Monthly Archives: December 2011

Virtual Humans Can and Will Accelerate Medical Testing

As a matter of fact, virtual humans are already helping to figure out the right radiation dose for pregnant women and defibrillator types for children. Virtualization technologies provide the opportunity to create anatomically accurate simulations of the human body with its organs. Obviously, the physiological properties may not be 100% accurate at the moment, but they sure will be quite soon. Even more, I believe at some point of time in the future we will have sophisticated virtual models of our own bodies, accurate even on the molecular level, depicting all the interactions between the molecules within our cells and tissues. This kind of in silico humans will provide us with the opportunity to test potential drugs for safety and efficiency and also model the aging and pathological processes on all levels in our bodies. This will definitely lead to significant life extension. All we need is accurate mathematical descriptions of biological processes and enough computational resources. Sounds impossible, but I’m quite optimistic, because the technological progress is growing exponentially, hence the probability of gaining sufficient knowledge and computer power within “observable” time frame is not that small.

Read the Wall Streeet Journal article “Scientists Find Safer Ways To Test Medical Procedures”

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence

Open Science is Key in the Opinion of Paul Allen

Paul Allen, Microsoft co-founder, established the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle in 2003. By integrating genomic and anatomic information, as well as sophisticated data search and viewing tools, the unique resources of the Institute offer researchers unprecedented access to details and patterns of gene activity throughout the brain. The information is stored in Atlases:

1. ALLEN Mouse Brain Atlas – an interactive, genome-wide, three-dimensional map of gene expression throughout the adult mouse brain
2. ALLEN Spinal Cord Atlas – an interactive, genome-wide map of gene expression across the adult and juvenile mouse spinal cords
3. ALLEN Developing Mouse Brain Atlas – a detailed three-dimensional map revealing how genes change during the development of the brain
4. ALLEN Mouse Brain Connectivity Atlas – three-dimensional, high-resolution map of neural connections throughout the mouse brain
5. ALLEN Human Brain Atlas – a one-of-a-kind resource for understanding genes at work in the human brain

Most importantly, all the data is in open access. Allen says:

… we generate data for the purpose of sharing it. Since opening shop in 2003, we’ve had 23 public releases, or about three per year. We don’t wait to analyze our raw data and publish in the literature. We pour it onto the public website as soon as it passes our quality control checks. Our goal is to speed others’ discoveries as much as to springboard our own future research.

I think we’d get more bang for our buck by making more data more useful to more scientists—and, by extension, to the world community that will benefit from their work

Paul Allen is definitely brilliant. I believe, researchers in the whole world can benefit a lot by having open access to any scientific publication, clinical trial data or pharmacological company data sets they want. This could accelerate progress a great deal and make radical life extension much closer to reality.

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Filed under Policy

Extreme Futurist Festival

I really hate to live on the wrong continent. Not because one can’t buy music is iTunes in Russia, but because I am missing all the meetings worth going to. I believe Extreme Future Festival, put together by Rachel Haywire and Michael Anissimov is one of those gatherings. I am sure alliances like underground culture plus academia could yield new creative thoughts and collaborations. In my opinion, transhumanism really lacks good design (seriously, 95% of the time) and better conversations with the artistic audience. So, I really enjoyed the story by Summerspeaker, who was lucky to witness all the great and less-than-great things at the Festival this weekend. His perception of the event reflects the admiration of the people and their ideas and simultaneous frustration with the movement as an organization. It’s too bad I didn’t have the chance to be part of the event and describe my own impression. I am sure though, that I will try to make it to the next one, because the whole idea of the Festival seems extremely attractive to me.

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Filed under Transhumanism

CELLebrity Doctors Calendar

I am honored to be part of the “CELLebrity” Doctors Calendar, a special initiative of Sabrina Cohen Foundation for Stem Cell Research. The Calendar was designed to educate the public about stem cell research and it captures female scientists from around the world involved in advancing stem cell investigations.

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Filed under Stem Cell Research

Synthetic Biology and its Promise

Synthetic Biology is going to be huge all over the world very soon. No wonder, the promise is incredible. According to Jeurgen Pleiss, possible applications of synthetic biology include:

1. Genetic circuits. The BioBrick project initiated at MIT seeks to assemble a set of standardized DNA parts that encode basic biological functions. The “Registry of Standard Biological Parts” includes genes for transcription factors and enzymes, promoter and enhancer elements, ribosome binding sites, and terminators. This registry describes the sequence of the individual bricks, a quantitative description of their input–output properties, and a concept of how to connect them, the “biowiring”. Each element can be considered as a logical circuit, an inverter, or a NAND or a NOR gate. By combining logical gates and by wiring them using orthogonal, highly specific gene products, artificial genetic circuits have been constructed with predetermined behavior. Projects at the international Genetically Engineering Machine (iGEM) competition are examples of genetic circuits.

2. Protein design. The ultimate goal is the complete de novo design of proteins. The methods are based on design tools that evaluate the compatibility of a protein sequence with a given structure. The vision of protein design is a modular approach to the design of new biomaterials with desired properties. Although all protein design efforts use the 20 amino acids as basic parts, de novo design is not limited to naturally occurring amino acids. By using expression platforms with expanded genetic code, single unnatural amino acids can be incorporated by in vivo or in vitro protein biosynthesis. Thus, the synthetic potential is considerably enhanced. However, the primary goal of protein design is not to compete with natural structural diversity. In line with the premises of synthetic biology, it would be desirable to identify a minimal set of robust and versatile scaffolds. In a modular design strategy, these basic parts would then be combined into more complex devices which are then modified to function as enzyme, power generator, signaling device, mechanical motor, or structural protein. The major application would be cheap and effective drugs.

3. Platform technologies. Like synthetic bacteriophages with optimized genome organization. The synthetic gene circuits and the production of designed proteins are implemented into living cells, thus allowing applications in biotransformation and biosensing. The ideal cellular platform should be of minimal complexity. Minimization of genomes is expected to simplify the cellular platform.

4. Engineering of pathways.  Signaling pathways are characterized by the modular architecture of the proteins involved in signal transduction. Kinetics and thermodynamics of intermodular recognition are crucial to specificity and information flow. Production of natural products by synthetic gene clusters is considered as a promising application for synthetic biology.

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Filed under Uncategorized

CNN – Peter Diamandis and the X PRIZE to Sequence 100 Genomes of Centenarians

$10 million Archon Genomics X PRIZE will be awarder to the first company to sequence 100 genomes in 30 days. Not just regular genomes, but the most fascinating – the ones that come from centenarians, people who are 100 years and older. Read the article by CNN about Peter Diamandis and the X PRIZE Foundation. I agree that it is extremely useful to identify the genetic differences and commonalities among the centenarians, yet what I find  even more interesting is combining their genomic data with their medical data and also with even more comprehensive tests, such as epigenome, transcriptome, proteome and metabolome analyses. This type of “hardcore scientific testing” will provide quite a lot of insights into the reasons why these people manage to overcome the diseases of old age and stay relatively fit until 100 years and more. Only this type of testing will give enough data to figure out the longevity traits and causal relations between the traits and genomic data. By the way, once the sequencing prices drop under $1000 all the other analyses would cost not a lot more than that.

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Filed under Genetics

Money Chart

I love charts. And money. If you do too, then you should take a look at this money chart right here.

5 different things I learned from it:

1. It’s very likely the problem of aging can be solved using just the money to be spent on hosting the World Cup 2022 by the City Qatar. Just think about it – 1 World Cup = Everlasting Youth

2. US annual charitable giving to religious organizations is roughly 3 times larger than government annual medical and health-related research funding. I believe these numbers maybe somewhat useful in a discussion about the religion being the major hurdle on the way of technological progress.

3. US spending on lung cancer treatment is 2 billion dollars less than US spending on cigarette marketing

4. Diddy + Jay-Z + Dr. Dre =  J.K. Rolling

5. Kate Middleton’s dress cost roughly 6 years of income of a ‘bottom 50%’ household (and for Russia that would be a middle class household)

I’d love to learn about the most exciting facts that you are are able to get from the chart.

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Filed under Funding