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   34 episodes



Finding Genius Podcast

Richard Jacobs

34 episodes

Nov 29, 2020

Asking the Hard Questions: Bioethical Issues in Healthcare with Margaret Somerville 

As medical technology advances, the "should we" questions take on even more complexity. This episode takes a fascinating look at the principles of bioethics through numerous illustrative bioethics examples with noted bioethicist Margaret Somerville. Listen and learn

  • What the four levels of decision making regarding bioethics in medicine are, 
  • What will be the hardest ethics questions in the immediate future and what are her thoughts on these issues, and
  • How she's faced controversy for her opinions and why she continues to speak honestly about her ethical stances. 

Margaret Somerville is a professor of bioethics in the School of Medicine in Sydney. She received her doctorate in the field in the '70s just as major advancements in genomics and genetics heightened the complexity for bioethics in medical technology. She lends listeners the language and schemata for how people in her profession consider the most difficult medical questions. She lists the four levels of decision making, from the micro or individual level up to the global level. She and Richard then discuss specific examples, including the response to COVID-19. While Richard feels they've been too restrictive and caused other kinds of suffering, she points out that the hard lockdown Australia implemented, briefer but even stricter than the U.S., led to much less infections and deaths. She feels that if Fauci's recommendations had been uniformly followed immediately, the U.S. may have found itself in a better position now. 

She points out that there is harm caused even while implementing policies for good. Bioethicists help decisions makers consider what to do when there is conflict between the four decision-making levels, and calls it the "world of competing sorrows." She says that sometimes in bioethics in medicine, the decision is "who will you harm?" She adds, "Often, there is harm in the good that we do—we need to be aware of that," and justify the decisions made by facing this. She also talks about up-and-coming issues including alteration of the human germ line, ectogenesism, and creating artificial sperm or ovum. She discusses how she has handled controversy regarding her own opinions and her overall world view. 

For more about her, see examples of her work at Available on Apple Podcasts:

Nov 28, 2020

Fighting Perinatal Infection with Phage Therapy 

This podcast explores how one researcher is working to keep babies safer without turning to antibiotics. Group B Streptococcus (GBS) presence in the mother is a leading cause of neonatal morbidity and mortality. Doctors often treat mothers with antibiotics to curb the infection, which presents its own complications. Richard interviews a microbiologist working on alternatives. Listen and learn

  • How GBS transmission happens and what screening processed is used,
  • What different strains of GBS exist and are they equally infectious, and
  • How phage therapy may be the best solution to decrease infection rates while leaving the microbiome of the baby balanced and healthy.

In this episode, Richard speaks with a researcher specializing in perinatal microbiology and infections of the perinatal period. She examines how these infections can modify the outcome for mothers and babies. By looking at the epidemiology and how GBS strains change regarding capsule type and other factors in different regions, she hopes to learn more about the bacteria to utilize a bacteriophage for infecting the bacteria. What's a bacteriophage versus a virus? One way to understand the difference is to consider the host: bacteriophages are viruses that infect bacteria. The bacteriophage life cycle is intertwined with the host bacteria, and many researchers are looking at bacteriophages in the human body as a treatment alternative to antibiotics. 

Because antibiotics are used to treat bacterial versus viral infections and can kill beneficial organisms inhabiting the baby, phage therapy may benefit babies in multiple ways. GBS transmission occurs during the vaginal birth process if the mother has the bacteria. While some babies can remain healthy despite this, others are infected with harmful results including death. Therefore, widespread screening is in place, testing the mother. Generally a mother is given antibiotics a few hour before labor. This microbiologist is researching candidate phages for therapy and also trying to understand more about natural exposure to phages during pregnancy. Listen in for more about this dynamic and potentially life-saving work. Available on Apple Podcasts:

Nov 27, 2020

Relief from Migraines and Headaches: Migraines Explained with Dr. Sylvia Lucas 

Suffering from the pain of headaches and migraines? This podcast offers vital information for those who experience migraine symptoms. Dr. Lucas helps listeners both understand what we know about these conditions and explains different therapeutics and what they do. Listen and learn

Dr. Sylvia Lucas is a Clinical Professor Emeritus of Neurology at the University of Washington Medical Center. She brings an approachable, clear delivery of information for all-things-migraine in this episode. Her overview includes an explanation of why research has been less than optimal until recently. Research wasn't there in the early part of modern medicine in part because it was considered a "women's condition." Because stress is one of the most common triggers, sufferers were told to "buck up." But now scientists have a biological model and resources such as imaging to invest in careful study.

For the most part, migraines are thought to be a genetic process. There are about 40 major and hundreds of minor genes linked to migraines. A major class of drugs to treat migraines called triptans were developed in the '80s and then advancement in therapeutics stalled. Recently, however, CGRP drugs were introduced, which are small molecule drugs. They block receptors very specific to migraine pain. In spring of 2020, one such drug called Nurtec was released, which can be taken without water and brings relief within an hour. She explains in detail how and also discusses daily habits that might help. She emphasizes the help a regular routine can offer migraine sufferers as well as other stress-relieving habits. She also talks about her current research into concussions and headache-related symptoms from this injury. Listen in for more about strategies for relief. 

For more information, see the National Headache Foundation and the American Headache Society. Available on Apple Podcasts:

Nov 27, 2020

Tales of Surgery: Tyler Rouse Talks History of Surgery Timeline and More 

A Canadian physician has taken an historical approach to examining surgery, from ancient Greece to modern medicine and surgery. He started a podcast called Legends of Surgery and talks about some of the most interesting tidbits in this episode. He discusses

  • Historical markers such as the sickness that lead to hand washing and why Europeans call the operating room "theater,"
  • The ways modern surgical procedures, step-by-step, have evolved over thousands of years, and
  • How modern surgery technology may evolve with robotic surgeries and other advancements.

Tyler Rouse specializes in anatomical pathology as a physician but has always been a history buff, especially regarding surgery. He spends his free time researching the specific histories behind surgery and has made an entertaining and enlightening podcast about his more significant finds. For example, he's examined the horrors of J. Marion Sims, long considered the father of modern gynecology, who performed cruel experiments on slaves. He discusses big leaps in surgery such as an important connection one doctor made about hand washing: Ignaz Semmelweis noticed that women were developing infections at a high rate after delivering their babies. He found out that medical students delivered babies right after working in the morgue, giving the women terrible infections. While the medical community shunned him, his findings eventually led to the vital practice of hand washing.

He also discusses modern surgery techniques, such as impediments to improvement, risky types of surgery, and how the hardest decision a surgeon makes is typically when to operate. He and Richard talk about how to assess whether a surgeon is capable or not and other ways to navigate the system. He examines the attitudes toward the classification of surgery and medicine, how ancient medicine precluded any questioning and therefore any forward movement. He notes that while we now are better about not being limited by the "dogma" of tradition, we still could use a more open approach toward adopting advancements. Listen in for more interesting stories about the history of surgery. 

Legends of Surgery is available through most podcast sites and is on Facebook and Twitter. Available on Avpple Podcasts:

Nov 25, 2020

Hope In the Midst of Psychological Effects of Chronic Illness: Nathanael Zurbruegg Shares His Story 

This podcast shares an amazing story of overcoming the hardship of severe chronic kidney disease management. Nathanael lost his kidneys as a young child and suffered years of ups and downs from treatment. He shares his thoughts on chronic illness motivation that has helped many across the world. Listen and hear

  • Why the different treatments he received after his chronic kidney disease diagnosis almost broke his spirit,
  • How he adjusted his mindset at a critical point in his life that led to his current status as a global speaker, and
  • Where he is now both medically and emotionally and about the nonprofit he'd like to begin. 

Most who suffer from kidney conditions pass through the chronic kidney disease stages and have some time to adjust. But Nathanael Zurbruegg lost his kidneys as a one-year-old boy due to a chronic disease and went through years of kidney transplants and dialysis when each kidney failed. This up and down cycle broke him and as a young adolescent, after another transplant failed, he felt that he wanted to end his own life.  From that day on, he received spiritual, emotional, and physical support. He came to a realization that he had to accept that "this is my life." At age 13, when another transplant failed and doctors told him he couldn't receive another one, he realized he could seek his dreams in other ways, such as through his imagination. 

Eventually, despite dialysis, he was thrilled to be able to go to Australia. He tells listeners that even though our bodies may be broken, we can ease our mindset and set our expectations for a better future. He says that there are ways to reach for hope and imagine good things about one's future, and discusses some of the ways he does this. Eventually, he began public speaking, traveling globally to reach out to different people around the world. He started his own website and works to inspire others to not let one's past and limitations define their future. 

For more about him, see his personal website,, and his business site, Available on Avpple Podcasts:

Nov 25, 2020

The Elusive HIV Reservoir with Researcher Matt Gartner 

In addition to HIV prevention, one of the biggest topics for HIV research is finding a cure. While antivirals are able to control and suppress the virus, it’s still able to keep its foothold in infected subjects. This podcast talks to one researcher who's helped scientists understand that persistence. Listen and learn

  • How HIV infection manifests as productive and latent infections,
  • What his study showed about the lack of viral evolution and means of proliferation, and
  • What stands as one of the more promising potentials for a cure, namely the "shock and kill" approach.

Matt Gartner is a research officer with Subbarao Group, researching common infectious diseases. His PhD work focused on infectious diseases microbiology, most specifically HIV. Like many infectious viruses, after the transmission of HIV, the virus usually undergoes a latent period. However, the latent period has a couple of mysterious characteristics.  Dr. Gartner studied the ability of HIV to establish a strong latent reservoir, which allows the virus to persist in people even if they're on antivirals. He explored two questions in his work: how does HIV establish this reservoir and how is this reservoir being maintained even under antiviral retro therapy.

His research found very little signs of virus evolution, suggesting the antiviral drugs are good at blocking replication. But they found a large percentage of sequences in the patient that were identical, which has important implications: this points to a proliferation of immune cells copying the same strain. Dr. Gartner thinks that a patient's immune response helps the reservoir expand when it responds and replicates to attack a specific pathogen. As it replicates, it produces clones of the HIV retrovirus. While this means "any particular cure strategy will be very difficult to carry out," he discusses one that has potential called the "shock and kill" strategy. Listen in for more about this theory and other details on HIV infection mechanisms.

For more about his work, he suggests searching PubMed and ResearchGate. Available on Apple Podcasts:

Nov 24, 2020

Viral Translation Strategies: Aurelie Rakotondrafara Talks Plant Viral Infections 

It's all in the translation, especially for plant viruses. This podcast takes an interesting look at virus expressions in plants and their ability to coopt cellular machinery for their own purposes. Listen and learn

  • The basics methods a virus uses to infect a plant cell, including insect-vector mechanics,
  • The challenges a virus faces inside the cell to use the ribosomal translation factors, and
  • The ways this knowledge may be used to speed production of vaccines. 

Aurelie Rakotondrafara is an associate professor of biology at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. She brings an infectious awe to all things viral as she discusses the ways plant viruses work in this episode, from viral gene transfer to viral resistance in plants. Her particular focus is on viral gene expression—how viruses manage to outcompete other cell molecules to make proteins. The primary goal for any virus, whether animal or plant, is to enter their obligate host cell and replicate. But plant cells have an impenetrable cell wall; unlike with animal viruses, there's no endocytosis or similar entry method. They often use a vector to put them inside the cell—the majority of plant viruses are transmitted by insects, who are able to penetrate the cell wall and secrete the virus.

Aurelie Rakotondrafara's research focuses on what the viruses do once they are inside that cell as they work to coopt the cell's ribosomes. The plant uses ribosomes to make their own proteins and the virus needs to work a complex strategy to trick the ribosomes into making their proteins instead. The majority of plant viruses are RNA viruses, and they are competing with a million of the plant's mRNA that are already floating in the cytoplasm. Dr. Rakotondrafara studies the unique strategies that the viruses use to do this. She discusses some of these tricky strategies and mentions one particular wheat virus she studies in detail. That virus has such a tremendous ability to translate that researchers may see if it can be used to speed the production of vaccines.

For more about her work, see her lab's web page: Available on Apple Podcasts:

Nov 24, 2020

Fighting Neurodegeneration with Tau Tangle Blocking: Oligomerix CEO James Moe Explains 

There are still no disease-modifying therapeutics for dementia patients, but James Moe thinks that will change soon. This podcast discusses research on a particular drug that's showing promise, but also helps with understanding Alzheimer's disease progression. On a hopeful note, James Moe emphasizes how close the neurodegeneration research community is to developing significant breakthroughs. Listen and learn

  • Why Oligomerix chose to focus on the tau protein when many other companies were working with amyloid,
  • How their therapeutic prevents tau from misfolding and forming tangles that harm neurons, and
  • Where they are in clinical studies and what the research community as a whole might offer.

Oligomerix, Inc. focuses on neurodegenerative diseases of the brain, such as the management of Alzheimer's disease. James Moe says that when they started the company, they decided to focus on the tau protein despite a contemporaneous emphasis on amyloid. Among other reasons, their thought was to focus upstream in the pathway by blocking the tau protein from binding to itself. Their research showed that neurodegeneration is connected to the neuron damage resulting from tangles the protein accumulations caused.  This began their quest to develop self-association assays for tau. 

Almost 6 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer's disease symptoms and it poses a significant burden on health care costs of our country in addition to the pain of patients and families. But developing preventions of Alzheimer's dementia and effective treatment is no small task. However, because there's been so much investment by the medical community, James Moe feels that the field is developing a "mass amount of knowledge . . . and is on the cusp for major therapeutics." Their own research has shown in vivo data where phosphorylation was diminished in three different regions throughout the molecule. This should prevent the misfolding that leads to neuron-damaging tangles. Listen in for more about the exciting potential of this therapeutic. 

For more about the company, see their web site: Available on Apple Podcasts:

Nov 23, 2020

Modern Forensic Genealogy with Colleen Fitzpatrick of Identifinders International 

Are you a mystery fan who also loves science? This podcast is for you! Considered the founder of modern forensic genealogy, Colleen Fitzpatrick shares how genetic genealogy works. Listen and learn

  • How she became interested in the possibilities of genetic genealogy for solving crimes,
  • What are some examples of her more interesting cases, and
  • What her advice is for those interested in getting into the field.

Real genetic genealogy crime mysteries aren't solved after the next commercial, says Colleen Fitzpatrick. "It's hard," she adds. "It's not a couple-of-hours deal." Based in Southern California, Identifinders International helps find people, alive or deceased. They might help solve issues around unclaimed property or fraud cases as well as identifying victims and perpetrators in violent crimes. Colleen Fitzpatrick actually has a doctorate in nuclear physics, so is no stranger to the hard sciences. In 2011, it occurred to her that the markers people used in genetic genealogy were the same markers forensic science was using to get crime scene Y chromosome DNA profiles. She realized she could take a forensic Y DNA profile and compare it to genetic genealogy databases and identify the last name of a criminal.

In 2015, the Phoenix Police Department hired her to apply genetic genealogy to cold cases and her work helped solve the Phoenix Canal Murders. She tells listeners some of the intricacies of this case, including how she helped narrow the suspect list from thousands to a list of five, and then, after a little more police work, helped correctly identify the killer. She shares more examples of genetic genealogy solved cases and discusses how those interested in the field might start practicing the kind of work she does. She also explains upcoming advancements in the field, including knowing "more and more with less and less," integration of mapping and facial reconstruction, and better technology over all.

For more about her work and company, see their website: Available on Apple Podcasts:

Nov 23, 2020

The Mystery of Metabolic Diseases: Paul Titchenell Parses out Metabolic Effects of Insulin 

Scientists all over the world are working on the same question facing Paul Titchenell's lab: what are the pathways that lead to metabolic diseases? This podcast explores what happens between the liver, pancreas, and blood stream during the metabolism process of the human body. Listen and learn

  • How the Titchenell Lab works to map the signal transduction pathways that insulin uses to coordinate metabolism,
  • Why the liver is the primary focus in these pathway studies, and
  • How the mechanism or action of insulin to maintain lipid synthesis while not controlling blood sugar stands as the biggest mystery.

Paul M. Titchenell is an assistant professor of physiology at the University of Pennsylvania. His lab is trying to understand the basic mechanism of insulin action. He describes their process as a diverse approach through studying cells through the mechanism of insulin action in vivo and in animal models. Their goal is to understand the pathogenesis of metabolic diseases associated with aberrant insulin action, like insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. Like many disease mysteries, he explains that to understand what goes wrong, scientists need to understand what goes right in normal physiology by mapping the signal transduction pathways that insulin uses to coordinate metabolism. 

They are focused on the liver in particular because the liver makes glucose to provide our bodies with energy while we are fasting and/or sleeping. Hormones involved in metabolism include insulin, which tells the liver to stop that glucose production. However, insulin "resistance" can trigger the body to try make even more insulin to maintain that part of the pathway. At this point, the overproduction of insulin causes problems scientists are trying to understand. The mystery includes the varying levels of metabolic capability at this point. The Titchenell Lab, as well as many other scientists, are trying to understand why insulin continues to promote lipid synthesis in the liver during conditions of insulin resistance while failing to control blood sugar. 

For more, see his lab's webpage,, and find him on Twitter. Available on Apple Podcasts:

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