infection. [00:43:21] Ken mentions that in terms of neurological disease, Toxoplasma’s strongest correlation is with schizophrenia, but Ken mentions that Emma believes the parasite’s presence is a precipitating factor. [00:44:45] Emma explains the arguments for and against the belief that toxoplasmosis infections are asymptomatic in most humans and acts as a silent partner that serves no role. [00:47:01] Dawn asks if we should be looking into the effects of eradicating toxoplasma in asymptomatic humans, and, if so, how would this be accomplished. [00:48:04] Dawn mentions that there are some reports that humans who display risk-taking behavior are more likely to be infected with Toxoplasma gondii, including a higher likelihood in individuals who die in motorcycle accidents as well as entrepreneurs. Dawn asks if there is sufficient evidence to suggest that Toxoplasma gondii might alter risk taking behaviors in humans. [00:49:42] Dawn brings up that after the aforementioned 2016 paper  was published, Emma was quoted as saying that for the first time it has been shown that the direct disruption of a major neurotransmitter in the brain resulted from the infection.  Dawn asks Emma if her research has since then been focused more on the mechanisms of the parasite. [00:53:07] Ken mentions that in 2016, Sugden et al published results of a study looking at a cohort of early middle-aged individuals that suggested Toxoplasma gondii infection does not result in increased susceptibility to neuropsychiatric disorders, poor impulse control or impaired neurocognitive ability. In addition, they found no association between infection and aberrant personality types. He asks why these findings do not reflect other contemporary research on Toxoplasma gondii. [00:56:12] Dawn asks about Emma’s collaboration with Michael White, with whom she is looking at Toxoplasma gondii cyst formation. [00:57:49] Emma discusses the findings of her2017 paper “Brains and Brawn: Toxoplasma Infections of the Central Nervous System and Skeletal Muscle” in which she discussed how Toxoplasma infection can affect skeletal muscle. [00:59:04] Dawn asks if these effects related to skeletal muscle also occur in people who are asymptomatic. [01:00:47] Ken asks if there might be a way to mitigate the impact of acute and chronic Toxoplasma gondii infection via dietary manipulation or supplementation.  Ken referenced a 2016 paper published in PLOS One, in which a Chinese research team reported that T. gondii seems to hijack the host’s PPAR signaling pathway to downregulate the metabolism of fatty acids, lipids and energy in the liver.  Ken said that he wonders if a ketogenic diet or supplementation with exogenous ketones might be beneficial? [01:02:37] Dawn asks what the future of Toxoplasma research should look like given that the broad impact of Toxoplasma gondii on international society and economics is poorly understood. [01:04:22] Ken mentions that in reference to Toxoplasma gondii, there were a whole spat of papers that sensationalized the nature of the infection. He goes on to ask what responsibility should university press offices and the researchers themselves have in preventing clickbait and communicating science effectively. [01:06:58] Dawn mentions that when Emma moved to Riverside she decided to focus on work and not getting into a relationship, but despite this ended up getting married and now has a busy household. [01:07:57] Dawn mentions that when Emma became pregnant her husband took care of the cat litter. Dawn asks if he still changes the cat litter today. [01:08:19] Dawn asks if Emma has any other final words of advice for people trying to avoid Toxoplasma gondii infection.     Links: Emma Wilson UC Riverside faculty page Learn more about IHMC STEM-Talk homepage Ken Ford bio Dawn Kernagis bio  
Episode 92: Megan Roberts discusses the potential of a ketogenic diet to extend healthspan and lifespan
Our guest today is Megan Roberts, a research scientist who conducted an interesting study that showeda ketogenic diet extended the longevity and healthspan of adult mice.  This study has been discussed in several earlier episodes of STEM-Talk. Megan conducted her research while earning a master’s degree in nutritional biology at the University of California, Davis. Today, she is the scientific director at Nourish Balance Thrive, an online health-coaching company where Megan helps people optimize their heath and performance. Show notes: [00:02:53] Dawn begins the interview mentioning that Megan grew up in Northern California and asks Megan what she was like as a child. [00:03:20] Megan talks about how her interest in science started. [00:03:38] Dawn asks Megan how she became a martial arts instructor, teaching teen-agers as well as children as young as five years old. [00:04:02] Megan talks about her decision to attend the University of California, Davis. [00:04:16] Megan explains why she initially want to major in biochemistry, but decided toward the end of her freshman year to switch majors. [00:04:42] Ken asks Megan about her decision to stay at UC Davis to earn a master’s degree in nutritional biology. [00:05:08] Megan talks about the privilege of having open-minded professors and peers who were a part of her nutritional biology program at UC Davis. [00:06:07] Ken mentions that part of Megan’s thesis ended up in Cell Metabolism, in the form of a paper titeld, “A Ketogenic Diet Extends Longevity and Healthspan in Adult Mice.”The paper, Ken points out, has been discussed in several episodes of STEM-Talk. He asks Megan about the motivations behind her study. [00:07:41] Megan describes the three different diets used for the mouse studies. [00:08:30] Dawn mentions that an important aspect of the study was that all of the mice were fed the same number of calories every day. She asks Megan to explain the significance of this parameter. [00:09:23] Megan describes the various markers of physiological function that were measured how the study yielded interesting results in terms of healthspan in the mice. [00:10:14] Dawn asks how the memories of the mice were tested. Dawn also asks Megan to go into detail on the finding that mice on the ketogenic diet were having their memories preserved for longer. [00:11:13] Ken asks Megan how she tested the grip strength of mice. [00:12:05] Megan talks about the two areas of healthspan that saw the most dramatic effects with the ketogenic diet: memory and the preservation of motor-function. [00:12:39] Ken asks if Megan and her colleagues were surprised by the finding that lifespan was increased by 14 percent in the mice fed a ketogenic diet. [00:13:08] Dawn mentions that the ketogenic diet came out on top in the study, followed by the low-carb diet. Dawn mentions that those mice on the low-carb diet, however, surprisingly gained weight asks Megan is she was surprised by this. [00:14:35] Ken asks what lead Megan to the idea of studying the ketogenic diet as an intervention in midlife, as opposed to being a habit throughout life. [00:15:27] Dawn asks how well Megan thinks these mouse models are likely to translate to humans. [00:17:05] Ken asks what experiments Megan would have done to extend her findings reported in the Cell Metabolism paper if she had managed to have more time, funding and resources. [00:17:52] Dawn mentions that Megan’s study suggests that the metabolic changes that accompany carbohydrate restriction might indeed help increase lifespan. However, Dawn asks Megan about ketone bodies themselves (AcAc and BhB) and their potential role in the extension of healthspan. [00:18:13] Ken asks about Megan’s findings in regards to a tissue dependent mTORC1 signaling, in the context of skeletal muscle and the ketogenic diet. [00:20:26] Dawn asks Megan for her take on the tissue specific effects of ketones that she observed in her work. [00:21:12] Megan explains the effects of the ketogenic diet on insulin sensitivity. In her study, the ketogenic diet did not impair insulin sensitivity while the low-carb diet did. [00:22:55] Megan explains the key differences in the design and interpretation of her study versus a similar paper from Eric Verdin’s group, which reported that a cyclical ketogenic diet, but not a consistent one, improved healthspan in older mice. [00:24:13] Dawn asks Megan about her thoughts on the enrichment of a standard diet with exogenous ketones, and if there could be healthspan benefits from that. [00:24:47] Ken mentions a recent paper by Poffé, which suggested that a ketone ester can help prevent some of the negative effects of “over-reaching” in endurance training. [00:25:55] Ken asks if exogenous ketones have their most important effects when taken post-exercise, rather than pre-exercise. [00:27:02] Dawn asks if there are other untapped uses of endogenous or exogenous ketosis that people may not be considering. [00:27:39] Dawn asks Megan what her thoughts are on the communication and interpretation of science of this nature in the public domain, and what responsibilities she feels that university press officers and researchers have in this process. [00:29:34] Dawn mentions that Megan has taken over as chief scientific officer at Nourish Balance Thrive from Tommy Wood, who was interviewed on episode 47 and episode 48 of Stem-Talk. She asks what has led her to decide on her current career and why she has chosen to stay working with athletes as opposed to continuing graduate or medical school. [00:31:16] Megan explains what she does as a health coach. [00:31:45] Dawn asks if the general public could benefit from health coaching [00:32:57] Ken mentions the explosion of research and interest into the gut microbiome and recommends episode 20 of STEM-Talk, an interview with Alessio Fasano, as a primer. Ken then asks Megan about her own quest to recover her gut health, which she has discussed on the Nourish Balance Thrive podcast. [00:35:31] Dawn asks about Megan’s black-and-white, “type A” personality that can sometimes get her into trouble as a fitness enthusiast. [00:36:04] Megan talks about her recent article titled, “Why Your Diet Isn’t Working: Under Eating and Overtraining.” [00:40:00] Ken mentions the blood chemistry calculator project that Megan is working on with Tommy Wood, which uses machine learning algorithms to predict things that are going on biochemically in people based on blood chemistry. [00:41:43] Megan talks about what her exercise regime and diet look like today. [00:42:40] Dawn asks about Megan’s first conversation with Tommy Wood, which was about why eating like a Sumo Wrestler was the best way to gain weight. Links: Nourish Balance Thrive archives Learn more about IHMC STEM-Talk homepage  Ken Ford bio Dawn Kernagis bio  
Episode 91: Irina and Michael Conboy explain tissue repair and stem-cell rejuvenation
Our guests today are Drs. Irina and Michael Conboy of the Department of Bioengineering at the University of California Berkeley. In their lab at Berkeley, the Conboys investigate the process of tissue repair in the body in an effort to determine why damaged tissues do not productively repair as the body ages. In today’s interview, you will hear the Conboys talk about their early research and a fascinating technique they pioneered called heterochronic parabiosis, where the couple took a young mouse and an older mouse and sutured them together so the animals blood and organs. The Conboys found that the older mouse benefited from this fusion, its aged stem cells becoming rejuvenated and its muscle tissues becoming functionally younger. Since then, the Conboys’ follow-up research has provided fascinating insights into stem-cell niche engineering, tissue repair, and stem-cell aging and rejuvenation. In 2015, they published an important study showing that high levels of the protein TGF-β1 impaired the ability of stem cells to repair tissues. While their experiments also showed that giving old animals young blood appeared to have some benefit to old stem cells, the Conboys’ most recent work provides compelling evidence suggesting the more interesting benefits are instead produced by a dilution of harmful signals in old blood. The research coming out of the Conboy lab has profound implications in terms of postponing the onset of age-related diseases as well as the prevention of such degenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis and sarcopenia. Show notes: [00:03:23] Dawn opens the interview asking Irina about her time as a gymnast in the Soviet Union. [00:03:56] Irina talks about how she became interested in biology. [00:04:36] Michael describes how he was a bit of a nerd who spent a lot of time outdoors as a kid studying bugs. [00:05:29] Ken asks what Michael’s plans were when he started his education at Harvard. [00:06:00] Ken inquires as to what it was about lab work that attracted Michael to the point where he abandoned medical school and focused on research instead. [00:06:56] Irina tells the story of her first overseas visit to Boston and how a female friend of hers had set her up with multiple dates for her visit before her plane had even touched down in the states. [00:09:06] Michael recounts the story of his first time in Moscow, where he asked Irina if she wanted to hang out. [00:10:52] Dawn mentions that after graduating, Michael got a job as a lab tech at Harvard, but eventually moved to Philadelphia to join the lab a friend of his was starting. Michael goes on to explain how he and Irina eventually became professional lab rats together there. [00:13:44] Michael explains how he would likely still be a lab tech if it were not for Irina and her desire to study aging, and how that inspired him to pursue his doctorate at Stanford. [00:15:10] Dawn asks Irina about her pursuit of a Ph.D. at Stamford in auto-immunity in the lab of Patricia Jones. [00:18:30] Dawn asks Irina to explain her discovery that Notch Signaling had the potential to regenerate aged muscle, a discovery she made during her post-doc work at Stamford. [00:21:30] Dawn mentions that Irina finished her post-doc work before Michael did, which allowed her to get work at a competing laboratory. Dawn asks if working at a competing labs created tension between the two of them. [00:24:26] Ken asks Irina what led her to look into reactivating old stem cells and whether that might delay or even reverse the onset of aging. [00:26:00] Michael talks about his inspiration for the parabiosis experiment, which involved two mice, one old and one young, being statured together. [00:30:12] Ken asks what the results of the parabiosis experiment were. [00:31:57] Ken mentions that the 2005 paper in Nature, which documented the findings of the parabiosis experiment, sparked an interesting reaction from the media that included headlines about “baby boomer vampires.” Ken asks the Conboys if they were annoyed with the overly simplistic interpretations of their study’s findings. [00:33:27] Dawn asks about Michael and Irina’s research into finding an inhibitory compound in old blood that turned out to be transforming TGF Beta 1. [00:37:44] Ken brings up Michael and Irina’s 2016 paper, published in Nature Communications,in which they described a new, more definitive, experiment than the parabiosis experiment. This blood exchange experiment, aimed to distinguish whether there was a curative property of young blood, or an inhibitory compound being filtered out of old blood, exchanged only blood between the two animals, rather than all of their organ systems. [00:40:55] Michael explains that those experiments came at a time when funding was drying up for the Conboy’s lab. He talks about how discussions with Aubrey de Grey from the SENS Research Foundation aided him and Irina with their experiments. [00:45:23] Dawn asks why Michael and Irina about their criticism of the company “Ambrosia,” a start up in Florida that claims it can combat aging by infusing plasma from young donors into its customers. [00:47:15] Ken says the coverage of Ambrosia has sparked an interesting question of whether or not young people should store their own blood for future transfusions. He asks if anyone has modeled that in mice. [00:51:46] Dawn wonders if it’s the age of a stem-cell’s environment that is the key. If so, she asks the Conboys if their research and findings are going to discourage the use of cell-based therapies to treat disorders related to aging? [00:52:45] Dawn inquires as to how the Conboy’s and their colleagues in the bioengineering department at Southern Cal are developing “youthful micro-niches” for cell and tissue transplantation. [00:54:11] Ken asks Irina to talk about her group’s 2014 paper published in Nature Communications,that showed that oxytocin in mice is vital for muscle maintenance and regeneration, and that the lack thereof leads to premature sarcopenia. [00:56:37] Irina elaborates on the comment noted by Wendy Cousins in a media piece associated with the previously mentioned paper, where she said that oxytocin could become a viable alternative to hormone replacement therapy as a way to combat the symptoms of both male and female aging. [00:58:03] Dawn notes off-label use of intranasal oxytocin is now widely used. Although there have been some human trials of oxytocin associated with mental disorders such as autism, schizophrenia and dementia, it would seem appropriate to have human trials aimed at the potential for oxytocin to prevent, slow, or ameliorate some of the undesirable consequences of aging. Dawn asks the Conboys if they know of any studies underway looking at oxytocin explicitly in the context of aging in humans? [00:59:43] Ken asks Michael if the intranasal oxytocin would be expected to yield the same benefits in muscle as a subcutaneous injection, or if the dose wouldn’t be sufficient. [01:02:33] Ken notes a variety of ways that aging can be slowed, from oxytocin to fasting, and asks Michael about a multifaceted approach to aging. [01:06:27] Ken mentions that a group working at MIT has reported benefits in mice fed lactobacillus reuteri, which has been found to upregulate oxytocin significantly, and that lactobacillus reuteri counteracts age-associated sarcopenia as well. [01:11:58] Ken asks the Conboys what scientific question they would like to answer if they were given unlimited resources and how would they go about answering it. [00:14:05] Ken asks Irina about a bumper sticker she keeps in her office that says “don’t believe everything you think.” [01:15:30] Dawn mentions that Michael and Irina have been married for more than 25 years and that although they don’t have any children, that someone dropping by their house might likely see “Sesame Street” on the TV. Dawn asks the Conboys about their fondness for “Sesame Street.” Links: Irina Conboy UC Berkeley page Michael Conboy UC Berkeley page Conboy Lab homepage Learn more about IHMC STEM-Talk homepage  Ken Ford bio Dawn Kernagis bio        
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4 days, 2 hours