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Geroscience and Gilgamesh’s Quest at EARD2021

The quest of this ancient hero resembles our modern efforts to provide global longevity.

EARD2021 OpeningEARD2021 Opening
 

In his introductory speech for our fourth annual Ending Age-Related Diseases conference, Lifespan.io president Keith Comito discusses the epic of Gilgamesh and how it relates to our modern quest of curing the diseases of aging.

Script

Good morning, and welcome to the fouth annual Ending Age-Related Diseases conference, and I hope you all are healthy and well. Thank you for joining us – online again this year – and coming together to share your knowledge and experience: be it as a researcher, investor, journalist, or advocate – during this pivotal time for our field of geroscience and for the world.

We have an excellent program over the next few days filled with talks, interviews, and panels from inspiring thought leaders in our industry and designed to foster collaboration between us all in the fight to overcome age-related disease. Our team is ready to assist if you need help navigating this conference platform or networking with each other throughout the event.

And, on that subject, I’d like to recognize our staff and board at Lifespan.io, especially the conference organizers Elena Milova and Denise Barker, and our dedicated volunteers.

I’d like also to thank our Conference Sponsors and Media Partners for helping to make this event possible, and whom I encourage you to learn more about and interact with by visiting their sponsor pages in this platform or clicking their logos on our webpage at lifespan.io/conference.

And, of course, I’d like to thank our donors and Heroes, who support us at Lifespan.io/Hero, including many of you who are here today. Thank you.

Behold Gilgamesh. The first Epic Hero in literature, on a quest to heal the frail and the sick, by finding the flower of rejuvenation. The first Hero’s Journey, of which we are all still a part.

Now, thousands of years later, it is no secret that it it has been quite the year since our 3rd Annual Ending Age-Related Disease Conference. The world has been a dealt a grievous blow – is still being dealt a grievous blow – but in this crisis lies an opportunity to build a better future, one more protected against age-related disease, of which the pandemic is one amongst many.

Thankfully, it is also no secret that our field is accelerating rapidly, perhaps fomented by this new world we find ourselves in. Traditional boundaries are crumbling – everyone on Zoom – and it seems like not a day goes by that I don’t hear of some new organization emerging, to join those existing, in addressing the issues of an aging population head on.

New technologies are emerging as well, and new communities with them, joining with ours to help resolve longstanding infrastructure and funding bottlenecks in our field, as powerfully evinced by the recent PulseChain cryptocurrency fundraiser to support the SENS Research Foundation, which raised nearly 28 million dollars from an almost entirely new cohort of donors.

Now, one data point that might seem to counter this narrative of growing public support, is this survey you might have seen from a few months ago, which was interpreted by the press as only 1/3 of Americans being open to life extension therapies.

But a closer look at the actual questions asked, reveal that the chosen framing has little to with the realities of our field, and likely in no way undercuts the trends of growing public perception we discussed last year.

In fact, it has only become clearer this year, that our work is reaching beyond our traditional research silos and echo chambers. Prominent advocates of our field are appearing ever-more frequently on popular news shows and podcasts, and writing compelling books on aging, and channels specifically focused on geroscience are rising quickly, engaging new segments of the public every day.

Even in mainstream pop culture, the ideas of age-related disease and regenerative medicine have taken center stage. For example in the recent release of M. Night. Shyamalan’s OLD, which – no spoilers – focuses squarely on aging, and has some strong things to say about the current pace of medical research.

And also Marvel’s Falcon and The Winter Soldier earlier this year, the plot of which centers not only on a serum with health-extending properties, but on the issues of equitable access to lifesaving therapies generally.

And, at the personal level, I’m busier now than I can ever remember. Constant emails, meetings, and conferences – I have a feeling many of you can relate. But this is a good thing – an amazing thing actually. Because with this attention comes increasing investment and philanthropy, driving us forward.

And this, in turn, is continuing to bear meaningful fruit, both in terms of improvements to core biological tools such as CRISPR, and aging-related technologies such as cellular reprogramming and senescent cell clearance.

At Lifespan.io, we are both benefiting from and adding to this rising tide as well. Most recently through our successful crowdfunding of the PEARL project with AgelessRX, which will evaluate various dosing regimens of the medicine rapamycin and test if its known immune system-promoting and life-extending effects on other mammals can translate safely to humans: a question our community has wanted a definitive answer to for quite some time, and which has new relevance in our current global circumstances.

We are also continuing to engage a growing percentage of the public in our work, both through our flagship news outlet, and through the production of high-quality video content such as our weekly Lifespan News show, and Science to Save the World, which allows us to respond to pop culture events, such as the M. Night Shyamalan movie OLD mentioned earlier, and educate entirely new audiences.

And this year, we’re going even further, by working on a documentary series for PBS on aging, more collaborations with YouTube celebrities, like those we have created with amazing channels like Kurzgesagt and Life Noggin, and fiscally sponsoring the creation of a feature length adaption of Tim Maupin’s award-winning and excellent short film The Last Generation To Die, designed to captivate the public not only intellectually, but emotionally. I’m proud to say that we’ve helped advise on the script of this important project, and if you are interested in seeing such a movie exist through investment or philanthropy, please contact us.

On the research side, our Longevity Investor Network continues to expand and promote investment into early stage longevity companies.

And I’m excited to announce that one of the public benefit corporations we have supported since its inception, and have an interest in – NOVOS – has just raised 3.15 million dollars in pre-seed financing, to build out its platform of research-backed nutraceuticals that address all hallmarks of aging simultaneously, and both online and offline biomarker tests.

We are also, thanks to our Heroes helping us attain our own campaign goal, going to be starting our own in-house research projects, focused on leveraging our strengths in crowdsourcing to investigate promising non-pharmacological interventions for age-related disease which lack traditional profit motives.

One technology that may aid these endeavors greatly, that I wish to highlight, is blockchain. While most of you may be familiar with this in terms of cryptocurrency or fundraising, the underlying architecture of Web 3.0 and principles of blockchain: decentralization, permission-ed access to data, and privacy preserving transactions – have the ability to help resolve long-standing problems with healthcare data use and interoperability, empower both crowdfunding and crowdsourcing, and, when paired with other advancing technologies such as machine learning, can facilitate the creation of powerful biomarkers and predictors of diseases, which can help us both shut down global pandemics and understand what affects our individual rates of aging.

Indeed, I am excited to see what the future holds for Lifespan. But, no matter what we do, none of us can meet the enormity of the task alone. Remember: over 100,000 people die every day due to the disease of aging. One person every second, and ticking faster every day.

Now, more than ever, the world is beginning to understand our fates are intertwined, and standout work such as the recent paper by David Sinclair, Andrew Scott, and Martin Ellison, allows us to make the socioeconomic case for addressing the root causes of aging, if the moral reasons are somehow not enough.

Armed with data such as this, the concept of the Longevity Dividend, the fruition of which once so distant, is coming into focus to meet our ever-pressing needs as a society, for sustainable and equitable health for all people.

This now undeniable value proposition is waking up governmental organizations as well, including in the United States, where the National Institute of Aging is now funding trials for interventions that directly affect the root causes of age-related diseases and have multiple chronic conditions as endpoints, instead of only one disease.

And the current administration is proposing the establishment of the ARPA-H initiative in 2022, with a requested annual funding level of $6.5B, focused on supporting high-impact biomedical breakthroughs and specifically targeting Alzheimer’s and cancer.

To capitalize on this momentum, and help insure such initiatives can have the maximum effect possible; I am happy to remark on one more recent development: the emergence of The Alliance for Longevity Initiatives. The first and only 501(c)(4) organization founded with the express goal of creating social and political action towards addressing the issues of an aging population, by addressing aging itself.

The existence of such an organization, which has unique capabilities that 501(c)(3)s do not, has been a long-time need of our field, and I am proud to be a part of it myself, and that LEAF will be serving as its Fiscal Sponsor – allowing it to receive philanthropic support for on-mission activities. But, once again, I wish to stress that no single organization or person can meet this challenge alone.

The circumstances which have led us to be gathered here today in this manner, online, have perhaps given usnew opportunities, yes, but I refuse to think of those dying right now to the pandemic and other age-related diseases as necessary sacrifices. We have the power to help people, right now, on the way to, and part of, helping those in the future.

And as our work to end age-related disease finally begins to draws the attention and support it is truly worthy of, we too must become worthy, by being greater than the sum of our parts, by sharing our knowledge, holding each other accountable, healing each other and ourselves, so as to better heal the world.

When Gilgamesh strode beyond the walls of the great city of Uruk to overcome the diseases of aging, he did so selfishly. It was only when he returned after many years that, changed by the journey, he sought to bring the gifts of healing to all humanity. Our field is exploding, and we are set to go on quite the journey together: it is my wish that we learn the lesson Gilgamesh did.

And as the attention, money, and opportunities flow, that we continue to work together. And, in that spirit, I welcome you to Ending Age-Related Diseases 2021. Have a wonderful conference. Thank you!

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