The Buck Institute for Research on Aging’s Impact Circle Picks its 2017 Project

When given the option of research projects to support, Buck Impact Circle members recently pooled their resources and chose to invest $120,000 in research aimed at exploring the protective effects of a ketogenic diet on the complications of diabetes.

“The Impact Circle is one of the most exciting and rewarding programs at the Buck,” says President and CEO, Eric Verdin, MD. “It brings donors close to the scientists they support and it provides invaluable start-up funds for early stage research projects.”

Here’s how the program works: Each year Impact Circle members are presented with a number of projects that focus on “dream big” research projects – collaborative efforts between Buck labs that are not far enough along to qualify for government funding. Faculty “pitch” their projects to the Impact Circle, and members vote on which project to support. A $5,000 donation guarantees one vote and is the entry point for the Impact Circle; this year a Buck Trustee, who wishes to remain anonymous, matched contributions from new members who joined prior to final voting, enabling the group to hit an all-time high in support.

“My wife and I so enjoy being part of the Impact Circle,” said Dayton Coles – he and his wife Sheri are long-time members of the group. “We get to know the scientists and it’s a thrill to be able to make a difference in their work.” Past Impact Circle projects have led to successful applications for federal funding and have resulted in high impact publications. “There’s great comradery in the group and it’s one of the best ways to keep on top of the latest research,” he said.

This year’s project could lead to new therapeutics

This year’s Impact Circle project is a joint venture between the Kapahi and Verdin labs, focusing on the complications of type 2 diabetes. The work could lead to new therapeutics for conditions including cardiomyopathy, neuropathy, chronic kidney disease and Alzheimer’s.

The science is aimed at AGEs (advanced glycation end products). AGEs are toxic molecules that form when the reactive by-products of sugar metabolism attach themselves to proteins and DNA.  AGEs affect nearly every cell type and are a normal byproduct of metabolism – they are not usually a problem for those who eat a healthy diet. As might be expected, AGEs are a real issue when blood sugar levels are chronically elevated, as in diabetes. The increase of AGEs may explain why diabetes is one of the biggest risk factors for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.  And it doesn’t help that AGEs accumulate with aging.

A perfect collaboration

The project is a perfect marriage between the two labs. Working in simple animals, the Kapahi lab has developed unique expertise in AGEs, and the Verdin lab has special know-how in mouse metabolism.  “We are very excited to move our basic research in worms and flies into mice,” said Buck faculty Pankaj Kapahi, Ph.D. “We are very grateful to the Impact Circle for backing a project that will provide evidence to support clinical trials of metabolic interventions to prevent or maybe even reverse diabetic complications.”  Scientists in the Kapahi lab showed that enhancing fat metabolism reduced AGEs, reduced neurodegeneration and extended lifespan in the simple animals. Significantly, researchers identified the cellular pathway involved in both sensing and repairing AGEs.

The Verdin lab brings its experience studying ketogenic diets to the project.  Ketogenic diets are extremely low in carbohydrates and high in fats – in mice they shift metabolism from sugar to fat. The Verdin lab has already observed that a ketogenic diet extends lifespan and preserves cognitive function as mice age – this project will take it to the next step. “The Impact Circle support will allow us to understand why a ketogenic diet works,” said project co-leader John Newman, MD, PhD.  “We’ll be able to measure the accumulation and clearing of AGEs and identify molecular targets for drug discovery that could prevent dementia in both diabetics and non-diabetics. This work in mammals is an essential step on the way to the clinic.”

The skinny on ketogenic diets

Low carbohydrate, high fat ketogenic diets promote the formation of ketone bodies which are created in the liver and pass into the brain, replacing glucose as an energy source. The ketogenic diet is currently used to control epileptic seizures in children. Its neuroprotective effects in mice have piqued the interest of some consumers who want to get a leg up on maintaining brain health.

But ketogenic diets are hard to follow and maintain; this project may help provide some help in that area.  Newman, who is also a practicing geriatrician at the San Francisco VA Medical Center, will test compounds that promote ketone body production in both diabetic mice and normal aging mice.  “We want to see if these drugs or ketone body compounds act as signals that turn on fat metabolism and clean AGEs. Maybe the treatments will be sufficient to provide protection so that going on a stringent diet won’t be necessary,” he said.

In the meantime, avoid AGEs! 

Both Kapahi and Newman say keeping blood sugar at a healthy levels will go a long way to protect against production of toxic AGEs.  But both warn that AGEs can also be consumed directly in the food we eat.  Charred meat is loaded with AGEs – as is almost any food that has been fried or heated to a high temperature.  (John Newman aptly compares AGEs to soot left from a wood burning fire.) Unfortunately, AGEs taste good, making them hard to resist. Kapahi says it’s a dilemma for both humans and for those simple animals.  “When we give worms options to either eat their regular food or AGEs, they always go for the AGEs.” he said.

Friedman’s Home Improvement and Sonoma Raceway 4th annual STEM Race Car Challenge

More than 1,900 North Bay students from 33 schools and clubs will take part in the 4th annual STEM Race Car Challenge, presented by Friedman’s Home Improvement. This curriculum-based event, which is a partnership with Sonoma Raceway, Kid Scoop News and Friedman’s Home Improvement, focuses on educating students about the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Groups of student engineers from 33 North Bay elementary schools and youth groups, a record level of participation for the program, will be tasked with developing a gravity-powered race car utilizing recycled materials. Kid Scoop News has worked closely with teachers to develop a STEM-based curriculum that challenges students to think critically and work collaboratively to build the quickest car. Activities in the STEM Race Car Challenge, presented by Friedman’s Home Improvement are designed to introduce and reinforce both national common core standards and 21st century job skills.

Students will put their purpose-built race cars to the test in a series of qualifying rounds at each school, which will narrow down to a group of students who will compete in the final round on Saturday, June 24, of the Toyota/Save Mart 350 weekend. The winning student engineers of the STEM Race Car Challenge will serve as VIPs during the Carneros 200 NASCAR West Series race on Saturday, receive a trophy and tickets to Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 race, courtesy of Friedman’s Home Improvement.

Sonoma Raceway has partnered with Sonoma-based Kid Scoop News, a children’s literacy non-profit that publishes and distributes a free monthly reader to 500 classrooms and 18,000 kids in the North and East Bay, on the race car challenge. Kid Scoop News has been key to the program, as the organization is a leader in providing high-interest content that motivates kids to read and explore topics, including STEM. Through their effort, the number of participating schools has nearly tripled from 12 schools in 2016 to 33 schools in 2017.

North Bay schools and clubs participating in this year’s STEM Race Car Challenge include:

  • Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Sonoma County: Camp East Santa Rosa; Camp North Santa Rosa; Camp Roseland; Camp Windsor; Camp Cloverdale; Camp Guerneville; Camp Healdsburg and Camp Rohnert Park
  • Boys and Girls Clubs of Sonoma Valley: Sassarini Elementary School; El Verano Elementary School; Altimira Middle School; Flowery Elementary School and Dunbar Elementary School.
  • Coleman Elementary School (San Rafael)
  • Dunbar Elementary School (Sonoma)
  • El Verano Elementary School (Sonoma)
  • Flowery Elementary School (Sonoma)
  • Hidden Valley School (Santa Rosa)
  • Jefferson Elementary School (Cloverdale)
  • La Tercera Elementary School (Petaluma)
  • Loma Verde Elementary (Petaluma)
  • Lynwood Elementary (Novato)
  • Marguerite Hahn School (Rohnert Park)
  • Meadow Elementary (Petaluma)
  • Napa Junction Elementary School (American Canyon)
  • Prestwood Elementary School (Sonoma)
  • Sassarini Elementary School (Sonoma)
  • Sheppard Elementary School (Santa Rosa)
  • University Elementary (Rohnert Park)
  • Waldo Rohnert Elementary (Rohnert Park)
  • Washington School (Cloverdale)
  • West Side Elementary School (Healdsburg)

“The unique thing about STEM activities is that the students are able to connect the challenge of building a race car to the real world at Sonoma Raceway,” said Vicki Whiting, content developer and publisher of Kid Scoop News. “While the students are having fun with race cars, it is reinforcing their core STEM curriculum.”

NASCAR fans and guests are invited to watch the finals of the STEM Race Car Challenge, presented by Friedman’s Home Improvement at 10 a.m. on Saturday, June 24, in Sonoma Raceway’s Sunoco Victory Lane located just south of the main grandstand. For tickets or more information on NASCAR’s annual visit to Sonoma, visit www.SonomaRaceway.com/NASCAR or call 800-870-RACE.

Midstate Construction Completes Camphora Apartments

Camphora Apartments

May 2017

Owner Eden Housing and general contractor Midstate Construction Corporation recently completed Camphora Apartments in Soledad, CA.

Designed by KTGY Architecture + Planning of Oakland, this project includes demolition of existing site and new construction of a 44 unit, two story, wood framed affordable housing community.

This project began with the complete demolition of existing farmworker housing built in 1960. Site renovations include onsite well and storage facility fire pump, photovoltaic panels, freeway sound wall, built-in BBQ areas, play areas, low water landscaping with drip under sod.

A new sewer system with lift station was created and tunneled below U.S. Route 101 and a Union Pacific Railroad line to tie into a City of Soledad force main that serves the state prison. Work was successfully coordinated with the correctional facility to tie into the sewer force mains without affecting their inhabitants.

Each unit has independent climate control via attached heat pumps. Each unit receives hot water via a local insta-hot water heaters. Combined with ubiquitous photovoltaic panels, onsite well and sewer, residents experience very low monthly utility bills.

Camphora was certified as LEED AP Homes Platinum.

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Sonoma Raceway Hosts Pacific Gas and Electric Military Career Day

What do the military and NASCAR have in common?

Military careers, military lifestyle, and NASCAR are all about high performance. Military candidates and military spouses have the core competencies and values employers need for their best performance. The transition from military to civilian life is still not always easy, so Sentinels of Freedom – a nationwide 501(c)(3) nonprofit – works to ease the process for severely wounded and injured veterans as they pursue higher education and find career-focused employment. Many companies need diverse candidates who are agile leaders with mechanical, technical, and processing skills – qualities that veterans possess and can contribute to the workplace.

Job Seeker Registration

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Job Employer Registration

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What:

To highlight PG&E’s 1,000 Careers Project and its commitment to hire 1,000 veterans by 2023, PG&E has joined forces with Sentinels of Freedom and Sonoma Raceway to invite you to participate in the 3rd annual Military Career Day event. The day will feature workshops, panel presentations and a job fair. The event will focus on translating the skill sets for military members transitioning to the job market, and will include information on non-traditional careers for disabled veterans.

Who:

Open to all active, guard, reserve, veterans and military spouses.

Where:

Sonoma Raceway, 29355 Arnold Dr., Sonoma, CA

When:

Friday, June 23, 2017

10am – 11:50am – Job Fair & Workshop

Noon – 12:20pm – Jesse Iwuji Q&A (NASCAR driver and active duty Lieutenant in the US Navy serving as a Surface Warfare Officer)

12:30 – 1:00pm – Leadership Panel

This event will take place as part of the Toyota/Save Mart 350 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event weekend at Sonoma Raceway.

For questions please email: MilitaryandDiversityTalentOutreach@PGE.com

Redwood Credit Union Races to Support Local Nonprofits

Redwood Credit Union (RCU) employees contributed over $45,000 to local nonprofits by sponsoring, fundraising, and participating in Human Race events in Sonoma, Marin, and Mendocino Counties. More than 100 volunteers, including employees, family, and friends, walked or ran in the Sonoma and Mendocino County races, which took place on Saturday, May 6th, 2017, while RCU’s Marin and Napa county branch locations raised funds for local nonprofits through the Bay Area Human Race, which took place at the Marin County Fairgrounds on May 13th, 2017.  The Human Race events are put on by the local volunteer centers in each county.

Human Race participants in all four counties collected pledges and raised money for local nonprofits of their choice. At the Sonoma and Mendocino County Human Race events, RCU’s mascot, Reddy the Redwood, posed for photos and offered moral support to walkers and runners.

“RCU supports numerous fundraising events throughout the year, but the Human Race is special in that it allows our staff to raise funds for whichever nonprofit they are truly passionate about,” said Mishel Kaufman, senior vice president of risk management and team captain for RCU’s Human Race efforts. “There is such strong support throughout the community for the Human Race and we’re always excited to be a part of that.”

Redwood Credit Union is an active supporter of the communities it serves, through sponsorships, fundraising and volunteering. In 2016, RCU employees and officials collectively volunteered more than 4,100 hours at community events.

About Redwood Credit Union

Founded in 1950, Redwood Credit Union is a full-service financial institution providing personal and business banking to consumers and businesses in the North Bay and San Francisco. RCU offers complete financial services including checking and savings accounts, auto and home loans, credit cards, online and mobile banking, business services, commercial and SBA lending, wealth management, investment and financial planning services, and more. The Credit Union also offers insurance and discount auto sales through their wholly-owned subsidiary. RCU is over $3.5 billion in assets and serves over 285,000 Members with full-service branches from San Francisco to Ukiah, more than 30,000 fee-free network ATMs nationwide, and convenient, free online and mobile banking. For more information, call 1 (800) 479-7928, visit www.redwoodcu.org, or follow RCU on Facebook at facebook.com/redwoodcu and Twitter at @Redwoodcu for regular news and updates.

Redwood Credit Union Voted Best Credit Union

Redwood Credit Union (RCU) was named “Best Credit Union” in the Marin Independent Journal’s first annual Readers’ Choice Awards celebration held at the newspaper’s headquarters in San Rafael on May 3rd and featured in a special 2017 Readers’ Choice Awards issue.

“We’re honored to be named ‘Best Credit Union’ by readers of the Marin Independent Journal—it’s always rewarding to be recognized, but especially when it’s directly from the people and communities we serve,” said Brett Martinez, RCU president and CEO. “With a growing membership and three locations in Marin County, we’re looking forward to even further helping Marin residents, businesses, and the community succeed,” Martinez added.

With $3.5 billion in assets, RCU is one of the largest of nearly 6,000 credit unions nationwide. Serving over 285,000 members, RCU has 19 North Bay and San Francisco locations, including its newest branch at 695 E. Blithedale Ave. in Mill Valley’s Alto Plaza shopping center. Additional Marin County branches are located at 209 Third Street in San Rafael’s Montecito Plaza Shopping Center, and 1010 Grant Avenue in Novato.

One of the many ways RCU gives back to the Marin community is through a special relationship with Marin’s nonprofit SchoolsRule. Every time Marin residents use their RCU credit or debit card, RCU makes a donation to SchoolsRule Marin, which funds arts, health, technology, and literacy programs for all public school students in Marin County.

About Redwood Credit Union

Founded in 1950, Redwood Credit Union is a full-service financial institution providing personal and business banking to consumers and businesses in the North Bay and San Francisco. RCU offers complete financial services including checking and savings accounts, auto and home loans, credit cards, online and mobile banking, business services, commercial and SBA lending, wealth management and investment services, and more. The Credit Union also offers insurance and discount auto sales through their wholly-owned subsidiary. RCU has $3.5 billion in assets and serves over 285,000 Members with full-service branches from San Francisco to Ukiah, more than 30,000 fee-free network ATMs nationwide and convenient, free online and mobile banking. For more information, call 1 (800) 479-7928, visit www.redwoodcu.org, or follow RCU on Facebook at facebook.com/redwoodcu and Twitter at @Redwoodcu for news and updates.

Arrow Benefits Group Develops Proprietary Process That’s Bringing in More Business

At 31 years old, Andrew McNeil knows he needs to prove himself when meeting with a prospective client.

“I couldn’t just go out [and say,] ‘Here are the plans, here are the rates,’” McNeil, principal at Arrow Benefits Group in Petaluma, Calif., and a 2017 EBA Rising Star in Advising, says about prospecting. Instead, he quickly learned he needed to be different.

In the North Bay area of California where his firm is based, unemployment is at 3% and employers are struggling to attract and retain talent. McNeil saw that as an opportunity to “reverse engineer,” he says, to figure out how employers can get the people they want — and retain them.

“It’s not benefits,” he explains. “Especially in the small-group market, benefits are all the same. Employers can offer identical packages. The focus that people put on benefits needs to change; they are one piece of a bigger picture.”

The idea is that employees — particularly millennials — would rather work for a company with a culture that fits them in lieu of higher salary or better benefits. McNeil designed a survey that went out to Arrow’s three dozen team members to better understand the needs of his employees. Incorporating the results is part of the process he embraces to create change in the workplace.

Six key angles
As a result of that survey, Arrow launched Culture Insights, an innovative process through which a personalized plan is developed for employers to help them operate at their highest potential by examining the company from six key angles: purpose, mission, values, company culture, HR and employee benefits.

It’s a process that has helped McNeil win clients. “When I go out to younger decision makers and talk about our philosophy and lay out those six angles, employee benefits is the last thing,” McNeil says. “You can’t put effective benefits in place if you don’t understand the culture and have a clear mission, purpose.”

“When I talk to people, [I] can tell it is refreshing that they have not heard that before,” he adds. “Many brokers are looking to push a health plan, which isn’t wrong, that’s been our business model, but it doesn’t seem like the best way to do it.”

McNeil has been in the business for a little more than 12 years and knows that freshness has allowed him to bring these innovative ideas. “It brings a different prospective because my experiences are different than someone who has been in the business 35 years and might be 65 years old,” he says. “You go through life and have different experiences and think different ways.”

BioMarin wins FDA approval for life-changing drug for kids — with a $700,000-per-year cost

Rare disease drug developer BioMarin Pharamceutical Inc. won regulatory approval Thursday of a drug that promises to change the course of a fatal childhood neurodegenerative disease.

San Rafael-based BioMarin’s Brineura is the first drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat children with CLN2, a form of Batten disease. And patients will pay for the innovation — $702,000 a year, or $27,000 per carton every other week — though the company (NASDAQ: BMRN) said it will offer hefty discounts.

It took four years from BioMarin’s first clinical trial of the drug to FDA approval, a relatively fast timeline in an industry that says drug development generally takes 10-plus years and more than $1 billion.

As a side benefit of approval, BioMarin also will receive a rare pediatric disease priority review voucher, which it can use to cut months off the typical FDA 10-month review of another drug — or it can sell the voucher to another company. BioMarin sold a voucher in 2014 to Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. for $67.5 million.

Available in June, Brineura is an enzyme replacement therapy that slows the rate of decline in most patients with the disease, which leads to seizures, loss of sight and speech and motor skills and, eventually, death by the time children are 8-12 years old.

There are 14 known variations of Batten disease, but CLN2 is believed to be one of the most prevalent subsets of the disease. Every year, about 20 children are born in the United States with the disease; there are about 500 U.S. children overall affected by the disease.

CLN2 patients can’t make a specific enzyme that collects neuronal garbage, so neurons can’t properly recycle in the brain.

BioMarin, led by CEO Jean-Jacques Bienaimé, said the cost of the drug is due to the “innovation factor,” the small number of patients and manufacturing costs.

“Treating children with CLN2 disease requires an extraordinary amount of collaboration between families, hospitals, advocates and physicians,” Bienaimé said in a press release. “We are grateful for the partnership of all those involved and look forward to continuing to work together to make Brineura accessible to children who may benefit.”

Basin Street Properties Buys Seven Santa Rosa Buildings

Basin Street Properties has made a big expansion to its holdings of commercial property in Sonoma and Marin counties, buying seven Santa Rosa office buildings from a real estate investor and developer known for some of the area’s more prominent buildings.

Reno-based Basin Street’s Santa Rosa portfolio now exceeds 1 million square feet with the purchase of 337,360 square feet of space from Simons & Woodard. Architect Larry Simons, who turns 80 in May, has been designing and developing Sonoma County buildings for five decades.

The purchase price wasn’t disclosed.
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