SENS4 Conference Coverage From Ouroboros

Ouroboros contributer Kristen Fortney is covering the 4th Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence conference, presently underway in Cambridge. A wide range of researchers are gathered for one of the few scientifically respectable conferences to focus on the elimination of aging and repair of age-related damage in the old - though a lot of the work presented yesterday only pertains to slowing the progress of aging.

Some selected excerpts from the first two days of the conference are linked below, and you might want to wander over to the SENS Foundation website and look at the conference presentation abstracts or the program to see what's coming up next.

SENS4, Session 1: Combating oxidation

Cathy Clarke tested an original and interesting approach to avoiding free radical damage to poly-unsaturated fatty acids, or PUFAs: isotope reinforcement. ... The basic idea here, explained in an earlier paper, is very simple: heavier isotopes make stronger bonds, so isotope-reinforced PUFAs will be more resistant to free radical attack. Will these results transfer to higher organisms? Is there any chance that the deuterium could get incorporated into other molecules, stabilizing proteins that we want to degrade? The authors plan to follow up this study in worms and mice.

SENS4, Session 3: Optimising metabolism against aging

Stephen Spindler described his (ongoing) project to screen a large number of potential lifespan-affecting compounds in mice - so far, several candidates look promising. Interestingly, he also argued that the majority of previous studies measuring the effects of various compounds on rodent life expectancy suffer from serious flaws. In particular, he argued that many of them were confounded by a possible calorie restriction effect: mice are picky eaters, and if you change their diet by adding some compound to it, they will often eat less of it.

SENS4, Session 4: Adult regenerative capacity

Brandon Reines presented a counterintuitive result on regeneration: sometimes old animals have a higher regenerative capacity than young animals. In particular, if you punch a hole in the ear of a young mouse, then it won’t heal; but in a middle-aged mouse it will heal completely. He argued that this happens because mouse ear connective tissues never fully differentiate, and suggested that other neural-crest-derived connective tissues might show similar properties.

SENS4, Session 5: Eliminating recalcitrant intracellular molecules: the lysosome

John Schloendorn discussed ongoing work at the SENS Foundation Research Center to develop new enzymes that can degrade harmful intracellular junk that accumulates with age. So far, they have discovered enzymes that can degrade A2E and 7-ketocholesterol, which are implicated in macular degeneration and osteoporosis, respectively. Their next step will be to construct a drug delivery system to get these enzymes to lysozomes ... On the lighter side, Schloendorn also described some of the Center’s methods for building functional lab equipment on the cheap, all good examples for aspiring DIY biologists.

SENS4, Session 6: Eliminating recalcitrant intracellular molecules: other

Claude Wischik spoke about preventing aggregation of tau protein, which is implicated in Alzheimer’s disease. Clinical trials of their aggregation-inhibiting drug Rember are promising: it seems to slow the down the rate of cognitive decline in patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.

SENS4, Sessions 9 and 10: Rejuvenating extracellular material

Kendall Houk gave a very interesting talk on computationally designing enzymes from scratch. They plan to apply their recently published protocol to develop enzymes that can reverse the formation of Advanced Glycation End-products (AGEs) - sugar-modified proteins that accumulate with age and are implicated in several age-related diseases.

Interesting how badly organised science is. You write "The authors plan to follow up this study in worms and mice." In any other environment such as the military, business or even government, such lack of planning and forethought would be very unlikely if not impossible. It would never occur to any competent manager to allow Clarke's experiments without some form of longer term planning, contingency plans, decision making trees, etc.

It could similar to this: "Our overall goal in this project is this and we choose to test this approach. If you achieve these specific results, we will allocate this funding to several next steps, which we outline in advance."

Only in science can projects be funded on no basis of rational analysis whatsoever, in a totally random fashion and without any forethough (or afterthough or any thought for that matter). It's amazing that we see any progress in science under such conditions.

Posted by: Danila Medvedev at September 7th, 2009 12:26 AM

While planning is important, too much of it can also be a problem.

That's part of the reason why high risk, high potential return projects don't get funded enough. Because they are too uncertain, and it's hard to write the grant proposal when you don't know what's going to happen.

"If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn't be called research, would it?" -- Albert Einstein.

Posted by: Michael G.R. at September 8th, 2009 3:08 PM
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