I attended Health Extension #6 at Y Combinator this evening. I’ve been working too hard lately and I wanted to get back into the groove and hang out with a hip crowd. And really who is hipper than Silicon Valley bio-hackers? They loosened up the format this month and we weren’t forced to participate in community building like we were last month. I honestly sort of missed being forced into community building. I have a tendency toward the path of least resistance, so I just chewed the fat all evening instead of contributing anything useful.
Akhsar Kharebov, Silicon Valley Health 2.0 founder, kicked off the evening a book report on Eric Topol’s Creative Destruction of Medicine. Kharebov portrayed Topol as a superhero on the order of BatMan or IronMan with a billion dollar’s worth of institute resources at his disposal. Topol is apparently a trouble-maker who is pushing for more personalized medicine via the integration of biological data. He seems like he would be well aligned with the QS movement. Which makes sense, since these Health Extension Salons have a strong QS connection themselves.
The next speaker, Dr. Saul Villeda, captured the audience’s imagination with a presentation of his work on rejuvenating cognitive function of older mice using blood from young mice. This was very inspiring stuff. The audience chirped in with much speculation about the mechanism. Is it that the young blood introduces good stuff or does the old blood just have bad stuff? I thought it was interesting that plasma and not whole blood was used. It seems that we should be able to easily test the effect on humans given that plasma transfers are common practice But of course these lab mice are all practically identical genetically, so that makes it easier for them to share blood.
Villeda also sagely pointed out that many treatments cure diseases in mice without working on humans. He is digging into this further to determine what factors in the blood may be responsible for this. He is also interested to see if this may contribute to longevity, but he noted the high cost of studies like this. He ended his talk for a plea for us all to call up our friends and relatives in Red States and ask them to call off their austerity dogs, err, congressmen. The scientific community is deeply concerned about the effect the sequestration cuts will have on research funding, and we should be too. I will take my shots at academic research here and there, but it sure beats the alternative.
After the talks, I enjoyed chatting with acquaintances old and new. I was taken to task for calling utopians kool-aid drinkers. I know that I vacillate between Whiggism and pessimism, but I don’t want to put down positive thinkers in general. One point that was brought up was that positive thinking is required to tackle hard problems. After all, if everyone thinks the hard problems are too difficult to achieve we end up with the best minds of our generation writing HFT algorithms on wall street or trying the iterate the next generation of groupon or some other SoLoMo triviality here in the valley. I totally get that, so I hear by retract most of my criticism of positive thinkers. Cynicism produces at least as many problems in the world. I definitely don’t want to throw cold water on the folks who are working to extend healthy human lifespans to 123 years. I want in on that.