The SENS Research Foundation advocates, organizes, and funds rejuvenation research based on the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) program. The aim is to produce the means to repair and reverse the fundamental known differences between young tissue and old tissue, things like damaged mitochondrial DNA and a build up of various forms of hardy metabolic waste product that impair cellular functions. This isn't so far away as you might thing: some of the presently envisaged approaches are within a couple of years of practical technology demonstrations in laboratory animals, given sufficient funding.
The SENS Research Foundation remains the only easy way to donate funds that will go towards research very likely to produce meaningful extension of healthy life when complete. There is no other group that has yet proceeded as far down the road of building a network within the longevity science community, establishing an organization, and gathering support for a research strategy devoted to effective ways to reverse the course of aging in the old. We'd like to see that change in the future: the SENS Research Foundation budget is growing but still small, and it will take hundreds of millions of dollars over the next decade or two to complete SENS or something like SENS. The SENS Research Foundation must continue to grow, but it will be good to see other SENS-like groups following the same path and working on many of the same problems. Competition makes the world go round, and more funding speeds progress.
Given that the SENS Research Foundation is growing (the annual budget has increased from $1 million to $3 million in the past couple of years) you might not recognize many of the new staff. The Foundation puts out the occasional post to feature members of the research team, coordinators, and affiliated scientists, and here are four noted in recent weeks:
Dr. Ehud Goldin has recently joined SENS Research Foundation as head of the Research Center's A2E degradation project. Dr. Goldin [worked] with Fabry disease before joining the NIH's National Human Genome Research Institute as a staff scientist. There, he developed models for high-throughput drug discovery and conducted drug development studies for Gaucher's and Parkinson's diseases.
These numerous experiences have given Dr. Goldin over eighty publications, along with a deep understanding of lysosomal storage diseases. He brings this expertise to the SRF Research Center's own lysosomal storage work: his new project is to enable the lysosomes of retinal pigment epithelial cells to degrade A2E. A successful treatment that follows this strategy could prevent or even cure age-related macular degeneration. Dr. Goldin hopes to bring this project into an animal model, and follow it with more work on the various forms of lipofuscin that build up in lysosomes and drive age-related diseases.
One of the best parts of my outreach positions was always working with student researchers. Research mentors will work alongside the SRF interns at the bench, but I am excited to play a role in developing presentation and data interpretation skills via feedback on reports and presentations. Being around education all my life, I couldn't help but love to learn. The variety of research that the SENS Research Foundation supports is astounding. It's going to be fun learning more about these projects through my work with the interns and through the upcoming online seminar series that will highlight the work of some of the top aging-related research labs in the world.
Ali returns to the SRF Research Center this summer to work on the problem of damage to mitochondrial genes. Mitochondrial genes are prone to damage from by-products of cellular respiration, which leads to a loss of cell function. Ali's 2013 summer project will be to investigate two possible methods of supplying proteins to the affected mitochondria, in order to restore proper function. This fall, Ali will begin the next chapter of her career as a Biomedical Engineering graduate student at the University of Minnesota.
The work that has come to define Dr. Lagasse's career began with an NIH Director's Transformative R01 Award in 2009. Lagasse had proposed a radical new idea: that transplanted cells from organs like the liver might be able to develop, grow, and function within the lymph nodes of living organisms. The miniature organs produced in this way would have the potential to save the lives of patients waiting for an organ transplant, or even to cure some conditions outright. Within three years, Dr. Lagasse had published his team's success in Nature Biotechnology. The results were striking. Not only could mice be saved from a deadly liver disease with hepatic cells transplanted to the lymph nodes, but diabetic animals could have their blood sugar brought back to normal using pancreatic islet cells. Mice lacking a proper immune system could similarly be saved using cells from the thymus. Dr. Lagasse will discuss this very project during SENS6's ninth session, "Beyond organ transplantation." We're looking forward to learning more about his work, his latest results, and his plans for the future.
As I've said numerous times in the past, helping the SENS Research Foundation to grow, gather more support, and prosper is the best present path to speed the development of methods of human rejuvenation. A strong Foundation will drag the rest of the aging research field along with it as the research proceeds, and competitors and cooperative projects will naturally arise along the way. This is all a vital part of the sea change in aging research that must take place over the years ahead: to move away from useless and expensive tinkering with drug discovery to slightly slow aging, and towards targeted implementations of new technologies that repair specific forms of damage that cause aging.
If this change happens, we have a shot at living far longer than the present human life span: the old will have access to rejuvenation therapies. If this change falters, then the only outcome of enormously expensive research programs two or three decades from now will be drugs that slightly slow down aging, and do next to nothing for people already old. That would be a grand failure indeed. So support the SENS Research Foundation: it's very much in your own self-interest.