Biology is breaking out of the lab and clinic—and into our daily lives. Our new ability to engineer biology is transforming not just science, research, and healthcare, but how we produce our food, the materials we use, how we manufacture, and much, much more. From the latest scientific advances to the biggest trends, this show explores all the ways biology is today where the computing revolution was 50 years ago: on the precipice of revolutionizing our world in ways we are only just beginning to appreciate. Through conversations with scientists, builders, entrepreneurs, and leaders, hosts Hanne Winarsky and Lauren Richardson (along with the team at Andreessen Horowitz), examine how bio is going to fundamentally transform our future.
In short, bio is eating the world.
Journal Club: Bioengineering Birth
Infertility is a common struggle with limited treatment options, particularly if caused by an issue with the uterus. On this episode of Journal Club host Lauren Richardson (@lr_bio) talks to Professor Anthony Atala about his lab's work engineering a replacement uterus that can -- incredibly! -- support pregnancy and live birth in rabbits. They discuss how the Atala lab created these bioengineered uteruses and tested their functionality, what kinds of conditions they can be used to treat, and potential sci-fi-esque applications.
The Story of Schizophrenia
Descriptions of the mental illness we today call schizophrenia are as old as humankind itself. And more than likely, we are are all familiar with this disease in some way, as it touches 1% of us—millions of lives—and of course, their families. In this episode, we dive into the remarkable story of one such American family, the Galvins: Mimi, Don, and their 12 children, 6 of whom were afflicted with schizophrenia.
In his book, Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family, Robert Kolker follows the Galvins from the 1950s to today—through, he writes, “the eras of institutionalization and shock therapy, the debates between psycho-therapy versus medication, the needle-in-a-haystack search for genetic markers for the disease, and the profound disagreements about the cause and origin of the illness itself.” Because of that, this is really more than just a portrait of one family; it’s a portrait of how we have struggled over the last decades to understand this mysterious and devastating mental illness: the biology of it, the drivers, the behaviors and pathology, the genomics, and of course the search for treatments that might help, from lobotomies to ECT to thorazine.
Also joining Robert Kolker and a16z’s Hanne Winarsky in this conversation is Stefan McDonough, Executive Director of Genetics at Pfizer World R&D, one of the genetic researchers who worked closely with the Galvins. The conversation follows the key moments where our understanding of this disease began to shift, especially with new technologies and the advent of the Human Genome Project—and finally where we are today, and where our next big break might come from.
Food as Medicine
We all know that eating healthy is better for you—and that following that advice is far harder than it sounds, for a multitude of reasons, from culture to preferences to access and affordability. And yet the reality is that access to good, nutritious food is perhaps the most powerful medical treatment we have, when it comes not just preventing sickness, but helping sick people get better—and potentially saving the healthcare system potentially billions in treating chronic disease. So what happens if we begin to treat food truly as a medicine in the healthcare system? How can we really implement this "medicine" into the healthcare system? What are the different approaches, from food delivery to packaging to the content of the meal itself? How can food as a medicine be distributed, paid for and reimbursed, and what role can technology take in increasing access, distribution, and more?
In this conversation, a16z General Partner Julie Yoo talks with Dr. Andrea Feinberg, previously the Founder and Medical Director of Geisinger Fresh Food Farmacy and Josh Hix, entrepreneur and co-founder of the food delivery start up Plated; a16z all about what food as a medicine might look like, whether personal taste and variety matters, how technology might not just help access but shift our snacking tendencies towards health, and the enormous opportunity to impact chronic disease through addressing food insecurity.
Journal Club: Decoding Developmental Disorders
Approximately half of all severe developmental disorders are caused by de novo (new, not inherited) mutations in protein-coding genes. But which genes? In this episode of the Bio Eats World Journal Club, Vineeta Agarwala (@vintweeta) and Lauren Richardson (@lr_bio) discuss a recent article finding new genes linked to developmental disorders and highlighting how many still need to be decoded.
Health—at What Price?
Imagine if the airline industry did not post prices for flights in advance. What if instead of posting fares on travel sites, airlines argued they could only bill you after the flight, because they didn't know what the fuel price will be that day; whether or not you would consume a beverage; if the flight might be diverted or delayed; whether that pilot would have to work harder and bill more in their coding of the flight after they land?
And yet, this is exactly what happens in healthcare. Despite the cost crisis in healthcare, we still don't talk about prices—prices for procedures, for visits, for services. But in January 2021, thanks to new regulation, that will change. In this episode, a16z General Partner Julie Yoo talks with Dr. Marty Makary, surgical oncologist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, health policy expert—and a longtime advocate for transparent pricing in the healthcare system. Makary argues that making prices obvious will change all kinds of behaviors in the healthcare system, not just allowing consumers to "shop" for the best value of different healthcare services, but will drive higher quality standards; minimize things like surprise billing and incentives towards volume; increase the rigor of analyzing the medical appropriateness of certain clinical decisions (do we need this elective procedure or not? is it good longterm value?); affect even how we choose our doctors; and much more.
Journal Club: Defeating Type 1 Diabetes
with Ronald Evans and @lr_bio
In this episode of the Bio Eats World Journal Club, host Lauren Richardson speaks to Ron Evans of the Salk Institute about how two key breakthroughs from his lab take us one step closer to curing Type 1 Diabetes.