DNA or deoxyribonucleic acid, is perhaps the most well-known biological molecule. DNA is present in all forms of life on earth. Essentially, every cell in our bodies contains DNA or the genetic instructions - or code - that makes us what we are. DNA has a unique double helix shape, like a twisted ladder and carries these instructions or code for the development, growth, reproduction, functioning and health of all life. Remarkably, if all of the DNA in a human body was unraveled, it would reach to the sun and back more than 300 times.
The code in DNA is determined by the order of the four nucleotide bases that make up DNA, adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine and is the complete set of genes and is called a genome.
As the National Human Genome Research Institute works to unlock the secrets of the human genome, researchers continue learning that nearly all diseases that we face have a genetic component. Some diseases are caused by mutations that are inherited from parents and are present in an individual at birth, like sickle cell disease, for example. Other diseases are caused by acquired mutations in a gene or group of genes that occur during a person's life. Such mutations are not inherited from a parent, but occur either randomly or due to some environmental exposure like pollutants. Today’s guest is working tirelessly to create therapies to treat genetic diseases. Specifically, Monogenic diseases.
As defined by the World Health Organization, Monogenic diseases result from modifications in a single gene occurring in all cells of the body. Though relatively rare, they affect millions of people worldwide. Researchers estimate that over 10,000 of human diseases are known to be monogenic. Pure genetic diseases are caused by a single error in a single gene in the human DNA.
As you can gather from my brief description, working to treat genetic diseases is complicated, demanding work and requires the commitment and intellectual power of people who are dedicated to finding answers. Today’s guest Scott Sneddon is one of those people. Scott is the President & CEO of Sharp Edge Labs. He is an entrepreneur and scientist trained in chemistry and biology with an emphasis on computational methods. He holds a Ph.D. in Chemistry & Biophysics from Carnegie-Mellon University, a J.D. from Columbia University Law School and has over 20 years of experience in the drug discovery industry, having held leadership positions at Pfizer and Genzyme. At Pfizer Dr. Sneddon was a member of the New Leads Discovery group under innovator Fred Vinick. He then went to Genzyme with Fred to help establish Genzyme's small molecule drug discovery program. There he led the Assay Development and High Throughput Screening group and was a pioneer in implementing high-throughput functional cellular assays for primary drug screening (before such a thing was fashionable).
Accelerators, incubators, technology parks, consortiums, start-up ecosystems……..buzz words that those of us that work in technology development and talk about innovation for a living are used to saying as part of our entrepreneurial vernacular. All of these elements are an important part of developing innovation. But these elements must be built in an environment that supports them or they are futile. Regions that are successful at building innovation economies know that, most importantly, there must be community support for technology development and investment. There must be a culture in place to motivate a community to drive innovation. Building new innovation communities and entrepreneurial cultures is not easy. It requires commitment, investment, talent, knowledge, time and space. It also requires critical efforts to bring a group of different minds coming together to share ideas, obstacles, and assets in the spirit of collaboration. Innovation experts know that entrepreneurs assisting entrepreneurs in informal social networks is the “secret sauce” of what helps a region become a thriving entrepreneurial hub. According to a report by Compass, entrepreneurs’ connections with their peers are shown to be as important to start-up growth in some cities as the role of institutions.
The aphorism that "a rising tide lifts all boats" illustrates this idea that a connected community and improved culture will benefit every community member. The ideal that we all more likely to succeed together. This is especially true when building innovative technology companies. A successful innovation community must collaborate to build everything from education to research to business creation, start-up incubation, marketing, communication and sales.
Our guest on this episode knows all about entrepreneurs helping entrepreneurs. Kit Mueller is known as a Serial Tummler or a person who connects people and makes things happen. And that’s what Kit has been doing in Pittsburgh’s tech sector for years. Kit describes himself as an “Entrepreneurial Community Builder with a proven history of entrepreneurial success in the software and creative industries. Kit is an exuberant entrepreneur who advises startups, invests in them and organizes events to get entrepreneurs in the same room talking about what’s worked, what’s failed, and what’s ripe with potential. He built his first technology startup at just 21 years old and has been busy ever since creating ventures like Startup Boost Pittsburgh, StartUp Weekend, Built in Pittsburgh, Fygment Productions, Speak Freely, ShiftPgh, and RustBuilt.
According to a report from the Center for American Progress, healthcare costs ranked among voters’ top concerns in the 2018 midterm elections. The federal government estimates that health care expenditures reached an average of $11,000 per person per year in 2017 and that costs will continue to grow more than 5.5 percent annually over the next decade. Slowing the increase in healthcare costs will be impossible without reforms to one of the largest components of health care expenditures: hospital-based care. Hospitals receive $1 out of every $3 spent on healthcare, and across the United States the projected total spend for hospital care alone in 2019 will be about $1.3 trillion.
A notable shift is that Inpatient care, which is when you actually stay overnight in the hospital for something more an observation, now makes up only slightly more than half of hospital revenue, compared with about 70 percent in 1995. Getting patients the right care at the right time in the right setting has increased the utilization of Outpatient care, or services and medical procedures or tests that can be done in a medical center without an overnight stay.
Some believe a flip from inpatient care to mostly outpatient care will continue into the future. This shift impacts all of us and will ultimately disrupt the way we, as patients, get the care that we need when we are injured or sick. Take for example joint replacement surgery which in some places is now offered in an outpatient environment.
On this episode, we are going to talk with Patrick Colletti the COO and newly named Chief Innovation Officer of Net Health, a company that creates software solutions for specialized outpatient care. Net Health serves healthcare professionals essentially all of the largest hospital chains in the US as well as private practices around the country—They support more than 3,000 facilities daily…ranging from urgent care to speech and language therapy and beyond. They are working to strengthen patient care, outcomes, and facility performance.
People from all backgrounds - - campaigners and ordinary citizens alike - - frequently cite opinion polls as if they were the gospel truth. Sometimes the poll results predict the future (like what our favorite cereal may be), and other times not so much (like who will be the next President). We have all been accepting the results of opinion polls as an indicator of public opinion for a long time…and these polls either visibly or invisibly shape policy and thereby impact how our investments in science and technology are shaped.
Are opinion polls important? What is the science behind them? Are they sophisticated analyses or back of the envelope calculations? Should we trust what they say? Can they be manipulated and misused? Is the science behind collecting and aggregating people opinions developing and becoming more accurate or are opinion polls a developed area of social science? In these days where opinion polls seem inextricably linked to what we see in targeted advertising, these questions are important but not often explored by the technology community.
More than 80 years ago, George Gallup published his first official release of public opinion data. Gallup set out to provide scientific, impartial calculations that described America’s public opinions. But, even after 80 years, people are often deeply skeptical of polls, especially when opinion moves in the “incorrect” direction or is the opposite of what they hope for.
The 2016 US presidential election raised questions about the methodology and accuracy of polls in America, but the problems of confidence in election polling aren't limited to just the U.S.. Some high-profile errors include the final polls in the 2017 British general election, in which Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative Party lost its parliamentary majority, had the Conservatives ahead, though their margins differed significantly. These and other “misses” have led people to ask, do polls ask the right questions? Are they manipulating the wording of questions to get the responses they want? And who are the people actually answering the questions? Are polls being swayed by the political parties, marketers and media giants that pay for the polls? Where is the science?
In the ultimate irony, an opinion poll about opinion polls, The Hill-HarrisX poll found that the majority of people are doubtful about the survey results they hear about. Maybe more troubling, however, was that 15 percent of respondents said they "almost always" believed in polls they heard about in the press. So…rather than relying on opinion polls about opinion polls, on innovation unleashed we decided to get back to a source for the ground truth!
John Dick is the CEO of CivicScience. CivicScience provides strategic insight services to decision-makers at the largest brands, media companies, and investment firms in the world. In 2007, CivicScience emerged from John’s vision that market research and opinion-gathering needed a new solution. Perhaps before the rest of us, he understood that consumer and public-oriented businesses that had long relied on traditional polling and survey techniques found those methods were growing tired and less effective in reaching a representative audience. The emergence of social media sharing brought convenience and immediacy of the public’s voice to the table, but also inherent biases and untrustworthy information. His ambitious goal was to develop a revolutionary new way to connect the real-time opinions of consumers to the decision makers who need that information every day – but to do so with renewed depth, breadth, and reliability.
How do we continue to be disruptive innovators? How do we push to the future of innovation? Demographics are not likely the first place people look to when trying to understand innovation, but there is theory and discussion that tells us that much can be learned from looking at economics through the lens of demography. Expert Richard Florida believes that geographic proximity and cultural diversity—a place’s openness to different cultures, religions, sexual orientations—also play key roles in economic growth. Richard is a world-renowned writer and journalist, having penned several global best sellers, including the award winning The Rise of the Creative Class and his most recent book, The New Urban Crisis. A 2013 MIT study named him the world’s most influential thought leader and TIME magazine has recognized his Twitter feed as one of the 140 most influential in the world. Richard says, “Every single human being is creative. The biggest challenge of the creative age is to lift the bottom up and encourage a prosperous, vibrant and sustainable community for all.”
Richard points to the work of economists Quamrul Ashraf of Williams College and Oded Galor of Brown University as further support of his theories. Their work concludes that the interplay between cultural assimilation and cultural diffusion have played a significant role in giving rise to differential patterns of economic development across the globe." To put it simply: diversity spurs economic development and homogeneity slows it down.
So, basically, more people means more ideas. A larger population will produce more ideas to feed technological progress. And, simultaneously, population only increases if there is technological development.
Our guest, Audrey Russo, is an impassioned thought leader about technology and demographics being codependent drivers of the Pittsburgh economy and the success of the technologies that are developed here.
Since 2007, Audrey Russo has served the technology business sector for southwestern PA as President and CEO of the Pittsburgh Technology Council the oldest (1983) and largest technology trade association in North America. In her role as president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Technology Council, Audrey Russo oversees an organization of 1,400 member companies and 270,000 member employees. She works to position Pittsburgh as one of the nation’s leading centers for technology, health care, advanced materials, life sciences, homeland security and financial services.
Ten years ago, Audrey wrote about the importance of demographics and poised a challenge for Pittsburgh to add 5,000 people to the region each year — net positive. While also focusing on an effort to retain 20% of Pittsburgh’s college students here year over year. She asked all Pittsburghers to take a pact to make the region a place where regional citizenship means all students are part of the fabric of all companies.
Russo is committed to the complexity of Pittsburgh’s physical, literal and metaphorical terrain, and believes that vital cities are the moral imperative in achieving competitive, diverse and vibrant economies. Let’s talk to her about this innovation and population going hand in hand.
At the beginning of each episode, I remind listeners that innovation is a team sport. Our own Andrew Carnegie once said, “Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results."
From the time that we are young, we are organized into teams for school, fun and friendship. We are taught to “play nice,” share, and get along with others. We are grouped into small teams for learning, we participate in team sports, join scouts and join together to cheer on our favorite competing footballers and soccer stars.
We all make the assumption that good teamwork is essential for good outcomes in life. We believe that people perform well when they work together in groups because it creates a medium through which people can discuss, debate and collaborate about various issues regarding the achievement of their group goals. Working together also creates mutual understanding and a sense of belonging, which further enables commitment to the success of the entire group.
Over the past 60 years, as technological, scientific and social challenges have become more complex and scientific understanding, research and methods have advanced, researchers have increasingly combined with colleagues in collaborative research referred to as team science. At places like Carnegie Mellon University, it is common practice to work not only across the campus with collaborators, but to also reach out all over the world to find scientists that are interested in working on teams to solve big problems. According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, 90 percent of all science and engineering publications are authored by two or more individuals and the size of authoring teams has grown as individual scientists, funders, and universities have sought to investigate multifaceted problems by engaging more individuals. Most articles are now written by between 6 and 10 individuals from more than one institution.
We are fortunate to be joined on this episode by a renowned expert in the study of teams and collective intelligence. Anita Woolley, is an Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior and Theory at the Tepper School of Business, Carnegie Mellon University. She has a PhD in Organizational Behavior from Harvard University, where she also earned Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees.
Her research and teaching interests include collaborative analysis and problem solving in teams; online collaboration and collective intelligence; and managing multiple team memberships. Her research has been published in Science, Organization Science, Academy of Management Review, Journal of Organizational Behavior, Small Group Research, and Research on Managing Groups and Teams, among others. Her research has been funded by grants from the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Army Research Office, and private corporations. She is a Senior Editor at Organization Science, Academy of Management Discoveries, and Small Group Research, and is a member of the Academy of Management, the Interdisciplinary Network for Group Research, and the Association for Psychological Science.
Carnegie Mellon University’s Manuela Veloso, the Herbert A. Simon University Professor describes Machine learning “as a fascinating field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) research and practice where scientists investigate how computer agents can improve their perception, cognition, and action with experience. Machine Learning is about machines improving from data, knowledge, experience, and interaction. Machine Learning utilizes a variety of techniques to intelligently handle large and complex amounts of information build upon foundations in many disciplines, including statistics, knowledge representation, planning and control, databases, causal inference, computer systems, machine vision, and natural language processing. AI agents with their core at Machine Learning aim at interacting with humans in a variety of ways, including providing estimates on phenomena, making recommendations for decisions, and being instructed and corrected. Machine Learning can impact many applications relying on all sorts of data, any data that is recorded in computers, such as health data, scientific data, financial data, location data, weather data, energy data, etc. As our society increasingly relies on digital data, Machine Learning is crucial for most of our current and future applications.”
The world is being reshaped by machine learning. Data collected through sensors and novel technologies at many scales is being leveraged to make decisions and infer relationships in every discipline and application. But it takes the right techniques and tools to do so effectively.
It is interesting that on this episode, we are joined by John Kitchin, a chemical engineering expert who is using machine learning to develop new tools to change the way that research is being conducted.
His work with machine learning focuses on creating tools such SCIMAX - - open source software that improves data sharing and efficiency in research and academia. The software uniquely integrates data processing and analysis into plain text. Dr. Kitchin is very interested in creating tools, augmenting research with data tools and teaching students about machine learning as an integrated part of the research process.
British poet W. H. Auden once noted, “Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.”…I am not sure about his use of the number thousands…but I am sure he was right about the water.
Our Earth is sometimes compared to a magnificent blue marble, especially by those privileged few who have been lucky enough to gaze upon it from space. This is due to the predominance of water on the Earth’s surface. I’m sure that you know that the Earth is largely covered with water. Water covers about two thirds of the Earth’s surface. Interestingly, only about five percent of that water is fresh water versus salt water…and two thirds of that tiny percentage of fresh water, 69 exists as ice. But, if you melted all that ice, and the Earth’s surface was perfectly smooth, the sea levels would rise to an altitude of 2.7 km. With the water that brings us life as we know it in such dramatically short supply, you would think that we would protect it with an immeasurable passion…but instead we ignore it with unimaginable malaise. So here is some of the bad news in shocking statistics…
The challenge we now face as we head into the future is how to effectively conserve, purify, and distribute the water we have. And to make matters worse plastics are attacking our oceans. In 1950, the world’s population of 2.5 billion produced 1.5 million tons of plastic; in 2016, a global population of more than 7 billion people produced over 320 million tons of plastic. Every day approximately 8 million pieces of plastic pollution find their way into our oceans. There may now be around 5.25 trillion macro and microplastic pieces floating in the open ocean. Weighing up to 269,000 tonnes. Recent studies have revealed marine plastic pollution in 100% of marine turtles, 59% of whales, 36% of seals and 40% of seabird species examined. 100,000 marine mammals and turtles and 1 million sea birds are killed by marine plastic pollution annually.
And Every year, more people die from unsafe water than from all forms of violence, including war.
On this episode, we are joined by two pioneers who are working to use chemistry and technology to safely reduce/eliminate hazardous chemical contaminants and pathogens from water to protect life and make clean water more easily accessible for all humanity. Dr. Terry Collins is the Teresa Heinz Professor in Green Chemistry, Chemistry and Director, Institute for Green Science at Carnegie Mellon University and Professor Ryan Sullivan, working in both Chemistry and Mechanical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.