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Defeating aging, and the avenues ahead of us: Part 2
Eric Schulke   Feb 3, 2014   Ethical Technology  

With a clear way forward, what are we waiting for? If we get this done, then we can probably live indefinitely. Can humans be so mentally slothful and negligent that they would be able to do all kinds of things on microscopic scales and yet not be able to clear damage out of biology? Does anybody really think that most mitochondrial proteins can make it through the TIM/TOM complex, but that it’s out of the question for the rest of them?

(Part Three)

(Part One)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LfDYGanMi6Q

If you haven’t been paying attention, control of our world through science has been bursting at the seams now for a while. Watch this video here about color coding for surgery, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-j2XrT0QN5A, this video here about targeting specific brain cells to turn them on and off, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hupHAPF1fHY, this video here demonstrating a kidney being printed live on stage, http://www.ted.com/talks/anthony_atala_printing_a_human_kidney.html, and any of the many others.

If we want it and put our minds to it, then we could get it done. I would write “can” instead of “could”, but I know that there are critics that would whine about that. But really, why in the world can’t we? I don’t think there is any question that we can. Maybe we do find out that some of these things are utterly impossible for whatever reasons, but we don’t operate by excuse. We move forward, as we have done, conquering the elements again and again.
 

The seven stand tall and strong.

As de Grey explains, and as anyone is dared to refute, there seem to be only those seven forms of damage that age us to death by accumulating in and around our cells. These forms of damage have been discovered by science over the years, the last one being found in the 1980s. De Grey reminds us that science and technology have come a long ways since the 1980s, and no new forms of damage that directly contribute to aging people to death have been found.

It’s not “seven plus all the ones we can't get a grip on or figure out yet.” It's not “seven just because these are Aubrey’s or some group’s favorite seven”, and it’s not “seven but we have absolutely no idea how we could even begin to think about tackling any of them.” This isn’t a widely disputed list of items. It has accumulated and been independently peer-reviewed through all of science over time.

As written in Ending Aging,

“You could stop thinking of aging as a hopelessly complex theoretical problem to solve, and get on with attacking it head-on, as an eng ineering challenge that needed to be overcome.” (44)

You can, and you must. At the very least, this engineering approach is one of the main avenues that needs full support of as many people from around the world as possible, and as soon as possible. 

So why isn’t SENS being discussed more widely yet? Some people refuse to accept any conclusion that isn’t arrived at through time-honored formal channels. Many others are hell-bent on putting style ahead of substance.

Like Albert Einstein once said,

“It would be a sad situation if the wrapper were better than the meat wrapped inside it.”

For others, it’s hard to say. People don’t come to the right conclusions for a lot of reasons. I guess that’s why we need determined visionaries to pry the doors of new-found truths open.

As another scientist has written,

“and my inability to get it discussed in gerontological circles implies, if nothing else, that blind spots large enough to hide new [aging insights] exist.”

The Wright brothers were publishers and bicycle repairmen, yet we don’t say that their invention of controlled flight was wrong because of it. Once penicillin was invented, people were not expected to scoff and impede the work with petty distractions because they didn’t like the way Alexander Fleming trimmed his eyebrows or kept his office.


If you think that we have to wait to march forward to potential extended life because these seven aren’t correct, then bring forth convincing, relevant reasoning that there are more or fewer of these forms of damage that are directly aging us to death within our current maximum lifespan.

If there are more than seven, then an open $20,000 invitation to demonstrate that SENS is "so wrong that it was unworthy of learned debate" might be expected to illuminate one or more of them. As many know, that’s precisely what happened in 2006. Technology Review along with Aubrey de Grey put together a $20,000 reward for exactly that.

Here is what the scientists that responded said about the seven forms of damage.

Bret Weinstein, who at that time was a Ph.D. candidate from the University of Michigan, challenged SENS with the following:

“False tenet 1: The list of senescence causes is short and probably complete.” 

“False because: 
(A) The brain is certain to have informational limits not on the list 
(B) Histological entropy is also unaddressed 
(C) Each significant increase in maximum lifespan will reveal new problems we have never seen”

“But even if by some miracle—and that’s what it would have to be—there were not a cluster of problems characteristic of people within, let’s say, a century or two of their 500th birthday, there is another reason to doubt the claim that an absence of newly discovered causes says anything about what remains to be found. I have myself tried and failed—by the normal and expected means—to add one probable cause of senescence to the list. I termed the idea ‘histological entropy,’ and my inability to get it discussed in gerontological circles implies, if nothing else, that blind spots large enough to hide new causes exist.”

You might recognize that last quote from above, where it was purposefully placed to expose this double standard.

That’s great: if you can make the case, then do it. Again, the seven causes in question are not decided upon by de Grey, but by the acceptance of science over time. All the years between now and 1982 haven’t changed the minds of scientists on them.

If the brain has informational limits, then let’s research it and/or get to that point and find out.

I’m reminded of the real-life story of a group of hikers lost in the Grand Canyon. Dying of thirst, three of the young men in the group went off in search of water. At one point, on their first-ever experience with it, they had to free-climb down a tall vertical cliff face. I don’t know how, but in their weakened, dehydrated state, all three of them made it down, and after more arduous hiking at the bottom, they did find water.

I can imagine Weinstein standing at the top of that cliff with them before they went, telling them that they shouldn’t go because there might be more daunting obstacles ahead.

If there are informational limits down the road, or 500-year-old people begin to experience new and unforeseen causes of aging, then let’s go there and see. First things first: we find a way to get past the obstacles that we do confirm are blocking the way right now. Let’s get down this set of seven cliffs.

Regarding histological entropy, Weinstein thinks it’s likely that the parts of our cells and biology don’t retain enough of a mysterious force that allows things like genes that produce kidney enzymes, lymphocytes produced by the thymus, and so on, to function with their surroundings over time because they lose their memory of how to do so. However, as de Grey points out, the world routinely performs tasks like functional skin grafts, organ transplants, and bone-marrow transplants which don’t all seem to be at a loss as to how to “remember” how to interact with their surrounding environments.

Not to mention, if there is disorder in a machine, take out its damage and then see how it performs. If your oil change is past due, don’t speculate that your car might have a mysterious force causing it to break down, and forgo changing the oil. Let’s get the seven confirmed and seemingly only foreseeable forms of damage out of there, and then see what kind of potential entropy may or may not take place.

Let’s say that it ends up that we do need to find a way to refresh positional information – then prove it so we can know. Anybody can ask the life-extension communities for help if they need it. Do you need your papers and conferences spread? Do you need more debate on the matter? The scientists, activists, advocates, marketers, and all the rest in the overall movement of people that want the end of aging, that want extended health, and indefinite life extension, are eager to help. You can even pick the ones with the most intimidating-looking degrees and the starchiest-looking suits if you want.

Charles V. Mobbs, Ph.D., Professor in Neuroscience and Geriatrics from the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine wrote that,

“The practical rationale for the SENS approach is that correction of the seven forms of damage can be accomplished ‘by techniques that… can (with adequate funding) probably be implemented in mice within a decade or so (1).’ However, the major categories of damage each entail a multitude of specific impairments. Furthermore, it is not known which of these age-related changes actually predispose to functional impairments and which may be benign. Therefore SENS would require an impractically large number of interventions. Finally, even if it were possible in some way to target the vast number of changes that occur during aging, at the moment, and indeed for the foreseeable future, the available technologies do not allow even one such modification to be carried out, much less the vast number necessary.”

Bone-marrow transplants, repopulating intestines with cells, lysosomal storage disease successes, recombinant DNA engineering, success with moving mitochondrial genes around already… come now. Mobbs even admits that at least one of the SENS components, replacement of beta cells involved in type I diabetes, “will be developed”. Of course current methods aren’t developed yet in many cases, and aren’t perfect in others. If they were, then there wouldn’t be a need for a plan to take the group of them on and make them work fully: we could just prescribe an end to aging rather than put in the hard, morally imperative work to find it. De Grey developed a variety of methods to take on these forms of damage. If you don’t like them, then support other methods, but don’t try to dissuade people from taking this important plan seriously.

Sending a rocket into space might not have worked either. The materials might have reacted in unknown ways. There may have been uncalculated or even incalculable forces, or even an impractically large list of things to work out, etc. Humanity has long been in the business of putting together a viable picture of the given way forward to go and see.

As John F. Kennedy said about using rocket science to take people to a foreign celestial body,

“if I were to say, my fellow citizens, that we shall send to the moon, 240,000 miles away from the control station in Houston, a giant rocket more than 300 feet tall, the length of this football field, made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented, capable of standing heat and stresses several times more than have ever been experienced, fitted together with a precision better than the finest watch, carrying all the equipment needed for propulsion, guidance, control, communications, food and survival, on an untried mission, to an unknown celestial body, and then return it safely to earth, re-entering the atmosphere at speeds of over 25,000 miles per hour, causing heat about half that of the temperature of the sun – almost as hot as it is here today – and do all this, and do it right, and do it first before this decade is out –then we must be bold.”

The following twenty-thousand-dollar rebuttal-hopeful was from Preston W. Estep III, Ph.D., President and CEO, Longenity Inc., Matt Kaeberlein, Ph.D., Department of Pathology, University of Washington, Pankaj Kapahi, Ph.D., Buck Institute for Age Research, Brian K. Kennedy, Ph.D., Department of Biochemistry, University of Washington, Gordon J. Lithgow Ph.D., Buck Institute for Age Research, George M. Martin, M.D., Department of Pathology, University of Washington, Simon Melov, Ph.D., Buck Institute for Age Research, R. Wilson Powers III, Department of Genome Sciences, University of Washington, Heidi A. Tissenbaum, Ph.D., Program in Gene Function and Expression, Program in Molecular Medicine, University of Massachusetts Medical School.

“The SENS plan addresses seven pathologies that increase in severity with advancing age and proposes a solution for each [2, 3, 8, 9]. We agree that the some of the pathologies grouped together by SENS are causes of death in some individuals (this is obviously true of cancer, for example). In fact, all of these pathologies were discovered in the routine performance of science and medicine, and have been previously suggested to cause progressive dysfunction or death. Beyond grouping these pathologies together—and unscientifically excluding others—SENS is simply a collection of prospective therapies, some simple and mundane (e.g. exercise) and some best described as fantasy.”

It’s often aggravating to many scientists when people misinterpret science. It’s at least equally aggravating to many sociologists when scientists misinterpret sociology.

Many specialists, from any field, are compartmentalized and are prone to lacking in other skills, from either having devoted so much of their brain power to fewer pursuits, from lack of aptitude, or both. That’s alright, though; we don’t fault people for that. Practical discourse is not some people’s thing in the same way that raw science is not others’.

For those of you familiar with the television show The Big Bang Theory, this kind of interaction is represented brilliantly between the characters of Sheldon and Penny. Those are the two extremes, whereas most people fall in the middle. It’s the interaction between those extremes that seems often to characterize the whole field.

The reader of the Estep et al. communications snafu can only be left to guess that they must be pretty good at writing empirical publications to get to where they are; I have no doubt that many or all of them make fine contributions to humanity.

Let’s take this rebuttal a line or two at a time.

“In fact, all of these pathologies were discovered in the routine performance of science and medicine, and have been previously suggested to cause progressive dysfunction or death.”

This is written as though SENS and supporters, and even non-supporters who have looked into probably any given three sources on SENS information – be it the book, some videos, some articles, etc. – didn’t already understand that as put forth by SENS. This would be like saying, before the Wrights flew, that “in fact, all of the calculations and measurements they used to get going are things found by various people over the years.” No kidding… and not only that, but the accusatory tone of it, even if the content of it were true, wouldn’t even be relevant. Instead what we are left with is an irrelevant anecdote delivered through an irrelevant tone. In fact, hordes of Johannes Kepler’s data came from Tycho Brahe. But Kepler, like de Grey with previous science, worked with and sorted it into ways forward.

“Beyond grouping these pathologies together—and unscientifically excluding others—SENS is simply a collection of prospective therapies […]”

A statement like that is best repudiated. The reasoning is plotted out, and the reasoning for exclusions and why this list is probably complete is plotted out. None of the seven types of damage are contested, and nobody can name an eighth that isn’t contested, yet. Of course, the specific methods that de Grey puts forth might not work, and we might find that there are more or fewer than seven at some point, but that’s not a reason to denounce the plan.

Bring an eighth if you can, but don’t try to pretend that SENS is wrong because of the initial methods put forward to get the project going. Regardless of what method one takes in trying to eradicate the damage, be it de Grey’s method, other existing methods, some synthesis, or completely new ones, the damage must be a main focus, if not the main focus.

These puzzle pieces have come together and spell out a clear picture. We fittingly give de Grey due credit, but like I heard the character in an old movie playing Thomas Edison say, he didn’t so much invent as discover what had been waiting there to be stumbled upon by a discerning mind all along. Aging has finally shown its face. We can now take it head on in working to tear it down. Now, knowing better, there are no excuses left to hide behind for not doing better.

The teachers that already know about this need to get with the program, or rather, help get it into schools’ programs. Spread the word, tell others, impress the importance of this upon your school boards, and make it the issue that it needs to be. The classes on the politics of the 1800s are useful, economics can be good to know, chemical bonds are an important topic, but they are nothing when you’re dead. Taking on this damage and ending aging is a keystone curricular issue, and it will be front and center on the primary and secondary school stage, and most everywhere, at some point. For the love of life, help take it there faster. Cap those segments in school about aging off, not with the kind of conclusion of teachers like mine and well-meaning but short-sighted critics, but with the answer that I was expecting, the critical 21st-century thinkers’ answer. 

Eric Schulke is an activist with the Movement for Indefinite Life Extension. He was a Director, Teams Coordinator, and Marketing & Outreach team leader at Longecity – Advocacy & Research for Unlimited Lifespans (2009-2012). He attended University of Wisconsin.



COMMENTS

Eric, as you know I admire your advocacy efforts in a variety of fronts and at many levels. However, to present the ‘damage-repair’ approach as an effective and promising way to end aging is naive, and fails to consider aging as an all-encompassing phenomenon. This approach is, perhaps, easy to understand by the majority of people, but this does not make it correct. Damage repair may, at some point, help more people to live to an age of 100 or 110 but it will not be of any use in radical life extension. If we truly want to defeat aging we need to abandon simplistic or reductionist approaches, and consider global, complex and evolutionary mechanisms as a possible answer.

The report cited here “Life Extension Pseudo-Science and the Sens Plan” in which some the field’s top gerontologists critiqued de Grey is quite devastating. Here is a quote where they characterize de Grey’s views as:


“Resistance to debate on how to postpone ageing is delaying
progress and costing lives” [47]. He estimates this cost to be 100,000 lives a day and he places responsibility for the loss of these lives directly on gerontologists. Although unusual, even for
pseudoscience, this sort of inflammatory rhetoric is not unprecedented. It is a feature of some of the most pernicious historical episodes of pseudoscience and other assorted fanaticism [4] (p 261-263, [6]).The fact that many gerontologists routinely discuss and debate how to postpone aging has not stopped him from publicly proclaiming they are resistant to it. Nor have the extreme deficiencies of SENS—which have been pointed out to de Grey on numerous occasions—prevented him from using such inflammatory rhetoric.”

http://www2.technologyreview.com/sens/docs/estepetal.pdf

I think we have to stop putting legitimate scientists who are at the forefront of anti-aging research in the same camp as “deathists” who fetishize human aging and mortality. I credit de Grey with bringing attention to the idea that aging and mortality are malleable, but persons such as those working at the Buck Institute are in fact working to help people live longer.

They did not write against de Grey because they are against longevity research: what they want us to be wary of are claims that our understanding or science in regards to aging are far in advance of where they actually are or claims that “curing” aging will be a matter of simply controlling a few biological mechanism where such control is presented as at our fingertips.

Despite the harsh words, many of the authors of the report are allies not enemies of de Grey and anyone who longs for an extended human lifespan.

Please consult the August report at SENS.

http://sens.org/sites/srf.org/files/reports/SENS Research Report 2013.pdf

“‘damage-repair’ approach as an effective and promising way to end aging is naive, and fails to consider aging as an all-encompassing phenomenon.”

Incorrect, it considers aging to be the byproduct of the broad metabolic process which is too difficult control at our current state of ignorance and asserts that the intermediate damages are the underlying cause of age related pathology. Is there a particular area of damage you don’t think causes the associated age relateed pathology?

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