An Interview with Thiel Fellow Thomas Hunt

One part of the mission of the SENS Research Foundation is to help build the next generation of motivated biogerontologists, scientists who see aging and longevity research as a cutting edge field in which there is a tremendous opportunity for both professional growth and the ability to save lives and improve health. These are the presently young people who will be at the height of their careers twenty years from now, leading varied research groups to complete the first comprehensive rejuvenation toolkit and demonstrating robust reversal of aging in mice. These dedicated researchers of the future won't spring forth from nothing, however, in just the same way as widespread support and funding for the defeat of age-related disease won't arrive fully formed from out of the void. It requires a lot of work and planning to nurture a new field of science, and hence we see the existence of funding for programs such as the Summer Scholars, intended to bring together exceptional life science students and given them the opportunity to join the growing SENS research network.

Long-term and short-term, it is networking that makes the world go round. A lot of this is hidden from the outside; funding and progress just seems to happen of its own accord if you read press releases and newspapers. But behind every printed story lie years of connections, relationships, persuasion, and networking between researchers, funding sources, and advocates. Nothing happens that is not a part of a web of connections.

The SENS Research Foundation has its headquarters in the Bay Area, California, and is very much a part of the highly connected communities of aging research, technology talent, and venture capital that exist in that part of the world. There are several world-class institutes focused on the biology of aging in the Bay Area alone, and more in Southern California. The SENS principals move in the same network that links Google Ventures, the aging researchers being hired for the California Life Company initiative, Peter Thiel's initiatives in advocacy and philanthropy, biotech-focused venture firms, and a collection of further eclectic, intelligent, and motivated individuals who believe in the ability of technological progress to change the world for the better. Building new forms of medicine to treat aging, and the SENS engineering approach of damage repair in particular, has always played well with the technology crowd. Many of the early supporters of SENS are technology industry people: entrepreneurs, software developers, hardware designers.

So one consequence of this highly networked environment is that you will see numerous eclectic, intelligent, and motivated individuals involved with the SENS Research Foundation as the years roll by. That has included a number of very young and highly talented folk who started serious research careers in their early teens and went on to become Thiel Fellows, such as Laura Deming and more recently Thomas Hunt:

The Youngest Thiel Finalist: SRF's Thomas Hunt

At just 15, Thomas Hunt became the youngest 20Under20 Finalist selected by Peter Thiel's Foundation to compete for a $100,000 Fellowship and the chance at two years of freedom to pursue his dreams. But Thomas's entire story is even more amazing. He's been conducting research here at SENS Research Foundation in Mountain View since the age of 13.
Before I joined SRF, I started out as a curious and active member of the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) bio community. As a young teen, I got involved with BioCurious in its earliest days to help build the BioCurious lab. I also participated in other organizations like the Health Extension Salon and Thiel Fellowship Under20 Summits before applying for a 20Under20 Fellowship this past year.

Currently I volunteer at SRF four days a week. I spend my time conducting research to understand a poorly understood pathway that plays a key role in cancer cell immortality called alternative lengthening of telomeres, or ALT. I keep current with new developments in my field by reading scientific papers at the cutting edge of ALT work, and I am currently in charge of studying POT1, a protein that could negatively affect ALT activity. I am also performing experiments on cancer cells to test for ALT activity.

When I'm not at SRF, I've designed my own home schooling curriculum, where I get to choose which subjects I want to study. I take local college classes that I feel will assist me in my research goals, like chemistry and public speaking. I love telling people about the latest discoveries in science, and have spoken at The University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) about genetic modification.


Encouraging the brightest to work on what they like and unleash their talent - instead of having them waste their potential in restrictive, highly hierarchised environments - is often overlooked but highly important.

This is why Peter Thiel's foundation is very needed.

Posted by: Nico at July 30th, 2014 4:42 PM

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