The future of aging biology research

By Traci Parker Traci Parker

Health Extension is a piece of the puzzle in educating young minds in STEM.

Silicon Valley is famous as a place for entrepreneurs to make a go of it, but I had no idea it could also foster such unusual opportunities for kids to slalom into greatness – here is the future of aging biology research:

A few weeks ago, I received a lovely email from the mother of Avni, 15, and Anushi, 14. Interestingly enough, Joe and Lisa Betts-LaCroix also received an email from their father, reflecting similar sentiments. Recalling the past school year, they discussed how their daughters found out about the Health Extension Salon, as a result of a post by Lisa on a homeschooling message board.

Avni and Anushi Singhal attended the August 28 Health Extension Salon on Alzheimer’s, which is where I had the opportunity to get introduced to them by my friend and Health Extension Salon volunteer extraordinaire Walter Crompton.​

After chatting with them for a few minutes that evening, their enthusiasm and knowledge ​ about topics such as genetics and stem cell research was palpable. A Freshman and Sophomore at Mountain View High School​, I really had no idea how versed these two already were in the biosciences field.

That first evening, Avni had communicated to me her desire to get hands on experience with aging research and was hoping to find the right lab. We talked about possible opportunities, and while I was at the SENS6 conference the following week, I was able to meet with the Outreach Coordinator to discuss a potential opportunity for her. Needless to say, they knew she was a great fit upon interviewing her, and she has been with SENS interning​ ever since. Avni has been working with newly appointed Thiel Foundation 20 under 20 Fellow, Thomas Hunt. ​

Recently, I had the chance to meet up with them again to discuss their achievements of the past school year, and their plans for the future.

Anushi, 14, states “I remember back in Jr. High when I first got interested in genetics reading an article about engineering trees to grow into houses rather than cutting down trees to build houses.”

Both Avni and Anushi have had the opportunity to seek out information in the sciences that intrigue them. Anushi recently attended a SynBioBeta event, “I really like how they had subject matter experts in a variety of areas of synthetic biology, even ethics and economics, and how I was able to to talk to some of them during and after the event.” Avni had the opportunity to participate in an exchange program, and spent Spring Break in Japan.

Interestingly enough, Avni’s first love of nanotechnology is what led her to expand her knowledge base in the sciences. She was able to sit in on part of a nanotechnology class at Foothill College, as well as attend the COSMOS program in nanochemistry. “I remember when I was reading a research paper for the first time, and had to look up every few words in order to make sense of things. That in itself was a learning process.”

Additionally, both Avni and Anushi have utilized online learning resources, such as OCW, Khan Academy and Udacity, starting before they were in Junior High. When I asked them who they view as role models, both mentioned Laura Deming, another Thiel 20 Under 20 Fellow, and Maria Teresa Chávez​, a young lady who moved from Guatemala to pursue her commitment to ALS research​. “She left home and moved here, knowing almost no one, for the chance to make a difference.”

Both Avni and Anushi recommend attending events, such as Health Extension Salon, as a way to learn from experts and network. “You also get the chance to hear about the research many of the attendees are working on and learn about other forums and events,” Avni states. Additionally, Anushi will be participating in a Stanford mentorship program this coming school year, and both girls are looking into participating in an iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine) team.

Avni is also looking forward to co-leading a science newspaper at her school, which will highlight exciting science breakthroughs in a more accessible format to appeal to a broader student audience.

Avni states, “I know someone who got interested in 3D printing after a story about a girl who 3D printed make-up, and now she is interested in many other applications, like tissue printing. Sometimes you need to make science relatable and easy to understand to pique someone’s interest, and scientific jargon can be a turn off.”

As the afternoon progressed, we had the chance to talk about topics such as using synthetic biology to reprogram bacteria to clean oil spills, genetically engineered rice (Golden Rice) to include additional nutrients, mechanical hearts, Stanford’s VLAB Forum (where I ran into Avni a few months ago), cloning, “designer babies”, BioCurious, and STEM initiatives spreading everywhere.

I left our meeting not only in awe of the intelligence, enthusiasm, drive, and determination these two high school girls displayed, but also very impressed with how their parents ensure their daughters are afforded many opportunities to learn and grow. Silicon Valley is rich in alternative community learning opportunities, and I, for one, am ecstatic these young ladies and their parents know how to use them to their advantage.


So, how was SENS 6?

by Traci Parker

Wondrous. Illuminating. Enlightening.   
Cambridge, Queens College, is like a snapshot from the past, which contains some of brightest minds in the scientific community. A perfect setting for the SENS6 conference. It was awesome to see so many people from the Bay area all the way in Cambridge! 
Health Extension folks gathered at SENS6

Health Extenders gathered at SENS6

I was astonished when I learned about Dr. Rigdon Lentz, and his Immune Pheresis technology, which literally removes inhibitors created by cancer cells to shield themselves from attack. Using a technology akin to dialysis, immunepheresis removes these inhibitors from the patient’s bloodstream, eliciting a natural immune system response that in most cases leads to rapid tumor shrinkage. The clinical results achieved in patients demonstrates an incredible high success rate! His work in Immunology now lends itself to patients in Germany, or anyone who can travel there for treatment. 
Another one of my favorite presentations was that of Health Extension Salon’s very own, John Furber of Legendary Pharmaceuticals. John is researching the potential benefits of inhibiting or removing the accumulation of lipofuscin/ceroid and other crosslinked aggregates in nondividing cells. I am really glad we had a chance to visit more while in Cambridge, he is so smart!
SENS6 attendees also received a copy of the book The Ageless Generation: How Advances in Biomedicine Will Transform the Global Economy by Alex Zhavoronkov, PhD. I started the book while I was still at the conference, and finished it on the flight home.  If you haven’t read it already, GET IT NOW!! I can’t wait for his next one! 
book inscription
 The last day, we enjoyed “Punting on the River Cam,” which started in the rain and finished in the sunshine .  I opted to join one of my Health Extension Salon friends on a jaunt to Oxford, where we had dinner with Anders Sandberg,PhD,  a researcher, science debater, futuristtranshumanist, and author. Such a magical night, he is so well informed on such a variety of topics, and I think he enjoyed my “If you could travel back in time or to the future, which would you choose?” dialogue. It’s like my barometer to the psychology of people.
Traci & Anders

Traci Parker & Anders Sandberg

So, How was SENS6?
Brain candy for the soul…..

Dangers of Clean Living

can clean living save your life?

People are concerned with improving their diets, optimizing their exercise, tuning their supplements.  I am often asked, due to my central role in Health Extension, for health advice, for speaking slots, or for a chance to promote this or that supplement company or fitness app.

The problem is that none of these things do much good.

The billions of people on the planet are extremely diverse, and collectively practice nearly any diet and exercise regimen you can imagine, yet none show up as longevity outliers.  This means that nothing you can do dietarily is going to make a huge difference in your healthspan.  Indeed, Jean Calment, the oldest human to ever life, smoked cigarettes and ate two pounds of candy per week until she was 119.  It’s not all about diet and behaviors.  There are deeper biochemical processes controlling our destiny.

More importantly, the small stuff distracts smart people from the foundational work that needs to be done to create significant improvement in human health.

Keep in mind that many diets and behaviors are known to massively reduce your healthspan, so across the spectrum of options, the upside is small, and the downside is large.  The best advice I can give is to avoid dying for stupid reasons: eat a diverse, moderate diet, keep your stress low most of the time, exercise moderately, look both ways, etc.

As for the bgger picture: don’t be fooled into thinking you have a special route to longevity, and and be lulled into complacency.  Nothing is going to work meaningfully well until we get deeply technical biomedical interventions from labs into bodies.  That will require work, money, will, executive function, dedication, passion, collaboration, innovation, risk-taking, intellectual honesty…

For starters, come to the next Health Extension Salon!

n birds, 1 stone

(Summary of a session of the same title presented by Joe Betts-LaCroix at SciFOO 2013)


  1. Most healthcare money treats age-related diseases. 
  2. Aging is the single biggest risk factor for these diseases. 
  3. But spending on the biochemistry of aging is less than 0.01% of healthcare spending and thus too low

Wouldn’t it increase total social good to increase this percentage, and accelerate efforts toward therapies to prevent age-related diseases? Join this discussion about why this blind spot exists, how to change it, and some of the recent exciting science in this domain.

Difficulty in this conversation can arise from confusion over the definition of “aging”.  Multiple biochemical processes contribute, so it’s really a collection, and not a single thing.  One characteristic is that the results of these processes build up over time, and only late in life spill over into pathologies, as you can see from this diagram:

aging graph

One can refer to the “underlying causes of age-related diseases” for now.

Back to the n birds, 1 stone thesis:  

Item (1) is well-known.  Comment below if you’d like references; about 90% of healthcare money is spent here.

On (2), many studies have show that single processes that degrade cellular systems give rise to multiple pathologies. e.g. cancer and aging genes (a), common genes (APOE) for Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease and macular degeneration (b)(g)(h), Senescent cells cause immune disfunction, cancer, sarcopenia, etc. etc. (c) (d), inflammation causing numerous diseases (including neurodegeneration), and anti-inflammatories reducing them (e), etc., etc. Comment below if you need more examples of this.

But for (3) — the issues are around perception, tradition, incentives, regulation — how to unravel this?  This is where we need help.
a. Budovsky, et al. Common gene signature of cancer and longevity

Health Extenders Make a Mark @BIL2013

The first weekend of March about 600 people occupied a lovely space on Pine Street in Long Beach and participated in a conference affectionately known as BIL (as in TED’s counterpart). Among those people were about a dozen or so Health Extenders (Minda Myers, Michael Andregg, Mark Hamalainen, Paul Dabrowski, Dinelle Lucchesi, Aubrey de Grey, Christine Peterson, Heather Heine, Luke Nosek, Naureen Nayyar and more…) BIL describes itself as “Open to the public and fully participant driven, our yearly gathering features a wild mix of technologists, scientists, artists, hackers, and those with a passion for community awareness, social entrepreneurship, and innovation.”

The majority of participants express an usually high interest in health extending science and we were thrilled to be able to spread the word about our growing community. We also confirmed our suspicions that Southern California wants some Health Extension Salons for themselves.

Here are 5 noteworthy Health Extension @BIL moments.

1.) Mark Hamalainen wins the heart of the conference by hosting twister races. 

Turns out that if Mark Hamalainen wasn’t spending all his time in the lab at bio-tech up and comer Synthego he would be coordinating a worldwide campaign to make human beings have more least that’s what he told me.  At BIL (and the last Health Extension Salon) he definitely delivered with his home made twister race. After the “Strap-on Sex” talk, I’d say this was the real crowd pleaser of the conference.

482197_4901107919200_157201602_nWhat event wouldn’t be better with Twister races? 

2.) Christine Peterson tells the audience if we want to live longer, healthier lives we should probably fire our doctor. 

At BIL I found out that Health Extension advisor Christine Peterson coined the term “open source software.” This caused me to say to Michael Andregg, “Dude, Christine Peterson is extremely legit.” To which Mr. Andregg replied, “Totally legit. She IS this community.”

There might not be anyone else on the planet delivering a better synthesized and engaging presentation about what is currently available to increase our healthy lifespans. My favorite part was when she told the audience she was sorry, she was sure their doctors were lovely people but they most likely weren’t great at their jobs and should get fired. Check out more of Christine’s wisdom  at Health Activator. She’s you know…legit.

3.) Aubrey de Grey steals the mic from me and goes into overtime talking about The Pope.

Since anyone can do a session at BIL, my partner in crime Mark and I decided to experiment with a fun idea we had to determine the strength of an individual’s will to live. Our measurement spectrum explored  how directly they were working on life saving therapies and research. Mark put typical BILders at 50% and people like Aubrey at 100%. Since Mark and I make fun of pretty much everything, we called 0% “docilely suicidal” and 100% “immortalist.” Aubrey not only took exception to being called an immortalist (poor man can’t shake his sensationalized past) but he also did not approve of Mark’s assertion that The Pope belonged in the “dociley suicidal” zone. So he came to the mic and launched into what can only be described as a passionate tirade about how religion is the ally of health extension. The lovely and meek timekeeper was powerless against him. I was too busy laughing that most people at BIL didn’t even know that there is no current Pope (because who really cares?) I did care about Aubrey’s keynote earlier that day and was happy to finally see his live explanation the “7 Deadly Things” .


Mark insisted his will to live was at least 5% higher than mine.

4.) A Jolly gives the Health Extension Salon a shout out.

During his keynote about “Being Happy and Living Forever” A Jolly recommended attending Health Extension salons as a means to that end. We hope he takes his own advice and starts showing up more often 😉

Jolly’s talk led to a later and more intimate discussion about the need for more participation and advocacy for anti-aging medicine research and funding from the BIL community at large-something Aubrey de Grey heavily referenced in his keynote as well.


Thanks for the shout out and advocating for us, A. Jolly! See you at the next salon?

5.) Luke Nosek gets hooked up to speakers and starts an impromptu sidewalk dance party…with our help. 

A painfully hip frenchman spent most of BIL walking around with a backpack equipped with high quality speakers emitting electronica dance tunes. At the end of Saturday’s conference the attendees were milling about on the sidewalk until the backpack was acquired by HE supporter Luke Nosek. Within minutes a viral dance outbreak was taking place…and just when I expected it to be over it got even bigger. This was the highlight of BIL for me: over a dozen people and at least as many onlookers suddenly dancing on the street with the very nice guy who founded Pay Pal and Space X. Why wouldn’t you want to live longer if this was your life?

576077_10100499089233191_954530519_nTime of my life!!

No photos but worth mentioning: An epic silicone bracelet battle. Watch out for a rematch at the next salon.

-Written by Dinelle Lucchesi

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Uncovering a Broader Desire For Extended Lifespan

To get the right answers you must ask the right questions. Understanding public opinions on longevity is crucial to obtaining a critical mass of funding and support for research on aging therapies.

Past survey work suggested that most people do not wish to live beyond 80-85 years. However, when survey takers were asked questions about their longevity that inserted qualifying conditions, the results showed that most people desire an unlimited number of living years.

The results below are based on a poster presented by Joe Betts-LaCroix and Munjal Shah at the Bay Area Aging Symposium at UCSF, November 26th, 2012.
Snapshot 2012-12-17 00-50-14

Read more