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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.

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.

Popular Reactions to Life Extension – Article by Nicola Bagalà

Popular Reactions to Life Extension – Article by Nicola Bagalà

Nicola Bagalà


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

~ Bobby Ridge, Assistant Editor, June 28, 2019

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

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

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

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

Nature (doesn’t) know best

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discriminations and impositions  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Real Problems™ are others

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Old inside

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

Gerontocratic scenarios

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

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

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

Ethics

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

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

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

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

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

Others suggested that opposing life extension is unethical, because

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fear of death

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Literature

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

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

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

A Poor Diet May Lead to Dysbiosis and Age-Related Diseases – Article by Steve Hill

A Poor Diet May Lead to Dysbiosis and Age-Related Diseases – 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 May 27, 2019. This article reminds us of the strong connection between our gut microbiome and ageing, along with a review of a study that provides greater insight into the mechanism of how a poor diet can contribute to age-related diseases.

~ Bobby Ridge, Assistant Editor, June 21, 2019

The role that the gut microbiome plays in aging is increasingly being appreciated in the research world as more evidence arrives to support it. A new publication reviews the various supporting evidence and takes a look at the gut microbiome in the context of poor diets and how they may facilitate the progression of dysbiosis and disease [1].

What is the microbiome?

The microbiome is the varied community of bacteria, archaea, eukarya, and viruses that inhabit our guts. The four bacterial phyla of Firmicutes, Bacteroidetes, Proteobacteria, and Actinobacteria comprise 98% of the intestinal microbiome.

The microbiome is a complex ecosystem whose activity regulates multiple functions of the gut and also interacts and helps to regulate our immune systems and energy metabolisms. The beneficial bacteria in our guts also help to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria, protect us from invasive microorganisms, and help to maintain the integrity of the intestinal barrier.

As we age, the diversity and numbers of beneficial bacteria tend to decline. There is a strong correlation between decreased microbiome diversity and declining health, and microbiome health has been associated with a number of metabolic conditions, such as type 2 diabetes and obesity. On the other hand, older people who maintain a more healthy gut microbiome tend to live longer and in better health.

We have talked about the role that dysbiosis, the age-related changes to the gut microbiome, plays in the loss of intestinal barrier integrity, which allows bacteria to infiltrate deeper into the body. This is likely to contribute to inflammaging, the chronic, age-related inflammation that drives disease progression and harms tissue regeneration.

Age-related gut dysbiosis is a microbial imbalance in the gut that favors a shift towards proinflammatory microbes and a decline of beneficial microbes, such as those responsible for creating butyrate (and other beneficial short-chain fatty acids), a compound vital for creating the energy that colonocytes and other gut wall cells feed on. These changes lead to chronic inflammation and impair the intestinal barrier, causing it to leak, hence the common name for the condition being “leaky gut” [2].

Abstract

Inflammatory diseases, such as inflammatory bowel diseases, are dramatically increasing worldwide, but an understanding of the underlying factors is lacking. We here present an ecoevolutionary perspective on the emergence of inflammatory diseases. We propose that adaptation has led to fine-tuned host-microbe interactions, which are maintained by secreted host metabolites nourishing the associated microbes. A constant elevation of nutrients in the gut environment leads to an increased activity and changed functionality of the microbiota, thus severely disturbing host-microbe interactions and leading to dysbiosis and disease development. In the past, starvation and pathogen infections, causing diarrhea, were common incidences that reset the gut bacterial community to its “human-specific-baseline.” However, these natural clearing mechanisms have been virtually eradicated in developed countries, allowing a constant uncontrolled growth of bacteria. This leads to an increase of bacterial products that stimulate the immune system and ultimately might initiate inflammatory reactions.

Easily digestible, energy-dense, low-fiber-content foods harm the microbiome

It is known that a diet with easily digestible, energy-dense, low-fiber-content is harmful to health and leads to the formation of visceral fat, the type of fat tissue that is stored deeper than normal belly fat and that forms around your major organs, including the liver, pancreas, and kidneys. Visceral fat also contributes to chronic inflammation and hence to inflammaging, helping to speed up aging and disease progression.

It also appears to influence the gut microbiome and cause changes to the bacterial populations in the gut. The strength of this influence remains to be seen, but its effect on health via changes to the microbiome may be considerable and equally as important as physical activity for health and aging.

Conclusion

This adds yet more fuel to the fire, making it increasingly clear that microbiome health and exercise are the foundations of longer, healthier lives and that we should do all we can now to ensure we achieve both things as part of a personal longevity strategy.

Science is progressing rapidly, especially in the aging field, but this is no reason to be complacent. Science, especially medicine, is, by its nature, complex and can be unpredictable. We all hope that rejuvenation therapies will arrive sooner rather than later, but it is hard to predict when they will be available; this could be in a decade, or it could be longer than we think. For that reason, we should do all we can now to increase our odds of making the cut.

Exercise and balanced diets are relatively low-tech and low-cost approaches to healthy longevity, and everyone in the community should be engaging in these practices if they are serious about living long enough to benefit from the arrival of more robust rejuvenation therapies.

Literature

[1] Lachnit, T., Bosch, T. C., & Deines, P. (2019). Exposure of the Host-Associated Microbiome to Nutrient-Rich Conditions May Lead to Dysbiosis and Disease Development—an Evolutionary Perspective. mBio, 10(3), e00355-19.

[2] Cullender TC, Chassaing B, Janzon A, et al. Innate and adaptiveimmunity interact to quench microbiome flagellar motility in the gut. Cell Host Microbe 2013; 14: 571–81.

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.

Meet the Naked Mole-Rat: Impervious to Pain and Cancer, and Lives Ten Times Longer Than It Should – Article by Ewan St. John Smith

Meet the Naked Mole-Rat: Impervious to Pain and Cancer, and Lives Ten Times Longer Than It Should – Article by Ewan St. John Smith

Ewan St. John Smith


Smithsonian’s National Zoo/flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Ewan St. John Smith, University of Cambridge

The naked mole-rat is perhaps one of the most bizarre beasts on the planet. At first glance, it looks like little more than a cocktail sausage with legs and teeth. But beneath its wrinkly pink skin, this creature’s strange and beautiful biology has me fascinated – so much so that I set up a whole research group devoted to studying them. Largely immune to cancer, impervious to some forms of pain, and seemingly blessed with the elixir of life, you may well owe your life to them one day.

As the name might suggest, naked mole-rats buck the mammalian trend by almost completely lacking hair or fur. Living underground in complex networks of tunnels in East Africa, their thermally stable environment means that a few orientation-aiding bodily hairs and facial whiskers are all they need. Lacking evolutionary pressure to regulate their body temperature, they’re also the only known cold-blooded mammal on the planet.

The way naked mole-rats mate and socially organise is more akin to certain insect species than to mammals. Like some species of bees and ants, naked mole-rats are eusocial, living in 100-strong groups headed by a sole breeding female, the queen. But while insects command their colonies with pheromones, the naked mole-rat queen uses physical aggression to keep their groups digging tunnels, foraging, and defending entrances.

No, this isn’t Star Wars – it’s a naked mole-rat defending a tunnel.
Neil Bromhall/Shutterstock

A key tool for both digging and combat is their teeth. Their incisors are exterior to their lips, so that when they bite through hard soil they don’t get a mouthful of earth each time. Naked mole-rats can also move their lower incisors to manipulate objects, and have a large sensory area of their brains dedicated to their teeth in the same way that hands have dedicated brain space in humans.

The peculiarities of naked mole-rat behaviour are captivating in themselves. However, to most scientists, what makes them really exciting is the potential some of their incredible biology holds for making biomedical breakthroughs.

The naked mole rat’s resistance to cancer, diagnosed in humans every two minutes in the UK alone, is a particular area of focus for researchers. In studying why there are just a few documented cases worldwide in naked mole-rats, scientists are hoping to identify new ways to prevent or treat the deadly disease.

As yet, we’re not exactly sure what gives them their resistance. Some evidence suggests that a key difference in one of the meshwork of substances providing structural and nutritional support to cells prevents them from reproducing uncontrollably. However, others have observed different results, so further investigation is needed.

Not content with just being immune to cancer, naked mole-rats are also impervious to some normally agonising chemical stimuli, such as capsaicin (the substance that makes chilli peppers taste hot) and acid (what gives lemon juice and vinegar their kick). For their acid-insensitivity, researchers are clearer about why. A subtle difference in one particular molecule of the animal’s pain-sensing nerves turns acid into an anaesthetic. That is, rather than stimulating pain-sensing nerves, it actually numbs them – just like an anaesthetic that your dentist administers before the drilling starts. Sadly, this superpower only works with specific chemical stimuli – heat and pressure are just as damaging to them as us.

Scientists are now further studying the naked mole-rat to see whether we might be able to make the human pain system similarly impervious to acid pain. This could be extremely useful for cancer and arthritis sufferers, for whom build-ups of acid in body tissue can be a major contributor to chronic pain. The molecule responsible for insensitivity to acid in mole-rats also plays a role in human genetic conditions that drastically alter pain perception, and as a result of this convergent research, potential painkillers targeting this molecule have made it into clinical trials in humans.

Naked mole-rats are also highly resilient to low oxygen conditions. Their nerve cells can function for almost one hour in the complete absence of oxygen, by instead using fructose to power energy production. In studying this remarkable ability, my lab and others are hoping to uncover novel treatments to prevent brain damage in stroke patients.

Naked mole-rats are also renowned for their longevity. Broadly speaking, a larger body equals longer life in mammals. Standard lab mice weigh around 35 grams, and usually live a maximum of two to three years. Naked mole-rats can be up to twice as heavy, so might be expected to live four to six years, but can actually survive for more than 30 years in captivity. That’s longer than the lifespan of polar bears and giraffes. And while humans experience from many ageing-associated health problems (for example, osteoarthritis), naked mole-rats appear to age without issue. Research into the ageing processes of naked mole-rats is only in its infancy, but could have multiple implications for treating ageing-related conditions in humans.

Newborn naked mole-rats weigh as little as two grams.
belizar/Shutterstock

Naked mole-rats may look comical, but their magical biology is no laughing matter. Studying their hidden powers will not always result in preventions, cures and treatments for human ailments because of fundamental differences between the species. However, every new insight has the potential to lead to a breakthrough – as animal research has continually done throughout recent history. By unlocking the secrets held within their cells in a responsible manner, we may one day improve countless human lives.The Conversation

Ewan St. John Smith, University Senior Lecturer in Pharmacology, University of Cambridge

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Study Shows Telomerase Gene Therapy Does Not Increase Cancer Risk – Article by Steve Hill

Study Shows Telomerase Gene Therapy Does Not Increase Cancer Risk – Article by Steve Hill

Steve Hill


Editor’s Note: The U.S. Transhumanist Party features this article by our guest Steve Hill, originally published by the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation (LEAF) on August 27, 2018. This article takes another step forward toward clearing up a common misconception that many scientists and laypeople hold, i.e., the notion that extending telomeres causes cancer. Mr. Hill cited a recent article published in the journal PLOS Genetics, in which researchers found there to be no increase in cancer, even when telomeres were extended in mice from cancer-prone mouse strains. Hopefully this article will help researchers reevaluate this misconception so this very important age-reversal research will be advanced much faster.

~ Bobby Ridge, Assistant Editor, June 20, 2019

Researchers have demonstrated that telomerase gene therapy does not increase the risk of cancer, even in strains of mice that are particularly susceptible to cancer [1].

A tale of telomeres

Short telomeres trigger cellular senescence and are thought to be one of the primary hallmarks of aging, which has led to various researchers seeking ways to restore the telomeres in order to prevent cells from dying and to encourage division and tissue regeneration. We won’t go over the basics of telomeres and how they influence aging  here, but if you would like to learn more, check out our telomeres article, which explains it all.

Ever since Dr. Maria Blasco and her team at the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO) first used telomerase gene therapy in mice back in 2012, a debate has raged about the potential of telomerase for regenerating tissue and reversing some aspects of aging versus the risk of it causing cancer.

Despite the concerns, it has proved effective against infarction by spurring regeneration of cardiac tissue and in treating aplastic anaemia and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis in mice; all of these conditions are associated with critically short telomeres.

The CNIO’s Telomeres and Telomerase Group, which conducted the new study, has been investigating the potential of using telomerase therapy to treat age-related diseases for many years. Its 2012 publication featured a specially developed gene therapy that used an adeno-associated virus (AAV) to deliver a payload to cells that reactivated the telomerase gene, which can restore lost telomeres by creating the telomerase enzyme, and it appeared to delay and reverse certain aspects of aging [2].

Its AAV therapy is special in that the vectors do not integrate into the genomes of the target cells. Therefore, the telomerase activation only lasts for a few cell cycles before its effects cease. This transient activation of telomerase makes for a safety net, as unlimited cell division is only a step away from cancer.

Abstract

Short and dysfunctional telomeres are sufficient to induce a persistent DNA damage response at chromosome ends, which leads to the induction of senescence and/or apoptosis and to various age-related conditions, including a group of diseases known as “telomere syndromes”, which are provoked by extremely short telomeres owing to germline mutations in telomere genes. This opens the possibility of using telomerase activation as a potential therapeutic strategy to rescue short telomeres both in telomere syndromes and in age-related diseases, in this manner maintaining tissue homeostasis and ameliorating these diseases. In the past, we generated adeno-associated viral vectors carrying the telomerase gene (AAV9-Tert) and shown their therapeutic efficacy in mouse models of cardiac infarct, aplastic anemia, and pulmonary fibrosis. Although we did not observe increased cancer incidence as a consequence of Tert overexpression in any of those models, here we set to test the safety of AAV9-mediated Tert overexpression in the context of a cancer prone mouse model, owing to expression of oncogenic K-ras. As control, we also treated mice with AAV9 vectors carrying a catalytically inactive form of Tert, known to inhibit endogenous telomerase activity. We found that overexpression of Tert does not accelerate the onset or progression of lung carcinomas, even when in the setting of a p53-null background. These findings indicate that telomerase activation by using AAV9-mediated Tert gene therapy has no detectable cancer-prone effects in the context of oncogene-induced mouse tumors.

More support for telomerase gene therapy

Despite this safety measure, the medical use of telomerase therapy has been held back due to concerns of cancer risk, so the researchers at CNIO set out to see if this concern is justified.

To do this, they used this gene therapy in a mouse model that is at high risk of lung cancer. Their results showed that activating the telomerase gene via their gene therapy does not increase the risk of developing cancer, not even in this cancer-prone mouse strain.

These findings suggest that this gene therapy appears to be safe even in a pro-cancer environment. The authors chose this cancer-prone mouse strain to create a “killer experiment”, which creates a worst-case scenario that tests a hypothesis to its limit; if the hypothesis holds true despite the extreme scenario, it shows that the hypothesis is good. Because this therapy did not increase cancer risk in this extremely vulnerable mouse population, it demonstrates that telomerase gene therapy is possibly safe enough to use in humans.

The road ahead

The safety and utility of telomerase therapy is becoming more apparent with each passing year. The purpose of this new study was to demonstrate the plausibility of using telomerase to safely treat many diseases that currently have no cure, such as pulmonary fibrosis, and to help speed up its progress into human clinical trials.

Conclusion

The potential of telomerase gene therapy has long been debated amid cancer concerns, but this experiment suggests that those concerns are unfounded. There is no doubt that telomerase can and does regenerate tissue when it is delivered via gene therapy and that it does reverse various aspects of aging in multiple models.

Can we safely use what some people describe as a double-edged sword and apply it the fight against aging? This experiment strongly suggests that yes, we can.

Literature

[1] Muñoz-Lorente, M. A., Martínez, P., Tejera, Á., Whittemore, K., Moisés-Silva, A. C., Bosch, F., & Blasco, M. A. (2018). AAV9-mediated telomerase activation does not accelerate tumorigenesis in the context of oncogenic K-Ras-induced lung cancer. PLoS genetics, 14(8), e1007562.

[2] de Jesus, B. B., Vera, E., Schneeberger, K., Tejera, A. M., Ayuso, E., Bosch, F., & Blasco, M. A. (2012). Telomerase gene therapy in adult and old mice delays aging and increases longevity without increasing cancer. EMBO molecular medicine, 4(8), 691-704.

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.

The Future of Pensions – Article by Nicola Bagalà and Michael Nuschke

The Future of Pensions – Article by Nicola Bagalà and Michael Nuschke

Nicola Bagalà and Michael Nuschke


Editor’s Note: The U.S. Transhumanist Party features this article by Nicola Bagalà and Michael Nuschke of the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation (LEAF), originally published on the LEAF site on May 15th, 2019.  The article brings attention to and responds to concerns related to the impacts of increased longevity on pension systems, a possible result of our mission of ending age-related diseases, which the U.S. Transhumanist Party supports as part of our policy goals.

~ Brent Reitze, Director of Publication, United States Transhumanist Party, June 15th, 2019


If you work in social security, it’s possible that your nightmares are full of undying elderly people who keep knocking on your door for pensions that you have no way of paying out. Tossing and turning in your bed, you beg for mercy, explaining that there’s just too many old people who need pensions and not enough young people who could cover for it with their contributions; the money’s just not there to sustain a social security system that, when it was conceived in the mid-1930s, didn’t expect that many people would ever make it into their 80s and 90s. Your oneiric persecutors won’t listen: they gave the country the best years of their lives, and now it’s time for the country to pay them their due.

When you wake up, you’re relieved to realize that there can’t be any such thing as people who have ever-worsening degenerative diseases yet never die from them, but that doesn’t make your problem all that better; you still have quite a few old people, living longer than the pension system had anticipated, to pay pensions to, and the bad news is that in as little as about 30 years, the number of 65+ people worldwide will skyrocket to around 2.1 billion, growing faster than all younger groups put together [1]. Where in the world is your institution going to find the budget?

That’s why, whether you work in social security or not, the words “life extension” might make you feel like you were listening to an orchestra playing Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony with forks on a blackboard; we’re likely to have a pension crisis on our hands as it is because of the growth in life expectancy, and some people have the effrontery to suggest that we should make life even longer?!

Why, yes, some people do have the effrontery, and believe it or not, it may actually be a good idea—possibly, and only apparently counterintuitively, the idea that will prevent the pension crisis from happening in the first place.

Why retirement?

Suppose for a moment that human aging never existed and that, barring accidents and communicable diseases, people went on living for centuries—their health, independence, and most importantly, ability to work, remaining pretty much constant over time; in order to tell apart a 150-year-old from a 25-year-old, you’d have to look at their papers.

In a scenario like this, it’s difficult to imagine why any government would go through the trouble of setting up a pension system that works the way the current one does. It would make sense to have measures in place to support people who couldn’t work after being paralyzed by injuries, but paying out money to perfectly able-bodied people to do nothing for the rest of their lives just because they’re over 65 would make no sense at all. It’s surely possible that, after 40 years of work, you’d rather be on vacation forever, but it’s somewhat unrealistic to expect that your country would be prepared to pay you a pension for centuries to come, in exchange for a meager 40 years of contributions, simply because you’re tired of working.

In other words, if people past a certain age have a right to retire until death and receive a pension, it’s essentially because, past that certain age, their health tends to worsen to the point that they’re unfit for work, and it can be expected to worsen in the following years; it’s not because the government or insurance companies feel like sending people on indefinite paid vacations. Depressing, perhaps, but true.

Of course, you could try to put a positive spin on this and look at retirement as a time of financial independence, when, either because you receive a pension or you have enough savings, you can enjoy life without having to go to work every day. This is a much better way to look at it, but we must account for the fact that most people who retire do so either because they hit retirement age or because other circumstances, such as ill health, forced them to retire early [9]—not because they managed to save up enough to retire in their 40s. The health of average retirees doesn’t interfere just with their ability to work but also to enjoy life in general. Most people over the age of 65 suffer two or more chronic illnesses [2,3,4]; the risk of developing diabetescancercardiovascular diseasesdementia, and so on skyrockets with age [5], and your financial independence (not to mention your life in general) would be a lot more enjoyable if you didn’t have to put up with any of these.

Retirement 101

The takeaway here is that retirement exists out of necessity more than desire, and even if you try to look at it from a different angle, you’ve still got the problem of the burden represented by age-related diseases. Given these facts, it’s important to understand how retirement works before we can establish if and why the feared pension crisis expected in a few decades from now is actually going to happen and whether life extension will make the problem better or worse.

A pension is a regular payment typically paid monthly to retirees. It can be paid to individuals by governments or employers, or it can come from personal savings, often in the form of special individual retirement accounts that provide some tax incentive to save. This three-pillar system, devised around a hundred years ago, exists in several countries around the world. The purpose is to provide an income after people stop working, i.e. during retirement until death.

Often, pensions can be received only after a certain age or number of years of work and would be deferred if you retire before the minimum is reached; if you decide to retire at age 30, well before you hit retirement age or have worked anywhere near the minimum number of years that you were supposed to, you’re going to wait for a while before you see a dime from your pension.

The funding of a pension depends on the type of pension. In the case of government pensions, like those paid by Social Security in the U.S., the funding is a combination of individual contributions (paycheck deductions) and government funding. Federal and state regulations are in place to ultimately ensure that the future pension income “belongs” to each individual contributor, but of course, contributions that you pay out today aren’t simply set aside for thirty years until you can collect them; they’re used to pay the pensions of present-day retirees; similarly, the money owed to pay your pension will come from the contributions of the workforce at the time of your retirement.

Why a crisis might be on its way

This pension system works well under the assumptions made back when it was devised, but, a hundred years later, things aren’t quite the same anymore.

For example, in the 1930—when the US Social Security system was conceived—the average life expectancy at birth was about 58 for men and 62 for women, whereas the retirement age was 65. This doesn’t mean that everyone checked out before they could cash in, because life expectancy at birth was pulled down by a higher infant mortality; in reality, people who reached adulthood had respectable chances to make it to retirement age and go on to collect their pensions for up to about 13 years; that is, just about before they hit age 80. However, in the year 2015, life expectancy at birth in the US was 79.2, which is around the maximum age that people were expected to reach at the dawn of the pension system; in 2014, the remaining life expectancy at age 79 of people in the US was 8.77 years for men and 10.24 for women. Therefore, in a worst-case scenario, people today can expect to live at least well above the maximum expected lifespan of the 1930s, and, in a best-case scenario, ten additional years. (From the point of view of the pension payer, best- and worst-case scenarios are probably the other way around.) The global average life expectancy in 2015 was 71.4, and even though the remaining life expectancy at that age varies depending on the country, it’s not difficult to see why the funding costs of pensions are mushrooming—simply put, people are living for longer; therefore, they need to be paid pensions for longer—longer than the pension system was designed to handle.

This spells trouble already, but there’s more bad news. As noted above, the global number of people over age 60 is projected to increase significantly in a few decades’ time, more than doubling between 2017 and 2050 (from 1.0 to 2.1 billion), whereas the 10-24 age cohort is expected to increase by a meager 200 million (from 1.8 to 2.0 billion) and the 25-59 cohort by 0.9 billion (from 3.4 to 4.3 billion) [1]. In particular, the number of people aged 85 and above is projected to grow more than threefold, from 137 million to 425 million, over the same span of time. Speaking of pensions alone, this is like having a piggy bank that a fast-growing number of people keeps drawing from and a slow-growing number of people puts money into. (As a side note, the number of children aged 0-9 is projected to stay the same between 2030 and 2050—that is, in twenty years’ time, we won’t have any more future contributors than we used to, while the people needing those contributions will have grown by 0.7 billion over the same 20 years.)

These two facts—the increase of life expectancy and the decrease of fertility rates—constitute what is known as population aging, which is pretty much the core of the problem; external factors that make matters worse, as some people maintain, are poor decision-making and unrealistic promises by politicians and, in general, the people managing pension systems. These might be the result of a lack of understanding of the problem or simply not genuinely caring about the consequences, but, in any case, making clear decisions on the actions to be taken is not an easy task, as tinkering with policies and rates relies on hard-to-predict information, such as the average lifespan of pensioners of a specific pension plan.

In addition, unrealistic investment expectations add to this growing pension crisis. The higher the assumed rate of future investment returns, the less funding is needed to have a “fully funded” pension plan. Currently, the high assumed rates reduce the apparent problem. For instance, the average rate of return on US state pension plans is assumed to be 7.5% per year; meanwhile, investment experts would say a return expectation of 6.5% is much more realistic, and if this assumption is correct, then even more pensions are in danger of running out, and others, previously thought to be only somewhat underfunded, become drastically underfunded. The result is that there is much talk of pension reforms, but the political unpopularity of touching retirement pensions or reducing the unrealistic promises causes continued procrastination.

The situation is depressing, in the U.S. and in several other countries. While U.S. Social Security is running low—with the average retiree having only 65.7% of their Social Security benefits remaining after out-of-pocket spending on medical premiums, for example—and expected to run out of money in 2034, Citigroup estimates that twenty OECD countries have unfunded or underfunded government pension liabilities for a mind-boggling total of $78 trillion; China, for example, is expected to run out of pension money shortly after the US, in 2035. In a September 2018 report, the National Institute on Retirement Security warned that the median retirement account balance among working-age Americans is zero and that nearly 60% of working-age Americans do not own any retirement account assets or pension plans. In the press release of the same report, the report’s author, Diane Oakley, stated that retirement is in peril for most working-class Americans, and according to an analysis by Mercer, in a World Economic Forum report, there’s plenty of reasons to believe her, as the US pension funding gap is currently growing at a breakneck rate of $3 trillion a year, reaching $137 trillion in 2050.

The icing on the cake: geriatrics

Pensions constitute quite a bit of money paid to people for around two decades until they die, and whether or not we can afford this, it would still be better if we weren’t forced to spend so much money in this way; even worse, we effectively throw even more money out the window by paying for geriatrics, something that most retirees are worried about.

Money spent on healthcare is generally money well spent, but only if it actually improves your health. The problem with traditional geriatrics is that it acts on the symptoms of age-related diseases rather than their causes. The diseases of aging are the result of a on complex interaction between different, concurrent processes of damage accumulation taking place throughout life; this means that, as a rule of thumb, the older you are, the more damage that you carry around. This means that any treatment aimed at mitigating age-related pathologies that does not act on the damage itself or its accumulation is destined to become progressively less effective, like shoveling water with a pitchfork out a lake while a river continually dumps more in.

Generally, geriatric treatments don’t directly affect the damage or its accumulation, so they cannot eliminate age-related diseases and become less and less useful as you age. Some kinds of geriatric treatments are actually geroprotectors—that is, they are able to interfere with the damage or the accumulation of damage and may help prevent diseases—but are often administered too late in the game, when pathologies have already manifested. Geriatrics is decisively not the best bang for the buck, even though it is presently better than nothing at all.

It doesn’t come cheap, either; according to a MEPS report, in 2003, the elderly constituted less than 25% of the Medicaid population but 26% of Medicaid spending; the report finds, unsurprisingly, that chronic conditions contribute to higher healthcare costs, and among the top five most costly conditions are diabetes and heart disease, two diseases typical of old age. Even less surprisingly, in 2002, people over 65 constituted 13% of the US population but accounted for 36% of total US personal health care expenses.

A 2004 study in Michigan found that per capita lifetime health expenditures were $316,000 for women and $268,700 for men (part of the discrepancy is to be attributed to women’s longer lifespans), of which one-third is incurred during middle age and more than another third is incurred after age 85 [6] for people fortunate enough to live that long. Again according to MEPS, in 2016, the average health spending in the US for people over the age of 65 was $11,316; for comparison, the sum total of all the other age cohorts from 0 to 64 was $13,587, only about $2,200 more. The cumulative spending for the 65+ cohort—that is, the average total of yearly expenditures for a US citizen at least 65 years old—was nearly $170,000. Again in 2016, people aged 65 and over accounted for 16% of the US population while constituting 36% of the total health spending.

report by Milken in 2014 found that, in 2003, about $1.3 trillion was thrown out the window in the US because of the treatment costs and lost productivity related to chronic diseases; the same report projects that, in 2023, the loss will amount to $4.2 trillion.

A 2018 study focusing on out-of-pocket spending for retirees found that the average household that turned 70 in 1992 will incur $122,000 in medical spending over the rest of their lives, and that the top 5% and 1% will incur $300,000 and $600,000, respectively [7]. This paper also found that Medicaid significantly helps the poorest households with their expenses, and it must be noted that, past a certain age, remaining lifetime healthcare costs stop growing and tend to stabilize (for no other reason that the people in question don’t have much life left during which they could spend money on healthcare), but whether the money spent on geriatrics, nursing homes, and so on is a lot or a little, or is spent by you personally or by the government, somebody is going to spend it on something that will not give your health and independence back and is not going to make your life much better. If we must spend it, we might as well do so on something that will actually restore your health.

To top it all, when you consider that American workers aren’t saving that much, a single major medical event past retirement could wipe however little they had set aside.

The costs of caring for older people don’t stop here; they affect their family caregivers as well. As highlightedby the National Center on Caregiving, taking care of a disabled family member may impact the caregiver financially, emotionally, and even health-wise; caregivers are more likely to suffer from stress and depression, are prone to illness themselves, and lose, on average, nearly $700,000 over their course of their lives. When you take into account population aging, it’s clear that this trend can only worsen and put more strain on society.

Life extension: friend or foe?

Now that we have a clearer idea about the potential pension crisis looming ahead and the costs of pensions and geriatrics, it’s time to discuss whether life extension would make the problem better or worse.

It all depends on how you understand life extension. The term per se is somewhat misleading, in that many people often imagine a longer, drawn-out old age in which ill health and the consequent medical expenses and pensions are extended accordingly, just as in the nightmares of social security planners. This is most definitely not what life extension is about, and it’s obvious that extending old age as it is right now would not be a solution to the problem of pensions (or even desirable for whatever other reason). Simply prolonging the duration of life without also prolonging the time spent in good health (if at all possible to a significant extent) wouldn’t solve any problem, and as a matter of fact, it would worsen existing ones; people would be sick for longer, thereby increasing the already exorbitant amount of suffering caused by aging, and they would need pensions and palliative care for longer, probably pushing our social security systems well over the edge. (As a side note, this is what geriatrics does: it delays the inevitable, prolonging the time spent in ill health by making you a wee bit less sick for a longer time.)

However, lifespan and healthspan—that is, the length of your life and the portion of life you spend in good health—aren’t causally disconnected; you don’t just drop dead because you’re 80 or 90 irrespective of how healthy you are. The reason we tend to die at around those ages is that our bodies accumulate different kinds of damage in a stochastic fashion; as time goes by, the odds of developing diseases or conditions that eventually become fatal go higher and higher, even though which specific condition will kill you depends a lot on your genetics, lifestyle, and personal history. The idea behind life extension isn’t to just “stretch” lifespan; rather, the idea is to extend healthspan, that is preserving young-adult-like good health well into your 80s or 90s, and the logical consequence of being perfectly healthy for longer is that you will also live for longer. Significant life extension only follows from significant healthspan extension, and it’s very unlikely that it could ever be otherwise.

Again, the fundamental reason that pensions exist is to economically support people who are no longer able to do it themselves. We need to have such a system in place if we don’t want to abandon older people to their fate. If life extension treatments take ill health and age-related disabilities out of the equation entirely, pensions as we know them today will no longer be needed, because you will be able to support yourself through your own work regardless of your age.

Some people might shudder at the thought of working at age 90, but we can’t help but wonder if they actually realize that the alternative is literally to get sicker and sicker and eventually die; if they prefer that to continuing to work, they probably have more of a problem with the specific line of work they’re in than life extension itself, and they should ask themselves whether they’d trade their health and life in their 40s if it meant that they could quit working earlier. There is, though a better angle to look at this from, and it’s what we mentioned before: retirement as financial independence. Being perfectly healthy for the whole of your life, however long it may be, does not mean you must work each and every moment of it. A longer life spent in good health may more easily allow you to attain sufficient financial independence to retire at least for a while. Unless you’re a billionaire, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever be able to retire for centuries in the current economic system; still, you might be able to enjoy a few years off, and then, say at age 100, celebrate your first century of life in perfect, youthful health by starting off an entirely new career with the same energy and vigor you had when you started the first one in your 20s.

Even if you don’t manage to save enough to retire by yourself, we should not forget that a pension system where people retire for a few years and then go back to work, producing wealth once more rather than just consuming it for decades, is the Holy Grail of social security; governments would have a much easier time paying for your pension for, say, five years, knowing that in five years, you’ll be making your own living again. Your insurance, or whoever pays for your medical expenses, would also be extremely happy to know that you have no chronic conditions to be taken care of—and most importantly, so would you. In a situation like this, a pension crisis is unlikely to happen because pensions would not be a necessity anymore. Even if it happened that pension funds ran dry for whatever reason and push came to shove, people would be able to support themselves through their own work—they’d have to postpone their retirement for some time, but that would be okay, because whatever their age they’d still be fully able-bodied.

This is the best-case scenario: a world where aging is under full medical control, just like most infectious diseases today. There’s also a possibility that this won’t come to pass as soon as we’d like and that we’ll achieve only partial control over aging, for example by successfully extending your healthspan by a few years. Even in this more modest scenario, the financial benefits would be enormous, with an estimated value of over $7 trillion over the course of fifty years [8], which is a benefit worth pursuing whether a pension crisis will happen or not.

Of course, it’s a good idea to sit down and attempt to do the math on a case-by-case basis to see for a fact which countries would effectively have significant economic incentives to endorse, and perhaps even financially support, rejuvenation therapies for their own citizens, but a 2018 report of the International Longevity Centre in the UK provides reasons to be rather optimistic. Titled Towards A Longevity Dividend, the report discusses the effects that life expectancy has on the productivity of developed nations, based on nearly 50 years of demographic and macroeconomic OECD data of 35 different countries; the results of this analysis can be summarized easily: life expectancy is positively correlated with a country’s productivity across a range of different measures. Indeed, the analysis found out that life expectancy seems to be even more important for a country’s productivity than the ratio of young (working) versus old (retired) people. The conclusions of the report’s author are that a longevity dividend, i.e. global economical benefits derived by an extension of healthy lifespans, may be there for society to reap.

We should also not forget that life experience is an asset; while work experience may easily become obsolete time and time again over the course of a very long lifespan, the wisdom and knowledge that older workers may have accumulated may make them excellent mentors and drivers of further progress and innovation.

Summing up

If life extension were simply the prolongation of the period of decrepitude at the end of life, it would make little sense to pursue it. It would do nothing to improve our health, and to add insult to injury, it would exacerbate an already uncertain global financial situation. However, life extension is not this; it’s a significant extension of our healthspan, from which an extension of lifespan logically follows, and as such, it has the potential not just to rid us of age-related diseases altogether but also to solve the financial problems caused by the necessity of pensions and geriatrics by mitigating or eliminating our need for them.

People working in social security can probably sleep more soundly if the undying elderly of their nightmares are replaced with rejuvenated, productive, and independent elderly whose health no longer depends on how long ago they were born.

About Nicola Bagalà

Nicola 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.

About Michael Nuschke

For over three decades, Michael pursued a financial planning career and specialized in retirement income planning – how to ensure you don’t run out of money before you run out of life. Meanwhile, as an avid follower of science and technology, he realized that normal assumptions about retirement needed to be changed. Planning retirement gets tricky if you live well past age 100 in good health! Michael now calls himself a “Retirement Futurist” and is working to change how we think about retirement and life planning. He has contributed chapters for two books on the future and writes on the retirementsingularity.com blog. As a long-time meditator, he believes that meditation is a key discipline to enable clear thinking.

Video of Cyborg and Transhumanist Forum at the Nevada State Legislature – May 15, 2019

Video of Cyborg and Transhumanist Forum at the Nevada State Legislature – May 15, 2019

Gennady Stolyarov II
Anastasia Synn
R. Nicholas Starr


Watch the video containing 73 minutes of excerpts from the Cyborg and Transhumanist Forum, held on May 15, 2019, at the Nevada State Legislature Building.

The Cyborg and Transhumanist Forum at the Nevada Legislature on May 15, 2019, marked a milestone for the U.S. Transhumanist Party and the Nevada Transhumanist Party. This was the first time that an official transhumanist event was held within the halls of a State Legislature, in one of the busiest areas of the building, within sight of the rooms where legislative committees met. The presenters were approached by tens of individuals – a few legislators and many lobbyists and staff members. The reaction was predominantly either positive or at least curious; there was no hostility and only mild disagreement from a few individuals. Generally, the outlook within the Legislative Building seems to be in favor of individual autonomy to pursue truly voluntary microchip implants. The testimony of Anastasia Synn at the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 26, 2019, in opposition to Assembly Bill 226, is one of the most memorable episodes of the 2019 Legislative Session for many who heard it. It has certainly affected the outcome for Assembly Bill 226, which was subsequently further amended to restore the original scope of the bill and only apply the prohibition to coercive microchip implants, while specifically exempting microchip implants voluntarily received by an individual from the prohibition. The scope of the prohibition was also narrowed by removing the reference to “any other person” and applying the prohibition to an enumerated list of entities who may not require others to be microchipped: state officers and employees, employers as a condition of employment, and persons in the business of insurance or bail. These changes alleviated the vast majority of the concerns within the transhumanist and cyborg communities about Assembly Bill 226.

 

From left to right: Gennady Stolyarov II, Anastasia Synn, and Ryan Starr (R. Nicholas Starr)

This Cyborg and Transhumanist Forum comes at the beginning of an era of transhumanist political engagement with policymakers and those who advise them. It was widely accepted by the visitors to the demonstration tables that technological advances are accelerating, and that policy decisions regarding technology should only be made with adequate knowledge about the technology itself – working on the basis of facts and not fears or misconceptions that arise from popular culture and dystopian fiction. Ryan Starr shared his expertise on the workings and limitations of both NFC/RFID microchips and GPS technology and who explained that cell phones are already far more trackable than microchips ever could be (based on their technical specifications and how those specifications could potentially be improved in the future). U.S. Transhumanist Party Chairman Gennady Stolyarov II introduced visitors to the world of transhumanist literature by bringing books for display – including writings by Aubrey de Grey, Bill Andrews, Ray Kurzweil, Jose Cordeiro, Ben Goertzel, Phil Bowermaster, and Mr. Stolyarov’s own book “Death is Wrong” in five languages. It appears that there is more sympathy for transhumanism within contemporary political circles than might appear at first glance; it is often transhumanists themselves who overestimate the negativity of the reaction they expect to receive. But nobody picketed the event or even called the presenters names; transhumanist ideas, expressed in a civil and engaging way – with an emphasis on practical applications that are here today or due to arrive in the near future – will be taken seriously when there is an opening to articulate them.

The graphics for the Cyborg and Transhumanist Forum were created by Tom Ross, the U.S. Transhumanist Party Director of Media Production.

Become a member of the U.S. Transhumanist Party / Transhuman Party free of charge, no matter where you reside.

References

Gennady Stolyarov II Interviews Ray Kurzweil at RAAD Fest 2018

• “A Word on Implanted NFC Tags” – Article by Ryan Starr

Assembly Bill 226, Second Reprint – This is the version of the bill that passed the Senate on May 23, 2019.

Amendment to Assembly Bill 226 to essentially remove the prohibition against voluntary microchip implants

Future Grind Podcast

Synnister – Website of Anastasia Synn