Didier Coeurnelle is a leading European spokesperson in the radical life extension movement, plus he’s an IEET Advisory Board member. I queried him on via email on his anti-aging activities and opinions.
IEET: Let’s being with you introducing yourself and the groups you work with.
Didier Coeurnelle: I am cochair of Heales (we are five cochairs). I am also member of the board of the International Longevity Alliance (ILA) and a lifelong member of Longecity. For many years, I donated an important part of my income to the SENS foundation. I am proud to be one of the individuals mentioned on the “Methuselah 300 Monument”. This monument in the US Virgin Islands is intended to be “a lasting record of the donors of the Methuselah 300 who have helped fund the work of the Methuselah Foundation over the past decade”.
I also define myself as a technoprogressivist. I am spokesperson of the Association française transhumaniste Technoprog.
IEET: Can you tell us about Heales?
Didier Coeurnelle: Heales is a European organization created in Belgium in 2009. Sven Bulterijs (Dutch speaking student) and I were the two main creators of Heales. We are a non profit organization whose goal is to raise awareness of new developments in the area of biogerontology. We promote and support anti-aging research.
During our monthly meetings in the Café “A la mort subite”, (this means “A sudden death”, pun intended), we always approach scientific news and political news concerning longevity. One of our goals is to exchange information with European authorities about potential progress in the fight against aging. In an “ideal world”, the public health institutions at the European level and in the European countries would be investing huge amounts of money in biogerontology. However, it is not the case at the moment. Many people and organizations focus on traditional ways to improve the treatment of frailty and ageing and are not interested in really preventing senescence.
Didier Coeurnelle: Heales publishes a monthly online newsletter “La mort de la mort” only in French at the moment. Everybody can freely subscribe (write to email@example.com) and is welcome to propose a contribution. We do not publish a newsletter In English because there are at least two great weekly newsletters available: Fight Ageing and The Longevity Reporter.
IEET: Is Heales interested in the genetic engineering of CRISPR? What about BioViva?
Didier Coeurnelle: Heales is of course following with interest the genetic engineering possibilities of CRISPR. Concerning BioViva, it is positive that this experiment made by Liz Parrish as a promoter and as a patient happens. She is a very much informed person. Concerning the scientific aspects (receiving viruses containing genetic material to produce telomerase, a protein that extends telomeres), I’m afraid this is not scientifically perfect (not a double blind experiment for example), but science does not progress only with perfect experiments.
IEET: Do you think radical life extension therapies will be developed quickly and inexpensively for the mainstream, or will they be only for the very wealthy?
This is an important question. I think radical life extension therapies can be developed quickly and inexpensively for the mainstream. More than that, I think radical life extension therapies for everybody would be useful in social and economic terms. It is, therefore, important that public institutions make research against aging a priority. However, even if therapies against aging would be developed by private companies, the risk that it would be for rich only for very long would be low. Indeed:
* The development of therapies is very expensive, but the therapies itself can be cheap. For example, the drug tested at the moment against ageing, metformin costs only a few cents for each dose. It is a little bit similar to the development of smartphones.
* If new therapies were to be available, there will be a huge pressure (political, social, ethical, economic) to have it available for all. Let’s imagine Google finds it. The company could have the choice between an expensive pill with millions of clients and a gigantic unpopularity or a cheap drug for billions of patients and a gigantic popularity. I seriously doubt they will choose “to be evil”.
IEET: What life extension therapies do you see as most promising in the near future?
Didier Coeurnelle: Scientists are speaking about research in the following fields:
Regeneration (of organs, tissues,…)
The most important investment concerning longevity at the moment is devoted to products and to the review of DNA. However, with current technology, the best combination of drugs of the world would probably not prolong the life of a Jeanne Calment (the oldest person ever who died in 1997 at the age of 122) by more than a few months or years, and there is no gene therapy available yet.
To go further we will need big medical changes to win many years of (healthy) life.
I personally think that without the use of artificial intelligence and/or without huge investments, we could have to wait many years more before a breakthrough. This is especially the case in the US and in Europe where the laws protecting the citizens and the laws concerning animal research make it very difficult to test quickly on real living beings.
Concerning tests on aged people, we can emphasize that people who are going to die of diseases related to old age soon and who gave a fully informed consent to innovative experimental treatments are probably luckier than old people dying of old age with only classical drugs to help.
We can also emphasize that testing longevity pills and therapies on mice, rats, pigs and dogs is not intended firstly for the good of animals, but will have as a collateral consequence the fact that pets will be able to live longer and healthier lives.
However, it will be certainly easier if experiments are first made as much as possible in a computer or in vitro.
It should be a goal of longevitists to use and to improve “intelligent” systems and artificial intelligence to make fundamental research concerning ageing. Another very important goal is to convince public institutions, rich people and the general public that more investments in these fields are urgent since more than 4,000 people die of diseases related to old age each hour.
IEET: What do you see as the most promising life extension therapies on the horizon?
Didier Coeurnelle: In my opinion, the most promising life extension therapy on the close horizon is metformin who is going to be tested in the US on a group of 3,000 (mostly) healthy aged people. The most promising therapy on a longer term is gene therapy and the CRISPR methods are especially potentially useful. A less well known idea promoted by people like Josh Mitteldorf and Edouard Debonneuil is to test on mice combination of promising products to (try to) find a few “magic combinations” that synergize positively.
IEET: Do you think Europeans are more interested in Life Extension than Americans. or less? Any reasons why or why not?
Didier Coeurnelle: I do not think they are so big differences. On one side, American people are more interested, especially very wealthy entrepreneurs like Craig Venter (Human Longevity inc.), Larry Page (Google Calico) and recently Mark Zuckerberg. The founder of Facebook wrote with his wife on December 1st a “letter to our daughter”: “Can our generation cure disease so you live much longer and healthier lives?” He wants to (try to) make this possible.
On the other side, life expectancy is shorter in the US than in Europe and almost not growing anymore the last years. In the UK, in a recent poll, 87% of the readers of the British newspaper Daily Telegraph said they would choose to “take an anti-aging pill in order to live until 120”.
I am convinced the two biggest problems in the US, in Europe and elsewhere are:
* People do not realize it becomes possible to live much longer and healthier
IEET: Do you think Europeans regard different pathways to Life Extension as more important, than Americans regard them?
Didier Coeurnelle: I do not think there are big differences. You have bioconservatives and technoprogressives on both continents. The American bioconservatives are probably more “religious” oriented. The European bioconservatives are more politically oriented with the idea that it is immoral to change the nature (actually not to change the nature anymore because there is nothing more “artificial” in the world than many European landscapes).
IEET: Can you tell us about your own personal research?
Didier Coeurnelle: I do not develop an own personal scientific research. I prefer to support (financially and by collective and individual action) the research of others. For example beside people already quoted and among many promising people, I support Maria Konovalenko, Avi Roy and Alex Zhavoronkov. I also try to be one of the “triggers” for more research. I wrote a book in French about all aspects of fighting ageing Et si on arrêtait de vieillir ! : Réalité, enjeux et perspectives d’une vie en bonne santé beaucoup plus longue. Another book, written with Marc Roux, chair of the AFT Technoprog, Technoprogressisme: la convergence technologique au service du progrès social should be published soon. If you want to know more about my activities (conferences, articles, …), you can follow me on this page or on twitter (but mostly in French).