Notes on the 2011 Harvard / Paul F. Glenn Symposium on Aging

June 22, 2011

One content note in the program for the David Sinclair/Bruce Yanker hosted aging Symposium certainly catches your attention. It’s the blurb at the bottom of Dr. Jonathan L. Tilly’s page outlining his presentation.

“Rewinding the Female Biological Clock for Fertility Reasons: An End to Menopause as Well?”

To me, this exemplifies the stunning hints of the deep human implications that aging research holds. How will society evolve when women are no longer driven by concerns about their biological clocks?

Behind these findings lies a recurring idea:

IT’S ALL ABOUT SIGNALING

Over the past several years, a number of scientists have recounted an experiment wherein researchers combined the bloodstreams of a young and an old mouse. Suddenly, the old mouse’s muscle tissues began to repair like a young mouse’s, that is, to act younger.

What this means is that the old cells are driven by their environment and retain the ability to become young again.  In the case of Tilly’s work, aged ovaries placed in a young environment became viable again,

 “based on his [Tilly] discovery of a population of stem cells in the ovaries of adult mice that are capable of generating new eggs”… “ovarian failure can be reversed through germline (egg) stem cell-based technologies.  He [Tilly] has also discovered a similar population of egg stem cells exists in humans.”

Another recurring motif in the scientific presentations could be phrased like this:  “We expected to see X but we were wrong.”  As I understand it, the reasons for the unexpected or contradictory results have to do with “Occam’s Razor.”  By this I mean that the results appear at first to be counter-intuitive.  But, as the scientists bore deeper into the mechanics of what is going on, the initial contradiction doesn’t hold.  Dr. Lenny Guarente explained this to me four years ago with glee. Scientists are trained to explore a question while making the fewest assumptions, which leads them to follow what appear to be logically predictive paths.  The point is, “Occam’s razor is not always correct.” This continual “reassessment” of what we assume to be true is the hallmark of aging research.

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