Perspectives on Life Extension

By Coralie Raia Darsey-Malloy

This blog is a combination of personal experience with some information from Wikipedia.

This blog post explores some of the research and information about  life extension  and biological regeneration. There are many in the new age movement who  believe that the energetic aspect of one’s innate spiritual nature has the potential to transform one’s biology and promote the changes needed to live well and strong  into advanced years.

My birthday is on New Year’s Eve and at the beginning of the next   journey around the sun adds to a belief that it is possible to remain youthful and strong into advanced years. Whatever it is there is a burgeoning interest and scientific study in life extension, immortality and youthful aging. I wrote this article to present some of the perspectives, ideas, beliefs and answered questions about the possibility and/or probability within some of this issues and concerns. One thing is inarguable is that humanity has already extended their lifespan over those of our ancestors. Whether we will continue to be able to do so will remain to be seen…and experienced. If extended longevity does not occur in our lifetime, there is a very real possibility that it will for future lifetimes.

Youth is generally the time of life between childhood and adulthood (maturity). Definitions of the specific age range that constitutes youth vary. An individual’s actual maturity may not correspond to their chronological age, as immature individuals can exist at all ages. Youth is also defined as “the appearance, freshness, vigor, spirit characteristic of one who is young.” Youth is a term used for people of both genders, male and female, of young age. The term “youth” usually refers to individuals between the ages of 16-24. Around the world, the terms “youth”, “adolescent”, “teenager”, “kid”, and “young person” are interchanged, often meaning the same thing, occasionally differentiated. Youth generally refers to a time of life that is neither childhood nor adulthood, but rather somewhere in-between. Youth is an alternative word to the scientifically oriented adolescent and the common terms of teen and teenager. Another common title for youth is young person or young people.

The term youth also identifies a particular mindset of attitude, as in “he/she is very youthful”. The term youth is also related to looking, feeling and BE-ING young or in a state of “youthfulness.” It is aptly interpreted in a quotation by Robert Kennedy. “This world demands the qualities of youth: not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the life of ease.”

With more people living into advanced years there is a growing interest in the idea of “youthing while aging. This view involves new constructs within self-concepts. The self-perception of youth is influenced by several variables such as peers, lifestyle, gender and culture. Within this context, aging involves attitude and life choices to sustain “youthfulness.” Those who are genuinely interested in aging well and life extension science involves a number of co-factors.

Life extension science is an umbrella term that is also referred to as anti-aging medicine, experimental gerontology, and biomedical gerontology, is the study of slowing down or reversing the processes of aging to extend both the maximum and average lifespan. Some researchers in this area, and “life extensionists” or “longevists” (those who wish to achieve longer lives themselves), believe that future breakthroughs in tissue rejuvenation with stem cells, molecular repair, and organ replacement (such as with artificial organs or xenotransplantations will eventually enable humans to have an indefinite lifespan (agerasia) with   rejuvenation in healthy, strong youthful conditions.

The sale of putative anti-aging products such as nutrition, physical fitness, skin care, hormone replacements, vitamins, supplements and herbs is a lucrative global industry, with the US market generating about $50 billion of revenue each year. Medical experts state that the use of such products has not been shown to affect the aging process, and many claims of anti-aging medicine advocates have been roundly criticized by medical experts, including the American Medical Association. However, it has not been shown that the goal of indefinite human life spans itself is necessarily unfeasible; some animals such as lobsters and certain jellyfish do not die of old age, and an award was offered to anyone who could prove life extensionist Aubrey de Grey’s hopes were ‘unworthy of learned debate’; nobody won the prize. The whole question of life extension has branched out and Bioethicists question the ethical ramifications of life extension.

There has been and continues to be extensive research on how diet, lifestyle, nutrition and supplements and how they may or may not extend life or add to the quality of it during the aging process. The many diets promoted by anti-aging advocates are often contradictory. A dietary pattern with some support from scientific research is caloric restriction. The free-radical theory of aging suggests that antioxidant supplements, such as Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Q10, lipoic acid, carnosine, and N-acetylcysteine, might extend human life. However, combined evidence from several clinical trials suggests that β-Carotene supplements and high doses of Vitamin E increase mortality rates. Other substances proposed to extend lifespan include oxytocin, insulin, human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), and erythropoietin (EPO). Resveratrol is a sirtuin stimulant that appears to extend lifespan in simple organisms such as nematodes and short-lived fish.

Some supplements, including minerals selenium or zinc] have been reported to extend one’s lifespan in rats and mice. However, the results have not been replicated in humans. There is concern for toxicity in high concentrations. Metformin is another supplement that may extend lifespan but the studies are only in preliminary stages. Interestingly there is a tea called Jiaogulan that has been dubbed China’s “Immortality Herb” but more studies need to be done to confirm any of the above findings. The discussion whether aging should be viewed as a disease or not has important implications. It would stimulate pharmaceutical companies to develop life extension therapies and in the United States of America, it would increase the regulation of the anti-aging market by the FDA. Anti-aging falls under the regulations for cosmetic medicine which and are less regulated than drug therapy.

The anti-aging industry offers several hormone therapies. Some of these have been criticized for possible dangers to the patient and a lack of proven effect. For example, the American Medical Association has been critical of some anti-aging hormone therapies. Even if some recent clinical studies have shown that low-dose GH treatment for adults with GH deficiency changes the body composition by increasing muscle mass, decreasing fat mass, increasing bone density and muscle strength, improves cardiovascular parameters (i.e. decrease of LDL cholesterol), and affects the quality of life without significant side effects.

The evidence for use of growth hormone as an anti-aging therapy is mixed and based on animal studies. An early study suggested that supplementation of mice with growth hormone increased average life expectancy. Additional animal experiments have suggested that growth hormone may generally act to shorten maximum lifespan; knockout mice lacking the receptor for growth hormone live especially long. Furthermore, mouse models lacking the insulin-like growth factor also live especially long and have low levels of growth hormone

People suffering from rare condition known as Laron syndrome have mutation in the gene that makes the receptor for growth hormone. It’s theorized that that mutation may hold a key to life extension. Dr. Longo said that some level of IGF-1 was necessary to protect against heart disease, but that lowering the level might be beneficial. A drug that does this is already on the market for treatment of acromegaly, a thickening of the bones caused by excessive growth hormone. “Our underlying hypothesis is that this drug would prolong life span,” Dr. Longo said. He said he was not taking the drug, called pegvisomant or Somavert, which is very hard to obtain. There is a considerable amount of scientific controversy regarding anti-aging nutritional supplementation and medicine and it is important that consumers educate themselves and make informed choices before looking for a magic bullet with their anti-aging and longevity goals.

Some experts categorize aging as a disease. While others   dispute that diagnosis and label. Many critics dispute the portrayal of aging as a disease and scientist Leonard Hayflick, determined that fibroblasts are limited to around 50 cell divisions, reasons that aging is an unavoidable consequence of entropy. Hayflick and fellow biogerontologists Jay Olshansky and Bruce Carnes have strongly criticized the anti-aging industry in response to what they see as unscrupulous profiteering from the sale of unproven anti-aging supplements.

In the United States, product claims on food and drug labels are strictly regulated. The First Amendment (freedom of speech) protects third-party publishers’ rights to distribute fact, opinion and speculation on life extension practices. Manufacturers and suppliers also provide informational publications, but because they market the substances, they are subject to monitoring and enforcement by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which polices claims by marketers. What constitutes the difference between truthful and false claims is hotly debated and is a central controversy in this arena.

Research by Sobh and Martin (2011) suggests that consumers on the anti-aging bandwagon are driven to purchase products that will provide hoped-for results (e.g., keeping a youthful skin) or to avoid a feared-self (e.g., looking old). The research shows that when consumers pursue with this in mind their expectations for success drive their motivation. Even when their purchases do not provide the desired outcome, they continue to search and buy similar items in a driving desire to avoid what they fear within their aging process. In this rapidly advancing aspect of consumerism, it is good to maintain a “buyers beware” mindset. Anything that sounds too good to be true may be. This emerging branch of science and medicine is bringing interesting possibilities for healthy aging and life extension but it still has a long way to go for anyone to “know for sure” that ageless living is truly possible.

Nanotechnology is a branch of medicine that could give rise to life extension through the repair of many processes thought to be responsible for aging. K. Eric Drexler, one of the founders of nanotechnology, postulated cell repair machines, including ones operating within cells and utilizing yet hypothetical molecular computers, in his 1986 book Engines of Creation. Raymond Kurzweil, a futurist and transhumanist, stated in his book The Singularity Is Near that he believes that advanced medical nanorobotics could completely remedy the effects of aging by 2030.

Some life extensionists suggest that therapeutic cloning and stem cell research could one day provide a way to generate cells, body parts, or even entire bodies (generally referred to as reproductive cloning) that would be genetically identical to a prospective patient. Recently, the US Department of Defense initiated a program to research the possibility of growing human body parts on mice. Complex biological structures, such as mammalian joints and limbs, have not yet been replicated. Experiments with dogs and primates and transmutation experiments failed when they were unable to restore nerve connections. As of 2006, the implantation of bio-engineered bladders grown from patients’ own cells has proven to be a viable treatment for bladder disease. Proponents of body part replacement and cloning contend that the required biotechnologies are likely to appear earlier than other life-extension technologies.

The use of human stem cells, particularly embryonic stem cells, is controversial. Opponents’ objections generally are based on interpretations of religious teachings or ethical considerations. Proponents of stem cell research point out those cells are routinely formed and destroyed in a variety of contexts. Use of stem cells taken from the umbilical cord or parts of the adult body may not provoke controversy. The controversies over cloning are similar, except general public opinion in most countries stands in opposition to reproductive cloning. Some proponents of therapeutic cloning predict the production of whole bodies, lacking consciousness, for eventual brain transplantation.

For cryonicists (advocates of cryopreservation), storing the body at low temperatures after death may provide an “ambulance” into a future in which advanced medical technologies may allow resuscitation and repair. They speculate cryogenic temperatures will minimize changes in biological tissue for many years, giving the medical community ample time to cure all disease, rejuvenate the aged and repair any damage that is caused by the cryopreservation process. Many cryonicists do not believe that legal death is “real death” because stoppage of heartbeat and breathing—the usual medical criteria for legal death—occur before biological death of cells and tissues of the body. Even at room temperature, cells may take hours to die and days to decompose.

Although neurological damage occurs within 4–6 minutes of cardiac arrest, the irreversible neurodegenerative processes do not manifest for hours. Cryonicists’ state that rapid cooling and cardio-pulmonary support applied immediately after certification of death can preserve cells and tissues for long-term preservation at cryogenic temperatures. People, particularly children, have survived up to an hour without heartbeat after submersion in ice water. In one case, full recovery was reported after 45 minutes underwater. To facilitate rapid preservation of cells and tissue, cryonics “standby teams” wait by the bedside of patients who are to be cryopreserved. They apply cooling and cardio-pulmonary support as soon as possible after declaration of death. No mammal has been successfully cryopreserved and brought back to life, and resuscitation from cryonics is not possible with current science. Some scientists still support the idea based on their expectations of the capabilities of future science.

Another proposed life extension technology combines existing and predicted future biochemical and genetic techniques. SENS proposes that rejuvenation may be obtained by removing aging damage via the use of stem cells and tissue engineering, removal of telomere-lengthening machinery, allotopic expression of mitochondrial proteins, targeted ablation of cells, immunotherapeutic clearance, and novel lysosomal hydrolases. There is no scientific evidence that supports this strategy, and Robin Holliday called SENS “overly ambitious”.

Some of the other strategies being considered for future are gene therapy. This is a process where artificial genes are integrated with an organism to replace mutated or otherwise deficient genes. Targeting catalase to the mitochondria resulted in a 20% lifespan increase in transgenic mice, and improved performance in AAV therapeutically infected mice. In The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins describes an approach to life-extension that involves “fooling genes” into thinking the body is young. Dawkins attributes inspiration for this idea to Peter Medawar. The basic idea is that our bodies are composed of genes that activate throughout our lifetimes, some when we are young, and others when we are older. Presumably, these genes are activated by environmental factors, and the changes caused by these genes activating can be lethal. It is a statistical certainty that we possess more lethal genes that activate in later life than in early life. Therefore, to extend life, we should be able to prevent these genes from switching on, and we should be able to do so by “identifying changes in the internal chemical environment of a body that take place during aging… and by simulating the superficial chemical properties of a young body”.

History of life extension and the life extension movement

In 1970, the American Aging Association was formed under the impetus of Denham Harman, originator of the free radical theory of aging. Harman wanted an organization of biogerontologists that was devoted to research and to the sharing of information among scientists interested in extending human lifespan. In 1976, futurists Joel Kurtzman and Philip Gordon wrote No More Dying. The Conquest Of Aging And The Extension Of Human Life, (ISBN 0-440-36247-4) was the first popularized book on research to extend human lifespan. Subsequently, Kurtzman was invited to testify before the House Select Committee on Aging, chaired by Claude Pepper of Florida, to discuss the impact of life extension on the Social Security system.

Saul Kent published The Life Extension Revolution (ISBN 0-688-03580-9) in 1980 and created a nutraceutical firm called the Life Extension Foundation, a non-profit organization that promotes dietary supplements. The Life Extension Foundation publishes a periodical called Life Extension Magazine. The 1982 bestselling book Life Extension: A Practical Scientific Approach (ISBN 0-446-51229-X) by Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw further popularized the phrase “life extension”. In 1983, Roy Walford, a life-extensionist and gerontologist, published a popular book called Maximum Lifespan.

In 1988, Walford and his student Richard Weindruch summarized their research into the ability of calorie restriction to extend the lifespan of rodents in The Retardation of Aging and Disease by Dietary Restriction (ISBN 0-398-05496-7). The work of Clive McCay in the 1930s shows that calorie restriction can extend the maximum lifespan of rodents. Nevertheless, the work of Walford and Weindruch provides detailed scientific research in this field of study, [citation needed] Walford’s personal interest in life extension motivated his scientific work and he practiced calorie restriction himself. Walford died at the age of 80 from complications caused by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Money generated by the non-profit Life Extension Foundation allowed Saul Kent to finance the Alcor Life Extension Foundation, the world’s largest cryonics organization. The cryonics movement had been launched in 1962 by Robert Ettinger’s book, The Prospect of Immortality. In the 1960s, Saul Kent had been a co-founder of the Cryonics Society of New York. Alcor gained national prominence when baseball star Ted Williams was cryonically preserved by Alcor in 2002 and a family dispute arose as to whether Williams had really wanted to be cryopreserved. Regulatory and legal struggles between the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Life Extension Foundation included seizure of merchandise and court action. In 1991, Saul Kent and Bill Faloon, the principals of the Foundation, were jailed. The LEF accused the FDA of perpetrating a “Holocaust” and “seeking gestapo-like power” through its regulation of drugs and marketing claims. In 1992, the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine (A4M) was formed to create what it considered an anti-aging medical specialty distinct from geriatrics, and to hold trade shows for physicians interested in anti-aging medicine. The American Board of Medical Specialties recognizes neither anti-aging medicine nor the A4M’s professional standing.

Even though there are numerous scientists claiming that life extension and radical life extension are possible there aren’t any international or national programs focusing on radical life extension. There are political forces staying for and against life extension. In 2012 in Russia, and then in USA, Israel and Netherlands the Longevity political parties started. They aimed to provide political support to radical life extension research and technologies and ensure fastest possible and at the same time soft transition society to the next step – life without aging and with radical life extension and provide such the access to such technologies to the most of the currently living people.

Leon Kass (chairperson of the US President’s Council on Bioethics from 2001 to 2005) has questioned whether potential exacerbation of overpopulation problems would make life extension unethical.] He states his opposition to life extension with the words: “simply to covet a prolonged life span for ourselves is both a sign and a cause of our failure to open ourselves to procreation and to any higher purpose. The desire to prolong youthfulness is not only a childish desire to eat one’s life and keep it; it is also an expression of a childish and narcissistic wish incompatible with devotion to posterity. John Harris, former editor-in-chief of the Journal of Medical Ethics, argues that as long as life is worth living, according to the person himself, we have a powerful moral imperative to save the life and thus to develop and offer life extension therapies to those who want them.

Comparing perspectives on the subject of life extension Transhumanist philosopher Nick Bostrom argues that any technological advances in life extension must be equitably distributed and not restricted to a privileged few. In an extended metaphor entitled “The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant”, Bostrom envisions death as a monstrous dragon who demands human sacrifices. In the fable, after a lengthy debate between those who believe the dragon is an unpleasant fact and those who believe the dragon can and should be destroyed, the dragon is finally killed. Bostrom argues that political inaction allowed many preventable human deaths to occur.

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