Last Tuesday, 9th of December, a wonderful event took place in Stockholm: The Nobel Week Dialogue. The event was organized at the Stockholm City Conference Centre, near the city center and it hosted some of the most brilliant minds of our time. As a KI student, you do not only get the advantages of studying at the institution in charge of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, but you can also take part in some of the many events organized in the city of Stockholm.
Nobel Week Dialogue @ City Conference Centre
Everybody getting to their seats!
Did you know that 68 is the new 57 in Sweden? Aging is not what it used to be, explained James W. Vaupel. Medical, social and economic improvements are changing the concept of getting old and as years go by, senescence is delayed.
An intense day from 9:30 to 17:00, but absolutely worth it. Multiple keynote speakers gave short and engaging presentations tackling issues such as: is human development not only determined by biology, but also by our cultural context and behavior?; is our lifestyle model of working and retirement sustainable and productive?; are we living longer but only increasing our reliance on younger people?
Ursula M Staudinger explaining our productivity throughout our lifetime.
In addition to these short and intense 15-minutes lecture, discussion panels were organized with experts in different fields, including Nobel Prize winners. Some topics that were discussed were the equivalence between functional age and chronological age. If retirement ages are supposed to be extended, we should consider that not everyone at the age of 65 is lucky enough to feel 10 years “younger”.
Then, Tom Kirkwood gave a more biological perspective to why we actually age. Maybe our genes are programmed to “prevent overcrowding”?. However, this is not expected to be the reasoning behind it. Wild animals normally die young, making the aging process a consequence of accumulative molecular damage.
However, why do some people live longer than others? Even though the answer is not yet clear, one thing is: studies have shown how Nobel Prize winners live a couple of years longer than the nominees. This study presented by Andrew Oswald, added to the fact that happier animals heal more quickly, gives us some ideas on how to extend our life expectancy.
But, do we really understand what becoming old means? Laura Carstensen explained how aging is not only associated to negative things. As we age, people tend to have less negative feelings and embrace their own tendency to look at the bright side and what really is important. For example, as we grow, our social network selectively narrows and helps us really get the best of it.
After this, “fun” fact: The sale of adult diapers has increased over that of baby diapers. This shows us how important it is to adapt to future markets. Joe Coughlin, founding director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab, made the public realize how technology is entering our houses without us really noticing. To make our older generations’ life easier, this institute is simulating aging -to use empathy for the design of future technologies- by using specialized suits that make you feel the pain and tiredness associated to age.
Joe Coughlin – Walking with AGNES to Reenginer an Ageing World.
All these topics and activities mentioned above are just a glimpse of this amazing day I had the pleasure of experiencing; but many more are left untold. Definitely, one of the best events I have attended in Stockholm so far. Even though studying at KI includes many hours of lectures, activities in class and group work, it has the perfect scenario for us students to enjoy a wide variety of enriching activities. To sum up, during the event the audience was asked if this increase in the older generations was more a challenge or an opportunity? To this, Elizabeth Blackburn, Nobel Prize for discovering the nature of telomeres, gave a really inspiring answer that can apply to almost any issue in our lives: The challenge IS the opportunity.
Closing panel with 6 Nobel Prize winners on stage: Elisabeth Blackburn, Eric Maskin, Daniel McFadden, Aaron Ciechanover, Craig Mello and Eric Kandel.