There is still time to sign up for the Undoing Aging event in Berlin, coming up in March 2018. This scientific conference will focus on rejuvenation research in the same manner as the SENS conference series that ran from 2003 to 2013 under the auspices of the Methuselah Foundation and, later, the SENS Research Foundation. Undoing Aging is a collaboration between the SENS Research Foundation and Forever Healthy Foundation, the latter being the organization founded by SENS patron Michael Greve. You might recall that in 2016 Greve pledged $10 million to fund rejuvenation research and resulting startup companies, becoming the first donor to the SENS Project|21 initiative.
As the first rejuvenation therapies near human trials and clinical availability, it becomes ever more important to expand the size of the research community presently working on ways to repair the causes of aging. As Aubrey de Grey has pointed out, there is a great deal left to accomplish on the way to a toolkit of therapies capable of turning back aging and extending healthy life spans by even a few decades. That work requires funding, and interested researchers, public support. That in turn requires networking, persuasion, and a showcasing of promising work currently in progress. In years to come, everyone will say that the strategy of repairing the cell and tissue damage of aging was obvious in hindsight - but we need their support now, when it matters, when there is work yet to accomplish, not after the fact. It is the eternal challenge of bootstrapping a movement, an industry, a research community. Conferences play an important role in this process.
The SENS Research Foundation and the Forever Healthy Foundation today announced the 2018 Undoing Aging Conference program and speakers. Undoing Aging will take place March 15 - 17, 2018 at the Umspannwerk Alexanderplatz in Berlin, Germany. Undoing Aging 2018 is focused on the cellular and molecular repair of age-related damage as the basis of therapies to bring aging under full medical control. The conference, a joint effort of SENS Research Foundation and Forever Healthy Foundation, provides a platform for the existing scientific community that already works on damage repair and, at the same time, offers interested scientists and students a first-hand understanding of the current state of this exciting new field of biomedical research.
I have regretted not having thought of the title "Undoing aging" for our 2007 book "Ending Aging", ever since a reader accidentally used that name for it in an email to us. I am thus delighted to have this opportunity to use it now. It perfectly encapsulates the nature of the approach to maintaining youthfulness in old age that SENS Research Foundation pursues: the repair of the self-inflicted damage that the body generates as side-effects of essential metabolic processes. This conference will, accordingly, mirror the structure of SENS, with sessions devoted to each strand and to the enabling technologies that multiple strands will rely upon. Those of you who attended any of the conferences we organised in Cambridge, from 2003 to 2013, will notice the similarity - and indeed, the similarities will not end there!
Two of the seven SENS damage categories consist of the elimination of cells that we have too many of: either because they are dividing too much (which is essentially the definition of cancer) or because they are not dying when they should. The most promising truly general anti-cancer therapies each merit multiple talks, so we have a session for each, as well as one for the "death-resistant cells" category. Russell and Hawthorne will present novel methods for weakening the ability of cancer (or indeed any) cells to render themselves invisible to the immune system, while Silva and Gorbunova will update us on ways to manipulate telomere elongation and thereby limit proliferation capacity. Kirkland, Lewis, and de Keizer will then discuss the range of methods currently under development for selectively eliminating cells that are doing us more harm than good: small molecules, suicide genes, and engineered peptides.
The two SENS categories that have, arguably, seen the greatest contribution from research funded by SRF are those relating to damage within cells: mitochondrial mutations and "garbage". Our in-house team has made immense progress recently in rendering mitochondrial mutations harmless by installing "backup copies" in the nuclear genome, and O'Connor will provide updates on where that work stands. Honkanen and Moody will describe the state of play in relation to elimination of the two best-characterised types of intracellular garbage that drive major age-related diseases, namely atherosclerosis and macular degeneration.
Extracellular changes play a major role in mediating the loss of function of cells and tissues. Talks in this part of the conference will cover a variety of such problems. Paul and Graef will present novel approaches to the removal of aggregated material, notably the protein transthyretin which misfolds particularly easily and may be the main factor responsible both for important diseases and for mortality in very old age. Spiegel and Clark are both researching the stiffening of the extracellular matrix, a process that contributes both to life-threatening and to cosmetic aspects of aging. Wagers' focus will be the role of circulating proteins in mediating and counteracting age-related deleterious changes of gene expression in a wide range of tissues.
In an ideal world, the whole of SENS would be viewed as regenerative medicine, since it is all about restoring structure to restore function; but that term has too much history to be broadened in such a way, so we adhere to its standard usage covering just stem cell therapy and tissue engineering. The manipulation of stem cells to generate safe and effective therapeutic reagents has advanced by leaps and bounds recently, and West, Sen, and Loring are among the absolute leaders in this burgeoning area, especially where age-related conditions are concerned.
The replacement of entire organs from a variety of sources may soon be far more practical than hitherto, and Atala, Lemaitre, and Jones will describe three radically new approaches to addressing the still-acute shortage of organs for transplant. Finally, the restoration of organ function can in principle be achieved not only via one-for-one replacement of a malfunctioning organ, but through more distributed means where a single "organoid" only partially substitutes; Lagasse will present one highly novel approach along these lines.
Most of SENS is still at a pre-clinical stage of development, where evidence of safety and efficacy can be obtained via short cuts that would not be available when treating humans. SRF has, therefore, always set its priorities both near-term and long-term, funding proof-of-concept research alongside work that will only have clear utility further downstream. The latter tend to cross the boundaries between SENS strands. First, it is crucial to be able to measure efficacy across the full range of metabolic markers, and Horvath, Fortney, and Csordas will address three complementary "omics" domains in which changes with age - and therapeutic manipulations of those changes - can be monitored: epigenomics, metabolomics, and proteomics. Then we will hear, from Young and Zhavoronkov, how drugs can be discovered and repurposed using state-of-the-art computational techniques. Finally, how are therapeutics delivered? The conference's closing session will feature Calos, Scholz, and Hebert telling us about new ways to get nucleic acids, proteins, and cells (respectively) into places that standard methods can only inadequately reach.