The sixth SENS conference took place last week, and like the 2011 SENS5 was a fairly quiet event from the point of view of online media. The SENS conferences focus on the foundations of rejuvenation biotechnology outlined in the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) research plans, but a lot of other research is presented, not all of which is directly relevant to building the means to rejuvenate old humans. The public isn't really the immediate audience for these conferences: it's part and parcel of the SENS Research Foundation's continuing and successful efforts to build support and networks of allied researchers within the aging research community.
Once the spark takes hold, the need for the SENS Research Foundation will fade as many other organizations will arise to raise funding and perform similar work on the foundation technologies needed for future human rejuvenation therapies. That process is still underway at a comparatively early stage yet despite the tremendous successes in advocacy that have taken place over the past decade - it's the old story, working hard to open the door for the next round of working hard some more. Climb the hill to get to the mountain. Conference series like SENS are one of the more visible signs of all of this work.
You can take a look at the abstracts archive for SENS6 to see a selection of the topics that were on the program this year. Videos of the presentations from SENS5 in 2011 emerged online over the course of 2012. With luck that will be a faster process this year. Most are interesting and well worth the time taken to view.
In any case, despite the many scientists present and much networking taking place, SENS6 like SENS5 was a quiet conference with little of an online footprint while underway. Here is the only set of notes from SENS6 I've seen emerge from the folk who were present:
Aubrey de Grey has rallied the world's scientific community and its funders to attack the biological basis of aging, which underlies the majority of disease and suffering in the developed world. Since 2003, he has organized bi-annual conferences, bringing together innovative biologists, medical researchers and a few policy wonks to share knowledge and perspectives, to coordinate and support each others' efforts. Below I report highlights from this year's meeting, SENS 6, which I attended last week at Queens College, Cambridge.
Exercise vs Caloric Restriction
For the last ten yeas, Luigi Fontana of Washington University St Louis has been conducting an ongoing study of two groups of people who exercise fanatically (by middle-class US standards) and who seriously restrict their food intake (same standard). Both groups have dramatically improved biomarkers compared to the average American couch potato.
DRACO - kills all virus-infected cells
Todd Rider of MIT is quietly witty on-stage and charmingly self-effacing, but his program is radically ambitious. He wants to cure all infectious disease. DRACO is an acronym for Double-stranded RNA-Activated Caspase Oligomizer. The bottom line is that DRACO molecules can find cells that are infected with any virus, distinguish them from uninfected cells, and selectively signal the cell to destroy itself. It's been tested in test tubes and in mice it cures, for example, the flu. Rider's lab is producing only tiny quantities of DRACO at present, but by year's end he hopes to ramp up production for much wider testing.
Growing a liver on a lymph node
Eric Lagasse [has] had success growing new livers from stem cells in the patient's body. Liver progenitor cells are implanted in a lymph node, which seems to provide a favorable environment for growth. In mouse models, 70% are able to grow a functional liver "ectopically", meaning in a part of the body where it does not belong.