GRG Members and friends,
In memory of Steve Coles I would like to present you with the circumstances of how the GRG came to be.
I have known Steve for over 25 years and feel a deep loss
and sadness with his passing. Despite the possibility of reanimation, his
departure creates a huge vacuum in the promotion and analytical contributions he
has made to unlock the mechanisms of aging.
His encyclopedic knowledge of the literature and ability to recognize
patterns that others did not see enabled him to be such an effective spokesman in
bringing aging research to public awareness.
Neither one of us could have imagined the extent of the
network that has developed from our initial efforts to put together a core team
of researchers with like goals. This
was to be done in an informal way to promote and advance the study of
GRG came about through a random meeting of two strangers who
shared a very strong common goal for most of their life. They had some overlapping but mostly very
different backgrounds and capabilities. We
were both physicians, but one came from academia and the other from clinical
practice and the business of medicine. I
had been experimenting within my clinics with the application of electric
fields that stimulated the initiation of tissue regeneration partially through
stem cell proliferation and migration. He was focused on the mathematical
modeling and interpreting of genomic data generated from sequencing technologies
of that time period.
On October 24th, 1989, I meet Steve for the first
time at the International Conference of the Human Genome in San Diego. He was standing in front of his poster
exhibit demonstrating a technique for analyzing the raw data from sequencing efforts. We started talking about the value of the
genome project in the context of learning the nature of those genes and
associated sequences that may influence aging in mammals and by extension,
humans. It was then that we discovered
the depth of our mutual lifelong interest with the goal of slowing, eventually
stopping and ultimately reversing the aging process.
Steve had an extensive background in mathematics, computer
science and medicine as well as the biology of aging. Our association would ultimately lead to the
unique network of like-minded scientists and physicians that would become the
After that initial meeting we explored the possibilities of
what we could accomplish together. It
made sense that if we combined our respective strengths we could arrange for
the presentation of studies that we felt demonstrated the most promising
findings and represented the latest discoveries.
These ranged from basic science to clinical medicine. The plan was to go into the field and interview
these potential speakers at their labs and/or clinics and then ask them if they
were interested in presenting their work to our small group. I set up a slide projector and video
recording system in an auditorium like space in my home and we would invite
guest speakers along with mostly UCLA and USC based researchers. More than a
journal club, this would enable us to hear from the authors live and in many
cases see research that had not yet been published.
For the first few months, we would meet at either my house in
the Pacific Palisades or his in Marina Del Ray and evaluate the spectrum of
current hypotheses that tried to explain the mechanisms that contributed to
aging. Transcripts of those meetings
were made and served as the basis of our field trips to prospective speakers in
the Southern California area. During the first two to three quarters of 1990 we
made several significant finds of very exciting work in progress. Steve had the ability to remain consistently
passionate and energized when thinking and discussing the challenges of
discovering the causes of aging and how we can intervene. After our sessions this enthusiasm was
contagious and we both felt amazingly optimistic and excited about the future.
Some of the important researchers who we visited and who became
early core members of the GRG included Steve Harris for his work on mice
longevity and Co Q10; Joe Schulman for
his work in developing functional electromechanical prosthetics such as the
Bion, artificial pancreas, advanced pace makers, etc; Greg Fahy for his work in cryogenics and
cryopreservation. His work lead to our
thinking that having a cryonics Plan B was a possible option if we did not
discover a way to extend our personal lifespan; Michael Rose for his work with the rapidly
reproducing fruit flies and their use as a model to discover how genetics
contributed to their longevity; Bob Nathan of Cal Tech for his work in pattern
recognition from raw imaging data generated by NASA spacecraft and applied to
biology; and Bernard Strehler whose work on the theory of aging focused on the
selective loss of rDNA in non-dividing cells that in turn correlated with the
great variations in lifespans between many mammalian species. Steve worked with Strehler at USC for many
years before we met and considered him one of his mentors.
We later visited the labs of Paul and Helen Hansma at UCSB
where they made great advances in atomic force microscopy. At that time we knew that if the technology
for more rapid and accurate DNA sequencing could be developed, it would greatly
advance the application of comparing the genomes of longer-lived animal and
humans to see if we could find contributing genes whose expression or lack of
expression would influence the rate of aging.
GRG is formed:
We decided to call our group
the Los Angeles Gerontology Research Group (or GRG) in the second half of 1990
and it became a division of California Institute of Medicine, a medical
corporation I had formed in the late 1980’s. (See our membership card that I
still carry today in my wallet. Member #1 is Steve and my member # is 2).
Our first meetings were held in the last part of 1990 and
have continued until this last year when Steve could no longer moderate them
(see grg.org website for the list of archived meetings). After the first 5 years of our group’s
formation, the meetings moved to UCLA and Steve took over the operations,
arranging for speakers, scheduling the meetings and providing his famous review
of the literature of interest for that month.
With great enthusiasm and passion he conducted his review that usually
lasted much longer than the guest speaker’s presentation for the evening.
Aside from our professional relationship, we became close
friends. Steve always wanted to see
feature films the day they were released.
We spent many evenings together critiquing a film during dinner after
the screening. He had a wide range of
interests beyond the scientific and clinical.
I will especially miss the depth of our intense discussions
of theory and application based on rapidly expanding scientific knowledge and
resulting technology. It is such a
tragedy that he will not be able to see the developments that will surely
follow that will enable us to reach our ultimate goal of meaningful life
extension and not just rectangularizing the curve.
Lets hope we meet again after the reanimation and be in awe
of just how far man will have come in this ultimate quest.
Your lifelong friend and colleague,
Steven M. Kaye, MD