Last night SENS Foundation held a meeting in the ‘volume’ at Giant Studios (where the motion capture for Avatar, and the upcoming Real Steel, amongst others, was performed). I spend most of my waking hours immersed in (bio)tech, so you’d think I’d show a little reserve when handed a replica machine gun covered in ‘markers’ which enable it to be used as a virtual camera. Not so much, it turns out.
Aubrey de Grey spoke about the science of SENS and rejuvenation biotech. Keith Murphy, CEO of Organovo, presented on the bioprinting of tissues and organs. Paul Hynek showed us all how Giant turn flesh-and-blood actors into Na’vi, and a few grey poles into Pandora’s Hallelujah Mountains.
I talked about SENS Foundation, as is my wont. There’s video on the way, but for now here’s the text of that speech.
It’s Tuesday night, around 7.30, and I’m backstage with Mike Kope. We’re scribbling a last minute drop-in, in the margins of his speech. Five minutes later Mike’s on stage. Twenty minutes later he’s in the spotlight, announcing Jason Hope’s half-million-dollar commitment to SENS Foundation.
In the following day’s press release, Jason spoke of SENS Foundation’s work to “drive the complete redefinition and reshaping of the healthcare, pharmaceutical, and biotech industries as we know them today”.
I want to take a few moments to talk about the Foundation’s mission, and the role played by outreach in achieving that mission.
But first I’d like to thank our speakers this evening, and Paul for providing such a wonderful location for our meeting, and Maria and her team of volunteers, for making these events possible. Thank you, all.
At previous LA meetings I’ve spoken about people’s differing reasons for supporting our work: improving health, curing specific diseases, extending healthy human life, delivering new intervention options, or changing the way in which we do biomedical research.
But those differences of motivation are coupled with a commonality of action. With a desire to bring about real change, and to end real suffering.
Delivering change on this scale needs communication. In particular, it needs us to explain why what we do is different. So, I’m going to explain… why what we do is different.
You may have heard Mike say similar things at the ‘Breakthrough Philanthropy’ event on Tuesday. This may be the first time you’ve heard them. Either way, I strongly doubt it will be the last.
On July 13th 1960 John Kennedy was on stage at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, about a thirty minute drive from here. Or maybe two hours, given what I’ve seen of LA traffic. He was delivering his acceptance speech to the Democratic National Convention. The text of that speech includes the phrase: “A medical revolution has extended the life of our elder citizens, without providing the dignity and security those later years deserve.”
That was 50 years ago, and whilst the nature of Kennedy’s ‘medical revolution’ may chime with us to some extent, in failing to provide dignity and security, it showed that it was not our revolution.
The history of medicine contains many awe-inspiring success stories. Almost every week I walk past the London water pump which led John Snow to develop the epidemiology of cholera. Fleming, Chain and Florey discovered penicillin. On a spring day in Michigan the Salk polio vaccine was declared “safe, effective and potent”. Smallpox has been eradicated from the planet. If we went round the room, we could add a new item for every person here.
We won’t suffer from polio or smallpox. But the truth of the matter is that there are areas in which medicine has not been able to replicate these successes. We have not eradicated a single, major age-related disease. You will know someone suffering from cancer, from Alzheimer’s, from Parkinson’s. This despite the trillions of dollars of research underway across the country, and the globe. Despite the best efforts of our finest minds, working with greater knowledge and more advanced equipment than our parents could ever have imagined.
SENS is a radical approach which offers a comprehensive solution to age-related disease. An approach which maintains health and which ends suffering. That is our revolution.
We can move beyond the slow war of attrition against pathology, and the struggle to understand the labyrinthine complexities of metabolism. That is our revolution.
We can empower individuals to retain dignity and security at any age. That… is our revolution.
And that is the message we need to convey.
When we talk about SENS, we’re talking about repairing the damage caused by metabolism – caused simply by being alive – before it leads to the pathology of age-related disease. SENS repairs damage before it’s a problem.
It’s a simple statement. Delivering on the promise of that statement is a complex task. But its challenge is matched by our audacity, and our audacity is justified by our ability to deliver.
We have existing projects in universities across the country. Our own Research Center has recently moved to a larger facility in Mountain View. We are establishing high level collaborations with top-tier organizations, at the forefront of regenerative medicine. Our proof-of-concept research is backed by a highly-credentialed Research Advisory Board, and reflected in an ever-increasing number of peer-reviewed papers.
That we have already achieved so much is, in large part, thanks to the philanthropy of those with the vision to provide funding and support. People like you.
We want to expand the places in which we hold meetings such as this. Not just to talk to you directly, but to enable the Foundation’s voice to travel further, and louder. To your family, friends, and colleagues. To strangers you have not yet met.
Over the first half of 2011 we’ll begin to hold meetings in other cities. Some will be one-offs, others may occur more frequently. But all will apply the lessons we’ve learned through our meetings here in Los Angeles. And all will retain our organizational focus.
That focus has always been on mainstreaming the science of rejuvenation. On creating new communities for biotech research and investment. That’s why we created SENS Foundation: to be a credible catalyst for change; to be a public research and outreach organization dedicated to the creation of a new field. Rejuvenation biotechnology.
We need to create an entirely new biotech industry.
I’m very lucky to be a co-founder of this organization. In the press release covering his donation Jason Hope speaks of being honoured to support SENS Foundation. I echo his sentiments when I say I’m honoured to have the chance to speak to you about our work, and to get to know you personally.
We’re doing great things. We’re driving, and communicating, our revolution. And… there’s something else about what we do, and we shouldn’t lose sight of it.
There’s an episode of The West Wing, in which President Bartlet has to talk to schoolchildren across America about a Mars lander called ‘Galileo V’.
As he walks to the Oval Office he’s trying to get his press secretary to say the name – ‘Galileo V’. She tries, but Bartlet replies, “You didn’t say it right… Say it again. Your imagination, like a child, will explode with unrestrained possibilities for adventure.”
On Tuesday night we said rejuvenation biotech. And we said it right. And we’ll continue to say it right.
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