As I said yesterday, today and tomorrow I’ll be attending the annual meeting of the Larry L. Hillblom Foundation.

This morning is devoted to presentations from the leaders and directors of the LLHF’s big “network” and “center” grants, and it appears that a good deal of each speaker’s time will be spent enumerating how many students, fellows, papers, and additional grants they’ve trained, written or garnered over the course of the past year. I’m not expecting very much in the way of data. Still, I’ll try to hit the highlights, mostly from a biogerontology-centric perspective:

  • Peter Butler (UCLA) opened his talk with a letter from a parent whose daughter was recently diagnosed with type I diabetes; the author of the letter was distraught about the decrease in quality (and quantity) of life that would result. Pete made the provocative comment that in five years, this letter would be considered “a historical document,” and closed with a confident statement that we’re seeing the “light at the end of the tunnel.”
  • Dale Bredesen (Buck Institute) described the mission of the LLHF Center for Integrative Studies of Aging, which opened last year: to bring together scientists with disparate specialties to approach geroscience from multiple angles. He gave credit to prion biologist Stan Prusiner, saying that the organization of Stan’s (gargantuan) laboratory inspired the multidisciplinary approach adopted by the Center. He closed with a quote from Fabricius that struck me as an odd choice during a conference about aging research: “Death comes to all/But great achievements raise a monument/Which shall endure until the sun grows old.”
  • Gal Bitan (UCLA) discussed recent progress in creating drugs that inhibit amyloid beta (Aß) oligomerization and toxicity, currently believed to play a major role in the onset of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) pathology. He began with a concise description of the challenge (it’s difficult to use small molecules to prevent protein-protein interactions mediated by very large, flat contact areas) and went on to describe his lab’s efforts to use structural data to rationally design peptide inhibitors. Bitan also reported that his group has developed an efficiacious small molecule drug as well, but he couldn’t tell us more about it because of intellectual property concerns.
  • Alberto Hayek and colleagues (UCSD) talked about the challenges of using stem cells to rebuild pancreatic beta cells in vivo. They presented quite a bit of data, but I’m afraid that diabetes + developmental biology = my personal scientific kryptonite, so I got a little bit distracted. The work is very good, I’m sure, and it represents the most likely application of stem cell therapy in large populations in the near-term future.
  • Bob Hughes, , Pankaj Kapahi, Simon Melov and Gordon Lithgow (Buck Institute) gave a group talk under the umbrella topic “Chemical biology of aging” (we heard a bit about this at last year’s meeting). Bob introduced a screen for small molecules that extend lifespan in simple model system; the goal is to screen 100,000 compounds, identify drugs that increase longevity in both yeast and worms, and then test these molecules in mice. Pankaj focused on a longevity-related pathway for which small-molecule inhibitors are already known: TOR, which we’ve talked about recently here; he continued with a discussion of differential control of translation during dietary restriction. Simon showed some data from a study of a anti-aging compounds and their effects on mitochondrial oxidative stress in the mouse, and Gordon capped off the hour with data demonstrating a role for endocannabinoids in responding to nutritional status.

Random thought: If a corner café can provide free wireless internet to its customers, shouldn’t a luxury hotel that charges in excess of $200 a night and advertises itself as a venue for “critical corporate summits” also be able to provide the same service for a reasonable price? I just paid $12.95 for 24 hours of what appears to be wireless dialup, or possibly telegraph; blogging is frustrating enough that I feel a little bit like crying. Thus far I am not so impressed by the modern electronic comforts provided by the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach — conference organizers, take note.

(Coverage of the morning session continues here.)

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