The 2011 Calorie Restriction Society Conference

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:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21402069

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21841020

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2724865/

http://ajpheart.physiology.org/content/294/3/H1174.long

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2829867/

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

Fifth SENS Conference

August 31 to September 4, 2011 I attended fifth biannual SENS Conference (SENS5, Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence) at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom.

People who attend SENS conferences are the demographic that is the most receptive to cryonics of any identifiable group I have yet found. They are mostly scientists interested in intervening in the aging process. Quite a number of attendees are already cryonicists, including Aubrey de Grey, the originator of SENS and the organizer of the conference. But cryonicists are nonetheless a distinct minority. In previous years I brought a few Cryonics Institute brochures, which were soon taken. This year I brought enough brochures for as many of the 240 attendees as might want one (there were many left over).  I also brought a few copies of my “Scientific Justification of Cryonics Practice” (the published write-up of my SENS3 cryonics presentation) which I gave to a few attendees who seemed most receptive.

In addition to my oral presentation on cryonics I also had a poster. Scientific conferences usually have poster sessions where scientists present research, reviews, or ideas in the form of a poster. Poster presenters stand by their posters at scheduled times to discuss their work on a one-to-one basis with individuals rather than to an audience. My poster dealt with challenging the concept of biological age and denying the possibility of a biomarker of aging that could determine biological age. I contended that biological age and biomarkers of aging assume a singular underlying aging process, which I denied on the grounds that aging is multiple forms of damage. I sought to make maximum use of the one-to-one interaction by preparing Socratic questions to stimulate thinking and discussion with the attendees. The process also gave me another means of meeting and speaking to those attending. One interesting person I met was a Torontonian who is currently studying for his PhD at University of Glasgow. His work involves developing gene vectors that can precisely target and modify genes on chromosomes. I consider gene therapy to be an essential tool for the ultimate implementation of SENS, and a deficiency of SENS that there is so little attention paid to this technology. I don’t see how SENS can be implemented by any means other than genetic re-programming. LysoSENS, for example, would require new genes to create new, more effective enzymes for the lysosomes. MitoSENS would require all mitochondrial proteins be made in the nucleus and imported into the mitochondria.

Partly in this connection, was my aggressive lobbying of Aubrey de Grey to have Argentinian biogerontologist and Cryonics Institute member Rodolfo Goya as an invited speaker at SENS5. I began lobbying in January when Dr. de Grey was at ConFusion 2011. Aubrey was initially reluctant based on the first batch of Dr. Goya’s papers that I sent, but a later batch in which Dr. Goya was principle investigator proved to be effective. In Dr. Goya’s presentation at SENS5 he described his use of viral vectors attached to magnetic nanoparticles to deliver IGF-1 genes to senescent female rats to rejuvenate dopamine-producing cells in the hypothalamus. He injects the particles into the venticles, so the technique is somewhat invasive. Another speaker, Matthew Wood, described exosome nanoparticles which can cross the blood-brain barrier so I am hopeful that Dr. Goya can adopt this technique. Dr. Goya ended his presentation with a short pitch for cryonics (showing CI’s cryostats), which even I found embarrassingly awkward. I introduced Dr. Goya to a number of other cryonicists attending SENS5, including Igor Artyuhov, who is the scientific advisor for KrioRus, and Alcor Member Maria Entraigues, who is the SENS volunteer co-ordinator, and a native of Argentina (now living in Los Angeles).

Russian biogerontologist Alexey Moskalev reported on decreasing the number of single-strand DNA breaks and increasing the maximum lifespan in fruit flies by overexpressing the stress response/DNA repair gene GADD45 in the nervous system. That such a presentation would be included in SENS5 was of special interest to me insofar as I have contended that (and debated with Aubrey de Grey concerning) nuclear DNA damage possibly being a significant cause of aging damage that is missing from SENS:

http://www.benbest.com/lifeext/Nuclear_DNA_in_Aging.pdf

http://www.alcor.org/magazine/2011/02/28/deficiencies-in-the-sens-approach-to-rejuvenation/

http://www.alcor.org/magazine/2011/06/07/sens-a-reply-to-ben-best/

Alexey later told me that he had read my paper in REJUVENATION RESEARCH, and I’d like to think that I helped inspire his work.

Alexey announced that there will be a genetics of aging conference in Moscow in April 2012. I entertained the thought of going, partly because of my desire to see KrioRus, but I would rather go later when KrioRus is established in its new building, and has a research program in full swing.

Alexey’s research was partly funded by the Science for Life Foundation (the organization of the wealthy life-extensionist Russian Mikhail Batin). Maria Konovalenko (who was featured in LONG LIFE magazine) reported on her work at the Science for Life Foundation to build an open web-based database of age-related changes (molecular and phenotypic). Maria has her own blog.

I am not going to attempt to describe the other very excellent SENS5 presentations other than to say that great progress has been made in starting research programs on each of the SENS strategies, and by 2012 research on all the strategies is expected to be in progress.

Alcor President Max More was an invited speaker, which means that he had a half-hour time-slot immediately preceding my 15-minute time-slot near the end of the program. Max gave an overview of cryonics, whereas I concentrated on technical and scientific issues associated with vascular and neuronal injury from ischemia and reperfusion. During the question period I was asked if we are interacting with hospital staff to limit pre-mortem ischemia in cryonics patients. I said that the current legal environment limits such interactions, but that pre-mortem anti-oxidant protocol has been recommended and used.

I arranged to send more information to a few people in the audience, including a man who was interested in hydrogen sulfide to limit ischemic injury in cryonics, and an Italian neuroscientist who is interested in neurophysiology studies of vitrified brain tissue as well as contact information for Italian cryonicists.

At the final banquet I sat with CI Member Dr. Gunther Kletetschka, who is now living in the Czech Republic and is pursuing a number of imaginative cryonics-related research projects. One of these involves carbon nanotubes to deliver non-toxic metals to cells to use magnetocaloric cooling. Such a technique could cool tissues uniformly rather than externally, thereby eliminate the thermal stress that causes cracking when vitrified cryonics patients are cooled at cryogenic temperatures.

The last day was spent punting on the Cam River, with dinner in the evening. This provided an opportunity for more networking and information exchange, although most of this was in connection with biogerontology.

There was much biogerontology to be learned at SENS5. What I learned at SENS5 can potentially extend my life and that of others. To postpone cryopreservation by life extension is to benefit from technical advances, to extend the time in which I can contribute to technical advancement, and to enjoy more present life. In the best case, rejuvenation will become a reality in my lifetime and I won’t need to be cryopreserved at all. I work for this possibility as well as for improved cryopreservation. Moreover, in doing research for my cryonics presentation at SENS5 — and in giving the presentation — I learned many things that can help me make more informed choices in directing the research that Aschwin and Chana de Wolf do for the Cryonics Institute.

A video of my presentation may eventually be placed on the SENS5 YouTube site.

Teens & Twenties 2011 Gathering

On the evening of Thursday, May 19 and on Friday, May 20, I attended the 2011 (2nd annual) Teens & Twenties young cryonicists gathering which preceded the Suspended Animation, Inc. conference in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The Teens & Twenties gathering (for young cryonicists having human cryopreservation contracts in place with some cryonics organization) is an offshoot of the cryonics Asset Preservation Group. Like the Asset Preservation Group, this event was created-by and is run-by Cairn Idun. Bill Faloon funds Teens & Twenties through a Life Extension Foundation education grant. Members of the Asset Preservation Group, such as myself, are permitted to attend despite being more than 30 years old. Of the 52 people who attended, ten were Asset Preservation Group members, and 42 were young cryonicists.

When asked who did not want to be photographed, only one person in the group raised his hand. I will refrain from mentioning any of the young cryonicists by name. Writing about this very people-oriented event without mentioning individual young cryonicists is like writing about lemonade without mentioning lemon. Some of the personalities were particularly colorful and memorable. But I know that many of the individuals do not want the publicity, and in my experience people get very emotional about what is said and not said about them. Even with explicit permission I am concerned that many of the young cryonicists might not fully appreciate the kinds of problems writing about them in connection with cryonics might cause for their future careers.

This year the demographics of the young cryonicists more closely matched what is typical of cryonicists. Last year about one third of those attending were female, and there was a high representation of people from the entertainment industry. This year, the attendees were overwhelmingly male, with most of the females being companions of males (which is not to say they were not cryonicists). Many members of this group were impressively highly educated, mostly in computer technologies, and secondarily in biotechnologies.

EXCELLENT MEALS WERE INCLUDED IN THE SCHOLARSHIPS

There were six Russians: five from KrioRus, and one from CryoFreedom. KrioRus is located near Moscow, whereas CryoFreedom is further south in Russia, closer to Ukraine. Dr. Yuri Pichugin (formerly the Cryonics Institute’s cryobiologist, is associated with CryoFreedom. CryoFreedom advertises neuropreservation for $7,500. Although it currently has no human patients, two pets are in liquid nitrogen. (I also learned that there is a man named Eugen Shumilov who is working to start a new cryonics company in St. Petersburg, Russia, but there was no representation of Shumilov’s organization at this event.

There are two overlapping goals of the Teens & Twenties event. One is the opportunity for members of the Asset Presevation Group to meet the young cryonicists. The other is the opportunity for the widely dispersed young cryonicists to become acquainted with each other, and to build lasting networks (community building). Cairn Idun has designed a number of “getting to Know You” exercises to facilitate the networking.

There are two self-introductions: the first lasting one minute, and the second lasting two minutes. I was the most anal-retentive of any of the participants in these exercises. I wrote-out my self-introductions, and practiced reading them to myself until I was sure I was within a few seconds of the one and two minute allocations. The one-minute self-introductions were on Thursday evening, and the two-minute self-introductions were Friday morning.

The Thursday evening self-introductions were followed by the exercise wherein participants classified themselves by “color”: (Green:Conceptual, Curious, Wise, Versatile), (Red:Adventuresome, Skillful, Competitive,Spontaneous), (Gold:Responsible, Dependable, Helpful, Sensible), and (Blue:Warm, Communicative, Compassionate, Feeling), as described in my write-up of last year’s Teens & Twenties event.

Once again, Greens were most numerous, followed by Reds. Cairn directed the participants to gather into groups by color. No directions were given for these meetings, so it was to foster socialization between “like-colored” individuals.

Last year a number of people had little to say in their second self-introductions, imagining that they had said all that could be said about themselves in their first self-introduction. I concerned myself quite a bit about how to prevent this from happening again. I made a number of suggestions in the Young Cryonicists Facebook Group, as did others. Cairn had participants list wants and “not-wants” of various kinds before the second self-introductions as a means of facilitating self-awareness. I tried to make my second self-introduction very personal in the hope that it would inspire others. There weren’t too many who were at a loss for words in the second self-introductions this year. Many of the participants passed-out business cards or other self-descriptive materials in conjunction with their second self-introduction.

There was a breakout session in which those with special interests had an opportunity to discuss their interests or how they might work together on those interests. The interest areas were entertainment, research, computer sciences, communication networking, and psychology/philosophy of self.

INTEREST GROUPS

Bill Faloon encouraged the participants to share thoughts about types of research that could lead to reanimation — with the thought that many of the young cryonicists would be in charge of large revival trust funds with income that can be used for research on reanimation technologies. I won’t attempt to summarize the thoughts of others, but I can say a few things about what I said.

Some people don’t want cryonics because they are afraid that they will not be restored in their original condition. The mother of one cryonicist is a stroke victim, and she has had a frightening first-hand experience of losing mental & movement capacity. Hollywood plays into this vision by depicting reanimated beings as zombies who are criminally insane.

Few people want to be the first of those reanimated — they would prefer that many others be reanimated first to ensure that the process works perfectly. I suggested that the first people reanimated might be brought back by next-of-kin who are overly eager to see their loved-ones as soon as possible. The idea of reviving pets first would not be popular with many pet owners. Reanimation technologies might be perfected on non-pet animals, although even today there is increasing sentiment against animal research. Animal rights activists seek legislation to protect animals from “unnecessary research”, which would likely include anything cryonics-related. Austria banned research on apes in 2006, and the number of countries with similar legislation continues to grow [SCIENCE; 332:28-31 (April 2011)]. Even if reanimation research was conducted on apes, the extrapolation of restoring ape consciousness/identity to restoring of human consciousness/identity is non-trivial.

I worry that as more wealthy cryonicists are cryopreserved, their only concern will be for reanimation research. Many of them will not appreciate that improved cryopreservation methods will advance cryonics and thereby enhance their chances of reanimation.

The next “getting to know you” exercise was what Cairn calls “speed dating”. Each participant is to spend two minutes with every other participant having a one-to-one conversation. For myself, it gave me an opportunity to talk to many people I would not have spoken with otherwise, and to have personal conversations with many individuals that I cannot imagine happening in any other way. Spontaneous socializing more often results in people talking only to those they already know. This exercise is a good ice-breaker, but it does involve some effort. It can be a strain to be starting conversations again-and-again, and again-and-again having to break them off once they become interesting — but the result was well worth the effort for me. Having a personal connection with individuals enables me to interact with them more productively, and this must also be true of the others. I rate speed-dating as the most valuable of all of the exercises, along with self-introductions.

Participants filled out a sheet indicating their interest level in cryonics — including such things as whether they planned to have a cryonics-related career, do volunteer work for a cryonics organization, or simply be a consumer.

GATHERING FOR THE GROUP PHOTO

he final event was the group photo, after which was a dinner and then reception for the Suspended Animation conference. The photographer who made the group photo was employed to make photographs only intended sor private use of Suspended Animation, Inc., but we did not learn this until later (even the photographer did not know).

All the young cryonicists had the fees, hotel expenses, and meals associated with the Suspended Animation conference paid-for. The opportunity for some of the young cryonicists who have an interest in science to directly interact with current cryonics researchers could eventually lead to large scientific dividends for cryonics research in the future.

There were reportedly many exaggerated rumors about what happened in the evening hot-tub sessions in the 2010 Teens & Twenties gathering. I brought my bathing suit this year, but did not spend a great deal of time in the hot tub. The conversation was a bit more playful than it was in other contexts, and there was more of a party-spirit in the hot tub — which some of the participants relished. I would guess that about half of the Teens & Twenties participants spent at least some time in the hot tub.

Despite all of the intensive social interaction and “getting to know you” exercises, I would have a hard time making a connection between names, faces, and biographies of at least a third of the young cryonicists. I don’t believe that I am unique in that regard. The “speed-dating” exercise was particularly helpful in strengthening and deepening the name/face/biography connections. Memories of the individuals and their personalities are likely to be more easily refreshed in the future thanks to the meetings and exercises of this gathering.

YOUNG CRYONICISTS VISIT WITH SAUL KENT

Free will versus determinism as it relates to cryonics

Excerpt from “Ben Best – A Case for Free Will AND Determinism”

Determinism implies materialism — implies that consciousness is material. Cryonics is based on the premise that the preservation of the fine structure of the brain at low temperature will preserve the self — ie, that the self is entirely determined-by and contained-in the physical brain. Determinism would imply that preservation of the material basis of mind/self is theoretically possible. (For an exploration of how the self is encoded in the brain, see my series The Anatomical Basis of Mind. Development of the anatomical argument to explain the functioning of mind is best summarized in Chapter 8, Neurophysiology and Mental Function.)

Defenders of “free will” who say that the self has a spiritual basis independent of the brain often reject cryonics as being unnecessary. There are a few “spiritually” oriented people (like the Fyodorovians) who think that “resurrection of the body” is essential due to an intimate connection between the body and the “soul”, but these are in the minority. The majority of cryonicists do not accept spiritual beliefs, but there are notable exceptions, namely people who regard cryonics as a form of medicine. If cryonics can extend life, it is no more an affront to spiritual belief than other life-extending practices such as exercise and the avoidance of tobacco.

What about anti-determinist materialists who believe in “free will”? Those, like Roger Penrose, who claim that the mind is ultimately rooted in quantum uncertainty might not accept the possibility of biostasis, but Penrose has made no explicit statement about this subject. Penrose writes of the non-computability of mind, but acknowledges that non-predictability does not equate with “free will”.

Predictability is really at the heart of what is required for cryonics. If the mechanical operation of billions of neurons and trillions of synapses result in the phenomena known as the mind, the Self and the Will, then preservation & restoration of this machinery by cryonicists & nanotechnologists is possible in principle. But this also means that human beings are machines whose future actions are, in principle, entirely predictable. The positive side of this is that understanding the machinery in sufficient detail could provide the basis for reconstructing those aspects of the mind (parts of the brain) that were destroyed beyond recognition or repair. The negative side is that many people find it “dehumanizing” to believe that we are nothing but machines.

The proposition that the self/mind has a complete material basis in the mind has practical implications for cryonics, but also raised baffling questions. If it is possible to use a cryopreserved brain as a template for atom-by-atom reconstruction of a new brain, the identity of the person whose brain was cryopreserved would presumably be restored. But if such reconstruction could be done once, there is no reason why it could not be done hundreds of times. Would each reconstruction have the same personal identity (the same self) as the original? (For more detail on this question, see my essay The Duplicates Paradox).

Cryonics Oregon june meeting report

About 35 people attended the Cryonics Oregon-sponsored debate on the subject of SENS. Chana de Wolf was mistress of ceremonies. A show of hands indicated that the great majority of those attending were signed-up cryonicists. There was a sizeable contingent of CI Members who drove down from Seattle for the event. One was Eron Hennessey who bid $100 for an autographed Nanomedicine book by Robert Freitas that was auctioned for the benefit of James Swayze (who also attended the event). The money will be kept by Cryonics Oregon to help pay for equipment  for James. Jordan Sparks has offered to build a portable  ice bath that is large enough for James.

About five people came to the event who were non-cryonicists attending the American Aging Association conference, three of whom I brought in a taxi. A biogerontologist cryobiologist who wishes not to be named also attended.

Dr. de Grey began the debate with his standard presentation explaining the SENS program. After I presented my critique, the cryobiologist took the stage and gave his critique of SENS. Aubrey started by answering the cryobiologist, although he commented on a couple of my points. He and the cryobiologist were soon in an active exchange which went on for a while. It became evident to me the Aubrey was not going to get  around to answering my critique in the remaining 15 minutes of the 2-hour booking for the room. I interrupted Aubrey and the cryobiologist suggesting that questions should  be taken from the floor. Aschwin de Wolf added his critique to the debate, and he was followed by others.

There was not much time for socializing, but there was enough for most of us to have a few brief and rewarding conversations with people we had not seen for a while as well as others we were meeting for the first time.  A few Alcor and CI brochures were taken. One man with a CI brochure expressed interest in having cryonics  arrangements with both CI and Alcor. I told him that CI allows those with dual arrangements to have CI as a backup service provider. Alcor allows dual arrangements, but always insists that Alcor be the primary service provider, and that Alcor can never be the backup.

Cryonics Oregon June Meeting with Aubrey de Grey and Ben Best

On June 6th the next Cryonics Oregon meeting will coincide with a downtown Portland aging conference. As a result we have been successful in persuading Cryonics Institute President Ben Best and Alcor member and biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey to attend our meeting. The theme of the evening will be “Strategies for Life extension and Rejuvenation: A Discussion with Aubrey de Grey and Ben Best.”

Dr. Aubrey de Grey will present a brief synopsis of his Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) for regeneration and rejuvenation. Ben Best will reply with his view of shortcomings of the SENS approach, and how these shortcomings can be addressed. Discussion will include such matters as biomarkers of aging, mechanisms of aging, use of dietary supplements and the relevance of cryonics.

Date:  Sunday, June 6, 2010
Time: 7:30pm – 10:00pm
Location: Roots Organic Brewing
Address: 1520 SE 7TH, Portland, OR

This will be no ordinary Cryonics Oregon meeting! Promotional materials from Alcor, CI, and SENS will be there as well.

To cover the rent of the space a minimum donation of $5.00 per person will be collected.

Attendees under 21 are allowed until 10:00 pm.

It is very important for everyone to RSVP as soon as you know if you can make it or not so we can get a good idea of attendance.

The 2009 SENS Conference

Once a year I try to attend at least one biogerontology conference. Although I attend biogerontology conferences out of personal interest, and at my own expense, they are the most fruitful grounds for promoting cryonics I have found, and this is especially true of SENS conferences.

I have missed none of the four SENS conferences that have been held at Cambridge University. “SENS” is Dr. Aubrey de Grey’s “Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence.”

SENS conferences attract scientists who are eager for science to achieve rejuvenation, and who have a strong belief that science has the capacity to do so. Not surprisingly, such people are often receptive to the idea that future science may be capable of reanimating humans who have been well cryopreserved.

Recently I have heard regret expressed about the aging of the cryonics community and the absence of a next generation of cryonics activists to replace the current ones. My experiences at the 2009 SENS conference dispelled much of my concern about this.

I took about a hundred CI brochures, but these were quickly taken by the 290 SENS conference attendees. I was continually approached by young scientists and researchers who were eager to meet me and who said they would make cryonics arrangements when they got out of graduate school and could afford to do so. Insofar as many of the attendees were Europeans, I was often asked whether the shipping delays to the United States would make cryonics not worth doing, and whether there were any plans by the Cryonics Institute to create a storage facility in Europe. (I was told about a group wanting to establish a storage facility in Switzerland, but I did not get any details. Apparently it is not a project with serious hope of success in the near future.)

I was astounded when a British student approached me and said that he would be devoting all of his graduate school work to the problem of cryoprotectant toxicity. He had already gotten Dr. Fahy to send him a copy of “Cryoprotectant toxicity neutralization,” a new paper to be published in an upcoming issue of CRYOBIOLOGY. The student is in the process of collecting other cryobiology publications that address the subject. I directed him to a relevant webpage in the cryonics section of my www.benbest.com website.

A number of people from KrioRus were at the conference, notably Igor Artyuhov, who is their technical guru. The group also does life extension research. Igor showed me their poster showing extended lifespan of mice administered heat-shock protein through nose-drops. I was interviewed by a journalist who writes for the Russian edition of SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN.

I had met Nick Mayer, a Terasem employee, at the previous SENS conference, and Nick introduced himself to me again at this meeting. Nick manages “cyberbiological systems”, specifically a website that is being used like an on-line personal diary. As Nick described it to me, the website would be useful to store personal information that could be used to help in the reconstruction of someone who has been reanimated from cryopreservation. But when I looked at his website, it appears to be a project for reconstructing people from their diaries alone — without any saved biological material.

To my surprise, one of the presenters, Dr. Gunther Kletetschka, had a poster and an oral presentation dealing with eliminating the cracking problem in cryonics.

Cracking of vitrified tissue at cryogenic temperatures is a consequence of the fact that external cooling causes superficial tissue to contract more than deep tissue (thermal conductivity is low). Dr. Kletetschka’s approach is based on the idea that if a cryonics patient were perfused with a solution containing gadolinium (nanoparticles would be best), an entire vitrified brain could be cooled uniformly by the magnetocaloric effect.

From a practical point of view, his sample size was apparently very small, and he did his testing on ice rather than vitrified tissue. I had many other criticisms of his approach, which I attempted to discuss with him in a constructive, supportive manner. He was interested in what I had to say, and was very receptive. Insofar as he is so enthusiastic about doing cryonics-related research, and insofar as he lives in Maryland (not so far from Michigan) I suggested that he attend the CI Annual General Meeting on Sunday, September 27. He expressed an interest in doing so.

A European student told me that his mother is a stroke victim, but that he has not been able to induce her to consider cryonics. Having experienced the debilitating effects of stroke she is worried that faulty reanimation procedures would bring her back into an even more debilitated condition. I suggested asking her to assess the probability of that happening and how bad the downside would matter if the probability is small. I think that in the context of all of the other repairs that would be essential to cryonics working that it is unlikely that all such defects would not be fixed.

A middle-aged European woman wanted to speak with me about how to convince her husband that cryonics is a good idea. The couple are both religious, but she thinks “heaven can wait” because she enjoys life here on earth and she would like to share earthly life for a very long time with her husband. I gave her many arguments against the claim that cryonics is against religion, including the one concerning refusing a lifesaving medical treatment being equivalent to suicide (a sin).

I was reminded of the Depressed Metabolism posting about the “hostile wife phenomenon” in cryonics:  It occurs to me that when a male spouse is interested in cryonics, but his wife is not, that he can go ahead and make the arrangements. A financially dependent woman (as this woman is), less often has that option. I have also often seen cases of women interested in cryonics, but who dropped the interest when it became clear that their spouse would not join them in cryostasis. They would rather not live if they cannot be with their husbands. It reminds me of studies of working couples that show that a wife is much more likely to quit her job to follow her husband in a career change that involves moving — whereas the opposite happens much less frequently.

I won’t say much about the SENS conference itself, but I had lots of meetings and discussions that taught me a lot about biogerontology issues. I was particularly interested in discussing my recent article “Nuclear DNA Damage as a Direct Cause of Aging” which had been published in Rejuvenation Research, because it is a direct challenge to one of the tenets of SENS (that nuclear DNA damage only matters for cancer).

Not only was I able to have two private sessions in which I discussed the matter with Aubrey de Grey, but I was able to eat breakfast several times with Vera Gorbunova and her husband Andrei Seluanov, two DNA repair experts who were attending the conference. Vera and Andrei have written the only other review (other than my own) supporting the thesis that nuclear DNA repair capability declines with age.

I had cited that review in my own review. Vera had sat across from me at my first breakfast by chance. She had read my review and told me that she agreed with it. Most of the times that I went for a meal I was very pleased by at least one person randomly sitting near me, and had an interesting and productive discussion with them on a matter of interest. I discussed my cryonics alarm system problems with a woman who is getting a PhD in biomedical engineering.

I was very surprised and pleased to meet Kristen Fortney at the conference. Kristen is a University of Toronto student who attended some of our cryonics meetings in Toronto. She was a physics student and was planning to do graduate work in quantum physics. At the conference she told me she had changed to a PhD program focused on computational work with the human genome, focused on anti-aging strategies. She wrote a blog of the conference as it progressed on the Ouroboros academic blog for aging research.

Stuart Gordon's Re-Animator and the science of cryonics

This past weekend Motel X, the Lisbon (Portugal) International Horror festival, had its third anniversary. It is one of the smaller international horror festivals around, but this year they managed to have both Stuart Gordon, director of several Lovecraft adaptions, and John Landis, director of the horror classic An American Werewolf in London, as special guests to provide introductions to their movies and give guest lectures.

Stuart Gordon is perhaps best known for his adaption of H.P. Lovecraft’s Re-Animator, also subject of  an earlier Depressed Metabolism post called H.P. Lovecraft and the science of resuscitation. Although it is one of his earliest movies, the festival did show Re-animator as part of a limited retrospective on Gordon’s work.

Re-animator is about Herbert West’s search to restore life to the dead. When Gordon introduced his movie, he mentioned that the movie is based on a true story, referring to actual research that is being carried out to resuscitate the dead. To a person familiar with cryonics, or even mainstream medical procedures such as hypothermic circulatory arrest, this is not such a strange concept but, surprisingly, the audience started laughing. Even when Gordon insisted on the subject, the audience continued with laughter.

This does show that even people that watch horror and science fiction movies, and the often forward-looking concepts portrayed in them, have a hard time imagining that these ideas are legitimate areas of scientific investigation and that resuscitation of “dead” people  may become reality in the future. This response highlights the struggle cryonicists face to make cryonics more accepted in society.

Two peer-reviewed articles relevant to cryonics:

Yuri Pichugin, Gregory M. Fahy, Robert Morin:  Cryopreservation of rat hippocampal slices by vitrification (PDF)

Benjamin P. Best: Scientific Justification for Cryonics Procedures (PDF)

See also Alcor’s Frequently Asked Questions for Scientists.