Inspiration from the TEDMED Stage

As with many of my fellow Americans, I have been reflecting about events that have been highlighted in 2016 in the media. Racial strife, gun violence and a polarizing political environment were repeated themes throughout the year. Over dinners and social events, the conversations with friends and family have been morose at times, as many are wondering if society is taking a turn for the worse.

I’m here to tell you that isn’t the case — there is a dedicated group of talented individuals working quietly to make the world a better place.

As a recent speaker at TEDMED 2016, I was fortunate enough to meet dozens of these inspiring pioneers and watch them on stage answering a question…


elevenXAR, Inc.

April 1 is an exciting day for twoXAR, Inc. as we are now re-launching the company as elevenXAR, Inc. This comes after tense negotiations with all of our staff. But finally, we are pleased to announce that everyone on the team has agreed to legally change their names to Andrew Radin! We will of course continue the tradition of unique middle names. It’s our honor to welcome Andrew Carl Radin, Dr. Andrew Nikolay Radin, Andrew Aaron Radin, Andrew Tewei Radin, Dr. Andrea Karen Radin, Dr. Andrea Marina Radin, Dr. Andrew Isaac Radin, Andrew Dane Radin, and Andrew Michael Radin II as our new namefellows.

Go, Duma!

The fuzzy line between what can be computed and what cannot

Long before my biomedical informatics studies at Stanford, I learned to recognize the difference between what is computable and what is not. In my past three startups this knowledge has been the key to engineering success.

Recently I made a trip to visit my alma mater, the Rochester Institute of Technology, where I earned my computer science degrees. For those not familiar with RIT, it has been ranked as one the top 10 of universities in the Northeastern United States. Recently, Linked-In ranked RIT in the top 25 for software development programs in the nation, and as #13 for software developers specifically for startups.

While on campus, I reconnected with my thesis advisor, Prof. Stanisław P. Radziszowski. Dr. Radziszowski is a highly-respected computer scientist and mathematician, and is best known for his work in Ramsey theory. He has published a number of works in Ramsey theory, block designs, number theory, and computational complexity. Since 1984, Dr. Radziszowski has mentored and trained thousands of students at RIT and I was not sure if would remember me and my work. I was pleasantly surprised that he not only remembered me, but had my thesis readily available on his bookshelf. He told me that he was very excited about my work in combinatorial mathematics, and in the years since has shown it to students to inspire them to work on similar problems in computability theory.

One of the most important things I learned while a student of Dr. Radziszowski was how to skirt the line between what is computable and what is not. It is easy to imagine scenarios that seem like they should be easily solved with a computer, however there are many problems that turn out to be unsolvable. For example, let’s say you want to build a chemical storage facility. To minimize construction costs, you want to find the minimum number of buildings to store chemicals in, but you have to make sure no chemicals that react with each other are in the same building. Sounds simple, right? Well, turns out that there is no known solution that can be calculated optimally without nearly infinite computational resources.

My thesis at RIT was about the mathematical problem described by the chemical storage problem above. My method struck a balance between computability and complexity, right in the fuzzy center of what can be computed and what cannot. It involved developing a new heuristic which approximated the optimal solution. While my heuristic was not guaranteed to always produce the best solution, it produced a result that was theoretically very close to optimal, and better than other known approximation methods at the time.

Heuristics like these are the way that computer scientists model extremely complex systems. Today, there is no way to model every small detail that make up the complex interactions between organisms, disease, and drug treatments. There are too many variables; and to compute every possibility of interaction is impossible. We have perfected a computational technique at twoXAR that represents complex biological reactions in such a way that accurately reflects reality, but is simple enough to perform fast computation on. This technique is what enables us to go from biological data sets to accurate drug-disease prediction within minutes.

It was a pleasure to circle back and talk about twoXAR with the mathematician who inspired in me the principals behind our methodology all those years ago. Students at RIT should be honored to learn from such a talented individual, and I know the next generation of great data scientists are attending Dr. Radziszowski’s lectures today.

Identifying Solutions for Neurodegenerative and Psychiatric Diseases

I suppose you could call me one of the men behind the curtain at twoXAR. I’ve been here all along, you just haven’t heard much from me. I’m a Data Scientist on the team, and I’m a graduate student at MIT where I’m developing techniques for studying the molecular mechanism of neurodegenerative diseases. My passion is rooted in this research, and I’m excited to tell you about it and how I’m using it to develop our company.

I share Andrews’ excitement for blazing new trails. My work gains insights into how diseases exert their detrimental effects and charts the process of technology development, which involves a lot of hacking and tinkering. My focus is on neurodegenerative diseases because very few effective drugs have been found to treat them. twoXAR is interested in them for the same reason.

In my opinion, it is the lack of mechanistic understanding of these diseases that makes drug discovery for them very difficult. This is also true of psychiatric diseases like autism and schizophrenia. twoXAR’s approach is a promising alternative to testing individual molecular targets experimentally, which academia has spent many earnest years searching for with very poor results. As an experimental scientist, I dream that the data that I work so hard to generate can be used not only by me, but by other scientists, doctors, pharmaceutical companies, and beyond, who can leverage them to better effects. (Side note from Andrew A.: We’ll have a post soon about our take on the benefits of capitalism for medicine and society as a whole.)

As you already know, twoXAR has developed an algorithm that can discover new drugs through a computer, rather than a wet lab. However, that algorithm still relies on gene expression data from patients and healthy individuals, so we’re using the same hard data from flesh and blood samples. Instead of using them ourselves, we borrow data from scientists who actually processed these samples. In order for our algorithm to work accurately, these data are carefully inspected and annotated, which is where I come in. My role is to identify the most suitable data sets about the diseases we’ve chosen to focus on from published scientific studies for our algorithm(s).

We’ll get into the nitty gritty of my work for twoXAR in a later post. For now, I’ll jump on the band wagon Desiree started and let you guess which of these three facts is false. It’s another round of Two Truths… and a Lie!

  1. I went as an enzyme to last year’s Biology department Halloween party.

  1. In my off-time, I enjoy a solid game of table tennis and a good cookie.

  1. This picture captures me injecting brains into a tube.


Computational Pharma: An Emerging Rotation

After three years of medical school and a whirlwind year of clerkships, I’m taking a detour from the strictly medical and enjoying a trek through the biotech pharma universe. It’s Day 10 on this special Silicon Valley incarnation of my medical, technological, and entrepreneurial interests, and I’m into it so far.

I recently decided to take a break from clinics and get to know the startup world, and I attended a Hacking Medicine event at Stanford to get a sense of what was out there and meet some interesting people. Andrew M. was one of them, and our conversation wooed me to join the team in business development at twoXAR, while also offering my medical know-how when and where it’s needed. Here are a few things they didn’t know about me before signing me up. The catch: one of them is false. That’s right, here’s a good old-fashioned game of Two Truths and a Lie:

  1. I performed in a med school a cappella group called the “Lymph Notes.”
  2. I consider biking a superior form of transportation to skateboarding, though it’s not always faster in Palo Alto traffic.
  3. My beverage of choice is butterbeer. I’m obsessed with Harry Potter.

Before I reveal the Lie, I’ll tell you a little more about why I’m excited about being at twoXAR that may or may not help you figure out which it is.

I’ve always been interested in computation as a way to push forward and improve on existing systems and processes. When it comes to work I’m passionate about, I’ll step outside my comfort zone to solve a problem from multiple angles. Thus, I’ve gone from cutting cadavers in medical school to investigating ways that technology can expedite cures by making sense of countless tissue samples of data. Of course, now I don’t have to touch or interact at all with human tissue, which is totally okay with me. I’m more than happy biking to the twoXAR office and spending the day tackling problems in pharma.

Have you figured it out yet? Here’s a hint: I’m keeping twoXAR well-stocked with buckwheat tea. No butterbeer here.

A Dose of Weekend Hacking: Hosting Stanford Medical School Hackathon

Last weekend, as part of MIT Hacking Medicine, I helped host the CareInnovations Patient Engagement Hackfest at Stanford Medical School. The Hackathon is an innovative weekend program that aims to create “more effective and reliable connections between patients, clinicians, and the information that can improve the quality and cost efficiency of healthcare” (Find out more here).  You may have seen my tweets about it all weekend. The event was sponsored by CareInnovations, (an Intel and GE joint venture) and went from Friday through Sunday, with about 100 participants attending the event. It was a really exciting crew of people with extremely varied backgrounds – it was just my type of crowd.

A large percentage of participants were clinicians, business & medical school students, software developers, and designers with industry experience. When you collect brilliant doctors, organization leaders, and computer scientists in the same room to discuss solutions in the healthcare space, you hear a lot of creative and fresh ideas about how to revolutionize medical care.

This weekend’s focus was on patient engagement, so we concentrated on questions like how to make it easy for patients to take their medication, how to collect accurate patient data in a useable format for physicians, and how to create medical tools that allow the patient to directly engage with their own health. It started with 30- and 60-second pitches on problems and solutions in the space and over the course of the weekend, teams self-assembled based on the specific problems they wanted to solve. In the end, 9 teams hacked and presented some pretty innovative hardware, software, and service-based solutions.

The most valuable element of this experience was seeing that these diverse teams could create incredible and unexpected solutions to a given problem and it reminds me that a diverse team is what makes for a successful business venture. I’ve worked on teams made up completely of engineers and teams composed of MBAs, and inevitably teams of people with the same ways of thinking will miss something important. The best way to create a sustainable solution to a problem is to have a team that can ideate from as many angles as possible.

I came out of the event energized and ready to tackle big issues in healthcare. As an entrepreneur in the space, I was inspired by the teams at the hackathon. I got to see firsthand and with immediate results, how unconventional and diverse approaches to old problems are not only effective: they can change our world.

At twoXAR we embrace this mindset and strive to build a team with radically different backgrounds and ways of thinking who can effectively come together to improve lives through computation. In fact, post the hackathon, Stanford medical student Desiree Li joined the team to support us both on the science and business development side. I guess Silicon Valley is the place to find the crossover between doctor and entrepreneur.

Just Another Day at the Office: Our New Palo Alto Digs

It seems every other post lately is about a new milestone. Here’s another: we’ve moved! Last Friday afternoon, we signed a lease on a great office space in Palo Alto. We just moved in Monday of this week, and we’ve broken in the 850 square-foot space with a little skateboarding already. It is a great place for us to grow, and our neighbors are awesome.

They’re actually our landlords and a fellow startup called Buttercoin, an open source digital trading engine using bitcoin software. The CEO, Cedric Dahl, is a like-minded fellow: he also rides a motorcycle.

From our desks we look out the plate glass entrance of our office onto Cedric’s custom built bike, built upon a handmade frame. He parks it on the sidewalk out front for all to admire… I do the same with my bike which is detailed with a custom Domokun by a former colleague and graphic artist.

On an hourly basis passerbys stop to take a solid look at our bikes (and often take some photos as well) and we’ve decided we’re going to stand outside and take a poll. The public must be heard: which bike is cooler?

What do you think? free polls

What’s in a Name?

Call it fate or a series of wild coincidences, but the way in which the twoXAR team has come together is uncanny.

A few years ago, I was approached by a stranger looking to buy the rights to a url I own, That happens to be where you are, by the way. It seemed strange—it’s my name after all, and I couldn’t imagine why someone else would want the rights to a url with my name. It turned out that it was the stranger’s name as well, middle initial M instead of mine, A. The two of us got to talking and discovered that though we are at different stages of life and were living on opposite coasts, we both had an interest in entrepreneurship and the sciences. Aside from that, we just got along.

I didn’t sell Andrew M. Radin (I’m Andrew A. Radin) the url—he didn’t have anywhere near the dollars it would take for me to let it go. But over a few years, we became good friends. As I am a few years further along in my career, he would call for suggestions or advice, and I would call to toss ideas around.

When I realized the power and potential impact of what I had developed that would become the basis for twoXAR, Andrew M. was one of the first people I thought of. I asked him if he wanted to be a co-founder at my new company and build a business plan. I also offered him a place to crash in my house (twoXAR’s Co-Founder Moves West), and he, my wife, Xelda the beagle, and I have been one big happy family for the last couple of months while twoXAR gets ready to launch.

Meeting Andrew M. also inspired the name for the company. Have a closer look at it if you don’t understand why. The image on our company page (have a look at the image) gives a clue about how to pronounce it.

Recreational Protein Folding

A favorite pastime of bio-geeks is to search the amino acid chains of proteins for everyday words or phrases. This is, of course, a silly endeavor, as applying the English language to the single-letter codes that represent each amino acid might as well be random noise as far as Mother Nature is concerned.

But, I couldn’t help myself from looking. Given that my name and my co-founder’s name has been the source of much fun, I went looking for it.

The closest match to ANDREWRADIN in protein language is in the oxidoreductase protein which is expressed in a form of bacteria known as sulfitobacter. This best-match amino acid sequence is AENREWRADI. Hmm, not exactly a perfect fit.

My namefellow decided, after I shared my dissatisfaction with him, to head over to raptorx and render an imaginary protein comprised of CARLFARRINGTANANDREWRADINANDREWRADINHEFFSAN, which represents the names of some of the people who are working with us at twoXAR. With only twenty-two letters of the alphabet available as codes for amino acids, some liberties had to be taken. For your viewing pleasure, an image of the CARLFARRINGTANANDREWRADINANDREWRADINHEFFSAN protein is included with this post. See the pink, swirly pasta noodle thing? I was surprised to see an alpha helix in what is otherwise random characters. Perhaps there is some order in the randomness of our names after all.