2020 New Year’s and New Decade’s Message by Victor Bjoerk
Picture of the M87 Black Hole – First-ever image of a black hole and a major accomplishment of the 2010s
Happy New Year and Decade, everyone!
I celebrated it this year in San Francisco, as I managed to get an opportunity in aging research here. I’ve always celebrated in Sweden before, with relatives or friends, and the last years’ celebrations have been with AI researcher Anders Sandberg. However, I’m certainly not stuck to any routine to mark it, and who knows where one may be in the future, if one may celebrate it in space even!
I still recall thinking about what would happen in the future back in 1999. Although, of course, our time calculation is completely arbitrary and not rooted in anything the universe cares about, we nonetheless like to set certain dates of when X event will happen when writing the history of humanity.
Back then I was a small child, and while I lacked a particular interest in aging research, I certainly read a lot of popular science and liked to think about what would happen during the upcoming millennia. Certainly, genetic enhancement of humans was high on that list and its happening now! Look, for example, at Luxturna and Zolgensma, the 2 approved gene therapies so far.
We should all be very happy to be alive now instead of during the previous 4 billion years life has existed. It’s been the best decade in history, ever. We have not only the basic logistics for keeping most people alive on a day-to-day basis with a good quality of life, but this also leads to a lot of spare time to develop technology.
Back in about 2008, when working in a nursing home as a teenager, I realized that I did not want to end up in that state within the next few decades. I did not feel that age-related disease belonged in an otherwise advanced high-tech society that respected human rights reasonably well. Since then, on most days, I’ve probably read new scientific papers on the topic, I went to university and studied molecular biology, I became director of Heales – which is a scientific think tank in Brussels – and set up the biannual EHA (Eurosymposium on Healthy Aging) conference series together with Sven Bulterijs.
I never intended to become a scientist for the sake of it; I just want to get the biggest problem in the history of humanity solved.
There are a lot of reasons for optimism. The 2010s saw unprecedented investment in this area, and many therapeutic aging interventions emerged. Among the ones most well-known are innovations in clearing senescent cells with senolytic drugs, leading to aging reversal.
So I just hope this trajectory of advancement continues as the public also becomes more informed. I’ve learnt that hype comes in cycles; lots of buzzwords and overoptimistic speculation flow around, but eventually also real products come out of the research (yes, even in biotechnology). The question is when enough therapies can be put together into an old person and systemically bring that person back to youth.
So I wish everyone a happy new year and decade, whatever your pursuits are, hoping that at the end of this decade we can summarize it, saying that we did what was possible.
I hope everyone had a fun celebration!
Victor Bjoerk has worked for the Gerontology Research Group, the Longevity Reporter, and the Fraunhofer-Institut für Zelltherapie und Immunologie. He has promoted awareness throughout Europe of emerging biomedical research and the efforts to reverse biological aging. He is now a molecular biologist and working for BioAge in San Francisco.