Another year flees past us, ever faster it seems. The past year was characterized by advocacy, shifts in publicity and organizations supporting longevity science, and community fundraising success. For example, we just finished raising $60,000 for the SENS Research Foundation in the last few days. Back in October Longecity raised $21,000 for another SENS research project: restoring function in mitochondrial mutants, an opportunity to use a pair of cell lines that suddenly became available, and would otherwise require a great deal of work to produce. The month prior, a film project on life extension raised $35,000 on Kickstarter. Publicity is good, but I can't help feeling that we have a way to go yet with our advocacy when it is easier to raise funds to talk about longevity science in fiction than it is to raise funds to actually build the technologies needed for human rejuvenation. Ah, priorities. We humans are so bad at priorities.
Alongside all of this community fundraising, the new crowdfunding models are starting to make some inroads into science - moving beyond comics and games and widgets. I see this as a promising sign. Making community fundraising for projects like the ones above, and providing better tools to help the organizers, can only lead to more projects being funded and a growth in the number of supporters.
In a similar vein the Methuselah Foundation recently officially launched the New Organ Liver Prize: $1 million for the production of a tissue engineered, functional, transplanted liver. Their fundraising proceeds apace as they continue to work on speeding up whole organ tissue engineering through a variety of avenues.
While we are on the subject of Foundations, this was the year in which the SENS Research Foundation launched their Reimagine Aging campaign, added scientific luminary George Church to their advisory board, hosted the SENS6 conference, reached a yearly budget of $4 million, filled out their YouTube channel with videos, and posted an excellent series on the work done by young molecular biologists in their intern program. The SENS research program to watch in the coming couple of years is the AGE-breaker project focused on glucosepane, I think, but you really should take a look at their annual reports to get an idea as to how the Foundation is growing, and be sure to read The Undoing of Aging. You should also absolutely catch the Ben Best interview of Aubrey de Grey from August.
Interestingly, one other noteworthy group in aging research has published their own manifesto on how to treat degenerative aging, clearly modeled on the SENS proposals. That looks a lot like victory from where I stand.
The big funding news for the year in mainstream aging research is that the Ellison Medical Foundation is exiting the arena, and the vaguely aging-related Genomics X Prize was cancelled. Meanwhile Google has created the Calico initiative with the determination to spend hundred of millions of dollars on extending healthy life. At this point I don't expect Calico to back anything so useful and ambitious as SENS - I think it will look a lot more like a backing of the slow road to nowhere of metabolic manipulation to reduce the pace of aging. No rejuvenation research there. I may be wrong, but we shall see.
Various campaigns such as the Longevity Dividend have made new publicity efforts this past year to attract more public funding to their vision of incremental slow progress towards drugs to ameliorate the effects of aging. In addition we've seen other signs of the spread of awareness of longevity science into the mainstream: a radical life extension policy wonk conference, a big well-publicized study on views of radical life extension from Pew Research, and an advertising campaign touting 150 year life spans from Prudential. There is movement: each year we come closer to mass support for the goal of longer, healthier lives, yet still much of the public seems strangely disinterested.
Telomeres have been floating around in the news in relation to longevity this year. This is largely a consequence of new services offering telomere measurement, rather than anything of greater utility. Startup companies tend to generate press as a side-effect of their existence, but that doesn't necessarily tell us anything. On the more interesting side, the teams working on life extension in mice through telomerase gene engineering published new results earlier in the year. This is one of those items that gives me pause on my opinion of telomeres: other than this, it seems very clear from the data that telomere length is a marker, a consequence of aging and not a cause. I look forward to learning more about how telomerase in mice is actually extending life.
Mitochondrially targeted antioxidants of several types have been a topic of interest for some years now. To the extent that they extend life - where normal antioxidants do no such thing, or block hormesis signaling to shorten life - this is a reinforcement of the importance of mitochondria to aging and the need for mitochondrial repair technologies. A new type of mitochondrially targeted antioxidant known as SS-31 showed up publications earlier in the year, and makes for interesting reading.
This was the year in which research into brain emulation became more serious. Very large sums and formal programs are now working on creating first simulations and later emulations of the brain. Relevant to life extension? Not directly, unless you are one of those who believe that a copy of you is still you - but this bears watching. In a related community, the 2045 Initiative held their Global Futures conference back in June. This is another initiative that is worth keeping an eye on, though I don't believe it relevant to actual progress in extending human longevity despite their claims - and for much the same set of reasons as for brain emulation. A copy of you isn't you.
There are some puzzling oddities floating around the edge of the field of aging research, made puzzling simply by virtue of the fact that all too few people are studying them. The results arrive slowly and intermittently as a result. These are items that are likely irrelevant to the future of human life extension, but that doesn't stop them from being interesting. One of the best, I think, is whether and how heavy water extends life in short-lived species.
Immune therapies are one of the more active areas of medical development at the present time. Guiding the immune system has very broad applications: treatment of cancer, removal of amyloid and other waste compounds, and reversal of age-related immune dysfunction. Even something as simple as generating enormous numbers of patient-matched immune cells and infusing them can be very beneficial for the old, a way to restore some of the immune capacity that they now lack.
Several groups of researchers are at present chewing through past claims of life extension in mice from various dietary components and supplements and disproving them one by one. This seems to be the trend: look at every such claim from the past few decades with suspicion, as they likely resulted from inadvertent calorie restriction and are now being refuted by more careful work. The present consensus is that aggressive supplementation does nothing or may even be harmful to life expectancy.
In the area of drugs to slow aging, there is some debate over whether rapamycin actually does slow aging in mice versus just reducing cancer rates. This is ongoing with some fairly energetic arguments on both sides, especially from those already fairly vested in mTOR as a target for slowing aging, given that this is becoming an area of increased fundraising. To my eyes this is all irrelevant, of course. It isn't damage repair, it's just more metabolic manipulation that is exceedingly unlikely to meaningfully extend life in humans, even though it manages 20-30% life extension in mice, about half to two thirds of the effects of calorie restriction. Think of it as version 2.0 of the hubbub over sirtuins and resveratrol - that all went nowhere, generating only new knowledge, and the same will come of this, I think.
I'm not going to talk about tissue engineering, stem cells, or regenerative medicine this year. So much is going on that it would be a very long list: body parts and their components are being made, and researchers are just hitting their stride in this arena. The 2020s are going to be very interesting, as that is when we'll start to see a fair number of people with bioartificial replacements, augmentations, organ patches, and other treatments.
On cancer, again too much to point out. I leave that to others. But I will point to news on granulocyte transplant therapies: this has been a topic in past years because it seemed so very promising. It still looks promising, but by the sound of it this has run into the wall of grinding slow progress towards application, and the discovery of previously unappreciated complexity. But on the bright side, here are two and a half other ways to cure cancer.
Programmed aging as a viewpoint seems to be on the rise. Perhaps there are more publications, perhaps I'm just noticing more publications. This might be seen to be as much a threat to future funding of rejuvenation research as the continued focus of the mainstream of the research community on either doing nothing or working only on ways to manipulate metabolism with drugs to slightly slow aging. In the programmed aging worldview we should be working to restore epigenetic patterns and other aspects of metabolism to youthful levels, as they see this change as the root cause of aging. To their eyes damage repair is a waste of time. But this focus on altering metabolism is the doomed path to nowhere if aging is accumulated damage, as in the SENS viewpoint and - largely - the present mainstream view.
This year had its usual crop of short essays, links below:
- The Fight Aging! Algorithm
- Final Complexity is Less Relevant than that of Root Causes
- Why Prioritize SENS Research for Human Longevity?
- Revisiting Audience Data for Fight Aging!: Long Tails and Bear Consumption
- Perverse Incentives in Age and Funding Longevity Research
- On Costs and Opportunity Costs of Aging
- Deploying the Argument from Authority for SENS Research
- Bracketed By Billionaires
- Civil Disobedience and DIYbio
- Costly Publicity Makes Little Sense When Research is Cheap
- SENS Research Foundation is the Watering Hole, Not the Herd
- Dear Wealthy Individual, I Have This Great Idea Regarding How to Spend Your Money in a Better Way Than You Seem to Be Managing To Date
- Extending Life By Gaining More Subjective Time
- When Will the $100 Million Donations Start to Arrive for Rejuvenation Research?
- Extending Life by Manipulating Metabolism Only Produces Dramatic Results in Short-Lived Species
I missed a hundred other interesting things in this short retrospective, of course - but that's why Fight Aging! has archives, and why you have free time.