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> Quest for Immortality

Minister Of Information
Group: Members
Posts: 393
Member No.: 581

Posted: Jan 9 2006, 01:11 AM
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This reminds me of a song from the Film "Highlander". "Queen" sing it.



secret3.gif psstttttttttttttttttttt don't tell to many people !


The Quest For Immortality

How’s this for an offer you can’t refuse:

How would you like to live say, 400 or 500 years, or even more and all of them in perfect health?

It’s both a Utopian and a nightmare scenario but there are those who say it is well within the realm of possibility.

Though we live longer and healthier lives than our grandparents, 100 is more or less the outer limit because, catastrophic disease aside, we just plain wear out. But 60 Minutes correspondent Morley Safer talked to one scientist who says that’s old-fashioned thinking, that sometime in the next 20 to 30 years or so we’ll be able to recondition ourselves for the first steps towards immortality.


We begin our journey to the outer limits with a gentle trip down the River Cam, floating by that center of British learning, Cambridge University. Our guide and helmsman: Dr. Aubrey de Grey. He ponders while he punts.

"When I was a student, I bought my own punt, a secondhand one for a few hundred pounds. And I used it in the summer to do what's called chauffeur punting," says de Grey. "People come along, tourists, and you tell them lies for money."

Today he’s pondering his favorite premise: eternal youth.

While most scientists talk about increasing longevity by a few years, de Grey says he is talking about the "indefinite extension of longevity."

"Average life spans would be in the region of 1,000 years," he says. "Seriously."

De Grey and his wife Adelaide are fixtures around Cambridge. She’s a researcher in genetics; he’s an academic maverick. While still in his early 30s he published groundbreaking work in theoretical biology and earned an international reputation. His day job is managing a fruit fly database.

But the work that consumes him involves larger game – humans. And he does his best thinking in the same 17th century pub where Watson and Crick refreshed themselves while unlocking the mysteries of DNA. De Grey believes he has unlocked the mysteries of immortality.

"The aging process is really a buildup of side effects of being alive in the first place," he says.

De Grey has identified the biological processes he thinks are responsible for aging, including the mutations that cause cancer and the gradual buildup of useless, toxic junk.

What does this accumulation of junk within the cells lead to?

"It depends on the tissue. In the eye, there is a type of junk that accumulates in the back of the retina that eventually causes us to go blind. It's called age-related macular degeneration. In the arteries, you have a different type of cell which accumulates a different type of junk that eventually causes arteriosclerosis," he says.

But de Grey has gone way beyond describing the causes of degeneration. In a series of papers he has developed a theory he calls "Engineered Negligible Senescence". Simply put, it says science will soon enable us to grow old without aging.

De Grey says that not all of the conditions that cause our bodies to age can be avoided or prevented…yet. "But I do claim that we have a fighting chance of developing ways to prevent them within the next 25 years or so."

So humans will be just as spry at 500 as we were at 25?

"If you have difficultly imaging this, think about the situation with houses. With moderate maintenance they stay up, they stay intact, inhabitable more or less forever. It’s just that we have to do a bit of maintenance to keep them going. And it's going to be the same with us," says de Grey.

But Dr. Jay Olshansky disputes de Grey's conclusions.

Dr. Olshansky studies longevity and aging at the University of Illinois in Chicago. He says de Grey’s predictions are more science fiction than science.

"Currently, life expectancy in the United States is roughly about – well, it's 80 for women, about 75 for men. They're talking about numbers that are simply way beyond comprehension," he says.

Olshanksy goes on to say that humans are simply not built to last.

"From an evolutionary perspective, we're designed to make it, to grow and develop and to reproduce, pass our genes on to the next generation, and ensure the reproductive success of our offspring," says Dr. Olshansky. "So you know, early 60s, one might argue, is where evolution has us surviving optimally. But we go well beyond that, well beyond the end of our reproductive period. So it's no surprise that we see things go wrong with these bodies when we use them beyond their warranty period. And that's exactly what we're doing."

De Grey admits his conclusions about people living to 1,000 are very extreme, "and so the natural reaction is to say, 'Well, this can't possibly be right.' But then if you look at my reasoning, how I get to those conclusions, it becomes very much harder to actually identify anything that I'm saying that is unreasonable," he says.

Would he compare such critics with those who believed that the Earth was flat and continued to believe it even when it was only theoretically proven to be round?

"I think that's a pretty good parallel, yes," says de Grey.

"I have no doubt science will make breakthroughs. But how do you develop a model or a forecast of a life expectancy based on a technology that doesn't exist?" says Olshansky.

But de Grey insists that it will exist soon enough. Our success in mapping the human genome will produce amazingly rapid strides in technology, like smart drugs designed for individuals, gene therapies to cure hereditary disease, and stem cells that rejuvenate organs like the heart and brain. And beyond that, microscopic robots that travel through our bloodstream curing what ails us.

Progress will be such that each generation will keep us one step ahead of the Grim Reaper.

"The first generation will give us maybe 30 extra years of healthy lifespan," says de Grey. "So, beneficiaries of those first therapies will still be around to benefit from improved therapies that will give them another 30 or 50 years and so on. So this is basically staying one step ahead of the problem."

But realistically, who wants to live to age 500 or 1,000?

"What I'm after is not living to 1,000. I'm after letting people avoid death for as long as they want to," he says.

And de Grey acknowledges that immortality will not be cheap. "We are talking about serious expenditure here. We are talking about expenditure in excess of what's being spent on the war in Iraq, for example."

That money will only be forthcoming when ordinary people become convinced that they have a shot at radical life extension.

"The people who are watching this probably still think about serious life extension in the same way that they think about teleportation. You know, they think it's not really foreseeable and they'll worry about it when it is," says de Grey.

That’s where the Methuselah Mouse Prize comes in. It’s a multi-million dollar contest designed by de Grey and others to spur anti-aging research. The goal is to demonstrate that radical life extension is possible by producing a so-called ‘ageless’ mouse within the next 10 years.

"And that is when the real pandemonium is going to happen because people will want to maximize their chance of making the cut," says de Grey.

Not all mice are created equal – at least not in the laboratory of Dr. Christian Sell, a research scientist at Drexel University in Philadelphia. In a separate facility, his mice come in two sizes – ‘regular’ and ‘midi’. The midi mice are 40 percent smaller than regular mice because one gene has been altered.

The altered gene, one that all mammals including humans have, regulates a hormone called IGF-1 that affects an animal’s size. If the gene is active, a lot of the hormone is produced and the animal grows large. A less active gene produces less of the hormone and a smaller animal. Dr. Sell hopes to prove that the gene also affects longevity. If he’s right, his smaller mice, with less of the hormone, will live longer than the two- to two-and-a-half year average of their larger cousins.

"Small seems to live longer, within your own species. Across species, small is shorter. Mice live shorter than elephants," says Sell. "But within mice, the smaller mice seem to live longer. Within dogs, smaller dogs live longer."

Could one conclude that this hormone produced by this gene is the longevity hormone?

"Why don't we say it's a longevity gene?" says Dr. Sell, laughing. "Because there's certainly more than that."

Three years into his research, Sell’s midi mice are living longer than the control group, but it’s too soon to tell if one of them will break the record of almost five years and win the Methuselah prize.

Is the prize stimulating longevity research?

"It's stimulating discussion," says Dr. Sell, "and whether one agrees with the idea that one will be able to intervene to radically extend life span or not, well, that's a good point for discussion."

Dr. Sell doesn't think that a fairly radical change in human longevity is a real possibility in the near term.

But it’s human nature to want to live as long as possible in reasonable health, and Olshansky says there are plenty of snake-oil salesmen out to cash in on that desire. For them he has his own prize: the Silver Fleece Award.

"This was a Silver Fleece Award for my favorite product. You know, I have my favorite, and this one was called 'Longevity.' It says here 'it drastically slows the aging process.' The person who invented it and many of the people who were listed as having used it, including John Wayne, Yul Brenner , Anthony Quinn, Russian and German party leaders and many other worldwide dignitaries, all share one common characteristic. They're dead. They have all died," says Olshansky.

So what does Olshansky say about guys like de Grey, legitimate scientists?

"What I like about Aubrey is, he's not selling anything except ideas. He's set forth a series of testable research hypotheses, which is what science is all about, and he said ‘test them’. I love that. That is what we should be doing in the world of science," Olshansky says. "I just wouldn't hold out immortality or 5,000-year life expectancies as the end result or the promise of what you're going to get from this."

But what if de Grey’s vision really does come to pass? Are we prepared to deal with a whole new set of problems?

"We're talking about saving 100,000 lives a day. And it takes a lot of problems to match that," says de Grey.

De Grey acknowledges that some people will say those 100,000 lives lost a day are just in the nature of things. "But, you know, it didn't stop us from using treatments for infectious diseases when we found out how to develop them," de Grey responds.

What about the social issues, like overpopulation, that would come with longevity?

"Sure, it will be difficult," de Grey says. "All I say is that this is a choice that the society of the future that has these therapies at its disposal is entitled to make for itself."

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