Another Review For Coping With Methuselah

Aging researcher Leonid Gavrilov is requesting comments on a draft review of "Coping With Methuselah: The Impact of Molecular Biology on Medicine and Society." You may recall that this book was recently reviewed by Aubrey de Grey, who makes a good case for claiming that the authors are far too conservative - a view I share. Leonid Gavrilov, despite his own concerns with the state of the aging research establishment, thinks that the book occupies more of a moderate position:

This book is about the future of human lifespan, the possibility of a longevity revolution in the 21st century (significant life extension), and the social consequences of living much longer lives than we live today.


For skeptics, who believe that this scenario represents overly optimistic wishful thinking, it may be interesting to read a recent review of this book published in the scientific journal "PLoS Biology", 2004, 2(6); 723-726 ([link]). Interestingly enough, the book is criticized in that review for being too pessimistic, and not considering opportunities for a much more dramatic life extension. Thus the scenario presented in this book is in fact a moderate vision of the future, compared to other scenarios currently discussed in the scientific literature.

If you have comments for him, go ahead and post them at Google. While it is far too conservative in scope and projections, this book (and reviews thereof) will help bring greater public understanding and support for extending the healthy human life span.

Questions Of Funding And Balance

An interesting article at SAGE Crossroads examines public Alzheimer's funding in the context of the wider effort to understand - and eventually cure - aging. Is the sheer weight of Alzheimer's money flowing from the NIA distracting the scientific establishment from equally important research into the aging process? Or is the additional healthy life gained for many people through defeating Alzheimer's worth the extended detour? This seems to be another prevention versus cure argument, but there's a little more to it than that. Big science, we are reminded, is very much a human, political process: people with the same end goal in mind disagree over how to reach their target for both the best and worst of reasons.


Retirement And Healthy Life Extension

Glenn Reynolds ends his series of Tech Central Station articles on healthy life extension today with a look at retirement. "Logically, retirement should be put off until people are medically old, or perhaps just replaced with disability, and those who are able to work should do so, while those desirous of not working should save up as for a long vacation." He feels that increased longevity will provide a way out for societies locked into social security pyramid schemes. This is assuming rational behavior on the part of those in power and those voting themselves money from the public purse, however. Fixed retirement age is a fairly recent (and frankly pretty dumb) concept: the sooner it goes away, the better.


Update On California Stem Cell Ballot reports on the current state of play for the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative, as well as on other major public and university funding efforts around the US. "As we dither and argue, we aren't making any progress, and people don't have the time to wait. It should be full steam ahead. This is hard work, and things are being hampered by this whole political snarl." The article notes that religious groups opposed to the California ballot measure have formed their own group to campaign on a platform of fiscal responsibility. I maintain that the real problem in the US is due to threatened bans on therapeutic cloning - uncertainty is scaring away serious private funding of stem cell research.


Singapore Anti-Aging Conference Over

This Straits Times article illustrates that the anti-aging medicine industry is hindering the healthy life extension cause at least as much as it is helping. While the science conference was attended by a reputable crowd of researchers, the exhibition contained items ranging from "face creams containing oxygen and vitamin A to rejuvenate skin, to home saunas that use infrared rays instead of steam to help people detoxify and lose weight." Far too much time and energy is spent on this sort of nonsense. People are misinformed and led astray by these "anti-aging" vendors - real anti-aging science lies in the future, but it will never happen in time if we remain focused on junk science and fraudulent marketing.


General Health, Longevity, and Not A Pill (Part II)

Glenn Reynolds followed up today on some reader questions about his recent discussions of anti-aging research.

At any rate, some readers wanted to know what they could do to live longer now. Er, you mean like diet and exercise? Those really do help, you know. As I can attest from personal experience observing my friends (and, increasingly, my law students) by the time people get past the mid-thirties, those who exercise and eat sensibly -- and who don't smoke -- tend to look, and act, and feel, a lot younger than those whose habits are less healthful. Vanity alone would seem to be reason enough to adopt those healthy habits, but you're certainly likely to live longer, and to enjoy better health along the way, if you do.

This really is basically it. It's not rocket science. Today, despite amazing, continuing progress in laboratories around the world, there is no proven way to increase your maximum potential life span other than to practice calorie restriction - and it's possible that CR will only add a few years to that maximum life span. The anti-aging medicine of the future is simply not here yet.

There are, however, a great many things you can do to avoid reducing your actual life span below your maximum. There are many things you can do to improve your health thoughout your life. These are the obvious things: exercise, maintain a good relationship with your physician, take supplements, eat healthily, keep the weight off and have a responsible attitude towards planning for medical expenses. Don't smoke. Or shoot yourself. Or adopt any of the other myriad self-destructive, health-damaging behaviors we seem to like inflicting upon ourselves.

If we keep ourselves in shape, we can be healthy and active to benefit from the medical technology of decades to come - which will almost certainly provide real, meaningful anti-aging benefits and additional decades of healthy life. If we get off our collective behinds and support the funding and research process, that is. The future doesn't make itself, after all.

You can read more about this methodology for aiming to live a very long, healthy life at the Longevity Meme. It's something I've been saying for a while, but it's only common sense.

Which brings me to advances in anti-aging medicine, legitimate and otherwise. You may recall my attempts to divide the healthy life extension world into "old school" and "new school". It doesn't quite work as advertised, but it does provide a useful framework for examining new business ventures claiming to provide products that can extend your life - such as the very definitely old school Longevinex and resveratrol.

Glenn Reynolds comments:

If you want a pill instead, well, good luck. There's some research indicating that resveratrol, a substance found in red wine and a variety of foods, can retard aging significantly. And you can buy pills containing it, but they get a pretty negative review in terms of effectiveness. Apparently resveratrol does better in wine than it does in capsules. Of course, if you don't have an alcohol problem, or other health issues that get in the way, moderate red-wine consumption will probably help, but it's no panacea.

Some people think that alpha-lipoic acid looks promising, but the jury's still out on that one, too. And neither of these substances will deliver miracles even if they live up to their boosters' fondest hopes. At most, they offer a modest delay in aging; nothing to sneeze at, but nothing huge, either.

For that sort of thing, we need science, and time.

The reputable supplement outlets sell products that are backed by some form of study and scientific theory. The Life Extension Foundation, for example, spends a great deal on getting the information across and validating claims. But the meaningful anti-aging medicine of the next few decades won't be found in a pill:

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that when radical life extension technology - medicine that can add decades to our healthy life spans - is developed, it won't be in the form of a pill.

Sure, there are plenty of people working on drugs that might have quite significant effects on life span and health - but the majority of this work is simply not going to result in products that make as big a difference as we'd all like. Barring bad luck or bad genes, people can make it to a healthy 80 or 100 years through calorie restriction and a good lifestyle. It seems unlikely that any drug I'm aware of in the pipeline at the moment will do much better than that.

In any case, most of these near future products would have to be injected to have the desired effect. The human digestive system is very good at breaking down complex compounds - especially those relating to human biochemistry - before they get anywhere near the bloodstream.

The more complex therapies of the future are the sort of things you undergo in a hospital setting. Stem cell transplants, gene therapies, organ regrowth, cancer scans - these are some the technologies that will - we hope - soon extend the healthy human life span. One day, with the aid of advanced nanotechnology, we will no doubt be able to stuff these procedures into a pill if we so desired - but that day is a long way off. Those people chasing longevity pills and exotic life-extending drugs in the here and now are just barking up the wrong tree and putting their dollars into the wrong field of research in my opinion.

So, people - look to the future. Be ambitious! Of course you have to take care your health today - and supplements are an important part of that - but don't spend excessive time and money chasing the products that will only add a few years to your maximum life span. Instead, support the research that will bring you extra healthy decades ... and eventually centuries.

Reporting On Resveratrol

Betterhumans has published a long report on resveratrol, a compound that seems to cause some of the same gene expression effects as calorie restriction. The big question for any supplement is whether taking a pill gets the compound to where it does any good - and this is still up in the air for resveratrol. Another, higher level concern is whether we should be spending so much time and effort on anti-aging technologies that are not all that effective in the grand scale of things - there is much more important science to fund, after all. Resveratrol is probably going to be good for your health, but will not radically extend your maximum life span.


Receive Methuselah Mouse Merchandise

The Methuselah Mouse Prize is a contest designed to accelerate progress towards real longevity-enhancing medicine and promote public interest in research on healthy life extension. It is one of my favored charitable causes, and so I will be sending Methuselah Mouse goodies to all new donors to the prize fund over the next few weeks. The prize has accumulated more than $400,000 in cash and pledges since the launch in 2003, far outstripping the first year of public fundraising for the Ansari X Prize back in 1996. With your help I expect the Methuselah Mouse Prize to produce the same results for serious anti-aging science that the Ansari X Prize has for private manned space flight. So go ahead and donate!


Support the Mouse, Receive Mouse Merchandise!

I will be running a special offer for the next few weeks: if you donate to the Methuselah Mouse Prize for anti-aging research, I'll send you Methuselah Mouse merchandise.

  • Donate $10 or more for a "Support the Mouse!" bumper sticker
  • Donate $30 or more for a "real anti-aging science" mug
  • Donate $60 or more and obtain a "got rejuvenation?" shirt (long or short sleeves, your choice)
  • Donate $100 or more and receive all three items

When you donate, be sure to include your e-mail address and I'll be in touch with you to organize the mailing of your Methuselah Mouse gear. Remember that by supporting the mouse, you are helping to bring real anti-aging therapies that much closer!

For more details about the Methuselah Mouse Prize, you should visit the Methuselah Foundation. The Foundation is in the process of accomplishing something important with this research prize:

The Methuselah Mouse Prize is a contest designed to accelerate progress towards real longevity-enhancing medicine, promote public interest and involvement in research on healthy life extension, and encourage more such research by providing a financial incentive to researchers.

The prevailing view of the general public is that, despite much-publicised progress in certain areas, we still have no real chance of greatly extending human longevity within the lifetime of anyone alive today. This view may be overly pessimistic. If so, the best way to correct it is to show that the longevity of a laboratory mammal can be greatly increased. This will be especially effective in raising public optimism and interest if the life-extending interventions are only implemented when the mouse has already reached an advanced age, and the prize is partly geared to encouraging such "late-onset" interventions.

In less than a year of running, the prize has accumulated more than $400,000 in cash and pledges - far outstripping the first year of public fundraising for the Ansari X Prize back in 1996-7. I think we can all agree that the X Prize has produced impressive results in a few short years. It has attracted more than $160 million in research funding with a $10 million purse, and reinvigorated the private aerospace industry.

The Methuselah Mouse Prize is one of the next generation in modern prizes and benefits from recent experience. With your help, I expect it to produce the same spectacular results - in both science and public support - for serious anti-aging science that the X Prize has for space travel.

You can read more about research prizes, their history and how they work at the Longevity Meme.

Timeline For Tooth Regeneration

ScienceDaily reports on progress in tooth regeneration. Scientists - including this team from Brazil - are currently using adult stem cells to grow new teeth for rats and pigs. "Within a year, we expect to determine whether the methods we use to regrow animals' teeth will be useful in regenerating human teeth. If the methods prove effective, it will be at least seven years before they can be tested clinically in humans." Given that a number of groups working on tissue engineering for other organs have made similar progress, we should expect a wide range of "grown to order" replacement organs to be available by 2015 - assuming no ban on therapeutic cloning is enacted, of course.


No Louisiana Therapeutic Cloning Bill

(From KATC3). After all the light, noise and hot air from Lousiana politicians, the 2004 session wound up in that state with no bill passed on stem cell research and therapeutic cloning. In terms of the continuing damage to private funding in Louisiana, this is as bad as a ban - no-one will fund medical research into regenerative medicine that might still be criminalized in the next legislative session. This is a good reminder that politicians don't actually hold the key to creation and progress. All they can do is obstruct, delay and destroy. They should do us all a favor and keep their noses out of medical research that will lead to longer, healthier lives.


Libertarianism, Pragmatism, Healthy Life Extension

I have strong libertarian leanings. I value freedom, honesty, and a strong rule of law. In an ideal world, I'd be able to live in a thriving minarchy or anarcho-capitalist society. I think that the Austrian school of economics provides a far better view of the world than that offered by competing economic theories.

Western style democracies are about as far as you can get from a libertarian society and still have a place that's moderately pleasant, free and safe to live in - so long as you blend in and don't make enemies amongst the powerful. Many people believe that high tax rates and lack of freedom (due to a winner-takes-all majority rule system of government and the preponderance of unaccountable, unelected officials) are the necessary cost of personal safety in a modern civilization. The only high profile modern alternatives - dictatorships - are invariably very much worse places to live, after all. But it is simply not true that we need high taxes, large government, and unaccountable officials: there are better ways of doing things.

In any case, how does this little sidebar fit in with healthy life extension? The answer is that in a world of large government, in which a good 35% of all medical research funding is provided by government grants, you can't ignore the system. It is an open question as to whether public funding for medicine speeds the rate at which real anti-aging and healthy life extension therapies are made available more than other aspects of a large government slow things down. For example, it is well known and documented that high taxes have a devastating effect on the economic engine that powers growth, commercialization and advancing technology.

As an individual, you can't change the system on a useful timescale. People are making serious organized attempts to create more libertarian societies, but this has little direct bearing on the large scale advance of real anti-aging science over the next decade or two.

Hence, we come to pragmatism. Between the two biggest problems I see in life - a) that we are aging and will all suffer and die if nothing is done, and b) that society is far less free and honest than it could be - aging is clearly the problem to be dealt with first. There's a time limit attached to it, and I am very much a first things first type of person.

So I draw my lines in a pragmatic manner. At the moment, I support working within the system to the extent of protesting government restrictions on research (although a more libertarian postion would be that any such interaction with government has the undesirable effect of legitimizing the very system you oppose). I'm not a big fan of the California stem cell research ballot initiative, but only because I think that too much (big government restriction and interference) bad is coming with the (research dollars) good on that one. Private projects like the Methuselah Mouse Prize, or any number of foundations and research groups are just fine in my book.

You folks should draw your lines where you please. I'm not a jealous libertarian, like some I could mention, and I'm certainly not telling you what to do. If you are comfortable with living in a Western democracy, more power to you; in a truly plural society you would be able to do so without forcing me to do so to as well. But we don't yet have such a thing, and probably won't until new frontiers - space, virtual nations, ocean living, floating cities in the upper atmosphere, and so forth - are opened up through advancing technology.

My advice to you is to support the healthy life extension initiatives you are comfortable with, and that - on examination - you think will speed progress towards longer, healthier lives. If we all make smart choices, we can help medical science to advance towards real anti-aging medicine in the face of opposition, government and otherwise.

Growing Old Negligibly

A thought for the day from Glenn Reynolds at MSNBC: "Quacks and snake-oil salesmen have been peddling longevity and rejuvenation treatments forever, along with baldness cures and treatments for impotence. Of course, the latter two are real, now." Progress will happen on the longevity and rejuvenation front too - we can already see the signs of regenerative and real anti-aging medicine in the near future. Another good quote: "Extension of the average American lifespan by over two decades in the 20th Century coincided with one of the most dynamic periods in human history. I speculate that extending lifespans to, say, 140, might do the same."


Searching For Longevity Genes In China

Efforts to catalogue the genes responsible for natural longevity are starting up in China now (and reported at Betterhumans). You may recall that similar work has been underway in the US for a while, and the large Genetics of Healthy Aging study recently launched in Europe. Existing research into the genetics of longevity has dovetailed nicely with work on cancer mechanisms, heart conditions, and a number of other age-related disease: the more we learn, the easier it becomes to add new pieces to the puzzle that is human biochemistry. I am optimistic that we will continue to see useful results emerge from these research programs.


Public Policy And Aging Report

The latest Public Policy & Aging report is out, as reported by Medical News Today. It represents, for the most part, the views of the conversative side of biogerontology - those scientists and bioethicists who don't believe that radical life extension or interventions in the aging process are possible in the near future. The focus is on preventing age-related conditions and attacking the more dubious components of the "anti-aging" marketplace rather than extending the healthy human life span per se. Still, I think that we can take some items in the report as evidence that Aubrey de Grey is making progress in changing the minds of the biogerontological community.


Thinking About Healthy Life Extension

While abusing the search feature at Technorati, I stumbled across the Wiser L.E. Journal - an interesting blog record of thoughts on healthy life extension. It's a chain of consciousness affair, and reminds me of my own late night introspection on life extension and how best I could help medical science advance more rapidly. (That being back before the advent of blogs, of course).

My own thoughts eventually led me to create the Longevity Meme and this blog - and volunteer my assistance to projects like the Methuselah Mouse Prize for anti-aging research. It's a start. We're all in this together; the more of us that work to make a difference, the faster it will go. So the best of wishes to William Wiser in his efforts, and I hope to see him at one or other of the healthy life extension community watering holes.

A Cancer Genome Project?

A Life Extension Foundation News article reports on the prospects for mapping the genetic code of cancer: "National Institutes of Health leaders are debating the venture, which would be as ambitious as the Human Genome Project, and perhaps as costly. Labs would need many years and perhaps billions of dollars to decode the DNA of roughly 30,000 genes in each of many hundred tumors. Set mutations in certain of those genes can spur the out-of-control cell growth of cancer." You may recall that scientists recently proposed that only 67 genes played a part in turning normal cells into cancerous cells. Greater understanding of cancer mechanisms tends to lead to a greater understanding of aging.


Stem Cell Research Bills: Not This Year

It looks like any change in US administration policy on stem cell research will have to wait until 2005 (or at least until after the November presidential election). As noted at, political obstacles are being thrown in the way of any formal house and senate debate on this issue. However, "the Reagan death really kind of catapulted the whole thing back into the spotlight. They're under tremendous pressure." A good thing too: blocking research and threatening criminalization of medicine is simply wrong. It is costing lives. If you support this research, now would be a good time to write to your representatives about stem cells and therapeutic cloning.


Japanese Panel Backs Therapeutic Cloning

Forbes reports that a previously divided Japanese government panel has recommended lifting the ban on therapeutic cloning in that country. Therapeutic cloning is a vital technology for much of stem cell based regenerative medicine. There are still a number of steps, committees and votes before this recommendation is enacted as law, so this is an early but promising step. The Japanese debate over therapeutic cloning and stem cell research is similar in many ways to the current furor in the US: the majority of the population backs this research, but decision makers and commentators are deeply divided. I am hopeful that desire for research and therapies will win through in the end - but the delays are costing lives.


Talking About the Aubrey de Grey Interview at Tech Central Station

A number of folks have commented on Genn Reynold's interview with Aubrey de Grey at Tech Central Station today. You should go read it. Randall Parker of FuturePundit notes:

By "escape velocity" Aubrey means the point at which we will be able to repair the damage of aging faster than it accumulates so that the odds of dying decrease rather than increase each year. As it stands now a 50 year old has a higher chance of dying than a 49 year old in the course of a year and a 51 year old has a higher chance of dying in a year's time than a 50 year old. As our bodies get older the odds go up of anything going wrong badly enough to kill us in the space of a year. Aubrey thinks we may reach the "escape velocity" point of aging reversal treatments in the 2020s or 2030s. I share this view and one reason I share it is that the rate of advance of biologicals sciences and biotechnology is accelerating. In fact, the reason I have a category archive entitled Biotech Advance Rates is to demonstrate that we can not use past rates of advance as an indicator of how fast we will advance in the future.

Aubrey recommends reading a fable written by Nick Bostrom, a British Academy Research Fellow at Oxford University, about aging called The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant which is about to be published in The Journal of Medical Ethics.

I second the recommendation for the Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant, and it's a pity that the interview doesn't contain a direct link. It's an enlightening look at the way in which we all delude ourselves about aging, death, terrible events and the possibilities of change. If you haven't read Nick Bostrom's fairytale already, you should certainly do so now.

It's also worth repeating - in light of the bioethical claptrap that various parties are trying to feed us these days - that aging, suffering and death are not noble, beautiful things.

Here's a point I emphatically agree with: Glenn Reynolds thinks there is nothing beautiful about aging and dying.
I've watched people I love age and die, and it wasn't "beautiful and natural." It sucked. Aging is a disease. Cataracts and liver spots don't bring moral enlightenment or spiritual transcendence. Death may be natural -- but so are smallpox, rape, and athlete's foot. "Natural" isn't the same as "good."

As far as I'm concerned, I'd rather see my tax dollars spent on longevity research than, well, most of the other things they're spent on. I wonder how many other people feel that way.

A commenter on the post about the interview has this to say:

That interview with Aubrey de Grey is excellent. One has to wonder what group will pop up to oppose such a technology though. He doesn't think anyone will, but it seems as if there is always some group that is against seemingly beneficial technology.

I have to agree with this sentiment - I do think that Aubrey de Grey is a touch too optimistic on this item. As I have discussed in past posts, I see in the most vocal proponents of present day bioethics the seeds of what could become serious (and government-backed) opposition to healthy life extension and serious anti-aging science. If we don't pay attention now, we could be kicking ourselves in years to come.

Speaking of which, a long post at Mystery Achievement demonstrates that there are still many people who are strongly opposed to radical life extension - to the point of digging for objections where there are none:

The first half of the email Q&A is devoted to scientific research which I'm not competent to judge. But I know my way around English well enough, so if you have time, try this experiment: Do a page search of the words & phrases "pretty sure," "feasible," "could," and "look for," and read them in their respective contexts. Then tell me what impression you get. The impenetrable (for me) jargon aside, this is the sound of a man who wants to be more sure of something than he actually is. Your mileage may vary.

This is, frankly, a silly insinuation. All responsible scientists hedge in this way when talking about the future. The science is good, the path forward for new research in this field is as just about as clear as it gets, and these terms are absolutely the correct ones to be using in this case.

After that, the post degenerates into a series of poorly cast objections and assertions. A few minutes of research would have demonstrated them to have been comprehensively answered already - and to have been the subject of a great many essays and publications over the past few decades. In fact, reading the introductory articles at the Longevity Meme would find answers to most of them.

I think the ridiculous notion that irks me the most is that anti-aging technologies would be forced on people or withheld by scientists. This poster has clearly failed to read about the topic, and doesn't seem to understand how the world actually works.

The only sentiment that I come remotely close to agreeing with relates to the role of government in the transition from aging to ageless society. As I (and many others) have pointed out, there is great potential for economic (and thus social) upheaval. Far from being something that governments should be involved in, these problems will be largely caused by government. If economic upheaval does occur, it will be due to the spectacular failure of wealth transfer schemes (social security, retirement benefits, and so forth) that were put in place by greedy, shortsighted politicians and greedy, shortsighted voters.

Aubrey de Grey expresses concern about inequalities in the availability of real anti-aging medicine when it arrives:

Q: What is your response to concerns that life extension therapies might be too expensive for anyone but the rich?

A: This is a very legitimate concern, which society will have to fix as soon as possible. Since 9/11 we all know how bad an idea it is to make a lot of people really angry for a long time -- if the tip of that anger iceberg is willing to sacrifice everything, lots of other people lose everything, too. Since rich people will be paying for rejuvenation therapies as a way to live longer, not as a way to get blown up by poor people, everyone will work really hard to make these treatments as cheap as possible as soon as possible. That'll be a lot easier with a bit of forward-planning, though -- e.g., an investment in training a currently unnecessary-looking number of medical professionals. But one way or another these treatments will definitely become universally available in the end, probably only a few years after they become available at all, even though the cost of doing this will be staggering. The only way to have a sense of proportion about this period is to remember that it'll be the last chapter in what we can definitely call the War On Aging -- people worldwide will readily make the same sort of sacrifices that they make in wartime, in order to end the slaughter as soon as possible.

As with all new technologies, real anti-aging therapies will initially be expensive, of poor quality and largely unavailable. The first customers will essentially play the parts of testers who pay for the research and development needed to produce a better, cheaper product. I agree that inequality is a concern - as for any medical technology - but I don't see inequalities in access to real anti-aging medicine leading to any greater level of social unrest than existing inequalities in access to treatment for life-threatening illnesses. I think that we can deal with the future commercialization and development of healthy life extension therapies using the same strategies we would like to use for present day medicines.

The way to increase reliability, availability and lower the cost of desirable medical technologies is to let the free market alone and reduce the size of government. Government interference always, always slows down progress, when what is needed is a dynamic growth economy. You don't make new technologies available to the poor any faster through government intervention, and a large government (with accompanying large tax and regulatory burden) greatly increases the cost of progress in the future.

In any case, Aubrey de Grey - like most people - is not at all libertarian and sees a real role for government in the world. You can castigate that if you like, but he's out there doing real, effective work aimed at extending the healthy human life span while you (and I) are writing blog entries.

Public Pressure For Stem Cell Research

More patient advocacy groups, universities and scientific societies are joining the call to remove US administration restrictions on stem cell research. This latest initiative was organized by the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research: you can read the full statement supported by 142 groups at their website. As I note at Fight Aging!, however, changing restrictions on federal funding doesn't address the bigger problem of legislative threats to therapeutic cloning. These threats are scaring away the vast potential of private funding for both adult and embryonic stem cell research. Therapeutic cloning is a vital technology, and banning it will block the most promising near term advances in regenerative medicine.


The Curious Case of the Catatonic Biogerontologists

Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) is a detailed plan for curing human aging. It's detailed, thorough and firmly based on established experimental work in the various relevant areas of biology. So, you may well ask, where's the catch? Why, on all the many documentaries on aging that remain so popular, don't my colleagues come out and advocate the same work that I advocate?

Copyright © Aubrey de Grey. This is an edited version of the original piece appearing at the SENS website.

Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) is a detailed plan for curing human aging. It is an engineering project, in the same way that medicine is a branch of engineering. The key to SENS is the appreciation that aging is best viewed as a set of progressive changes in body composition at the molecular and cellular level, caused as side effects of essential metabolic processes. These changes are best thought of as an accumulation of "damage," which becomes debilitating and eventually fatal above a certain threshold. The traditional gerontological approach to life extension, namely to try to slow down this accumulation of damage, is a misguided strategy, firstly because it requires us to improve biological processes that we do not adequately understand, and secondly because it can - even in principle - only slow aging rather than reverse it. An even more shortsighted alternative is the geriatric approach: to try to stave off pathology and death in the face of accumulating damage. This is a losing battle because the continuing accumulation of damage makes pathological outcomes more and more inevitable.

The engineering (SENS) strategy is not to interfere with metabolism as such, but to repair or obviate the accumulating damage - thereby indefinitely postponing the age at which it reaches pathogenic levels. You can read much more about SENS at my website, in papers aimed at both a scientific and more general audience. The SENS strategy as I have described it purports to have all the characteristics that should make it persuasive: it's detailed, thorough and firmly based on established experimental work in the various relevant areas of biology. So, you may well ask, where's the catch? Why, on all the many documentaries on aging that remain so popular, don't my colleagues come out and advocate the same work that I advocate?

There are three main reasons why most mainstream gerontologists remain so conspicuously absent from the growing band of vocal advocates of the SENS approach to curing aging. These reasons are all understandable, but given the importance of the problem and the key role that senior specialists play in determining public opinion and hence public policy, I feel that none is a legitimate excuse.

The central reason is simple ignorance of the relevant science. Biology -- even human biology -- is a very big subject, so nobody can hope to understand it all in depth. Thus, biologists restrict themselves to understanding in depth a rather narrow subset of biology and they trust each other to focus on the other areas. Unfortunately, this strategy is utterly reliant on having a good instinct for when new research turns a formerly irrelevant field of biology into a field that is suddenly very relevant indeed. Most of the areas that I have introduced into the biology of aging have so far received only limited attention because most biogerontologists don't instinctively see how they could be useful.

The second reason is really subsidiary to the first, in that its importance is in sustaining the ignorance I just referred to. The progress of ideas always has enormous inertia, on account of the emotional, intellectual and financial investment on the part of those who hold conventional views. Scientists, like others, find it difficult to write off that investment and embrace a new paradigm even when the argument for that new paradigm is very comprehensive. This manifests as a reluctance to consult relevant scientific literature, or even to entertain the idea that such literature is relevant in the first place. It also manifests as a preference for avoiding overt debate on such matters, since any such debate opens up the risk of being forced to acknowledge the superiority of the new paradigm. None of this is conscious, but it is a very powerful force opposing progress. In this case, the idea that reversing aging might be easier than slowing it down a bit is so counter-intuitive that many of my colleagues are inclined to dismiss it out of hand before taking the time to look at my argument in detail.

The third reason that my colleagues mostly don't say what I say is political. Scientists prefer to promote and discuss what they are working on. They aren't so keen to tell people that they would be working on something altogether more interesting or ambitious if only their funders had the imagination and courage to sponsor it, because that's a quick way to lose funding. Now, you might ask, why are funders so unambitious? In industry it's because of the dominance of short-term views: shareholders reward companies that can make money quickly and certainly with boring products, and so these companies will do so in preference to taking greater risks on ambitious products - even if the potential rewards are far greater. In the public sector, funders don't want to be perceived to be wasting taxpayer money on blue-sky work with no chance of success. So, the root problem here is the pessimism of voters. But, of course, that pessimism is due precisely to the public face that senior biogerontologists put on their research...

This "triangular logjam" is the fundamental obstacle to obtaining more money for life extension research.

The logjam can be unblocked at any corner. My work is focused on the "biogerontologists" corner because I know them all personally and because they are few in number. The quickest way to change the minds of scientists regarding research priorities, however, is to remember that scientists will do anything interesting for money. Hence, an alternative supply of funds is a solution:

Finally, both the scientists and the prospective philanthropic funders may be encouraged to take the plunge if a bit of publicity comes their way:

This publicity method is one motivation for the Methuselah Mouse Prize for anti-aging research.

In conclusion I should stress that many of my colleagues, on reading or hearing the castigation of them that I have rehearsed above, would say that in fact there is a wholly responsible reason why they are cautious in their public predictions of the rate of progress: namely, they think it would be irresponsible to raise hopes and create unwarranted optimism. My answer is that experts can mislead the public just as powerfully by silence as by speaking out, if the public is predisposed to be pessimistic on the scientific issue in question - as they certainly are in this case. I therefore claim that biogerontology is a case where the general rule of not getting people's hopes up unduly is being taken too far.

Scientific American Special Issue on Serious Anti-Aging Science

I keep forgetting to mention that the latest Scientific American special issue is focused on serious anti-aging science (abeit a touch on the conservative side).

Merely accruing additional years beyond the biblical span of three score and 10 would be unwelcome if they just prolonged suffering from illness and infirmity. No, we want to live better, more youthful days while we're living longer. Diet, exercise and a lucky draw from the gene pool can take us only so far, however. That's where science comes in. In this special edition from Scientific American, you'll find firsthand reports from the researchers leading the efforts to understand the mechanisms of aging. They are teasing out ways to slow the biological clock as well as the degradation that time imposes on our bodies and minds. They are battling the diseases of age, including cancer and heart disease.

Medicine will continue to advance, and, we expect, society and policymakers will have to learn to adapt to the challenges of longevity - both providing it and providing for it - that await us all.

Go and pick up a copy - it's worth it just for the Michael Rose piece.

Genn Reynolds Interviews Aubrey De Grey

Glenn Reynolds (of Instapundit fame) has been thinking about serious anti-aging science of late. His column at Tech Central Station today is an interview with biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey, who is currently enjoying a deserved increase in the profile of his work. The money quote from the interview: "Q: What do you think is a reasonable expectation of progress in this department over the next 20-30 years? A: I think we have a 50/50 chance of effectively completely curing aging by then." Aubrey de Grey also expresses some interesting views on the role of government in the transition from aging society to ageless society, a period of time that could see great economic and social upheaval.


Write to Your Representatives About Stem Cell Research

The political fray surrounding stem cell research - a field of medicine essential to the near future of healthy life extension - is heating up rapidly as the November US presidential election approaches. It looks like bills may be introduced to remove current US administration restrictions on funding embryonic stem cell research. A quick glance at Google News indicates that there is a whole lot of light and noise being generated on this topic.

Sadly, much of this politics-as-usual isn't going to help the major underlying problem. Threatened bans on therapeutic cloning (both in the US and at the United Nations) have been scaring away private funding - billions of dollars that could have been accelerating medical progress in this field. Therapeutic cloning (also known as somatic cell nuclear transfer, or SCNT) is a technology used for both embryonic and adult stem cell research - attacks on therapeutic cloning are attacks on all stem cell research and the future of regenerative medicine. Lifting or modifying current US policy on federal funding doesn't make a great deal of difference here.

Given that policitians are more focused on this topic, is important to write to your elected representatives at this time: make sure that your voice is heard. As sample letter follows:

I am writing to urge your support for human therapeutic cloning, a technology vital to embryonic and adult stem cell research, which holds the potential to treat and better understand the deadly and disabling diseases that affect more than 100 million Americans, such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury and many others.

The threat of a ban on therapeutic cloning on top of existing legislative restrictions has caused great damage to private funding of stem cell research. Billions of dollars are waiting in the wings to help, but will not be invested in a climate of uncertainty.

Why are US ambassadors to the United Nations continuing to push for a global ban on therapeutic cloning? Why do US senators continue to push back a vote on the therapeutic cloning bill postponed from 2003?

If stem cell research - adult or embryonic - is to obtain significant private funding and thus proceed in any meaningful way, the US government must stop attempting and threatening to ban the most vital technology used in this research.

You can use the online system at to send a message and find contact information. Remember that individually written, polite, intelligent faxes work best! E-mail is usually ignored, and old style snail-mail is often left unread for months. So write your own letter, using the example above as a guide, and fax it to your representatives.

I also urge you to visit the website of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, a stem cell research advocacy group. Read the information they present, and use their fast action form to send a message to your representatives.

BeliefNet Discovers Healthy Life Extension

BeliefNet has posted a number of reprints and links on the topic of healthy life extension, transhumanism and the Immortality Institute. Their site has a good commentary system, so this should make for an interesting conversation. Go forth and comment! On that note, the soon to be released book "The Scientific Conquest of Death: Essays on Infinite Life Spans" also examines the intersection between religious belief and serious anti-aging research. It's an interesting topic: as our ability to shape the world to our liking grows, will we make our most prized myths - such as the quest for immortality - real through technological means?


Progress Towards Organs Grown To Order

ScienceDaily reports on progress in growing functioning kidneys from specialized embryonic cell clusters. Researchers are still working on animal models, but this looks very much like the promising early work on heart transplants in the 1950s. The scientist in charge of this work predicts that "therapies based on growing new organs will be part of mainstream medical practice by the middle of the 21st century." This sort of therapy, if coupled with reliable approaches to curing cancer and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, will enable medical science to greatly extend the healthy human life span. The body is simply a complex machine, and we need these better tools for repair and maintenance.


Economic Problems And Health Life Extension

As illustrated by this Seattle Times piece, more people are thinking about how best to deal with future economic problems arising from the collision of serious anti-aging science with our present culture of entitlement and retirement. Greatly extended healthy life spans will bring wonderful, positive changes, but the old pro-death institutions will have to go. In essence, social security systems are badly broken pyramid schemes; there must be a transformation in the nature of retirement or we will see a terrible economic crash as these pyramid schemes spiral out of control. Unfortunately, as this author points out, "Republicans and Democrats will gladly worsen tomorrow's problems to win more of today's votes."


New Stem Cell Center At Cambridge

The BBC notes that the University of Cambridge (which, coincidentally, is where Aubrey de Grey is based) is opening a new stem cell research center. "Stem cell research has a profound potential for treating currently debilitating diseases, such late-onset conditions as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, diabetes, cancers, heart and blood diseases, and thus has the capacity to markedly improve the quality of life." Stem cell research in the UK is currently enjoying the benefits of a comparatively permissive and settled legislative environment. The damage done to scientific progress elsewhere is as much due to uncertainty over threatened legislation as any other cause.


Who Are The Healthy Life Extension Bloggers?

My post from yesterday begs the question "who are these healthy life extension bloggers?" I was joking about the collective - we're all individuals who happen to share some overlapping viewpoints on this topic. I certainly don't endorse all of the views expressed on healthy life extension and anti-aging science, and I'm sure most other people feel the same way.

Dedicated blogs: people who post consistently on the topic of healthy life extension, anti-aging medicine, and so forth.

Interested Bloggers: people who post on the topic frequently enough to be included in this list.

Who am I missing here? (I am deliberately excluding on-topic non-blog sites such as the Immortality Institute). As you can see, there aren't all that many of us at the moment. The number is steadily growing, however, as the public becomes more aware of the promise of serious anti-aging research. As Glenn Reynolds puts it:

It's my sense that the science -- and the regulatory impulse -- are both approaching the take-off point in this area.

Welcome to the Collective!

As this post indicates, I think we can now welcome Glenn Reynolds to the healthy life extension and serious anti-aging science blogging collective, such as it exists.

AUBREY DE GREY WRITES: "The biogerontologist David Sinclair and the bioethicist Leon Kass recently locked horns in a radio debate on human life extension that was remarkable for one thing: on the key issue, Kass was right and Sinclair wrong."

De Grey's comments are part of a review of this book from Brookings, Coping With Methuselah: The Impact of Molecular Biology on Medicine and Society, which looks quite interesting; enough so that I've ordered a copy.

And yes, as a review of my recent stuff indicates, I'm getting more interested in this topic. It's my sense that the science -- and the regulatory impulse -- are both approaching the take-off point in this area.

Welcome aboard!

Pay More Attention to Step One!

If you take a look at my three step introduction to healthy life extension, you'll see that step one goes something like this:

Are you damaging yourself, perhaps more than you realize? Do you smoke? Do recreational drugs occupy a central position in your life? Do you eat nothing but junk food or are overweight? Do you exercise little or not at all? Do you have a poor relationship with your physician, or haven't seen a doctor in years? If so, you have a clear starting point. Any of these things can hurt you far more than currently available healthy life extension techniques can compensate for. There is little point in insulating the windows if the door is jammed open.

Find a physician you can trust and talk to about improving your health. You might be surprised at how easy, low-cost, and downright pleasant it is to lead a healthier - and thereby longer - life.

I am continually suprised by the number of people in the world who choose to run their bodies into the ground while simultaneously professing to desire a longer, healthier life. Smokers on a health kick are the culprits I have in mind for the moment, but they are by no means the only ones.

The grand vision I entertain for my own personal future is really nothing more than a "first things first" philosophy writ large. I'm an advocate for serious anti-aging research because aging and age-related limits to health and life are the biggest, most challenging, most serious obstacles to the path ahead. Once that is out of the way, then I have much more time to work on other matters.

Keeping a "first things first" philosophy is not a bad idea when we look at our own health: if you really want to live healthily for longer, then quit smoking. It may not be easy, but nothing else you're trying will make much difference while you're still poisoning yourself with tobacco. The same goes for the rest of you with damaging habits or poor health practices. Invest a little time and effort in yourself.

Smoking Is Bad, Part II

Every now and then - usually following a discussion with an exercising, supplement-taking smoker - I feel compelled to point out the obvious. As noted in this Medical News Today article, smoking drastically reduces your life span: the typical smoker loses 25 years of healthy life. 25 years! Research groups are spending hundreds of millions of dollars trying to figure out how to add even a decade to the healthy human life span, and you smokers throw away more than twice that time. Nothing available today can give you those years back ... other than to quit smoking. So if you are interested in living a longer, healther life, first things first!


TransVision 2004 In August

The first half of this year has flown by, and the TransVision 2004 conference is growing near. TransVision 2003 was a big success, and TV2004 looks to be an equally interesting event for transhumanists and those interested in transhumanism, advancing technology, and related issues. The presenters of interest this year include biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey and Joao Pedro de Magalhaes. Both have articles here at the Longevity Meme. Ronald Bailey (of Reason Online) will also be in attendance, and so we should look forward to a repeat of his excellent report from last year. There's still time to register, so get to it!


Targetted Cancer Drug Delivery

As the BBC reports, progress is being made in precision delivery mechanisms for anti-cancer drugs. "If you put a drug into a tumour with BioSilicon there are no mice deaths in the lab. If you take the same amount of drug and inject it straight into the tumour, there are 100% mice deaths." This is a growth area in cancer research at the moment, and one that promises to make all cancer treatment a great deal more effective and less damaging to the patient. Real progress towards reliable cancer therapies is essential for healthy life extension - the extra years we could gain through regenerative medicine will be lost to cancer unless we can treat it.


Utilitarianism And Superlongevity

Something a little more eclectic for you today: a long essay by Michael Anissimov that examines utility arguments, happiness, science, altruism and existential risks relating to the topic of greatly extended healthy life spans. Articles of this sort are very useful for those of us who ponder how best to contribute to the creation of a worthwhile future. Everyone should, at some point in their lives, walk through this process of examining the likely course of large scale events, the risks and the rewards. We're a rational species, capable of planning, introspection and risk analysis - it really would be a crime to forge ahead in life with taking a little time to think about it first.


The Transformation of Retirement

As I mentioned at the Longevity Meme yesterday, Aubrey de Grey has an excellent review of Coping With Methuselah up at PLoS Biology. In it, he makes this point (amongst many others that you should certainly take note of):

Am I, then, resigned to a future in which countless millions are denied many decades of life by our studied reluctance to plan ahead today? Not quite. The way out is pointed to in Lee and Tuljapurkar's (1997) graph of the average wealth consumed and generated by an individual as a function of age, reproduced in Coping with Methuselah (p. 143). Once [acturial escape velocity] is achieved, there will be no going back: rejuvenation research will be intense forever thereafter and will anticipate and remedy the life-threatening degenerative changes appearing at newly achieved ages with ever-increasing efficacy and lead time.

This will bring about the greatest economic change of all in society: the elimination of retirement benefits. Retirement benefits are for frail people, and there won't be any frail people. The graph just mentioned amply illustrates how much wealth will be released by this. My hope, therefore, is that once policy makers begin to realise what's coming they will factor in this eventual windfall and allocate sufficient short-term resources to make the period of limited availability of rejuvenation therapies brief enough to prevent mayhem. This will, however, be possible only if such resources begin to be set aside long enough in advance?and we don't know how long we have.

I have spoken before about retirement, retirement benefits (and social security), and related fiscal matters:

While it's blindingly obvious that the current monolithic pyramid schemes used to move money from the young to the old will have to disappear, this is a big stumbling block for politicians. People already in the payout stages of the pyramid scheme will not take kindly to changes. The difficulty of changing these systems has even been touted as a reason to opposing healthy life extension technologies - so much for rules to benefit the people! It's quite astounding that anyone would rather suffer and die (and force suffering and death on billions) than face the reality that change happens and we must adapt.

In a world in which the old are just as healthy, active, and capable as the young, social security programs are just not needed. Not that I think they are a good plan in the first place - enforced wealth transfers from the young to the old are generally enforced wealth transfers from the poor to the rich. Not to mention the fact that it enourages people to rely on the (inherently inefficient, unreliable) government for services that are quite capably handled by planning ahead (very underrated in the present time!), insurance, family, investment, and standard banking.

Retirement in the future will become something quite different from what it is today. I think we will see two forms of retirement in this future without aging. Firstly, there will be the extended vacation. A worker will finish a career with enough money saved to go on vacation for a few decades. That should be more than enough time to decide on a new direction in life.

Secondly, an ambitious worker could save enough wealth to remove the need for income - they could live on capital gains, the return on investments, and all the normal methologies of the well to do in the present day. Given enough time, even the most lowly of jobs could produce this sort of wealth, necessary for a permanent vacation.

Of course, this won't result in a world of perpetually vacationing people. If everyone is resting on their laurels, there would be no one to produce goods and provide services. So a dynamic equilibrium would arise between the vacationers and the working - too few workers and prices rise, so more vacationers return to work (out of necessity, or looking to make a killing in a hot market). If many people are working, prices fall, so more can afford to become long term vacationers.

A future in which we have won the fight to cure aging will be one in which everyone who is prepared to work can be wealthy. This wealth will bring vastly greater choice and freedom. It would be a terrible shame if political concerns and simple human selfishness mess up, prolong, and cause unnecessary pain in the transition from the current state of affairs to a better tomorrow.

Review: Coping With Methuselah

Aubrey de Grey recently put together an excellent review of Coping With Methuselah: The Impact of Molecular Biology on Medicine and Society for PLoS Biology. The contributing authors of this book dramatically underestimate the potential for near term radical extension of the healthy human life span. This has serious consequences: underestimation by people who influence the funding of medical research is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Aubrey de Grey is - as always - happy to explain in detail how this happens and how we can better move ahead in the field of serious anti-aging research. A future without frailty and death is a beautiful future indeed. We can and must work harder to achieve it.


Reminder: Why Stem Cell Research is Important to Healthy Life Extension

A lot of column inches are being given to stem cells at the moment. I was going to write a round-up, but - as is often the case in such matters - important points are getting lost in an endless sea of details, sidebars, and analysis of analysis. If political and economic maneuvering gets us to working regenerative medicine sooner, wonderful (I'm dubious, needless to say). If satire does a better job, I'm all for it. But it does sometimes look to me as though we live in the midst of a postmodernist discussion; commentary on reality becoming more important than reality itself.

This isn't about scoring points from other pundits, political advantage, or economics. It's about taking one of the first big steps towards enabling us all to live far longer, healthier lives. It's about a clear, obvious, and comparatively short road to curing all age-related degenerative conditions. Coupled with better and more effective cancer therapies, stem cell based regenerative medicine could give us additional healthy, active decades: the damage of aging repaired, one organ at a time. That would give us all time enough to figure out the next big step.

I can't help but feel that if it takes a decade of fighting (and thus a decade of minimal research) to allow each new medical technology to move forward, we're not going to be able to make radical life extension available in time for those of reading this now. We need a better modus operandi for medical progress than the one we're stuck with today.

Funding, Politics, Stem Cells

An article from Wired summarizes some of the recent moves towards public funding for stem cell research. Opponents of embryonic stem cell research appear to be sticking with cheap rhetorical tricks, suggesting that since there has been little progress in this field, it should be banned. This lack of progress, however, is entirely due to existing restrictions and uncertainty over far worse proposed legislation. As a result, public and private research funding has been very hard to come by in this field in past years. So shame on you people - if you are going to speak out against embryonic stem cell research, at least have the decency to be honest about your motivations and arguments.


Calorie Restriction, Sir2, SIRT1

BioMed Central provides a good explanation of recent research into the underlying genetic and regulatory mechanisms of calorie restriction. "Caloric restriction and genetic manipulations that extend lifespan typically protect cells from death. We propose that one way calorie restriction extends lifespan is by increasing SIRT1 expression, thereby promoting the long-term survival of irreplaceable cells." Researchers are clearly very excited about progress made in the last year, and hope that this will lead to a "totally new class of drug that stimulates the body's own defenses and combats diseases of aging." Companies like BioMarker and Elixir are already working in this area.


Public Support For Stem Cell Research Rising

WebMD notes that public support for stem cell research is rising (and there's more on the same theme at the Fight Aging! blog). "When asked for their initial views on medical research using human embryos, a survey conducted in 2001 showed 48% of Americans supported it and 43% were opposed. This survey shows that margin has grown to 60% and 26%. When the potential benefits of stem cell research were explained in a separate question, overall support rose to 72% with 23% opposed." Research advocates have been working hard to educate people over the past few years. I think that increased public support stems from a greater understanding of what is actually involved in this research and the nature of the potential benefits.


Commenting On UK Embryonic Research

The Guardian comments on the first round of proposed embryonic stem cell research in the UK to make use of therapeutic cloning. This attempt to find an effective regenerative therapy for diabetes must be approved by a government body - the HFEA - but seems likely go ahead based on their stated guidelines. As expected, there is vocal outrage from anti-research groups; hopefully things will quiet down once this and a few other similar projects have moved ahead without the sky falling on our heads. Based on the similar response to in-vitro reproductive technologies when they were first introduced, I expect that support for stem cell based regenerative medicine will be near universal a decade from now.


Embryonic Stem Cell Research Support and the Use of Language

ABCNews is running some figures and commentary on public support for embryonic stem cell research. With some qualifications, there seems to be more support for this research than last year:

Advocates of this research say it can produce new treatments for disease, while critics oppose using embryos in research. After hearing these competing views, 58 percent of Americans support stem cell research, while 30 percent oppose it, according to a new ABCNEWS/Beliefnet poll. Six in 10 also say the federal government should fund it.

Mind you, I'm just as opposed to the use of government to run roughshod over those who want to live without modern medical science as as I am over any other exercise in majority rule or abuse of political structures. A centralized winner-takes-all system of democracy is not good at promoting pluralism. But I digress.

The qualifications I mention above revolve around the use of language:

There's been little independent public opinion polling on stem cell research, and recent interest-group polling has used language that produced lopsided results in opposite directions.

In a poll it released last month, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops posed the issue by saying "live embryos would be destroyed" for undefined "experiments"; it found 70 percent opposed. By contrast, a pro-research poll didn't mention embryos, referring to "excess fertilized eggs" and listing seven "deadly diseases" the research could help treat. It found 77 percent in favor.

Given its effectiveness, it's likely such language will continue from advocates on both sides as they seek to influence public opinion on the issue - opponents talking about destroying human embryos for experimentation; proponents talking about using discarded fertilized eggs for lifesaving medical research.

That's actually fairly mild; take a look at the later comments in a recent post on the stem cell debate. You can't rationally discuss the merits of embryonic stem cell research with someone who insists that all fertilized eggs - tiny spherical clusters of a few dozen cells - are "unborn babies" that should have the same rights as you or I. That is an axiom, a belief.

All that aside, the strength of opinions on both sides would seem to indicate that this will be an increasingly important issue as the year continues - California ballots and the Presidential election are both essentially referendums on stem cell research.

Thus, they are also referendums on the near term prospects for cures for age-related conditions, and longer, healthier lives.

Ending Ageism

The Life Extension Foundation news is reprinting an interesting article on ageism today.

The census bureau estimates that by 2050 approximately 25 percent of Americans will be over the age of 65. Yet our culture has done little to eliminate the one accepted prejudice that could relegate a quarter of our population to second-class citizenship - Ageism. As our population continues to age, the need to halt ageism and ageist practices becomes more urgent, according to the recently published issue brief by the International Longevity Center-USA (ILC-USA) entitled "The Future of Ageism."

As advances in medicine increasingly separate being old from being infirm, I think that ageist prejudices based on the old truths of comparative ability will start to wane. However, we are just beginning this process, and prejudice against the elderly has been hypothesised to be a root cause of the unwillingness of many Western cultures to allocate significant resources to aging and serious anti-aging research.

Oriental cultures, on the other hand, tend to place a greater emphasis on self-reliance and respect for the old - the aged are presented as having great power in many myths from those regions of the world. The public and private sectors in China, Korea, and Japan are devoting enormous sums of money towards advancing regenerative medicine and curing age-related degenerative conditions.

"As we age, we crave the same respect and consideration that we garnered in our youth," said Dr. Butler. "We must work together-as a society-to promote positive, optimistic attitudes and portrayals of older people. If we fail to show compassion for and protect the rights of older people today, we are destined to suffer from the same ageist injustices tomorrow."

Williams Cryonics Fight Over?

SFGate reports that Ted Williams' daughter has ended her series of attempts to have his body taken from Alcor facilities and cremated - thus removing any chance at a future through cryonics. It's been an unpleasant, very public family affair and was in many ways the principle cause of much of the legislative furor over cryonics during the last twelve months. As I've mentioned before, there is an important lesson to be learned here for those of us interested in cryonics as an insurance policy. Make sure that your relatives cannot - or preferably will not - legally interfere in your cryonic suspension.


Demolishing The Stagnation Argument

Glenn Reynolds' latest column at Tech Central Station takes on the stagnation argument - that greatly extended life spans will lead to a stagnant society, and that death of the old guard in any field is what really leads to progress. This argument, like most other pro-death rhetoric, is clearly nonsense. As Glenn Reynolds points out, "we've pretty much done that experiment already, and it hasn't worked out that way. Lifespans, after all, have been getting steadily longer since the turn of the twentieth century ... at the same time that lives have been lengthening, the past hundred years have also been the most creative and dynamic period in human history."


Bioinformatics Speeds Stem Cell Work

An article from Betterhumans takes a look at one way in which bioinformatics is speeding up embryonic stem cell research. As Randall Parker of FuturePundit has long been saying, bioinformatics and related technologies are making a big difference to the rate at which medical research is moving forward: "Enabling technologies that accelerate by orders of magnitude the search for compounds that change the internal regulatory state of cells is more important than any particular discovery made with the tools." In this case, it is allowing thousands or millions of experiments to occur in parallel, controlled by computer. Scientists are searching for chemicals that control the behavior of these cells, pathways that will allow therapies to be developed.


Discussing Supplements

The Arizona Republic discusses supplements, one of the thorny topics in healthy life extension. Yes, modest supplementation is definitely good for you - you should be doing it. Beyond that, it becomes quite hard to measure cost versus benefit in the noisy marketplace. Just take a look at the deluge of information at the Life Extension Foundation website, for example. You can spend as much time and money as you care to on supplements, but what exactly does it do for you and your healthy life span on a supplement by supplement basis? Before getting lost in endlessly tinkering with supplement mixes, it's worth remembering that diet and exercise are just as important to overall health and longevity.


More Dishonesty In Stem Cell Research Commentary

I've spoken previously about disturbing levels of dishonesty in the current debate over stem cell research:

The more extreme protesters of embyronic stem cell research are at least honest in their motivations for restricting research that will save lives. Not so Eric Cohen, who in a piece at the National Review, uses a variety of extremely dishonest arguments, half-truths, outright lies, omissions, and obfuscations to defend government policies that are causing great harm to our future health, life span, and well being by restricting vital medical research.


Secondly, as I've said before, focusing whether 10, 20, or 60 lines are available obscures the fact that hundreds or thousands of lines are required worldwide for serious research to proceed apace. While government restrictions keep the number of lines low, researchers are proceeding at a comparative slow pace. This state of affairs has a high cost in suffering, disease, and death attached to it - it is a willful blocking of attempts to save lives and find cures.

Chris Mooney, who has spent a great deal of time recently recording political abuse of the science community and scientific method, notes more outright lies on this topic from the current US administration:

Funny, I just spent almost a week out in California interviewing scientists who know a lot more about embryonic stem cell research than Bush or McClellan, and who explained to me in detail why the current policy doesn't allow us to "explore the promise of stem cell research" adequately. A number pointed out that that limitation was even clear three years ago when Bush originally promulgated the policy and limited research to a rather narrow number of lines that are hardly representative of the genetic diversity of America.


And those are just a few of the many scientific reasons why the current lines aren't sufficient. To persist in the claim that there are enough federally funded cell lines to work with, when all the best scientists say otherwise, is yet another abuse on the part of the Bush administration.

Glenn Halpern of HipperCritical has some fairly harsh words for another source of anti-research propaganda:

On the editorial page of today's NY Post, the editors of The Weekly Standard spout that "proponents of expanded federal funding for research on human embryos are waging a slick p.r. campaign," one which "too often traffics in falsehoods". Now that's a pretty damning assertion, but what's their hard evidence? Let's take a look.

He goes on to debunk the various false and shoddy claims used in this case to justify shutting down embryonic stem cell research.

I have to wonder when it was that speaking the truth and engaging in honest debate went out of style. There is no need for dishonesty to make your point if you are opposed to embryonic stem cell research; unfortunately it seems that more or less all the important players on the anti-research side of the fence thrive on this sort of thing. They are dishonest about their motivations, dishonest about the effects of current legislation, and lie about the science. It's a sad state to find ourselves in.

Stem Cell Politics In Depth

MSNBC is running a three part piece from Newsweek on the politics, science, and recent history of embryonic and adult stem cell research. It is good that the fundamental technologies of future regenerative medicine are being given far more time in the press. Setting aside from the heated - and ultimately transient - political battles, science and funding follows the will of the people in the long term. This press coverage is a wonderful opportunity to educate many more people about the possibilities offered by medical science, healthy life extension, curing age-related conditions, and tackling the aging process itself. Greater education leads to public understanding, support, and demand for more research.


Stem Cells For Alzheimer's Or Not?

The Scientist is running a good commentary on the relevance of stem cell research to Alzheimer's. It's worth reading in light of press attention (and confusion) over Ronald Reagan's legacy. The digest version is that stem cell research is not the field producing the best results for Alzheimer's therapies right now, but is likely to lead to relevant results in the future - with some qualifications. Scientists tell us that it is too early to know, and if we'll certainly never know if the research is banned! Unfortunately, this distinction seems a little too complex for many journalists: they are attempting to conflate Alzheimer's, Reagan's legacy, US administration policy, and Nancy Reagan's views on embryonic stem cell research into one simple sound bite.


Read the Latest Longevity Meme Newsletter

The latest Longevity Meme newsletter is out today, covering the most interesting topics of the past two weeks. Read it while it's fresh, or sign up to get the next one in your in-box.

One of the new recipients suggested to me today that a smaller, more frequent newsletter might be better:

I just got this first newsletter but have some input: I would prefer getting these message more often because there is NO way I am able to dig through all this today. And I wll probably forget to come back to old messages at the rate of incoming emails. Maybe there should be an option if more frequent messages are preferred or if people like to get dozens of articles in one big swoop. Just my 2 cents for all it's worth...

I'll have to admit that the newsletter has grown to a fair length since I first started. I was considering a move to a weekly newsletter a few months ago, but dropped the idea in favor of starting Fight Aging! instead. That was a good decision, but perhaps it is now time to cut down the length of the Longevity Meme newsletter and issue it more frequently?

I'd like to hear your input on this matter, so feel free to let me know what you think.

Speaking of the Methuselah Foundation

Since I seem to be on the topic of the Methuselah Foundation at the moment, I should mention that I sat in with the cofounders and the rest of the Foundation volunteers for a teleconference earlier today. We were sorting out the order of business for current and future initiatives: I can't say too much about what's ahead, other than to tell you to expect more good publicity this year.

I'm currently working - with the kind assistance of Gina Miller, and as time allows - on promotional materials for the Methuselah Mouse Prize and The Three Hundred. We should be rolling out shirts, posters, and handout material fairly soon.

A good advocacy kit to assist people in talking to their friends about the Methuselah Mouse Prize is very overdue given the current number of donors. Word of mouth is a certainly a powerful way to bring new money into charitable causes and research prizes! A long list of items for the kit was suggested in the teleconference today, so I think that this will be coming together quite nicely before the end of the summer.

The Gerontology Research Group

The Daily Bruin takes a look at the work of the Gerontology Research Group at UCLA. Quoting Dr. Karlis Ullis, "The longest living person is 122, and if we can get all people to live to 125 in a healthy way, that would be better than going to Mars. I would say I am part of that conceptual thinking – to live longer is better. That is what we are about." While the GRG focuses on gathering and verifying longevity information, most of the members are involved in aging research. For example, "studying similarities and differences between the lives of centenarians and supercentenarians, people who are 100 years or older."


Bringing Medical Biotech To Market

SFGate is running a rare article on the challenges of transforming medical research into commercially successful therapies. This part of the overall development process is poorly understood - and unappreciated - by most people, which is a pity. The article examines the the development and future prospects of stem cell medicine: "Stem cells, the all-purpose starting material that gives rise to the myriad cell types of the body, are widely assumed to be the basic building blocks of 21st century medicine. Stem cells, whether they are derived from embryos or adult tissues, are perhaps the single most important factor shaping biomedicine today." Industry observers expect to see the first widespread stem cell applications within ten years.


You Can Make a Difference: Donate!

Far too many of us are content to sit on the sidelines and watch the news of healthy life extension and aging science roll past. It's easy to forget the years of hard work that go into each and every step forward in medical science, not to mention the struggle to obtain funding and public support.

The future doesn't just happen - it is created through deliberate human action. If you want to see a future that includes real anti-aging medicine and greatly extended healthy life spans, then you have to step up to the plate and help to create it.

Fortunately, you don't need to be a biogerontologist to further the cause of serious anti-aging research. You can make a big difference by donating to the Methuselah Mouse Prize. Research prizes encourage a large amount of research funding as scientists compete to win:

The Methuselah Mouse Prize is the premier effort of the Methuselah Foundation. It is a contest designed to accelerate progress towards real longevity-enhancing medicine, promote public interest and involvement in research on healthy life extension, and encourage more such research by providing a financial incentive to researchers.

The prevailing view of the general public is that, despite much-publicised progress in certain areas, we still have no real chance of greatly extending human longevity within the lifetime of anyone alive today. This view may be overpessimistic. If so, the best way to correct it is to show that the longevity of a laboratory mammal can be greatly increased. This will be especially effective in raising public optimism and interest if the life-extending interventions are only implemented when the mouse has already reached an advanced age, and the prize is partly geared to encouraging such "late-onset" interventions.

If you believe that working towards a longer, healthier life is worth a few dollars a day, then become one of The Three Hundred! Your pledges will help to ensure that serious anti-aging research is given the support and funding it deserves.

Remember that, as Gandi said, "you must be the change you wish to see in the world."

Kerry Reaffirms Stem Cell Support

The Kerry campaign is taking advantage of current pressure on stem cell legislation to reaffirm their candidate's support for stem cell research and therapeutic cloning. "John Kerry supports lifting the ban on stem cell research. As president, he will overturn the ban on federal funding of research on new stem cell lines, and he will allow doctors and scientists to explore their full potential with the appropriate ethical oversight." Given the tenuous relationship between campaign promises and acts in office, we'll see how this all turns out. Restrictive legislation, no matter how stupid or loathed, has a way of hanging around for decades.


Genetics Of Healthy Aging Study

An article from the Mature Market discusses a new aging research initiative in Europe, the Genetics of Healthy Aging (GEHA) study. "There's an economic incentive, as well as a humanitarian one, for trying to break the link between old age and ill health." This is a large project, looking at nearly 5000 long-lived siblings in an attempt to further pin down genetic and lifestyle causes of healthy longevity. "It will have a tremendous impact on medicine because the genes that allow you to live longer and in good [health] are those that protect [you] from the major killers, such as cancer, Alzheimer's and diabetes."


A Living Memorial Proposed For Reagan

There have been rumblings in past days - especially in the blogosphere - on how to link a legacy for Ronald Reagan to stem cell or Alzheimer's research. Unfortunately, Alzheimer's is one of the few age-related conditions for which stem cell research does not offer potential therapies in the near future. However, senators introduced a bill today to double NIA Alzheimer's funding in memory of Ronald Reagan: "We should honor his life with new research and new initiatives on how to prevent Alzheimer's, how to care for those who have it, how to support those who are caregivers, and how to find a cure."


The Scary Future Of Pro-Death Bioethics

George Dvorsky has written an excellent article for Betterhumans on the future of anti-research legislation and pro-death advocacy. This is a topic I've been giving some thought to at Fight Aging! in past months. Could the present day pro-death rhetoric of Leon Kass and Francis Fukuyama grow to produce legislative restrictions on serious anti-aging medicine to rival the current War on Drugs? Like George Dvorsky, I think that this is a disturbingly plausible future. Politicians have certainly done far worse in past decades, and present day government - even in the US - exercises considerable power over access to medicine, medical research, and our supposedly private lives.


The Scary Future of Pro-Death Bioethics

Of late, I have started to explore the idea that present day opposition to serious anti-aging research (as led by Leon Kass, Francis Fukuyama and others) will lead to legislation blocking or limiting our access to healthy life extension technologies.

Politicians - even in comparatively free countries like the US - already exert a great deal of control over access to medicine, what you can and can't do with your body, and what medical research is permitted. Unfortunately, this power is already being abused - as power always is - in many areas, including stem cell research and therapeutic cloning. It is a small leap from the present day functions of the FDA to a body that sets maximum life spans by enforcing restrictions on new anti-aging medical technologies.

George Dvorsky has written an excellent article on this topic that is currently posted at Betterhumans. I quote a fair amount in this post, but there is a good deal more where that came from - so read the whole thing.

So as the prospect of radical life extension becomes more real with each passing year, prominent bio-Luddites have gone on the offensive to convince immortal wannabes that death is where it's at.

They speak in a flowery and comforting tone, proclaiming that death defines our species and endows our lives with meaning, purpose and social stability.

The most outspoken of these thanatophiles are, of course, Leon Kass and Francis Fukuyama, both of whom sit on the President's Council on Bioethics in the US. They're not alone, however, and can count a number of bioconservatives—including Charles Krauthammer and Bill McKibbin—on their side.

William Hurlbut, also of the Bioethics Council, has also spoken out recently against increasing the healthy human life span. George Dvorsky echoes my concerns regarding the future of pro-death bioethics:

I consider myself open to ideas and alternative perspectives, but as I consider the arguments of the bio-Luddites and look deeper into their meaning, I have come to realize that the death-promoting propaganda campaign is more than just a battle for hearts and minds. I get the impression that - should radical life extension technologies become readily available - these detractors, some of whom have the ear of the President, would go much further than fighting a war of words in their attempt to ensure that we never gain mastery over our mortality.


At times the bio-Luddites sound parochial and authoritarian, and at their worst they sound downright ideological and even totalitarian.

Indeed, as Kass has repeatedly stated, "the finitude of human life is a blessing for every individual, whether he knows it or not." And frighteningly, when asked by Brian Alexander, the author of Rapture: How Biotechnology Became the New Religion, if the government has a right to tell its citizens that they have to die, Fukuyama answered, "Yes, absolutely."

Is it just me, or do all of these people - who make policy recommendations and are appointed members of an organization used to justify restrictive govenment policies on medical research - start to sound very scary when you look closely at what they are actually saying?

George Dvorsky believes that the march of science towards serious anti-aging medicine of the sort proposed by Aubrey de Grey is, ultimately, unstoppable. Healthy life extension is simply too desirable to too many people, and scientific development - on the largest scales and over decades of time - follows the will of the people. Minorities in positions of power can greatly slow and damage this progress, however:

It'll only be a matter of time before these researchers make greater and greater strides in their work, resulting in a steady flow of life extension interventions destined for the market. The human lifespan will become increasingly longer and longer, and every year of extra life will bring people closer to the next antiaging intervention.

Unless, of course, drastic measures are put in place to prevent this from happening. Similar to the current War on Drugs, it's conceivable that a bioconservative government could impose a War on Life, fighting against life extension research and related technologies. Scientific research would be closely monitored and regulated, with scientists being forced to work within state-sanctioned guidelines.

This is not as farfetched as it might sound. Current governments in both the US and Canada, for example, have enacted extremely stringent policies in regards to stem cell and cloning research. The US in particular currently boasts one of the most anti-science regimes in all of its history. Given the prominence of religious and Luddite forces, combined with a mostly scientifically illiterate and politically challenged populace, the US government may continue this regressive policy as human enhancement technologies increasingly come info focus and into practical use.

As I have long been saying, it wouldn't take too many decades of repressive government policy to prevent everyone reading this article from ever seeing the fruits of real anti-aging research. How do you feel about these groups that are working to deny you, I, and everyone else the opportunity to live longer, healthier lives? Think about that today - because making a better future, one free of age-related disease and the slow death of failing bodies, will take all of us working together. If we don't speak out, our rights will be trampled.

George Dvorsky concludes with these thoughts:

And as for the bio-Luddite deathists, they're offering Americans the worst and most useless kind of ethics. It is an ethics without foundation in reality and devoid of pragmatic guidance and practical solutions. It simply doesn't do for the coming realities of 21st century life.

Consequently, the pro-death rhetoric is only resulting in a confused and scared populace, backwards and stifling legislation and a depraved indifference to the 50 million lives lost each year. And since the members of the US President's Council on Bioethics recognize the scientific plausibility of negligible senescence, their systematic curtailment and prevention of life extension research could be construed someday as a crime against humanity.

Don't believe their hype. Fight for your right to live.

I couldn't agree more, and it's a great shame that the field once known as medical ethics has degenerated into a coven of high profile bioethicists set on finding the best way to prevent new medicines from saving lives.

Squashing the opposition to serious anti-aging medical research will require supporters of healthy life extension to start our side of the coming battle early. We can't afford to wait for entrenched pro-death bioethicists to gain even greater influence over our overbearing, winner-takes-all governments.

The Genostem Project

CORDIS reports on a new integrated European science project aimed at bringing regenerative medicine (based on adult stem cells) for bones, cartilage, and ligaments from basic research all the way to clinical applications. "Over 50 million European citizens suffer from some form of connective tissue disorder. Age-related degenerative disorders (such as osteoporosis, osteoarthritis) are among the diseases with the highest socio-economic impact, requiring hospitalisation, rehabilitation and home care." Projects like this demonstrate that real progress has been made in stem cell basics. The scientific and business communities see a clear path forward, and are starting to move more rapidly.


Arab States To Ban Therapeutic Cloning

(From Arab League states are moving towards a ban on therapeutic cloning, a necessary technology for most developing stem cell medicine. This is very disappointing, as the still-pending global United Nations ban was averted the first time with the help of representatives from these same nations. An Arab League ban would make a UN ban later this year much more likely - an event with grave consequences for our future. Stem cell based regenerative medicine is a vital stepping stone on the way to greatly increased healthy life spans, not to mention the source of therapies for Parkinson's, diabetes, nerve damage, muscle and bone loss, and many other degenerative conditions of aging.


Not Many Cancer Genes

Betterhumans notes that scientists have determined only 67 genes (out of the total of 30,000 or so) play a role in changing normal human cells into cancerous ones. This is the sort of research that has only recently been made possible by advances in bioinformatics and new diagnostic equipment like microarrays. This small set of genes is a clear target for new research, as well as for the next generation of cancer diagnostics, prevention, and therapies. That so few genes are implicated makes genetic therapy for all cancers a much more promising line of research than I would have expected.


Comparing Leon Kass and Elizabeth Blackburn

You may recall the uproar not so long ago over Elizabeth Blackburn's removal from the President's Council on Bioethics. She wrote her own account of events - entitled "Reason as Our Guide - which does not paint Leon Kass and the other anti-research conservatives on the Council in a particularly good light.

In any case, this reminder is prompted by an interesting comparison posted to the Extropy Institute chat list by a certain "Avauntguardian":

I was bored at work today so I decided to look up and compare the CVs of Leon Kass and Elizabeth Blackburn to see how much and what they publish. They are available at the following URLs:

The results?

Leon Kass - 8 scientific research publications all before 1970, 88 conservative propaganda, 96 total.

Elizabeth Blackburn - 109 original research publications, 47 scientific reviews, 156 total w/ zero propaganda.

IMHO Leon Kass should stop trying to give people the impression that he is a scientist. The last time he did science was before the first gene was cloned in 1972.

It makes you think, doesn't it? Not that papers and credentials are required in order to express an opinion, but I do think that the weight given to an opinion depends on the experience of the people standing behind it.

Damien Broderick replied to this post, forwarding the comments of a friend:

This is a bit silly, don't you think? Kass claims to be a qualified medical doctor and a bioethicist, mainly the latter. I don't think I've ever seen him hang his hat on any original scientific research that he may have done in his youth. Why would he need to?

Conversely, it looks as if Blackburn has done nothing but substantive science. What publications does she have in fields such as legal policy, philosophy and bioethics, which is what the committee is *doing* after all? As it happens, she may have played a good role on the committee in softening its hard line, but citing her scientific publications is an odd way to support that view.

I may not *like* Kass's bioethical writings (I don't), but this attack on him is really clutching at straws.

To which the rejoinder was:

Yes but what on earth qualifies him to be a "bioethicist"? That he has strong convictions? The impression he tries to give is that he is a "biology insider" who has sufficient knowledge of biology to make informed assessments of the risks of doing certain types of biological research. This image he tries to maintain of higher knowledge gives him a more authoritative air and thus his opinions are to be more valued than that of rank and file of citizenry. Indeed more, apparently, than even practicing biologists.

My point here is that he is not a practicing biologist and he doesn't have the knowledge base to be weighing the risks and benefits of cutting edge biotechnologies. Thus his fears are founded on little more than gut reactions to things he doesn't understand. The gullible masses believe him not because he has some superior moral authority such as the "mandate of heaven" to tell us what is right and what is wrong but because he has an MD/PhD after his name.

Personally, I think that it is more ethical and productive to attack the message rather than the legitimacy of the messenger - and certainly so while Leon Kass and his similarly-minded cohorts on the Bioethics Council continue to spout dangerous nonsense while opposing healthy life extension research.

No Surprise: Bush Still Anti-Research

No big surprises today in the ongoing political battle over stem cell research, reported by MSNBC. The US administration is standing firm on its damaging, anti-research policies: "Ronald Reagan’s death from complications of Alzheimer's disease has not changed President Bush's stand against using embryos for stem cell research, Laura Bush said Wednesday." In the wake of Nancy Reagan's public declaration of support for embryonic stem cell research, bloggers like Kos and HipperCritical have found some smart things to say about current events, commentators, and stem cell politics.


Genetic Damage And The Aging Brain

The Life Extension Foundation News discusses research into genetic damage and aging in the brain. "Genes that play a role in learning and memory were among those most significantly reduced in the aging human cortex. These include genes that are required for communication between neurons. These genes are unusually vulnerable to damage from agents such as free radicals and toxins in the environment. The brain's ability to cope with these toxic insults and repair these genes declines with age, leading to their reduced expression." Where aging is directly associated with genetic changes, as here, scientists see the possibility of working towards regenerative gene therapies.


Bioethical Nonsense

James Pethokoukis of Next News has been talking about healthy life extension and science recently - a good thing in my book. A couple of his posts discuss anti-research opinions recently voiced by William Hurlbut, a member of the rightfully maligned President's Council on Bioethics.

Next News: So what's wrong with doubling - or more - the human life span?

Hurlbut: It's like stretching out a symphony, playing it at half speed so it goes on longer - it wouldn't have the same beauty or meaning. We get a taste of each relational category - being a child, a parent, and a grandparent. And our direct family lineage is connected by both genetics and personal experience, not so attenuated by time that relatives feel unrelated. If people lived to be 140, as some scientists suggest we will through technological intervention, a child could have 64 great-great-great-great-grandparents whose names he or she could never remember. In our natural lifespan, there is a harmony of proportion between the cycles of birth, ascendancy, and decline-phases of generation, nurture, and dependency that give a sense of meaningful connection within the journey of our lives.

This is just outrageous, rampant nonsense. It is a man waving his hands in the air and liking the sound of his own voice - you can imagine the same sort of person saying exactly the same things in 1900 regarding living well to 90. It's dangerous! It shouldn't be allowed! Civilization will implode!

These remarks would be funny, even pitiful, if the person saying it was not a member of an influential group that is used to justify restrictive US government policies on medical research.

Further nonsense from Hurlbut:

Hurlbut: The idea of designing people for specific aptitudes or superior performance capacities goes against the very strength of our species. We are a "general purpose organism"; we have adapted for adaptability, not for a narrow specialization. Our very strength is in creative flexibility, freedom, and open indeterminacy. These are what give us our extraordinary capabilities, our comprehending consciousness, and controlling powers. Our species may already be the optimal design for fullest overall functioning and flourishing of life. Indeed, it is our very strength that is now threatening us. Liberated from the immediacies of mere survival, we are open to imagination, to the ambition of technological self-transformation that could shatter the fragile balance of our physical and psychological functioning.

The folks at the Immortality Institute have made some good - and pointed - comments on this over the past few days:

1-There has never been, nor will there ever be a static 'natural' lifespan for human beings. Life span has been trending steadily upwards since the beginning of the species. There also never been a static 'harmony of proportion' between people of different generations, the ratios between numbers of older and younger inviduals has varied throughout history and is dependent on a huge number of biological, environmental, and cultural variables, all of which are in constant flux. We as individuals create our own meaning - it is a null statement to say that life would be meaningless with a longer lifespan given that expected human lifespan has doubled within the last century.

2- Once again Hurlburt overuses the word natural, which is logically null - it has no semantic meaning in this context. Everything about human technological research is a 'massive human experiment', every bit of technology we produce in this generation, for better or worse, is handed down to the next generation. We have consistently upgraded human capabilities through technology form the very beginning of our species history. To paraphrase Andy Clark - prosthetics are just high tech walking sticks, and cell phones are just an advanced form of shouting. What bothers Hurlburt is that we are about to internalize our technology, but this is a very smooth (one could even say 'natural' ) progression.

3- The irony in Hurlburt saying 'Our very strength is in creative flexibility, freedom, and open indeterminacy', and then arguing we shouldn't change anything was pure comedic genius. (Where does Bush find these guys?) His speculating that humans are the optimal design for life harks directly back to human-superior Linnaeic trees of life, with man at the top. We aren't the center of the universe, we are animals, we are not separate from our genetic desires - in short we (in human form) are not the end all and be all reason for the universe and there is going to be something after us.

I think that it is important to remember that people like William Hurlbut are, at root, arguing for a form of mass murder through government mandated upper limits to life span. They can dress this ugly truth up in pretty language as much as they like, but they are still making policy recommendations regarding medical science, life span, and law. Hurlbut, Kass, and other influential bioethicists continue to argue that people should be forbidden from using medical technology to extend healthy life span.

I think that this is reprehensible. These views must be challenged by the healthy life extension community: challenged often, directly, and effectively.

Tax Dollars, Politics, And Aging Research

Glenn Harlan Reynolds opines on serious anti-aging research, the work of Aubrey de Grey, government funding, and anti-research sentiments at Tech Central Station today. "I've watched people I love age and die, and it wasn't 'beautiful and natural.' It sucked. Aging is a disease. Cataracts and liver spots don't bring moral enlightenment or spiritual transcendence. Death may be natural -- but so are smallpox, rape, and athlete's foot. 'Natural' isn't the same as 'good.' As far as I'm concerned, I'd rather see my tax dollars spent on longevity research than, well, most of the other things they're spent on. I wonder how many other people feel that way."


Thinking About Medical Nanorobots

Nanomedicine, when fully developed, will radically change the scope of what is possible in medical science. While wet nanotechnology is currently only on the drawing board or restricted to diagnostic advances based on better nanoscale manufacturing, we can expect much more from the field in the decades ahead.

While perusing KurzweilAI today, I noticed this link to a Russian concept design for a medical nanorobot by Svidinenko Yuri. It looks rather Matrix-influenced, but it all more or less makes sense from a mechanical point of view - flagellae are how the old-style biological entities move around, after all.

Robert Freitas has been thinking about these sorts of design for a while, of course. The more the merrier to my mind - the sooner we get serious medical nanotechnology, the sooner we can reliably engineer away disease and aging.

In related news, the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology is working with the Russian Nanotechnology News Network in order to help validate their Thirty Essential Studies. The studies are necessary to confirm - or at least pin down - a timeline for reliable development of molecular manufacturing. All of this work, much like that of the Foresight Institute, helps to provide the groundwork for safer scientific and commercial development of these technologies.

Diabetes Linked To Alzheimer's

(From USA Today). A large study has confirmed the link between age-related diabetes and Alzheimer's: suffering from diabetes gives you a 65% greater chance of developing Alzheimer's. Given that obesity is the major cause of diabetes, it seems more likely that changes in biochemistry caused by excess hody fat greatly increase the risk of suffering Alzheimer's as well as most other horrible age-related conditions. Adopting a better diet and lifestyle will extend healthy life span more effectively than any drug or pill you're likely to see in the next couple of years.


ISSCR Growing, Doing Well

The International Society For Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) is an organization of scientists founded in 2002 to promote, encourage, and assist stem cell research. As reported in PNNOnline, the society has recently passed the 1000 member mark - a promising sign of increased growth in this important field of medicine. Science advances more rapidly when there is greater coordination, discussion, and exchange of information between researchers. Faster science means less time to wait for new regenerative therapies to become available to the public. The ISSCR website is informative and well worth a look. The FAQ list in particular is a good introduction to stem cell basics for newcomers to the topic.


The Coming of Paid Advertising

I've talked about advertising (on the Longevity Meme) before, in the context of integrity.

For most webmasters, modern advertising services - like Google Adsense, Blogads, and so forth - are a wonderful thing. They remove much of the drudgery and effort from the process and often produce better results to boot. In my case, however, I don't want to see 99% of the products and companies that would appear on my websites if I used an automated system. I talk about "anti-aging science" and "healthy life extension," and thus there would be no end to the quacks, frauds, scam artists, and random junk appearing in any automated advertising system. The present services just don't give you enough control to squash that sort of thing reliably - at least not without spending an inordinate amount of time on it.

However, ads bring in money, and money can be used to grow the Methuselah Mouse Prize for anti-aging research. After some back-of-the-envelope calculations and chatting with potential advertisers, I think I can put something together that a) I can live with, and b) isn't going to insult you, the readers.

So look for the slow influx of paying ads - from advertisers I am comfortable with - at the Longevity Meme (and maybe here as well) in the months ahead. All the proceeds will go to the Methuselah Foundation to help with their goals.

Next News On Healthy Life Extension

James Pethokoukis of Next News has been talking about healthy life extension of late, under topic headings like "Is extending the human life span a no-brainer?" It is very pleasing to see more people talking sensibly about this topic, not to mention referencing the work of biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey. The more of us there are talking about these topics, the easier it becomes to educate the public (and the rest of the media) about healthy life extension and the need to support more serious anti-aging research. The future doesn't make itself, and - just as for cancer, Alzheimer's, and other medical research - our support helps to determine how soon we can win the fight to cure aging.


Pressure For Better Stem Cell Legislation

Reuters reports that a (slim) bipartisan majority of the US senate have signed a letter requesting changes in current anti-research stem cell policy. So the pressure continues, but we shouldn't forget that the folks crying crocodile tears now are the same ones who signed this legislation into effect in the first place. Politicians are very good at creating problems and roadblocks - the best thing they could all do in the long run is to get out of the way and stop interfering with medical research. An avalanche of private funding for stem cell research awaits greater certainty about future legislation. Delay means ever more avoidable suffering and death in the near future.


The Catatonic Biogerontologists

Aubrey de Grey has been putting up new introductory material at the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) website in recent weeks. Given his schedule, I've no idea where he finds the time. I recommend that you all read "The Curious Case of the Catatonic Biogerontologists," a clear and concise explanation of problems within the scientific community that are slowing down attempts to understand, prevent, and cure aging. A few other important items are mentioned at the Fight Aging! blog - take a look and see if you can answer the hard questions directed at you, as well as those aimed at biogerontologists.


Looking Back At Alzheimer's Progress

A article looks back at the progress made in the fight to cure Alzheimer's over the past decade. Although too late to help people like Ronald Reagan, ten years of heavily funded research have resulted in the first treatments and a growing understanding of the genetics and biochemistry of the condition. Scientists are confident that effective preventative therapies and a cure will be found in the years ahead - essential progress for all of us interested in healthy life extension. Age-related conditions like Alzheimer's (horrible and inevitable for all of us) must be cured as part and parcel of any effort to greatly extend the healthy human life span.


Interesting Blog

I stumbled across a visually interesting anti-aging blog while searching Technorati the other day. Now if the author could just drop the old school quotient of the postings in favor of looking at more new research and current science...

Still, I'm always happy to see new faces writing about healthy life extension and related topics. The more of us there are, the faster we can create public support for serious attempts to intervene in the aging process.

Rejuvenation Research Launched

This is worth mentioning here as well as at the Fight Aging! blog: Rejuvenation Research is a relaunch of the Journal of Anti-Aging Medicine, coinciding with Aubrey de Grey taking over as Editor-in-Chief from Michael Fossel. It will publish the highest-quality research in all areas of biology relevant to expediting the development of a real cure for human aging, including stem cell therapy, tissue engineering, gene therapy and many other areas not conventionally covered by biogerontology journals, as well as areas that are more conventionally classified as biogerontology. It will also feature extensive analysis of the social context of such work.


A Look At The Buck Institute

A short piece from Metroactive News takes a look in from the outside at the the Buck Institute. The researchers of the institute are turning out good work on aging, calorie restriction, and serious anti-aging science, but - as the article points out - there is still a great deal of public misunderstanding on this topic. This confusion is fueled by the irresponsible, fraudulent portions of the "anti-aging" marketplace: "Currently, of course, there is no single drug compound proven to lengthen the human lifespan, even though the average spam-filled e-mail box may seem to say otherwise. Every day, someone new seems to be offering a new magic cure to slow aging."


New Material at SENS

Aubrey de Grey has been putting up new introductory material at the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) website at a fairly steady pace in recent weeks. Given his schedule, I've no idea where he finds the time. If you haven't taken a look already, you should read the following:

1) The curious case of the catatonic biogerontologists

The SENS strategy as described here purports to have all the characteristics that should make it persuasive: it's detailed, it's thorough and it's all firmly based on established experimental work in the various relevant areas of biology. So, you may well ask, where's the catch? Why, on all the many documentaries on aging that remain so popular, don't my colleagues come out and advocate the work that I advocate?

There are three main reasons why most mainstream gerontologists remain so conspicuously absent from the growing band of vocal advocates of the SENS approach to curing aging. They are all understandable, but given the importance of the problem and the key role that senior specialists play in determining public opinion and hence public policy, I feel that none of them is a legitimate excuse.

2) What can you do to further the SENS effort?

3) Why should you do whatever you can to expedite the defeat of human aging?

Because saving lives is the most valuable thing anyone can spend their time doing, and since over 100,000 people die every single day of causes that young people essentially never die of, you'll save more lives by helping to cure aging than in any other way.

Aubrey's arguments on the best use of our time are very direct, to say the least. You may not like the delivery, but it is important to think about the big questions like this. Is saving lives important to you? If so, what are you doing about it? These are simple questions, and it is easy to rub people the wrong way with them. That doesn't mean we shouldn't ask, however.

In past ages, people would lie awake at 2am to wrestle with these questions, knowing that there was nothing they could do that would make a difference. But that is no longer the case - we now live in an age in which science will cure aging, and in which each and every one of us can help to make that happen sooner rather than later...or too late.

Working On The Methuselah Foundation Website

Kevin Perrott and I will be working on the Methuselah Foundation website in the weeks ahead. Volunteer technical work is a welcome break from the drudgery of earning money for poking at code.

Accidents of history and as-needed development have produced a good-looking site that is, unfortunately, distributed between two servers, uses several different scripting languages, and is otherwise a little lacking in organization under the hood. In particular, the Methuselah Mouse prize section of the site performed very poorly during the slashdotting earlier this week.

We'd like to fix that problem and, while we're at it, address any other concerns that have arisen over the past year since the site launch. A complete overhaul is not out of the question at this time. So if you have any comments or constructive suggestions relating to the current Foundation site, now would be the time to say something.

As always, donations to the Methuselah Mouse Prize fund are very welcome. Read the comments in the donor list and see which ones you agree with: this is a valuable and necessary effort for the future of serious anti-aging research. We'd be happy to see your support.

More On Calorie Restriction Mechanism

The Financial Times is carrying a better article about recent research into calorie restriction (CR). It is looking ever more likely that the mechanism responsible for the beneficial effects of CR has actually been pinned down, and researchers are well on their way to a complete understanding. The first products resulting from this knowledge are likely to be anti-obesity therapies, commercialized by Elixir Pharmaceuticals. As Leonard Guarente says, however, "it would be interesting to see what would happen if an anti-obesity drug is out there that is known to extend life. Would people use it only to fight fat?" I think we all know the answer to that question.


Adult Stem Cell Progress

Betterhumans reports on a successful attempt to get bone marrow stem cells to form liver cells. Scientists are making progress in understanding how to use various types of adult stem cell to promote regeneration, but it is clear from the number of contradictory studies that we do not yet understand all the mechanisms and limitations involved. Other, related progress in this field has been noted at Fight Aging! and by Randall Parker at FuturePundit. With greater funding and more research, all that is currently mysterious will become known in the years ahead. Understanding human biochemistry is the path to ever better medicine - and thus longer, healthier lives.


Stem Cell Research Roundup

All the recent exiting advances in aging research and activism have left little room to report some of the very interesting news on stem cell research that have continued unabated over the past few weeks. So here is a quick roundup of the items that I think are important enough to note.

Firstly, and to the sound of much rejoicing from the activists involved, the California stem cell funding initiative has qualified for the November ballot.

The California Secretary of State's office announced today that the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative has qualified for placement on the November 2, 2004 General Election statewide ballot. Supporters submitted more than one million signatures in April, nearly double the amount required for certification.

You can read more about the inititative in the press release, or at the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative website. Getting on the ballot is just the first step, and the organization is still asking for volunteers at all levels of effort and support.

Secondly, researchers who have been hunting for alternatives to embryonic stem cells have been claiming some progress recently. I am cautious, as we've heard premature claims about adult stem cell efficacy before. There is a great deal of ideological pressure from certain quarters to demonstrate that adult stem cells can be made to perform as well as embryonic stem cells.

Adult stem cells have been found in the pancreas that appear to be as potent as stem cells taken from embryos.

The stem cells, extracted by researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute and the University of L?beck in Germany, reproduce well and are able to differentiate into many different cell types.

"An easily accessible source for the extraction of highly potent stem cells has been discovered, in almost any vertebrate but also in the human body, regardless of sex and age," say the researchers.

So a cautiously optimistic wait and see approach is best here, I think. There will no doubt be all the normal calls to abandon embryonic research, but it shouldn't take more than a year for other teams to follow up on this in depth. As I've pointed out before, we simply don't know enough about stem cells yet to determine whether adult stem cell research alone is sufficient.

Meanwhile, another group of researchers is seeing some success in turning ordinary fat cells into other types of cells.

"We have demonstrated that within fat tissue there is a population of stromal cells that can differentiate into different types of cells with many of the characteristics of neuronal and glial cells," said Duke's Kristine Safford, first author of the paper. "These findings support more research into developing adipose tissue as a viable source for cellular-based therapies."

Over the past several years, Duke scientists have demonstrated the ability to reprogram these adipose-derived adult stromal cells into fat, cartilage and bone cells. All of these cells arise from mesenchymal, or connective tissue, parentage. However, the latest experiments have demonstrated that researchers can transform these cells from fat into a totally different lineage.

Earlier this year, Duke researchers demonstrated that these adipose-derived cells are truly adult stem cells. As a source of cells for treatment, adipose tissue is not only limitless, it does not carry the potentially charged ethical or political concerns as other stem cell sources, the researchers said.

"This is a big step to take undifferentiated cells that haven't committed to a particular future and redirect them to develop down a different path," said Duke surgeon Henry Rice, M.D., senior member of the research team. "Results such as these challenge the traditional dogma that once cells become a certain type of tissue they are locked into that destiny. While it appears that we have awakened a new pathway of development, the exact trigger for this change is still not known."

Randall Parker has the following to say about attempts to manipulate adult stem cells:

The problem of how to change differentiated cells (cells specialized to perform particular functions) into less differentiated cells is obviously very solvable. Differentiation of cells into specialized types is not a one way street. This should not be too surprising. Cells are made up of matter and matter is malleable. The arrangement of the cellular matter that determines cellular type (known as epigenetic information) is becoming steadily more malleable with each discovery of how to manipulate cells. Recently Scripps researchers found a compound they labelled reversine that converts differentiated cells into stem cells. They had to search through only 50,000 compounds to find one that would do that. Surely there are huge numbers of other compound waiting to be discovered that will dedifferentiate (i.e. despecialize) cells to thru them back into stem cells and even turn them all the way back into the equivalent of embryonic stem cells.

Embryonic stem cells may turn out to provide a starting point for therapy development that allows the more rapid development of some types cell therapies. But there is no treatment that can be developed from embryonic stem cells that won't also eventually be solvable using adult stem cells or fully adult differentiated cells as starting points. Of course, in the short term one can understand why those who have no moral qualms about using embryonic stem cells want to see them used to develop therapies. Embryonic stem cells may save some lives. But for those who will need cell therapy-based treatments in the medium to long term the debate about embryonic stem cell therapy will probably have no impact on the availability of treatments.

I'll point to the costs of delay to quantify "some lives" in that comment - it's a lot more than "some" if embryonic research brings therapies even a single year closer. More like millions. We simply don't know enough at this stage to put aside embryonic stem cell research.

On that note, on to politics next. Scientists are attempting to block a United Nations ban on therapeutic cloning through organized action and a conference on stem cell research and human cloning.

The Genetics Policy Institute and scientific leaders in the biomedical research community have come to the United Nations today to openly discuss the repercussion of an international ban on therapeutic cloning and draw a clear distinction between unethical reproductive cloning and this lifesaving science," said GPI Executive Director Bernard Siegel. "We have gathered the leading scientists from four continents including an historic visit to New York City from notable South Korean scientists, Drs. Hwang and Moon, to dispel the confusion and myths about stem cell research."

Last year, GPI successfully led a grassroots effort to defend therapeutic cloning research in the United Nations, which was considering a ban on all forms of cloning research, including therapeutic cloning. After contentious debate the deliberations were deferred until October 2004.

"A UN vote to ban this important scientific research would be tragic and destroy the hopes of millions suffering from Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, diabetes, cancer, spinal cord injuries, heart disease, ALS and other devastating conditions for which no cure is known," Siegel said. "Every human being is affected by this vote and that is why GPI is leading an international grassroots constituency to fight for medial research for cures. People need to know that therapeutic research, which is not reproductive cloning, will lead to breakthrough cures such as creating replacement tissue that the human body won't reject."

I maintain an action page on this topic at the Longevity Meme, and I advise you all to contact your elected representatives on this issue. A UN ban on this vital medical technology will greatly slow progress towards curing age-related conditions and extending healthy life span.

Back in the US, there is continuing motion towards forcing a change in federal anti-research legislation that has been causing great harm to private and public reseach funding. We'll see how that goes, but I don't expect much from the politicians who caused the problem in the first place. Scientists are already five years - and thus tens of millions of avoidable deaths - behind in medical research relating to stem cells and regenerative medicine. We could have been so much further ahead...

Calorie Restriction Mechanism Uncovered?

EurekAlert notes that MIT researchers are claiming the first molecular link between eating and aging. Professor Leonard Guarente says that "for the first time, this study gives us a glimpse of how calorie restriction works at the molecular level. And it will ultimately lead to health benefits in people." This stems from a greater understanding of the mechanisms associated with a single protein, Sirt1, that controls fat storage and release in the body. The eventual goal of this and similar research is to produce therapies that replicate the health and life-extending benefits of calorie restriction without the need for dieting.


Insulin And Aging

A new study on fruit flies from Brown University researchers illuminates more of the role of insulin in the aging process. "Think of the body like a car. We knew insulin controlled the car's speed by regulating things like the gas pedal and the fuel injectors. Now we know that insulin is also the fuel that makes the engine go. So the research fits some key puzzle pieces together. And it should change the way we think about aging." Past research into calorie restriction has also pointed at insulin as part of a key regulatory mechanism for the aging process. The more we learn, the more we can learn - and the closer we come to effectively intervening in the aging process.


A Long Rhetorical Question

SAGE Crossroads has finally put up the transcript for their last webcast, entitled "Is Biomedical Research the Right Road to Healthy Aging?" From where I stand, this well-mannered debate is a rhetorical question made possible by considering a false choice: is it better to extend healthy life span through basic healthcare improvements or spending more on medical research? The right - and obvious - answer is that we can and should do both. As I often point out, you have to take care of your health if you want to live long enough to benefit from the future of anti-aging medicine. Equally, this medicine must be researched and developed: that takes support, resources, and hard work.


Mentioned On Slashdot

Well, it looks like my submission to Slashdot regarding the Aubrey de Grey / Methuselah Mouse Prize article in Fortune was accepted. Thank you Slashdot editors, and a warm welcome to new visitors! This is, I think, the third or fourth post at Slashdot in the last year on the topic of healthy life extension and related medical science. The tone of comments is much better this time around - many more people are thinking positively about living longer, healthier lives. This indicates to me that advocates are making progress in educating the public about real anti-aging science and extending the healthy human life span.


Rejuvenation Research: First Issue is Out

The first issue of Rejuvenation Research has just been published.

Rejuvenation Research is a relaunch of the Journal of Anti-Aging Medicine, coinciding with my taking over as Editor-in-Chief from Michael Fossel. It will publish the highest-quality research in all areas of biology relevant to expediting the development of a real cure for human aging, including stem cell therapy, tissue engineering, gene therapy and many other areas not conventionally covered by biogerontology journals, as well as areas that are more conventionally classified as biogerontology. It will also feature extensive analysis of the social context of such work.

A fuller description of the aims and scope of RR is contained in the editorial to the first issue, which I thank the publishers, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. of New York, for allowing me to post at my website.

The quality that can be expected of this journal is best shown by the calibre of its editorial board, which consists of established leaders in all relevant areas. See below for a link to the list of board members.

I hope you will consider either taking out a personal subscription or, if you are a member of an academic institution, recommending them to take out an institutional subscription. Or both, of course! Subscribers can access the journal online shortly after publication; I am told that issue 1 will be online by the end of this week.

Relevant URLs:

Journal home page (including subscriptions):

Editorial Board:

Table of Contents:

Instructions for Authors:

Any queries or comments regarding RR are of course welcome.

Fortune On Aubrey De Grey

Fortune is taking a sober look at the work of Aubrey de Grey, the biogerontologist behind the SENS initiative and co-founder (with Dave Gobel) of the Methuselah Mouse Prize for anti-aging research. Some of the most important steps in the fight to cure aging involve generating widespread public understanding of - and desire for - the necessary medical research. As the article puts it, "Solving the remaining scientific puzzles to achieve [radical healthy life extension in mice] would require $100 million per year of focused research funding over the next decade. A high-profile campaign to arrest aging in mice would rivet public attention on the huge promise of anti-aging research, making it politically tenable to put in serious money."


Aubrey de Grey in Fortune Magazine

If you haven't taken a look at the new Fortune Magazine article on Aubrey de Grey and the Methuselah Mouse Prize, you certainly should do so. It's a good piece, succinctly outlining Aubrey's work, proposals, and some of the science in a compact two pages.

Absent-mindedly stroking his Rip van Winkle beard, Aubrey de Grey recalls when he first realized how humans might halt the process of growing old. His "Eureka!" came at a research meeting in California four years ago. Jet-lagged and wide awake at 4 a.m., the British scientist posed himself a simple question: "What would it take to bioengineer a nonaging human?" The light dawned as he scribbled a list - it seemed that only seven things had to be prevented, mainly toxic byproducts of metabolism that accumulate in the body over time. "I realized that we could bloody well fix them all," he says. "We could go in and periodically clean up the seven deadly things before they cause problems."

Wishful thinking, perhaps. But de Grey has emerged as one of the boldest thinkers and organizers in the science of aging, whose ideas have begun to influence a whole generation of biologists, even as they make rapid strides toward understanding that universal curse. De Grey's vision is arguably no wilder than, say, predicting in 1950 that some decades thence we'd create goats that make spider silk. (In case you hadn't heard, goats implanted with spider genes secrete the stuff of the stronger-than-steel fiber in their milk.) As spider-goats show, biology is becoming ever more like engineering - a field whose problems yield to methodical attacks with known tools. Run that trend forward a few decades, argues de Grey, and you could see medical engineers sprucing up our bodies much as handymen replace dislodged roof shingles to prevent minor leaks from leading to collapsed ceilings. That means some people alive today may still be that way centuries from now, says de Grey.

Part of Aubrey's insight is into how to best manage the politics and process of big science. New paradigms and new ways of looking at research are not accepted overnight. The biggest battle is often simply to get the old guard to engage and seriously debate new ideas.

Even if he's right, de Grey is well aware that scientific feasibility doesn't equal political will. In fact, he says his own starting point in gerontology was his recognition in the mid-1990s of an institutional "fatalism logjam." Since there have been few signs of progress in the quest for anti-aging therapies, funding agencies generally dismiss such work as a waste of resources, or worse, as attempts to brew up snake oil. They won't pay for research, so no progress is made - which, in turn, keeps the impression of intractability in place. Thus, serious scientists have long avoided the pursuit of anti-aging therapies for fear of being labeled flaky dreamers or aspiring charlatans. The closest approach to such work is the relatively modest quest for medicines that prolong good health during old age. This entrenched timidity "just makes me spit," says de Grey. Many researchers on aging privately agree, he adds, but can't afford to be as outspoken as he is because it might hurt their chances to get grants. (A problem he doesn't have, thanks to his genetics job.) Breaking the vicious circle, he adds, will require a big, bold stroke.

Aubrey de Grey's first big bold stroke, engineered in concert with the indefatigable Dave Gobel, is the Methuselah Mouse Prize. Research prizes have a long and honorable history of spurring scientific development, with as much as 50 times the prize amount raised in funding by competing researchers. We humans like competitions a great deal, and vital scientific research can benefit from this urge.

That's where the mice come in. De Grey speculates that solving the remaining scientific puzzles to achieve "robust mouse rejuvenation" would require $100 million per year of focused research funding over the next decade. That sounds like a massive amount of money, but it isn't compared with the National Institutes of Health's annual budget of about $28 billion. And the bang-per-buck would dwarf that of other research pursuits. Says de Grey: "You can save more lives by helping to cure aging than in any other way."

De Grey believes that mounting a high-profile campaign to arrest aging in mice would rivet public attention on the huge promise of anti-aging research, making it politically tenable to put in serious money. The Methuselah Mouse Prize is the first step. The inaugural winner received only about $500, but later record-setters will get more; donors have given or pledged nearly $400,000 to bulk up the purse, says de Grey.

I am very proud to be a member of The Three Hundred initiative, philanthropists at all levels of income who have pledged $25,000 over the next 25 years to the prize fund. At this stage in the prize fund life cycle, just about a year after the first launch, every donor and every cent counts. I encourage you all to make a contribution of any size to the prize total, and thus show your support for the future of real anti-aging medicine.

Progress In Viral Anti-Cancer Research

Killing cancer cells is easy. Killing them without killing healthy cells is the hard part, so much of modern cancer research is focused on finding reliable ways to target cancers. As reported by Medical News Today, scientists are making headway in the use of viruses to achieve this aim. Viral mechanisms can be tailored to exploit differences between cancerous and healthy cells, as demonstrated in this research work. Reliable ways to prevent, diagnose, and cure cancer are essential to healthy life extension. We will soon be using regenerative medicine to repair age-worn organs, but this alone will not protect us from increasing risk of cancer as the years pass.


Next Steps In The UN Cloning Fight

The US is still pushing for a United Nations ban on therapeutic cloning, an essential technology for progress in stem cell based regenerative medicine. Influential scientists are currently campaigning for a limited ban on human reproductive cloning only - as opposed to the blanket criminalization of vital medical research that US politicians are seeking. From the article: "Because it represents a significant proportion of the world's research, the US administration is slowing the development of a range of new treatments for heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses." This is a good time to contact your elected representatives and ask them why they are letting this debacle take place.