Undoing Aging 2019 is the second edition of the Undoing Aging conferences series. It is organized by the SENS Research Foundation and Forever Healthy Foundation. For those of you who don’t know the SENS Foundation, it has been founded 10 years ago by Aubrey de Grey. Aubrey his the genius who has launched the whole field of true anti-aging research for 20 years, after realizing nobody was actually working on curing aging despite the advances of science. He had to fight for legitimacy, until a few years ago when the field finally caught the eyes of some big money and start gaining traction.
It was the first time I participated in a conference about anti-aging. I have been following this field of research since about 2011, when I turned 25 years old and realize how short life was, and panickly wondered if someone was doing something about it. I stumbled upon the excellent blog Fight Aging! , and from there Aubrey De Grey, SENS, the Methuselah foundation,… This blog was instrumental is steering me away from the snake oil industry of “anti aging marketplace”, selling miracle useless supplements to desperate people. Still, I did not act on it immediately, I continued my job as a technician, waiting for others to solve this problem. However a few years later, I am in the position of having a bit more time and money on my hands, and I figured this is a worthy goal, as aging is killing 100,000 person a day (after causing years of suffering for millions more). So my goal coming to Undoing Aging was to get the latest news of the field but more importantly try to find a way to contribute more actively to the cause of anti-aging research than giving and investing money. Ironically this comes at a time when I no longer want to hold onto my own precious little life anymore, when I came to see myself more as part of a species where death is not such a big deal. However suffering is, and no attempt to reduce suffering is vain. We are in a transition age. We might just “upgrade” the planet toward a more sapient planet, with no suffering, a global conscience and sense of direction. Or we might just crash back to mere animals. It depends on the choices we make, and preventing the meaninglessness of death and the tremendous sufferings of old age is a step in the right direction (not the only one of course). It should increase our time horizon, our sense of responsibility, hopefully our wisdom, and change the paradigm of breeding like rabbits on a finite planet for a more sensible population evolution. So, Undoing Aging, here I come.
The conference did not disappoint. It was sold out, with more than 500 persons crowded in the small building. In fact there was actually too many people, which caused some issues when trying to eat all at the same time at the cafeteria in the 1 hour break of lunch time.
You will be able to find the videos of some of the speakers here in the following months. You can find some of the speakers and topics below:
Most of the talks were fascinating science, but not all seemed that relevant to aging to me. Of course what constitutes a good strategy is a matter of point of view, but some talks were really irrelevant. For example, there was a talk from a company which shall remain nameless, which presented a random approach to a “senomorphic”, which is apparently a class of drug able to modulate the Senescence Associated Secretory Phenotype to avoid its most harmful effects. This was more a less a pitch for one of the company product, without much science behind. This seems exactly the kind of “therapy” big pharma would be interested in, an incremental step toward very slight better health, while some many superior alternatives exists.
On the other side there was some gems, like a technique under investigation to “replace neurons in the aged cortex”, using microglia cells (which can migrate in the brain), and turn those into neurons once they are in place. This can prove very useful in the future, as the brain is not an organ that regenerates easily, and if we are living much more longer, replacing lost neurons might be something we want to do. I am more skeptical about using this to treat degenerative diseases like Alzheimer, I think it would be akin to pumping water out of a sinking ship. There must be better target, more upstream causes to attack.
One last example to illustrate the interesting choice made regarding the speaker: Just after the lunch break, there is a half an hour session to present some abstract of various study, 15 minutes each (as opposed to half an hour for the “regular” session. This is considered the “less important” talks. One of those was made from a new company, Turn.Bio. (Disclaimer: I am an investor in this company). They presented a newly published study showing their ability to rejuvenate a cell using epigenetic reprogramming. This impact most if not all of the hallmark of aging, and, although I may be wrong, this is in my mind the single most promising strategy against aging. Not the panacea, but potentially very close, because it uses the cells own ability to rejuvenate. And the public did not miss it, as there were a lot of questions firing, and the panel for the study was always busy after that. Seems like some people are taking notice of the real important stuff. Still, you have to wonder why Turn.Bio only had 15 minutes to talk…
Of course, one of the main purpose of the conference is actually to connect people. There was a varied crowd there, scientists, postdocs and interns, media, entrepreneurs, investors, and probably just interested people. I have heard 2 people there tell me that the atmosphere is a bit like the early days of Bitcoin, and I think I agree. There is a lot of out-of-the-box thinking here, a lot of dreamers and pioneers, those who want to live forever, those that want to change the world, those that want to make money,… It is a frontier of sort, the first wave of an upcoming revolution that will change medicine forever. And it is time to change it, though that is a topic for another day.
I haven’t had the chance to meet most of the people present, but I was able to catch a few very cool guys, very mission oriented, with whom we might just help make some progress in the right direction. There is so many things to do.
And here we are now, 2 and a half day later. It was too short, but amazing to get a foot in the field, see how fast things are progressing, despite all the obstacles, the inertia of regulations, of bureaucracy, of ego and power grabbing and quick profit making,… Still among that, a few idealists are making things move forward. 100,000 life a day. It is time to do something about it.