14. November 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Health, Neuroscience

Any terminal illness is a terrible thing; but to a cryonics member, a brain-destroying neurodegenerative disease is the worst contemporary medical “death sentence” one can receive. There are several flavors of neurodegenerative disorders, many of which primarily affect the patient’s movement, strength, coordination, or the peripheral nervous system. And there are numerous contributory mechanisms in the causation of neurodegeneration, including prion infection and toxin related disease. But the most common – and the most feared – neurodegenerative disease is one that affects not movement, but cognition.

Of course, I am speaking of Alzheimer disease (AD). Originally described in a 51- year old woman by the Bavarian psychiatrist Alois Alzheimer in 1906, neuropathologists have increasingly recognized that AD is also the most common basis for latelife cognitive failure. Culminating in neuronal dystrophy and death leading to the progressive loss of memory and other cognitive functions (i.e., dementia), and affecting individuals of both sexes and of all races and ethnic groups at a rate of occurrence in the U.S. ranging from approximately 1.3% (age 65-74) to 45% (age 85-93), it is easy to see why AD has generated so much intense scientific interest in recent years.

In the recently published work “The Biology of Alzheimer Disease” (2012), most of what is known about AD today is described in detail in the various chapters covering topics such as the neuropsychological profile and neuropathological alterations in AD, biomarkers of AD, the biochemistry and cell biology of the various proteins involved in AD, animal models of AD, the role of inflammation in AD, the genetics of AD, and treatment strategies. The editors’ selection of contributions has resulted in the most up-to-date compendium on Alzheimer disease to date.

The book culminates in a chapter called Alzheimer Disease in 2020, where the editors extol “the remarkable advances in unraveling the biological underpinnings of Alzheimer disease…during the last 25 years,” and yet also recognize that “we have made only the smallest of dents in the development of truly disease-modifying treatments.” So what can we reasonably expect over the course of the next 7 years or so? Will we bang our heads against the wall of discovery, or will there be enormous breakthroughs in identification and treatment of AD?

Though a definitive diagnosis of AD is only possible upon postmortem histopathological examination of the brain, a thorough review of the book leads me to believe that the greatest progress currently being made is in developing assays to diagnose AD at earlier stages. It is now known that neuropathological changes associated with AD may begin decades before symptoms manifest. This, coupled with the uncertainty inherent in a clinical diagnosis of AD, has driven a search for diagnostic markers. Two particular approaches have shown the most promise: brain imaging and the identification of fluid biomarkers of AD.

Historically, imaging was used only to exclude potentially surgically treatable causes of cognitive decline. Over the last few decades, imaging has moved from this minor role to a central position of diagnostic value with ever-increasing specificity. The ability to differentiate AD from alternative or contributory pathologies is of significant value now, but the need for an earlier and more certain diagnosis will only increase as disease-modifying therapies are identified. This will be particularly true if these therapies work best (or only) when initiated at the preclinical stage. Improvements in imaging have also greatly increased our understanding of the biology and progression of AD temporally and spatially. Importantly, the clinical correlations of these changes and their relationships to other biomarkers and to prognosis can be studied.

The primary modalities that have contributed to progress in AD imaging are structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), functional MRI, fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) positron emission tomography (PET), and amyloid PET. Structural MRI, which is used to image the structure of the brain, has obvious utility in visualizing the progressive cerebral atrophy characteristic of AD. Such images can be used as a marker of disease progression and as a means of measuring effective treatments (which would slow the rate of atrophy). Functional MRI, on the other hand, measures changes in blood oxygen leveldependent (BOLD) MR signal. This signal, which can be acquired during cognitive tasks, may provide the clinician with a tool to compare brain activity across conditions in order to assess and detect early brain dysfunction related to AD and to monitor therapeutic response over relatively short time periods.

FDG PET primarily indicates brain metabolism and synaptic activity by measuring glucose analog fluorodeoxyglucose (which can be detected by PET after labeling it with Fluorine-18). A large body of FDG-PET work has identified an endophenotype of AD – that is, a signature set of regions that are typically hypometabolic in AD patients. FDG hypometabolism parallels cognitive function along the trajectory of normal, preclinical, prodromal, and established AD. Over the course of three decades of investigation, FDG PET has emerged as a robust marker of brain dysfunction in AD. Imaging of β-amyloid (Aβ) – the peptide that makes up the plaques found in the brains of AD patients – is accomplished via amyloid PET to determine brain Aβ content. Historically, this has only been possible upon postmortem examination, so the utility of amyloid imaging is in moving this assessment from the pathology laboratory to the clinic. Because amyloid deposition begins early on, however, amyloid PET is not useful as a marker of disease progression.

The well-known hallmarks of AD, the plaques and neurofibrillary tangles first described by Alouis Alzheimer in 1906, were discovered in 1985 to be composed primarily of β-amyloid and hyperphosphorylated tau protein, respectively. Advances in our knowledge of Aβ generation and tau protein homeostasis have led to substantial research into disease-modifying drugs aimed at decreasing overall plaque and tangle load in an effort to halt neurodegeneration. Such treatments will likely be most effective if started early in the disease process, making sensitive and accurate fluid biomarkers of Aβ and tau especially important.

Outside of imaging, progress in AD diagnostics stems primarily from the assessment of fluid biomarkers of AD. These biomarkers are generally procured from the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and blood plasma and include total tau (T-tau), phosphorylated tau (P-tau) and the 42 amino acid form of of β-amyloid (Aβ42). These core biomarkers reflect AD pathology and have high diagnostic accuracy, which is especially useful in diagnosing AD in prodromal and mild cognitive impairment cases.

Because the CSF is in direct contact with the extracellular space of the brain, biochemical changes in the brain can be detected in the CSF. Assays to detect Aβ42 led to the discovery that Aβ42 in AD is decreased to approximately 50% of control levels, making the measurement of Aβ42 a useful clinical tool. Measurements of T-tau (around 300% of control in AD patients) and P-tau biomarkers (a marked increase in AD patients) in combination with Aβ42, however, provide an even more powerful diagnostic assay.

Fluid biomarkers for AD other than Aβ and tau have been posited, but positive results have been difficult to replicate. Novel biomarkers with the most promise inlcude the amyloid precursor proteins sAPPβ and sAPPα, β-site APP cleaving enzyme-1 (BACE1), Aβ oligomers, and other Aβ isoforms. Additionally, neuronal and synaptic proteins as well as various inflammatory molecules and markers of oxidative stress may prove valuable as CSF biomarkers. Studies of plasma biomarkers such as those investigating plasma Aβ have yielded contradictory results, but promising novel blood biomarkers for AD may be found in certain signaling and inflammatory proteins.

Taken together, progress in brain imaging and identification of fluid biomarkers hold great promise in improved diagnosis of AD cases. When combined with expected drug therapies we may be able to delay the onset of neurodegeneration and associated cognitive impairment significantly. In the meantime, early diagnosis is helpful in stratifying AD cases, monitoring potential treatments for safety, and monitoring the biochemical effect of drugs. For cryonicists, early diagnosis can help guide treatment and end-of-life care decisions in order to optimize cryopreservation of the brain.

So – back to the original question. What can we predict about the AD landscape in 2020?

Besides continued progress in early diagnosis through brain imaging and fluid biomarkers, the authors anticipate that advances in whole-genome and exome sequencing will lead to a better understanding of all of the genes that contribute to overall genetic risk of AD. Additionally, improved ability to sense and detect the proteins that aggregate in AD and to distinguish these different assembly forms and to correlate the various conformations with cellular, synaptic, and brain network dysfunction should be forthcoming in the next few years. Lastly, we will continue to improve our understanding of the cell biology of neurodegeneration as well as cell-cell interactions and inflammation, providing new insights into what is important and what is not in AD pathogenesis and how it differs across individuals, which will lead, in turn, to improved clinical trials and treatment strategies.

Originally published as an article (in the Cooler Minds Prevail series) in Cryonics magazine, April, 2013

08. September 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Health, Society

When advocates of radical life extension discuss the social benefits of humans having much longer lifespans, it is often just a footnote to a personal desire to prolong life. As a consequence, cynicism from critics is often encountered. It hard to counter such skepticism effectively because people may believe you are just trying to make an essentially selfish desire look socially desirable.

There is an alternative. We can approach the topic from the other direction if we ask what kind of lifespans would be desirable if we want to increase social welfare and reduce human suffering. Let’s look at a number of issues.

There is a large literature about coping with the death of loved ones, relatives, and friends. While many people find support from such self-help books, most people would agree that no amount of anticipation or coping can eliminate the suffering and devastation that follows the death of a loved one. Is there an upside? I am not aware of any serious writer pontificating about the positive aspects about a person dear to you dying or suffering from aging-related disabilities. A society in which humans have control over the aging process would be desirable because it would eliminate the dominant cause of death (age-associated diseases) and the suffering it brings to survivors.

It is not uncommon to hear people being accused of not caring about the effects of their actions on future generations. This complaint is particularly prominent in discussions about the environment and the use of natural resources. If humans were not born to die on a predictable schedule this whole dynamic would change because the distinction between current and future generations would cease to exist. If consideration of the long-term consequences of our actions requires a prominent place in human life, we should not want humans to replace each other but generations to coexist in time and space.

Age discrimination involves discrimination of individuals on the basis of their age. In most instances, however, this discrimination concerns biological age and its effects on appearance, physical health, and mental skills. Biological age is not hard to observe and can usually be inferred from chronological age. If we prefer that people are not treated differently because of their date of birth we should want to live in a society where rejuvenation biotechnologies sever the link between chronological age and biological age.

What about economic welfare? Ageless people would be able to remain productive and generous, medical costs associated with the debilitating health and mental effects of biological aging would be substantially reduced, and highly talented people would not cease to exist.

Reasoning backwards from what morality and welfare would “dictate” about human lifespans is not just a talking point in discussions about the bioethics of life extension. One can imagine the rise of a social movement that seeks to educate the general public about the social benefits of biological control over the aging process. Such a social movement would not be in the business of making excuses for eccentric individual desires but would recommend that the reduction of suffering, sustainable growth, and more virtuous conduct would require that humans do not have a fixed expiration date.

Originally published as a column (Quod incepimus conficiemus) in Cryonics magazine, December, 2013

17. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Health, Science

The idea that aging is a choice will strike many readers as preposterous and I will admit at the outset that such a position can ultimately not be maintained. But in a milder sense, it should be recognized that we can make decisions in life regarding diet and lifestyle that can mitigate or accelerate the aging process. This “wiggle room” may turn out to be of great importance for reaching a time when serious rejuvenation biotechnologies will become available.

According to biologist Michael R. Rose (see the interview in Cryonics magazine, September 2013) aging is not an immutable process of wear and tear that unfolds through iron logic without being sensitive to lifestyle and diet. Aging begins after the start of reproduction and the forces of natural selection decline with chronological age, eventually stopping at late age (which raises the possibility that aging stops).

Some things that we associate with aging are not inevitable physiological processes but choices or decisions to conform to expectations. For example, when people reach adulthood, and pursue a family and career, they often conform to a lifestyle that involves more time sitting at a desk or in cars, more time spent inside, less time socializing with friends, and are subject to increasing amounts of stress and sleep deprivation.

As the physiological consequences of such a lifestyle (obesity, higher blood pressure, declining free hormone levels) express themselves many people tell themselves such things are the inevitable effects of getting older. But alternative scenarios may be possible if we remain aware of our environment, lifestyle, and diet.

In the case of diet, the dominant opinion remains that a healthy diet can be identified regardless of age, sex, and population group. There is increasing evidence, however, that such a perspective leaves a lot to be desired and that too much reductionism in these matters is not a good thing. There are, however, a number of observations that can be made. Restriction of calories (or intermittent fasting or meal skipping) seems to trigger a beneficial stress response that improves health and perhaps even extends life. Similarly, adopting a diet that more closely mimics that of hunter gatherers in conjunction with giving up a sedentary lifestyle has been successful in improving the lives (and looks!) of many people, in particular in the case of obesity.

What makes it rather difficult to adopt such lifestyle changes is that we are almost continuously exposed to an environment that makes it rather difficult to effect such changes. Most of our food is highly processed, loaded with carbs and sugar, and served in portion sizes that always seem to increase. When we move from one location to another the emphasis is on minimizing energy expenditure and eliminating resistance. We work in dark and confined spaces during the day and are exposed to light until we go to sleep (or sometimes even during sleep!). When we come home we turn on the television or the computer to “socialize.” It should not surprise us that such an “unnatural” lifestyle translates into the classic signs of aging and functional deterioration.

There is a lot at stake here. As daunting as it may seem, the idea that aging is not a uniform “process” that swallows us up at a constant rate opens up the possibilities of positive change. Armed with the latest findings in evolutionary biology and medicine we can start pushing back, stabilize the situation as best as we can, and reach a time when more radical rejuvenation biotechnologies will become available. Start moving, start lifting, go camping, make new friends, eat organic and fermented foods, skip the occasional meal, and cut the sugar!

Originally published as a column (Quod incepimus conficiemus) in Cryonics magazine, October, 2013

22. March 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Cryonics, Health

Wikipedia tells us that iatrogenesis is “an inadvertent adverse effect or complication resulting from medical treatment or advice…” The key word in this definition is “inadvertent.” For example, a doctor who exposes a patient to a bacterial infection by accidentally donning non-surgical gloves is an example of iatrogenesis. A doctor who deliberately administers a lethal dose of an anesthetic is not. One source of iatrogenesis is adverse effects.

A defining characteristic of contemporary human cryopreservation is that it is not possible to stabilize patients at very low temperatures without producing additional damage. Forms of injury in cryonics include ice formation, cryoprotectant toxicity, and fracturing. The relevance of the concept of iatrogenic diseases to cryonics was first recognized by Thomas Donaldson in his article “Neural Archeology” (Cryonics, February 1987). What sets cryonics apart is that cost-benefit analysis favors cryopreservation in a sense not encountered in ordinary medicine. Cryonics is the last hope to save the life of the patient and the alternative course of action is irreversible death.

One could say that the adverse effects of cryonics are a form iatrogenic injury, but since the major adverse effects of cryonics are known and recognized, cryonics cannot be brought under the rubric of iatrogenesis. But just as medical researchers and pharmaceutical companies allocate resources to developing drugs with fewer or less serious adverse effects, Alcor aims to improve procedures to eliminate these forms of injury. Examples include vitrification agents to eliminate ice formation, intermediate temperature storage to eliminate (or reduce) fracturing, rapid cooling devices to decrease ischemic injury, etc. The ultimate goal is to create a low temperature stabilization procedure that does not induce any additional injury. Such an achievement would constitute true human suspended animation. We would not be able to treat the disease of the patient yet, but could induce biostasis and reverse it without any adverse effects.

There is narrower application of the idea of iatrogenic injury to specific elements of cryonics procedures. For example, if a multiperson team is present at the bedside with a portable ice bath, ice, and a functioning chest compression device, but later analysis of the temperature data reveals negligible cooling, negligence or error may be involved. This is a rather dramatic example and most examples of non-intrinsic iatrogenic injury in cryonics have a subtler character. Cryonics is particularly vulnerable to iatrogenic injury because of the lack of clear objectives for the individual procedures and the lack of
consistent and comprehensive monitoring.

A rather disappointing excuse for permitting additional injury is the view that since cryonics patients will require advanced repair technologies in the future anyway it is not of great importance to minimize adverse effects of the cryonics procedures themselves. Such an attitude encourages recklessness, makes a mockery of the idea of human cryopreservation as medicine, and is not the kind of cryonics that is going to win over scientists, medical professionals, and the educated public. We do not know at which point injury translates into irreversible identity destruction, but we do know that the closer our procedures conform to reversible human suspended animation the less likely it is that we are wandering into that territory.

Cryonics cannot be disqualified merely because it introduces adverse effects. We know it does and we have no choice but to accept this. But an aggressive pursuit of human suspended animation will eliminate these adverse effects step-by-step so a future doctor will no longer need to worry about the effects of the cryonics procedure itself.

Originally published as a column (Quod incepimus conficiemus) in Cryonics magazine, February, 2013

14. December 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Arts & Living, Health

In her book Reconstructing Illness: Studies in Pathography, Anne Hunsaker Hawkins proposes that the modern pathography is replacing the accounts of religious conversion that were popular in earlier eras. What is a pathography? One definition that I found is “the study of the life of an individual or the history of a community with regard to the influence of a particular disease or psychological disorder.” Reconstructing Illness is an extensive study of this genre, how individuals deal with a diagnosis of a serious illness, and its broader role for medical caregivers and society.

One thing that I was wondering about while reading this is whether there are any pathographies of aging. There is no shortage of pathographies about cancer, HIV/AIDS, dementia (etc.) but I was curious if anyone had ever considered writing about the individual experience of the aging process and its inevitable outcome, death. Hawkins’s book has a very useful list of pathographies organized by disease. Perusing this list provides one with a good understanding of which kind of pathographies are popular but I failed to find even one title that explicitly concerns aging. Similarly, a search on “pathography of aging” on the internet did not produce any results. Sure, there are many books about facing death (or dealing with the death of a loved one) or the challenges and opportunities associated with growing older. But I am not aware of any account that treats the aging process in a format that is remotely similar to the descriptions of disease we meet in the pathography, let alone one where the aging process is described as a battle to be undertaken.

This should not be surprising. For most of us, disease is an abnormal condition that is defined relative to the normal aging process. Although a lot of disease is closely associated with aging, most people hesitate to call the aging process itself a disease because it would render the conventional use of the word disease problematic. There are diseases that are characterized by rapid aging in children, such as progeria, but we do call such conditions a disease because the pace at which these children grow older is not normal. In fact, pathographies of accelerated aging diseases might be the closest thing that approaches a pathography of aging.

Regardless of one’s perspective on the causes or mechanisms of aging, if we look at aging at the molecular level we will find a progressive accumulation of damage as we grow older. Whatever we mean by “aging gracefully,” this accumulation of damage stops for no one and ultimately results in death. Because aging is normal, and no one is being diagnosed with aging, there is not a clear, identifiable, moment in life that triggers the experience and events that are documented in the typical pathography. In fact, the universal nature of human aging and our propensity to react more strongly to unexpected events strongly biases humans to respond to specific diseases and not the aging process itself. What we seem to care about is abnormal deterioration and death, not the deterioration and death that is universal and foreseeable.

Not all people react in such a passive manner to aging. Not anymore. To some of us the relatively slow pace of physiological deterioration is a source of anxiety and the fact that it is a universal phenomenon does not provide solace, especially when medical technologies to halt or reverse aging can be envisioned and pursued. What sets humans apart from other animals is that we can recognize a universal condition and not be satisfied with it. Aging is an undeniable source of suffering and loss of dignity, sets the stage for separation and death, and favors short-term thinking over long-term responsibilities. It will only be a matter of time before the first pathographies of those who succumbed to the process while consciously fighting it will reach us.

Originally published as a column (Quod incepimus conficiemus) in Cryonics magazine 2012-6

25. July 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Health, Science

As we learn more about the human genome, there will be an increasing recognition that general diet recommendations are going to give way to diet recommendations that more closely track the genotype of individuals. For those interested in healthy life extension an important question concerns the relationship between ApoE status and diet. In Why We Age : What Science Is Discovering About the Body’s Journey Through Life (1997) Steven N. Austad writes:

.. piles of evidence suggest that certain genes have a major impact on the development of atherosclerosis, probably the major disease of aging in the Western world. One of those genes is the Apolipoprotein E, usually abbreviated ApoE, which is involved in processing dietary fat. People with one form of the gene, called e4, have higher blood cholesterol (as well as higher LDL, or ”bad” cholesterol) levels than people with other forms of the gene. Finns have the highest rate of atherosclerosis in the world and also have one of the world’s highest frequencies of e4. The Japanese have the world’s lowest national rate of atherosclerosis and also among the world’s lowest frequency of e4. So you could call e4 an atherosclerosis gene. But this would be misleading, because the world’s highest frequency of e4 is found in a country, Papua New Guinea, where until recently atherosclerosis was virtually unknown.

People living in the bush in Papua New Guinea eat a low-fat diet (less than 5 percent fat, compared with 30 to 40 percent fat in an American diet) from necessity rather than choice. Their daily life also involves exercise at levels that would cripple or kill most Americans, even the athletically inclined….So genes operate not in a vacuum but in a specific environment. This is something to bear in mind when reading of the discovery of new “longevity” genes. For instance, there is another form of the ApoE gene, e2, which appears to lower blood cholesterol and therefore probably protects against developing atherosclerosis. Is this a longevity gene? It depends on the environment. Where people eat a lot of fat and don’t exercise, it may well be a longevity gene. In fact, French centenarians are about twice as likely to have this gene as the French population as a whole. But in other environments, the gene may well have little or no effect.

What these examples suggest, besides the difficulty in defining genes with respect to longevity, is that unless we understand how a particular gene is influenced by a particular environment, it will be difficult to translate the effects of genes from animals to humans. This is why most gerontologists are hesitant to claim too much about the relevance to humans of genes now being found with increasing frequency in simple organisms such as fungi and worms that seem to slow aging dramatically. It is difficult to draw parallels between human and worm and fungal environments. (p-41-43)

It is important to keep this point in mind when one considers the pro- and cons of a popular diet. For example, the Paleo Diet has become increasingly popular in the life extension & transhumanist communities. But if the observations of Austad are correct, a diet high in (saturated) fat could have adverse consequences for carriers of one or two copies of the ApoE4 gene. In fact, in her book The Perfect Gene Diet Pamela McDonald steers ApoE4 carriers in the direction of a vegetarian / vegan diet. As we learn more about the ideal diet for carriers of the ApoE4 gene, further refinements may be expected.

Another interesting emerging finding about ApoE4 is that its effect on having a higher probability of developing late-onset Alzheimer’s disease may be dependent on gender. A number of preliminary studies have found that the risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease for males with just one copy of the ApoE4 gene may not be much different from that of individuals who carry the more common ApoE3 gene:

Together with the previous meta-analysis, the data support the idea that a man with one E4 allele may not have much more risk of AD than an E3 homozygote, Greicius said, but added, “If you have two copies of the E4 allele, whether you are a man or a woman, there is no question that your risk leaps tremendously.” He is analyzing older datasets to see if the interaction between gender and ApoE genotype holds, and is also looking for genes that act synergistically with ApoE in women but not men.

If there is anything that is becoming clear from such studies it is that it will be increasingly inadequate to make sweeping statements about lifestyle, diet, and longevity without taking into account ethnicity, gender, age, genotype, and environment of a person. This does not mean that all general recommendations should be discarded. For example, there could be good reasons to believe that a low calorie diet and (moderate) exercise benefit most people. But when it is comes to the nitty gritty of what to eat and how to exercise a more personalized approach is warranted.

25. July 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Cryonics, Health, Neuroscience

The recent symposium on cryonics and brain-threatening disorders was a major success. On Saturday, July 7, 2012, around 30 people attended the first ever symposium on dementia and cryonics in Portland, Oregon. The symposium started with a brief introduction by Institute for Evidence Based Cryonics President Aschwin de Wolf, who emphasized why people with cryonics arrangements have a clear interest in understanding and avoiding dementia. The first speaker, Chana de Wolf, introduced the audience to the topic of adult neurogenesis, the two areas in the brain where it occurs, and how little we still understand about it. Aubrey de Grey then talked about the SENS approach to rejuvenation and how some emerging damage repair bio-technologies might be able to also reverse neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. Cryonics Institute President Ben Best followed Aubrey’s presentation with a technical introduction about the pathophysiology of Alzheimer’s disease and the treatments that are currently being investigated. Ben is maintaining a page about the molecular mechanisms of Alzheimer’s disease on his personal website.

After the break Alcor staff member Mike Perry presented a detailed analysis of a recent paper in which cerebrospinal fluid samples could predict the onset of Alzheimer’s diseases many years before the first signs of cognitive impairment, a finding that holds great promise for life-extensionists, and those with an increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease in particular. Institute for Evidence Based Cryonics Board member Keegan Macintosh then presented a rigorous legal analysis of the Thomas Donaldson case and indicated how the case could have been argued more persuasively then and now. The last speaker of the day was Alcor President Max More who introduced the concept of the extended mind and its relevance to cryonics and neurodegenerative diseases, which prompted a useful exchange about the desirability of cryonics organizations facilitating members to store identity-critical information. The official meeting ended with a panel discussion moderated by Aschwin de Wolf in which all the speakers took questions from the audience and other speakers.

The program and panel left ample time for interaction between speakers and the audience. The topic of avoiding dementia and what to do when a cryonicist is diagnosed with a brain threatening disorder received a lot of attention. Despite the rather disturbing subject of the symposium there seemed to be a general recognition that it was extremely valuable to explore this topic in the context of cryonics. Some suggestions of how to deal with dementia were made that had not been previously discussed in cryonics publications.

It is not likely that we will organize a symposium about this topic every year but there was a strong interest in organizing meetings about other topics on a regular basis in the Pacific Northwest.

The slides of all but one of the presenters are available on the symposium page and a video recording of Aubrey de Grey’s talk was made by one person in the audience. A more detailed report of the symposium will appear in an upcoming issue of Alcor’s Cryonics magazine.

On October 27-29 I attended CR VII, the 2011 Calorie Restriction Society Conference held in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Members of the Calorie Restriction Society restrict their calories while maintaining adequate nutrition as a means of extending their lifespan (or improving their healthspan), as has been proven to work in lower animals.

Although I was still in a wheelchair as a result of falling from a ladder and hip surgery, I got my airline to give me handicapped-support (wheelchair assistance), and I rented a wheelchair in Las Vegas.

CR VII was the seventh CR Society conference held in the ten years since the first such conference was held in the same city, in the same hotel, and in the same meeting-room ten years earlier in 2001. Thursday, October 27 featured presentations by Calorie Restriction Society Members, whereas Friday and Saturday featured presentations by PhD scientific researchers. I am a CR Society Member, so I was invited to speak on cryonics on Thursday. It was a small conference, so there were not many more than forty people attending on any of the days.

My presentation was preceded by a presentation by Peter Voss, who is both a CR Society Member and a Member of Alcor. Peter and his companion Louise Gold were the only CR Society Members other than me attending  the conference who are cryonicists. Peter spoke of the ultimate goal of indefinite lifespan, sharing his wisdom based on his experience practicing calorie restriction, describing cryonics as a “safety net of unknown fabric”, and mostly speaking of his goal of developing Artificial General Intelligence to accelerate research in life extension technologies. Concerning his CR practice, he noted that CR is not binary, and that people receive the benefits to the degree that they restrict their calories. He said that he does not count calories, but simply weighs himself and adjusts his calories appropriately, which is the practice I have adopted. Peter is not worried about hostile AIs because he believes that rationality is positively associated with morality. (See http://www.adaptiveai.com/ for a sample of Peter’s work.)

Although it was not a large group, I expected that such a group of dedicated life extensionists willing to go to extremes in restricting their calories would be very receptive to the practice of cryonics. On the other hand, Shannon Vyff warned me that although CR Society Members can be enthusiastic to hear about cryonics, they don’t sign-up. I gave considerable thought to the marketing aspect of my presentation. I decided to be very up-front about being a salesman, while nonetheless attempting to side-step salesmanship (and sales resistance) by concentrating on the technical issues and encouraging a technical discussion (although I did mention prices and insurance funding).

Alcor Member (and long-time cryonics promoter) Brenda Peters lives in Las Vegas, so I invited her to be my guest at the CR Society Conference. My thought was simply that Brenda and I could renew our friendship while enjoying the conference together.

I began my presentation by describing my and experience and mistakes in practicing calorie restriction as well as my fall in September which resulted in hip surgery and no prospect of walking again for many weeks — and how this had interrupted by exercise/CRAN program. When I asked who felt familiar with their knowledge of technical issues of cryonics, I was surprised that none of the non-cryonicists raised their hands.

After giving my presentation of the technical issues in cryonics I asked the audience to pair-up to discuss both their understanding of my presentation, and reasons they may have for thinking that cryonics may not work. After the paired discussions I asked for questions and objections. Brenda was more enthusiastic than I expected about raising her hand to comment. I somewhat bluntly said that I would rather hear from anyone but her, which was apparently confusing to people who weren’t aware that we knew each other. I was wanting to hear the unvarnished objections to the idea of cryonics which CR Society Members might have. I did not mean to hurt Brenda’s feelings, and I blame myself for not discussing my expectations with her beforehand. I did, nonetheless, allow Brenda to speak a couple of times.

It proved to be hard work getting CR Society Members to explain whatever objections they might have to cryonics. One fellow expressed his belief that not enough is known about the mind to know that cryonics can preserve it. I replied that the mind is based on the synaptic “connectome” and that minds recover from low-temperature surgery in which there is no electrical activity in the brain. Another fellow wanted to hear the experimental evidence that cryonics patients have been revived, to which I could only reply that cryonics is dependent on technologies which do not yet exist, and that revival seems inevitable to me if technology continues to progress and the anatomical basis of mind is preserved. One man believed that dogs had already been cryopreserved and revived, but I corrected his misconception by stating that the dogs have only been revived from cooling down to just above the melting temperature of water. When someone said that most businesses don’t last long, I replied that it is a mistake to compare the durability of cryonics organizations to efforts to start a diner in a location where the success is uncertain. One woman raised the overpopulation issue, which I noted is no more a plausible threat than the danger that too many people will practice Calorie Restriction. I added that the same logic would ban all medical research, especially research into preventing infectious diseases.

Although there were not many objections, neither did I hear much enthusiasm for cryonics. Perhaps they were stunned by an unfamiliar idea, and it takes time for resistance to be overcome. I had been hoping for some sign-ups. I had placed Membership forms on the literature table. It was as if they had no objections to cryonics, but still weren’t interested. Which left me thinking that I shouldn’t have asked for reasons why they think cryonics won’t work, but instead asked for reasons why they won’t sign-up.

A number of people complimented me on the quality of my presentation. But during subsequent discussions with CR Society Members at the conference, I heard further objections to cryonics. One CR Society Member told me that he hoped my presentation would motivate him to sign-up for cryonics. He said that he had mentioned cryonics to his mother several years ago, but she was freaked-out by the thought of being reanimated in a strange and alien world. Since then she had become demented, and he thought it would be wrong to foist cryonics upon her while she is in that condition.

Another CR Society presenter spoke of his project to develop an eco-friendly farm with local barter and community-building that would be sustainable through the disastrous global warming and prolonged depression he was expecting. His bleak vision of the future of technology left no possibility for cryonics, but at least he corrected himself when he started to say “cryogenics”.

Another fellow I spoke with later was concerned that cryonics organizations could not survive in light of the acrimony he saw between Members. His biggest concern, however, was that people of the future would be vastly superior, and treat him with contempt or worse upon his revival. A female CR Society Member told me that she is restricting calories entirely to increase her health-span, not her lifespan. She does not think that life is very good, and she has the hope and belief that the afterlife will be better.

Over lunch, one fellow suggested promoting cryonics as a means of cutting the astronomical health-care costs that so many people incur in their last year of life. I replied that any association of euthanasia with cryonics or any hastening of death on the expectation that cryonics may work would be disastrous for cryonics — and all the moreso if done as a cost-cutting measure.

I had difficulty moving around in the conference room due to the tables and my wheelchair, which made it difficult to chat with people during breaks. I had a similar problem during meal breaks. Whether I would have gotten a better understanding of why no-one seemed eager to sign-up for cryonics if my mobility had been better remains to be seen. I would think that after years of giving presentations about cryonics I would become blunted to lack of interest, but each such experience remains uniquely poignant and disappointing.

I learned much from the scientific presentations, but I won’t attempt to summarize very much. I was, however, very impressed by the extent to which a linkage was made between the blockage of the insulin/IGF-1 pathways in lower organisms and the practice of calorie restriction by humans. There is evidence that protein restriction may be the essence of calorie restriction, and that low protein diets are associated with reduced levels of IGF-1, but only when protein is less than 12% of macronutrients. Increasing insulin sensitivity seems to be the key to extending lifespan, yet although exercise is the most powerful intervention increasing insulin sensitivity, exercise does not increase lifespan.

Stephen Spindler and Luigi Fontana are scientists who have a long and intimate relationship with the CR Society. Both were speakers at this conference. Luigi in particular has been conducting studies on the physiology of long-time calorie restriction practitioners, and the benefits that are seen in the risk factors for various aging-associated diseases. He has published many studies of this research:






A DVD of the presentations is being made by the CR Society, and will be available for sale within a few weeks, I expect.

Many people in the life extension community follow some kind of diet. Historically, caloric restriction (CR) has been the most popular and most discussed option. Other popular diets include the Mediterranean diet and the Paleolithic diet.  In one sense, comparing these diets is like comparing apples and pears. The emphasis of caloric restriction is on how much we eat (given adequate nutrition) and the other diets are more concerned with what we eat. People who follow certain diets may also have different aims. In the case of CR, life extension. In the case of the Mediterranean diet, preventing and delaying cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases. And many who adopt a low-carb diet are (initially) motivated by securing sustainable weight loss.

Assuming that diet plays some role in longevity and disease, it is rather obvious that cryonicists should take a strong interest in choosing the right diet. As it looks to me, there are a number of important considerations.

1. The most important aim of a diet for cryonicists should be to avoid, or delay, neurodegenerative diseases. Extending your life and ending up with advanced Alzheimer’s Disease is worse than dying young and being cryopreserved under circumstances that optimize preservation of personal identity.

2. The choice to follow a particular diet should work for your genotype. Admittedly, nutrigenetics is a very young field but there is a growing recognition that human evolution has not stopped since the start of agriculture and that different populations respond differently to certain diets. And even within these populations we should expect individuals to respond differently to diet.

3. A decision to follow a certain diet should be based on empirical evidence, not on intuition, abstract theories, or thought experiments. In the case of choosing diets, this  means identifying a diet that has shown a favorable ratio of good outcomes in experimental studies, and humans in particular.

Putting this all together, it seems to me that a low calorie diet remains the most defensible choice for most cryonicists because it has been studied longer, studied more extensively, and has the most robust favorable outcomes. CR also seems to stand out favorably in that there are relatively few studies that find detrimental outcomes and its benefits seem to embrace many species and populations. Another advantage of CR is that it can capture all the important goals that life extentionists seeks from a diet: longevity, weight loss and prevention (or delay) of neurodegenerative diseases.

It may be the case that many of the benefits of CR actually come from a reduction of carbohydrates. But one of the problems with a paleolithic diet is that it may be more beneficial for certain populations than others. As Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending demonstrate in their seminal book The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution, human evolution did not stop when hunter gatherers started agriculture, and some populations are more adapted to agricultural products (such as milk) than others. Another concern about the paleolithic diet is the controversy surrounding saturated fat. For life extentionists who carry one or two copies of the ApoE4 gene, a diet high in saturated fat may actually increase the probability of Alzheimer’s disease. Others dispute this and recommend a diet high in (saturated) fat to prevent dementia.  In light of this uncertainty, the most prudent course of action may be to incorporate the emerging evidence against carbohydrates into a CR diet without emphasizing saturated fat.

There is an ongoing debate whether the longevity benefits of CR will be as great in humans as in lower species but the evidence so far seems to be that there are at least benefits in terms of delaying the onset of age-associated diseases. Whether these benefits are conferred through a change in gene expression or because they reduce the amount of chemicals that can participate in pathological events is not clear, but our incomplete knowledge about the mechanisms involved should not deter anyone from following CR. As I currently see it, the role of ongoing research into nutrigenetics and other diets should be to further calibrate and refine a low calorie diet to optimize it for a specific individual and to further delay the onset of neurodegenerative diseases.

CR seems to come closer to being a universal diet than other diets but it may be contra-indicated for some people, such as certain athletes and extreme ectomorphs. There are also cases in the life extension community of people who pushed it too hard (or neglected good nutrition), offsetting all the gains from the diet, or even endangering their own health. A diet that does not make a person feel good, is generally not a diet that is good, let alone one that can be sustained over time.  The aim of a diet should not be to conform to an impersonal set of recommendations, but to monitor your own response and increase the chance for personal survival.

26. September 2011 · Comments Off · Categories: Cryonics, Health · Tags: , , , ,

As every modern consumer knows, smartphones are today’s go-to portable technology. Everything from GPS navigation to finding a good deal on your next meal or haircut right NOW to a wide variety of games and applications may be had at the touch of a button. But developers of smartphone applications (i.e, “apps”) are only just beginning to realize the true capabilities of having so much computing power in the palm of your hand. Indeed, the possibilities for health monitoring applications in combination with GPS location bodes well for cryonicists.

Until cryonics-specific apps become available, there are several existing applications useful to cryonics members and organizations. Here are some of the most interesting from the Android Market:

ICE (In Case of Emergency):   Emergency personnel look for ICE information in patient mobile phones. This ICE app has a couple of widget options and can be accessed even when the phone is locked. My favorite feature is the ability to put any special instructions (like the protocol from your Alcor bracelet) on the main screen. The app acts primarily as an emergency contact list. Your cryonics service provider should be #1, followed by family and friends who support your cryonics arrangements. Additionally, you may enter your vital stats, medical and dental insurance information, and any known allergies, conditions, and/or medications.

For those with “dumb phones,” just create a contact called “ICE” and enter your cryonics organization’s emergency number. Additional information about placing ICE  numbers in your cell phone may be found in this article by Fred and Linda Chamberlain.

Emergency Button: Emergency Button sends a distress signal with your coordinates to a defined recipient when pressed. This has obvious utility for all matters of personal safety, and can be used to alert your cryonics organization to emergency health situations as soon as they emerge.

Google Latitude: Latitude is a GPS location tracking app. It allows for various privacy settings and can be configured to share only with specific people. A cryonics organization could, with its members’ permission, use such an app for real-time location tracking.

These are just three basic apps that are commonly available and useful to cryonicists now. I hope to be updating this list as improvements in smartphone technology continue.