The Aging Research and Technology Innovation Summit on August 17 drew over 300 people from six UC campuses — and from as far away as Germany and Denmark — for a day of speakers, awards, poster sessions, and valuable networking focused on cutting-edge aging research and technologies. The summit highlighted the educational and research mission of the University of California and its diverse and significant impact on improving the well-being of older adults.
Summit presentations gave an overview of recent work in fields as diverse as genetics, mechanical engineering, and demography. One of the most memorable panels, entitled “Training the Next Generation of Researchers / Engaging the Current Generation of Older Adults,” was moderated by Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate Education Cathy Koshland and highlighted undergraduate research collaborations:
- Assistant Professor Grace O’Connell talked about her course “Designing for the Human Body” (ME178 / BioE137), where students partnered with Bay Area nonprofits on design projects such as 3D-printed upper limb prosthetics.
- Joshua Price, a UC Berkeley senior and one of the inaugural Fung Fellows, spoke about his work in the Bove Lab at UCSF Neurology, where he helped to develop a toolkit that evaluated multiple sclerosis patients using artificial intelligence to analyze voice recording, gait tracking, and virtual reality eye tracking.
- Joni Rubin, Director of the Fung Fellowship for Wellness and Technology Innovations, gave an overview of the program's focus on experiential learning, human-centered design, and community involvement.
- Susan Hoffman, Director of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, described the GAIT project, where undergraduate Fung Fellows consulted with OLLI members and designed a prototype for wearable gait training technology. (This project was also featured in the College of Engineering Spring magazine.)
The summit was also the occasion for the presentation of the Paola S. Timiras Memorial Award for Aging Research to Dr. Cynthia Kenyon, professor emerita at UCSF and Vice President of Aging Research at Calico Labs, for her pioneering work on genetic pathways involved in the aging process. Kenyon, who gave the keynote address, has focused her research since the 1990s on a small roundworm, C. elegans. Kenyon’s team found that modifications to a gene called daf-2 resulted in doubling the lifespan of the worms; another gene, daf-16, kept them youthful despite their extended ages. Changing the genes slows aging and increases resistance to age-related diseases such as cancer, heart failure, and protein-aggregation disease. Subsequent research by other scientists has shown that similar genes control lifespan and aging in fruit flies, mice, and possibly even humans. Brain researcher Marian Diamond and Nobel laureate Elizabeth Blackwell are previous recipients of the award.
Allison Sekuler, Managing Director of the Centre for Aging and Brain Health Innovation (CABHI), captured the mood of the day when she said “We need to stop thinking of aging as a disease and start thinking of it as an opportunity to grow.”
The summit was hosted by several UC Berkeley aging research and education programs: Center for Research and Education in Aging (CREA), Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society and the Banatao Institute (CITRIS), Center for Technology and Aging (CTA), Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), Fung Fellowship for Wellness and Technology Innovations, and the Center on the Economics and Demography of Aging (CEDA).