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Immortality...reality?...

How long do you want to live? A century? Or longer?

Listen to the ABC: Radio National January 2012 podcast: Immortality...reality?

The following is a partial transcript of key points raised by four highly-qualified panellists in an outstanding October 2011 Adelaide Festival of Ideas event exploring how long humans might conceivably be able to live, and the implications for the planet.

Excerpt:
According to Professor Julian Savulescu, director of neuro-ethics and the Institute for Science and Ethics at University of Oxford, "Aging is by far the biggest killer of people. The diseases that you will all die of are actually the symptoms of ageing: cardiovascular disease, cancer, Parkinson's Disease, Type 2 Diabetes, all of these diseases are actually the symptoms of an underlying disease. That is the disease of ageing. ...There is no reason humans have to age. We've seen already in other species organisms that don't age. ... There is no reason, in principle, why in addition to using regenerative medicine and stem cell therapy we couldn't understand the basic biology of ageing and attack the disease at its root cause. ...Survey after survey of people across the ages, show that if anything, life satisfaction and happiness slightly increase as people get older. The things that cause people to be unhappy or dissatisfied with their lives are diseases, illnesses and disabilities. Not the mere fact that they are 80, 90, or 100. If you look at the surveys on happiness and life-satisfaction, they are a U-shaped curve with the low point at about in the 40s. And then they increase as you get older. There is no evidence that people find life boring or uninteresting though they find disease and disability painful and want to be rid of it."


Partial Transcript: Key points for consideration highlighted in red
Cambridge researcher Aubrey de Grey believes the first human to live to 150 has already been born, and the first human to live to 1000 will probably be born within 20 years.

Is it really possible to live to 1000? But more importantly, would you want to?

Human cells can divide a limited number of times before their DNA becomes corrupt, but could advances in genetic technology allow cells to divide infinitely
?

Hosted by Paul Willis, RiAus Director & ABC Catalyst presenter, this expert panel discusses the implications for our bodies, minds and society: Would you want to be immortal?

Professor Julian Savulescu:
http://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/people/23
Professor Fiona Wood
http://www.uwa.edu.au/people/fiona.wood
Dr Brad Partridge
http://www.uqccr.uq.edu.au/research/research-profiles/dr-bradley-partridge.aspx

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Immortality...reality?
How long do you want to live?
A century? Or longer?
There is a whole swathe of science and medicine devoted to extending human life, with talk, although it sounds preposterous, of life-spans of up to a thousand years. All kinds of implications there, space for a start, not to mention food and water. The good folks at the Adelaide Festival of Ideas put that question to a panel whose members are used to facing up to tough dilemmas: Professor Julian Savulescu, Ethicist, director of neuro-ethics and the Institute for Science and Ethics at University of Oxford & at Monsah University, Professor Fiona Wood, University of Western Australia, former Australian of the year and founder of the McComb Foundation, head of the Royal Perth Hospital's Burns Unit, and well known for her invention of spray-on skin.
And Dr Brad Partridge, Research Fellow in Public Health at the University of Queensland

INTRODUCTION:
by Paul Willis (Chair)
It's said that there is only one certainty in life, and that is death. The idea that taxes are inevitable has been shown to be wrong by several rich people, and death itself may no longer be inevitable,..... using new technologies to extend life.....
Perhaps people born today will live to 150 to 200 years, and within our lifetimes someone will be born who may live to a 1000 years. Is that not an inspiring an terrifying thought? What would it actually be like to living for a thousand years? And what effect will it have on the un-born? What rights do we have to live for a thousand years? There are so many questions that arise out of this. ...

Professor Fiona Wood:
4:25
...The greatest impacts on human longevity follow vast changes in quality of life: clean water and clean food and infection control.
Understanding our genetics will give us opportunities to taylor health care in such a way that maybe we can change the outcomes considerably.... Is there some way that we can look at self-organization and tissue regeneration such that we could change the way we age. ...repair ourselves against normal wear and tear?
...
By understanding how we can treat pathology, will we change the way we live?

... In an animal model, preconception nutrition, both excessive and starvation, influenced the offsprings health interms of diabetic rates, and in terms of heart disease rates, so the responsibility we have goes way beyond our personal responsibility to responsibility for the whole... Are we going to work on a solution collectively with equal responsibility or are we going to just walk away and blame 'them', who ever they are for making the wrong decisions?

Dr Brad Partridge:
9:10
Stem cell technologies, oncological interventions - 'calorie restriction memedics might be able to extend our life-span to 140-150 and produce 90 year olds that look like 50 year olds. There are ethical questions: some say this is going against nature while others say we really need a war on aging. ...and big pharmaceutical companies are taking this research very seriously.


Professor Julian Savulescu:
17:10
... Aging is by far the biggest killer of people. The diseases that you will all die of are actually the symptoms of aging: cardiovascular disease, cancer, Parkinson's Disease, Type 2 Diabetes, all of these diseases are actually the symptoms of an underlying disease. That is the disease of aging.
...
There is no reason humans have to age. We've seen already in other in other species -organisms that don't age. ... There is no reason, in principle, why in addition to using regenerative medicine and stem cell therapy we couldn't understand the basic biology of aging and attack the disease at its root cause.

Professor Julian Savulescu:
20:00
... Survey after survey of people across the ages, show that if anything, life satisfaction and happiness slightly increase as people get older. The things that cause people to be unhappy or dissatisfied with their lives are diseases, illnesses and disabilities. Not the mere fact that they are 80, 90, or 100.

If you look at the surveys on happiness and life-satisfaction they are a U-shaped curve with the low point at about in the 40s. And then they increase as you get older. There is no evidence that people find life boring or uninteresting though they find disease and disability painful and want to be rid of it.
Another issue is how long each generation should live. And what obligations we owe to future generations. Whatever these obligations are, they must be fairly weak when compared to the interests of our generation. Because none of us thinks we have an obligation to have children.

Professor Julian Savulescu:
22:15
...The only good abjection to this is somehow we consume more than our fair share of resources. We have too big a carbon footprint. We're chewing up too much of the world's limited resources. Those are reasons to limit people's age. But we don't yet know what level of population, what size of population and what length of life is ethically most optimal. Until we find that point, surely we don't have an obligation to die or to impose death on other people. Thats precisely what we do when we fail to prosecute a war on aging. We have within us the capacity to defeat aging by fundamental basic research on the processes that cause the cells to age through regenerative medicine and so on, and I think it is an urgent medical priority that we pursue this.

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Paul Willis (Chair):
Why do we wear out? Why do we age?

Professor Fiona Wood:
23:30
Trauma, repeated trauma is associated with a secondary sequelae that, in repairing that trauma, the quality of the repair is downgraded, if you like. And in our data linkage research, we can see there is an increased incidence of cancer associated with trauma. ...external wear and tear has an impact on the cellular function as the cells are stressed. So, the aging response a response to the stressors of our environment. Thats one way of looking at it.

Paul Willis (Chair):
25:45
What are some of these technologies that are being implemented to extend life?
There's research into just glueing bits of telemere on, isn't there?

Dr Brad Partridge:
25:60
When our cells replicate we lose some of the caps of dna at the end of the chromosome. Telomerase is an enzyme that might be able to replace the DNA at the end. If we can find pharmacological and pharmaceutical interventions that can perhaps do that, then we stall the aging process that way.

Paul Willis (Chair):
Stem Cell technologies?


Professor Fiona Wood:
26:35
Stem cell technology is really interesting. It opens up another can of worms...
... We don't understand a lot of what we're talking about. And we need to be able to articulate what we're talking about. I think the work around cloning is interesting - we can learn a lot from it. The work around transfer of cell lineage from a skin cell to a muscle cell or to a cartilage cell is fascinating from a scientific intellectual point of view but it also may give us the clues to how these cells can then be used in replication. If we consider our skin, our skin turns over in six to eight weeks. It sheds and is continually replaced. Clearly there is a stress on the system just doing that.

The stem cells from the bone marrow coming into the skin, replenishing that, and that wears out over time. Can we boost that? Can we boost the bone marrow?
Can we do stem cell research without getting ethically compromised by going to an embryo? Can we just boost our own bone marrows? ...The stem cell research is an enormous engine of opportunity for understanding, and we can do that without going near the ethical compromise areas.

Professor Julian Savulescu:
28:30
Re. current prospects for stopping aging: There are diseases where people prematurely age. So, at the age of twenty, these individuals look like they are eighty and they die by the age of twenty-four. And there are effective treatments now, and understanding of the biology of these conditions. There is work on helping to improve DNA repair so you don't get the mutations and changes that lead to aging. And there is the prospect of various kinds of stem cell research, e.g. alzheimers disease in the long term or other age-related degeneration of the brain. The important point to realize is that we haven't really scratched the surface in terms of the man-power and the ability to marshal the scientific resources that we have.
In the same way as we've done with other animals, where we've been able to double life-span. So calorie restriction, etc., is just a very premature foray into what could be a very productive line of research but we don't spend the money.

Paul Willis (Chair):
29:40
We're theoretically on the frontier at the moment. We're not far off being able to grow new organs from your own stem cells, which would then do away with the ethical questions of where the stem cell came from. ...

Professor Julian Savulescu:
30:00
Life expectancy in the West is continuing to incrrease. People are struggling with what to do with an aging population in terms of social support and so on. We struggle even to increase or remove the retirement age, so we are completely socially and politically ill prepared for radical advances in the area of this science. Two things, we need the money put into the research, but we also need to think through what kind of society what kind of social institutions we want. Not just for people who live to 100 but to 150 and so on.

Professor Fiona Wood:
31:10
Are we running the risk for the first time of life expectancy of this turning around? People are making poor choices on a daily basis, that's what I see the results of: around drugs alcohol, and obesity.

If you are obese and you have an injury your outcomes is going to be extraordinarily compromised and your off-spring is going to be compromised. ... Spending all our research tinkering around the edge of malignancy and researching Alzheimer's, not taking it head on, we are running the risk of life-expectancy turning around and decreasing.

Dr Brad Partridge:
32:10
On the funding aspect. I wonder we don't generally consider aging as a disease. If we rethought things and classify aging as a disease, with all the hallmarks of other diseases, it might garner funding support.

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32:50
Paul Willis (Chair):
Lets move the discussion from could we to should we.
...I can think of two problems with life extension: One is the quality of life and the other is productivity. What's the point, if people are going to live for 200 years, if for a 100 of those they are not able to make a significant contribution to their own welfare and to the welfare of the community that they live in. Being alive is one thing but being a functional part of society is an important part of life

Professor Julian Savulescu:
34:00
If you slow down aging, not only do you delay death but you delay disability and illness. There is no evidence to suggest that older people are inherently less productive. What reduces productivity creativity is decline in capacity and capability so if you turn off the decline in intellectual capacity, if you retain the flexibility and ability to learn or a 10 year old child but you also accumulated experience, wisdom, etc., if anything, it would go the other way and you'd expect people to be even more productive and the world to be a much better place. Its just that we have this prejudice against aging that we see people who are older as necessarily infirm, incapable, incompetent. But that is caused by the aging process. Its not caused by being a human being. Quality of life should increase. ... Every organ shows the symptoms of aging in a different way. The kidney stops filtering uranus, the brain stops functioning as effectively. Thats nothing special to the brain. its just how the brain manifests aging. You turn off aging, you turn off that sort of decline

Professor Fiona Wood:
35:55
Your brain functions better with exercise. We're better able to engage if we are functionally capable. A wealth of evidence shows that exercising and stimulation increases the DNA. Within in the brain there is an element of regeneration in certain basil nuclei. It is not going to go down if you are physically capable and it may be something that we can look at beyond the single organ replacement issue, and just look at the whole. We've learned a lot from organ replacement, but how does that fit to the whole? How does that fit with the whole person slowing down the impact of the wear and tear, so we don't need those replacements?

Dr Brad Partridge:
36:55
Centenarians are actually the fastest segment of the population at the moment, closely followed by those 85 to 99. We are already living longer. The challenge is to avoid this global nursing home situation, where we live longer, but the quality of life is not there for the last 70 years or so. The brain is going to be a tricky one to deal with. Even if we can regenerate things like or liver and kidneys, and joints from stiffening up, I'm not sure about the brain.

Professor Julian Savulescu:
38:10
100 years ago people had a life-expectancy of 50.
Through most of human history people lived into their 20s. What we have at the moment is just a function of where we are in a trajectory of scientific development and social development. So we need to make an active choice about what share of resources, how long people should live. And why choose 80 just because that is what we have. Are we at the local ethical optimum? I can't see any good reason for that. I think we need to face that question strategically. What size population should we have: How many people? How long should they live? And, of course, if you do have anti-aging technologies you can also have policies that enable people to die when they want- you can couple them with euthanasia. So that you can choose when and under what condition you want to die, instead of having to spend 30 years in a state that that you don't want, and then die.

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Q&A segment
First question Re. Natural Selection


Professor Fiona Wood:
42:25
Re. Natural Selection. we've developed our society to the point where Natural Selection is in our hands by the way we developed a level of altruism, where we look after those who are weaker and vulnerable. We do so increasingly.
...
When you start to think, have we gone beyond the capacity of the planet, right here right now? There are behaviors which would indicate that, yes, if we continue with these behaviors, yes. But you could argue there is enough food on the planet, its just at the wrong place at the wrong time. ...Natural Selection? We've manipulated that a long time ago.

Dr Brad Partridge:
In thinking of innovations, if we have life-extension technologies, we're going to need innovations in other areas of research because if we do have large increases in population, we're going to need to find ways to use resources a lot more efficiently as well.

Professor Julian Savulescu:
The size of a population is the function of 2 things: How long people live and how much we reproduce. So you can control a population by restricting reproduction or by restricting life-span.
What we do at the moment is we let nature take its course, and what nature does is it inflicts disease and disability. So even if you think people shouldn't live any longer, there is still reason to pursue anti-aging research, because you compress morbidity, so that people don't have to be disabled, sick, and suffering for the last 5, 10, 15 years of their life.

Professor Fiona Wood:
Right now, the vast majority of the amount we spend on health for the individual is spent in the last six months of life. We should spend that upfront to improve the quality of life.
...
If people are not in a fit and healthy state, in this extended age, such that their contribution to society is less than what they are taking out, then that becomes a societal question, does it not. But then lack of productivity is a function of aging and mandatory retirement age, people can be productive for a long as they want.

Comment:
Pharmaceutical companies make obscene profits, and t'would scarcely be in their interest, or indeed, in the sickness industry more generally, if you were to cure major killer deceases. Great numbers of people would be out of business, not only the pharmaceutical companies, but lots of the people working in the industry.

Comment:
Why not?
Its much better to be a pharmaceutical company lowering people's cholesterol, with very little effect, than providing treatments for cancer, and having lots of different treatments, chipping away at the edges. If you were able to stop aging, there wouldn't be all that industry.


Discussion continues:
Listen to the ABC: Radio National January 2012 podcast: Immortality...reality?

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Go to: Longevity Research

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