Friday, September 2, 2011

Staying Healthy for a Long, Long Time

Barbara: Professor Michael Rose at UC Irvine has written a provocative article for the latest issue of Cryonics Magazine.

He writes:

 I am not going to argue against cyberimmortality or cryo-immortality here.  After 
all, the value of back-up plans is self-evident.  Instead, what I am going to offer is an informal introduction to a third possibility.  This  possibility is one in which aging is stopped, and then repair and refurbishment are used to achieve immortality by the simple expedient of not dying in the first place.

Yeah, I always liked that Woody Allen quote about not wanting to achieve immortality through great works, but rather by not dying. A belief in physical immortality, or even living for, say, 200 years, might seem delusional. Rose would have thought so, as recently as three years ago, but no longer.

He became interested in the cessation of aging that occurs in animals toward the end of their life spans. Humans, he claims, stop aging at around age 100 (although other experts dispute this). Unfortunately, by the time they're that old, most people are in a pretty rotten condition. So Rose wondered if one might be able to halt the aging process at a younger age. Experiments with populations of fruit flies indicate that this is possible. In the last 30 years, Rose and his team have bred flies for longevity by choosing eggs only from the longest lived individuals--and his population of flies now live four times as long as ordinary wild flies.

Damien: So what's going on here? Rose used to believe that aging was the result of a trade-off between genes that promote health and vigor in youth but turn out to have bad consequences in later years. This notion was first advanced by evolutionary biologist George Williams more than half a century ago, but Professor Rose gave it the name used today: Antagonistic Pleiotropy. What's new and surprising, then, is that Rose no longer thinks Antagonistic Pleiotropy is a sufficient explanation for his robust ancient flies.

If he's right, changes in nutrition and lifestyle might allow people right now to maintain our current state of health indefinitely. That is, there'd be no clock relentlessly ticking away your fated lifespan, no necessary cumulative damage that dooms you to death. Mind you, Rose is not talking about rejuvenation. If you're 70, you'll stay that way--but you'll be the healthiest 70 year old it's possible to be, indefinitely. Rejuvenation might eventually be possible, using technology we don't yet possess (nanomachines in the bloodstream, say, to repair or remove damaged cells and keep organs as clean and fresh as an adolescent's), but we're nowhere near that yet. But Rose argues that we do already know how to halt aging. His company Genescient (co-founded by Dr. Cristina Rizza and physics professor and science fiction writer Gregory Benford) is making nutraceuticals (StemCell 100) designed with that in mind. Sooner or later, we'll know if it works.

Barbara: Rose's blog, Michael Rose's 55 is devoted to the possibilities of stopping the aging process of humans while we're still in good enough shape to enjoy life.

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