Disrupting the Aging Process

In humanity’s endless quest to live forever, people like Dr. Joseph Geraci, Ph.D. are leading the charge. Along with his Toronto-based artificial intelligence company Netramark Corp, Geraci is using his vast expertise in mathematical physics, chemistry, neuroscience, neuropsychiatry, oncology, and machine learning to change the way we think about treatment of diseases like cancer and, ultimately, extend longevity.

By Stephan Boissonneault.

If you think about longevity for a couple minutes, you realize what’s really happening acting as a professor at Queen’s University and was able to discover, by using his mathematical prowess, a new way to look at the data “and find these different subtypes and predict which women would respond to a platinum-based chemotherapy,” Geraci adds.

After this epiphany Geraci left academia, started a company, and improved the technology with the help of hired computer programmers. In 2015, Netramark was born. NetraAI—which will be available as an online component for clinicians in early 2019—can also recommend drugs on the market for specific diseases. An excellent example is with the Parkinson’s data set. The machine was able to find a subpopulation of patients, predict its outcome and see the heterogeneity between the Parkinson’s and diabetes disease populations. It then suggested Glitazone, a drug that is typically used to treat diabetes, to treat Parkinson’s in these patients. “We thought this was curious, but if you Google Glitazone and Parkinson’s you’ll find out that people who take that drug have a lot lower chance of getting Parkinson’s. So, our machine was able to identify this within two minutes.”

is we’re living longer and we’re getting a lot of diseases in our populations, which are characterized by old age, neurodegeneration and cancer,” says Dr. Geraci. “So, the goal right now is for healthy aging. We want somebody to be 110 years old, but they feel wonderful. Later on, the goal is going to be finding a way to stop telomere shortening or slow it down so much that the average lifespan is going to hit 200 years, and that’s a real possibility.” That possibility is getting closer to be- coming a reality with the technology developed by Geraci and his team. Using machine learning they created an AI that can characterize the differences between diseases on a molecular level.

This instance of medical renaissance is just one of many for Geraci. In his words, it’s all thanks to “augmented intelligence.” “It’s the augmentation between the wonderful human intelligence we have and the monstrous parallel power that computers provide to us to be able to scan thousands of people with thousands of genes in a matter of seconds,” says Geraci. “The way AI and machine learning are helping along this road is their ability to explore the realm of biochemistry in ways that a human never can.”

A huge aspect of aging, for example, is cell deterioration, or rather, halted cell reproduction. The way a person ages is unique to them. It can depend on your microbiome (i.e. your gut bacteria), your heart health, brain health, and genetics. Right now, treatments aren’t targeted enough. With the help of its AI, Netramark is seeking to “cut up” this massive heterogeneity and aim for a more specific target.

“Your immune system and your normal organ cells have a very intimate relationship. So, what happens is sometimes your cells stop reproducing or they have an error. A great way to explain this is why smoking creates lung cancer. When you smoke, you create mutations to your DNA in your lungs and sometimes the mutation does nothing, but sometimes the mutation will be carried on to its daughter cells,” says Geraci.

When this happens, a molecule every human immune system has called P53—what Geraci calls the “sentinel molecule”—checks for errors and mistakes and tries to repair them. “Now, if you can’t repair the mistake, in the wisdom of evolution, what happens is this molecule [P53] calls on another molecule that we call NF-KappaB (NF-kB) and it tells the cell to kill itself, just commit suicide because we don’t want you here to have broken o spring,” says Geraci.

“As we age, our telomeres—this very specific machine in our DNA— they start to shorten, and malfunction and you can’t turn them off. They become dumb and they accumulate this garbage,” he adds.

To simplify, you can think of telomeres as fuses to biological bombs that are slowly shortening. As we age, we can accelerate the burning of these fuses by partaking in things like cigarettes. The question now becomes, how far away are we from fixing these telomeres through medical treatment? Geraci predicts we will be there in 10 more years.

“At some level, we are already there—but don’t get excited. I’m not talking about getting you to live to 150 and still dancing,” laughs Geraci. “Even just taking vitamin D every day can do something towards keeping your telomeres from shortening. This varies from person to person, but yeah, I predict that in about 10 years there are going to be a series of drugs that will be coming out that actually have a massive influence on senescence [cell deterioration with age]. So, they will clean up this factory, this mess of cells that don’t reproduce right.”

And once those drugs start appearing, machines like Netramark’s AI will be even more crucial to learning about the after effects. The other important aspect is knowing how the machine reached its conclusion. Most AI works in what is called a black box, meaning that humans can’t understand how the machine made its decision. Netramark has an algorithm called Deep Crush that you could think of as a glass box.

“It gives you a two-dimensional representation of the way patients are arranged with each other on what we call Netra maps,” says Geraci. “So medical experts are now allowed to go inside the model and get the ma- chine to explain what’s driving the heterogeneity of these subpopulations.” This is not only helpful to clinicians, but also the people receiving treatment. “If you have a child, and God forbid your child has a disorder, and we have a drug that could treat them By using this data, the but it could also kill them, you’re going to want to know what’s really driving this,” says Geraci.

Netramark is essentially painting a new picture of health with its AI and aims to build these “atlases of disease” for health practitioners to learn from and fundamentally, create drugs for. And Geraci envisions more and more growth for Netramark in the years to come. “So, we won’t go by clinical definitions of disease anymore because we’re past that. Our clinicians have done great and they’re passing the torch to these technologies that are able to reveal these sub-diseases,” he says. “Then because of AI’s ability to reconnoiter this biochemical space, we’re going to have a machine that actually generates certain types of molecules to treat these new definitions of disease. So basically, we will be a full-stacked discovery and pharma engine in silico and move from a more classical approach. Dr. Joseph Geraci’s tips for living a healthy life

  • You need people in your life that you like, a community of friends. That’s the most important thing because it drives down our stress … most of us are isolated. Make an e ort to see your friends and families and have meaningful relationships.
  • You have to stop eating sugar and consuming alcohol. Just two units of alcohol can cause damage to your core stem cells in your bone marrow. Drinking is extremely bad for you so cut down on alcohol. Be cognizant of eating lots of fruits and vegetables and stop eating red meat.
  • Exercise at least three or four times a week and at least once a week you need something that will kick the crap out of you, twice is better, but something like Cross Fit. What we call metabolic workouts. Something just horrendous.
  • Supplement with vitamin D, C, and read a little bit about NAD+. Everyone at that age (55 plus) should be taking a B Complex vitamin or some multivitamin. It affects your mood, your telomeres, and everything.
  • Meditation. Learning mindfulness and having that period of letting go. When you perform this practice, you change the way your brain is wired. There’s evidence from MRIs that you actually change the way your brain engages, and this has real effects when it comes to stress. It’s like the ‘you can’t control the waves, but you can learn to surf’ kind of thing and it’s vital for us to live our lives. Even 20 minutes every day can be simple and amazing. After doing it about five or six months, there’s a real noticeable change in the way you perceive your- self and the world. You don’t get attached to all of the emotions that can be very stressful. Stress is a killer.
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