Tuesday – The Atlantic Meets the Pacific Live!!

by Jessica Hutchinson

02:10 pm – This concludes my blog posts of the Atlantic Meets the Pacific Conference. It was an exciting, informative experience. Thanks for tuning in over the last few days 😉

01:05 pm – After a beautiful lunch overlooking the Pacific Ocean, we are now starting our last program – a panel of three speakers on the topic of scientific research and philanthropy, especially in the area of Parkinson’s disease.  The panel includes: Debi Brooks (co-founder and executive vice chairman of the Michael J. Fox Foundation), Santosh Kesari (chief of the Division of Neuro-Oncology in the Department of Neurosciences at the UC San Diego School of Medicine) and Greg Lucier (chief executive officer of Life Technologies).

Brooks is a philanthropist who is responsible for raising money to fund Parkinson’s drug research with the Michael J. Fox Foundation, Lucier’s company is responsible for building the tools needed to conduct research and find cures for diseases, and Kesari is a neuroscientist and physician.

The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research is currently working on speeding up the process of drug development to assist with finding treatments for the disease.  Unlike pharmaceutical companies and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), they are focusing a majority of their funding on biomarker research.

“Investing in biomarkers is not an NIH gig and isn’t an industry gig – the science was there but others weren’t interested in funding it,” says Brooks.

All the research being done by the Michael J. Fox Foundation, the NIH and pharmaceutical companies can complement each other if well-funded.

“Regarding the NIH, more funding is needed,” says Kesari.

Right now, new models are being developed to assist with finding customized medicine regimens by assessing individuals’ genetic predispositions. This type of model is important because medicines do not work equally well for all individuals.

After a genetic test, Lucier recently discovered that he has the Parkinson’s gene mutation.   He believes that genomics will begin to play a bigger role in diagnostics and treatment development.  When you have more data, such as genetic information to compare, you can make more and more well-informed insights.

Alexis Madrigal interviews Gary Marcus

10:40 am – Alexis Madrigal (senior editor at The Atlantic) is now interviewing cognitive psychologist, Gary Marcus, on the topic of music, memory and the brain.

A common misconception is that children are better at picking up new skills than adults. But, Marcus found that practice makes perfect regardless of age.

“There are no convincing data that say adults can’t learn to play music as well as a child,” says Marcus.

One of the hardest parts is “memorizing things that are similar but different,” says Marcus.

Another major challenge is playing fast while accurately since the human mind is not accustomed to speed and accuracy at the same time.

Practice is a prerequisite to learning how to play music. Unfortunately, adults often don’t have enough time to dedicate to practicing.  Other factors, such as self-doubt, also tend to get in the way of adults practicing.

In general, learning new skills as an adult, even ones we aren’t necessarily good at, can be beneficial and mentally stimulating.

“The natural tendency is to do things we get positive feedback for, but that can make us unbalanced.  It’s good to do at least one or two things you aren’t good at to understand what other things are about,” says Marcus.

So, in order to lead a more balanced life, try doing something you never imagined you would. You might surprise yourself.

09:50 am – Happiness expert, Gretchen Rubin, is now on the stage.

Gretchen says small changes can affect the quality of your life. Here are a few small changes you can make that might make you happier:

  • Making your bed each morning.
  • Start everything a half hour earlier so you are not rushing and stressed at the last minute.
  • Go to bed earlier.
  • Make cell-phone-free / work-free time for yourself and for your family.
  • Take a full day off once and a while.
  • Build strong relationships by connecting with new people and strengthening bonds with people who are already a part of your social circle.
  • Keep pictures of people you care about around you.

Larry Smarr

09:02 am – A conversation with Larry Smarr (founding director, Calit2) and Mark Bowden (author and national correspondent, The Atlantic)

Years ago, when Smarr moved to SD from the Midwest, he was 25 lbs overweight. He decided to take matters into his own hands by monitoring his body in various ways, including tracking his steps, measuring the depth of his sleep, and measuring biomarkers in his blood and stool.

“People are not taking personal responsibility for their bodies. There is huge disconnect with our bodies,” says Smarr.

This disconnect has led to the biggest epidemic of obesity in U.S. history.

In many ways, we treat our cars with more care than our own bodies. We would not, for example, mix our gas with water to save money – doing so would ruin our cars – so why don’t we take more care with out diets? Why aren’t we more concerned with what we are putting into our bodies?

Smarr is optimistic that the face of healthcare will change in the coming years by giving individuals more control of their health-related data with applications that are developed to collect data in real-time.

“We are all going to begin to have this level of knowledge about ourselves.  It’s inevitable that citizens are going to take a more active role in their healthcare.  In five to ten years you won’t recognize medicine as it is now. You’ll have apps on your smartphone that help you make better decisions everyday,” says Smarr.

Of course, there are the people who think knowing too much isn’t a good thing and could lead to anxiety.

“This is life, it ends with death – it’s not a surprise to anybody,” says Smarr.  Assessing data from our bodies to prevent diseases will lead to fuller, richer lives while we are here.

08:23 am – Today is the last day of the Atlantic Meets the Pacific Conference. We’re here again at the Scripps Seaside Forum.  Guests are busy eating breakfast and drinking coffee before the first interview.  Please stay tuned to this blog thread for the details about our speakers until 2pm. Speakers for today’s morning / afternoon program include:

  • Larry Smarr on a researcher’s quest to personalize medicine
  • Gretchen Rubin on the science and philosophy behind the happiness movement
  • Gary Marcus on what his musical mission can teach us about the human brain
  • Debi Brooks, Santosh Kesari and Greg Lucier on the challenges of scientific research and philanthropy

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