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.
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.
Just a quick note to let you know the guys of the MitoSENS team have achieved amazing results, and are about submit them for review and publication.
That’s the power of crowdfunding, people.
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.
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.