Biotechnology 101 Slides for Singularity University

Biotechnology 101 for Singularity University

As many of you are aware, I recently gave a talk at the very prestigious Singularity University.  This is a program co-funded by NASA and Google to study how exponential technologies can solve the global challenges that afflict 1 billion people or more.

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Biotechnology 101 for Singularity University SLIDES

The 2011 Graduate Studies Program or GSP11 as it is known among the Singularitans, is a 12 week program where 80 of the brightest and most accomplished individuals from over 35 countries have assembled at NASA AMES to learn the exponential technologies in the following areas

Technology Tracks AI & Robotics
Networks & Computing Systems
Biotechnology & Bioinformatics
Medicine & Neuroscience
Resource Tracks Futures Studies & Forecasting
Policy, Law & Ethics
Finance & Entrepreneurship
Application Tracks Energy & Ecological Systems
Space & Physical Sciences

I was lucky enough to be invited to give them the basics of Biotechnology and Genomics and for those of you that are interested, my slides are posted above.

Genomics around the world / Biotech geeks on a plane

The Original – Geeks on a Plane

Geeks on a plane is an initiative developed by Dave McClure ( in the hi-tech industry.  The idea behind it is that a group of VC’s, Entrepreneurs and CEO’s of tech companies and bloggers travel together annually to a number of countries within a defined region with the following goals

  • To seek new investment opportunities
  • To understand new potential markets internationally and their local market dynamics
  • To meet leading local entrepreneurs, founders and learn about new companies within the region.
  • To foster international networking efforts and share their collective experiences

Previous trips have included Asia, Europe and Latin America. Most of these trips are self funded by the individuals and cost approx $5000 per trip.  In addition, individuals that attend this trip are selected by a panel for their eligibility. The trips are reported on in real time via social media and a modest PR campaign does the rest of the awareness building.

To learn more about geeks on a plane –

Genomics around the World

The biotech industry can learn a thing or two from a program like this.  As someone whose job involves travelling around the world learning about biotech markets in every country and talking to regional key opinion leaders in genomics, cancer research and personalized medicine I can see a significant opportunity for us in the biotech world to emulate this.

Some of the drivers for a program like this include

  • Scientific research is becoming more collaborative.
  • As we approach an era of personalized medicine, genomic researchers are recognizing the importance of having diverse ethnicities and populations represented in their studies, particularly when it comes to understanding disease and pharmacogenomics.
  • Funding from traditional sources is getting more and more limited and we have to think differently if we are to accomplish major scientific breakthroughs with fewer resources
  • Countries outside Europe and the US are starting to develop specialty expertise in niche areas for example
    • India and South America are starting to become leaders in Ag-bio, bovine breeding and growing biotech crops.
    • China is about to become one of the countries with the largest sequencing output. BGI (Beijing genomics institute) is in possession of 137 Next generation sequencing systems and is involved in research projects  like  1000 plants and animals genome project ( and the 10,000 Microbial genomes project ( )
    • Countries with large populations like China and India have the ability to collect large numbers of samples from patients.  In western countries, large sample cohorts like these can take many years to collect particularly in the case of rare diseases.
    • Countries within the Middle East and parts of Asia have super high rates of consanguinity.  Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan can have up to 60% consanguineous marriages. This makes them hot-spots for congenital diseases and developmental delay caused by cytogenetic aberrations.  In addition the populations of these countries can harbor high rates of very rare autosomal recessive disorders often not studied or even seen in the western world.
    • Countries in parts of Africa, are yet participate or even be represented in the genomics revolution.  Whether they suffer from diseases which afflict only their ethnic groups, or from a lack of food to feed their populations, biotechnology has the propensity to solve some of these problems, if only they had funds and resources to access it.

These are just a few examples but the point is that each region has the ability to bring not only opportunities unique in their region but also expertise, skill set and resources in niche areas.

Biotech geeks on a plane

My proposal is to get together with a group of like minded individuals who believe that we can change the world through capitalizing on the fact that the world is getting smaller and use this to facilitate and drive global collaboration which can accelerate scientific breakthroughs.

The vision would be to assemble a group composed of leading research scientists from leading academic institutes, clinicians, individuals from the biotech industry, technology developers and bioinformaticians,  who are united in an effort to understand the challenges and opportunities in various regions of the world.

If you would like to join the growing group of people interested in this, please join us on LinkedIn – Biotech Geeks on a Plane / Genomics Around the World

In honor of my wonderful mother and all the mothers out there…

In honor of Mothers Day, my wonderful mother and all the wonderful maternal women in my life – I share with you my favorite quote from one of my favorite authors, Khalil Gibran from his book, Broken Wings.

The most beautiful word on the lips of mankind is the word “Mother,” and the most beautiful call is the call of “My mother.” it is a word full of hope and love, a sweet and kind word coming from the depths of the heart. The mother is every thing—she is our consolation in sorrow, our hope in misery, and our strength in weakness. She is the source of love, mercy, sympathy, and forgiveness. He who loses his mother loses a pure soul who blesses and guards him constantly.

Every thing in nature bespeaks the mother. The sun is the mother of earth and gives it its nourishment of hear; it never leaves the universe at night until it has put the earth to sleep to the song of the sea and the hymn of birds and brooks. And this earth is the mother of trees and flowers. It produces them, nurses them, and weans them. The trees and flowers become kind mothers of their great fruits and seeds. And the mother, the prototype of all existence, is the eternal spirit, full of beauty and love.

Research on Neanderthal Genome Wins Affymetrix Sponsored Prize at AAAS

First reconstruction of Neanderthal man

Image via Wikipedia

This evening, my very good friend Candia Brown (@divacyntst), Director of Strategic Product Marketing at Affymetrix,  awarded the Newcomb Cleveland Prize to Svante Paabo, Richard Green and David Reich for their ground breaking work on the Neanderthal Genome.

The award was presented to them at the AAAS meeting in Washington DC and is annually sponsored by Affymetrix.

This incredible work was done at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig which delivered the first draft, of approx 60% of the neanderthal genome sequence which came from 38,000 year old bones from Vindija cave in Croatia.

Analysis of the genetic sequence lead to the ground breaking conclusions of the study, that neanderthals interbred with  modern day humans.  Consequently, between 1-4% of modern day human DNA came from Neanderthals, evidence that we all have a little caveman in us!


Amazing Collaboration between Coriell Personalized Medicine Collaborative  and Ohio State University which will bring personal genomic information closer to the individuals via the health care system.  Congrats to both sides for this great accomplishment.


February 8, 2011


Coriell Personalized Medicine Collaborative to bring Genome-Informed Medicine into the Clinic at Ohio State CAMDEN, N.J. – Coriell Institute for Medical Research announced a partnership today in which Ohio State University Medical Center physicians are incorporating genetic risk information into their patients’ electronic medical records, through their participation in the Coriell Personalized Medicine Collaborative® (CPMC®) research study. The goal of the CPMC study is to understand the utility of genome information in patient care and develop best practices for the field. “By providing personal genetic risk data directly to both physicians and their patients, we have a unique opportunity to examine how personalized medicine can be used in the clinic,” said Michael Christman, Ph.D., president and CEO of Coriell. “This is an important step toward effectively integrating genome information into routine medical care.” The Coriell/OSU Medical Center partnership brings together two leaders in the emerging field of personalized medicine: Coriell, a renowned non-profit research institute engaged in the study of human genetic diseases and translation into genome-informed clinical care, and OSU Medical Center, an institute dedicated to saving lives and improving the quality of life by translating scientific discoveries in the lab to a patient’s bedside. The collaboration involves 30-35 Ohio State cardiologists and primary care physicians and 1,800 of their patients who have been diagnosed with congestive heart failure or hypertension. The patients’ genomic information will be entered into their electronic medical records and observations will be made as to how their physicians use the personalized genetic risk information to make clinical care decisions. The study will reveal whether genome-informed medicine has utility in practice, and how likely doctors are to use the information when it is made available to them. “We are providing physicians with the technology and educational tools to deliver care that is customized to the needs of each individual,” said Christman. Congestive heart failure will affect 5.7 million Americans and lead to 300,000 deaths this year. Hypertension affects nearly one-quarter of adults in the nation. As chronic heart disease patients are often treated with multiple medications, personalized medicine can help physicians make the best prescribing decisions and also identify disease risks, resulting in safer and more accurate care for patients. In addition to monitoring physician behavior and knowledge, the impact of genetic counseling on patient behaviors will also be studied. While the CPMC offers genetic counseling to all participants free of charge (via phone and email), the Coriell/OSU Medical Center collaboration requires some participants to attend an in-person genetic counseling session. Participants will be asked to complete a series of surveys regarding the understanding of their risk, knowledge of genetics, what they did after learning of their personalized risk information, and with whom they shared their results. Differences between the two groups will provide insight into the role genetic counselors play as educators in personalized medicine. The executive director of Ohio State’s Center for Personalized Health Care, and a co-investigator on the Coriell/OSU Medical Center partnership, Clay Marsh, MD, recognizes the need to engage patients to become more actively involved in their own healthcare management and sees the Coriell collaboration as that opportunity. “Overall, we want to improve people’s lives through healthcare that is predictive, preventive, personalized and participatory,” said Marsh. ### CONTACT: Coriell Institute for Medical Research Director of Communications & Development Courtney Kronenthal, Ph.D. 856-757-9752 About Coriell Institute and the CPMC research study – Coriell Institute for Medical Research ( is an internationally known, non-profit, biomedical research institution headquartered in Camden, NJ. Founded in 1953, Coriell is the world’s leading biobank resource for biological materials, home to the Coriell Personalized Medicine Collaborative® (CPMC®) research study, and an active player in the field of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). The CPMC research study is examining the usefulness of personal genome information in health management. The forward-looking, collaborative effort involves volunteer study participants who submit a small saliva sample for genome analysis, answer online health questionnaires about family history, lifestyle and personal medical history, and in return, receive personal risk assessments for potentially actionable health conditions as well as responses to commonly prescribed medications. Coronary artery disease, lupus, melanoma, age-related macular degeneration, prostate cancer, iron overload, and type 1 and type 2 diabetes are currently reported. Future releases include genetic information related to medication response, such as how patients react to Plavix®, a commonly used drug for prevention of blood clots. Coriell has established partnerships with several hospitals and health service providers, including Cooper University Hospital, Fox Chase Cancer Center, Virtua Health, Helix Health of Connecticut and Ohio State University Medical Center. Launched in December 2007, the study will initially enroll 10,000 participants, and also aims to utilize participants’ medical history and genetic data to discover unknown genetic sites that affect susceptibility to disease and response to medications. For more, visit: About OSU Medical Center – Ohio State University Medical Center, located in Columbus, OH, comprises six signature programs focused on cancer, critical care, heart, imaging, neurosciences and transplantation, where each program provides science-based and individually tailored patient care. Ohio State educates a large percentage of the region’s physicians and provides advanced training and continuing education for clinicians. For more, visit: Courtney Kronenthal, Ph.D. Director, Communications & Development Coriell Institute for Medical Research 403 Haddon Avenue Camden, NJ 08103

Egypt’s Revolution – Told by Eyewitnesses

Hosni Mubarak

Image by robertxcadena via Flickr

As many of you are aware, I am of Egyptian origin, I was born in Cairo to a Coptic Christian Family and was raised in the UK until 4 years ago when I moved to California.  I still have lots of family and close friends living there and the past weeks events have been horrific from both a political perspective but more importantly from a human perspective.  No doubt the Egyptian voices are finally being heard by the world through demonstrations organized using Social Media, the call is for Democracy over Dictatorship. In the last couple of days following President’ Hosni Mubarak‘s disappointing reactions – both in his speeches and the fact that he ordered an internet and cell phone black out,  the formerly peaceful protests have turned violent and turned a relatively peaceful country in to chaos.  This evening, after finally restoring internet access I went on Facebook to check on some of my family and friends, what started as a status update – soon turned into an eyewitness account of whats happening in Cairo from my cousin and two close friends.  Here is the discussion which has been cut from Facebook page.  I haven’t edited it but did remove their pictures for their safety.

Ruby Gadelrab Thank you to everyone emailing me to check on my friends and family, everyone is ok although their lives have become chaos – some have moved to living in hotels, some are guarding their homes from looters, no one is going to work and some have been locked in their houses for over a week. Family and Friends in Egypt – please comment on this and give us some eyewitness accounts of what its like for you.

Reem Gadelrab we’re fine.. but its very dangerous… our Egypt is lost and gone… and our men in streets are in dange

Ruby Gadelrab tell us what its been like for the last week – what have you seen and how have you been living?

Sherin Moody Wassif It’s been the scariest time I’ve ever lived in my life. We have been locked up in our homes, looters everywhere and thieves trying to steal our homes. Banks are closed and haven’t seen the street for seven days. Egyptians are the bravest people I’ve ever seen people we don’t know protecting our house. With all this fear I’m surely proud of being Egyptian

Reem Gadelrab we’ve been prisoners at home… very scared… confused… angry… and now very depressed…and now its getting worse and worse… they are burning our country… i’m sure you’ve seen the news… nothing else to be said…

Ruby Gadelrab Reem and Sherin – tell us about life without the internet and cell phones. Tell us what you think should happen from a political perspective.
Sherin Moody Wassif People have the right to express their opinion in the streets in a respectful way but We are living in fear even though Egypt was one of the most peaceful countries in the world
Caroline Emile No internet for 5 days. No mobile phones for a day. Text messages are still diabled. The ATM’s weren’t working until today so no one had cash. Prices have shot up in some places e.g. the 10 pound phone card is now 15 and same with cigaretts…. I went to work on Sunday – Tuesday but didn’t go today as hardly anyone is going and what’s the point without email/internet? There’s lots of rubbish on the streets coz the bin men aren’t collecting it. Egyptian TV is lying lying lying. What else would you like to know?

Reem Gadelrab i’m sorry… i don’t have any political views at the moment… both sides managed to make me feel lost and hurt and my heart is aching for my Egypt..       and honestly the least of my worries was the internet… our safety comes first

Ruby Gadelrab Caroline – What is the Egyptian TV telling you?

Caroline Emile Political perspectives: parliament must be dissolved and the corrupt politicians brought to trial. That’s what the fuss is all about now, that despite a promise of change, no change is really being seen (out of 28 ministers, 15 of the “new” government ministers are exactly the same!)

Caroline Emile How much everyone loves the president and how the protestors at Tahrir can’t be real Egyptians and they don’t love their country bla bla and that “foreign agents” are amongst the protesters and that they’re the ones behind this unrest.
Sherin Moody Wassif U forgot to say we don’t understand what is happening to us and only a week ago life was rosey and now we are locked and scared but still are sad for our Egypt. Egyptians are proud of their country and people why takes this from us
Caroline Emile And they play all these cheesy patriotic songs and barely show you what’s happening at Tahrir.
Ruby Gadelrab Caroline – So the Egyptian media is downplaying the events and the hatred for Mubarak
Caroline Emile I’m not locked up or scared, I go out normally and sleep completely normally at night. Maybe this depends on the area you live in, I’ve heard that things in Mohandessin for example are much worse than in Heliopolis. But the youths/men are doing a great job with the patrols they’re keeping at night watching over every building and street.
Sherin Moody Wassif Ruby the Egyptian museum was burning I’m crying
Ruby Gadelrab they burnt the Egyptian Museum? With everything in it?
Caroline Emile No no, the fire was in the garden of the museum and I think they have it under control now.
Ruby Gadelrab Who set fire to it? What are they doing to protect the antiquities?
Sherin Moody Wassif No one inside Egyptian museum but army is trying to put fire out 😦 I’m heart broken
Reem Gadelrab ruby for now its a big mess… both are ruining everything
Caroline Emile No one has a clue what’s going on now. All I know is that the original PEACEFUL protesters who were in Tahrir for nearly a week starting to go home this morning. Suddenly we found people on camels and horses and with molotov cocktails at Tahrir – supposedly pro-president protesters!
Reem Gadelrab and the protesters who stayed there ( this was told to me by my friends who live around tahrir area) are all people from the islamic brotherhood and a lot of them are not even egyptian.. probably from iran
Ruby Gadelrab Do you think something bigger is going on – ie not just the people protesting but a force either internal or external trying to divide and conquer?
Caroline Emile No one understands why they didn’t open their mouths all this time, they only started appearing yesterday by the TV building and in all honesty it seemed like they were poor people who’d been hired to prance around chanting supporting statements. No one understands why they were allowed into Tahrir today with camels and horses.
Reem Gadelrab but only God knows what is happening and who is right and who is wrong
Caroline Emile Definitely a bigger force dividing and conquering. Like Reem said, most the innocent/non-political youths started leaving Tahrir and the ones who were left were hard-core ones.
Reem Gadelrab and both sides fighting are obviously very professional at what they are doing
Caroline Emile So with this in mind, no one understands why the army left the “pro” protesters into the square and on camels and horses!
Reem Gadelrab and where on earth is the army now? and the police? and the government? and the president? where is everyone????
Ruby Gadelrab Who do the locals think is the bigger force? Who is the TV saying it is? Who do you think it is?
Reem Gadelrab we don’t know… we are left here to our speculations
Caroline Emile That’s what everbody’s asking Reem – that’s why people are seriously considering that this was a deliberate/planned plot, not necessarily from these people but from the NDP hardliners who refuse to lose their seats.
Caroline Emile People are desperate for the president, VP, prime minister or minister of the interior to address the nation and comment on the events of today, but nothing so far ya Ruby.
Reem Gadelrab yes… and on the other side??? the true protesters are not there anymore… who is it? hamas? the muslim brotherhood? Iran?
Caroline Emile I personally don’t think that it’s foreign backed at all. The army could have easily stopped all this but their lack of interference troubles me greatly.
Ruby Gadelrab Please can you explain the position on the NDP – What do they have to gain and how will this help them?
Reem Gadelrab ohhh that’s a very long story… mubarak is NDP… and its all corrupt
Caroline Emile Its to terrorise the remaining people still asking for the president to leave so that they’ll shut up and thank God that he’s still staying to the end of his current term. Its to show that people are willing to fight to keep him on etc etc But my question is – where were all these sympathisers all week?!
Ruby Gadelrab So Caroline, as an educated British raised Egyptian, currently living in Cairo, what do you think is happening? What your theory?
Caroline Emile My main criticism is with the SLOW reactions being taken since Friday morning. Everything that happened from the government side was sooooooo slow. Things could have seriously been different had it not been for the decisions taken since Fri…day morning. The official responses aggravated the protesters even more.
Now that we’re in this huge mess, I think the only way forward is for the officials to address the nation and say that those responsible will be brought to justice (ex interior minister for example – how did 1.25 million police men literally vanish off the streets on Friday afternoon?! That’s what gave way to the looting/destruction and the escape of prisoners from various prisons) and that parliament will be solved. And for people not to go to Tahrir anymore and prove the people falling for the bullshit on TV that they’re not a bunch of irresponsible yobs who don’t care about the future of their country – they were just hijacked and used as scapegoats by other terrorists.See More
Reem Gadelrab are u watching CNN?
Ruby Gadelrab no whats happening?
Reem Gadelrab just watch… im really speachless… they are burning our country
Caroline Emile I don’t know if you watched Mona El Shazly’s programme on Dream 2 – the reporters were saying that they had info that gas cylinders were being moved to roof tops coz in the middle of the night when most news agencies had left, they were going to use them to burn out the remaining protesters. I don’t know how true the reports are but I watched the program and heard it in person when it was live on air.

We will continue this tomorrow as both all my friends/cousins participating in this discussion are currently glued to CNN to see what happens next and what the warnings are for tomorrow….

Why Quora Is Perfect for Life Sciences and Health Care.

Imagine a place where you can ask any question that comes into your head and your question could be answered by anyone in the world with expertise in that area in real-time.  What would you do with it? What questions would you ask?  Imagine being able to showcase your expertise in your field, network with other experts and have lively discussions online, helping you and enabling you to perfect your answers. Imagine this resource of well answered questions from world leading experts is available for everyone to view and participate in.  This is the idea behind Quora.
Quora is a new knowledge social media site, established in June 2009 which is currently attracting over 200,000 subscribers per month as of September 2010 and its users are serious people with some serious knowledge.  Many C-suite executives and real experts from the tech industries have already adopted it and are asking and answering questions,  making industry leaders accessible to the masses.
The social side of it means you can follow specific people, or topics or specific questions.  This means that your feed is always filled with useful information which you have specifically subscribed to.  I see it as an optimized mix of blogging and Wikipedia.  In addition you can link your questions and answers into other social media channels such as Twitter, Facebook and blogs to cast the net of knowledge even wider.
There are a few reasons why Quora has the potential to be particularly useful in the life sciences and health care industries which are by nature competitive, collaborative and educational.
  1. The ability to tie user identity with the act of Q&A hugely increases the credibility of the answers posted on Quora.
  2. It allows and even encourages multiple revisions of content for one question, meaning that the information can be kept accurate and current as new data becomes available.
  3. It shows editorial history meaning that through time, you can see how discoveries were made and how ideas developed through multiple contributor interactions
  4. It supports multiple viewpoints
  5. Quora enables very broad as well as very deep information.  The range of topics is very broad and the contributors are from a diverse set of disciplines. The act of asking very specific questions enables the answers to provide very deep content.
I can see the appeal of Quora for Science and health care, Twitter is limiting by 140 characters, Facebook may be a little too social, linked in is based on connection only not information so Quora could be the answer – a professional way to share information and have people follow you based on the knowledge you can contribute.
So how can this platform be used in the Life Sciences and Health care?
  • Collaboration Makes the most of the collaborative nature of science – imagine a scientific theory or answer where details can be added/edited by leading experts from all around the world in a real-time manner like a collaborative paper authored by all the experts in the world who may or may not even know each other!
  • Communities Provides an excellent platform to develop online communities interested in a specific topic. On twitter there is a very tight knit group of tweeters on genomics and personalized medicine.  Quora could be used a platform to aggregate the incredible content created by that community in one place, as a central resource – think communal blogging.
  • Technical Marketing On the commercial side of science – ie biotech companies and tool providers – we have to remember that no one likes being ‘sold to’  especially scientists – Quora can be used as platform to create technical content which can engage scientists interest in your companies products through data and through peer recommendations. In addition it can be used as the channel for collating  technical information as part of an integrated social media strategy.
  • Medical Advice Imagine the implications for learning about disease from a health care perspective – recently, a member of my family was diagnosed with cancer – I obviously wanted to learn about the disease my first thought (having been a Quora user for a while) was to ask the question – ‘What are the latest cutting edge treatments for Hepatocellular carcinoma?’  Within 20 minutes,  a knowledgeable person directed me to a site where all the latest clinical trials are happening.   Quora is currently limited by the fact that there aren’t that many doctors or clinicians on Quora yet – but imagine the implications for health care if multiple doctors were answering that question and others like it in real-time or at least within a few hours? The next generation of medicine will spawn the e-patient – the Empowered patient where we can quickly access all sorts of experts who can give us the latest medical advice.
  • Education It’s the everyday person that will find Quora interesting as its easy to understand and everyone has questions they have always wanted to know the answers too.  Think what this means from an education perspective.  Science is all about dissemination of information and when it comes to health care – education of the masses is key.  One area where this particularly important is in direct to consumer genomics.  Educating the public on the value of genetic information and what the results mean for them.  23&me is in fact one of the very few biotech companies in the space who have actively started participating on Quora – there are a lot of questions asked and many people answering them too.
  • Recruitment Resumes are out and personal branding is in!  When I am recruiting, (for scientific marketing positions) I like to see a candidates ‘digital footprint’  so first i look at them on linked in.  I look at their experience and their recommendations.  I then look at their twitter presence to see what they are tweeting about and how others interact with them.  I love the idea of being able to see how deep a person’s knowledge is, or how good their communication skills by seeing their activity on Quora.  Science and health care consist of some very complex ideas – in marketing these products I would like to see how succinctly a candidate can explain these concepts to the non technical individual
I’m pretty sure that as the user base increases, so will the applications of Quora, but today, Quora is a platform
  • To learn from thought leaders
  • To teach by contributing your knowledge in your area of expertise
  • To discuss with other industry leaders
  • To network through showcasing knowledge rather than by introduction

In health care and the life sciences today the utility of Quora is limited today by lack of adoption – so go and spread the word and let’s make this a ‘go to’ knowledge networking site for all of us in these industries.

If you have more ideas about how we can use Quora in the life sciences and health care – feel free to add them – I would love to hear about them.