When I first learned about the possibility of achieving human rejuvenation through biotechnological means, little did I know that this would lead me to meet many of the central figures in the field during a conference some seven years later—let alone that I would be speaking at the very same event. Yet, I’ve had the privilege to attend the Fourth Eurosymposium on Healthy Ageing (EHA) held in Brussels on November 8-10, an experience that gave me a feel of just how real the prospect of human rejuvenation is.
A friendly, welcoming environment
As EHA was the first conference I’ve ever attended, I didn’t quite know what to expect; given that researchers, activists, and investors from all around the world were invited, I had imagined it would probably be a posh, formal event with violins playing on the background and people in suits and formal dresses discussing topics beyond my comprehension while enjoying champagne. Thankfully, the atmosphere was much more relaxed and informal, elegant but not intimidating, which favored the interaction among participants regardless of their backgrounds—though, alas, the topics discussed were indeed mostly beyond my comprehension, as they involved high-level biochemistry with which I’m nowhere near sufficiently familiar (yet).
The pre-conference meeting, held the night before the first day at a cozy cafè right next to the conference venue, swept away my preconception of a very ceremonial event and made it immediately clear that I was in for three very enjoyable days. Before I knew it, I was talking about aging, biology, and more with PhDs and medical doctors as I would with old pals; I was sitting at the same table with big names such as Dr. João Pedro de Magalhães and Dr. Aleksey Moskalev—who was very eager to tell me all about aging biomarkers, by the way—and it felt no different from a night out with friends.
A full immersion in the science of rejuvenation
The first day of the conference was basically a journey into the world of cellular senescence: methods of targeting senescent cells, the SASP, drug delivery systems, et cetera; however, other topics, such as the extracellular matrix, transcriptomics, and stem cells, were also discussed. A great deal more researchers and other people otherwise involved in the community were present on the first morning than there were at the pre-conference meeting; the peak was probably during the second day, which saw a wider variety of topics, including genomics, DNA repair, bioinformatics, and the first panel of the conference.
While, as said, I am not yet well-versed enough in the science to fully appreciate the details of the presentations I attended, I could sense the cautious optimism that most of the scientists present had in regard of the feasibility of undoing human aging, particularly the enthusiasm for the potential of senescent cell clearance.
I spent most of the coffee and lunch breaks chasing people for interviews (which you’ll hopefully watch or read soon enough!), but I also had occasion to simply enjoy chatting to researchers or advocates; I especially enjoyed talking to Dr. Peter de Keizer, an extremely positive and funny person, and of course Dr. Aubrey de Grey, who is every bit as friendly and outgoing face-to-face as he appears to be on camera. (Much to my surprise and honor, he recognized me by my name tag; his first words to me were: “Oh, you’re him! For some reason, I imagined you a lot fatter!”)
Rather than on science, the third day was focused on the social, economical, and advocacy aspects of rejuvenation. Some of the researchers of the previous two days had to leave, but other scientists and investors, such as Alexandra Sharon Bause from Apollo Ventures and Michael Greve from Forever Healthy, joined us for the day. While LEAF board member Elena Milova and I hosted talks that focused on our own organization’s outreach and advocacy experiences, other talks were hosted by advocate Dr. Daria Khaltourina, whose efforts helped lead to the introduction of the “ageing-related” extension code into the ICD-11; Anastasia Egorova, Vice-President of the Science for Life Extension Foundation, who presented the Open Longevity project; Jose Cordeiro, who talked about a possible European campaign for longevity; and too many to list, including two more panels and a rather animated general discussion at the end of the event.
A great team
EHA was an awesome event, not just due to the quality of the talks and panels but in no small part because of the fantastic team behind it—Heales and its volunteers. We at LEAF understand just how much work it takes to set up this kind of event (as we’ve hosted our own), and Didier Coeurnelle, Sven Bulterijs, Victor Björk, as well as the rest of the team have done an extremely good job, making everything run smoothly despite having so many different things to juggle, including their own very interesting talks. I’m extremely grateful to all of them for their kindness, friendliness, and generosity, and I certainly look forward to meeting them again. While everybody was just great, I care to emphasize that Didier Coeurnelle, the co-president of Heales whom I met for the very first time at EHA, struck me as extremely committed to the cause and ready to put up with all that it may take to forward it. I applaud his dedication.
To be utterly honest, while I was thrilled about participating to EHA from the very first day I was invited, I was rather nervous about it (particularly about delivering my own talk) in much the same way that one may feel right before hopping on a roller coaster. You want to go for the ride, but at the same time you can’t help repeating to yourself, “Why am I here?! Why am I here?!”; however, after the cart has finally started running with you onboard, the excitement of the ride sweeps all fears away, and when the ride is over, you look forward to the next one. This is pretty much like what EHA has been for me, and I look forward not only to the next EHA conference but also the other rides that the rejuvenation world has to offer.