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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.

First Virtual Debate Among U.S. Transhumanist Party Presidential Candidates – July 6, 2019

First Virtual Debate Among U.S. Transhumanist Party Presidential Candidates – July 6, 2019

Rachel Haywire
Johannon Ben Zion
Charles Holsopple
Moderated by Gennady Stolyarov II


The first virtual debate among U.S. Transhumanist Party / Transhuman Party candidates for President of the United States took place on Saturday, July 6, 2019, at 3 p.m. U.S. Pacific Time.

Candidates Rachel Haywire, Johannon Ben Zion, and Charles Holsopple discussed how their platforms reflect the Core Ideals of the USTP and also answered selected questions from the public.

Learn about the USTP candidates here.

View individual candidate profiles:

Johannon Ben Zion
Rachel Haywire
Charles Holsopple

Join the U.S. Transhumanist Party / Transhuman Party for free, no matter where you reside. Apply in less than a minute here.

Those who join the USTP by August 10, 2019, will be eligible to vote in the Electronic Primary on August 11-17, 2019.

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.

Human Pilot Study Results for Senolytics Published – Article by Steve Hill

Human Pilot Study Results for Senolytics Published – Article by Steve Hill

Steve Hill


Editor’s Note: The U.S. Transhumanist Party features this article by Steve Hill, originally published by our allies at the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation (LEAF) on January 7, 2019. This article presents the results of a human pilot study that involved the consumption of two promising senolytic drugs, dasatinib and quercetin, to target idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. The results are promising and constitute a great step forward for senolytics being tested in human clinical trials. Another promising approach is the TAME trial, which is a double-blind randomized controlled clinical trial, to test if Metformin can treat various age-related diseases. 

~Bobby Ridge, Assistant Editor, July 4, 2019

The results from a human pilot study that focused on treating idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis with senescent cell-clearing drugs has been published. The drugs target aged and damaged cells, which are thought to be a reason we age and get sick, and remove them from the body.

Senescent cells and aging

As we age, increasing numbers of our cells become dysfunctional, entering into a state known as senescence. Senescent cells no longer divide or support the tissues and organs of which they are part; instead, they secrete a range of harmful inflammatory chemical signals, which are collectively known as the senescence-associated secretory phenotype (SASP).

Dr. Judith Campisi from the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, along with her research team, identified that senescent cells secreted the various harmful chemicals that characterize the SASP in 2008, which was when interest in senescent cells really began [1]. In 2010, building on this initial research, Dr. Campisi went on to show the link between the SASP and cancer [2].The SASP increases inflammation, harms tissue repair and function, causes the immune system to malfunction, and raises the risk of developing age-related diseases such as cancer. It can also encourage other nearby healthy cells to become senescent via the so-called bystander effect. Therefore, a small number of these cells can cause a great deal of harm.

Normally, senescent cells destroy themselves by a self-destruct process known as apoptosis before being cleared away by the immune system. Unfortunately, as we age, the immune system becomes weaker, and senescent cells start to build up in the body. The accumulation of senescent cells is considered to be one of the reasons why we age and develop age-related diseases.

It has been suggested that the clearance of senescent cells might help address a number of age-related diseases at once, as senescent cells are thought to be one of the fundamental reasons that we age. Drugs that can remove these unwanted, damaged cells are known as senolytics.

Human trial results for senolytics

This new publication by researchers at the Mayo Clinic, including James Kirkland, one of the pioneers of senolytic drugs, shows the results of a pilot study that uses dasatinib and quercetin to treat idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis [3].

Pulmonary fibrosis causes scarring of the lung tissue, which leads to the progressive loss of lung function over time. When the disease’s origin is unknown, it is called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, or IPF. The treatment options for this disease are extremely limited with no currently known cure.

The researchers in this new study tested a combination of dasatinib and quercetin, one of the earliest senolytic drug combinations that was tested in mice and shown to have beneficial results, particularly for the cardiovascular system [4-5]. It was also shown in a previous study that clearing senescent cells using dasatinib plus quercetin was able to alleviate idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF)-related dysfunction in a mouse model of the disease.

Fourteen patients with IPF were recruited for this pilot study, and the initial results, while leaving room for improvement, are promising.

Physical function evaluated as 6-min walk distance, 4-m gait speed, and chair-stands time was significantly and clinically-meaningfully improved (p < .05). Pulmonary function, clinical chemistries, frailty index (FI-LAB), and reported health were unchanged. DQ effects on circulating SASP factors were inconclusive, but correlations were observed between change in function and change in SASP-related matrix-remodeling proteins, microRNAs, and pro-inflammatory cytokines (23/48 markers r ≥ 0.50).

It should be noted that this was only a small pilot study and that the optimal human dosage and frequency is yet to be established. Typically, the next step is to launch a larger-scale study to establish this dosage.

The researchers also note that these results warrant evaluation of dasatinib plus quercetin in larger, randomized, and controlled trials for senescence-related diseases. In other words, they would like to test senolytics in larger studies for various age-related diseases, and the results certainly support doing exactly that.

Conclusion

These initial results are positive, despite there being plenty of room for improvement. The combination of these two drugs also appears to favor particular cell and tissue types over others, much like other senolytic drugs, which were discovered after dasatinib and quercetin were originally shown to clear senescent cells. It may be that a combination of different senolytics will be needed as a “cocktail” of sorts to fully clear out all the unwanted senescent cells, as different senescent cells appear to use various survival pathways to evade apoptosis, and no single drug can target them all.

We greet these early results positively and look forward to the beginning of larger-scale studies for multiple age-related diseases. Given how senescent cells appear to be implicated in most if not all age-related diseases, there are some exciting possibilities ahead.

Literature

[1] Coppé, J. P., Patil, C. K., Rodier, F., Sun, Y., Muñoz, D. P., Goldstein, J., … & Campisi, J. (2008). Senescence-associated secretory phenotypes reveal cell-nonautonomous functions of oncogenic RAS and the p53 tumor suppressor. PLoS biology, 6(12), e301.

[2] Coppé, J. P., Desprez, P. Y., Krtolica, A., & Campisi, J. (2010). The senescence-associated secretory phenotype: the dark side of tumor suppression. Annual Review of Pathological Mechanical Disease, 5, 99-118.

[3] Nambiar, A., Justice, J., Pascual, R., Tchkonia, T., Lebrasseur, N., Kirkland, J., … & Kritchevsky, S. (2018). Targeting pro-inflammatory cells in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis: an open-label pilot study of dasatinib and quercitin. Chest, 154(4), 395A-396A.

[4] Zhu, Y., Tchkonia, T., Pirtskhalava, T., Gower, A. C., Ding, H., Giorgadze, N., … & O’hara, S. P. (2015). The Achilles’ heel of senescent cells: from transcriptome to senolytic drugs. Aging cell, 14(4), 644-658.

[5] Roos, C. M., Zhang, B., Palmer, A. K., Ogrodnik, M. B., Pirtskhalava, T., Thalji, N. M., … & Zhu, Y. (2016). Chronic senolytic treatment alleviates established vasomotor dysfunction in aged or atherosclerotic mice. Aging cell.[/column]

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.

U.S. Transhumanist Party Chairman Gennady Stolyarov II Speaks with Steele Archer of Debt Nation

U.S. Transhumanist Party Chairman Gennady Stolyarov II Speaks with Steele Archer of Debt Nation

Gennady Stolyarov II
Steele Archer


Watch this wide-ranging discussion between U.S. Transhumanist Party Chairman Gennady Stolyarov II and Steele Archer of the Debt Nation show, addressing a broad array of emerging technologies, the aspirations of transhumanism, and aspects of both broader and more personal economic matters – from the impact of technology on the labor market to how Mr. Stolyarov paid off his mortgage in 6.5 years. This conversation delved into Austrian economics, techno-optimism, cultural obstacles to progress, the work and ideals of the U.S. Transhumanist Party / Transhuman Party, life extension and the “Death is Wrong” children’s book, science fiction, and space colonization – among many other topics.
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.

U.S. Transhumanist Party Presidential Primary Candidates Johannon Ben Zion and Rachel Haywire Discuss Policy, the Democratic Debates, and Transhumanist Advocacy

U.S. Transhumanist Party Presidential Primary Candidates Johannon Ben Zion and Rachel Haywire Discuss Policy, the Democratic Debates, and Transhumanist Advocacy

Johannon Ben Zion
Rachel Haywire


Two 2020 Third-Party Candidates dissect the “First Democratic Debate” from Johannon Ben Zion on Vimeo.

On June 28, 2019, two of the U.S. Transhumanist Party / Transhuman Party Presidential primary candidates, Rachel Haywire and Johannon Ben Zion, conversed about the juxtaposition of techno-progressive and public-health goals, policy-making, and organizing.

This thoughtful and constructive policy-oriented discussion is a worthy precursor to the forthcoming July 6 Virtual Debate (which the public can watch here), where candidates including Johannon Ben Zion and Rachel Haywire (as well as Charles Holsopple and Dan Good) will be articulating their visions of transhumanist policy to the public. The caliber and civility of discourse in the Ben Zion / Haywire conversation stand out as being immensely higher than what was observed during the Democratic primary debates, where it seems that many of the candidates were at one another’s throats. Once again, transhumanists have shown that they can do better. This discussion is a valuable building block for the outcome that we hope will happen once the U.S. Transhumanist Party / Transhuman Party Electronic Primary is concluded in mid-August – that all of the candidates will collaborate with the nominee, no matter who wins, and work toward maximizing the influence and impact of transhumanist ideas and policy proposals.

Steve Hill Interviews Sarah Constantin of The Longevity Research Institute

Steve Hill Interviews Sarah Constantin of The Longevity Research Institute

Sarah Constantin
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 May 9th, 2018. In this article Mr. Hill interviews Dr. Sarah Constantin, a researcher with a focus on machine learning at The Longevity Research Institute. This is an excellent article, especially if you want to learn more of the hard science behind longevity research. The topics of the interview range from deep learning being applied to pharmacology, to optimal mouse strains, and ideal areas of research to target age-related diseases.

~Bobby Ridge, Assistant Editor, June 30, 2019

Today, we have an interview with the Longevity Research Institute, a new group that launched in April 2018. The goal of the Institute is to identify therapies that can demonstrably extend healthy human lifespan by 2030 at the latest.

Searching for longevity

There are dozens of compounds and therapies that have been demonstrated to increase the lifespan of mammals. Recently, there have been some impressive examples of rejuvenation in animals using a variety of approaches, including partial cellular reprogramming, stem cell therapy, and senescent cell removal. More importantly, in many of these studies, age-related diseases have been delayed or even reversed.

Unfortunately, very few of these studies have had independent follow-ups or replication, and that is slowing down progress. The Longevity Research Institute is aiming to bridge the gap between basic science and commercial drug development.

It has chosen the field of aging research as its area of focus for one simple reason: age-related diseases are the leading cause of death globally. Heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and many more diseases are all caused by the various processes of aging.

The data from hundreds of animal studies tell us that aging is not a one-way process and that the rate of aging is something we can slow down or even reverse. Experimental results show that we can increase the healthy lifespan of animals significantly and delay the onset of age-related diseases in doing so. If we could translate those findings to humans, we could potentially increase the healthy period of life, known as health span, or even increase our lifespan beyond current norms while remaining healthy.

The majority of aging research consists of basic science that focuses on the mechanisms of aging, studies involving invertebrates like worms or fruit flies, and experiments that examine the effect of therapies on biomarkers of aging. However, the Longevity Research Institute believes that the way to find effective treatments that could translate to humans is by testing interventions on mammals to see if they increase lifespan or if they delay or reverse symptoms of aging, such as frailty, cognitive decline, and the prevalence of age-related diseases. Robust mammalian lifespan studies are quite rare in aging research due to their long duration and thus cost; the Institute believes they are worth doing despite this challenge.

Its philosophy is to be skeptical of results that depend on too many uncertain assumptions, such as particular mechanisms of aging or analogies between invertebrate and human biology. It believes that the closest way to measure the health and lifespan of a human is to measure the same things in mammals.

Replicating and Extending Lifespan Results

The majority of studies that have been shown to increase lifespan are rarely independently replicated to confirm the findings. There are therapies that, decades later, still have had no follow-up, and the Longevity Research Institute would like to change this situation.

To that end, it will be engaged in grant writing to obtain funds so that researchers studying aging will be able to conduct lifespan studies in mice and rats. The Longevity Research Institute also plans to commission its own studies and contract research organizations to carry them out.

It has a long list of promising interventions and is considering becoming involved with carboxyfullerenes, epithalamin, and stem cell transplants, for example. It is also interested in testing combinations of therapies to see if they have synergistic effects.

As translational research on aging is really a new, uncharted territory, the Institute is working with the Interventions Testing Program and METRICS to design reproducible animal studies. As part of that process, it will be testing genetically heterogeneous animals and using blind, randomized studies to reduce bias. A blind experiment is an experiment in which information about the test is hidden from participants, to reduce or eliminate bias, until after a trial outcome is known.

Best practices and transparency

Establishing best practices and protocol for translational aging research is a top priority here, and its work could help set the stage for future translational efforts. If superbly designed research protocols can be designed and made accessible to everyone, then they could be a real help in standardizing aging research and ensuring that the quality of results is the best it can be.

As part of its commitment to transparency and knowledge sharing, a condition of funding projects is that all experimental data will be made freely available to the public, as will pre-registration of experimental designs. The Institute will further protect this open science initiative by using blockchain technology to make immutable, publicly accessible records of everything it does.

We had the opportunity to talk with Sarah Constantin, Ph.D. and one of the key figures at the Longevity Research Institute, about their work. Sarah is a data scientist specializing in machine learning.

Your group believes that we need to conduct lifespan studies in mice in order to confirm that something might translate. However, some researchers believe that using multiple biomarkers of aging allows them to project, within a reasonable margin of error, changes to potential lifespan. This is becoming more relevant as the accuracy of biomarkers, and the use of comprehensive biomarker panels, becomes more commonplace. How do you respond to this?

There’s some very interesting stuff going on with biomarkers of aging.  We’re able to predict mortality with AUCs of 0.8-0.9, which is quite good, with aging biomarkers, including things like blood panels of inflammatory and metabolic markers, DNA methylation, and phenotypic markers such as BMI and frailty. Some of these biomarkers are things we’re planning to measure in our animal studies, and they should give us interim results on whether the interventions we’re testing affect the predictors of aging. I still believe that we can be most confident in whether a treatment promotes longevity when we’ve tracked its effects throughout an organism’s lifespan. We do know of examples (such as calorie restriction in primates) in which it’s equivocal whether the treatment extends lifespan but it clearly improves age-related biomarkers, and you have to do a lifespan study to distinguish those cases.

Advances in deep learning and systems pharmacology are allowing us to project interactions and potential therapies far more efficiently than ever before. What are your thoughts on these approaches, and will you be looking to use them in your work?

The deep learning and systems pharmacology approaches are actually where I started in biotech; I did machine learning at Recursion Pharmaceuticals, which is taking those approaches for doing phenotypic screens for genetic disease treatments. I think they’re really useful for drug discovery, at the beginning of the pipeline, where they can enable you to search a wider space of drug candidates. At LRI, we’re starting all the way at the other end of the pipeline, with drugs that have already been tested and shown promise in vivo. However, once we make some progress on those, then yes, it could make sense to start doing some of these machine learning-enabled approaches.

What is the ideal mouse strain for aging research, particularly lifespan studies, in your view?

Well, the Interventions Testing Program at the National Institute of Aging is using three-way heterozygous mouse crosses, which I think is the ideal. A single inbred strain of mouse doesn’t have much genetic diversity, so often what you’re testing is the effect of a treatment on that particular strain of mouse, and the results won’t transfer to another strain.

The use of progeria mice is common in aging research due to the shorter study time, but these models are often criticized as not being representative of true aging; what are your thoughts on the prevalence of progeria mice in aging research, and are they a relevant model for what we are trying to achieve?

I think progeria mice are an imperfect proxy. There are a lot of different kinds of progeria, and they exhibit some but not all of the typical symptoms of natural aging.  I’d have more confidence in studies done on aged mice than progeric mice.

We see that you have a strong commitment to ensuring public access to scientific knowledge. What inspired you to make such a wonderful and strong commitment to open science?

Well, coming from a data science background, I’m hyper-aware of how easy it is to fool yourself with data.  You can massage anything into a spurious result if you test enough hypotheses and pick your subgroups artfully. Really, the best way to guard against that is to share the raw data so that people can run their own analyses. Making science more open is how you make it more trustworthy.

Is there a publically viewable list of the targets that you are interested in testing?

The list is still evolving, but some of the first things we’re looking into testing are carboxyfullerenes, which seem to have neuroprotective and life-extending effects, and epithalamin, which is a pineal gland-derived peptide that’s been reported to extend lifespan and even reduce human mortality. Both of these are sort of in the sweet spot of not being the subject of that much research to date, but what there is is very promising, so the value of information is high.

What is likely to be your first target for studies, and what is the rationale behind your choice?

I think people should know that there’s a lot of low-hanging fruit in aging research — treatments that we have reason to believe might work but that we’d still have to test. The misperceptions are either that life extension is so speculative that we’ll never get there or that we already know how to do it and you just have to take the right supplements to live forever. I think the reality is that we’ll have to do a lot of experimental work, but it’s highly possible that, in time, we might find something that extends healthy lifespan in humans.

We would like to thank Sarah for taking the time to do this interview with us, and we look forward to seeing her team’s progress in the near future.

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.