A matter of terminology

Words and expressions we use influence our thoughts more than we think. In particular, some of them are more prone to interpretation than others, or have several meanings that can ‘rub off’ on each other.

The word ‘ageing’ is a good example of what I’m talking about. The first, obvious meaning of the word is that of the passing of time; if you don’t age chronologically, then you cannot possibly age in any other way. The second meaning is the process of physical decay that nearly every living and non-living thing undergoes to some extent. I wonder, though, how many people have been (and still are) thrown off by the word and led to believe that the reason our bodies fall apart as time goes by is exactly the fact time goes by.

Arguably, not many people in the world know that there’s an ongoing process of damage creation and accumulation going on in their bodies all the time. Most people seem to just be used to the fact they’re going to look and feel worse later in life, and the explanation they can provide for this phenomenon is often not much more detailed than ‘they’ve grown old.’ After all, it’s only fairly recently that we found out what ageing really is about; when the term was first adopted, there was no apparent cause of ageing, and people were probably forced to conclude that ageing simply happens with, and possibly because of, time. I wouldn’t be surprised if on some level people actually believed that the passing of time is the cause of ageing; the process of biological ageing is habitually referred to with a plethora of time-themed metaphores, such as ‘the injuries of time’, so it’s quite possible that people passively learnt that what causes the functional decline of their bodies later in life is time. As a consequence, people might well think that the idea of ending ageing is ridiculous, since it would necessarily imply stopping the passing of time.

I have been thinking for a while that biological ageing might need a proper disease-like name, which it will hopefully get when it will be added to the WHO’s list of recognised diseases. However, there are more terms that I think are misleading; ‘life extension’ is one of them. While it is true that the medical interventions we refer to are meant to extend life, this expression can cause several misunderstandings.

First, ‘life extension’ generally pushes people to commit the Tithonus error: They’ think we’re going to extend our lifespans without extending our healthspans. This is of course impossible, but you’d be surprised how many people actually associate ‘life extension’ with ‘living longer in a decrepit state’.

The second, and perhaps worse, side-effect of the term ‘life extension’ is that it may fuel the idea that life has a predefined, ‘right’ length, and that trying to push its length beyond that limit is wrong. There is, of course, no such thing as a predefined length for your life: You’re going to be alive as long as you’re healthy enough to be alive. Still, countless times I’ve had the distinct feeling that people think there are two kinds of death: death by ageing—the ‘natural’ end of your life, which will happen regardless of anything, unless you die ‘prematurely’ of something else—and death that occurs in whatever way before the ‘natural’ one.

It’s a bit as if life was an outdoor show: If it rains it will finish earlier, but the show will come to a conclusion anyway, eventually.

Needless to say, there is only one type of death, which occours if and only if you’re not healthy enough to be alive, be it because of age-related diseases, infectious diseases, or because you’ve been shot in the head. The goal of nearly any kind of medical intervention is to prevent your health from becoming so compromised that you would die, whatever the cause may be. The same is true of rejuvenation biotechnologies: far from trying to push life’s non-existent predefined length beyond a non-existent ‘natural limit’, their goal is no different from that of the rest of medicine: save your life.

Cha-ching!

I’m a slow poster, you know that. Sometimes I’ve posted about ‘news’ that were a month old. That’s because life comes often in between.

However, this time around life can stuff it. I don’t want to be late for this news.

On July 12, 2016, SENS Research Foundation announced that Internet entrepreneur Michael Greve, who runs the Forever Healthy Foundation and KIZOO Technology Ventures, has committed a whopping 10.000.000$ (let me spell that for you: ten fucking million dollars) to SENS research and to startups focused on bringing rejuvenation therapies to the market.

In the words of Greve himself, “My goal is to provide support for the critical research of the SENS Research Foundation and to facilitate the development of the rejuvenation biotech industry and ecosystem. I think we should have more people contribute to the step-by-step creation of cures for the root causes of all age-related diseases. And we should have a whole rejuvenation industry based on the SENS treatment model including the self-accelerating feedback-loop of success stories and amazing opportunities for scientist [sic], entrepreneurs and VC investors. This will truly accelerate both research and therapies. I have decided to lead by example and make this $10 million commitment.”

Five of the 10 millions will be donated directly to SENS over the course of the next five years, while the other five, as said, will be donated to other startups of the field. The 5mln to SENS constitute 10% of the goal of SENS’s new initiative Project|21, meant to make the first human trials of rejuvenation biotechnologies happen by 2021.

That’s the kind of news that make my day. It’s the kind of news that makes you think rejuvenation biotechnologies just got a lot closer to being a reality.

However, don’t think that our job as rejuvenation supporters is over: We still need to keep spreading the word and donating what we can. Speaking of which, Lifespan.io’s OncoSENS campaign has been feeling terribly lonely as of late. It has reached a mere 19% of the goal, much less than other campaigns have reached in the same timespan. Why don’t you pay it a visit and bring in some friends?

Thoughts and updates on recent crowdfunding campaigns

Times really are changing.

Five years ago, when I discovered there were people trying to defeat ageing, I had a distinct feeling it would be a really slow process. I don’t mean just in terms of getting the science done, but also of getting people on board, i.e. getting through people’s skull the simple fact that biological ageing is as bad for you as is any disease. (It’s actually worse, since ageing comes with a nice bundle of all sorts of diseases.) However, things are moving faster than I expected.

The number of companies and researchers joining the fight is increasing, and unlike ten years ago, saying you work on delaying or even eliminating ageing doesn’t automatically make you an object of ridicule and earn you isolation from the rest of the scientific community. In fact, in the scientific community, the idea that ageing can and will be defeated is slowly becoming mainstream.

The amount of online articles about the quest to put an end to ageing is also multiplying, and the tone of these articles is much different from what it used to be. A few years ago, the idea of ending ageing was seen as a quixotic, groundless fantasy, the science behind it was dismissed and belittled, and the scientists working on it were seen as nothing more than delusional, arrogant eccentrics. Today, articles tell a completely different story, and rather than making fun of anti-ageing science, they worry about the potential consequences of defeating ageing. Critics are starting to realise that, far from being a delusion, the defeat of ageing is just a matter of when, not if.

That’s not all. The opinion of the general public seems to be changing as well. To see how this is true, it’s enough to have a look at the result of the crowdfunding campaigns on Lifespan.io. The MitoSENS campaign was a huge success and reached 154% of the goal. The MMTP campaign, which is still running for a few more days, is currently more than 100% percent funded, and the original goal of 45.000$ has been extended to 60.000$. The OncoSENS campaign was launched on June 14, 2016, and as of today (June 19, 2016, i.e. five days later), it is already funded to 9%. (On a less bright note, the DRACO IndieGoGo campaign isn’t doing very well—only 14 days are left, and only a mere 28% of the goal has been reached.)

I think part of this success is due to how people change their minds about things. More often than not, people don’t actively oppose new ideas in themselves. Simply put, if there isn’t enough buzz around a new idea, people just ignore it; if you don’t hear about it often enough, you probably won’t consider it worth your time. More importantly, if most people disapprove of a new idea, then you’re likely to feel subconsciously pressured to disapprove of it too, regardless of its actual merit. This happens for three reasons.

The first is that the illusion of being right, coming from the logical fallacy ‘if most people think it’s wrong, then it must be’, is comforting. The second is that it always feels safer to belong to a majority group. The third and final reason is that being one of the many fuckwits who were wrong feels much better than being one of the few fuckwits who were wrong. In other words, if a lot of people think ageing can’t be defeated and turn out to be wrong about it, they can blame it on the issue itself; if so many people were wrong about it, it must have been particularly hard to grasp or deceptive. However, if just a handful of people thinks ageing can be defeated and they turn out to be mistaken, they’ll come across as a bunch of twits who couldn’t realise the obvious.

Because of the reasons outlined above, when an idea is still new and fairly controversial, people may feel that the safest option to avoid ridicule is to side with the majority and dismiss the new idea without further consideration. The new idea is not okay to talk about because almost nobody does, and of those who do, most despise it and very few praise it.

However, if one day the new idea is all over the Internet, more and more people are talking about it, and there’s a growing number of supporters, other people will start thinking that, perhaps, talking about the new idea is okay after all. It’s okay to read about it and make your own opinion rather than accepting that of the majority. Inevitably, the number of supporters will grow even more, making it easier for new people to join in. And as the number of people joining the cause grows, the cause itself gets a lot more exposure, giving rise to a virtuous circle that may eventually result in the once-despised idea being endorsed by most.

This is why I hope you won’t just read this post, nod approvingly, and move on to reading something else. I hope you’ll share it, share Lifespan.io’s crowdfunding campaigns, talk about healthy life extension to your friends and family, and help generating momentum around rejuvenation biotechnologies in any way you can. Only through advocacy can we reach the critical mass we need to turn the dream of rejuvenation into a reality.

I don’t like this one tiny bit.

I’m not a biologist, you probably know that. I’m thinking about getting a degree in biology, but presently I have no competence to say what makes sense and what does not, biologically speaking. All I say on this website about what may or may not cure ageing is the word of experts of the field, which I merely repeat in a different fashion.

However, having studied natural sciences and having been around on the planet for long enough, I’ve learned to be skeptical about solutions that seem too easy. Especially when the silver bullet seems to have been discovered much too suddenly.

As you probably remember, BioViva has recently experimented a type of gene therapy against ageing on its own CEO Liz Parrish. The aim of the treatment was to lengthen her telomeres, and according to preliminary data, it worked. I care to emphasise the fact that this experiment had a sample size of one.

Dr. Bill Andrews, founder of Sierra Sciences and discoverer of telomerase, the enzyme used by cells to lenghten their own telomeres, has always been dead set on curing ageing—a very noble goal. Thing is, Sierra Sciences and BioViva have now teamed up and apparently launched a company called BioViva Fiji, unsurprisingly located on the homonymous island. They’re building a clinic where this treatment can be administered to arguably rich clients. The reason Fiji was chosen as the location of this clinic is that the Fiji equivalent of FDA seems to have much less strict regulations.

In a video that is not so new any more (I am a slow poster), Dr. Andrews announced the creation of BioViva Fiji and made some pretty bold statements, such as a cure for ageing to be expected “really, really soon.”

You certainly know how much I wish for ageing to be brought under medical control, so you would think I should be excited at the news. I’m not. Why?

This is sketchy as fuck. Bold claims about curing ageing—something most people on the planet probably still think to be nonsense—a private, expensive clinic on the other side of the world where regulations don’t matter as much as setting up medical businesses, and a miracle treatment coming from an experiment with sample size ONE that hasn’t even been fully monitored yet. I’m betting you anything most people’s scam indicator would go through the roof, irrespective of how effective the treatment actually is. This is the kind of stuff that gives the field a bad reputation, and if BioViva were to be wrong or if nasty side effects were to arise as a consequence of the treatment, shit would hit the fan for BioViva, and I fear the shockwave would be felt throughout the entire anti-ageing research field.

It seems awfully simple. Andrews seem to think telomerase/gene therapy is the silver bullet that will fully cure ageing, and while, I repeat, I am not qualified to say he’s wrong, it seems too damn easy. All age-related diseases would boil down to your telomeres getting too short? Is he saying that other age-related damange, like the seven categories of damage that the SENS platform is supposed to fix, are not really relevant? Or can they too be fixed with a shot of telomerase? (I hope he’s not saying that about cancer, because cancer may have 99 problems, but telomerase ain’t one.)

I’m sorry, but I don’t like this. It doesn’t come across as respectable scientists pushing research foward, but rather like a group of a bit too enthusiastic people who think they’ve already solved the general case of a problem because they have got a particular case sort of maybe working. I may be a boring traditionalist, but I still prefer the SENS approach, and I’m not talking only about their approach to defeating ageing, but also to doing science.

About BioViva’s first gene therapy experiment against ageing

The news about BioViva’s first successful intervention on human ageing is not exactly news any more. When your post backlog is as long as mine is, you inevitably end up with some stale news that are still worth dropping a line.

Some months ago, the company BioViva made its first attempt to intervene on an aspect of human ageing through gene therapy. Specifically, the very company’s CEO, Elizabeth Parrish, ‘[…] received two of her own company’s experimental gene therapies: one to protect against loss of muscle mass with age, another to battle stem cell depletion responsible for diverse age-related diseases and infirmities.’

Long story short, as a consequence of the treatment, Parrish’s leukocytes’ telomeres seem to be longer than they usually are at her age. Data seems to indicate they’ve been ‘rejuvenated’ by 20 years.

However, one must understand this is an experiment with a sample size of one, and that BioViva’s CEO will have to be monitored for years to come to make sure the data is correct and there are no nasty side-effects. FightAging! has also voiced a slight skepticism, not so much in the reliability of the data, but rather on the actual correlation between age and telomere length.

I guess we can only wait and see.

The MMTP and research on senolytic drugs

I’m a bit late for the party, but this is anyway something really worth mentioning.

If you have given a look to this page, you probably know about senescent cells. If you haven’t, I’ll tell you about them again. In a nutshell, senescent cells are cells no longer able to divide like healthy cells are supposed to do. All they do is stick around your body doing nothing useful, really, and while they’re at it, they interfere in other important processes. Pretty much like grumpy people who aren’t just content with sitting around twiddling their thumbs, but also bother other people and prevent them from carrying on their business. Jerks.

The consequences of having senescent cells sitting around are quite bad, and range from vascular diseases to higher chances to develop cancer to reduced immune capacity. It’s no coincidence that the elimination of senescent cells from the body is a keypoint of the SENS agenda.

Recent studies have shown that eliminating senescent cells from mice significantly improves their health in various ways (See, for example, this, this, this, and this). The way scientists have got mice rid of senescent cells is using senolytic drugs, and this is all great news, but the story is the same as with all other scientific discoveries: Not all aspects of the matter are 100% clear yet, and more research needs to be done. If things turned out well, senolytics could be used to increase human healthspan and lifespan, and get us rid of really bad age-related conditions.

In order to be able to carry on further research on the subject, Lifespan.io is presently running a crowdfunding campaign, namely the Major Mouse Testing Program (MMTP) which I urge you to support through donations, sharing the news on your social media, or both. Your youthful cells will be grateful—your senescent cells not so much, but they can stuff it.