Robert L. Blum, MD, PhD




Sphere of Interest

WebBrain: AI
neurosci psych

Stanford Brain Lecture Notes

The RX Project:
Robotic Discovery

CV Biblio (1985)


Index of Essays

Psychology &
Neuroscience brain-icon

Computer Science,
Robotics, and AI

Health & Biotech

Earth Wisdom: Universe

Be Saved by Bob!!!
(And Other Balms )

Optimal Nutrition:
Are Fats Killers
or Saviors?


Consciousness Video:
Who, What, When?

Stan Dehaene's
Consciousness & Brain

Near Death Experiences: In the Desert With Pim Van Lommel

Fine-Tuned for Life?

Neuron Videos Say
Forget Realistic AI

EUV 2014 - Future of Moore's Law

BAM: Brain Activity Map of Spikes

Beating Jeopardy!
What is Watson?
AI Overlord or Tool?

SETI: Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence

KEPLER Seeks Earth-like Worlds

STEVE PINKER in the Amazon: photos

Billion Year Plan:
AI Formulation

AI Awakens

CONSCIOUSNESS as Global Resonance

SEAN's Accident

Coronary Artery
CT Scan: Yes!

Book Review: TRANSCEND

Book Review:
Create a Mind

Does Drug X


Total Recall:
Everything, Always

Ralph Triumphs:
Elbot Cheers

Scientists &
Evangelicals Unite

Thomas Berry,
Geologian: Obituary

Calorie Restriction
Works in Monkeys!

TheBrain &
WebBrain: Review


Health & Biotechnology

Optimal Nutrition: Are Fats Killers or Saviors?
Here are the keys to happiness: HEALTH, WEALTH, and WISDOM -
LOVE, and FREEDOM. Health always comes first;
as the saying goes - without it, you have nothing.
Now, here are the keys to good health: nutrition, sleep, exercise, freedom from toxins,
and freedom from pain and stress
. Nutrition is a difficult piece to get right, but It's
well worth the effort. You are a community of ten trillion cells, each in
continuous equilibrium with what you eat. So, what's the optimal recipe?
Say you eat 2400 calories per day, and let's say 400 calories are protein.
How many of the remaining 2000 calories should come from carbs and (hence)
how many should be from fats (the remainder). This issue has vexed medical researchers
for decades. Here, I examine the issue in detail and show you
some of the best free articles and videos on nutrition.

Carmat Heart

Carmat: Artificial Heart Triumph
This is a stunning breakthrough: a permanent (goal is 5 years) artificial heart!
I've closely followed this story from French biotech Carmat. They've been
tight-lipped since their first patient died in early 2014 after surviving only 75 days.
Their second patient, a 68 year old man, went home in January 2015 and had been
pedaling his stationary bike like mad. He died in May, 2015
having lived a normal life for 9 months. Their third patient was implanted
in April 2015 and is still doing well as of November, 2015.

Now, I'll address comments made by others
"It's expensive at an estimated cost of $200,000." No!
200K is rounding error compared to OR and ICU charges
for many terminal heart patients. The value of a human life
is > $5 million or about $100,000 a year (per the statisticians.)

"It's too large for women." It is now. That's because it's only version 1.0 .
Next, we'll see them in different sizes (and maybe designer colors.)
Besides, women's heart disease starts on average ten years after men's.
Go visit residents in a senior facility (an "old folks home.") The vast majority
are women; most of the men died from heart attacks years before.
(Gals: one solution is to marry younger guys (unless wisdom is what you seek.))

"The market is small." No! There are millions of patients worldwide
with terminal heart failure and grossly insufficient numbers of donor hearts.

Bridge to Transplant - For many patients awaiting a donor heart
the Syncardia artificial heart has been the best solution. It's been
implanted in 1400 patients enabling many to go home.

Another of my favorite cardio-companies is Heartware, maker of LVADs. Check out
their Longhorn pump (preclinical.) It spins at 21,000 rpm and kicks out 7 liters per minute.
Also see these inspiring stories from Thoratec from recipients of their HeartMate II LVAD
and also read about Thoratec's HeartMateIII, now in trials.

Here's former Vice President Dick Cheney chatting about his heart transplant.

Tim Russert: Dead at 58
The Case for Coronary Artery Calcium CT Scanning

If famed newscaster Tim Russert had had a Coronary CT Scan, he might still be alive.
Here I present the argument for doing a Coronary Artery Calcium Scan.
This is a story with a highly personal angle.

Automated Medical Discovery: the RX Project
A computer, tirelessly combing through patient records, looking for
new medical knowledge - this was my PhD thesis project almost 40 years ago -
an early example of data mining and machine learning under AI control.
RX garnered many contracts and awards and was presented worldwide by myself and
my co-PI and thesis advisor, Stanford CSD Prof. (now Emeritus), Gio Wiederhold.
Imagine how hard this was to do in the late 1970s in the era of
mag tape, scant megabytes of core, and crawling CPUs.

calorie restricted monkey

Calorie Restriction Slows Aging in Monkeys
This was a "stop-the-presses" story that broke in July, 2009.
A 20 year long study found that Rhesus monkeys fed a nutritious, low-calorie diet
had far less heart disease, cancer, and diabetes than controls that ate 30% more.
Monkeys on the diet out-survived the controls by 50% and had much less cerebral atrophy.
Lose weight now! (if you want to look more like the sleek fellow on your left)

The Inner Life of a Cell
This incredible 3 min.animation was done for Harvard by BioVisions.
Their director, David Bolinksy, tells the story in a longer version presented at TED. .

Similarly, biology animator Drew Berry shows us the incredible nanotech involved
during cell division when DNA replicates and is pulled apart by microtubules. Magic!

Whole Genome for a Hundred Dollars
In 2010 I attended the Foresight nanotech conference. One of the show-stoppers
was this brief video showing Pacific Biosciences' SMRT tech which sequences DNA bases
in real-time (msecs) as DNA polymerase incorporates each base:
an outstanding example of genomics riding Moore's law.

Transcend: A Book Review for Amazon
Transcend is a May 2009 book by Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman.
I had avidly read their previous health book, Fantastic Voyage.
This is my review of the book for Amazon. It rates a B+.

Does Drug X Really Work?
This is a long overdue essay on evaluating medical evidence.
My main criticism of Transcend is Ray's and Terry's lack of skepticism.
Every new vitamin or supplement seems to be greeted with unbridled enthusiasm.
I spent 10 years studying biostatistics. The default hypothesis is that
Drug X does NOT Work. This essay shows you what it takes to show that it does.

Transcend Drugs!!!
In my drug evaluation essay above, I emphasized the Natural Standard -
a group of university clinicians that publish comprehensive reviews of supplements.
I looked up each of the supplements in Transcend to see how they were rated by the experts.

Sean's Accident
The saga of my son Sean's broken arm. The photos are not for the faint-hearted.

Synthetic Coronary Artery Bypass Grafts
(Atherosclerotic coronary artery disease is the major killer in the United States.
If the artery was a plugged drain pipe in your kitchen,
you'd simply buy a replacement.
So, why aren't synthetic coronaries available?
This is a brief overview of one company's struggle to develop a synthetic graft.
(2012 Note: That company, known as Cardiotech in 2009, has discontinued this development.)

Paleo Nutrition in a Nut Shell
The latest fad with a few of my (very smart but non-physician) friends is paleo-nutrition,
as exemplied by PaNu, run by radiologist/ enthusiast Kurt Harris. The above YouTube
clip is five minutes well spent. Here's what I'm confident is right: 1) not eating junk food,
2) keeping fast carbs to a minimum (and thereby minimizing insulin secretion),
3) losing weight if you're fat, 4) being active. Beyond that, Dr. Harris and his inspiration,
Gary Taubes of Good Calories, Bad Calories, are on thin ice, evidentially.
Their wholesale rejection of the "cholesterol hypothesis" (hyperlipidemia
as a cause of atherosclerosis) ignores decades of evidence. Consuming vast quantites
of animal fats (saturated fat) to improve your health is dubious and condemned.
(That's not to say that they're wrong; it's just to say there is scant supporting evidence.)
(Note: this was a stub for my longer article - Optimal Nutrition, which is now here.)
Meanwhile, if your doctor has you on statins
like Lipitor for heart disease, I'd ignore Harris's advice to stop them.)

Hard Work and Open Mindedness
Click on the Philosophy button when you get to Nina's website above.
This is a collection of quotes about doing research - it's hard work, so
"you can't rise to the top by sitting on your bottom." And the importance of an open mind,
as in these. "Discard a pet hypothesis every morning before breakfast." And this:
"The great tragedy of Science - the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact.
Or this: "You can sleep with a model, but don't marry a model." And finally, a lesson
I learned from my thesis advisor - thank you, Gio Wiederhold -
"Don't worry about people stealing an idea -
if it's original, you'll have to ram it down their throats!"

Antidepressants as Expensive Placebos
CBS's popular TV show 60 Minutes just did a segment on antidepressant drugs
(video above). Lesley Stahl's story reinforces the increasingly documented claim
that antidepressants work by a placebo effect. In this must-see video
she interviews Harvard's Irving Kirsch, whose persuasive book,
The Emperor's New Drugs: Exploding the Antidepressant Myth,
has garnered considerable praise. Although I had long suspected that the efficacy
of these drugs has been exaggerated (eg, where's the black market for Prozac?),
my suspicions were heightened by studies that appeared in the NEJM in 2008 ,
in JAMA in 2010, and many others.) This is a multi-billion dollar industry.
While the effect of these drugs may be largely placebo-based, the side effects are
quite real and can be devastating. I'm guessing that this contributed to
Britain's new NHS policy to de-emphasize antidepressants.

There are a host of biases that interfere with drug trials - prominently,
regression to the mean and surveillance bias. (See my essay
Does Drug X Really Work?) BTW, I'm not a therapeutic nihilist -
it appears, eg, that ketamine anesthesia acutely benefits severe depression.
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), a traditional therapy for severe depression, is
far less safe. For mild depression, I'm far more enthusiatic about sunlight,
exercise, friendships, and cognitive therapy (CBT).

BTW, to repeat Lesley Stahl's warning, if you are currently taking antidepressants,
only discontinue them under professional supervision.

Happiness - Sonja Lyubomirsky
Here is Sonja's work on happiness lessons set to a rap tune.
Here - a couple of her lectures at Stanford - one in Psychiatry and also
a panel hosted by the eternally sunny Katie Couric.
And, here is an excellent TV interview in which she presents her findings. Happiness has
two separate pieces: your current emotional state (what's improved after a cup of coffee)
and, more important, how you're progressing toward your life's goals.

MRI Scan for Prostate Cancer Using C-13 Pyruvate
I first heard about metabolic MRI scans while hiking with an MRI researcher in 2010.
C13 pyruvate is cooled and magnetized, then injected into the patient, where it is selectively
taken up by fast metabolizing cancer cells. This increases the MR visibility of the cells
by 50,000X. No more guessing about whether treatments are working!
The video tells the story.

Retina Prosthesis

Stanford Artificial Retina

Above is a video of the Stanford Retinal Prosthesis under development in the lab
of Prof. Dan Palanker. The Stanford prosthesis is wireless, deriving both its power and
its visual data from 900 nm infrared beamed to it thru the eye from goggles.
This 2012 pdf describes it in detail. A May 2015 Nature Medicine update
(Lorach et al) shows that visual acuity will be far higher than any existing prosthesis.

There are a dozen or so implanted visual prostheses under development. In this video
ophthalmologist Craig Blackwell comprehensively reviews these projects.
Addendum 2013: The FDA has just approved the Argus 2 artificial retina.
See this NY Times article including video and a 2010 video on the Argus 2.
Also, see this new 1500 pixel retinal implant in human trials in Tubingen
that uses photomultipliers (and no video camera).

Shockwave for Atherosclerosis
In June, 2015 Stanford Prof. Todd Brinton presented his company
Shockwave Medical's new catheter for busting up atherosclerotic lesions
from the inside using ultrasound. If you're a male over 60, you've got lesions.
I do and so do you. It's not yet FDA approved. Meanwhile, you can do this.

Make Health Last: Your Last 10 Years
This one minute video beautifully conveys the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.
It's what you do everyday that counts: what and how much you eat, your sleep,
physical activity, love, friends, mental clarity and freedom from anxiety.

And, here's Jay Leno's take on being 63 - Taylor Swift's 22 was a "ripoff."

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