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An Interview with Sergey Young by Nicola Bagalà

An Interview with Sergey Young by Nicola Bagalà

Sergey Young
Nicola Bagalà


Editor’s Note: The U.S. Transhumanist Party features this article by our guest Nicola Bagalà, originally published by the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation (LEAF) on July 4, 2019. In this article, Mr. Bagalà interviews Sergey Young, a board member of XPRIZE and the creator of the $100 million Longevity Vision Fund. They cover a number of topics, such as the longevity companies that Sergey has invested in, the Longevity Xprize, Sergey’s new book, callled Growing Young: A Simple Guide to Age Reversal, along with many more topics. I highly recommend this read.

~ Bobby Ridge, Assistant Editor, July 8, 2019


We recently had the opportunity to interview Sergey Young, a board member of XPRIZE and the creator of the $100 million Longevity Vision Fund.

When did you first become interested in healthy life extension, and why?

My interest began with a routine visit to a doctor. Five years ago, at the age of 42, my blood tests – which I neglected for 7 years, thinking I was in perfect health – showed that my cholesterol was extremely high, putting me at risk of one of the most common killers: heart disease.

The only treatment offered by my doctor at the time was to take statins (cholesterol-reducing medication) for the rest of my life. However, this seemed unnatural and potentially dangerous for the body, and I definitely did not want to “live” on a pill forever. I refused to accept this as the only option (the doctor even made me sign a waiver for refusing treatment) and kept pushing for alternatives. Eventually, the doctor suggested I try a Mediterranean-style diet (based around healthy fats, cutting out sugar, etc.), which worked in bringing my cholesterol down to a normal range without any medication at all.

It’s a pity that doctors, even well-meaning ones, do not start with dietary changes first. Since then, I developed an interest in diet and a lifestyle-based approach to health and longevity, and hope I can share this knowledge with as many people as possible.

However, it was the meeting with Peter Diamandis last year in Vatican City at a conference on regenerative medicine, which was also attended by the Pope, that really kickstarted my mission in longevity. Peter is such an inspiring individual, and his XPRIZE Foundation served as a great example of how you can make a difference on a large scale. It was the perfect platform to make my interest in longevity serve to the benefit of society as a whole.

In your opinion, what are the most important reasons why the pursuit of healthy longevity should be a priority for human society?

Our lives are like “Groundhog Day”: we spend most of our lives working until we decline into old age and illness – possibly without having had the time or health to enjoy life to the fullest.

However, pursuing healthy longevity can potentially extend our lives by 25% or more. Having an extra 25 years of lifespan gives us the opportunity to pursue our dreams, spend more time with our children and grandchildren, and do the things that really matter – but that we have not had time for.

This cause is so close to your heart that you’re actually writing a book about it—no easy task. Is it your first book?

Yes, this is my first book. Hopefully not my last.

I am putting a lot of time and effort into making longevity as practical and easy to read about as possible. I see it as a way of helping as many people as possible learn about life extension and making their lives more longevity-friendly. If this leads to follow-on books, covering longevity diets, or longevity exercises, for example, I would be happy to fulfill the readers’ requests.

What made you decide that it was time for you to write one?

When I first got into longevity, there were only two types the longevity books available: either 300-page books with a single hypothesis drawn out, or “encyclopedias” that were nearly impossible for the general population to read without a specialized degree.

That’s why I decided to write “Growing Young: Simple Guide to Age Reversal” – something well-researched and comprehensive, yet simple and engaging for the general reader.

I understand that we’re some way from finding your book on the shelves; can you give us a sneak peek by telling us a little about what topics you’re going to cover?

The book is heavy-packed with a lot of varied content. Here is a taster of some of the topics included:

  • Technological longevity breakthroughs – what is already available that can extend our lifespans by up to 10 years, and technologies that could emerge in the near future to extend our lifespans even further
  • Ethical trade offs of living to 200
  • Economics of longevity

Has a release date, or time frame, for the book been decided yet?

Our planned release date is spring 2020.

You’re the founder of the Longevity Vision Fund, whose goal is to accelerate longevity breakthroughs and make them affordable for as many as possible as soon as possible. Many people fear that life extension would be only for the rich, so what’s your plan to make your vision come true, especially regarding affordability?

The focus of Longevity Vision Fund is on affordable and accessible technology. As with every area of technology, it undergoes a democratization process, becoming progressively more affordable to a wider range of people. The mission of Longevity Vision Fund is to enable and speed up the democratization of longevity-related technology by investing in companies and services that have the potential to become scalable, accessible, and affordable for the general population.

LVF is a rather new initiative; what has it achieved thus far?

Longevity Vision Fund was launched in February 2019, but we have already come a long way. For example, we raised most of the capital in just 3 months. We have assembled an impressive Advisory Board of five leading longevity scientists: Aubrey De Grey, Vadim Gladyshev, Joao de Magalhaes, Richard Faragher, and Morten Scheibye-Knudsen.

We also entered into a collaboration partnership with BOLD Capital (Peter Diamandis’s fund), and LVF has already invested in four companies to date.

What areas of life extension research, or life extension in general, will be LVF’s primary focus?

We like to invest in fields such as AI, diagnostics, wearables & devices, stem-cell treatments, and organ regeneration.

Does LVF have a roadmap, or a tentative time frame, describing when specific goals should ideally be achieved?

As mentioned above, we have already achieved very significant milestones for a fund that has just been launched last year. Our main goal for the future is achieving our mission in stimulating progress in longevity breakthroughs to make them affordable to as many people as possible.

This is a progressive goal, and it would be impossible and irresponsible to make specific claims exactly as to when and by how much lifespans will be expanded.

Let’s talk about XPRIZE a little bit. You’ve been on the XPRIZE Innovation Board for over a year now. What is your job as a member of this board?

In addition to being on the XPRIZE Innovation Board, I am also the Development Sponsor of Longevity XPRIZE. My job is to define the strategy of Longevity XPRIZE, help choose the areas of most impact, and attract and unite the brightest minds that could lead solutions to the world’s biggest problems – aging being one of them, since it affects us all.

What led you to join XPRIZE?

As you probably already know, I am extremely passionate about longevity, and I want to use it to make a difference in the world. I want to help people live longer, healthier, and happier lives. Since meeting Peter Diamandis, XPRIZE has become the perfect high-impact platform for working on the world’s biggest issues

Speaking of XPRIZE, you took part in its recent Future of Longevity brainstorming session, in which our president, Keith Comito, had the pleasure to meet you. Can you share your impressions of the event?

As the Development Sponsor, I could be biased, so I would be more interested in hearing Keith Comito’s thoughts!

On a serious note, I thought it turned out to be a great, collaborative event with a constellation of over 50 of the world’s Longevity Leaders. I am grateful to everyone who came and made it such a success.

The goal of the brainstorming session was to design a Longevity XPRIZE that may further catalyze the development of a thriving longevity industry; our readers already know something about it from Keith’s article, but, as an insider, is there anything more you could share with us, such as when the prize might launch or if more proposals are being evaluated?

We expect to launch next year, and the exact date will probably be announced during XPRIZE Visioneering in October. I am really looking forward to it, since it is a great big event where ideas for future XPRIZE initiatives are discussed. There are also lots of amazing people in attendance – last year, Pharrell Williams and Eric Schmidt were there, for example.

Besides the upcoming Longevity XPRIZE, are you involved in other XPRIZE initiatives?

Yes, I was also involved in the Global Learning XPRIZE, where I coached five finalists in the competition. The result of their work was to give children in African countries a tool to learn English (or their native language, Swahili) by themselves, without an adult, in just 12 months, using an app.

Speaking again of affordability, even if life-extension medicine eventually becomes affordable, we can’t expect that to happen overnight. How long, in your opinion, will it take before it’ll be cheap enough to be widespread?

Life extension is a very complex issue – if there were a simple solution, evolution would probably already have taken care of it.

I expect that various technological breakthroughs, scientific research, and the work of many people around the world (including our small team at Longevity Vision Fund) will collectively contribute to the continuous evolution of longevity and the prolongation of human lifespans. However, as I mentioned before, it would be impossible to predict when exactly this will happen and exactly how widespread we can make life-extension medicine.

Let me ask a few personal questions again. Many people, even life-extension enthusiasts, are not convinced that major breakthroughs will happen during their lifetimes. How about you; do you expect to “make the cut”?

I visualize myself living to 200, and whether I get to live to 200 or not, is arbitrary. The mindset of living to 200 myself stimulates me to live, work, and contribute to longevity to the best of my ability, since I am more passionate about improving the lives of others than focusing just on my own. As Peter Diamandis says, “the best way to become a billionaire is to help a billion people.”

Besides that, I definitely expect to see significant breakthroughs during my own lifetime and even bigger breakthroughs in the coming generations.

In your XPRIZE biography, I read that you’re a “happy co-founder of a diversified portfolio of 4 kids.” I take it as a funny way to say you’ve got four children; do you talk to them about life extension? What do they think of it?

I do talk about longevity and life extension to my two oldest kids: the 20-year-old and the 8-year-old. However, they see longevity as their father’s passion rather than something they are interested in as a topic. That’s understandable – hardly anyone under 30 thinks about aging.

As for my two youngest kids aged 5 and 1, I tell them “longevity bedtime stories”: tales involving “good” healthy foods, and avoiding “evil” sugar, sweet drinks, fast food, etc.

You make no mystery of your wish to live to two hundred. Is it just two hundred or at least two hundred?

To most people, both sound equally unbelievable, so with my binary thinking, I just focus on the number “200”.

Many people out there wonder what we’d do if we lived much longer than the current status quo. What would you do with that kind of extra time?

Adding an extra 25 years to our lifespans gives us fundamentally new options: spending more time with children and grandchildren, redefining our lives, getting new careers, and working on solving the world’s problems.

I would, of course, spend more time with my family and continue my work in solving the problems and diseases of aging. But this is a question that everyone can ask themselves. What would you do if your life were extended by a quarter?

As a final question, are there other causes than life extension that you find very important or are personally involved in?

Apart from focusing on doing good on a global scale, as with my work on longevity, I like to make a difference on a smaller scale as well. While it’s important to work on solving global problems, it’s just as important to connect and support communities locally. For example, every New Year’s, my wife, my kids, and I give away festive food sets to families in need. We started with 100 families, and last year, that number reached 300.

I would also like to end this question by thanking LEAF and, in particular, its president, Keith Comito. Thank you for your dedication in promoting life extension and for building such a fantastic and comprehensive longevity platform like LEAF!

Nicola Bagalà is a bit of a jack of all trades—a holder of an M.Sc. degree in mathematics; an amateur programmer; a hobbyist at novel writing, piano and art; and, of course, a passionate life extensionist. After his interest in the science of undoing aging arose in 2011, he gradually shifted from quiet supporter to active advocate in 2015, first launching his advocacy blog Rejuvenaction before eventually joining LEAF. These years in the field sparked an interest in molecular biology, which he actively studies. Other subjects he loves to discuss to no end are cosmology, artificial intelligence, and many others—far too many for a currently normal lifespan, which is one of the reasons he’s into life extension.

Why I Am Future-Positive on My Birthday – Article by Steve Hill

Why I Am Future-Positive on My Birthday – Article by Steve Hill

Steve Hill


Editor’s Note: The U.S. Transhumanist Party features this article by our guest Steve Hill, originally published by the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation (LEAF) on June 7th, 2019. In this article, Mr. Hill discusses how he feels great about being over 40 years old, instead of the depressing feeling that many tend to have on their birthdays, because he is very aware of how close medical science is to curing age-related diseases. He goes on in discuss, in his opinion, two of the most promising research methods being sought by various companies to defeat age-related diseases.

~ Bobby Ridge, Assistant Editor, July 7, 2019


Not so long ago, it was my 44th birthday, and I’ve finally decided to write something that I’ve been reflecting on for a while. To some people, a birthday is a cause for celebration; for others, it is viewed as a bad thing.

Yes, if you take the negative view, you could see it as simply a reminder of being another year older and another year closer to the grave. However, this is not how I see it; in fact, I think quite the opposite. I see it as another year closer to our goal: the defeat of age-related diseases due to the progress of rejuvenation biotechnology that offers longer and healthier lives.

From my point of view, viewing birthdays, or, indeed, the passing of time, as a positive or negative thing is largely a question of knowledge and understanding of the aging research field, which ties in with what I want to address today.

Knowledge is power

During my work as a journalist, people often ask me how things are progressing in the field. This is, of course, a perfectly reasonable and understandable question to ask. While I am always more than happy to talk about the field and answer this question, I also urge people to delve deeper into the field so that they can learn and evaluate for themselves rather than simply taking my word for it.

Our website, including the Rejuvenation Roadmap, is a good resource to start learning and to hear the latest news, as are places such as FightAging and the SENS Research Foundation website. Conferences such as Ending Age-Related Diseases and Undoing Aging are also valuable places to learn more about what is happening in the field.

Sometimes, I encounter people outside, but also fairly frequently within, the community who can be somewhat pessimistic about the field and its progress. It is perfectly natural to be cautious about the unknown, but there comes a point at which caution becomes unwarranted pessimism. The “Science Will Not Defeat Aging in My Lifetime, so Why Bother?” argument is a classic example of this, and much of this is caused by a lack of knowledge and understanding of the field.

The Latin phrase scientia potentia est, meaning “knowledge is power”, is particularly apt here. Knowledge and understanding allow us to better evaluate a situation or a proposal and reach a conclusion. It is hard to reach an accurate conclusion about anything without all the facts in place, yet I often see people doing it. Of course, there are always people who will not put in the time and effort required to learn about a topic properly, so they make predictions without all the facts, but there really isn’t much we can do about these people.

However, as advocates and supporters, we can do our best to learn about such things ourselves, and this will also come in useful when speaking to others about the field, as there is nothing like having a good understanding of the topic to help you convey it to others. That does not mean you need to become a biologist and understand things to such deep levels but even a solid understanding of the basics can be a huge help when it comes to engaging with others on the subject and also for understanding where we are currently progress wise.

Future-positive

This relates to a second question people often tend to ask me, which is if I think that they or we have a chance of living long enough to see these technologies arrive.

Obviously, no one can predict the future, so this question, by its very nature, is a tricky one to answer. I generally avoid being too specific on the timeframe in which we will reach the goal of longer lives through science, but I am optimistic that people in my age group, even perhaps older, have a reasonable chance of making the cut.

The reason that I am generally optimistic about the future is mostly that, as a journalist who speaks to hundreds of researchers, each focused on a part of the puzzle, I get an almost unique picture of the field. I can see the broader landscape and how and where things in the field or related fields connect or may connect in the future. A breakthrough in a related medical field may not have immediately apparent utility in aging research at first glance, but a deeper look could reveal hidden potential.

This fairly unique insight, combined with the knowledge that I have collected over the years working in the field, makes me fairly optimistic about the future and my place in it. As I have said a number of times in the past, the defeat of age-related diseases will not suddenly happen overnight; there is unlikely to be a single moment at which humanity goes from having no choice about aging to having control. It is far more likely that there will be steady progress, with incremental breakthroughs along the road, that will ultimately reach the goal.

Reasons to be cheerful

I would like to touch upon two of the most promising therapies that I am most interested in and believe may have a big impact in the near future (10-20 years) and that may help pave the way for major changes to how society thinks about and treats aging. Both of these therapies directly address one of the nine proposed causes of aging and thus if they work they have the potential to be transformative in healthcare. Of course, there are more therapies in development and at various stages of progress which also address the other causes of aging but these two are what I am most enthusiastic about presently. I urge you to explore the provided links to resources and learn more about each one.

Senolytics

No list of promising technologies would be complete without talking about the senescent cell-clearing drugs and therapies known as senolytics. Senescent cells are aged or damaged cells that should destroy themselves via a process known as apoptosis but, for various reasons, do not do so; instead, they hang around, sending out inflammatory signals that harm nearby healthy cells, block effective tissue repair, and contribute to numerous age-related diseases.

One proposed solution to these problem cells is to remove them by causing them to enter apoptosis, as originally intended, by using senolytic drugs and therapies. Removing these cells in mouse studies has produced some remarkable results, with mice often living healthier and longer lives as well as reversing some aspects of aging.

The race is now on to bring these drugs to people, and a number of companies are developing them right now. So far, UNITY Biotechnology has seen the most progress, and the company is already conducting human trials of its lead candidate drug (UBX0101) for the treatment of osteoarthritis. It has another candidate drug (UBX1967) closely behind; this drug is poised to enter human trials for the treatment of age-related macular degeneration, diabetic macular edema, diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma. Based on recent comments from UNITY, we are anticipating the initial results of human trials in the next few months; hopefully, the news will be positive.

With the number of companies working on these therapies, it is fair to be optimistic about their potential to address multiple age-related diseases given that senescent cells are a proposed root cause of aging. You can also check out the Rejuvenation Roadmap to see which companies are working on senolytics and how they are progressing.

Partial cellular reprogramming

Cells can be reverted back to an earlier developmental state, known as induced pluripotency, using reprogramming factors, and this process effectively makes aged cells functionally young again in many ways. Ever since its first discovery, there has been a great deal of interest in this area of aging research.

The problem with inducing pluripotency is that the cell loses its identity and forgets what cell type it currently is, as it becomes a new kind of cell capable of being guided into changing into any other cell type, much like our cells during development. This is great for early human development, but as adults, having our cells forget what they are is bad news. Therefore, researchers have wondered if it is possible to reset a cell’s age without resetting its cell memory, and the answer appears to be yes!

Thankfully, during the reprogramming of a cell back to pluripotency, the cell’s age is one of the first things to be reset before the cell memory is wiped, and it appears possible to partially reprogram the cell so that only aging is reset. We have talked about the potential of partial cellular reprogramming and how it is similar to hitting the reset button on aging in a previous article, but, needless to say, if we can find a way to safely partially reprogram our cells, it could have a dramatic impact on how we age and may allow us to remain more youthful and healthy.

In terms of progress, partial reprogramming has already been demonstrated in mice, and now a number of groups, including Turn.Bio, the Salk Institute, Life Biosciences, Youthereum Genetics, and AgeX, are developing therapies based on partial reprogramming, which is essentially the resetting of cells’ epigenetic states (what genes are expressed) from an aged profile to a more youthful one, again directly targeting one of the proposed root causes of aging.

This approach is likely to be quite a few years away, but I think it is plausible that it could be in human trials in the next decade, and it is probably the approach that interests me the most in the field.

In closing

The truth is we cannot predict the future because it is not set in stone, so we cannot be totally certain if or when rejuvenation technologies will arrive. The best we can do is learn as much as we can about the field and try to reach a reasonable conclusion based on the situation as it is now.

The field is advancing steadily, and we should be optimistic but not complacent about progress. We should be mindful of being too negative and, equally, of being too positive without ample justification. Blind optimism is as bad as blind pessimism, and we should always strive for informed optimism.

That said, given the progress being made, I am optimistic about my chances based on the evidence to date. This is why I do not mind birthdays and why I find them positive experiences rather than negative ones. Arm yourself with knowledge, and perhaps you too will agree with me and understand why I am future positive.

Steve Hill serves on the LEAF Board of Directors and is the Editor in Chief, coordinating the daily news articles and social media content of the organization. He is an active journalist in the aging research and biotechnology field and has to date written over 500 articles on the topic as well as attending various medical industry conferences. In 2019 he was listed in the top 100 journalists covering biomedicine and longevity research in the industry report – Top-100 Journalists covering advanced biomedicine and longevity, created by the Aging Analytics Agency. His work has been featured in H+ Magazine, Psychology Today, Singularity Weblog, Standpoint Magazine, Keep Me Prime, and New Economy Magazine. Steve has a background in project management and administration which has helped him to build a united team for effective fundraising and content creation, while his additional knowledge of biology and statistical data analysis allows him to carefully assess and coordinate the scientific groups involved in the project. In 2015 he led the Major Mouse Testing Program (MMTP) for the International Longevity Alliance and in 2016 helped the team of the SENS Research Foundation to reach their goal for the OncoSENS campaign for cancer research.

A Chance Encounter in a Graveyard – Short Story by Nicola Bagalà

A Chance Encounter in a Graveyard – Short Story by Nicola Bagalà

Nicola Bagalà


Editor’s note: The U.S. Transhumanist Party features this short story by our guest Nicola Bagalà, originally published by the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation (LEAF) on August 10, 2018, August 17, 2018, and August 14, 2018. In this story, Mr. Bagalà describes the experiences of a man discovering how salient it is to NOT biologically age and die. This was originally written in three separate parts, but combined in this single article. I hope you find commonalities in your life while reading this story so that you can be motivated in helping our species cure all diseases through innovations in science and technology.  

~ Bobby Ridge, Assistant Editor, July 6, 2019

This is a fictional story about a man realizing for the first time, under rather unusual circumstances, that he has a deep desire not to age and die.

Part I

It’s been a few months already, yet that day still feels like yesterday. I am still not convinced that I didn’t lose my mind that day, and even if I didn’t, it’s changed my thinking quite a bit.

I was in a green grove in the local cemetery, sitting on a bench. As it is the piece of nature closest to home, I used to go there quite often. A small group of men, all at least in their 40s and wearing black suits and ties, had passed by just as the bells in the nearby church began ringing.

A new member joins the club, I thought, meaning the graves all around me.

Spending eternity in a place like that mustn’t be that bad, I observed, as another, larger group of people was heading presumably to the same funeral as the previous group. There were no preoccupations, no problems, only greenery and quiet as far as the eye can see; nothing but birds singing, squirrels slipping away from tree to tree, and people strolling as they came to see their dead. There certainly are worse things than this, I said to myself, especially if you’re alive.

“Very nice indeed, or so it would seem,” a voice from behind suddenly said. The person then came to sit right next to me as I looked at who was talking. I looked her up and down for a moment, trying to establish whether it was safe to remain seated or if I should spring up to my feet.

It was a really beautiful girl, about twenty years old. She had red hair reaching to her shoulders and icy blue eyes. She was leaning forward, her elbows on her knees, staring at the graves before us; she didn’t seem to care about my startled look. Judging by her attire, I’d say she too was going to the funeral, although she seemed to be in no rush to go anywhere.

“Indeed, I’m not,” she said, as if she’d read my thoughts, still looking at the headstones. “It’s pleasant here.”

“I beg your pardon?” I finally stuttered.

“It’s pleasant,” she reiterated, slightly turning her gaze towards me for a moment, and then back to the graves. “Isn’t it? It looks like a nice place.”

“Undoubtedly,” I nodded, hesitantly. She said nothing. She had a slight, intelligent-looking smile, which made her look somewhat pleased with herself, though not arrogant. It was as if she were waiting for me to say anything, as if she knew that I had something to ask.

The bells rang again.

“I’m sorry, miss,” I commented, uncertain, “but did you mean that the graveyard is nice or just that it seems to be?”

“It depends on your point of view.” I would have asked more, but she continued. “Are you in a hurry to go?”

Her question caught me off-guard. “Me? No,” I stammered, thinking for a moment she must be one of those young girls trying to hit on men one or two decades older. “It’s Saturday afternoon, and—”

“That’s not what I meant,” she interrupted me, looking away from me towards the church.

“Then what?” I asked, even though I should perhaps have left, annoyed by the way she was talking to me.

“You’re right,” she replied, apparently ignoring what I had asked her. “It’s a quiet, pretty place, perfect if you need to relax or reflect. However, I wouldn’t like spending here more than an hour or two. How about you?”

“Well,” I said, asking myself once again why I was even still having that absurd conversation, “that would depend on what else I had to do at—”

“How about if you were dead?” she interrupted again, still gazing at the many headstones, as if I wasn’t even there. “You wouldn’t have much to do if you were dead. How much time would you like to spend here, if dead?”

“What a silly question,” I replied firmly, trying to conceal how her mentioning my own death had upset me somewhat. I told myself that it was an absolutely normal reaction, and her question was really silly anyway. “Excuse me, miss, but if I’m dead, then it’s obvious I’ll be spending eternity in the graveyard, be it this one or another.”

“I didn’t  ask you how long you’d be here,” she clarified. “I asked how much time you’d like to spend here.”

Her remark seemed to suggest she wasn’t too sound of mind. I quickly glanced around, desperately looking for people who might be short of a crazy relative on their way to paying the last respects to the dearly departed. Not a soul was in sight—except those that the graves were standing in for.

“I doubt my preferences would make any difference,” I said shaking my head, smiling as I would to anyone too mentally unstable to be safe to contradict.

“That’s true,” she nodded. “Then again, it doesn’t matter, does it? It’s such a pretty place that one would gladly spend eternity in it. I mean, there are worse things than this, especially if you’re alive.”

As I noticed the similarity between her words and my own earlier thoughts, I felt a lump forming in my throat. I was tempted to ask her what the devil she wanted from me, but then I told myself there was no reason to lose it for a simple coincidence, however disturbing.

“Indeed,” I nodded nervously.

She took a few steps toward a tall headstone nearby and knelt before it, seemingly to read the epitaph. That would’ve been the perfect chance for me to take my leave, but she managed to anticipate my move once again.

“Of course, there’s a small problem with this theory,” she said distractedly.

“What would that be?”

“If you’re dead, whether the place is quiet or pretty doesn’t matter to you.”

“Of course not,” I said, starting to feel fed up with all those truisms.

She turned toward me, feigning perplexity. “Then why did you agree with me, when I said one would gladly spend eternity here?”

“That’s just a set phrase,” I replied. “Things people say.”

“Correct. Good.”

It felt as if she thought she was the teacher and I the schoolboy.

“But anyway, what does it matter?” I went on, feeling I should retort something. “You just implied that if you were buried in the worst place in the world, you wouldn’t care in the slightest.”

She turned again, with an almost naughty smile, and she moved closer to me. “Normally, people don’t talk to me like that.”

What cheek! As if she hadn’t been agitating me this entire time!

“They don’t like talking about it, but it’s almost as if they feared me, you know?” she continued. “Almost reverentially, one would say.”

Who wouldn’t be afraid of such a nutter, I thought.

She turned abruptly and slowly started walking away with her arms behind her back. After taking a few steps on the grass, she asked out of the blue, “Say, are you afraid of death?”

“Excuse me?” I said, even though I had got that perfectly.

“You heard me,” she replied promptly, as she kept walking slowly away from me. I kept following her, telling myself the only reason I was doing so was that, clearly, she was disturbed, and it would be irresponsible of me to just leave. I was convinced that she should be attending the funeral at the nearby church. She was probably a relative of the deceased, and her relatives were understandably too shaken up by their loss to notice that she wasn’t there. I wasn’t certain I was right, but even if I was, I certainly couldn’t just pop up and interrupt the funeral to ask whether someone was short of a daughter or a sister. I decided I’d wait until the end of the ceremony, as it probably wouldn’t last much longer. Meanwhile, I’d try to understand whether my intuition was correct.

“So?” she insisted. “Are you afraid of death or not?”

“If you really want to know, I’m not,” I replied. “I see no reason to worry about something I cannot be aware of in any way.”

“You keep answering questions I never asked. I asked if you’re afraid of death, not of being dead.”

“So you mean the act of dying? I’m not afraid of that, either. Granted, I’d rather it be painless and not too drawn-out, but—”

“I really cannot take into account individual preferences. Be as it may, you say you’re not afraid?”

“I’m not,” I reiterated, ashamed of my own apprehension.

She hummed pensively. “I see. Then what reason do you have to sugar the pill?”

“What?”

“Your set phrase. One of those things people say, that which we were talking about a moment ago. There are worse things than spending eternity in such a nice place. Why do people say things like that?”

Now I was starting to see things more clearly. She just had to be a close relative or friend of the person whose funeral was taking place right now. She must be so much in shock that she couldn’t even join the mass, her pain and anger fuelling all the bizarre things she kept saying. Notwithstanding that, she mustn’t have been too sane even prior to her loss.

“They say them to console who suffered the loss of a loved one,” I replied in an almost fatherly tone.

“How about to dispel the fear of one’s own death?”

“Well, that too, I guess…. In some cases…”

“You just told me you’re not afraid of death.”

“Indeed I’m not, but—”

“Then why were you thinking that it wouldn’t be too bad to spend eternity here? Why do you need to tell yourself that if you’ve got no fear to dispel or people to console?”

I stood speechless.

The graveyard was almost entirely silent, except for the incessant chirping coming from the treetops. I couldn’t help but wonder whether that girl, very weird at best, was just unbelievably perceptive or if she really could read my mind. Did she know that I had indeed thought that before, or was that just a lucky deduction?

I really didn’t know what to tell her, nor did I like the idea of having to justify my unexpressed thoughts to a complete stranger; thus, I tried to change the subject. Once more I had an uncomfortable feeling that she knew I was in a tough spot and wasn’t expecting me to answer her question.

“Are you here for the funeral?” I asked, bobbing my head to point at the church.

“No,” she replied.

“Was it a relative of yours, or…”

“I have no relatives, nor anything more to do with this funeral.”

“Anything more?” I asked puzzled, although ever more convinced she was lying, denying the truth to deny her pain. As she was used to, she ignored my question and changed the subject.

“Come,” she said. “I want to show you something.” She then headed off to a trail among the graves, as sure about where she was going as the cemetery’s caretaker would be, without even turning to see if I was following her—which I was, though in frustration.

She led me to an eye-catching headstone with a low-relief angel holding his forehead in despair. There was an inscription, too, which I guessed was a quote from the Bible or the Gospel.

I waited for her to say anything, but as she kept mum, I resolved to ask: “So?”

“The inscription. Read it.”

I couldn’t hold back a short grumble, annoyed as I was at her manners, but then I began: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies.” Once more, she kept silent, so I pressed her: “Well?”

“Do you believe that?”

“No,” I answered, happy that there appeared to be at least one thought in my mind she hadn’t already read. “I’m not a believer.”

“A great deal many others are, though.”

“Yes. So what?”

“Millions, billions of people believe, or believed, that death isn’t the end, and that some kind of afterlife is waiting for them beyond the grave. They believe there’s a place where they’ll somehow be able to live forever without pain or afflictions. If overcoming death is such a cornerstone of long-lasting religions with so many followers, then maybe the set phrases you’ve been saying are meant to console those who say them, rather than those who listen to them, in more than just ‘some cases’.”

“I never said people aren’t afraid of death,” I objected, fearing that I was clutching at straws. “I just said I don’t think that’s very rational, that’s all. People have a lot of irrational fears.”

“And as you said, you’re not afraid of death. That wouldn’t be rational,” she said, nodding slowly, as if she were finally understanding what I had been trying to tell her. “So,” she went on before I could say anything, “if I offered you, here and now, a quick and painless way to die, just as you wish, you wouldn’t be against that, would you?”

My heart skipped a beat as I felt adrenaline rushing down my body like a waterfall. She was crazy, all right, but just how crazy was she? Anyway, as weird as she was, I didn’t believe she was dangerous, nor did it look like she had anything with her that could be used as a murder weapon.

“I said that I don’t fear death,” I hurried to clarify, trying to keep my composure as much as I could, “not that I’m looking forward to death. I don’t wish to die now, but I don’t fear the moment of my death.”

“So you’re saying you would refuse my offer,” she concluded, nodding. “However, given that you don’t fear death, would you refuse my offer as you would if I was offering a meal you’re not in the mood for? Perhaps with a smile, a kind gesture of the hand, and a ‘no, thank you’?”

“Do you realize it’s homicide you’re talking about?” I said drily and quietly, trying to appeal to any shred of rationality she might still possess.

“How interesting that you should appeal to the outrageousness of homicide in a conversation about the irrationality of fearing death.”

Once more, I didn’t know what to counter, but whatever she might be getting at, I had no intention of letting her win the argument. Something unknown inside me was pushing me to prove her wrong at all costs, to show she was mistaken. I passed a hand on the back of my neck, casting another look at the church as I wondered how bloody long it would still take for the funeral to come to a close. The girl, always as cool as a cucumber, resumed her stroll among the graves.

“Listen,” I told her, trying to show compassion, “I understand the pain you must have felt when—”

“I already told you that I have no relatives,” she interjected. “He did, though.” She stopped before another gravestone. “Read his birth and death years.”

The inscription said 1946 and 1951, respectively.

“I see,” I said. “He died still a child.”

“A real tragedy, was it not?”

“It certainly was,” I conceded. Despite her stubborn denial, I thought that contorted discourse might be her way of telling me her story. Perhaps, the person she’d lost had died an equally early death.

“Is it irrational to fear tragedy? When this child realized he was about to die, was it irrational of him to be afraid? What about his parents?”

Since I had met her, each and every of her words had been uttered in the calmest and most peaceful of ways. Not once had she lost her aplomb nor betrayed any anger or sorrow. There was no enmity in her words but no indifference either. From where she was standing, I thought, she was simply discussing a topic that interested her very much, displaying exemplary cool-headedness and firmness.

“This is a special case,” I observed. “His death was very much premature.”

Without ever taking her eyes off me, she moved to a couple of graves a few steps away. “He was 67 when he died,” she said pointing at the epitaph on one of the headstones. “Was he ‘ripe’ enough for death that his passing cannot be considered a tragedy?”

“I… I know nothing about this man,” I attempted to justify myself.

“He took his own life. His health was deteriorating, and he could not cope. So, was this a ripe enough death?”

“How do you—”

“I just know.” The girl pointed to the grave next to the man’s. It bore the same family name as his. “After he died, she lived fifteen more years, though it was no longer the same without him. She had a heart attack, at age 85. Was this a tragedy, or was she old enough?”

“Look, what do you want me to say?” I burst out, spreading out my arms. “I’m sorry for these people, but death is a part of life. You must learn to accept it.”

“Not my problem,” she replied, puzzlingly.

“Oh, isn’t it now?” I asked, simply unable to conceal sarcastic defiance. I sat on the border of a flower bed, shaking my head in frustration and disbelief.

“No, it is not,” she replied, barely shaking her head. “Besides, not all that is part of life is accepted without question. For example, infant mortality. It was a part of life until you found a way to eliminate it almost entirely. Most parents of all times had to accept that, probably, some of their children would never live to be grown-ups. Yet, it is no longer so.”

“Whatever do you mean ‘until you found’? Are you an alien?”

“No,” she said, not bothered in the least by my sarcasm.

“Listen,” I said as I sprung up, determined to make things clear once and for all. “I don’t even know your name, and—”

“You do.”

“No, I don’t,” I went on undaunted, “and I’m getting tired of you acting mysterious. I tried to be patient, because despite your obstinate denying it, it’s glaringly obvious that you suffered a tremendous loss recently—quite likely the person in that coffin right now,” I said pointing to the church once more. “I am sorry for your loss. I mean it. I must admit that façade of absolute tranquillity you put up could fool anyone, but I can tell you’re shaken up. Do you want me to say that death is not a nice thing to think about? Fine, it isn’t. But it is inevitable. And at the end of the day, that’s good, because just like many other unpleasant things in life, death is also necessary.”

“It happens every time,” she nodded musingly.

“What?”

“Every time you begin to realize that death is nothing like the indulgent metaphors you use to describe it, thinking of its inevitability pushes you to look for other ways to justify it. Bearing with a horror that is both inevitable and useless would be too much; and as it can’t be but a horror, you need to find it a purpose.”

“You’re blowing it out of proportion,” I objected firmly. “Granted, diseases, wars, and calamities cause useless deaths. They are horrors, I agree; that’s not the natural end of a human being, and indeed we do our best to avoid those deaths. But the circle of life must close itself for the common good. That’s not a horror but only the natural order of things. An endless life would also be meaningless and would wind up being a sentence to eternal tedium. Besides, it would be so problematic on so many levels I can’t even begin to count them.”

“What’s a human being’s ‘natural end’?” she asked, completely unimpressed by my speech.

I snorted in annoyance. “You’re just pulling my leg now.”

“No.”

“All right, if you really want to play dumb. The natural end of human beings is death by aging. We are born, we grow up, we live our lives, and finally we walk into the sunset. You can see this kind of cycle everywhere. Without it, life itself wouldn’t be possible.”

“Are you sure,” she inquired, “that what you’re talking about isn’t just the umpteenth item on the long list of obvious and incontrovertible truths that were such only until someone had the effrontery to prove them false?”

“What the devil are you—”

“Can you claim without fear of contradiction that it is absolutely necessary for everyone to die, sooner or later, in order for life to continue? Are you ready to prove to anyone old enough that their death is as necessary as is due? If it was possible to avoid age-related decline and death, would you oppose that on the grounds of your convictions, thereby sentencing to death every human being present and future? Are you so sure of your stance that you would deem reasonable, right, or acceptable, to ask everyone to sacrifice themselves in its name?”

Under any other circumstances, I would have thought that this rapid-fire sequence of questions was pompous, arrogant, and rhetorical. I would have laughed right in her face, called her haughty, and left. However, she had spoken candidly, without an ounce of arrogance or conceit. She had uttered those words with the same tone as any other word since I had met her—the tone of someone patiently waiting for you to realize that maybe you share the same views as her.

“I don’t feel like I can make this kind of moral judgement,” I stammered after a moment. “Maybe… Maybe I wouldn’t be so sure about it, but anyway…”

“Yes?” she encouraged me.

“…I don’t think it matters. I don’t think anyone would want to live forever. Yes, yes, I know what you’re about to say: myths, stories, films, and what have you have been talking about eternal life for centuries. I know you were about to say that; I figured out who I’m dealing with by now.”

“Not yet,” she smiled, “but you’re getting there. Please, do go on.”

I didn’t even attempt to understand what she meant, and I continued: “In fiction, the gift of eternal life appeals to many. It’s an attractive prospect, but it always turns out to be a double-edged sword. Nobody who has seriously reflected on it could ever really want to live forever. Sooner or later, we would lose motivation; there would be nothing new to do, see, or learn. Knowing that life is endless would make us unable to appreciate it, just like we would be unable to appreciate a nice sunny day, if all days were.”

“How do you know?”

“It’s obvious!” I stammered again, angrily, after a few moments spent looking for a more convincing argument to no avail. “After a century or two, what do you think there would—”

“If two people having this same conversation three centuries ago had been alive today, they would have had innumerable things to do, see, and learn that weren’t even imaginable at the time. Are you sure that human progress on all fronts has already come to an end? Do you believe that life can be appreciated only if it’s short? Maybe these are just assumptions that you make to help you banish your fear of death from your mind. If there was a moment when one is tired of life, wouldn’t you rather decide for yourself when this moment has arrived? Death may come when your desire to live is still strong or long after you had already lost it, without asking for your opinion first—just like I didn’t before I began this conversation.”

Something in the way she pronounced that last sentence sent shivers down my spine. Speechless and short of breath, I peered at her for a few moments, trying to understand what was the answer to what I had thus far avoided to ask her. She held my stare without flinching. Finally, I resolved to ask.

“Listen, what the hell do you want from me?” I burst out, surprised by the hatred I felt for her. “Why don’t you go and dump your pearls of wisdom on somebody else?”

I had to defend myself. That’s what I felt. That was the reason for my hatred. I didn’t know why, but I felt threatened. The threat could be averted only by putting an end to the conversation and forgetting about all that bloody nonsense.

“There is only you and me here,” she noted, as if she was pointing out the obvious.

Indeed, the cemetery was absolutely deserted, and thinking about it, it didn’t seem as if anyone at all had passed by during our conversation, which I had estimated to have lasted about an hour. I must have got carried away more than I thought, since I hadn’t even noticed that the nice blue sky of that day had turned a leaden shade; roaring thunders announced an upcoming storm.

“Then go back to your relatives at the funeral,” I went on irritated. I was no longer showing her any respect, as I thought she had proved herself unworthy of it. “What’s taking them so long?!”

“There is no funeral,” she said. “There never was.”

“I’ve got enough of your rubbish!” I growled, quickly moving closer to the church door. “Of course there’s a funeral, look at the…”

The funeral announcement was gone, as were all the funeral wreaths. There was no sign that anything at all had happened in that church on that day.

“What the devil—they couldn’t just finish and clear out that quickly without us noticing!” I said nervously, looking all around the church for any sign that anyone at all was there. “They must have taken out the coffin, how could I have missed that? We’ve been here the whole time!”

She followed me, and looking at me compassionately, she said: “I told you. There was never any funeral.”

“Rubbish!” I shouted as a lightning bolt loudly tore the sky open. I probably looked much crazier that she was, and I was surprised that she didn’t seem to be afraid of that.

“What the hell do you want?! What the hell do you want?!” I shouted again.

“I only want you to understand something that, deep inside, you already know.”

“What? That death is horrible? A tragedy? A disgrace? That there is some kind of holocaust going on without anybody noticing? What do you know if that’s what I think?”

Once more, she stared at me silently. Her silence was worth a thousand words.

“Moonshine!” I shouted in her face. “Everything is completely normal, and it’s perfectly fine as it is! Am I going to be dead someday? Everyone is? Fine by me! There is no holocaust, no disgrace, and no tragedy!”

“I wonder if you would still think that,” she mused, asking herself more than me, “if rather than by headstones we were surrounded by the poor bodies buried underneath.”

I didn’t know why, but suddenly I felt terrified that that horrible scene might be happening right behind me, as if driven by some kind of supernatural force. Petrified and short of breath, I stood silently, listening to her once more, jolting at the slightest sound coming from behind.

“It gives life its meaning and makes you appreciate it, spares you the tedium of too long an existence, even begins the afterlife… it’s the end of a cycle, a relief from the chores of life, a sunset, a quiet and peaceful rest, an eternal sleep…” The girl chuckled. She was wearing the same benevolent expression she always had, which made her even more unsettling. I said to myself that, if the dead were really rising from their graves behind me, I’d rather know than let them take me by surprise.

I turned abruptly.

The headstones were exactly where I had left them. I sighed deeply, in relief, slightly shivering at every blow of the cold wind from the upcoming storm.

“Is this how you imagine me?” I heard her ask from behind.

In that moment I was sure that, had I turned, I would see the girl transformed into a horrible cadaver. I swallowed hard, and once I found the courage, I turned quickly towards her. Luckily, I was wrong again.

“You really don’t come across as someone who doesn’t fear death,” she commented.

The dim glimmer of rationality left in me insisted that the girl was simply disturbed, and I was just letting the circumstances deceive me. Yet, I could not resist the temptation to finally ask her something that, in truth, I had already been tempted to ask her long before.

“Are you… are you death?”

“Is this how you imagine me?” she asked again, in a particularly eloquent tone.

It could not be. None of it made sense. How could such a beautiful girl ever be—

“I am not as beautiful as you think,” she chuckled almost timidly, looking away for an instant. “I am not a release, a sunset, quiescence, or an eternal sleep. I am nonexistence, oblivion, nothingness, annihilation, the loss of yourselves, destructor of possibilities and dreams. I don’t give life meaning, nor do I give anything; I take without giving. I am what is when you are no more. I am what is when even hope is lost. I am the end of all.”

“It can’t… It cannot be…” I stubbornly denied, shaking my head in panic. “That’s just nonsense… You… You’re crazy!” Quickly, I moved away from her to the exit, walking backwards to keep my eyes on her. She showed no intention of following me. “Stay away!” I ordered, regardless, pointing my finger at her threateningly. “I want nothing to do with you! Stay away!”

“I am glad you finally understand it,” she said, almost relieved.

I quickly turned around and ran away. I crossed the exit gate and kept running, and without ever looking back, I headed to the closest tram stop. I didn’t need transportation to get home, but I had an urge to get far away from that girl, whoever she might be. The passengers on the tram looked somewhat alarmed by my hasty and disorderly entrance, and were casting fleeting and diffident glances at me; regardless, the sight of normal human beings felt like being able to breathe again. I hurriedly collapsed on the first available seat, and only then did I notice with great stupor that it was late at night. I had no idea how that was possible; it was barely past midday when the girl approached me, and there was no chance it could be that late now. Yet, according to my wristwatch, it was past 10 P.M. To hell with it, I didn’t care; all that mattered was getting far away from that unsettling nutter and getting home as soon as possible. I took a deep breath and tried to relax, mentally calculating the stop at which I should get off. I couldn’t help looking around, every now and again, just to make sure she wasn’t there, among the passengers, observing me with that disturbingly benevolent air of hers.

He might have run away from the girl, but he cannot run away from himself.

Part II

I feel ashamed admitting to this, but I proceeded with wariness all the way to my door. That late at night, I didn’t meet anyone in the hallways or in the elevator. At first, I didn’t even want to take the elevator, as I was afraid that the girl might suddenly appear before me when the doors opened as I got in or out; however, for some reason, the idea of taking the stairs felt even worse, nearly terrifying. After hesitating some, I chose to take the elevator. Once I reached my door, I inserted the key in the lock, and after a moment of hesitation, I began turning it. At each turn, which echoed sinisterly in the hallway, I stopped as if to check that the sound didn’t attract the attention of God knows what supernatural creatures lurking in the dark. Absolutely nothing looked different than usual, yet I felt like a character in a horror movie.

I opened a crack between the door and the frame, stuck a hand in, and frantically searched for the light switch on the wall. “Finally home,” I said in an annoyed and embarrassingly loud and shaky voice to no one in particular, while still searching for the switch with no success. Once I found it, I flicked it, and as soon as the light went on, I pulled the door wide open, ran in, and finally slammed the door shut behind me.

I stopped on the doorstep for a moment and looked around, making sure no one was there. I pushed open the sliding door of the coat rack all of a sudden, to catch by surprise whoever might have been hiding in it; relieved that nobody was there, I hung my coat. I took off my shoes and went to the restroom, while still exploring my surroundings guardedly, trying to convince myself I was now calm and no longer afraid.

I washed my face, trying not to look at the mirror for fear that it might show one reflection too many.

Oddly, I wasn’t hungry at all, but I did feel like having a hot drink. I fixed myself a hot chocolate. I left the boiling hot mug on the table and sat down.

That girl was not death. She couldn’t be. Death is not a creature or an entity; it has no legs or arms, and it does not speak. It’s just an abstraction, a metaphysical concept, the name we give to the status of a living being that is no longer such. She was just a poor devil who had lost many of her marbles, or maybe she was shocked by the death of a loved one, or both. Granted, many sinister and unsettling coincidences had happened, and at the end of the day, I am quite impressionable, but it had all been just a trick of fate, nothing more. I wouldn’t be the first person to lose track of time, not notice a storm coming, or just plain not pay attention to what was going on around me. The girl wore black, but maybe she wasn’t there for a funeral. Maybe the funeral was over without me noticing it, or maybe it was true that it never happened—after all, a few suits and ties headed towards a church don’t necessarily mean that anybody died. I wasn’t even sure that I had actually seen any funeral announcements or flower wreaths.

It was an interesting story to tell at my next Halloween party, nothing more.

It was really disturbing how she seemed to be able to read my mind. She had replied to my questions or objections before I could even finish saying them in more than one occasion—sometimes, before I could even finish thinking them up. I’d rather believe she was absurdly intelligent, or even a telepath, than accept that she might actually be death.

Even assuming she actually was death, why would she come to me and speak ill of herself? To persuade me that death is an evil and we should stop sugar coating it? To what end? What would she expect me to do? To “kill” her where she was standing and set the world free from death?

Ridiculous, I thought to myself, shaking my head.

At any rate, that’s not what death—I mean, the girl wanted from me. In her words, she wanted me to understand something that, deep inside, I already knew. But I didn’t share her views at all; I mean, death is part of the natural order of things, I told myself, and even though hardly anyone is happy to die, that’s just the way it is. Death is necessary. Sure, I must admit that the whole of human progress hinges on the search for ways to improve quality of life and avoid death for as long as possible, and there is no reason we shouldn’t prevent deaths that actually are preventable or that happen too soon; that’s why doctors, hospitals, and safety measures exist in the first place, but…

Too soon, I repeated mentally. She had stressed that point a lot. I stood up, leaving my chocolate to cool down on the table, and I took a few steps towards the window, where I stopped to look at the downpour I had barely managed to avoid.

When is it “too early” to die? In your thirties? Forties? Sixties? I had never thought about it before, but now I couldn’t help but wonder about something that the girl had asked me. Suppose for the sake of argument that we didn’t grow old; imagine that we just grew up and that our health didn’t inevitably begin deteriorating sooner or later. Would we still think it isn’t “too early” to die at age 80? As a matter of fact, one might think that the reason why we normally think it is acceptable to die after your seventies is that it just happens and we can’t do anything to prevent it. Maybe it is not because of wisdom that we accept death at later ages without feeling outraged and without putting up a fight, like we do in the case of “premature” deaths; maybe we are just putting a good face on a really bad game.

No; no. Normally, the average lifespan is more than enough to live your life as a normal human being; it’s more than enough for you to grow up, go to school, get a job, and start a family, for example. Though it is also true, I was forced to admit, that human life is structured as a function of its duration and our health at every age. If we were always perfectly healthy, we would have no need to plan for old age, because in a way, it would never come. Maybe retirement would turn into just a holiday of a few years, and after your batteries are charged again you would be able to start over, perhaps in a different environment or even a new job, maybe.

What about the traditional milestones dictating the rhythm of our lives? Are they all one can aspire to? Is your life complete once you have had a career and grandkids? Is that time to die? What about people who never managed, for one reason or another, to do all they wanted to do before death? If death really must come, why must we first endure years of constant decline and deterioration—not only our own, but also that of our loved ones?

These issues had always seemed to be too far into the future to concern myself with them, but then I realized that, one day, they would be my problem too. It’s not like I didn’t know it; I did. Yet, somehow, the notion hadn’t really sunk in. I had always felt as if there was infinite time between me and old age. Being old and diseased, slowly heading to the grave, had always seemed to be somewhat of an unlikely and fanciful occurrence; laughable, even, and I laughed at it more than once. I had always thought that I laughed at death because I wasn’t afraid of it in the slightest, but now I was growing more and more suspicious that, in truth, I might have been whistling past the graveyard all along.

I suddenly moved away from the window and grabbed the mug on the table, hoping that a few sips of chocolate might help me calm down and ease the pain coming from the lump that had formed in my throat. Swallowing was hard and hurt, as if a tangle of old, withered knobby roots ran through my throat. My breath was heavy and labored, my hands were shaking, and my wish not to be left alone was so strong that even the company of the very girl who had unleashed this nightmare would have been preferable to the solitude of my flat.

I shook my head repeatedly. I wanted nothing to do with any of this. I didn’t give a damn whether the girl was right or not, nor did I care whether I agreed with her or not. All that I wanted to do was to put the lid back on Pandora’s box and bury it deep under the ocean so that it could never be found again. I wanted my old life back, the one I had and was perfectly content with up until that last, cursed morning: my job, my friends, the usual rhythms and milestones that everyone goes through. The ones that everyone goes through because everyone does and no one has much of a choice.

She’d planted the seeds of those thoughts in my mind, and they kept blossoming, nullifying my efforts to extirpate them and convince myself that I was as happy with the finitude of human life as I always had been; anxiety had me in a tight grip as I realized that I was no longer able to believe that old lie. Pragmatically, I told myself that, whether I liked it or not, old age comes for everyone and is inevitable; torturing myself like this would have no point. Debating whether or not it was right or desirable for every life to be abruptly terminated after years of deterioration would accomplish nothing but ruin the time I had left before deterioration would begin for me. I simply had to get over this.

Maybe, the girl would have said that this too was sugaring the pill.

I was exhausted, anxiety eating me alive and thoughts tangled up. Like a huge spiderweb, the more I tried to break free, the more I was enmeshed. I took a sleeping pill and resolved to put an end to that terrible day. The next day, I figured, I would wake up serene, as if nothing had ever happened.

Part III

Right after you wake up, there is a brief moment when you don’t yet know how you feel. That Sunday morning, that moment was even shorter than usual. The same anxiety as the previous night assailed me even before I could get out of bed.

The clock on the shelf said it was 11:30. I had slept almost 12 hours straight, but I wasn’t rested at all. Tired and depressed, I got up with difficulty, with a constant feeling of imminent catastrophe. I cast a glance out the window, and I noticed that the sky was clear and bright again. Upon closer inspection, I noticed the streets too were perfectly dry, as if it hadn’t rained for days. Indeed, the sun seemed to be very hot.

Near the sink was dishware that I hadn’t noticed the night before; I must have left it there at least since Friday night. I hoped some coffee would help cheer me up at least a bit, and I took a mug from the cabinet without even looking.

I left the coffee maker grumbling on the stove and went to wash my face. I looked terrible, which was no surprise, since I had had a terrible night. My sleep had been studded with horrible nightmares, although I hadn’t woken up screaming; rather, I’d been tossing and turning all night, moaning in my sleep nearly incessantly. I recalled a labyrinthine indoor cemetery; people dying of old age all around me, claiming to be very happy about it while I desperately tried to make them understand it was wrong; me and the graveyard girl, together somewhere in my old high school, as if we were classmates; me assisting my mother on her deathbed, listening her accusing me to make excuses for something; and many others which I thankfully almost didn’t remember at all.

I went back to the kitchen to pour my coffee, noticing in passing that I was using the same mug as the previous night. Apparently, I had been so much in shock that I wasn’t even aware of washing it and putting it back in the cabinet.

I drank my coffee and managed to push down a few biscuits. Not only was I still anxious, I hadn’t changed my mind either. That unexpected and visceral desire to avoid old age and death, and the realization that no stale moralism would be enough to extinguish it anymore, were still there where I had left them the night before. At the same time, I had a second, equally strong desire that the former could somehow disappear and take my anxiety down with it, setting me free from that apparently insolvable dilemma.

For some reason, I had an urge to check something on the Internet. According to statistics I found after a few moments spent searching, about a hundred and fifty thousand people die every day, of which about a hundred thousand die of old age. I realized that out there was an army of people who, just like me until the day before, didn’t think that the loss of those hundred thousand lives was a problem at all; rather, they probably thought that it was good that most people died of old age; otherwise, they would have died of something else and thus “prematurely”. This army of people was basically shrugging at two thirds of all deaths that happen every single day. Maybe there really was a constant holocaust to which no one was paying attention.

I backed away from my computer. I was blaming people for their indifference, but what else could they do? They were right: if you do not die of old age, it’s because you died of something else first. What was the better option? There didn’t seem to be a third one, and nearly everyone would choose to die later rather than sooner. The girl, I said to myself, would probably have said that this was a sign that the idea of dying is much more disturbing than people like to admit, and it upsets far more people than we think. Apparently, showing distress was acceptable only during a funeral; in any other circumstances, death is either ignored or justified, at least when it comes to death by aging.

The girl indeed.

I really didn’t think I would be able to talk about this with other people without coming across as a lunatic; I myself had thought that the girl had lost her mind. I was full of doubts and questions, and I wanted nothing more than to put an end to that oppressing anxiety. The previous night, I had screamed in her face that I didn’t want anything to do with her any more, but now I felt that, as crazy as she might be, the girl was the only person I could talk to about this. She might be able to answer at least some of the very questions that she made me ask myself.

The problem was that I had no way to find her. I had no idea who she actually was, what her name was, or where she lived. There was no way to trace her. The only thing I could think of was going back to the graveyard, hoping she was still there for some reason. I knew that this was a forlorn hope, and even if I did find her again strolling among the graves, I had no idea how she could actually be of help. I doubted she had any idea on how not to die of old age without dying of something else first. Regardless, I wanted to see her. It was worth a shot.

I left home, heading again to the graveyard. The day was even hotter than I had imagined, and as I had observed before, the flower beds were so dry that it really didn’t seem like it had rained at all during the night. On my way to the graveyard, I noticed that I looked at people differently, whether they were chatting with acquaintances, jogging, or just annoyed because they were late for the bus. It was a day like any other in the life of those people, and probably none of them spent much time thinking that sooner or later those days would be over or that health is in short supply. Equally probably, I thought, nearly all those people would agree that, from their perspective, none of those things was a problem. This thought made me feel as if I were the only sane person in a loony bin—which, paradoxically, led me to question my own sanity.

Then again, if those people had realized what I realized, wouldn’t they just end up like me and become prisoners of their own anxiety and of the thought of being stuck in a horrible situation with no way out? Wasn’t it better to lie to yourself for the sake of serenely living out the time you have left? As the girl had tried to make me understand, maybe this is why most people refuse to take this step: once you do, there is no turning back, and you must accept the consequences.

Lost in my own thoughts as I was, I didn’t realize that I had already made it to the entrance of the cemetery. Distraction wasn’t the only reason, though. The cemetery was hardly recognizable, as it was surrounded by scaffolding, crush barriers, and signs warning away trespassers. By the looks of it, the construction site must have been there for quite some time already; it certainly hadn’t been hastily pieced together that morning. I looked around for a while, confused and stupefied. There was no doubt that I was in the right place; I recognized the very same gate through which I had literally fled the night before, but it was closed and locked, and it bore a sign stating that it had been under renovation since two weeks ago. Dumbfounded, I explored the entire perimeter of the cemetery, but the sign was clearly correct. There was even a notice on the church saying that functions wouldn’t take place for a few weeks, and they had been suspended for a while already.

I was sure then that there had been no funeral the day before. Nor had I actually met that girl, apparently. I couldn’t have even set foot in that cemetery in the previous two weeks.

I stood there where I was, looking at the cemetery speechless, almost dazed, wondering if I had gone mad. After a few moments, I began walking away, heading home again, trying to no avail to find an explanation for the events of the previous day—assuming they had even happened.

Once I was home again, the dishes near the sink caught my attention once more. I thought again about the mug that I didn’t remember washing. Maybe I hadn’t washed it; maybe I didn’t drink that chocolate Saturday night, and maybe I dined at home, neglecting to do dishes. Maybe there had been no cloudburst. If that were the case, then the whole encounter and the rest of the events of that night had all been dreams.

All the neighbors I spoke with confirmed that not a single drop of water had rained the day before; however, I wasn’t brave enough to ask my acquaintances whether they remembered spending the day with me. For days, I kept wondering what had actually happened until I gave up and accepted that the entire experience must have existed only in my mind. Probably, I reasoned, unconscious thoughts had been bubbling up for a while and had finally burst out, making that surreal experience come to life as some kind of a dream. I cannot tell for certain whether I had this dream Saturday night or I had had some sort of hallucination; I can’t explain the extreme realism of the experience, and the only way to explain the amnesia would involve me sleeping through all of Saturday. I spoke to a psychotherapist some weeks later, and although I didn’t tell him everything about my experience, he said that I was sound of mind. I hope that’s true.

Despite my conviction that the girl was a dream or a hallucination, for months, I kept hoping to bump into her again, though in vain. More than once, I was sure that I had spotted her among the crowd, or recognized her as a passerby, barely avoiding making a fool of myself nearly every time.

It’s been months now. I have given up and accepted that the girl doesn’t really exist and that I will never see her again. Maybe I will dream about her, but I haven’t been so lucky thus far. In any case, that girl has profoundly changed me. Now that death herself has come and spoken to me to her own detriment, I won’t be able to look at her as I used to anymore—or rather, as I thought I did. Luckily, my anxiety has been mitigated somewhat, mostly turning into a desire to find a way out of this vicious circle that has cost and still costs millions of people their lives. Unfortunately, at the moment, I don’t even know if this is at all plausible.

The girl will hardly be able to give me any of the answers I need, so I will have to look for them elsewhere. I am afraid that many people would think my point of view on death is presumptuous at best and that they would hardly take me seriously.

However, somewhere in the world, there might be someone else to whom she has spoken like she did to me.

Now a life extension advocate at the beginning of his journey, he finds himself in a tough spot. We don’t know if, in his fictional world, science has begun realizing as it did in ours that aging is amenable to medical intervention, nor do we know if versions of LEAF and similar advocacy organizations exist there as well. Luckily for us, in our world, the situation is much clearer and it’s looking good; our understanding of aging is deep enough to envision interventions against it, and a very supportive community already exists. If you wish to join it, find out how here.

Nicola Bagalà is a bit of a jack of all trades—a holder of an M.Sc. degree in mathematics; an amateur programmer; a hobbyist at novel writing, piano and art; and, of course, a passionate life extensionist. After his interest in the science of undoing aging arose in 2011, he gradually shifted from quiet supporter to active advocate in 2015, first launching his advocacy blog Rejuvenaction before eventually joining LEAF. These years in the field sparked an interest in molecular biology, which he actively studies. Other subjects he loves to discuss to no end are cosmology, artificial intelligence, and many others—far too many for a currently normal lifespan, which is one of the reasons he’s into life extension.

Moving Closer to a Vaccine for Atherosclerosis – Article by Steve Hill

Moving Closer to a Vaccine for Atherosclerosis – Article by Steve Hill

Steve Hill


Editor’s Note: The U.S. Transhumanist Party features this article by our guest Steve Hill, originally published by the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation (LEAF) on April 13, 2018. In this article, Mr. Hill reviews a study published by the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology, in which the study authors successfully vaccinated atherosclerotic mice. In fact, this method supported Dr. Aubrey de Grey’s early insight – his claim that we must attack plaque altogether.

~ Bobby Ridge, Assistant Editor, July 5, 2019

Scientists could be one step closer to a solution to atherosclerosis by preventing the buildup of plaques that clog the arteries and lead to strokes and heart attacks.

What is atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis is the accumulation of cholesterol-containing plaques in the walls of arteries; this causes them to narrow, leading to reduced blood flow, higher blood pressure, and an increased risk of a heart attack or stroke. Atherosclerosis is the number one cause of death globally, and, by far, the highest risk factor for this disease is aging, although there are lifestyle factors, such as poor diet, smoking, obesity, and being sedentary.

Drugs such as statins attempt to manage the symptoms but are not truly effective in combating this disease, as they do not address the underlying cause: the formation of the sticky plaques that clog the arteries. Scientists such as Dr. Aubrey de Grey from the SENS Research Foundation have long been advocating for therapies that remove or prevent the formation of plaques altogether, as this would address the problem directly.

One step closer to a solution

In the journal Circulation, researchers at the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology have published a new study that supports the possibility that there are ways to prevent the formation of plaques in the first place [1]. The team has reported the successful vaccination of atherosclerotic model mice by using a small piece of protein cut from “bad cholesterol”, which facilitates the formation of plaques.

The vaccine was shown to reduce plaque in the mice, and the team also identified the T cells most likely responsible for positive outcomes in human blood samples as part of the same study. The researchers suggest that this technique could form the basis of a vaccine for people.

The vaccine works by boosting the activity and numbers of a type of T cell responsible for reducing inflammation, which leads to a reduction of plaque formation. We have talked about therapies that modulate the immune system and change the ratio of immune cells multiple times, and it is looking like an increasingly promising avenue of research.

“Bad cholesterol” is an amalgam of cholesterol, which is a lipid, and its carrier, low-density lipoprotein (LDL). In order to create the vaccine, the team engineered a peptide that represents a short section of LDL.

The team mounted this peptide on a scaffold called a tetramer and exposed it to immune cells to see which ones became activated in its presence. They tested human blood from two groups of women, one with plaques and one without, to see which immune cells responded to the presence of the peptide.

They observed that a type of regulatory T cell (Tregs) was activated in both groups, although the numbers of Tregs was much lower in subjects with plaques than subjects without, as were the presence of other types of T cells. This suggests that the function of Tregs is somehow hampered by the inflammation that atherosclerosis causes.

The next generation of vaccines that offer greater utility

As well as having the potential to address atherosclerosis, this research spotlights the utility of next-generation vaccines. The immunogenic component of traditional vaccines is a cocktail of molecules harvested from dead or weakened pathogens, but this approach does not work against non-infectious diseases like cancer and atherosclerosis; these next-generation vaccines are much more specific, as they can regulate the immune response using just a single peptide. This means vaccines that target non-infectious diseases are now possible, and, as they are highly targeted, they should have fewer unwanted side effects.

The results presented in this paper show that an effective vaccine against atherosclerosis is now potentially possible. However, the researchers do caution that there is more research to be done before this vaccine can be translated to human use.

Conclusion

While statins simply try to treat the symptoms, a therapy that prevents the buildup of plaques in the first place would be a very welcome step in the battle against age-related diseases and the suffering they bring. If the therapy can be translated to people, it would make strokes and heart attacks practically a thing of the past, and that day cannot come soon enough.

Literature

[1] Kimura, T., Kobiyama, K., Winkels, H., Tse, K., Miller, J., Vassallo, M., … & Jenkins, M. K. (2018). Regulatory CD4+ T Cells Recognize MHC-II-Restricted Peptide Epitopes of Apolipoprotein B. Circulation, CIRCULATIONAHA-117.

Steve Hill serves on the LEAF Board of Directors and is the Editor-in-Chief, coordinating the daily news articles and social media content of the organization. He is an active journalist in the aging research and biotechnology field and has to date written over 500 articles on the topic as well as attending various medical industry conferences. In 2019 he was listed in the top 100 journalists covering biomedicine and longevity research in the industry report – Top-100 Journalists covering advanced biomedicine and longevity created by the Aging Analytics Agency. His work has been featured in H+ Magazine, Psychology Today, Singularity Weblog, Standpoint Magazine, Keep Me Prime, and New Economy Magazine. Steve has a background in project management and administration which has helped him to build a united team for effective fundraising and content creation, while his additional knowledge of biology and statistical data analysis allows him to carefully assess and coordinate the scientific groups involved in the project. In 2015 he led the Major Mouse Testing Program (MMTP) for the International Longevity Alliance and in 2016 helped the team of the SENS Research Foundation to reach their goal for the OncoSENS campaign for cancer research.

Will Increased Lifespans Cause Overpopulation? – Article by Elena Milova and Steve Hill

Will Increased Lifespans Cause Overpopulation? – Article by Elena Milova and Steve Hill

Elena Milova
Steve Hill

Editor’s Note: The U.S. Transhumanist Party features this article by our guests Elena Milova and Steve Hill, originally published by the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation (LEAF) on October 30, 2016. In this article, both authors provide evidence that if aging was cured, then overpopulation would not be an issue. Not only is there a common trend among industrialized nations, in which, when the citizens become healthier, wealthier, and educated, they have fewer children, but there are also projections showing that global population growth is gradually falling and will come to a halt around the time the world’s population reaches 11 billion people.
***
~ Bobby Ridge, Assistant Editor, July 3, 2019

Any discussion of rejuvenation biotechnology almost certainly includes the subject of overpopulation and the objection that medical advances that directly address the various processes of aging will lead to an overpopulated world. Such dire predictions are a common theme in many discussions involving advances in medicine that could increase human lifespans.

Overpopulation is a word that gives the simple fact of population growth a negative connotation. It implies that an increase in the number of people will harm our lives in different ways, such as famine, scarcity of resources, excessive population density, increased risks of infectious diseases, and harm to the environment.

This concern, first raised by the work of 18th century reverend and scholar Thomas Malthus, has been a constant theme in both popular fiction and early foresights related to population growth. However, is it actually well-founded? We will be taking a deeper look at the historical and present population data and showing why overpopulation is unlikely to happen.

To get you started, this video with Bill Gates summarizes some of the key points about population and why a longer-lived and healthy society is good for keeping population growth in check.

What is the population, and how will it grow in the future?

Since the 1960s, both birth rate and population growth have been gradually falling. This will probably lead to a complete halt at 11 billion people near the year 2100. Here is a chart from the United Nations Population Prospects 2015 edition showing the corresponding projections [1].

Fig 1. Population of the world: estimates, 1950-2015, medium-variant projection and 80 and 95 percent prediction intervals, 2015-2100.

Here we can see the continuous, red trend line gradually leveling out into a straight horizontal line. However, before talking about why population growth is predicted to stop, let’s investigate why the population is even growing.

In order to ensure population growth, the number of children born per year must surpass the number of deaths in a given country. Typically, a fertility rate index equal to 2.1 is enough for the population to renew without growing in numbers, but a higher birth rate will lead to stable population growth.

In the illustrations below, you can see the global map of fertility and the projection of population growth by major regions [2]

Fig 2. World Population 2010-2100 United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2015). World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision, Data Booklet. ST/ESA/SER.A/377.

Fig 3. Total fertility 2010-2015 United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2015). World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision, Data Booklet. ST/ESA/SER.A/377.

The biggest contributors to the present level of population growth globally are India and several African regions, while many countries (especially in Europe) face depopulation because of their low birth rate. In the future, most of the population growth will be due to Africa.

Our intuition may tell us that it is unlikely that the least developed countries would be producing most of the population; after all, the standards of living in developed countries make for better conditions to have more children.

However, in reality, there are many factors that can lead to a decline in birth rate during the transition to a developed country: education (access to education for women typically postpones marriage and childbirth), unemployment (families try to control their family size to use fewer resources), and access to contraceptive techniques and cultural norms of using them, to name just a few [3].

Economic development is known to affect the time of birth; for example, recession encourages childbirth later in life [4]. National policies to combine work and family life also represent an important factor that may affect fertility rate in both directions. Globalization will “deepen” (in a world-systems theory sense) the less technologically advanced countries, making it very likely that the “higher birth rate” issue in these countries will also decline.

There is supporting evidence showing that moving to an advanced, industrialized economy changes the birth rate of immigrants. The fertility rates of immigrants to the US have been found to decrease sharply in the second generation [5]. Other studies demonstrate that the presence of immigrants does not compensate for declining birth rates [6].

Fig 4. Declining birth rate leads to gradual slow down of the population growth. The chart shows a UN projection in population size change in percent until 2100 for major regions[7].

The relationship between the level of the development of a country and fertility can be seen in the next chart. It is worth noting that when the Human Development Index (HDI) becomes higher than 0.85, country development starts promoting the birth rate again [8]. However, this kind of situation is very rare, historically, and therefore not significant enough to shape global population projections.

Fig 5.  Fertility vs HDI Index. Data source: United Nations Human Development Index (HDI), UN – Population Division (Fertility), 2015 Revision, Gapminder. Source: OurWorldInData.org/fertility/.

Thus, the least developed countries are more likely to have higher birth rates because people there have no reason to postpone childbirth, nor are measures for contraception widely accessible. The only factor holding back population growth in these regions may be the high level of child mortality and overall mortality due to infectious diseases and undernourishment.

With sustainable development goals focused on the solution of both problems, Africa has the potential to become the biggest human factory in our history. However, taking into account how fast fertility rates can fall because of the adoption of new technologies, this is far from certain.

Fig 6.  How long did it take for fertility to fall from more than 6 children per woman to fewer than 3 children per woman?  Data source: The data on the total fertility rate is taken from the Gapminder fertility dataset (version 6)  and the World Bank World Development Indicators. Source: OurWorldInData.org.

But won’t we run out of space?

In all projected future scenarios for Africa, its population will continue to grow. Today, there are 7.4 billion people on Earth. We are used to thinking that this is already too much, but is that true? First of all, let’s see how much space on Earth we humans actually take up. In 2012, the team of the project “Per Square Mile” led by Tim de Chant produced an infographic showing how big a city would have to be to house the world’s 7 billion people.

The city limits change drastically depending on which real city is used as the model and what its population density is, but this still gives us an idea of how much of our beautiful planet is really inhabited and how much spare space we still have.

If the projection of population growth by the United Nations is correct, in the next 84 years, there will be about 11 billion people. This means that if all of humanity were concentrated in a land area with a population density similar to New York, it would at most occupy the size of 3 US states by 2100.

2012                                                         2100

Fig 7.  7 bln city with population density of New York/11 bln city with the same population density. From the “Per Square Mile” project by Tim de Chant. Note: the picture at right is modified by the article authors to illustrate the potential growth. The state of Texas is about 700,000 square kilometers, which corresponds to about 7 billion people. The states of Texas, New Mexico (about 315,000 km^2), and Louisiana (about 135,000 km^2) combined represent 1,150,000 square kilometers, which corresponds to about 11.5 billion people by 2100.

Does this mean that population growth is not an issue? From the point of view of the space we humans need, likely so. However, our species’ survival is dependent on many other factors, such as the environment necessary to produce our food and other goods.

Are we going to run out of food?

We should admit that it is about fifty years too late to be concerned about extensive population growth and its consequences, such as famine, because the highest birth rate and population growth was observed from the 1960s to the 1980s. Our population grew by one billion people in just 14 years (going from 3 to 4 billion); however, no big societal or economic challenges were encountered.

Moreover, the next two billion increases in population appeared in 13 and 12 years, respectively [9], but once again, no famine caused by the deficiency of global food production followed [10]. The famines of the second half of the 20th century were provoked by how the food was distributed. Factors such as administrative incompetence of local governments, wars and natural disasters happening several years in a row played the greatest role in creating famine during this period.

Today, global society is taking measures to eradicate hunger worldwide by 2030. This is very likely to be the case, as the number of people suffering from hunger is decreasing fast. In 2012, it was one in eight, while in 2015, it was already one in nine, which corresponds to 795 million people. Below, you can see the Hunger Map by the World Food Program illustrating the progress.

Fig 8. FAO, IFAD and WFP. 2015. The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015. Meeting the 2015 international hunger targets: taking stock of uneven progress. Rome, FAO. Sources: www.fao.org/publications/sofi/en/ Undernourishment data: FAO Statistics Division (ESS) – www.fao.org/economic/ess

If we compare the food supply in 1965 and in 2007, we can clearly see that overeating is more of a global issue than undernourishment, as in most countries, the calorie intake has grown significantly. This could not have happened if our society was suffering from food underproduction, as the food would not be available to overeat, and problems such as obesity would not be so prevalent.

Fig 9.  Food supply 1965 vs 2007 Source: Gapminder statistics (www.gapminder.org/)

Astoundingly, this means that a population explosion has passed relatively unnoticed – all thanks to the “Green Revolution” (rapid development of new agriculture techniques, such as fertilizers, irrigation and selection). The concern that there will be a food shortage in the future neglects further technological advances such as aquaponics, hydroponics, aeroponics, vertical farming, 3D-printed housing, algae farms, and many other technologies that could provide enough food for all.

The need for more food production represents an excellent opportunity for entrepreneurs, so it is unlikely that the development process of new technologies would suddenly stop, especially taking into account the objective need for rapid changes due to environmental issues.

According to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “Livestock’s long shadow”, in 2006, livestock represented the biggest of all anthropogenic (i.e., due to human activity and with potentially harmful side effects) land uses, taking up to 70% of all agricultural land and 30% of the ice-free terrestrial surface of the planet [11].

Scientists admit that while it is still possible to expand agricultural land in some countries in accordance with the increasing need for food, this expansion cannot go beyond the limits of the carrying capacity of our planet. The report states that livestock is responsible for about 18% of the global warming effect, 9% of total carbon dioxide emissions, 37% of methane and 65% of nitrous oxide. Water use for livestock represents about 8% of all human water use (7% of this being used for feed irrigation).

New technologies can provide solutions for the numerous environmental issues related to traditional farming. For instance, hydroponics offers around 11 times higher yields while requiring 10 times less water than conventional agriculture [12]. The energy needs of a hydroponic facility are much higher (up to 80 times more), but thanks to emerging clean renewable energy technologies, this increased demand may not be an issue [13].

Today, there are many companies engaged in the creation of lab-grown meat, such as Supermeat and Memphis Meats. Making a laboratory into a farm is beneficial in many ways, starting from less pollution and fewer greenhouse gas emissions (mostly caused by animal digestion processes).

Sterile conditions in the lab lead to decreased risk of infections and allow the exclusion of antibiotics from the process of meat production. Lab-grown meat can be designed to contain less fat or even fats and proteins with new characteristics (for instance, essential Omega fatty acids).

With less space necessary for laboratory meat production and no waste, it will be possible to ensure disseminated local production in order to cut transportation time and reduce the usage of preservatives. The same system can be used to grow fish meat as well, thus reducing the impact of fishing and fish-farming on the environment. It is interesting to note that not only meat but also other animal-derived products, such as leather, can be produced in a lab, like is done by Modern Meadow.

There are attempts to create new edible products that taste like meat but are completely without animal ingredients, such as Impossible Foods. The recently created vegan ‘Bloody Burger’ by Impossible Foods “uses 95% less land, 74% less water and emits 87% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than its cattle-derived counterpart”. By concentrating on the heme molecule, the mixture apparently “looks like meat, tastes like meat and sizzles like meat“.

These solutions are also great from an ethical point of view, as this technology can reduce animal suffering. The rate of transition to these new ways of animal product creation is widely dependent on political will and social support. It is important to note that there is also significant progress regarding access to drinking water. During the Millennium Development Goals period (1990-2015), it is estimated that, globally, use of improved drinking water sources rose from 76 per cent to 91 per cent. 2.6 billion people have gained access to an improved drinking water source since 1990.

The MDG target of 88 per cent was surpassed in 2010, and in 2015, 6.6 billion people used an improved drinking water source. There are now only three countries (all located in sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania) with less than 50 per cent coverage, compared with 23 in 1990 [14]. New technologies for cheap water desalination and water collection from the air are also helping to improve the situation.

If population growth is not exactly an issue, then what is?

What we really should be concerned about is the age structure of the population. Regardless of the level of technological development, its core are the people of working age who are producing goods, paying taxes, and supporting the non-working groups, such as children and the elderly – the latter needing the most resources because of the state of their health.

Due to population aging, the share of working-age people is shrinking while the share of people who are at least 60 years old is growing. Population structure change is the most evident in Europe and Northern America, while the “Global South” has not experienced it yet – but will experience it in the next few decades.

Fig 10. Percentage of population in broad age groups by major area in 2015. Source: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2015). World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision, Data Booklet. ST/ESA/SER.A/377

Soon, one third of the population worldwide is going to be aged sixty or over, which means more social protection and healthcare expenditures and more working age people involved in nursing the elderly. However, it would be wrong and unjust to see the elderly as a burden, while these people have contributed so much to the incredible progress that our society has made.

They have all the same human rights as everyone, including the right to life and right to health. As age-related health deterioration is the main reason why society has to provide so much support to the elderly, it would be only logical to see the development of rejuvenation biotechnologies as the way to improve the situation.

What would life be like if we introduced rejuvenation technologies globally?

Before the era of universal medicine, people who managed to reach their sixties were still in relatively good health. However, once the onset of age-related diseases began, they died very quickly.

Modern medicine has changed that by slowing down the development of age-related diseases, hence extending the period of productivity. The downside is that this has also extended the period of illness, because treatments to prevent age-related diseases are not yet introduced into universal clinical practice.

In the near future, new interventions to slow down the aging process will become accessible, and then a shift will occur: the period of youth and adulthood will be extended due to better health, and the period of illness will be significantly postponed. In their sixties, people will remain as strong and vital as 40-year-old people are today. Some leading scientists predict that this may also lead to maximum lifespan increases of up to 150 years or more.

This is, of course, hard to prove, because as with many other things in human history, it is a unique situation that has never happened before, but some studies have proposed how aging would look given these three scenarios [15].

Fig 11. A:Pre Universal Medicine, B: Current medicine, C: Slowing aging. Source: Blagosklonny, M. V. (2012). How to save Medicare: the anti-aging remedy. Aging (Albany NY), 4(8), 547-52.

Whilst it is too early to be overly optimistic, we still should mention that apart from these three scenarios, there is a fourth possibility called negligible senescence. Negligible senescence in nature happens when a species does not display signs of aging, regardless of the passage of time. A number of species exhibit negligible senescence, including the rougheye rockfish (Sebastes aleutianus).

The ocean quahog (Arctica islandica) and some kinds of turtles are also negligibly senescent, but they still die because the expansion of their shell ultimately limits their movement. More examples can be found here at the excellent HAGR (Human Ageing Genomic Resources) database.

At some point in time, medical technologies may become so sophisticated that they will be able to bring all of the processes of aging under medical control. If that is the case, then aging will always remain at a subclinical stage, because the repairs to our bodies will keep up the pace with damage accumulation, allowing people to look and feel young for an indefinite period of time.

Most likely, it will take decades for medical science to progress this far, but we should also admit that some of the technologies necessary for this transition already exist, e.g., stem cell therapies, early nanorobots, CRISPR and gene therapies, immunotherapies, senolytics, and geroprotectors (drugs that slow down the aging process).

How will increased lifespan affect population growth?

The possibility of significant life extension using medical interventions was not even considered by the academic community until recent years, so there were not many projections of how increased lifespans and negligible senescence would affect population growth. However, a few years ago, such a projection was done for Sweden.

One of the more realistic scenarios is one where only a small share of the population accepts negligible senescence technologies at the beginning (this could be due to a slow dissemination process, ethical or religious objections that people have to overcome, or a high cost of the new technology) with a gradual increase (1% added to the negligibly senescent group each year). It is assumed that some small share of the population will never accept these technologies and will age in the traditional way.

In this case, population change in Sweden will not lead to population growth but can, to some extent, mitigate the process of depopulation over 100 years of medical innovations [16].

Fig 12. Population projection for a scenario of growing acceptance of antiaging interventions. Projection of the Swedish population until year 2105, assuming the negligible senescence scenario for initially small proportion of population (10%), with growing acceptance rate over time. Life extension interventions start at age 60 years, with 30-year time delay from now.

This might be the likely scenario in most developed countries. Taking into account that new technologies tend to be expensive even for developed countries’ middle classes, the developing countries most possibly will reach the same level of implementation later in time, when their fertility rate will be already affected by the index of development. In this case, the fall of their population growth will be smaller due to decreased population mortality.

In a more optimistic scenario, where all the population has access to negligible senescence technologies and they are applied to everyone who is at least 60 years old, population growth in 70 years will be around 22%. The earlier the application, the bigger the population growth. If negligible senescence technologies are applied at the age of 40, then the estimated population growth will be nearly 47% in 70 years.

Fig 13. Projection of the Swedish population until the year 2105, assuming the negligible senescence scenario. Life extension interventions start at age 60 years, with a 30-year time delay from now.

There are three main conclusions we can make based on this data.

  1. The growing share of people using negligible senescence technologies could help optimize the balance between workforce and retirees, hence maintaining economic development. People who are at least 65 years old will be about one-third of the global population in 2100, so we are talking about 3-4 billion old people who could be healthy and productive or ill and frail, depending on which strategy that global society implements.
  2. Negligible senescence is a synonym of good health, which means that the burden of age-related diseases and their social consequences will be mostly eliminated.
  3. Population growth, surprisingly, will not be as dramatic as is often imagined, leaving a significant period of time for adaptation, adequate measures of population growth control, and new territories’ development.

Is mitigating aging not only a need but also a legal obligation?

Even if negligible senescence remains a long-term goal, the emerging technologies to address the various aging processes [17] represent a unique opportunity to maintain older people in good health, allowing them to enjoy healthier lives, remain active, learn new skills, and contribute to the development of society. We owe them our present well-being. Not only have these people contributed a lot to create the things we have now, including better nutrition, healthcare, and a comfortable and safe habitat, they have also worked hard to change traditions and wisdom and helped to carry the concept of equal human rights forwards. This is why it is especially poignant to understand that geroprotective technologies and their potential are being underestimated and that they are not receiving the level of social approval and support that they rightly deserve.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) Constitution, the objective of the WHO is “the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health”. It is worth noting that WHO defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” [18]. While this definition may seem quite spacious, it was made this way purposefully to ensure that member states’ activities in improving the health of their people would never stop.

Conclusion

The need for constant improvement of health is now a universal consensus.

Aging represents the root cause of severe diseases, such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, stroke, Parkinson’s, heart disease, COPD, type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis and atherosclerosis, leading to disability of the elderly and to a wide range of negative social consequences, which makes it the perfect target for the global healthcare system [19].

These diseases can only be cured if the actual aging processes are directly addressed and halted while the damage is repaired or reversed by medical interventions. Therefore, according to WHO and United Nations policy, this means that global society has an obligation to eventually cancel aging in order to achieve the highest possible level of health for all people.

Literature

  1. United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2015). World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision, Volume II: Demographic Profiles (ST/ESA/SER.A/380).
  2. United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2015). World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision, Data Booklet. ST/ESA/SER.A/377.
  3. Mather, M. (2012). Fact sheet: The decline in US fertility. Population Reference Bureau, World Population Data Sheet.
  4. Lanzieri, G. (2013). Towards a ‘baby recession’ in Europe?. Europe (in million), 16(16.655), 16-539.
  5. Nargund, G. (2009). Declining birth rate in Developed Countries: A radical policy re-think is required. FV & V in ObGyn, 1, 191-3.
  6. Camarota, S., & Ziegler, K. (2015). The Declining Fertility of Immigrants and Natives. Center for Immigration Studies.
  7. United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2015). World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision, Key Findings and Advance Tables. ESA/P/WP.241.
  8. Myrskylä, M., Kohler, H. P., & Billari, F. C. (2009). Advances in development reverse fertility declines. Nature, 460(7256), 741-743.
  9. United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (1999). The World At Six Billion. ESA/P/WP.154.
  10. Gráda, C. Ó. (2007). Making famine history. Journal of Economic Literature, 45(1), 5-38.
  11. FAO, U., & Steinfeld, H. (2006). Livestock’s long shadow: Environmental issues and options. Rome:[sn].
  12. Barbosa, G. L., Gadelha, F. D. A., Kublik, N., Proctor, A., Reichhelm, L., Weissinger, E., … & Halden, R. U. (2015). Comparison of land, water, and energy requirements of lettuce grown using hydroponic vs. conventional agricultural methods. International journal of environmental research and public health, 12(6), 6879-6891.
  13. REN21. 2016. Renewables 2016 Global Status Report (Paris: REN21 Secretariat).
  14. Unicef. (2015). Progress on Sanitation and Drinking-Water: 2015 Update and MDG Assessment. World Health Organization: Geneva, Switzerland.
  15. Blagosklonny, M. V. (2012). How to save Medicare: the anti-aging remedy. Aging (Albany NY), 4(8), 547-52.
  16. Gavrilov, L. A., & Gavrilova, N. S. (2010). Demographic consequences of defeating aging. Rejuvenation research, 13(2-3), 329-334.
  17. López-Otín, Carlos et al.(2013). Hallmarks of Aging. Cell , Volume 153 , Issue 6 , 1194 – 1217
  18. World Health Organization. (2014). Basic documents. World Health Organization.
  19. Kennedy, B. K., Berger, S. L., Brunet, A., Campisi, J., Cuervo, A. M., Epel, E. S., … & Rando, T. A. (2014). Aging: a common driver of chronic diseases and a target for novel interventions. Cell, 159(4), 709.
Elena Milova: As a devoted advocate of rejuvenation technologies since 2013, Elena is providing the community with a systemic vision how aging is affecting our society. Her research interests include global and local policies on aging, demographic changes, public perception of the application of rejuvenation technologies to prevent age-related diseases and extend life, and related public concerns. Elena is a co-author of the book Aging prevention for all (in Russian, 2015) and the organizer of multiple educational events helping the general public adopt the idea of eventually bringing aging under medical control.
***
Steve Hill: Steve serves on the LEAF Board of Directors and is the Editor-in-Chief, coordinating the daily news articles and social media content of the organization. He is an active journalist in the aging research and biotechnology field and has to date written over 500 articles on the topic as well as attending various medical industry conferences. In 2019 he was listed in the top 100 journalists covering biomedicine and longevity research in the industry report – Top-100 Journalists covering advanced biomedicine and longevity created by the Aging Analytics Agency. His work has been featured in H+ Magazine, Psychology Today, Singularity Weblog, Standpoint Magazine, Keep Me Prime, and New Economy Magazine. Steve has a background in project management and administration which has helped him to build a united team for effective fundraising and content creation, while his additional knowledge of biology and statistical data analysis allows him to carefully assess and coordinate the scientific groups involved in the project. In 2015 he led the Major Mouse Testing Program (MMTP) for the International Longevity Alliance and in 2016 helped the team of the SENS Research Foundation to reach their goal for the OncoSENS campaign for cancer research.

Alzheimer’s Disease Reversed by Editing a Single Gene – Article by Steve Hill

Alzheimer’s Disease Reversed by Editing a Single Gene – Article by Steve Hill

Steve Hill


Editor’s Note: The U.S. Transhumanist Party features this article by our guest Steve Hill, originally published by our allies at the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation (LEAF) on April 13, 2018. In this article, Mr. Hill reviews a new study published in Nature that supports the idea that Alzheimer’s disease research efforts should target the ApoE4 gene, and not consider the ApoE3 gene as much, even though  previous research that focused on the ApoE3 gene cured Alzheimer’s disease in mice models. This is a promising step forward for Alzheimer’s research.

~Bobby Ridge, Assistant Editor, July 2, 2019

Researchers at Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco report that a gene variant associated with Alzheimer’s works differently in mice and humans, and they also demonstrate how modifying this gene could potentially prevent the plaques associated with Alzheimer’s from forming and damaging the brain. The new study was published in the journal Nature in January 2018 [1].

An ApoE3 gene variant is associated with Alzheimer’s disease

The gene apolipoprotein E3 (ApoE3) has a variant known as ApoE4, which is associated with the development and progress of Alzheimer’s disease. People with just one copy of the ApoE4 gene are at twice the risk as people without this gene variant. Some people even have two copies of the ApoE4 gene, which makes their risk of Alzheimer’s a staggering twelve times greater.

Both the ApoE genes produce their own forms of ApoE protein, which differ in structure. The ApoE4 protein is fragile and fragments because it cannot function in the same way as the regular ApoE3 protein in human nerve cells. These fragmented protein pieces are associated with the increased production of amyloid-β peptides and tau phosphorylation that are typical of Alzheimer’s disease.

The researchers wanted to find out how ApoE4 is linked to Alzheimer’s disease. They considered the possibility that the increased amyloid-β and tau phosphorylation from the fragmentation of ApoE4 drives disease progression. Another possibility involved the negative consequences of a lack of ApoE3 proteins, as they were replaced by the ApoE4 variant. The team also considered a combination of both of these possibilities.

The team investigated these potential answers by examining the effects of ApoE3 and ApoE4 on human nerve cells. Neurons were created by using pluripotent stem cells taken from volunteers who had either two copies of ApoE3 or two copies of the ApoE4 gene, and the researchers programmed these cells to become the desired type of neuronal cell.

The team compared the ApoE3 and ApoE4 neurons against neurons that were unable to produce either type of the ApoE protein. They discovered that neurons that produced no ApoE protein worked the same as those that produced ApoE3. This confirmed that it was not a lack of ApoE3 causing the problem but that ApoE4 protein alone was linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

This finding also sheds light on why treatments for Alzheimer’s that work in mice fail to translate to humans. The production of amyloid-β in mice is not influenced by ApoE4; this means that treatments that prove effective in mice may not work in humans, as the mouse models of the disease do not emulate the ApoE4-related form of Alzheimer’s that humans get. However, therapies that focus on reducing amyloid-β have worked in mice [2], so while ApoE4 functions differently in mice and humans, this is not the full story of Alzheimer’s. This research does, however, clearly show a way in which mouse models differ from humans, helping to guide future research.

Converting ApoE4 to ApoE3

The results of the study suggest that therapies that seek to modify the ApoE4 gene protein before it fragments might be a way to combat Alzheimer’s. This is how traditional medicine would generally approach the problem, treating the symptoms and not the cause.

However, the researchers took this one step further to a far more robust solution. Rather than simply attempting to treat the consequences of having an ApoE4 gene producing sub-par proteins, they completely removed the problem by using gene therapy to edit the genes and convert them from ApoE4 to ApoE3.

The converted genes ceased to produce the unstable ApoE4 protein and produced the stable ApoE3 version of it instead. This served to correct the problem at the root rather than trying to slap a band-aid on the consequences.

Conclusion

With so many failures to combat Alzheimer’s disease, it is easy to become disillusioned. We have seen mice cured of the disease numerous times, but these cures have failed to translate to humans. These new findings help to progress knowledge in the field and offer potential new ways to defeat Alzheimer’s.

What is refreshing about this study is how the researchers have opted to attack the problem at the root cause: the production of misfolded proteins that lead to the progression of the disease. It is becoming ever more clear that if we are going to make progress on ending age-related diseases, we must target the aging processes themselves, which cause these diseases.

Literature

[1] Yuang, Y. et al. (2018) Gain of toxic apolipoprotein E4 effects in human iPSC-derived neurons is ameliorated by a small-molecule structure corrector. Nature Medicine doi:10.1038/s41591-018-0004-z

[2] Hu, X., Das, B., Hou, H., He, W., & Yan, R. (2018). BACE1 deletion in the adult mouse reverses preformed amyloid deposition and improves cognitive functions. Journal of Experimental Medicine, jem-20171831.

Steve Hill serves on the LEAF Board of Directors and is the Editor in Chief, coordinating the daily news articles and social media content of the organization. He is an active journalist in the aging research and biotechnology field and has to date written over 500 articles on the topic as well as attending various medical industry conferences. In 2019 he was listed in the top 100 journalists covering biomedicine and longevity research in the industry report – Top-100 Journalists covering advanced biomedicine and longevity created by the Aging Analytics Agency. His work has been featured in H+ Magazine, Psychology Today, Singularity Weblog, Standpoint Magazine, Keep Me Prime, and New Economy Magazine. Steve has a background in project management and administration which has helped him to build a united team for effective fundraising and content creation, while his additional knowledge of biology and statistical data analysis allows him to carefully assess and coordinate the scientific groups involved in the project. In 2015 he led the Major Mouse Testing Program (MMTP) for the International Longevity Alliance and in 2016 helped the team of the SENS Research Foundation to reach their goal for the OncoSENS campaign for cancer research.

Meanwhile, in the 1600s… – Hypothetical Dialogue by Nicola Bagalà

Meanwhile, in the 1600s… – Hypothetical Dialogue by Nicola Bagalà

Nicola Bagalà


Editor’s Note: The U.S. Transhumanist Party features this article by our guest Nicola Bagalà, originally published by our allies at the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation (LEAF) on January 24, 2019. This article provides an example of a family in the 1600’s having to deal with their children contracting and dying from a fever to shed light on anyone’s contemporary contention for curing age-related diseases. It’s easy for most of us in today’s age to completely support innovation that heals another from their fever before they die, when many would have considered that vile and blasphemous hundreds of years ago. Hopefully we can learn from history and accept that curing all diseases through medical science and innovation is morally superior. 

~Bobby Ridge, Assistant Editor, July 1, 2019

Many people are at the very least iffy about the idea of extending human healthy lifespan through medical biotechnologies that prevent age-related diseases essentially by rejuvenating the body. Even people who accept the possibility that such therapies can be developed are not convinced that developing them is a good idea, and there are only a few arguments that most people use. These arguments can actually be easily adapted to make a case against the medicine that already exists, which the vast majority of people on the planet currently benefit from—and the consensus is virtually universal that people who do not yet benefit from it should be given this opportunity as soon as possible.

The question is: would people who accept these arguments as valid objections to rejuvenation accept them also as valid objections against “normal” medicine? For example, how many present-day people would agree with what these two people from the 1600’s are talking about?


A – Did you hear about John’s son?

B – Yes, he came down with a fever and never recovered. What a tragedy.

A – Indeed. He and his wife had lost three other children to a fever before.

B – Oh, that’s terrible. Did they try to ask for a doctor’s help?

A – They couldn’t afford it for the other children, but when a fourth one became ill, they were so desperate about it that they did all they could to find the money. Anyway, not even the doctor could save the child’s life, even with all the leeches and poultices at his disposal.

B – Of course, I know nothing about medicine, but sometimes I think doctors don’t either. Their practices are a bit… scary, and as far as I have heard, most people they treat die anyway.

A – That may be, but doctors still have the best wisdom and techniques, at least for those who can afford them.

B – Who knows, maybe one day, doctors will actually know how to cure us for real. It could be as simple as drinking a potion or eating some sort of biscuit containing specific medicinal herbs, and in a few days, you’re back on your feet, no matter the disease.

A – That seems like fantasy to me. Doctors have existed for centuries, and they never managed to perform such miracles. If this were at all possible with knowledge and technique alone, wouldn’t one of them have managed to do so by now? Besides, perhaps it is for the best to leave things the way they are; doctors have gone far enough into God’s domain, and I don’t even want to imagine what would happen if they went even farther.

B – That is true. Surely, there must be a reason for all the diseases that plague us. Common folks are more affected, true, but they also take nobles on occasion. It’s difficult to say if this is because commoners sin more than nobles and that this is God’s way of punishing them or because they are more pious and God wants to call them to Himself sooner, but it is obvious that the will of Providence is at play.

A – Exactly. But I think there is more than this to it. Maybe the reason why diseases exist is to make our lives less miserable. Maybe they are blessings in disguise.

B – I don’t understand. They do cause a lot of suffering, not only to the diseased but also their families.

A – That is true, but how much more suffering would they endure if they went on living, especially among us commoners? It might explain why diseases affect common people more than the nobility. They live better lives, so it makes sense for them to live longer and enjoy it; but what about us? Our lives are harder and deprived of all the comforts and luxuries that rich people can afford. Is it worth living longer for us?

B – You speak truth, and I also think that if, one day, doctors will really be able to cure everyone of certain ailments, this will only make poor people’s lives worse. Very few people can afford the services of doctors even though they aren’t of much use; imagine how expensive it would be if they actually could cure you! Rich people would be healthy, and the rest of us would simply have to die knowing that they could be saved if only they had the money.

A – You are right, it is definitely better if there is no cure for anyone rather than a cure that is only for some. But, still, I dream of a day when medicine eventually becomes cheaper, or maybe the commoners won’t be so poor.

B – A day when even the likes of you and me could live in a fairly comfortable house, with our basic necessities covered, without having to work so hard every day to bring just a little food to the table, and while being able to afford the services of a doctor whenever we need one? You dream of Heaven on Earth, friend; it won’t happen until Judgment Day.

A – We won’t be able to achieve this ourselves, even centuries from now?

B – Again, it hasn’t happened until now, I don’t see why it should happen later. Even if it did, the consequences would be even more dire. It’s hard enough as it is to produce enough food for everyone, and if doctors could cure all diseases and everyone was able to afford these cures, there would be far too many mouths to feed. Therefore, in His infinite wisdom, the good God has decided that some of us must fall prey to disease.

A – I see your point, but in such a world where doctors can treat all ailments with their own knowledge, maybe we would be able to produce more food with less work, so that hundreds of millions, maybe even billions, could eat every day, while farming would not be as laborious.

B – You sure have a wild imagination! And how could that be accomplished, pray tell?

A – Perhaps there might be more machines that do work in place of animals, faster and better. Possibly even in place of people.

B – Machines that work the fields without a person maneuvering them? Walking water mills? Clockwork horses? Oh! How about a sewing machine to go with our spinning wheel? My wife would love such a thing, if it could ever exist.

A – We have some machines for some tasks. Why could we not have more?

B – Because they could never work, that’s why. I sure hope you’re never going to talk such nonsense with others, because not everyone has my sense of humor.

A – Maybe you are right. It was a bit of a stretch; windmills and water mills must sit where they are, after all. Diseases may be a necessary evil, as well. I’ve seen people who survived ailments like the one that killed John’s son, and as they grew older, their lives became more and more miserable. Old age was killing them more slowly and with far more cruelty than fever or plague. A poor old man dies on the street if he has no family to care for him or if his family cannot afford it. I would rather die the way John’s son did, surrounded by my loved ones, than as a crippled old man begging under a bridge.

B – Now you’re talking sense, and this is probably one of the most compelling reasons why we should leave diseases alone. Again, maybe it makes sense for the royalty to live that long, because they will not end up dying like old beggars, but for the rest of us, that would be a curse.

A – True. Besides, I suppose that at some point, one would get tired of living and would rather go. I guess this must be why even people who don’t die early in life eventually die of old age; even if you are part of the upper class, what can you possibly look forward to after you’ve seen your children and grandchildren grow up? Even if you know how to read and have a taste for music and the theatre, there are only so many books and so many composers and playwrights.

B – Precisely.

A – Yes, while being able to cure diseases might appear to be a good thing at first, when you think about it, you realize that it would not be.

B – Indeed, and this is what we must always remind ourselves of when disease does strike and sorrow makes us lose our objectivity.


The arguments presented by our two friends from the 1600’s are fundamentally the same ones that a lot of people bring up when they try to rationalize and justify the diseases of old age, saying that the defeat of aging might, at first, appear to be a good thing, but would actually not be that good after all. However, given the knowledge we have today, it is very easy to counter their arguments; in any event, not too many people would agree that the conversation above would have made a good case against vaccines and modern medicine, which have brought infectious diseases under strict control and save countless lives that would otherwise be lost on a daily basis.

Just like the arguments in the conversation above would not be a valid reason to give up on the medicine we are used to, they are not a reason to give up on the medicine of the future—the rejuvenation biotechnologies that might soon prevent and reverse the course of age-related diseases. Claiming otherwise is nothing but a double standard.

Nicola Bagalà is a bit of a jack of all trades—a holder of an M.Sc. degree in mathematics; an amateur programmer; a hobbyist at novel writing, piano and art; and, of course, a passionate life extensionist. After his interest in the science of undoing aging arose in 2011, he gradually shifted from quiet supporter to active advocate in 2015, first launching his advocacy blog Rejuvenaction before eventually joining LEAF. These years in the field sparked an interest in molecular biology, which he actively studies. Other subjects he loves to discuss to no end are cosmology, artificial intelligence, and many others—far too many for a currently normal lifespan, which is one of the reasons he’s into life extension.

Not Classing Aging as a Disease is Not a Major Problem – Article by Steve Hill

Not Classing Aging as a Disease is Not a Major Problem – Article by Steve Hill

Steve Hill


Editor’s Note: The U.S. Transhumanist Party features this article by our guest Steve Hill, originally published by at the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation (LEAF) on July 19, 2018. In this article, Mr. Hill does an excellent job explaining why the lack of the definition of aging as a disease under the FDA is not so bad as is sometimes feared. Personally, I do not agree with this. Relying on off-label use is not a good idea because that is much slower of a process than doctors quickly seeing that a drug has FDA approval. Once the FDA considers aging as a disease, pharmaceutical companies will quickly enter this arena and make increasingly better drugs. Mr. Hill makes some excellent points, though, and I highly recommend this article. 

~ Bobby Ridge, Assistant Editor, June 29, 2019

A common concern in the community is that the FDA, the EMA, and other bodies, such as WHO, do not classify aging as a disease and that this poses a problem for developing therapies that target aging. However, this is not really as serious an issue as some people would suggest; today, we will have a look at why that is.

Why this will not stop progress

Aging is a variety of distinct processes, damages, and errors; therefore, simply treating aging in clinical terms is not a viable endpoint. For a clinical trial to be conducted, it requires a verifiable indication, and aging is too general for the FDA and EMA to classify it as a disease.

It also is not a major challenge for damage repair-based approaches, such as those proposed by SENS and the Hallmarks of Aging, as these approaches are not focused on an all-in-one therapy with the indication of “aging”. They are based on a strategy of dividing damages into manageable groups and developing a suite of rejuvenation therapies that addresses each of them.

No single therapy will reverse or halt all of the aging processes when used alone, nor will it prevent all age-related diseases that accompany them. So, to have aging as an indication in any clinical trial would be pointless for any damage repair therapy.

Researchers are free to target aging processes

That said, researchers are very well aware that the processes of aging, which lead to the familiar diseases of aging, are a problem, and this is where the focus lies. There has been considerable effort to classify these processes and precursors of pathology as diseases themselves.

A prime example is the inclusion of sarcopenia (frailty and muscle loss) in the World Health Organization International Classification of Diseases (ICD) a few years ago thanks to lobbying by members of our community. Adding more general codes to the ICD that include these aging processes and precursors is an ideal solution, as it could potentially make it easier to organize trials and develop drugs that target the aging processes.

Back in June 2018, the World Health Organization released the new International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). The previous version, ICD-10, was published in 1983, and the new ICD-11 will likely be the standard for years to come. The new ICD-11 now includes the extension code “Ageing-Related” (XT9T) for age-related diseases, and this should go a long way towards making focusing on aging easier for future drugs and therapies. Again, this is thanks to work by members of our community, who have spent countless hours researching and pushing for change.

Most aging hallmarks are very clearly linked to specific age-related diseases, such as beta-amyloid protein and malformed tau in Alzheimer’s, lysosomal aggregates in foam cells in atherosclerosis, and alpha-synuclein in Parkinson’s disease. Companies are perfectly welcome to target these aging processes directly, and indeed more and more researchers and big institutions are doing just that in order to treat age-related diseases.

Therefore, not classifying aging itself as a disease poses few barriers to developing therapies that address aging; it’s simply a case of working within the existing framework. UNITY Biotechnology is a prime example; this company is targeting senescent cells and applying its method to multiple age-related diseases; as everyone gets senescent cells, these therapies will be broadly applicable once they become available, and off-label use is likely to expand rapidly.

Also, rejuvenation therapies could, at first, be licensed as treatments for genetic disorders, even though the root cause of the pathology underlying those diseases is not aging. An example of this is the inherited mitochondrial disorders, known as mitochondriopathies, many of which are caused by mutations in the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). While these mutations are inherited and are not the result of age-related, deleterious damage to the mtDNA, the same repair-based approach can be applied: the allotopic expression of the protein in the nucleus, as proposed by MitoSENS, could potentially be used to repair the mtDNA allowing normal cellular function to resume.

The majority of damage repair therapies, if not all, could be developed as therapies for diseases with accepted indications and verifiable endpoints, which should satisfy bodies such as the FDA and EMA. Therefore, whether regulatory agencies perceive aging as a disease or not is of no consequence to the development of rejuvenation biotechnologies that address the aging processes.

This does not mean regulatory changes are not needed

Even though classifying aging as a disease is unnecessary, significant reform in the regulatory system is still needed in order to encourage investors and companies to put the time and money into researching and developing rejuvenation therapies.

One area in need of reform is the establishment of aging biomarkers, which indicate the repair or removal of age-related damage, as acceptable endpoints for rejuvenation therapies. Studies that use these biomarkers would also need to include long-term follow-up studies to ascertain the effects of a therapy over a longer period of time.

This would deviate from regulators’ normal requirements that therapies have to prove an effect on hard outcomes to be approved. In an ideal situation, patients should get rejuvenation therapies long before they are in immediate danger and once diseases have manifested, but this makes trials more time consuming and more costly to run.

However, back in February 2018, the FDA published a new guidance document detailing how early-stage Alzheimer’s patients might be identified, which, if accepted, would represent a significant change in policy and a step in the right direction. The document suggests that the results of imaging tests or suitable biomarkers could be enough to consider Stage 1 Alzheimer’s patients as suitable subjects for clinical trials.

This is a positive move as it means that therapies can be tested on people in the very early stages of Alzheimer’s rather than on those who have already suffered considerable if not irreparable damage to the brain, damage that no therapy could hope to address alone. This could mean that these early-stage patients could enroll in a clinical trial and take a therapy that could potentially prevent the disease from ever progressing further or reaching the point where cognitive decline begins.

In the case of repair-based therapies, it would then be a case of demonstrating that the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease were improved via the removal or repair of the underlying age-related damage, and suitable biomarkers would show this.

Moving with the times

Another area where regulatory bodies have struggled is keeping up with the rapid march of technology and medicine. Technologies such as gene therapies have struggled to gain traction due to an antiquated regulatory framework struggling to cope with them. Thankfully, this is also being acknowledged, and the regenerative medicine advanced therapies (RMAT) framework published earlier this year seeks to address this issue and make large-scale changes to how its regenerative medicine policy framework operates as a whole.

According to new FDA regulations, a drug is eligible for designation as an RMAT if:

  • The drug is a regenerative medicine therapy, which is defined as a cell therapy, therapeutic tissue engineering product, human cell and tissue product, or any combination product using such therapies or products, except for those regulated solely under Section 361 of the Public Health Service Act and part 1271 of Title 21, Code of Federal Regulations;
  • The drug is intended to treat, modify, reverse, or cure a serious or life-threatening disease or condition; and
  • Preliminary clinical evidence indicates that the drug has the potential to address unmet medical needs for such disease or condition.

While the FDA created these new guidelines, we joined forces with the Niskanen Center to submit comments to the agency so that it would hear the voice of our community.

Conclusion

Aging not being classified as a disease by the FDA, EMA, etc. is not a major issue; the real need is for policy changes that make developing drugs and therapies that target the aging processes easier and more financially viable. It is good that changes are being made to current frameworks and that progress will almost certainly continue in these areas.

Meanwhile, we can continue to support the development of repair-based approaches to aging knowing that such therapies, if they work, will be approved even in the current regulatory landscape.

Steve Hill serves on the LEAF Board of Directors and is the Editor-in-Chief, coordinating the daily news articles and social media content of the organization. He is an active journalist in the aging research and biotechnology field and has to date written over 500 articles on the topic as well as attending various medical industry conferences. In 2019 he was listed in the top 100 journalists covering biomedicine and longevity research in the industry report – Top-100 Journalists covering advanced biomedicine and longevity created by the Aging Analytics Agency. His work has been featured in H+ Magazine, Psychology Today, Singularity Weblog, Standpoint Magazine, and, Keep me Prime, and New Economy Magazine. Steve has a background in project management and administration which has helped him to build a united team for effective fundraising and content creation, while his additional knowledge of biology and statistical data analysis allows him to carefully assess and coordinate the scientific groups involved in the project. In 2015 he led the Major Mouse Testing Program (MMTP) for the International Longevity Alliance and in 2016 helped the team of the SENS Research Foundation to reach their goal for the OncoSENS campaign for cancer research.

Popular Reactions to Life Extension – Article by Nicola Bagalà

Popular Reactions to Life Extension – Article by Nicola Bagalà

Nicola Bagalà


Editor’s Note: The U.S. Transhumanist Party features this article by our guest Nicola Bagalà, originally published by our allies at the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation (LEAF ) on May 31st, 2018. In this article, Mr. Bagalà examines two studies from 2009, in which researchers interviewed members of the public regarding their opinions of life-extension research. This is an excellent read if you want to peer into how people in the past felt about life extension. 

~ Bobby Ridge, Assistant Editor, June 28, 2019

Two papers by Partridge et al [1, 2], both published in 2009, provide the somewhat rare opportunity to examine some concerns about life extension as formulated by actual people, rather than their general, more abstract forms.

As highlighted in the studies, research on the public’s perception of life extension science has been very much neglected; this, in turn, has made it harder to identify the misconceptions and incorrect information fueling some common concerns about life extension and made it even harder to address those very concerns. Needless to say, the more that the public views life extension negatively, the less supportive that it will probably be, which is bad news for researchers.

The papers present the results of several interviews, conducted either in person or on the phone, aimed at understanding what ethical concerns the interviewees had about life extension and what implications they thought extended human lifespans would have for themselves and for society. The research was conducted on a sample of the Australian population only, but the issues they raised were entirely representative of a typical discussion about life extension. In both studies, the interviewees were presented with the general premise of possibly slowing down aging and the onset of age-related diseases in order to greatly extend human healthy lifespan.

We’ll be taking a look at specific claims made or sentiments expressed by different interviewees in both studies.

Nature (doesn’t) know best

A common assumption is that nature knows best and interventions to slow down or reverse aging equal tampering with it, which is bad in its own right and therefore shouldn’t be done. This position is apparent in the following quotes from the studies:

“It seems totally unnatural. It seems to be upsetting the natural sequence of things. […] But I think doubling life would be… I don’t like it at all.”

“[…] it’s just not natural to live to 150.”

Quite frankly, this is the kind of teaching you would expect to find in an episode of “The Smurfs”, in which Mother Nature is a sweet old lady with a magic wand and has designed the world to work in a certain way for everyone’s good. However, nature is really just a label used to indicate many things—the interactions between fundamental particles, animal behavior, the intricacies of biochemistry, green foliage, and black holes. No one sat down and decided how long each species should live, and most definitely not for anyone’s good.

Counterexamples of natural things that are bad for you and “unnatural” things that are good for you are plentiful, but we’re not going into counterarguments and confutations; what is interesting to note is that the naturalness argument is presented without further justification: it’s unnatural, hence it’s bad. The interviewees themselves don’t seem to know why it’s bad. It’s rather dangerous to assume that nature knows best when, in fact, it knows nothing at all. Nature does all it does rather well—who wouldn’t, after billions of years of practice—but that’s not necessarily what is best for you.

Another interesting claim is that extending our lifespans would make us less human—as if living around 80 or 90 were a defining quality of humanity:

“To change lifespan that much just seems like, I don’t know, we’re not human anymore… Think of all the intervention we’d need… we’d be counteracting everything about us to make us live longer.”

“[…] it’s kind of inhuman to live a long time, as we are not made that way […]”

It’s honestly difficult to imagine why a lifespan change from around 80 to around 150 would make us any less human than the one from about 40 to about 80 did. However, the covert assumption here might be that extending lifespan would necessarily require radical alterations that would turn us into something we don’t like—a rather stale teaching that has been reiterated, unproven and unchallenged time and again in all manner of fiction, so it wouldn’t be surprising if it had made its way into people’s most deeply held beliefs.

Some interviewees expressed the conviction that curing disease and extending lifespan are fundamentally different:

“There’s a difference between just treating an injury or an illness compared to ‘I’m going to break natural bounds and extend my life’.”

“I don’t think life extension, in the sense of strong life extension, is a necessary thing. Whereas a lot of other aspects of medicine involve fixing things to enable people to live a normal life in a regular lifespan.”

The misconception that might be behind this is that there’s a “right” kind of death—death by old age—whereas other kinds of “early” death, however they may happen, are “bad” kinds of death in that they’re not the way things are supposed to go. It’s almost as if there were a belief that death is scheduled to happen to us irrespective of our health at some point around age 80 or so; death “ahead of schedule” is considered a tragedy, and postponing your “scheduled death” is considered “breaking natural bounds”.

However, this is at odds with everything we know about the functioning of the human body. Medicine is not meant to fix things so that you live a normal life in a regular lifespan; medicine is meant to fix things so that you retain your health and thus continue living. That’s all there is to it. Nowhere is it said that medicine works or should work only within the boundaries of a “regular lifespan”; the only reason why the current “regular” lifespan is of about 80 years is that, thus far, we haven’t been able to cure the ailments that manifest at that age, in pretty much the same way that 300 years ago, we didn’t know how to cure infectious diseases. This interviewee summed it up rather well:

“I don’t know how to separate the rate of aging though from a disease. I don’t know what the difference would be if you took away all of the diseases, if you took away all of the things that could cause heart failure, cancer and all of those sorts of things. I see them the same as aging.”

The authors of the papers reiterated many times how interviewees were favorable to what they perceived as therapies to cure diseases and against all that they perceived as an enhancement; for some reason, extending lifespan was perceived as the latter, rather than merely the obvious consequence of curing the diseases of old age. In this sense, rejuvenation therapies are no more an “enhancement” than any therapy that prevents or cures life-threatening diseases earlier on in life. This point can never be stressed enough.

Discriminations and impositions  

Another extremely common concern is the ill-famed spectre of unequal access to rejuvenation biotechnology, summed up by these two quotes from the studies:

“I don’t think any good will come out of it. It would be beneficial to only one class, supporting only one social class. In a way, we will unbalance the powers.”

“We end up with this society where the poor live their brief little lives and then you know… The rich live forever and have time to accumulate vast resources and there is never any way to cross the divide.”

If you are interested in more detailed counterarguments, you will find them here and here; what is most interesting to note in this venue is the fatalistic attitude of this stance. Not only did interviewees—along with many more people—assume that the dystopian scenario they presented will certainly occur; they didn’t seem to think that measures could be taken to prevent it or even just mitigate its effects or shorten its duration. They didn’t seem to think that the benefits of an aging-free world—which several interviewees acknowledged and which you can read about here, here, and here—might be worth the effort of looking into ways to prevent or mitigate any potential problems, such as inequality of access.

The same can be said of two more common concerns: overpopulation and lack of resources. The answers of the interviewees betrayed the assumption that the problem is inevitable and impossible to even alleviate, as if our technological development had already reached a peak and further innovation in terms of resource production and management were utterly out of the question, neglecting the obvious precedents in this regard—the Malthusian catastrophe has been predicted time and again and always failed to materialize; supporting a world population of even just a billion would have seemed impossible with the technology of 300 years ago, yet present-day technology allows us to cope with seven billion people—not perfectly, but we’re on our way there.

Worse still, interviewees didn’t seem to realize the even more obvious fact that, assuming that rejuvenation would be only for the rich, banning it, as some suggested, would do exactly nothing to narrow the rich-poor divide; at best, it would prevent it from getting larger. However, nobody benefits from a technology not existing, let alone the poor. Imagine if, back in the day when sewers to separate waste from water were first invented, someone suggested that we don’t build sewers anywhere at all because some areas could end up being unjustly left out. Making sure that sewers reach everywhere, even if it takes a long while before they actually do, is a much better idea than having water mixed with waste everywhere forever.

Whether or not the rich live forever is rather inconsequential for the poor, especially as long as they don’t even have the basics covered—even though some people think that the poor somehow find comfort in thinking that one day the rich will die of aging if nothing else gets them first. The idea of relishing someone else’s death, regardless of the circumstances, is so appalling that it’s paradoxical how this whole argument is often called one of “ethics”.

Another interesting concern related to financial possibilities is that if you live longer, you need to support yourself for longer; some interviewees were afraid that the quality of their extended life wouldn’t be good, because their finances might not be good either. This is another scenario where utter pessimism somehow managed to take the place of common sense. It’s very sensible to be afraid of a life of poverty, but if you found yourself so poor at age 30 that your quality of life suffered significantly, the odds are that you’d do your best to try to lift yourself out of poverty well before even contemplating death as a liberation. If you found yourself poor at, say, age 120, and assuming that you were perfectly healthy because of the very life-extension technologies that allowed you to reach that age, why should this case be any different?

At least for some interviewees, the difference might be that they found the prospect of having to work for longer as a “significant downside to taking life-extension pills”. To put it bluntly, they’d consider dying as an alternative to working for longer, which hints that the problem might lie in the jobs they do rather than in how long their lives are.

More concerns related to access to the therapy, rather the opposite of each other, were expressed by interviewees afraid that they might be coerced into using life extension or that life extension users might end up having to watch as their friends and relatives who refuse these treatments slowly wither and die.

For the first concern, this might betray a lack of understanding of what life extension is, because it’s hard to imagine how anyone could worry about being coerced into being healthy; as for the second one, it’s surprising how these interviewees didn’t notice that their fears are already taking place here and now. The old people of today need to get used to the fact that their lifelong friends and companions keep dying around them, and to add insult to injury, their own health is also going critical. Granted, if you yourself die of old age at some point, you won’t have to continue witnessing the death of your loved ones; however, this is pretty much equivalent to curing the disease by killing the patient.

The Real Problems™ are others

The argument that there are higher-priority problems than aging was also among those touched upon by the interviewees:

“I don’t see the point in developing something else at great expense that may not be available to everybody, when money could be channeled towards getting the basics of what people would have a right to them now so that they’re not starving and dying.”

“What’s the point of me living to 150 if six-year-olds are going blind and needing kidney transplants because they’ve got diabetes?”

Appeal to worse problems is very much the fallacy being committed here; once more, the truly important thing is assumed to be something else. For some reason, the interviewees appeared blind to the possibility that the pursuit of rejuvenation might not necessarily be incompatible with that of alleviating poverty, etc; their unproven assumption seems to be that, with the resources available, it is absolutely impossible to achieve both. Also, interviewees didn’t seem to value the life of elderly people as much as that of people who are in danger of death from other causes, such as starvation or health problems at a younger age. In both cases, somebody’s life is at stake, and yet it appears that the life of someone who has already been around for several decades is less worth saving—even though, given the premise of the study, this life wouldn’t end in a handful of years spent in ill health but rather in a far longer period spent in good health.

For some other interviewees, “medicine” was ironically a more important priority than life extension—as if there were any difference between the two. In their minds, the risk is sometimes that research funds could be diverted away from more pressing medical needs. The fact that some of them failed to realize the connection between aging and disease is apparent from this quote:

“They’ve got to look at this [life extension] one hundred years in the future when they’ve got all the diseases sorted out.”

It appears this interviewee expected that, in a hundred years, when all diseases will have been sorted out, people in their 80s will still drop dead for no apparent reason; only then should we start looking into how to extend life. This betrays a serious lack of understanding of the deep connection between healthspan and lifespan, and it is something that advocates of life extension need to make extremely clear. Indeed, the idea that being old equals being sick is (rightfully) so ingrained in our minds that, even though the researchers had clearly stated that life extension means being healthy for longer, some interviewees still struggled to comprehend this and were concerned about how physically and mentally healthy they could be nearing 150 years of age.

Yet some others understood all too well how life extension implies retaining your health during old age, and this was their very concern:

“You’d miss out on that aspect of what it is to be an older person… I think that there’s natural progressions [sic] in growth and that’s why I don’t think you can do it without aging in some ways because you’re not actually physically or whatever in that situation. Intellectually it’s not the same as experience of it. So it’s a whole barraging process that could actually stunt our development; the depth of who we are as human beings.”

This is by far the weirdest concern you’re likely to run into—it’s like saying you shouldn’t cure cancer if you get it, lest missing out on what it is to be an oncological patient. Not all experiences are worth having; from my middle school days, I recall how being hit by a basketball kicked straight into my groin at point-blank range was something I would gladly have done without, and the lack of this experience would hardly have stunted my development—if anything, my early teenage development risked being arrested altogether because of this very experience.

What’s absolutely puzzling about this quote is the kind of development we’re even talking about. A person in his or her 80s has been developing for quite some time already, and intellectually, his or her experience of life is hardly going to be improved by cancer, diabetes, or Alzheimer’s. Besides, whatever experience you might gain by going through the ordeal of age-related diseases, you’re not going to take it with you for very long, so it’s unclear how it would benefit you in the first place. Possibly, the point this person was trying to make might be that you need to experience bad things to learn that they’re bad, but this is true only to an extent. After a certain point in your development, you can extrapolate how good or bad something is without actually experiencing it—believe me, I didn’t need to be hit by that basketball to know that it would have hurt very much.

Old inside

Some interviewees were worried that, rejuvenation or not, an old person always stays old mentally; they feared that they might end up being “an old person in a young person’s world”. This suggests that some people may have internalized the stereotype of old people as being out of touch with the world simply by virtue of being old when, in fact, their health plays a central role in how able they are to stay connected with the rest of us. Old people in today’s collective imagination are confused by computers and technology, less educated than young people, and less open to change and novelty. This depiction is partly correct due to the exceptionally large generational gap between our generation and our grandparents’—in some cases, even our parents’. It is conceivable that, having been exposed to this representation of the elderly our whole lives, some of us conclude that we, too, will be like this in our old age, as if this way of being were a product of the age itself rather than the sociocultural context in which we spent our lives.

Gerontocratic scenarios

Some interviewees showed another typical concern—that the older, rejuvenated people might just keep consolidating their wealth and power, shutting out younger people from opportunities. The long-lived elderly, they feared, might also hinder generational turnover and the emergence of new ideas.

An important factor that interviewees didn’t seem to think about is that being part of a new generation doesn’t automatically make you able to have new or better ideas. However young or smart you may be, you will have a hard time being much of an innovator if you don’t have access to adequate education and aren’t encouraged to engage in open, creative thought. Creativity and new ideas need these elements to thrive; they don’t just magically appear with the turn of every generation. Naturally, the gradual loss of brain plasticity as we age may make it harder for older people to be innovative, but if this problem can be fixed by sufficiently comprehensive rejuvenation therapies, then there’s no reason to assume that long-lived elderly will be a drag on progress.

As for the concern of a gerontocratic elite taking over as a consequence of rejuvenation, one should notice above all that it is typically expressed in such a vague fashion that it is impossible to falsify. Nothing absolutely prevents any dystopia from ever coming into being; in order to be able to tell whether rejuvenation will lead to a gerontocracy in 300 years, we would need information on the socioeconomic and technological context of the coming three centuries. Without it, this concern is pure fear-driven speculation. Its profound appeal to people’s sense of justice is probably what allows it to bypass rational scrutiny and appear as a valid objection despite the lack of evidence.

Ethics

According to the study’s authors, some participants defined “being ethical” as “thinking beyond one’s own life”; in their view, life extension didn’t fulfill this criterion and was an unethical, selfish pursuit:

“Ultimately, I don’t know if everyone should be doing it, but you know how you have those selfish desires?”

Life extension is about eliminating useless suffering just as much as the rest of medicine. Doctors saving people from deadly diseases are thinking well beyond their own lives, and it’s unclear why this wouldn’t be the case if they saved lives by administering rejuvenation treatments.

Other interviewees were instead clear that life extension is perfectly ethical:

“I can’t see an ethical issue. There’s no more an ethical issue than medicine being able to cope with disease. Is there an ethical issue in that? They’re prolonging life now with immunization and even heart transplants. People have come to accept this now.”

Others suggested that opposing life extension is unethical, because

“[…] you’re killing people. If you have the world where you can take an action where you do make someone live longer, or you can take the action that you can say ‘live shorter’, which is a take no action at all, that’s still an action. Then you’re killing them, you caused their death. Your action of not doing anything causes their death. So it’s unethical to not do this.”

The belief that life extension is a selfish pursuit was further stressed in other interviews:

“But then you’ve got all the societal impacts like cost and population growth. There are so many different things that nobody really thinks about when they’re thinking ‘Oh, I could live to 200, that sounds great.’”

“They [people who want life extension for themselves] are not thinking about anyone else.”

Once more, interviewees took the dire consequences they imagined for granted. As the study authors themselves pointed out, to some interviewees, the potential downsides of life extension appeared to be such inescapable certainties that they were not interested in the possibility at all. This might explain the belief that life extensionists don’t think about anyone else; seeing the “selfish” benefit of prolonging your healthy lifespan is easy, but it’s far harder to see that the alleged societal costs of it are not as set in stone as one might think.

One last, interesting position on the selfishness of life extension was expressed by the following interviewee:

“I don’t think there’d be any great social benefits in me living to 300… It’s all about greed and selfish purposes I suppose for why you would try to prolong your life. Ultimately, I don’t think it would impact the world in a positive way. It’s fair to say I wouldn’t be doing it for social reasons.”

It is again apparent that what really matters is not individual people’s lives—only what is good for society matters. However, society has no point if not that of serving the individuals of which it is comprised; if society asks its members to die for society’s sake, it is not doing them a very good service.

In reality, human society doesn’t have much to gain from shorter lifespans for its members, and its functioning is unlikely to be hindered by life extension. Aspects of it will certainly require rethinking, but it is indeed constant rethinking of how society works that allows us to improve it.

Fear of death

To some interviewees, fear of death wasn’t a good enough reason to justify life extension:

“Yes, it’s selfish… but it depends on what reasons you want to do it… they shouldn’t be able to extend their life just because they’re afraid of dying. It should be for a greater cause.”

The idea that only a “greater cause” than fearing for your own life legitimizes use of life extension is reminiscent of the old ideal that your life only matters as long as it serves the rest of society in some way. (The “greater cause” can’t be much else than serving others, if life extension for your own sake is not allowed.)

The ancient idea that death must not be feared—in part to exorcise the fear, very strong indeed, that it instills, and in part because a fearless army was in the best interest of the rulers of the past—has made its way into our modern time and is still alive and well. Being afraid of death is still mostly seen as a shameful thing, and many people still proudly proclaim that they don’t fear it; they’re much more afraid of the horrors that, allegedly, are an inevitable consequence of longer, healthier lives. Among the study participants who acknowledged the benefits of life extension, very few mentioned allaying the fear of death as a good reason; it wouldn’t be surprising in the least if they didn’t because they thought that it would be shameful to do otherwise.

Still, if we really weren’t afraid of death, our languages wouldn’t be full of all manner of euphemisms, edulcorations, and embellishments for it; religions wouldn’t all be hinging on overcoming death through resurrection, reincarnation, and the like; we wouldn’t have come up with any of the technologies that allow us to save lives in the most desperate cases; and we wouldn’t consider it heroic to save other people’s lives even at the cost of endangering our own.

Conclusion

Some of the most common concerns involving life extension are often taken to be inevitable consequences of it; from what can be seen in the two studies, interviewees never doubted that their fears would materialize if life extension were ever achieved. It would be interesting, as well as useful for more effective advocacy, to establish whether this happens because of a lack of relevant knowledge, the psychological effects of our perception of aging, or a combination of both.

Literature

[1] Partridge, B., Underwood, M., Lucke, J., Bartlett, H., & Hall, W. (2009). Ethical concerns in the community about technologies to extend human life span. The American Journal of Bioethics, 9(12), 68-76.

[2] Partridge, B., Lucke, J., Bartlett, H., & Hall, W. (2009). Ethical, social, and personal implications of extended human lifespan identified by members of the public. Rejuvenation research, 12(5), 351-357.

Nicola Bagalà is a bit of a jack of all trades—a holder of an M.Sc. in mathematics; an amateur programmer; a hobbyist at novel writing, piano and art; and, of course, a passionate life extensionist. After his interest in the science of undoing aging arose in 2011, he gradually shifted from quiet supporter to active advocate in 2015, first launching his advocacy blog Rejuvenaction before eventually joining LEAF. These years in the field sparked an interest in molecular biology, which he actively studies. Other subjects he loves to discuss to no end are cosmology, artificial intelligence, and many others—far too many for a currently normal lifespan, which is one of the reasons he’s into life extension.

Citi Lists Anti-Aging Medicines in Top 10 Disruptive Technologies – Article by Steve Hill

Citi Lists Anti-Aging Medicines in Top 10 Disruptive Technologies – Article by Steve Hill

Steve Hill


Editor’s Note: The U.S. Transhumanist Party features this article by our guest Steve Hill, originally published by the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation (LEAF) on August 30th, 2018. In this article, Mr. Hill presents Citi’s latest disruptive innovation publication, in which anti-aging medicine is #2 on the list! This is one more example, out of the myriad of examples, of how big of an impact this field is making. One of the reasons Citi considers the development of anti-aging medicines to have a high impact is the fact that “U.S. health spending, which increases significantly with age in concordance with age-related diseases, is expected to exceed ~20% of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) by 2025.” 

~Bobby Ridge, Assistant Editor, June 27, 2019

Citi has produced another of its Disruptive Innovations publications, which takes a look at what it considers to be the top ten disruptive technologies. It is a sign of the changing times that anti-aging medicines are number 2 in its list.

1. All-Solid-State Batteries
2. Anti-Aging Medicines
3. Autonomous Vehicle Networks
4. Big Data & Healthcare
5. Dynamic Spectrum Access
6. eSports
7. 5G Technology
8. Floating Offshore Wind Farms
9. Real Estate Market Disruptors
10. Smart Voice-Activated Assistants

What was considered fringe science a decade ago is now rapidly becoming a mainstream industry. Our understanding of aging has advanced quickly in the last 10 years, and the tools and innovations seem to come more quickly with each passing year. A variety of therapies that target different aging processes are in development, and some are at fairly advanced stages; if you are interested in their progress, check out the Rejuvenation Roadmap.

Advancing Health by Turning Back Time

The legend of the restorative powers of the Fountain of Youth has fascinated human civilization throughout the generations, dating all the way back to the Greeks (e.g., Herodotus). Other hypothetical conduits for a return to a state of youthfulness (e.g. the Philosopher’s Stone) have featured prominently throughout human civilization as alluring, but equally elusive. Fast forward to 2018, and very recent cutting-edge scientific breakthroughs may, at long last, fundamentally explain why we age. This rapid scientific progress could spawn FDA-approved therapeutics potentially in the next decade, with the primary goal of keeping us younger and alive for longer.

Today, the anti-aging market, while huge (~$200 billion globally), is largely restricted to non-therapeutics (cosmetic products and procedures). At the same time, U.S. health spending, which increases significantly with age in concordance with age-related diseases (see Figure 8), is expected to exceed ~20% of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) by 2025. Thus, with scientific breakthroughs emerging this decade on the cellular origins of why the tissues in our body’s age, novel anti-aging medicines may become one of the next big disruptions in the healthcare market.

Senolytics are the main focus here, which is logical given that, of all the therapies being developed to combat aging, they are the farthest along in the pipeline. These analysts suggest that we could see senolytics arrive by 2023; while these drugs are only part of the full suite of therapies required to bring aging under medical control, it is likely that we will see senolytics and, perhaps, a few other therapies arrive at that time.

First Senolytic Therapy Could Be Approved by 2023

The first senolytic therapy in clinical trials is a compound by Unity, UBX0101, which is a small-molecule drug that functions by inducing apoptosis (i.e., programmed cell death), specifically in senescent cells. The company is first testing UBX0101 locally in patients with moderate osteoarthritis of the knee, which is a substantially large market (~17 million patients). Initial proof-of-concept data from the Phase 1 trial are expected in the first quarter of 2019. If successful in later clinical development through Phase 3, UBX0101 could become commercially available by 2023.

While speculative given the novelty of the senolytic therapeutic strategy, a successful therapeutic that could resolve osteoarthritic knees and return knee tissue to a more youthful state could have a negative impact on the knee-replacement surgery market (currently projected to grow to >3 million knee replacements per year by 2030). Because other senolytics are being developed for multiple
ophthalmologic (wet AMD, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy) and pulmonary (COPD, idiopathic pulmonary disease) indications, within the next ~10–20 years patients with a range of age-related diseases may experience a decreased need for therapies now considered standard of care.

UNITY, Siwa, and Oisin are all mentioned in the report. and it is worth having a read, as the section about aging is fairly large and detailed and takes a look at past and present attempts to combat age-related diseases by targeting the aging processes directly.

Conclusion

It is beyond question that progress and interest in the field is growing quickly, and with some therapies now entering human trials, we could be close to a societal tipping point at which more people start to take notice of the potential of new medical approaches. There is a long way to go before we can end age-related diseases, but the tide has turned.

Steve Hill serves on the LEAF Board of Directors and is the Editor in Chief, coordinating the daily news articles and social media content of the organization. He is an active journalist in the aging research and biotechnology field and has to date written over 500 articles on the topic as well as attending various medical industry conferences. In 2019 he was listed in the top 100 journalists covering biomedicine and longevity research in the industry report – Top-100 Journalists covering advanced biomedicine and longevity, created by the Aging Analytics Agency. His work has been featured in H+ Magazine, Psychology Today, Singularity Weblog, Standpoint Magazine, Keep Me Prime, and New Economy Magazine. Steve has a background in project management and administration which has helped him to build a united team for effective fundraising and content creation, while his additional knowledge of biology and statistical data analysis allows him to carefully assess and coordinate the scientific groups involved in the project. In 2015 he led the Major Mouse Testing Program (MMTP) for the International Longevity Alliance and in 2016 helped the team of the SENS Research Foundation to reach their goal for the OncoSENS campaign for cancer research.