Montagna 2014: An immortal organism?

Contributed by Sancy Leachman, MD, PhD, Oregon Health & Science University


At Montagna this year, I experienced an intellectual excitement surrounding the discovery of aging processes and mechanisms, but also appreciated that this field is driven by a particular human urge to understand and attain longevity, and perhaps immortality. Both our minds and hearts were stimulated to support discovery of ways to prevent and treat aging disorders such as Werner and Hutchinson-Guilford Progeria syndromes, as discussed by Ray Monnat and Maria Eriksson. A full program on Sunday explored innovative strategies to prevent and reverse skin aging, including opportunities in epigenetic regulation (Vladimir Botchkarev), targeted telomere-based methods (Calvin Harley), mTOR pathway agents (Silvio Gutkind), and even a clever strategy of DNA “photoprotection” with biomimetic acyclothymidine dinucleosides (Abbas Raza). Rosemarie Osborne also reported on the use of powerful transcriptional profiling tools to understand the expression changes that occur during aging in normal human skin.  And finally, the afternoon session reached a zenith with an industry-led panel discussion on future directions. The panel discussion was so powerful because it was preceded by all of the scientific presentations and discussions. This priming effect led to a productive dialogue to explore opportunities for the development of new skin products through fair and productive collaboration between academia and industry.  It was magnificent!


Just as magnificent as the science, however, was the conference itself. At 63 years of age, the conference is entering a more mature era and may be a relevant metaphor for the aging theme. At the conference banquet, Molly Kulesz-Martin and Barbara A. Gilchrest provided some history of the conference, which was begun by Bill Montagna to catalyze scientific progress toward improved skin health. They also thanked all of the attendees for continuing the tradition of Montagna. In its 63 years, Montagna might be considered almost organismic in nature. It is composed of a relatively stable population of participants, some of whom have attended more than 20 of these meetings. We had several senior leaders of dermatologic science who attended this year, including Jon Hanifin, Jerry Krueger, John Voorhees, Sewon Kang — individuals who provide a lifetime of experience, stability, quality and relevance to the meeting. In addition, the conference hosts individuals with a wide variety of expertise, including basic cellular and molecular biologists, physical and medicinal chemists, bioengineers, photobiologists, physicians, industrial scientists, businessmen and more. Finally, attendees also vary in age (senescence?) and level of experience, including undergraduate, medical and graduate trainees, young investigators, and senior physicians and scientists. After the banquet, I roasted marshmallows around a firepit with residents, faculty, and a faculty recruit. It occurred to me that we have a solution to the mortality problem at the group level. By bringing in young, enthusiastic, and diverse expertise, we not only maximize the impact of the science, but our work can become in some ways immortal. What an appropriate holy grail!


Disclaimer: I can’t deny this blog entry is a bit “corney-fied,” but what do you expect from a dermatologist who’s been at a brain-intense conference all weekend!

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