The observable examined

Archive for July 2012

The Word – On the Straight and the Narrow-Minded

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The title is taken from a brilliant political satire segment called the “Word” from the 07/17 episode of the Colbert Report. Watch the first eight or so minutes. Enjoy!


Written by asterix98

July 19, 2012 at 5:37 am

Cliff’s Notes for compassionate behavior

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Social psychologist David DeSteno and his colleagues have figured out the secret sauce for everyday compassionate behavior.  Based on insights derived from some clever experiments, DeSteno writes in Compassion Made Easy “…effortful adherence to religious or philosophical dictums (often requiring meditation, prayer or moral education), though clearly valuable and capable of producing results, is not the only way to go. …Increased compassion for one’s neighbor, for instance, can come from something as easy as encouraging yourself to think of him as (say) a fan of the same local restaurant instead of as a member of a different ethnicity….”

To put it differently, we should constantly strive to find ways to include our fellow human beings in our in-group. I think this is a nice little message. But, I disagree with DeSteno’s phrasing ” .. something as easy as…” . For the general populace, practicing this may be more difficult than the moral prescriptions he labels as “effortful adherence” simply because realigning your compassion compass by thinking differently about others also requires cognitive effort.

Written by asterix98

July 16, 2012 at 2:26 am

The dawn of “omics”

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I attended a day long workshop at Stanford a couple a weeks ago. The topic  – Emerging Medical Computing: Healthcare Up-Close and Personalized  (14th Annual NFIC Conference June 16th at Stanford University, CA).

The workshop was about “..The intersection of computers with medical data is creating a form of direct and individualized diagnosis and treatment that transform health care to truly being up close and personalized medicine……..

Starting with computer based individual medical modeling based on genetics and biometrics, the conference will move on to cover personalized sensors in monitoring, diagnosis, treatment, and prosthetics….”

I will focus on one of the speakers, Michael Snyder. He spoke on “Adventures in Personal Omics”.  Our health is determined by a combination of our genome and exposure to the environment (epigenetics).  Given this, genome sequencing or genomics, is extremely valuable in understanding and treating human diseases (eg., cancer). Medicine as practiced today treats the average. Personalized genomic sequencing affords us the opportunity to examine human variability in the genetic makeup leading to nuanced understanding of disease risk at the personal level. DNA sequencing seems to be loosely following Moore’s law in that prices have been dropping ~10x in 15 months. Current average cost is about $3.5K, but $1K options are also round the corner. Personalized medicine, allows risk prediction, diagnoses, monitoring and treatment,as well as understanding disease state at an individual level. This is indeed revolutionary. In Snyder’s lab, they are able to produce a personal “omic” profile or POP. In fact, Snyder has been his own subject and has been monitoring his POP over the past 27 months and learned a tremendous deal. He was able to predict his diabetes risk from his POP (eventually he contracted it but was able to manage it). You can read this fascinating story here. Of course, significant challenges remain in translating this to everyday medical practice, because the clinical interpretation component- extracting useful information-  is still very high (~$30K).

There is yet another trend in the realm of personalized health, metaphorically called the “quantified self”.  The economist has a nice overview article – Counting every moment .  These efforts are directed more at the macro indicators of personal health (eg., height,weight, food intake, sleeping etc.,).

It gets even more interesting. Matt Ridley wrote a piece in the WSJ on the microbial ecosystem that is very essential for our functioning. He writes “… the startling statistic that there are at least 10 times as many bacterial cells (belonging to up to 1,000 species) in your gut as there are human cells in your entire body: that “you” are actually an entire microbial zoo as well as a person. You are 90% microbes by cell count, though not by volume—a handy reminder of just how small bacteria are.” These microbes make up between two to five pounds of your body weight!  Just like Snyder, Larry Smarr, an astrophysicist turned computer scientist, is meticulously charting his microbial makeup and has discovered fascinating facts about his body and explanations for his illness, even educating the doctors that were treating him, in the process. You can read all about this in the Atlantic article – Measured Man.

I could’nt help wondering that all of these efforts are bringing on a whole new meaning to the Socratic quote “A life unexamined is not worth living”.

Written by asterix98

July 4, 2012 at 6:32 pm

On a lighter note

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Disclaimer: All of these images are copyright their respective owners.

Written by asterix98

July 4, 2012 at 4:59 pm

Posted in humor

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