[Paleopsych] The 25-Year Wait for Immortality

Christian Rauh christian.rauh at uconn.edu
Thu Apr 14 15:48:24 UTC 2005

Will the rich be the ones to benefit from this technology?
Will it be withheld from others? Patented?
Would there be a clash between mortals vs. immortals?
Should immortality be a universal right?
Will immortals ever risk their lives for anything?
Would life become too valuable to sacrifice for an idea?


Steve Hovland wrote:
>   Hang in There: The 25-Year Wait for Immortality
> By Ker Than
> Special to LiveScience
> posted: 11 April 2005
> 06:32 am ET
> "I think it's reasonable to suppose that one could oscillate between being 
> biologically 20 and biologically 25 indefinitely."
> -- Aubrey de Grey
> Time may indeed be on your side. If you can just last another quarter 
> century.
> By then, people will start lives that could last 1,000 years or more. Our 
> human genomes will be modified to include the genetic material of 
> microorganisms that live in the soil, enabling us to break down the junk 
> proteins that our cells amass over time and which they can't digest on 
> their own. People will have the option of looking and feeling the way they 
> did at 20 for the rest of their lives, or opt for an older look if they get 
> bored. Of course, everyone will be required to go in for age rejuvenation 
> therapy once every decade or so, but that will be a small price to pay for 
> near-immortality.
> This may sound like science fiction, but Aubrey de Grey thinks this could 
> be our reality in as little as 25 years. Other scientists caution that it 
> is far from clear whether and for how long science can stall the 
> inevitable.
> De Grey, a Cambridge University researcher, heads the Strategies for 
> Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) project, in which he has defined 
> seven causes of aging, all of which he thinks can be dealt with. 
> (Senescence is scientific jargon for aging.)
> De Grey also runs the Methuselah Mouse prize for breakthroughs in extended 
> aging in mice. The purse of the M Prize, as it is called, recently grew 
> beyond $1 million.
> LiveScience recently spoke with de Gray about his idea of living longer, 
> and perhaps forever.
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------  
> --------
> LiveScience: What is your definition of aging?
>  Life Expectancy in America Hits Record High
>  Infusion of Young Blood Revives Old Muscles
>  Roots of Graying Hair Discovered
>  Ray Kurzweil Aims to Live Forever
> Aubrey de Grey: The definition that I like is not very good if you want to 
> cover all species, but it's pretty good if you want to do something about 
> it. I define aging as the set of accumulated side effects from metabolism 
> that eventually kills us.
> Is your goal to just extend the human lifespan substantially or to enable 
> us to live forever?
> I don't see any inherent limit to how long it would be desirable to live. 
> If life is fun at the moment, because one is healthy and youthful, both 
> mentally and physically, then one is not likely to want to die in the next 
> year or two. And if a year or two down the road, life is still fun because 
> one is still youthful and so on, then the same will apply, and I can't see 
> a time when that would cease to be true.
> When did you first come up with idea for your SENS project?
> Well, I've always considered aging to be undesirable, but I didn't begin to 
> consider that I could make a contribution until about ten years ago. I 
> suppose the major breakthrough was when I came up with the scheme that I 
> now describe as SENS, and that happened about four years ago.
> 7 Deadly SENS
> Nuclear Mutations/Epimutations
> These are changes to the DNA, the molecule that contains our genetic 
> information, or to proteins which bind to the DNA. Certain mutations can 
> lead to cancer.
> Mitochondrial Mutations
> Mitochondria are components in our cells that are important for energy 
> production. They contain their own genetic material, and mutations to their 
> DNA can affect a cell's ability to function properly.
> Intracellular Junk
> Our cells are constantly breaking down proteins that are no longer useful 
> or which can be harmful. Those proteins which can't be digested simply 
> accumulate as junk inside our cells.
> Extracellular Junk
> Harmful junk protein can also accumulate outside of our cells. The amyloid 
> plaque seen in the brains of Alzheimer's patients is one example.
> Cell Loss
> Some of the cells in our bodies cannot be replaced, or can only be replaced 
> very slowly.
> Cell Senescence
> This is a phenomenon where the cells are no longer able to divide. They may 
> also do other things that they're not supposed to, like secreting proteins 
> that could be harmful.
> Extracellular Crosslinks:
> Cells are held together by special linking proteins. When too many 
> cross-links form between cells in a tissue, the tissue can lose its 
> elasticity and cause problems.
> What happened was that I was gradually learning a lot of biology because my 
> wife is a biologist. I was originally trained as a computer scientist, and 
> I regarded aging as obviously undesirable but not my problem, that someone 
> else would be working on it.
> But the more biology I learned, the more I also learned about biologist and 
> about the attitudes toward working on the biology of aging that biologists 
> tended to have, and basically, I wasn't very impressed. I found that rather 
> few biologists were interested in the problem at all, and I thought, "Well, 
> that isn't very good,", so I thought I'd see what I could do.
> Your background is in computer science. How does that qualify you to 
> spearhead a project on aging?
> My background is enormously beneficial. There are really very important 
> differences between the type of creativity involved in being a basic 
> scientist and being an engineer. It means that I'm able to think in very 
> different ways and come up with approaches to things that are different 
> from the way a basic scientist might think.
> Could you give me an example of when your background has proven useful?
> Well, I suppose that the whole SENS project is one big example. What I've 
> done there is I've identified a set of things to fix, a set of aspects of 
> aging that we have some respectable chance to repair, and I've realized 
> that if we can do all of these things reasonably well, then we're done.
> Basically, we'll have made the age related problems that we suffer from 
> these days no longer an inevitable consequence of being alive. What I've 
> done is basically factored out all the complicated details of how 
> metabolism causes these things in the first place. It will be many decades 
> before we understand the way cells and organs work well enough to be able 
> to describe in detail the mechanism of how these problems actually occur.
> But my way of thinking is that we don't need to know the details of how 
> they happen. So long as we know what these things are that do happen, we 
> can figure out ways to fix them. This is counter to the ways that 
> scientists think, because scientists are interested in knowledge for its 
> own sake, whereas I'm interested in knowledge as a means to an end.
> Could you give me a timeline for how you envision your project succeeding?
> The first part of the project is to get really impressive results in mice. 
> The reason that's important is because mice are sufficiently furry and 
> people can identify with them. If we get really impressive results in mice, 
> then people will believe that it's possible to do it in humans, whereas if 
> you double the lifespan of a fruit fly, people aren't going to be terribly 
> interested.
> Now, what I want to do in mice is not only develop interventions which 
> extend their healthy lifespan by a substantial amount, but moreover, to do 
> so when the mouse is already in middle age. This is very important, because 
> if you do things to the mouse's genes before the mouse is even conceived, 
> then people who are alive can't really identify with that.
> I reckon it will be about 10 years before we can achieve the degree of life 
> extension with late onset interventions that will be necessary to prove to 
> society's satisfaction that this is feasible. It could be longer, but I 
> think that so long as the funding is there, then it should be about 10 
> years.
> Step two will involve translating that technology to humans. And because 
> that's further in the future, it's much more speculative about how long 
> that's going to take. But I think we have a fifty-fifty chance of doing it 
> within about 15 years from the point where we get results with the mice. So 
> 25 years from now.
> What do you think about the idea that with so much life at stake, people 
> would be less willing to take risks?
> The journal of the SENS institute.
> I used to be more pessimistic about this than I am now. Five or six years 
> ago I wrote a book in which I predicted that driving would be outlawed 
> because it would be too dangerous to other people, but now I think that 
> what's actually going to happen is that we'll just throw money at the 
> problem. Rather than simply avoiding activities that are risky, we'll make 
> them less risky through technology. For example, it's perfectly possible 
> already to build cars that are much safer than those which most people 
> currently drive, and it's also possible to build cars that are safer for 
> pedestrians-with auto sensors and auto braking to stop from hitting a kid 
> running out in the road and things like that.
> It's just a matter of priorities. When there isn't that many years of life 
> to lose, the priority isn't there to spend the money. It's all a matter of 
> weighing out the probabilities.
> Once the technology is available, nearly everyone is going to want it. Of 
> course, there's going to be a minority of people who think it's better to 
> live more naturally in some way or other. We have parallels like that in 
> society today, like the Amish for example.
> Some would say that death is a part of life. What would be your response to 
> those people?
> Death will still be a part of life when we haven't got aging anymore. If 
> you mean that some people would say that aging is a part of life-well, 
> that's certainly true, but a couple hundred years ago tuberculosis was a 
> part of life, and we didn't have much hesitation in making that no longer a 
> part of life when we found out how.
> What do you say to critics who think that this money could be better spent 
> towards curing diseases like cancer?
> This is a very important point. Because we're going be in a situation where 
> we can extend lifespans indefinitely, this argument doesn't work. If it 
> were a case of simply having a prospect of extending our healthy lives by 
> 20 or 30 years, then one could legitimately argue that this would be money 
> more ethically spent on extending the lifespan of people who have a below 
> average lifespan. But when we're talking about extending lifespans 
> indefinitely, I don't think that really works. The other thing to bear in 
> mind, is that it's not an either or thing. The reasons why people in Africa 
> for example, have a low life expectancy is not just because of medical 
> care, but also because of political problems.
> What kind of life will the immortal or nearly-immortal lead? Will they have 
> to be on a special diet, or have constant organ transplants?
> Like any technology, when it first starts off, it will be a bit shaky, a 
> bit risky, it will be very laborious and expensive and so on, but there 
> will be enormous market pressures that will result in progressive 
> refinement and improvement to the technology so that it not only becomes 
> more effective, it becomes more convenient and so on. This will be an 
> example of that.
> In a very general sort of sense, one could probably think in terms of 
> having to go in for a refresh every 10 years or so. Exactly what would be 
> involved in that will change over the years. It might start off as lets say 
> a month in the hospital, and 10 years down the road, that will turn into a 
> day in the hospital.
> A good parallel is vaccines. For example, when we take a holiday in Africa 
> or Southeast Asia or whatever, we get a shot to make sure that we don't get 
> malaria. And that's all we have to do, and when we get there we can eat Mc 
> Donald's as much as one likes.
> Aubrey de Grey
> So you think it'll one day be as easy as getting a vaccine?
> Yes, that's right. A lot of these things, even in the early stages will 
> amount to vaccines and drugs. Though of course, there will also be a lot of 
> gene therapy and stem cell therapy and much more high tech stuff.
> Why did you establish both an institute and a prize?
> I think it's very important to have this two-prong approach. The idea here 
> is that we don't really know what's going to work, but we have a fair idea 
> of approaches that have a good probability of working.
> If you look at past technological achievements, some of them succeeded by 
> just throwing serious effort and serious resources at the problem, and 
> people were pretty sure of what they had to do to make the thing work. The 
> Manhattan Project is a fine example of that. Everyone basically knew how to 
> build the atomic bomb, it was just a question of working out the kinks.
> Then we've got things where there were loads of different possibilities 
> about how the thing might be done, and it was important to motivate people 
> and give incentives. For example, when Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic, 
> that won a prize. And when someone invented a chronometer that worked 
> properly at sea, that won a prize. Things like that. That was where you 
> wanted to give incentives for people to follow their hunches, because it 
> wasn't very clear which approach was going to work.
> I think that when we're talking about life extension, we're sort of halfway 
> between these two situations. We have a bunch of ideas which one can make a 
> good case that it's going to work, but we also want to hedge our bets, and 
> let people follow their hunches as well.
> Of your seven SENS targets, which do you consider to be the most important?
> It's not possible to say. I don't think we will be able to achieve more 
> than a relatively modest amount of life extension, if any, until we can get 
> at least five or so of these things working, and we might need to do all 
> seven before we get more than a decade of life extension.
> Why do you personally want to live forever?
> It's not really a matter of living forever, it's just a matter of not 
> wanting to die. One doesn't live forever all in one go, one lives forever 
> one year at a time. It's just a case of "Well, life seems to be fun, and I 
> don't see any prospect of it ceasing to be fun unless I get frail and 
> miserable and start declining." So if I can avoid declining, I'll stay with 
> it really.
> What would you do if you could live substantially longer?
> They say variety is the spice of life, so I don't think I would do the same 
> things every day. I'd like to be able to spend more time reading, and 
> listen to music, and all that sort of thing, things that I never get to do 
> at all at the moment.
> You think this project is going to succeed in your lifetime?
> I think it's got a respectable chance. I'm definitely not relying on it. My 
> main motivation comes from the thought of how many lives will be saved.
> Your strategy would involve not only preventing aging, but reversing it as 
> well. Does that mean people will get to choose what age they want to 
> remain?
> Absolutely. So the idea is that we wouldn't be eliminating aging from the 
> body. It'll be a case of going in periodically and having the accumulated 
> damage repaired. So exactly what biological age you actually have at any 
> point is really just a question of how often you go in for rejuvenations 
> and how thorough they are.
> So the more treatments you undergo, the younger you can be?
> That's right. I think it's reasonable to suppose that one could oscillate 
> between being biologically 20 and biologically 25 indefinitely.
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