Some concerns on US politics and rejuvenation

Sometimes, bad news are good news in disguise. Some other times, it might be the other way around. I’ve been concerned for a while about certain turns that the situation of anti-ageing research might take in the future, and perhaps is already taking right now.

So. Donald Trump is President of the US.

My personal opinion of Trump is that he’s an incompetent, self-absorbed buffoon with the mental capacity of a retarded 5-year-old and the scientific understanding of a dead ant. His lack of respect for basic human rights is appalling. He possesses no moral or intellectual integrity to be spoken of, has a despicable habit of providing ‘alternative facts‘, and his ego is far too large to fit in this universe. My understanding is that he’s also accused by some of certain crimes, but I don’t really know if it’s true, so I will suspend my judgement on that. Anyway, my opinion of Trump isn’t important. What is important is that a lot of people have a similar opinion of him. When you have such a low opinion of somebody, it’s very easy to have a similarly low opinion of anything they do or that is associated with them, regardless of the actual merits of what they do or are associated with. In other words, it’s very easy to reason like this: ‘Trump is an idiot, therefore anything he does or is associated with is idiotic,’ whence ‘If Trump did X, or is somehow associated with X, then X must be idiotic.’ Especially in the case of Trump, it’s tempting to think like this. However, this reasoning is incorrect, and I don’t think I need to explain why. Two important consequences of this reasoning might be the following:

  • The public opinion on measures, changes, or initiatives taken or implemented by Trump could become extremely negative. This could be especially true if people thought said measures were already controversial to begin with, whether taken by Trump or others.
  • Future administrations might wish to distance themselves from Trump’s administration as much as possible, particularly if he screws up really badly or if he falls before the end of his mandate. To this end, they might want to undo changes operated by Trump and do the opposite of what he did. Again, this might be especially true in case of controversial measures on which public opinion was divided or largely negative.

Okay. Maybe it is like that. Why should you care? Well, Peter Thiel is an advisor to Donald Trump. I’m not sure what the exact title of Thiel’s position is, or how official or permanent it is, but it is pretty clear that he has the ear of the President.

I don’t have an opinion on Peter Thiel. All I know is that he co-founded PayPal and that he’s pretty much in favour of all sorts of technological and scientific progress, including, but not limited to, the defeat of ageing. As a matter of fact, Thiel is notoriously a strong supporter of SENS and has donated tons of money to SENS—something like over 6 million dollars. So far, so good. One could argue that people like Thiel (and Elon Musk, who’s also on Trump’s advisory board) might be able prevent Trump from fucking everything up, and in the case of Thiel, even help give a little push to anti-ageing research. Indeed, Thiel may be able to have his associate Jim O’Neill appointed as head of the FDA. Do you know where Jim O’Neill sits? On the board of directors of SENS.

So? What’s my problem? A board member of SENS might become the head of the FDA. This is cause for celebration, right? He could speed up the development of rejuvenation biotechs like never before, right? Yes, in theory. I would be celebrating this news if it wasn’t for two lingering concerns bothering me ever since I heard about it.

My first concern should be pretty clear. As much as we wished otherwise, rejuvenation is still a controversial idea that most people welcome with extreme scepticism at best; associating it with Trump might be a bad thing in the long term. Imagine O’Neill really becomes head of the FDA and really pushes the idea forward. The political adversaries of Trump might well make use of this against him. They could accuse him of wasting taxpayers’ money on pipe dreams, of attempting to undermine the natural order of things, and could raise all the usual objections to rejuvenation we’re used to hear. As advocates of rejuvenation, we all know that even perfectly reasonable people tend to fall for these objections without even questioning them; if they’re blinded by political hatred, I fear they’ll be even more likely to buy into these arguments and become well persuaded that rejuvenation is an impossible goal that only a fool like Trump could ever try to pursue. Some of the least bright minds might even believe that he wants to achieve immortality to rule the world forever, or some other crazy nonsense like that.

A possible result is that the opposition against rejuvenation might increase. Trump’s successors might undo any pro-rejuvenation initiative he might have enacted and steer clear from the cause. Crowdfunding efforts might become more difficult, and the fear of bad publicity might drive private investors away. Remember how Aubrey de Grey always says there’s at least a 10% chance that we won’t get rejuvenation for another 100 years? This might be the most direct way to pump that percentage all the way up to 50%.

But wait—it gets worse. If you’ve read some of the articles I linked above, you might have got the same creeping feeling that authors are trying to present Thiel as more of a weirdo than an innovator. Maybe that isn’t their intention; still, a fervent opposer of Trump reading that one of his advisors is into building cities on the sea, has a ‘well-documented obsession with life-extension technologies, including extending his own lifespan with blood transfusions from young people’ (cit. from Vanity Fair above), and thinks the FDA is in the way of drug innovation, may easily conclude that these are the hallmarks of a nutcase. Jim O’Neill isn’t in a better position, really, because he’s into pretty much the same things, and more than one article present him as a dangerous radical who speaks at biotech meetings without being a physician. They’re not very upfront about it, but I do think they’re subtly implying he’s incompetent at best and crazy at worst. How much, if at all, is their opinion of Trump influencing their opinion of Thiel and O’Neill? How will this influence their opinion of rejuvenation?

Some papers may be deliberately misrepresenting Thiel and O’Neill, and I don’t necessarily share such extreme opinions on them. I don’t know enough about them to even have a clear opinion. To be honest, I have my doubts about their idea that drugs should be approved right after passing safety tests, even if efficacy isn’t proved; this is my second concern. This idea is quite controversial, yet it seems to be shared by many within SENS (including Aubrey de Grey—he’s pretty upfront about it in Ending Aging) and others within the movement (most notably FA!). I’m willing to bet this is another argument that Trump’s opposers could easily use against him—for example, they could argue that loosening drug approval criteria may end up flooding the market with placebos and potentially dangerous medicines. True or not, this argument’s appeal to fear could be very powerful, especially among Trump’s opposers, and could do an even better job at convincing them that supporters of rejuvenation are dangerously crazy. (As a side note, if something did go wrong as a consequence of a hastily approved anti-ageing drug, I fear the shockwave would be felt throughout the entire field for decades to come.) However, I haven’t made my mind up about this whole FDA thing. I need to do more research and ask for more opinions before I come to a conclusion; therefore, I’ll leave this matter for another post.

Under different circumstances, I’d be extremely happy to know that a SENS board member might be part of the US President’s entourage. Further research might make me less worried about O’Neill’s proposals for the FDA, but I’d really prefer the first President to endorse SENS to be someone else than a total moron with great chances to be remembered as the worst and most hated US President in history.

Maybe I’m blowing it out of proportions. I certainly hope so.

PS: It’s okay if you disagree with my opinions. It’s okay if you want to comment to say it. However, I’m not interested in debating if Hillary, or any other candidate, would have been better than Trump or anything like that. I don’t know, and I don’t even care.

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New fundraisers for SENS rejuvenation research

Hiya folks, just a quick note to let you know about two important things.

SENS 2016 winter fundraiser

Thanks to a generous grant from the Forever Healthy Foundation, every dollar donated to SENS until the end of this year will be doubled, up to the first 150.000$. (As a side note, FHF has already pledged 10$ million to SENS and SENS related research. These guys are awesome.)

FightAging!’s new fundraiser

In order to encourage regular donations to SENS, Reason of FA! and Josh Triplett have put together a matching fund of 24.000$ dollars; for a year starting on November 1st, 2016 they will match the donations of anyone signing up as a SENS patron.

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Make a difference—help SENS bringing ageing under medical control!

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.

Crowdfunding anti-ageing science

I’m pleased to break my temporary silence with exciting news: Lifespan.io, a crowdfunding platform dedicated solely to longevity research projects, has been recently launched. Their first—and, at present time, only—crowdfunding project is nothing less than MitoSENS. The crowdfunding campaign for this project will last until October 25th, 2015, and has a goal of 30.000$. Pledged funds thus far amount to 2.131$ (it’s interesting to note that, when I first saw the page yesterday night, that amount was around 1.600$). Depending on the amout you’ll decide to pledge, you can choose a nice reward for yourself among many options, ranging from gadgets to getting to meet the SENS team.
I may be an incurable optimist, but I do think that the anti-ageing movement is about to take off for real, and before you know it, its popularity will start to grow exponentially. You can contribute to that growth even with just as little as letting your friends and family know about this new crowdfunding initiative.
 

Annual fundraiser by ‘Fight Aging!’

Chances are that, if you know of my website, then you already know of Fight Aging!, one of the most well-known websites advocating for the development of rejuvenation biotechnologies, and for SENS in particular. The website hosts a number of resources on the topic of anti-ageing science, but what I would like to focus on here is FA!’s annual fundraiser. The campaign aims to find philantropists who are willing to contribute to anti-ageing research by means of charitable donations. In year 2014, FA! managed to put together a matching fund of 100.000$, which together with the individual donations of people like you and me reached a total of 150.000$ that went straight to SENS Research Foundation’s budget. The remarkable thing is that the last 50.000$ were collected in the last three months of the year—as you can see, people are getting more and more interested into rejuvenation research, and it is even more evident when you consider that the same campaign in year 2013 had reached only about half of what was reached in 2014.
At the moment, the matching fund is 45.000$.

Do you think you could be a matching funder? Do you know anyone who could be? Please get in touch with Reason of FA!. Even if you can’t be a matching funder and don’t know anyone who could, I suggest you spread the word about the campaign, to increase the chances of finding new donors. Also, you can still contribute to SENS research with even a very modest donation—every cent matters. You can make your donation through SENS’s donations page. Thanks!

Ageing, meet Liz Parrish

Elizabeth Parrish, CEO of BioViva Sciences, gives an interesting talk on how her company plans to put an end to ageing: engineered genomics. I seem to understand that there were other talks at the same event, I think at least one held by Bill Andrews and possibly Aubrey de Grey; I will post them if I find them.

Two for the price of one

Yesterday I was looking for a short video of dr. de Grey to serve as a quick introduction for newbies, but I couldn’t find any that was very short, so I had to be content with what I published. As per usual, when you look for something you don’t find it, and when you don’t look for it, you bump into it! Not one, but two short videos: SENS and de Grey hitting the news on CCTV.