Montagna 2014: Live and let die – are mutations a key to aging skin?

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


Welcome to Montagna 2014! It is hard to believe that this is the 63rd annual Montagna Symposium on the Biology of the Skin. For any of you unfamiliar with Montagna, it is the only NIH-supported annual scientific meeting in Dermatology that focuses intensely on a rotating special topic of interest to dermatologists. And, it is held in a sequestered resort location where physicians and scientists with like minds and common interests can start and strengthen meaningful working relationships. Because the topic changes each year, new expert program directors are selected each year to develop the program. The concept is to identify a hot topic in dermatology and bring together cross-disciplinary physician, scientific, and industrial leaders in the topic area so that scientific knowledge relevant to patient care can be advanced into clinical care as quickly as possible.


This year’s Montagna is on the topic of Skin Aging: Molecular Mechanisms and Tissue Consequences and is being held at the beautiful Salishan beach resort on the coast of Oregon. In true Montagna tradition, the welcome and cocktail reception transitioned into the keynote address. This year’s Program Chair, Barbara A. Gilchrest, introduced the three session chairs Howard Chang, Judith Campisi, and Gary Fisher as well as the Keynote speaker, Jan Vijg, who spoke on “Genome Mosaicism, Aging, and Disease.” Dr. Vijg’s address set the stage for the conference, juxtaposing a testable hypothesis for the molecular cause of aging with epidemiologic trends of aging in our society and philosophical questions surrounding the process of aging and the maximal lifespan of man. He proposed and presented data suggesting that aging may depend on an accumulation of somatic mutations. He also made the point that mutations, in association with natural selection, provide the means for evolution of life on earth. It is fascinating to think that mutations may share the function of creating life, yet predisposing to death – and what a particularly poignant and a perfect opening thought for this conference.

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