The Bold Choice to Help Longevity Science by Becoming a Researcher

There are a number of people presently working in the field of aging research who were originally involved in entirely different careers, completely unrelated to the sciences. Then they learned of the potential opportunities to treat aging as a medical condition and extend healthy life - that, given sufficient support, the research and development community could produce working rejuvenation therapies in the years ahead. Unlike the rest of us, engaged in advocacy and philanthropy as our time and income allow, these people took the brave, bold leap to leave their old careers behind and start over as scientists and biotechnologists, going back to school, and then taking on jobs in the field. I have the greatest of admiration for the individuals who have achieved this goal; they are an inspiration to us all.

I am a first year Biostatistics PhD student at the University of Colorado. Listening to J. D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy reminds me of my roots growing up along US 23 in Eastern Kentucky. So who am I? I'm the guy who fixed your air conditioner, roofed your house, changed the spark plugs in your car's engine, worked the production line in a food factory, defended your country during war, waited your table at your favorite restaurant and even washed your dishes after you were done. Now, I want to join the united front to end the most widespread cause of human suffering - aging. It was a very serendipitous moment that inspired me to read Aubrey de Grey's book Ending Aging in 2008. I was living in Louisville, Kentucky and spent my free time from working at a White Castle frozen hamburger factory hanging out in a local coffee shop. Adjacent to that coffee shop was Carmichael's, a local, independent bookstore. That day I went straight to my favorite section, Science and Math. And what I found was not just a book, but hope.

Ending Aging spoke to me. Dr. de Grey told us not to accept humanity as the limits of our DNA. Challenge the status quo and possibly discover how great we may become. Every generation believes that they can do better than their parent's generation. Until one day that generation wanes into the symptoms of aging. Great men and women lose their dignity because a care worker or family member has to perform what once were remedial tasks for them. But the indecencies attached to the aged bodies of our loved ones wasn't what sold me on SENS. Dr. de Grey's analogy of maintaining an antique car caught my attention early in the reading of his book. This was a direct appeal to my inner mechanic. I read during my 30-minute lunch breaks at the White Castle hamburger factory. Separating six burgers into three sets of two on a transfer belt and sliding them into a moving slot to be wrapped in cellophane at a rate of one pair per second, I would let my mind wander into another world. What are the seven categories of damage that would need to be reversed? Is this list all encompassing? Doing repairs may be easier than changing metabolic pathways, but would it even be possible. What would a society be like if age-related illnesses were eliminated? I was onboard and wanted to be a part of the next step in human improvement.

There was this moment where I decided to stop spoon feeding my wife the ideas of SENS and unleashed all my thoughts on her at once. When I proposed the idea of me becoming a researcher, it became apparent that working 60+ hours a week at a factory and having two kids under the age of three would not be an ideal time to go back to school. Hence, we waited. I obtained a horizontal promotion as a service technician for the restaurant division. I still read cellular biology books in my spare time and googled Aubrey de Grey more than once a week to see his progress. Then, an opportunity presented itself to me. My neighbor found it interesting that this mechanic neighbor of his was reading biology textbooks when he wasn't being called out in the middle of the night to fix a freezer. He asked me if I would be interested in a career in the medical field and said he could get me an interview but that was it. I had to submit a resume before my interview. There was nothing in my past that would qualify me for this job. Nonetheless, my new boss hired me and said they could teach me what I didn't know.

Later, with great support from family and friends, I finished two degrees, BS Pure Mathematics and MS Biostatistics. Currently, I am focusing on my studies as a first year PhD student in Biostatistics in the beautiful state of Colorado. The teaching staff here is incredible. They are pushing me to be the best I can be while still providing me some space to allow my family and myself to adapt to our new environment. I am taking a course on genomics which has a strong emphasis on the technology of measuring gene expression and various sequencing platforms. I just published my first paper in Breast Cancer Treatment and Research as a primary author. After my doctorate, I would like to work on a research team in a biotech company. I am open to academic research and wouldn't discount any opportunity. My desire is to spend my days working with innovative people to solve the mysteries of controlling aging. I don't care what platform provides that for me.



A very moving testimony.

Posted by: Antonio at February 14th, 2017 8:46 AM

Wow, that is searingly honest. Glad that it all came good in the end, scary to see how even intelligent honest hardworking people can nearly sail into disaster.

Posted by: Jim at February 14th, 2017 11:58 AM

Thanks guys, we are really proud of Mike and it was our pleasure to tell his story. I am so glad I ran into him and we are looking for others to share their stories in science. We all know the famous researchers but for me it was nice to learn about others working just as hard. We left all the details as they were originally, its gritty, its dark in places but honestly I think its uplifting ultimately. I suspect a number of people cried when reading this judging by some comments we have had. Let me know if you think we should run more of this kind of content as well as science and advocacy.

Posted by: Steve Hill at February 14th, 2017 1:34 PM

@ Steve : community "backstage" is always welcome. It's good to introduce both rejuvenation researchers and supporters, so the broader audience can get a more specific idea of what kind of people support rejuvenation - showing that we are average citizens, not nutjobs.

Posted by: Spede at February 14th, 2017 3:03 PM

I am without words....Speechless,Mike just gave me the hope I need to conquer this day
Thk u

Posted by: Robin Worl at February 21st, 2017 9:56 AM
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