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.

This book review was originally published in Cryonics magazine, 1st Quarter, 2011.

Editor-in-chief, cryobiologist, and aging researcher Gregory M. Fahy and his associate editors Michael D. West, L. Stephen Cole and Steven B. Harris have compiled what might be the most impressive collection of articles on interventive gerontology to date in their 866 page collection The Future of Aging: Pathways to Human Life Extension. The book is divided into 2 parts. The first part includes general, scientific, social and philosophical perspectives on life extension. The second part is a collection of proposed interventions, which are organized in chronological order, starting with the (projected) earliest interventions first. Of course, such an organization of the materials necessitates a subjective estimation of when such technologies will be available and is bound to be controversial. The collection closes with a number of appendices about contemporary anti-aging funding and projects (SENS, Manhattan Beach Project).

I have read the book with the following two questions in mind:

1.     Which approaches for increasing the maximum life span show clear near-term potential?

2.     Is meaningful rejuvenation possible without advanced cell repair technologies?

What follows are my comments on selected chapters of the book.

I cannot say that I am a big fan of Ray Kurzweil’s work. His general introduction to life extension, “Bridges to Life,” co-written with Terry Grossman, starts out on a restrained note, discussing the benefits of caloric restriction, exercise, basic supplementation, and predictive genomics. But it then ratchets up into bold claims about the future that rest on controversial premises: about biology and health following the same path as information technology; about the technical feasibility of molecular nanotechnology; and about the nature of mind. One thing that remains a mystery to me is how such an accelerating pace of anti-aging technologies could be validated considering the relatively long life expectancy of humans. Presumably we are expected to adopt a lot of these technologies based on their theoretical merits, success in animal studies, or short-term effects in humans.

Associate Editor Stephen Cole contributes a chapter on the ethical basis for using human embryonic stem cells. I suspect that his argument in favor of these therapies relies on adopting a definition of personhood that has more far-reaching, and more controversial, consequences than just permitting the use of human embryonic stem cells. One of the most disconcerting aspects of the bioethical debate on stem cell research is that many of its advocates seem to feel that if they do not see an ethical case against it, government funding for such research should be permitted.  In essence, this means that opponents of embryonic stem cell research are obliged to financially support it as well. This is a recipe for further aggravating what has already become a passionate political debate.

As someone with relatively limited exposure to the biogerontology literature I should be cautious in singling out one technical contribution for high praise, but Joshua Mitteldorf’s chapter on the evolutionary origins of aging is one of the best and most inspiring articles in the field of aging research I have read and worth the hefty price of the book alone. Mitteldorf outlines a case for the theory that evolution has selected aging for its own sake and presents experimental findings that falsify other explanations for aging such as wear-and-tear and metabolic trade-offs. That aging is firmly under genetic control may appear the most pessimistic finding in terms of the prospects of halting aging but in fact allows for the manipulation of a number of selected upstream interventions that can inhibit or mitigate these programs.

It is clear from this ambitious book that cryobiologist Greg Fahy also has a strong interest in biogerontology but nothing prepared me for the encyclopedic knowledge that he displays in his lengthy chapter on the precedents for the biological control of aging. Fahy’s chapter further corroborates the view that aging is under genetic control. He also reviews a great number of beneficial mutations and interventions in animals and humans that can extend lifespan. Reading all these inspiring examples, however, I found myself faced with the same kind of despair as when reading about all the neuroprotective interventions in stroke and cardiac arrest. There is great uncertainty how such interventions would fare in humans (or other animals) and, more specific to the objective of human life extension, how we ourselves can ascertain that there are no long-term adverse consequences. Fahy does not run away from the most formidable challenge of all, rejuvenation of the brain without losing identity-critical information, but points out that identity-critical information might be retained despite the turnover and replacement of components that a meaningful life extension program for the brain would most likely require. Fortunately, people who make cryonics arrangements can feel a little better about this issue because their survival is not dependent on safe technologies becoming available in their lifetime.

Zheng Sui’s report on using high potency granulocytes to cure cancer in mice is one of the more exciting chapters in the book and a fine example of the role of chance discoveries in biomedical research (Zheng by accident discovered a mouse innately resistant to cancer). With substantial support of the Life Extension Foundation and other private donors, Sui is aggressively pursuing Leukocyte Infusion Therapy (LIFT) human trials instead of pursuing the torturous path of trying to illuminate the biochemical and molecular mechanisms that drive the successful results in mice. I should mention that a unique concern for cryonicists is that eliminating cancer in the absence of other effective anti-aging technologies could increase the likelihood of dying as result of identity-threatening insults such as cardio-vascular complications, ischemic stroke, or Alzheimer’s disease.

I must admit being somewhat disappointed in the chapter about “evolutionary nutrigenomics” by Michael Rose and his collaborators. Michael Rose has always struck me as one of the more level-headed and empirical aging researchers, and his work with fruit flies is a resounding demonstration of using evolutionary tools to investigate and combat aging. His short contribution to this book reads more as a quickly thrown together status update of their company, Genescient, than a rigorous treatment of the issues. Dispersed throughout the text are a number of interesting perspectives on alternative approaches to aging research and the validation of anti-aging interventions, but these issues are not discussed in much detail. Michael Rose’s work is of great interest, but this chapter is neither a good introduction to his work nor an in-depth treatment of the practical applications of his research.

Anthony Atala’s chapter, “Life Extension by Tissue and Organ Replacement,” is a fascinating update on the current status and potential of regenerative medicine and tissue engineering. Unlike most of the chapters in this book, the author reports a number of examples of successful clinical applications. It is a good example of how working with nature (instead of trying to improve upon it) can have meaningful near-term benefits. Unfortunately, there is no discussion of the progress in regenerative medicine for the brain. Obviously, such strategies cannot involve a simple replacement of the brain with a newly grown brain but selected repair technologies can play an important role in brain-damaging diseases and insults. The inclusion of “life extension” in the chapter title seems somewhat artificial to me because there is no distinct treatment about how tissue and organ replacement will be expected to contribute to life extension. Additionally, there is little discussion of contemporary artificial and mechanical alternatives to organs (or biological structural components) in this chapter, or in any other chapters in the book, which I think is a minor oversight.

Robert J. Shmookler Reis and Joan E. McEwen contribute a chapter about identifying genes that can extend longevity. Their discussion of the prospects for mammals includes the sobering observation that “many of the gains we can attain by a single mutation in the simpler organism may already have been incorporated in the course of achieving our present longevities.” Then again, unless aging is firmly under genetic control in simple organisms but the result of wear and tear in humans there should be (unique) approaches in humans that should confer similar benefits as well.

The publication of this book came to my attention when I learned about Robert Freitas’s contribution, “Comprehensive Nanorobotic Control of Human Morbidity (PDF),” so I was quite interested in reading this final chapter of the book. I am not qualified to comment on the technical aspects of his vision of nanotechnology. I think it is fair to say, though, that if resuscitation of cryonics patients is possible they will most likely be resuscitated in a future that has nanomedical capabilities resembling those that are outlined in this chapter. For this reason alone, this chapter should be of great interest to readers of this magazine. Of particular interest is the discussion of cell repair technologies and brain rejuvenation, a topic of great interest to cryonics. Freitas devotes considerable space discussing how anti-aging strategies like SENS can be achieved with medical nanorobots but the chapter falls short of offering a distinct exposition of a nanomedical approach to aging and rejuvenation. With such profound molecular capabilities one would think that such an approach would not just consist of updating existing biotechnological approaches to eliminate aging related damage with more powerful tools. I think that the distinct capabilities that molecular technologies have to offer would have benefitted from a more extensive discussion of their transformative capabilities. In particular, the section on nanorobot-medicated rejuvenation could have benefitted from a more rigorous treatment of the question of how these interventions would produce actual rejuvenation. Rejuvenation will be a practical requirement for most cryonics patients and it would be interesting to see a more detailed technical discussion of this topic.

Robert Freitas introduces the phrase NENS (Nanomedically Engineered Negligible Senescence) for his vision of how the goals of SENS can be achieved through nanomedicine. This raises an important question: is there any reason to believe that the timeline for “conventional” SENS will be different from the timeline for mature molecular medicine? It is hard to tell, but one could argue that the development of mature nanotechnology is more comprehensive than any strategies designed to deal with the causes or effects of the aging process. So why not just fund the work of biological and mechanical molecular nanotechnologists to accelerate meaningful re-design of the human organism? I think that the best answer is that our current state of knowledge does not justify giving a privileged position to any particular approach and having these visions of the future compete may be the best hope that we have for seeing meaningful rejuvenation and the resuscitation of cryonics patients in the future.

If there is one serious omission in this impressive collection of articles it is a more comprehensive chapter on the topic of biomarkers of aging in humans. As reiterated throughout this review, the gold standard and most rigorous determination of the efficacy of anti-aging therapies and interventions is to empirically determine whether they increase maximum human lifespan. For obvious reasons, most medical professionals and healthcare consumers are pressed to make decisions based on less rigorous criteria and the development of a set of reliable biomarkers of aging is highly desirable. Of course, the most rigorous case for successful biomarkers would require the same kind of long-term studies, leading to an infinite regress problem. How to break out of this predicament while retaining a framework to make rational decisions about life extension technologies is not a trivial problem and can be the topic of a whole new volume of articles. Interestingly enough, one of the most insightful perspectives on this issue is given in Appendix A by SENS researcher Michael Rae when he points out that therapies aimed at rejuvenation can be tested at much more rapid timescales than therapies to retard the aging process or increase the maximum lifespan.

Michael Rae also notes that SENS’s “engineering heuristic” is well established in other fields of biomedicine. It is certainly the case that aging research could benefit from a stronger emphasis on solving problems and repairing damage instead of completely trying to understand the underlying pathologies but it also needs to be pointed out that the engineering approach has not fared much better in areas of research that are notoriously resistant to effective solutions such as neuroprotection in stroke. Ultimately, the SENS approach cannot completely escape studying the mechanisms and metabolic pathways involved when treatments are compared and side-effects are studied. In this sense, the difference between SENS and alternative approaches is a matter of degree, not principle.

I think that the editors are justified in claiming that the prospects for solving the aging challenge have never looked better. A close inspection of all the chapters, however, shows that no significant interventions in the aging process in humans are available now, and I doubt they will become available in the near future. And even if the aging process can be eliminated, there will still be medical conditions and accidents that require placing a person in cryostasis until effective treatment is available. For the foreseeable future there is good reason to agree with Thomas Donaldson’s advice* that making cryonics arrangements is the most fundamental and sensible decision one can make in order to reap the benefits of powerful future life extension therapies.

*Thomas Donaldson – Why Cryonics Will Probably Help You More Than Antiaging, Physical Immortality 2(4) 28-29 (4th Q 2004)


As we start the new year, it is helpful to draw attention to the sobering fact that no credible human rejuvenation therapies are available today, and it is doubtful that such therapies will see the light of day in the short term. Greg Fahy’s recent monumental collection of  interventive gerontology articles, The Future of Aging: Pathways to Human Life Extension (review forthcoming in Cryonics magazine), leaves little doubt about this predicament. It should also be emphasized that, with the possible exception of Robert Freitas’s comprehensive nanomedical overhaul of human biology, none of the envisioned strategies for life extension and rejuvenation (including SENS) confer increased protection to the brain in the case of severe traumatic insults or accidents. This fact alone highlights the fundamental importance of cryonics as  the core element in life extension. The idea that rejuvenation will make cryonics redundant has been one of the main obstacles for young people to engage in cryonics activism.

There is a broad consensus in the life extension community that more resources need to be allocated to combating aging as such, as opposed to increasingly futile efforts to extend life by treating aging-associated diseases. Unfortunately, the objective to launch a serious rejuvenation research program has limited mass appeal so far. As a consequence, we will have to get involved ourselves. Hopefully we can shift the focus from extensive hypothetical discussion about the consequences of human enhancement technologies to supporting and engaging in real experimental research to make these technologies facts of life.

In line with the foregoing observations, we suggest to consider the following areas for your support.

1. Cryonics. The first sensible step is making cryonics arrangements. Without cryonics arrangements you may not be able reap the benefits of anti-aging and rejuvenation treatments. Without cryonics arrangements you will remain vulnerable to a large number of personality-destroying diseases and accidents. In addition to making cryonics arrangements, support the major cryonics organizations and their research efforts.

2. Chemical Brain Preservation. Chemical brain preservation is an envisioned alternative (or complement) for human cryopreservation. At this point, there are no organizations offering chemopreservation of the brain but there is a new organization that aims to research the technical feasibility of the procedure.

3. Rejuvenation Research. The emphasis of interventive gerontology should be on rejuvenation as opposed to extending the maximum human lifespan by halting or slowing aging. Interventions aimed at rejuvenation have the distinct advantage that short-term empirical validation of their efficacy is possible. Rejuvenation therapies may include genetic manipulation, regenerative medicine, organ replacement and reversal of accumulated damage. A this stage of our knowledge, no privileged position should be claimed for any approach absent hard empirical breakthroughs in rejuvenation.

4. Nanomedicine Research. The logical evolution of medicine is to intervene at a progressively smaller scales. From “crudely” cutting into tissue, to pharmacology, to manipulating bio-molecules at the molecular level, nanomedical control of morbidity and aging is a prerequisite for resuscitation of cryonics patients and comprehensive rejuvenation. Biological and mechanical pathways to nanomedicine have been outlined. Whatever your position is on the relative technical merits and projected timelines  of such alternative approaches, the evolution of medicine into nanomedicine should be supported and accelerated.

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.

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.

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.

22. June 2008 · Comments Off · Categories: Cryonics, Death · Tags: , , , , ,

Immortality as a zero probability of information-theoretic death may not be possible or realistic. A more practical (and less controversial) objective of radical life extension would be to minimize the chance of information-theoretic death. In analogy with Aubrey de Grey’s objective to cure human aging by engineering negligible senescence (SENS), the objective of radical life extension should be to achieve a negligible chance of information-theoretic death. Although curing aging will be necessary, it will be far from sufficient to achieve greatly extended lifespans. Even if aging can be completely abolished by advanced molecular technologies, humans will still be vulnerable to major accidents and homicide. Of course, such events may not necessarily produce acute information-theoretic death, but it can be argued that when humanity becomes more robust and advanced, the nature of accidents (space travel) and murder (“information-theoretic murder”) may become more destructive as well. This raises the question of whether our ability to eliminate “traditional” risk factors can outpace the number and nature of new risks.

Perhaps the most logical proposal to achieve a negligible chance of information-theoretic death is to duplicate a person. If enough duplicates are made, the chance that all of them will die can be made very small. But this raises the issue of whether such duplicates are the same individual. Some people would argue that this strategy does not produce atomistic non-serial immortality. It is also not clear how the question of whether a copy of an individual is the same individual can ever be resolved by empirical observation or logical deduction.

Perhaps the most realistic proposal to reduce the probability of information-theoretic death would be to separate the neurological basis of the person from its body in such a fashion that the risk of complete destruction of the person would become negligible. One such proposal is briefly discussed by Robert Ettinger in his book “Man into Superman.” In Chapter 4 on “Cyborgs, Saucer Men, and Extended Bodies,” Ettinger notes that “the brain need not necessarily be mobile; in fact, it might be better protected and served if fixed at home base. The sensors and effectors–eyes, hands, etc.–could be far away, and even widely scattered, with communication by appropriate signals (not necessarily radio).” Because such an “extended body” would not rely on controversial technologies such as duplication and mind-uploading, the traditional concept of identity can be reconciled with reduced vulnerability. Clearly, this idea could benefit from detailed elaboration and specific proposals.

The prospect of such extended bodies raises an important question about resuscitation of cryonics patients. When should they be revived? Naturally, a necessary condition is the ability to reverse any damaged incurred during the cryopreservation process itself and being able to cure the patient’s terminal disease. Most people who have made cryonics arrangements will add that the general ability to rejuvenate a person should be a necessary condition as well. Because all these conditions require availability of similar technologies, it is doubtful that the choice between these scenarios has practical relevance. A more stringent condition, however, would be a request to only attempt resuscitation if the chance of information-theoretic death is smaller after resuscitation than in long term low temperature care. This option raises an uncomfortable question — are patients in low temperature care safer from information-theoretic death than a person alive today? Answering this questions involves a lot of complicated issues such as the technical feasibility of cryonics, the nature of long term care of cryonics patients, and, ultimately, how one weighs the certainty of being alive today against the probability of a (vastly) longer lifespan in the future.

26. May 2008 · Comments Off · Categories: Science · Tags: , , ,

Aging: the Disease, the Cure, the Implications

Press Release

Methuselah Foundation Announces Aging 2008 at UCLA
Have you ever dreamed of climbing Mt. Everest – on your 125th birthday?

Los Angeles, CA (May 19, 2008) On Friday June 27th, leading scientists and thinkers in stem cell research and regenerative medicine will gather in Los Angeles at UCLA for Aging 2008 to explain how their work can combat human aging, and the sociological implications of developing rejuvenation therapies.

Aging 2008 is free, with advance registration required at:
http://www.mfoundation.org/Aging2008/.

Dr. Aubrey de Grey, chairman and chief science officer of the Methuselah Foundation, said “Our organization has raised over $10 million to crack open the logjams in longevity science. With the two-armed strategy of direct investments into key research projects, and a competitive prize to spur on scientists racing to break rejuvenation and longevity records in lab mice, the Foundation is actively accelerating the drive toward a future free of age-related degeneration.” The Methuselah Foundation has been covered by 60 Minutes, Popular Science, The Wall Street Journal, and other top-flight media outlets.

The State of California is a frontrunner in regenerative medicine and stem cell research. On November 2, 2004, more than seven million Californians voted to pass Proposition 71, establishing the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, and allocating $3 billion over ten years to fund stem cell research. Proposition 71 was a rare instance of voters directly authorizing funding for scientific research.

The speakers at Aging 2008 will argue that the near-term consequences of intense research into regenerative medicine could be the development of therapies that extend healthy human life by decades, even if the therapies are applied in middle age. Peter Thiel, president of Clarium Capital, initial investor in Facebook, and lead sponsor of Aging 2008, said, “The time has come to challenge the inevitability of aging. This forum will provide an excellent opportunity to look at the scientific barriers that must be overcome to substantially extend healthy human life, as well as the ethical implications of doing so.”

Aging 2008 also serves as the free opening session for the technically focused Understanding Aging Conference, which will run at UCLA on June 28th and 29th.

What: Aging: The Disease, The Cure, The Implications, hosted by Methuselah Foundation When: Friday, June 27, 2008, Drinks 4pm, Presentations 5pm, Dinner 8pm Where: Royce Hall, 405 Hilgard Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90024 Who:

  • Dr. Bruce Ames, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at UC Berkeley
  • G. Steven Burrill, Chairman of Pharmasset and Chairman of Campaign for Medical Research
  • Dr. Aubrey de Grey, Chairman and CSO of Methuselah Foundation and author of Ending Aging
  • Dr. William Haseltine, Chairman of Haseltine Global Health
  • Daniel Perry, Executive Director of Alliance for Aging Research
  • Bernard Siegel, Executive Director of Genetics Policy Institute
  • Dr. Gregory Stock, Director of Program on Medicine, Technology & Society at UCLA School of Medicine
  • Dr. Michael West, CEO of BioTime and Adjunct Professor of Bioengineering at UC Berkeley
About Methuselah Foundation

The Methuselah Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to extending the healthy human lifespan. Founded in 2002 by entrepreneur David Gobel and gerontologist Dr. Aubrey de Grey, the Methuselah Foundation funds two major projects: the Mprize, a multimillion dollar research prize, and SENS, a detailed engineering plan to repair aging-related damage. Learn more at http://mfoundation.org.

Media Contact: Maria Entraigues, 310-242-3660, maria@mfoundation.org