I celebrated the end of 2018 like normally with neuroscientist Anders Sandberg and several other “transhumanists” or “technoprogressive people” in Stockholm!
Why am I in that place to start with? Well, I’m quite frustrated with the human condition in the first place; I’ve always questioned everything from social norms and different kinds of problems in the world, and there’s still so much misery around that we need to unite and fix. (I know it sounds cliché, but it’s true!)
As people reading this know, the vast majority of human misery worldwide today occurs due to our bodies damaging themselves with the passage of time, the biological process we call aging. This occurs because evolution has no goals and our ancestors died at the age of 30-40 prehistorically, and therefore there was no pressure for evolution to create humans that could repair themselves molecularly to live thousands of years. The closest we get among Eukaryotes/Vertebrates are Greenland sharks, which can live to 500+ years; that is easy to understand since they have no predators and just have to open their mouths to get their daily food. On the opposite side we have as a prominent example the mouse, with a very poor molecular repair system and subsequent 2.5-year lifespan, easy to understand when you realize how dangerous life is in the wild if having a mouse body.
Thanks to our technology, we have created the “paradise Greenland shark scenario” for humans during the past century essentially, creating very comfortable existences where nearly everyone survives.
So if you’re 25 years old, life is really great nowadays in Western countries (unless you like to complain about everything!); the existential risks are so low in the absence of aging that you would live many thousands of years just by being a young person living in Sweden.
So I’ve worked a lot in nursing homes both before and during my studies in molecular biology, and what those people have to endure would be strictly illegal in most countries if we knew how to change it. Imagine if, for example, Saudi Arabia allowed its citizens to age while the Western world had abolished it; wouldn’t Amnesty International intervene?
But what can be done with the human body? Well, I assume quite a lot! We are seeing so many people who can’t stand the medical monopoly and the 17-year bench-to-bedside status quo, which isn’t an abstract academic complaint but which impact their daily lives, so they start self-experimenting with, for example, senolytic medicines to kill their senescent cells, making themselves “younger” in certain aspects, which is pretty cool!
However I’m not someone who constantly calls for change and “progress”; I mean, if something is nice, then why not keep it? As far as I’m concerned, for example, the beautiful architecture from the past can continue to stand for thousands more years. These buildings fulfill their purpose and look nice; I’m quite conservative on those points – but please accelerate the medical research, and it is crucial to spot the techniques that actually do work and to not waste resources on hype!
2018 has brought me many good things, those which one can call “achievements” and those which are not visible. The Eurosymposium on Healthy Aging in Brussels became a success! (And there will be some events during 2019 that I am also announcing for everyone who enjoyed it!)
I’ve been learning a lot about CRISPR and many other techniques both practically and theoretically, though I have not exactly used them to change the world. Medical progress takes forever to achieve, and it’s not exactly helped by a massive web of bureaucracy/hierarchies/prestige/laws, all contributing to slowing down progress for people in need. What can really be done? One needs to focus on the positive and go where the biotech companies can succeed!
So if things are working out for me as I hope now in 2019, I hope being able to really work full time to impact the longevity industry, I really feel like an overripe fruit that needs to get things done, because implementing stuff is what matters and not becoming some passive “longevity encyclopedia”. I’ll keep everyone as usually updated!
So happy new 2019 everyone! And make sure to take good care of yourselves!
Victor Bjoerk has worked for the Gerontology Research Group, the Longevity Reporter, and the Fraunhofer-Institut für Zelltherapie und Immunologie. He has promoted awareness throughout Europe of emerging biomedical research and the efforts to reverse biological aging.