Why Recent Protein Folding Advancements Should Change Your Personal Health Strategy

by lisperati2 min read3rd Dec 2020No comments


FuturismMedicinePracticalWorld Modeling

I'm not a sports person, but anybody can appreciate the wisdom in Gretzky's famous quote "I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been."

Based on my current age of 47, as well as actuarial tables for US males, I estimate I have about 40 years of life expectancy left, assuming zero progress in medicine in the intervening years. This means that, within a margin of error, I can expect to most likely die in around 40 from one of the following causes of death most prominent in the elderly population of advanced nations:

  1. Cancer
  2. Heart Disease
  3. COPD
  4. Infection
  5. Stroke
  6. Neurodegenerative Disease

However, I believe [1] it is likely we will enter a new age of "computational medicine" in the near future, where we can use computers to accurately simulate disease processes to improve treatment. If the recent potential advancements in solving the "protein folding" problem hold up to scrutiny (see https://deepmind.com/blog/article/alphafold-a-solution-to-a-50-year-old-grand-challenge-in-biology) I feel it is likely that advanced simulation of cell behavior and disease processes will become tractable within  my lifetime. It may even be possible to perform such simulations for individual patients, allowing us to fashion highly targeted, patient-specific treatments.

Which brings me back to the original premise of this post: Can we predict where "the puck going to be" in 40 years?



Certainly, some of these diseases should be far more attackable through a "computational medicine" strategy than others. I think it is likely that the diseases that can be reduced more easily with such technology are the diseases that are (1) simpler at a cellular level and (2) located in a more accessible region of the body, allowing for less invasive treatment. Therefore, I have the following WAGs (Wild-Ass Guesses) for which diseases will less common in 40 years:

  • Heart Disease (LESS COMMON)
  • COPD (???)
  • Infection (LESS COMMON)
  • Neurodegenerative Disease (???)

Putting this list into words: In the future, it is possible that fatal cancer will be far less common, since cancer has (comparatively speaking) far simpler cellular mechanisms than the other diseases, since they usually result from gene mutations that should be relatively easy to treat with targeted therapies. The only reason cancer is currently so deadly is because of the great variability of cancers between patients- However, this variability should be easy to untangle if we can run patient-specific simulations of cell behavior.

Infection and heart disease should also be somewhat less common in 40 years: Both of these are more complicated disease processes at a cellular level than cancer, but I think could still see significant benefits from "computational medicine".

The least impacted disease modalities in this list should be those that involve toxic byproducts of cell metabolism (very complicated at a cellular level) and those that involve the brain (hard to reach with therapies).



Based on this line of thinking, I therefore guesstimate that I am most likely to die from either COPD or Neurodegenerative disease. I think it is therefore wise for me to spend my "motivational budget" for health matters to minimize my risk for these specific diseases, and to not waste too much of my "budget" on risk factors for other diseases on this list.

I haven't thought more than 10 minutes on how this would break down to specific advice, but here are some initial (though possibly poorly informed) thoughts.


  • Cardiovascular exercise
  • Abstaining from inhaled tobacco/cannabis
  • Low carb diet, better diet (minimize free radical formation in the brain and avoid other metabolic damage)
  • Brain exercises (evidence of efficacy of these is iffy I hear)


  • Avoidance of carcinogens
  • Avoidance of Fat/Sodium
  • Avoidance of stimulants
  • Worrying about injuries secondary to exercise (i.e. infections secondary to surgical treatment for chronic joint/back disease should be less of a concern in the future)

Again, these are still very early thoughts I have on this question. If lesswrong finds this line of thinking useful, I'm sure others can greatly improve the details of the underlying thoughts in this post.

-Conrad Barski

 [1] I have a medical degree, however I am not currently working in a medical capacity and am not an expert in microbiology or related field. Please view anything I write here with a large dose of epistemic caution.


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