Steven Austad, a noted biologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, stood before a packed house and casually placed a pill bottle on a stool.
“There are consequences to our success,” Austad said at TEDxBirmingham 2016. “Medicine has found ways to delay our dying, but it hasn’t found a way to delay our aging.”
The drug he displayed is cheap and has been around for years for the treatment of Type 2 diabetes. It may be an answer to the problem of aging by providing better long-term health for even those without diabetes. The drug, Metformin, can reduce the risk of cancer and has the potential to slow the aging process, according to Austad.
In short, it’s a miracle drug – provided it has the same impact on humans that it did on mice.
The third annual TEDxBirmingham was one of 29 TEDx events held across five continents on Saturday alone. TEDx is part of an international community, with locally organized events celebrating regional ideas and elevating them to a global stage. The one in Alabama is hosted in partnership with corporate sponsors including Regions Bank, which is headquartered in Birmingham.
Participants came to UAB’s Alys Stephens Center to hear fresh ideas based on the premise of “Pure Imagination” from doctors, scientists, educators, writers, artists and a youth camp director. In all, there were 17 speakers plus performances by AROVA Contemporary Ballet, spoken-word poet Keiani Taylor and the Southern Gothic band War Jacket.
Ahmad Ward, a Civil Rights educator, told about the continuing impact of racism in America. Calligrapher Deb Warnat showed the positive impact of handwriting, a skill that has been reinstated in school curriculums across the country.
Marine biologist Jim McClintock spoke on witnessing the impact of climate change in Antarctica, which he has routinely visited on scientific expeditions for 30 years. He has witnessed firsthand the disappearance of penguins affected by diminishing food sources and volatile weather. “I believe we can still turn the tide on climate change,” McClintock said, “but we have to act soon.”
Medical futurist Dr. Rubin Pillay talked about his own brush with a potential cardiac arrest episode while on vacation, and how he used an app on his smartphone to perform an EKG and transmit immediate results to his cardiologist. With the potential of a new wave of medical apps, medicine can become more affordable for all.
“The good news is we’re on the cusp of radical change,” Pillay said. “New technology will give patients the ability to direct their own (medical) case” through technology, avoiding expensive medical bills.
Austad pointed out that today’s generation can live 30 years longer than generations before. A child born today could outlive his or her parents by decades, thanks to improved medicine, technology and wellness programs.
Yet longer lives mean we must live differently, Austad said, and could provide a drain on the economy.
Instead of retiring, people may return to school and work on a second career. And, later in life, they may consider public service or volunteerism to stay active.
The reason, Austad said, is simple.
“Happiness in life is tied to a reason to get out of bed,” he said. “A purpose.”