Medical pursuits in longevity
In 1956, Clive McCay, a scientist from Cornell and his team conjoined 69 pairs of rats to study the effect of revitalizing the old with the blood of the young. After months of conjoining, the bones of some older rats became similar in density and strength to that of the young.
Fast forward to today, Ambrosia, a biotechnology company/clinic in California apparently offers transfusions of blood plasma from young humans for $8,000 a pop. Alkahest is also in the blood business but to fix Alzheimer’s disease.
Don’t go dipping a straw somewhere yet. Parabiosis, as the process is known, is unproven. McCay wrote in his study: “If two rats are not adjusted to each other, one will chew the head of the other until it is destroyed.”
Medicine is indeed full of fascinating human obsessions.
Longevity is our latest pursuit.
Blood-of-the-young is one of many experiments that are underway in our quest to live longer and healthier. In Silicon Valley, Hollywood, and beyond.
There are two categories of longevity enthusiasts: those focused on health span (keeping us disease free, followed by painless death) and those who wish to live forever (making us immortal).
Some take the approach of tinkering with genetics (e.g. fix disease-causing genes). Only if we can find the gene that causes a certain cancer and eliminate it. What if we can do away with all disease?
Some others are on the path towards a part man-part machine singularity.
There’s a belief that you have to stay alive long enough only for the science and technology to catch up. Then you can stay alive some more. That way, you’ll stay alive forever. If not-dying doesn’t work, Ray Kurzweil (proponent of Singularity) plans to freeze his body at the Alcor Life Extension Foundation and wait.
Many in technology pursue aging as a programming problem. It’s a code. If you can crack it, then you can hack it. Simple.
Read: Here’s a long but excellent article from The New Yorker: Silicon Valley’s Quest to Live Forever (Read about Goldie Hawn, mitochondria, and the “the God Molecule”)
I was surprised that in all my research I didn’t come across two big areas that indeed seem to have big impact on our body. May be we know too little.
- Epigenetics – What about the impact of ongoing environmental changes on how our genes express themselves? You may become part-machine but if the air you breathe is contaminated, wouldn’t your machines get cranky?
- Microbiome – Just 10% of our cells are human, 90% are microbial. Even if we find the precise gene that may be causing a certain cancer, what if we are running behind a moving target? The microbiome. That’s changing all the time, influenced by our surroundings and what we consume.
We forget. The future is already here – just not evenly distributed.
That’s a quote by William Gibson.
May be we should distribute the future then. More evenly wherever it’s needed.
Let’s do a thought-experiment
Say you expect to live until you are 90. But you are offered to stay alive another 20 years until you are a 110 years young. Would you be willing to share your unexpected windfall with others? Why and why not?
Take a look at these countries and guess what they have in common.
Sierra Leone, Angola, CAR, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Lesotho, Nigeria, Somalia, Cameroon, South Sudan, Mozambique, Equitorial Guinea, Mali, Malawi, Guinea-Bissau, Swaziland, Guinea, Burundi, Congo, Togo, Burkina Faso.
All these countries have life expectancy below 60 years. In Sierra Leone, people live on an average of 50.1 years (compare that to 83.7 in Japan). Infant mortality is worse. One in five children in Chad die before they turn 5.
I keep hearing that our broader goal with longevity is to extend life for all humanity. That’s why we are spending the billions.
If that’s really the case, we don’t have to work so hard in the lab after all. We already have the solutions. We’ve figured it out for years now.
To increase life span, we need just a few things (outside of war-related factors):
- Food security – for an assurance of our next meal
- Sanitation – for food and water that’s not contaminated
- Protection from deadly germs and bugs – to avoid infectious diseases
All we have to do then is channel our billion$ to those billions who are yet to catch up. With our present. For whom our present is still a very distant future.
Let’s get back to that thought-experiment. Whether it’s money or years, it’s difficult to share it away – we always need more of it for ourselves.
But wouldn’t it be odd? Dragging our old feet to 130 years or beyond. When a child struggles to stay alive over 5 just a few thousand miles away.
For extending human longevity, we don’t have to wait for some future with nanobots crawling under our skin. We already have the resources that can extend life, remove disease, increase health span for 2+ billion people.
We just need the will. To change the lens for what longevity can mean.
Not just for us. But for all of us.
- Organizations in the longevity space: Ambrosia, Alkahest, United Therapeutics, sens Research Foundation, Unity Biotechnology, ZeroCater, Longevity Fund, Verily, Calico, Buck Institute for Research on Aging, BioAge.
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Question: Where do you think is the trade-off between pursuing longevity and sharing it?