The guardian article on longevity research [link]

post by ike · 2015-01-11T19:02:52.830Z · score: 8 (9 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 27 comments

Saw this on HN.

Live forever: Scientists say they’ll soon extend life ‘well beyond 120’

 

 

27 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2015-01-11T21:45:47.810Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

From the article:

Yun believes it is possible to “solve ageing”

When I was a kid, that was always my attitude. Ageing is a problem to be solved. Somewhere along the way I lost that a bit for a while.

HPMOR brought that back for me.

And someday when the descendants of humanity have spread from star to star, they won’t tell the children about the history of Ancient Earth until they’re old enough to bear it; and when they learn they’ll weep to hear that such a thing as Death had ever once existed!

Looks like Thiel is on board:

In a recent interview he identified three main ways to approach death. “You can accept it, you can deny it or you can fight it. I think our society is dominated by people who are into denial or acceptance, and I prefer to fight it.”

comment by advancedatheist · 2015-01-11T23:32:57.247Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

When "denial of death" can keep someone from dying from, say, cancer, we call it "effective health care."

comment by advancedatheist · 2015-01-11T19:23:08.768Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

In Palo Alto in the heart of Silicon Valley, hedge fund manager Joon Yun is doing a back-of-the-envelope calculation. According to US social security data, he says, the probability of a 25-year-old dying before their 26th birthday is 0.1%. If we could keep that risk constant throughout life instead of it rising due to age-related disease, the average person would – statistically speaking – live 1,000 years.

I get ~ 1,400 years, as the "half life," but I see what Yun did. And that takes into account that 25 year olds have already gotten most of their risky behavior behind them. Your auto insurance rates dropped when you turned 25 for good empirical reasons.

Of course, these calculations don't mean anything because we don't have anywhere near enough of a baseline yet to make that sort of extrapolation plausible.

comment by TrE · 2015-01-11T20:26:46.821Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

the probability of a 25-year-old dying before their 26th birthday is 0.1%. If we could keep that risk constant throughout life instead of it rising due to age-related disease, the average person would – statistically speaking – live 1,000 years.

That's just not how the relevant model works. Unless there's very good reason to believe we can overcome the limits set by this model, this calculation is like saying

the number of radioactive atoms decaying to stable atoms in this 1kg lump of nuclear waste in the first hour after its formation is . If we could keep this number constant throughout storage, nuclear waste would - in terms of radioactivity - be completely converted to stable elements in just 3 years.

Although there are some arguments on why significant extension of lifespans might be possible, the relevant model is not even discussed, and thusly I don't think the arguments brought forth are good enough to warrant the claim that 1000 years are possible.

comment by gwern · 2015-01-11T22:17:17.592Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

That's just not how the relevant model works

Yes, that's rather the point? He's pointing out the implications of the Gompertz curve: that increases in age-related risk account for almost all of why we live such short lives.

comment by TrE · 2015-01-12T07:06:36.418Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Then he should give reasons why that's possible. As it is, it seems to me like he is simply ignoring the math behind ageing. The following would be a better argument, IMO:

The Gompertz law describes human mortality as it currently is. It says that human mortality over time increases more than exponentially. To defy the Gompertz law, bold steps are necessary. Constant maintenance via external drugs that do what our immune system currently does or re-setting our immune system to a younger age may be necessary, as well as keeping the length of our telomers constant without inducing cancer, to break the hard limit set by the Gompertz curve.

Compare:

Radioactive decay is exponential and not linear. That is partly what makes nuclear waste take so long to disappear: Atomic decay is a random process, and even after a few half-lives, some radiation remains. And it gets worse: Many waste products have very long lifetimes, so their radioactivity stays around even when short-lived products are all gone. But researchers have found a solution: They bombard radioactive atoms with other nuclear particles, inducing them to decay much faster. The only weakly radioactive products can be safely extracted. In effect, this process overcomes the limiting math of radioactive decay, enabling linear decay rates and quick decay of long-lived fission products.

comment by gwern · 2015-01-12T17:40:20.894Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

The following would be a better argument, IMO:

No, it wouldn't, because you are presupposing that one already understands why one would want to do such a difficult thing. The whole point of pointing out the implications of acceleration in mortality is to point out real mortality rates can imply very long lifespans and that squaring the curve would have major and desirable implications. Only once the potential benefits have been established does anyone care about how feasible fixing it would be. There are two blades to the idea of 'cost-benefit', and you are dismissing out of hand anyone even trying to roughly estimate the latter.

To use your atom example:

Right now, our power sources like coal and oil produces X joules per gram; but we can see by simply calculating E=MC^2 that the potential energy of somehow tapping into mass-energy conversion rather than normal chemical potentials would generate multiple orders of magnitude more energy than from normal strategies. This is tantalizing and even believable.

And someone else replying:

That's just not how the relevant model works. Thusly, I don't think the arguments brought forth are good enough to warrant the claim that atomic energy is possible.

Go back to the original article. Why are they discussing aging at all? To justify research like Calico into reducing it.

Jeez. Talk about missing the point.

comment by TrE · 2015-01-12T20:54:51.586Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The following would be a better argument, IMO: No, it wouldn't, because you are presupposing that one already understands why one would want to do such a difficult thing. The whole point of pointing out the implications of acceleration in mortality is to point out real mortality rates can imply very long lifespans and that squaring the curve would have major and desirable implications.

Making up numbers is not the way to do this, then. If you want to introduce people to the idea that very long and healthy lives are possible and desirable, a historical perspective would be good. Or you could discuss how we lead relatively healthy lives until about 60, and then somehow the decay kicks in - which is really a shame because we've been healthy for so long, and there shouldn't be a moral reason why it can't stay this way.

Only once the potential benefits have been established does anyone care about how feasible fixing it would be. There are two blades to the idea of 'cost-benefit', and you are dismissing out of hand anyone even trying to roughly estimate the latter.

No I'm not. I agree that living happily ever on would be an enormous win for most humans. And if the author must, they are free to write fiction on how much better the world would be.

Additionally, my point is not that it's ultra-mega-hard to extend the human lifespan, and that we shouldn't even try. But we have to take into account how the system actually works, and then start from there. That is, we have to build a model, then see if we can improve the situation (i.e. extend human lifespan to 1000 years) by varying parameters within the model.

If that's not possible (it's not possible if mortality follows a doubly-exponential curve with a hard cutoff around X years, where X might be extended by 50% - if things go well), we go see if we can circumvent the model, so that it doesn't apply anymore. Blood donations might be a stab at this. Calorie restriction isn't.

To use your atom example:

Right now, our power sources like coal and oil produces X joules per gram; but we can see by simply calculating E=MC^2 that the potential energy of somehow tapping into mass-energy conversion rather than normal chemical potentials would generate multiple orders of magnitude more energy than from normal strategies. This is tantalizing and even believable.

There's a difference between this, and the original writing. You already have a good reason why the real energy content of matter should be way higher than it appears to be. The only grounds on which someone would reply to this

That's just not how the relevant model works. Thusly, I don't think the arguments brought forth are good enough to warrant the claim that atomic energy is possible.

would be that the author of the piece on E=mc^2 then goes on discussing various techniques to increase the energy output of coal burning, perhaps using a novel oxidizer or special reaction conditions. That would be silly, after one has understood why chemical potential energy is so limited.

But, in a way, the author of the original article does exactly this by discussing the impact of various drugs or treatments like calorie restriction. Only that the limits set by the Gompertz model - not the parameters, but the model - and a way to overcome the Gompertz curve - are not discussed.

I have a feeling that I don't understand your point or how it relates to mine, or that I don't see that you would understand my point.

Also I'm getting a hostile vibe from your reply, so while you may answer and I will read your answer, I won't reply to that anymore as this kind of stress negatively impacts my expected lifespan.

comment by gwern · 2015-01-13T02:38:24.693Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Making up numbers is not the way to do this, then.

He's not making up numbers. It's a pretty legitimate extrapolation of what the consequences would be if one could eliminate increasing mortality and maintain the mortality rates of young people. This is no more 'making up numbers' than is using e=mc^2 to point out the potential benefit of atomic energy.

If you want to introduce people to the idea that very long and healthy lives are possible and desirable, a historical perspective would be good. Or you could discuss how we lead relatively healthy lives until about 60, and then somehow the decay kicks in - which is really a shame because we've been healthy for so long, and there shouldn't be a moral reason why it can't stay this way.

Still missing the point. Nothing about the observation 'hey, being 20 years old is pretty nice' or 'decay kicks in around 60, isn't that odd' implies 'eliminating increasing mortality would result in lifespans on the order of a millennia' unless one has already taken known annual mortality rates and worked through the probabilistic implication - the very working-through you're mocking as "making up numbers". (Certainly the average Guardian reader, or the 99th percentile Guardian reader for that matter, is not an expert on gerontology and will have never realized this, and needs it to be pointed out.)

Additionally, my point is not that it's ultra-mega-hard to extend the human lifespan, and that we shouldn't even try. But we have to take into account how the system actually works, and then start from there. That is, we have to build a model, then see if we can improve the situation (i.e. extend human lifespan to 1000 years) by varying parameters within the model.

Cost-benefit. You keep talking about the costs and exact mechanistic models of aging, while ignoring the overall observation which gives an idea of the benefit.

There's a difference between this, and the original writing. You already have a good reason why the real energy content of matter should be way higher than it appears to be.

This is equally applicable to the aging, and why I chose it. 'You already have a good reason why the real upper limit on lifespan should be way higher than it appears to be, because some actual empirical mortality rates imply that we could live for a long time'.

I have a feeling that I don't understand your point or how it relates to mine, or that I don't see that you would understand my point.

I don't understand how you can fail so badly at understanding the basic argument. The logic of the article is transparent and standard among coverage of futurism & speculative tech articles: 'here is a quick estimate of how valuable such an achievement could be which will be surprising to most readers who are not already experts on how aging works, here are people who think the achievement may be feasible, here's what they and others are working on and possible routes, and here's the summing up conclusion'.

When you read the first paragraphs, what does it parse as, logically, in your mind? Can you write out a summary of the article, or does the whole thing just look like a big mish-mash of 'blah blah blah making-up-numbers blah blah blah caloric restriction blood donations Calico other-stuff-I-don't-care-about' and you get angry and decide to vent about it on LW?

comment by [deleted] · 2015-01-12T03:03:41.206Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

That's the entire point. The premise is, what if we were able to flat-line risk to be what a 25yo experiences rather than be a function of age.

comment by Punoxysm · 2015-01-14T02:44:47.482Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Sadly it seems like all the researchers are still at the early hypothesis / vaguely-grounded speculation stage.

Of course, everything has to start somewhere, and the true hypothesis is built on the bones of the false ones, but it also means that it's hard for these efforts to gain the scale of funding that could really accelerate them.

When somebody manages to substantially slow aging in an animal (preferably a mouse, but maybe a fruitfly would be enough), I think the faucet will really turn on.

comment by ike · 2015-01-14T15:33:04.072Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Quick Google search shows plenty of results, including several papers in Scholar

The first in Scholar is http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1474-9726.2012.00832.x/full, which quotes several other ones in the beginning that found increases in mice lifespan.

Are you unaware of these, or are they "not substantial" enough for you? If the latter, how much would mice lifespan have to be increased for it to count in your book?

comment by Punoxysm · 2015-01-14T18:30:07.893Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm moderately familiar with the work that exists. No need to google it for me.

I'm talking about something on the order of winning the Methusaleh mouse prize (20 years). Something that could show a concrete path towards indefinite lifespan. Calorie restriction doesn't look like it will get us there.

Sorry I wasn't clear.

comment by ike · 2015-01-16T14:10:36.484Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I just saw this, published yesterday. Is it relevant?

"Our flies had median lifespans 50 to 60 percent longer than normal flies," said Christa Rhiner, one of the authors of the study.

Also, what is it adding over this from 2011?

The biologists delayed the aging of the flies' intestines and extended their lives by as much as 50 percent.

Maybe you can enlighten me if you're familiar with the field?

comment by Lalartu · 2015-01-12T09:27:59.636Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

A century ago there were scientists who said the same. Just because somebody is working on a problem doesn't mean it will be solved.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2015-01-12T17:59:27.398Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Good thing that isn't the argument, isn't it?

Even a century ago they had good reasons to think it was possible. Medicine was getting a lot better VERY quickly. They turned out to be wrong, but I wouldn't say that they were utterly crazy for thinking that they could keep finding low-hanging fruit long enough to work out the underpinnings and solve the problem.

Now, we can see a lot more clearly how far we are from the 'finish line'.

comment by benwr · 2015-01-12T10:34:38.264Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

On the other hand, the number of people working on a problem, and the speed with which they are individually able to work, can't be ignored. "Given enough eyes, all bugs are shallow" - Linus Torvalds, talking about something pretty similar (if much, much simpler).

comment by ike · 2015-01-11T19:04:03.497Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Favorite sentence:

One of the more unusual approaches being tested is using blood from the young to reinvigorate the old.

Sounds like Hansel and Gretel to me.

comment by CellBioGuy · 2015-01-13T04:37:59.069Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's also probably going to cause cancer. Might still be worth it if you are going for neurological health with risk factors before you kick it though.

comment by ilzolende · 2015-01-11T22:12:32.454Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

We already have a sperm/egg donation industry. Why not pay people to be blood donors? I'd probably participate, although the only blood I've donated so far was just a couple of small vials for a study. Aging members of society would get younger blood, which young people such as myself already have plenty of. I get money, which (if I'm still in college by the time people want blood transfusions) they have a greater capacity to earn than I do. Everyone seems to win.

comment by ike · 2015-01-12T01:00:15.842Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Why not save it for yourself when you get older? For that matter, why don't you store your own blood now for yourself in anticipation for such treatment being available later? Or is that not possible? Have you even looked into it?

comment by gwern · 2015-01-12T01:21:35.737Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Cryogenic banking does cost money; I know from sperm/egg banking that it'll run at least $100 a year. If you bank a bunch when you're 20 and need it when you're 50... Also, that's a lower bound; sperm and eggs are compact on a volume basis, but how much young blood would you need to bank to make a difference later in your life?

Not to mention that you're paying up front. If there is anything to this research (it would not be the first spectacular results to flame out), it sounds like it may be due to a relative handful of substances in the young blood, and once identified, can be produced in a more efficient fashion than 'young people sucking blood out of themselves and storing for decades'. If in 10 years there's a standardized formula, the cost of extracting & storing your blood will be effectively wasted.

comment by ike · 2015-01-12T01:34:32.709Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

ilzolende seemed to think there was a decent chance of their blood being worth something soon. I argued that if there really is a large chance of that, they should be preparing for it now.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2015-01-12T03:38:34.499Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Frozen blood may not be good for decades

Anyone have better information?

comment by [deleted] · 2015-01-13T06:08:35.799Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

There are changes when freezing blood. The first study I came across stated:

red cells undergoing the non-freezing procedure and suspended in additive solutions had significantly better biochemical preservation after 21 days of storage (p < 0.001). Both procedures removed an average 98% of the initial leucocytes at the expense of 18-20% of the red cells. The non-freezing procedure resulted in higher residual concentrations of HLA class II bearing lymphocytes (p < 0.01), but not higher numbers of dendritic cells.

The second study states:

Fibrinogen activity and mass-length ratio, compaction and fibrin content of the clots made from frozen plasma were, however, all significantly affected by freezing. Mass-length ratio and compaction showed a linear decrease and fibrin content a linear increase over a 4-month frozen storage period, thereby indicating that these variables were probably not stable.

Those are just two such studies; one of red blood cells, the other of plasma. I'm not sure if those chemical changes are important for something like lifespan or reducing alzheimer's, but I would expect a person of the same blood type would be far superior to blood that's been frozen for 30 years.

comment by ike · 2015-01-13T06:52:19.709Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

So it's possible to store blood for at least 21 days without freezing it. Use that, then. My point stands.

comment by advancedatheist · 2015-01-11T23:56:32.711Z · score: -10 (18 votes) · LW · GW

It strikes me how the elites in Western societies can engage in reckless social experiments like, say, allowing massive immigration of people from incompatible cultures (ripped from the headlines), without thinking ahead to possible consequences. Yet bring up the prospect of radical life extension for the native people already in these countries, and the intellectuals in these elites wring their hands and invoke precautionary principle-style reasoning against doing anything about the current life expectancy because of allegedly dire social consequences. Seems like they have their priorities backwards.

Well, unless radical life extension of the native population interferes with the immigration project's real goal of replacing the natives demographically with more tractable people. You need the natives to die on schedule for that to work on the time scale you want. But that explanation sounds like a stretch.