Synthetic biology, the answer to ageing, and more at Research & Innovation 2023

Synthetic biology, the answer to ageing, and more at Research & Innovation 2023


The life sciences and drug discovery landscape continues to advance at pace, delivering innovations with the potential to transform patients’ lives across the world. But keeping up with these advancements is no easy feat.

That’s why we created the Research & Innovation (R&I) Conference over 5 years ago, now one of ELRIG’s renowned flagship events.

But what is Research & Innovation? And why should you attend?

In this blog, we give you the answer. You’ll get an overview of this info-packed event, the lowdown on why you really can’t afford to miss it, and a sneak peek at the presentation topics from our keynote speakers: Altos Labs’ Dr Ken Raj and Dr Ron Weiss of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

R&I 2023: the place for knowledge-sharing, collaboration, and opportunity

The R&I conference shines light on the emerging biological discoveries and cutting-edge technologies that are shaping the medicines of tomorrow. It brings together leading scientists, researchers, and entrepreneurs with bold ideas, and one shared ambition: to develop the next generation of therapies to cure more patients around the world.

This year, R&I runs from 29–30th March at the Hinxton Hall Conference Centre in Cambridgeshire, UK. We’ll be joined by experts from institutions such as AstraZeneca, Charles River, IQVIA, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who will share their insights on the latest advances in four areas:

  • Synthetic biology
  • Ultra-rare disease drug discovery and personalized therapies
  • The role of geroscience in addressing age-related diseases
  • AI-driven drug discovery

And there’s ample reason to attend…

1.    Stay abreast of the latest topics, trends, and technologies

With so many experts and peers in one place, R&I offers a great opportunity for you to quickly get to the forefront of knowledge in some of the most exciting areas of biological and life sciences research. Whether you’re just setting out on your academic career or are a seasoned industry veteran, the insights and innovations shared at R&I 2023 could be just what you need to finally overcome your most pressing bottlenecks or inspire your next breakthrough.

Keen to contribute to the knowledge-sharing yourself? Then why not submit a scientific poster summarising some of your ground-breaking research? You could even get the chance to present in the main speaker sessions.

2.    Connect and collaborate to propel your career

As an in-person event created and attended by those who truly know the value of collaboration, R&I offers an unparalleled networking opportunity. Come and immerse yourself in our supportive, mentor-minded community where you’ll find individuals happy to give career advice as well as like-minded peers who can help advance your research.

3.    The place to be for ECPs: share your work, get recognised

ELRIG has always sought to reward and elevate the profile of early career professionals. At R&I, we’ll announce the recipient of our renowned, career-boosting Early Career Professionals Impact Awardand it’s not too late to apply (submissions close 3rd March). Read our recent blog to find out why you shouldn’t hesitate to put together your application, right now!

4.    Free of charge, always

Open-access science is at the core of what we do. That’s why attendance at R&I, like all our events, is completely free of charge.

Sounds great right? But if that wasn’t enough to get you excited, we also sat down with two of our keynotes to give you early insights into their pioneering research and R&I presentations, as well as why they’re just as excited as we are for R&I 2023.

Keynote Dr Ron Weiss: unlocking the therapeutic potential of synthetic biology

Our synthetic biology session will be chaired by the world-renowned Dr Ron Weiss, one of the pioneers of synthetic biology and professor of biological engineering at MIT. A computer scientist by training, Dr Weiss quickly became fascinated with synthetic biology.

“Halfway through my PhD, I realised we might be able to program cells just like a computer. I was instantly hooked by the concept of genetic programming, and how we might be able to utilize this for therapeutic purposes — that was the start of my journey into what we now call synthetic biology,” noted Dr Weiss.

With 25+ years of synthetic biology knowledge behind him, Dr Weiss currently leads the Weiss lab to explore the foundational technologies for synthetic biology and its therapeutic application.

“Right now, we’re looking at how we can build synthetic gene networks both to better understand cell behaviour and to reprogram it. For example, we’re exploring how to create cells with actuators and sensors that can be precisely controlled by digital and analogue circuitry.”

And Dr Weiss was clear on the wide-ranging potential impacts of such advancements, especially on drug discovery and healthcare.

“Part of our work is finding out how embedding these genetic programs in cells can fundamentally change current therapeutic approaches,” he added. “We see huge potential for enhanced, more targeted immunotherapies, as well as more representative organoid and multi-organ models through iPSC programming. We could even start to see models for diseases and conditions that we haven’t been able to model to date. The impacts for drug discovery and even transplantation are hard to overstate.”

He also shared his outlook on how such technologies could impact every level of the life sciences space.

“Without a doubt, most biologists will embrace synthetic biology. It’s hard to imagine situations where cell programming isn’t useful to some extent. For now, though, it’s about identifying the low hanging fruit — finding out what is feasible and what will provide the most impact in the short term,” he added.

In his keynote talk, Dr Weiss will share his deep synthetic biology expertise with conference attendees, providing a top-level overview of cell programming for those less familiar with the subject. From there, he’ll use this foundation to explore the idea of programmable organoids, noting how multi-step developmental programs can be used to create liver organoids.

“The talk will be highly valuable for anyone interested in the cutting edge of developmental biology and organoid applications. But more than that, it will be valuable to anyone intrigued by how these tools can be applied in their own research endeavours. That’s the beauty of these tools — they are relevant for so many other fields,” he said.

Dr Weiss is eager to soak up all the other knowledge that will be shared at R&I 2023, too: “The full line up of presentations looks super interesting, and the topics mesh exceptionally well with synthetic biology. Events like this are so important as they facilitate a valuable intersection and cross-fertilization of topics. That meeting point is where exciting things happen.”

Keynote Dr Ken Raj: the secrets to resilience against age-related disease

Dr Ken Raj, Principal Investigator of the Cambridge Institute of Science at Altos Labs, is another of our keynotes for R&I 2023. Dr Raj’s research followed a winding path that saw him investigate cancer-causing viruses and radiobiology, before joining Altos, where he currently researches the processes underpinning ageing.

“What struck me first when looking into ageing was that, except for congenital diseases, almost every disease is age-related. It was immediately clear we should be looking at the ageing process if we want to prevent disease. Theoretically, if you can retain the resilience you have at 25, you should be able to stave off many of the diseases that plague us today.”

While there are many mechanistic underpinnings of ageing, Dr Raj’s work at Altos currently focuses on epigenetics.

“The reason to look at epigenetics is very simple: many ageing mechanisms fail to explain why we age in a consistent and predictable way, except for epigenetics, where there is a very clear correlation between DNA methylation changes and age. So, that’s the focus of my work.” he said.

While the research is in its early stages, Dr Raj pondered the consequences of properly understanding the epigenetics underpinning ageing, noting his aim is to eventually develop interventions that could delay, prevent or perhaps even alter the age-related methylation process.

“Those attending my talk will learn about my current research. I’ll discuss the research around epigenetic clocks — as relatively few people are aware of it — and I’ll also give a broader view of the ageing research landscape and its potential future directions. It’s a very different landscape to other pathologies, and the approach to looking for interventions is likely to be very different to others that we’ve used. Importantly, I’ll also share Altos’ novel approach to knowledge acquisition — namely how we’re taking the best of current academic and industry models to really let impactful research flourish.”

Dr Raj also shared his excitement for R&I 2023, noting the key role such conferences play in the scientific sphere: “I’m looking forward to learning about the new discoveries that may have escaped me. There’s no better way to find out the latest advancements than at a high-quality conference — it beats reading hundreds of papers, and allows you to directly engage with peers for greater debate. Perhaps most importantly, though, I look forward to engaging with and getting feedback from other attendees and participants on the role of age-related research in the future of medicine.”

Don’t miss your place at R&I 2023!

So, what are you waiting for? R&I 2023 promises to be an exceptional conference, filled with the very latest science and offering a unique opportunity to embed yourself deeper into the life sciences innovation ecosystem.


We look forward to seeing you there!