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Alcor-40 Conference Review

16 January 2013 | no comments | Featured Articles

[FEATURED ARTICLE]

Cryonics, January 2013

By Chana de Wolf

In honor of its 40th anniversary, Alcor held its first conference in 5 years on October 19-21, 2012, in Scottsdale, Arizona. The program featured a wide variety of topics for presentation, with themes regarding how to improve the odds of a successful cryopreservation and theories of aging and their implications for stopping or reversing aging (as argued by their primary scientific proponents). Registration to the event opened on Friday and a reception was held where many attendees spent the evening networking and saying hello to old and new friends alike. But the real fun began Saturday morning with the start of the conference.

Greg Fahy, Ph.D.

The Chief Scientific Officer of 21st Century Medicine, Inc. (21CM), Greg Fahy, kicked off the event with an overview of the work being carried out at 21CM in his talk “Progress Toward Reversible Cryopreservation of Complex Systems.” Because cryonics is reliant upon technologies that do not yet exist, it is sometimes likened to religion. “Unlike religion, cryonics must be based on evidence,” Fahy began, emphasizing that reversibility is the key component of successful suspended animation.

Incorporating elements of the ongoing “debate” concerning chemopreservation as an alternative to cryopreservation, Fahy questioned chemopreservation and its underlying dependence on mind uploading, arguing that “a map of a city is not the city.”

A review of progress in cryopreservation included exciting results in electrophysiological studies of cryopreserved brain slices, including the persistence of LTP in adult rabbit hippocampal slices and recent forays into electromagnetic warming as a way to ensure thermal uniformity across samples during rewarming. Fahy also discussed improvements in cold storage solutions and the long-sought ability to reproduce earlier successful results with M22, Alcor’s primary vitrification solution, in the rabbit kidney after 5 long years of complications.

An interesting discussion about shrinking of the brain as a side-effect of cryopreservation highlighted the role of the intact blood brain barrier (BBB) in perfusion of cryoprotectants through the circulatory system to reach the brain. Fahy gave several examples of attempts to open the BBB in order to reduce or eliminate shrinking, including the use of high perfusion pressures, eliminating large polymers such as polyvinylpropinol (PVP) from cryoprotectant solutions, “preloading” of cryoprotectants, and perfusing at higher temperatures – all of which were unsatisfactory. Ultimately, though, the question is whether preventing brain shrinkage improves neural ultrastructure.

Fahy rounded things out with an update on 21CM’s “20 year plan.” Begun in 2010, their work in whole body vitrification has marched forward with the ultimate goal of reversibility by 2030. Precision perfusion control systems have allowed for unprecedented data collection during whole body vitrification experiments. Currently, the company is focusing on studies of cryoprotectant toxicity to make the next advance toward reversible cryoprotection of the most complex system of all, the whole organism.

Chana de Wolf, M.S.

Following Greg Fahy was my own presentation of the work being carried out by Advanced Neural Biosciences, Inc. (ANB). ANB is a neural cryobiology research lab founded in 2008 by Chana and Aschwin de Wolf with an emphasis on optimizing protocols for ischemic patients. In particular, ANB has focused on research involving perfusion and cryopreservation of the ischemic brain. In order to do so, a rat model is used to simulate cryonics procedures under realistic conditions.

The main theme of the presentation was that there is a distinct difference between the ice free brain preservation that can be achieved in the lab and the conditions under which a typical cryonics patient is being cryopreserved. In particular, the variable periods of warm and cold ischemia which precede cryoprotective perfusion produce perfusion impairment (“no-reflow”) and ice formation in the brain after cryogenic cooling. In the case of cold ischemia we found that remote blood substitution with an organ preservation solution can prolong the period of cold ischemia after which ice free preservation is still possible. Some organ preservations are better than others and we observed the best results with MHP-2 (Alcor’s current organ preservation solution). Even after a warm ischemic delay blood substitution still produces better results than not removing the blood prior to cold ischemia, but as the period of warm ischemia increases, so does perfusion impairment and ice formation. I stressed that warm ischemia is not just accelerated cold ischemia, hard to mitigate, and a serious obstacle to good cryopreservation.

We also presented the results of our “field vitrification” research for Alcor. A protocol in which cryoprotective perfusion of the patient is conducted in the field using a simplified protocol followed by shipping on dry ice permits ice free preservation of the brain up to at least 48 hours of dry ice transport. Blood substitution with MHP- 2 and shipping at water ice also permits ice free cryopreservation of the brain for at least 48 hours of cold ischemia but the advantage of a field vitrification protocol is that it eliminates cold ischemic injury to the brain and the severe (whole body) edema that usually is seen during cryoprotective perfusion after long periods of cold ischemia.

In closing, I announced the funding we received from the Life Extension Foundation to conduct whole brain electrophysiology (EEG) studies after cooling and vitrification.

Kim Suozzi

After a mid-morning break, Max More explained that he was giving up one of his speaking slots to Kim Suozzi, whom he introduced as a young woman diagnosed with cancer who wished to be cryopreserved at Alcor. Max announced that Alcor would provide services at reduced cost and that staff would be volunteering time to cryopreserve Kim.

Kim Suozzi, who attended the conference with her boyfriend, then spoke about her terminal diagnosis and efforts to raise money in support of her cryopreservation. Only 23 years old, Kim was a psychology student in her senior year at Truman University planning to do graduate work in neuroscience when she was diagnosed with Grade IV glioblastoma (i.e., brain tumor) after experiencing a multiform seizure in March 2011.

Kim had already become interested in transhumanism, the singularity, and cryonics after reading The Age of Spiritual Machines by Ray Kurzweil, but thought she still had enough time to consider the cryonics option. When diagnosed, she was reticent to ask her parents for financial support, so she posted her request online instead. After getting “unexpectedly good support,” her campaign was picked up by the Society for Venturism, which is currently accepting donations for the Kim Suozzi Charity through their website.

Keegan Macintosh, J.D.

Keegan Macintosh, a young Canadian lawyer and Alcor member since 2011, then presented an in-depth analysis of the Thomas Donaldson legal case entitled “Access to Cryonics: Legal Strategies – Then and Now.” Thomas Donaldson, Ph.D., was an Alcor member who, when diagnosed with Grade II astrocytoma, fought for a declaration that he had a constitutionally-protected right to a “premortem cryopreservation.” Ultimately, his request was denied by California Superior Court.

In his talk, Macintosh critically analyzed how the case was argued and decided at the appeal level. Macintosh emphasized “meaningful access” to cryonics, explaining that Donaldson’s desire for euthanasia via cryopreservation was in order to preserve his brain and personality intact rather than in the state he would be in after his “natural” death. The presented issue was whether Donaldson has a right to premortem cryopreservation, but it was addressed by the courts in terms of assisted suicide.

Because of the very different intentions of these two approaches, Macintosh feels that the issue was considerably confused. He argues that by approaching it as an assisted suicide case, the Court could avoid having to consider the possibility of cryonics ever succeeding. Simply considering relevant state interests, such as preventing suicide and preserving life, should have actually worked for Donaldson’s side rather than the State’s. Other interests, such as protection of innocent third parties and protection of vulnerable persons and preventing abuse, were not relevant at all.

Macintosh believes that we can learn important lessons from analyzing the Donaldson case. In particular, not to avoid the actual issue at hand. After fast-forwarding to the present and discussing some important changes in physician-assisted-suicide legislation in the U.S., Macintosh argued that a case like Donaldson’s may stand a better chance today if these lessons are observed. Interestingly, the successful argument of such a case may be even more probable under the Canadian constitution. In particular, novel arguments could be made under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms that are not available under the U.S. Constitution.

Panel: Long-Term Financial Planning

Rounding out the morning was a useful panel on long-term financial planning led by Rudi Hoffman, Michael Seidl, and Ralph Merkle.

Rudi Hoffman

Insurance agent and Alcor member Rudi Hoffman introduced the audience to the basics of cryonics funding, including a discussion comparing term vs. permanent life insurance funding options. He highlighted the role life insurance plays in allowing access to cryonics for all and how important it is to emphasize the affordability of cryonics to those considering signing up but who may think that it is available only to the wealthy. That said, Hoffman acknowledged that technological advances and inflation are inevitable and that cryopreservation costs will increase. He urged new and existing members to take these issues into serious consideration when planning cryonics funding and to obtain inflationrobust coverage beyond today’s minimums ($200,000 whole body and $80,000 neuro).

Ralph Merkle, Ph.D.

Ralph Merkle then announced and discussed the Alcor Model Revocable Asset Preservation Trust, recently made available by Alcor to enable cryonics members to preserve their personal assets. In short, Merkle explained, “Your Trust maintains your assets so you ‘wake up’ with your money as well as your life.”

Utilizing an attorney who had written a few wealth preservation trusts for wealthy cryonicists, Alcor drafted a model trust that can be used by most members. Merkle noted that the model trust is used as a starting point to be taken by an individual to his or her attorney to modify to suit their particular situation and purposes. In general, one will need to name a trustee organization (which can be provided by a bank) and three trust advisors (two appointed by the member and one appointed by Alcor). The trust advisors look after the trustee to ensure they do a good job in making financial decisions affecting the trust. Alcor provides continuity after the member’s cryopreservation and appoints successor trust advisors.

Importantly, the Alcor model trust is revocable, meaning that one may take the money out of the trust at any time. Merkle pointed out that the trust also covers other situations separate from financial decisions, such as whether one has been successfully revived. These decisions are handled by Alcor and the trust advisors, not the trustee. Ultimately, Merkle reminds us, there is no precedent for a trust intended to maintain personal assets in perpetuity. “It looks like it should work,” he said, “but we’ll find out.”

Michael Seidl, J.D.

The last presenter in the financial planning panel, Alcor board member Michael Seidl spoke briefly but passionately about ways to ensure that funding is available for your cryopreservation when needed. “Cryonicists are adventurers,” he said, “but we don’t know how long the adventure will take, so we should plan and provision accordingly.” Seidl parsed his recommendations into three commandments:

1. Protect your noggin. Think first about providing for your own cryopreservation. Secure funding that will increase over time.

2. Don’t give people incentive to frustrate your cryopreservation. A large liquid estate can make people crazy. Leaving everything to Alcor could incentivize interference. Provide for these folks so that this incentive is removed.

3. Give people incentive to support your arrangements. For example, provide a financial incentive for a family member to ensure your cryopreservation.

Panel: Medical Monitoring Devices

A post-lunch panel on the current state of medical monitoring devices was hosted by Aaron Drake, Ben Best, and Martine Rothblatt. As in the previous panel, each person was allotted a few moments to speak about the subject.

Aaron Drake

Alcor’s Readiness Coordinator, Aaron Drake, emphasized that a cryonicist’s worst fear is dying alone without being able to notify Alcor. Because time is of the essence in getting a patient from bedside to perfusion, Drake explained that Alcor keeps a cloud-based watch list to track potential cases (e.g., members with known health issues). By doing so, Alcor has increased bedside access to dying members from 33% (in the 1990s) to 86%.

Improving upon 86%, Drake said, will require more sophisticated medical monitoring. Lots of devices exist for measuring all sorts of physiological responses. They may be worn on the body or in the fabric of the clothes. Such devices are not only good for Alcor response, but also for getting to a hospital for immediate care.

Ben Best

Ben Best, former President of Cryonics Institute, followed Drake’s presentation with a discussion of current monitoring devices that might be useful to cryonics. He began by pointing out that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and that “the time until pronouncement [of legal death] needs more resources thrown at it.” He is particularly concerned about elderly cryonicists living alone.

While panic-button systems like Life Alert® could be useful, Best thinks it might be better to monitor vital signs (e.g., movement, respiration, heartbeat), which doesn’t require the patient to be alert. Desired features of a device would include rapid detection of loss of vital signs, comfortable wear, ability to send messages, low power consumption, wireless, and minimal false alarms.

Lastly, Best described several ongoing commercial efforts such as Athena GTX, NUVANT Mobile, and MyPulse, as well as some cryonics-specific applications in development, but lamented the fact that working, successful devices still have not materialized.

Martine Rothblatt, Ph.D.

Martine Rothblatt, Director of the Terasem Foundation, then spoke about detection of heartbeat cessation. First she reviewed some statistics describing the way our time is spent and leading to the 2.9% probability (1 in 34) that an Alcor member may suffer delayed response (due to lack of notification of death). The solution to this problem, she said, lies in wireless or Bluetooth external heartbeat detectors or even less sophisticated, wrist-watch style pulse detection devices.

The sometimes low price of these devices lends itself to various economic models that Alcor could implement to generate additional revenue. Rothblatt outlined various models such as: charging for an app and device; giving the app away as a membership benefit; selling or giving away the app and making it modifiable (i.e., not just Alcor-related); and partnering the app and device with one or more PERS (Personal Emergency Response System) companies. PERS is a $125M annual market now, and predicted to be $250M by 2020. If Alcor would take advantage of the 15% annual growth rate of this market, it could generate an additional $1.7M – 27M annually.

Anders Sandberg, Ph.D.

In “Rational Decision Making About Future Technology,” philosopher Anders Sandberg talked with us about “handling the unknowable and undecidable.” He pointed out that even really smart people make really stupid decisions consistently. As a general rule, humans are reasonably good at handling “human” problems, but as we get further out of our comfort zone, we start getting bad at decision-making.

Sandberg described several approaches to decision-making, such as rationality [rational agents maximize their expected utility; but humans don’t have a utility function], irrationality [acting under ignorance and uncertainty isn’t irrational – it’s how we live our lives], and uncertainty [there are some things we can’t or don’t know; we can lack knowledge about parameters or about the rules of a system, or even about what is good]. Unprecedented events are important to consider in the light of uncertainty – “the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” Sandberg said. “A true rational person considers the probability of any event as between 0 and 100%. Just because cryonic resuscitation has not occurred does not mean that it won’t.”

Max More, Ph.D.

In an effort to educate old and new members alike, Max More lectured the audience on “How to Be an Exemplary Cryonicist.” He provided a step-by step outline of the myriad things an Alcor member can do to improve their prospects for an optimal preservation, beginning with health maintenance including regular physical checkups and keeping Alcor informed of changes in medical condition. He stressed the importance of keeping your Alcor paperwork updated, wearing your bracelet, and talking to your friends and family about your cryonics arrangements to build understanding and support. He also advocated relocating to the Scottsdale area, avoiding conflicts in financial arrangements, and planning ahead to keep in pace with inflation and maintain adequate funding.

More discussed the things one can do to improve Alcor’s patient care such as giving Alcor access to your medical records and allowing them to perform a CT scan or a sample from the central nervous system to obtain objective feedback about the quality of cryopreservation. Lastly, contributing one’s skills or resources to Alcor as a volunteer and starting or attending a local cryonics group meeting are other great ways to stay involved and to improve your chances of an optimal preservation.

Todd Huffman, M.S.

Following the late-afternoon break, Todd Huffman presented “Advances in Neuroscience: Implications for Cryonics.” Huffman’s focus was on large-scale imaging technologies that can be used to scan and model the brain at various levels of encoding. Particularly interested in neural structure and high throughput light microscopy, Huffman’s company 3Scan has developed the Knife-Edge Scanning Microscope (KESM), capable of imaging tissue while slicing it with a diamond blade to create a stack of images that can be put together to create a 3D image.

Huffman included several beautiful photos of the 3D images captured by the KESM, from an image of the vasculature of a mouse brain to Nissl stains for cell bodies such as the Purkinje cells of the cerebellum and pyramidal cells of the cortex. 3Scan’s current efforts include fluorescence imaging, neural reconstruction algorithms, antibody staining, and embedding. The impact of such technologies on cryonics, Huffman explained, would be in the form of an increase in conventional structural neuroscience data and the ability to reconstruct and evaluate procedures.

Sebastian Seung, Ph.D.

Day One of the conference ended with Sebastian Seung’s “Connectomics and Cryonics,” followed by a discussion of his talk. Seung began by explaining that connectomics is the application of techniques such as 3D imaging to build high-resolution maps of neural connections. The resulting map is known as the connectome. While working in the field at MIT, Seung met Alcor member and Harvard neuroscientist Kenneth Hayworth. When talking with Hayworth one day, Seung realized the implications of connectomics for cryonics and included some of his thoughts on the subject in his book Connectome, which elicited varied reactions.

Starting with the hypothesis that “you are your connectome” (reminiscent of “The Astonishing Hypothesis” of Francis Crick), Seung presented evidence from neuroscience that chemopreservation successfully preserves brain structure as evidenced by reconstructions using serial electron micrographs (EM). He then asked whether memories can be “read” from such connectomes and discussed what kinds of structural information might be important to answering such questions. Ultimately, he concluded that connectivity, including the shapes of neurons and locations of synapses, is what must be preserved in order to construct the identity contained within.
But Seung wonders how well cryonics preserves brain structure compared to chemical preservation methods.

To that end, Seung and Hayworth announced the Technology Prize to be awarded by the Brain Preservation Foundation to the first individual or team to demonstrate a technique capable of preserving a human brain for long-term storage with high fidelity. The current contenders for the first stage of the prize have employed both chemo- and cryopreservation methods, but the required imaging and analyses of these samples has not yet been completed. Seung’s presentation was followed by a relatively long discussion with the audience, which quickly turned into a debate about the merits of chemopreservation and cryopreservation. Topics discussed included the long-term stability of chemopreserved brains and whether the Technology Prize is neutral between both approaches.

Catherine Baldwin, M.S.

In her talk “From Bedside to Clinic: The Evolving Care of Cryopreservation Patients,” General Manager of Suspended Animation, Inc. (SA), Catherine Baldwin provided an overview of SA’s stabilization capabilities, which she described as “science, technology, and medicine in the service of cryonics.” Suspended Animation does patient recovery and stabilization for cryonics organizations, including Alcor. In fact, SA is contracted to perform standby and stabilization for all Alcor patients outside of the state of Arizona.

Baldwin described the stabilization and transport process, beginning with rapid induction of hypothermia followed by cardiopulmonary support (CPS) and administration of medications in preparation for the surgical procedure of cannulation to connect the circulatory system to the perfusion circuit. She stressed that the skills required to carry out these procedures are the same as you find in emergency and medical personnel.

Baldwin started recruiting EMS and surgical personnel early in her employment with SA. Because surgical and perfusion coverage is too expensive on a full-time basis, SA has contracted with companies that provide temporary coverage and now has four on-call cardiothoracic surgeons and eight cardiac perfusionists. Recently, SA has also contracted with a company that provides hospice and skilled nursing on-call. They also have 3 air transportable perfusion (ATP) kits and several vehicles supporting surgery (one on each coast).

In the future, Baldwin expects SA to roll out portable liquid ventilation, requiring only intubation to start efficient internal cooling using the lungs as a heat exchanger. Gene expression profiling is being explored to profile blood from patients using PCR. And finally, Baldwin thinks that by leveraging the network of professionals they’ve developed, SA will be able to build a network of clinical facility partners that will allow SA to start or carry out cryonics procedures within their facilities.

Aubrey de Grey, Ph.D.

The last segment of the conference focused on alternative theories of aging as argued by their primary proponents. First at bat was Aubrey de Grey, founder of Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS). De Grey believes that aging is the result of cumulative damage caused by normal metabolism. Pointing out that the presenters will disagree on some topics, de Grey stated that he thinks that damage does continue to accumulate in all
individuals no matter how old they get.

Traditional approaches to intervention in the aging process include gerontology (i.e., intervene between metabolism and damage to “slow it down”) and geriatrics (i.e., intervene between damage and pathology to “patch it up”). Both have been ineffective, and so we must consider another option – the maintenance approach.

The maintenance approach advocates repairing damage directly. It does not require understanding of complicated metabolic pathways leading to damage, but only how to repair the damage itself. “Not necessarily all of the damage,” de Grey says, “but enough of it to buy time so we can make it to the point that we can repair more of the damage.” His claim is that, unlike the others, the maintenance approach may achieve a big extension of healthy human lifespan quite soon and that it could help people who have reached middle age or older already.

To that end, SENS Foundation does research to implement SENS, including cell therapies and strategies to clean up extracellular “junk” that are in human clinical trials. And though some of these strategies alone have not achieved the clinical endpoints, de Grey believes that what is probably needed are combination therapies to address particular pathologies.

Joshua Mitteldorf, Ph.D.

“In 1997, everyone thought that free radicals were the cause of aging and that antioxidants were the cure. In 2012, we think it seems to be controlled by genes at a very high level and that signaling dysregulation is the problem.” Mitteldorf ’s hypothesis is that aging is not a result of dysregulation of some earlier homeostatic mechanism at all, but that it is programmed into us, and that “we live and die according to a schedule.”

He addressed four opportunities to preventing aging: (1) Preserving telomeres; (2) Damping inflammation; (3) Regulation of apoptosis; and (4) Restoring youthful gene expression.

Regarding the first strategy, Mitteldorf explained that telomeres are segments of “nonsense” at the ends of chromosomes that can be lost without causing any damage to the DNA. But DNA replication results in the shortening of telomeres over time, eventually resulting in cell death. An enzyme called telomerase, however, can add base pairs back to the chromosomes. The rationing of telomerase is a programmed death mechanism that evolution exploits to force the sharing of genes. In terms of pushing for telomerase therapies, Mitteldorf said he felt that “we’re ready for this” and that he felt very safe doing so. He discussed a number of (expensive) supplements that aim to activate telomerase.

Inflammation is an essential first-line defense against invading pathogens. In youth it is wholly beneficial, but as we get older our bodies begin to target healthy cells rather than just outside pathogens. All of the diseases of old age are associated with higher levels of inflammation. Some drugs that combat inflammation are cheap and easy, such as aspirin, omega-3 fatty acids, curcumin, and ginger. Other approaches to damping inflammation carry substantial tradeoffs, however.

Apoptosis, or cell suicide, is an ancient mode of programmed death found in even the earliest eukaryotes. When the body needs to get rid of diseased cells it does so through apoptosis. But apoptosis is also linked to diseases of old age, including Parkinson’s disease, sarcopenia, and glial cell loss. Strategies to limit apoptosis have very strong tradeoffs. We would need to find a way to make apoptosis “smart” so that it kills the “bad” cells and keeps the “good” ones.

Lastly, Mitteldorf discussed gene expression, which changes as we age. He explained that we do not have the same gene expression profile when we get older as when we were younger and that this makes for a very fertile area of research. There is a major effort underway to understand enough to manipulate the signals that determine gene expression, and if we are successful we may be able to restore youthful gene expression. “It may not be easy,’ Mitteldorf concluded, “but my dream is to slow aging from the top down.”

Michael Rose, Ph.D.

Rounding out the speakers on aging was Michael Rose, an evolutionary biologist who spoke on “How to Control Your Aging” (or “Looking Good in Liquid Nitrogen”).

Rose regards aging as “one of the most completely solved problems in science today.” He discussed the theory of the evolution of aging, explaining that some organisms don’t age at all and that eukaryotic molecular and cell biology allows for indefinite life without aging, but that “the force of natural selection acting on survival falls with adult age in animals like us.” The age of reproduction, he stated, is the key to aging. Experiments carried out in the 1970s delaying the first age of reproduction in fruit flies resulted in substantially slowing the process of aging across subsequent generations. This has allowed us to form a very powerful formal theory of aging.

Looking at other laboratory data, Rose indicated that experiments with medflies in the 1990s suggest that aging is only a transitory phase and that aging, in fact, ceases at some point in late life. After the cessation of aging there is a stabilization of some functional physiological characters while others continue to decline. The resulting plateau in late-life mortality is caused by the decline of natural selection.

Rose then argued that aging is not a cumulative process of deterioration, contrary to cell dogmas (and Aubrey de Grey’s platform). “Biological immortality evolves,” he said. “We’ve shown that aging stops at the level of the individual, we’ve shown that we can explain it evolutionarily, and we have experimental proof of such.” To control aging we must try to get immortal sooner – to cut off aging – and bring the aging plateau down to a younger age. Rose is interested in using environmental manipulation to effect this change.

Importantly, he asserted, the timing of cessation of aging depends on environment and lifestyle such as the food we eat. The key is to do what is natural for humans, or what we are adapted to. Rose argued that while young people of Eurasian ancestry are well-adapted to evolutionarily recent agricultural lifestyles, at later ages we progressively revert to physiology that is better adapted to the hunter-gatherer lifestyle.

To control your aging Rose suggests (a) adopt the hunter-gatherer lifestyle after 30- 40 years of age if Eurasian and earlier (10- 25 years) if ’your ancestry is less Eurasian, (b) use the best of modern medicine to lower your mortality level during the last decades of aging and during the plateau, and (c) use autologous tissue repair when it becomes available.

Panel with Mitteldorf, de Grey, and Rose

Wrapping up the conference was an interesting panel discussion with the three aging researchers, Mitteldorf, de Grey, and Rose, mediated by Greg Fahy. Each scientist had an opportunity to ask the others questions and to defend their respective theories in light of data they may not have addressed in their talks.

Mitteldorf wondered how Rose would model real societal changes that have large and lasting impacts on humans. Rose said that the Price equation attempts to take these changes into account, but that it is hard to model such things and that he “didn’t wish to underestimate the difficulty of this.”

Dr. Fahy then posed a challenge to de Grey and Rose: “Aubrey would say that metabolism is too complicated, and Michael would say something similar. But we’ve seen that knocking out ONE gene in C. elegans can increase lifespan by 10 times. How do you explain that?” Rose agreed that deleting even “one particularly bad thing” can have significant effects on longevity. “Evolution has already built life-history flexibility,” he said. “If you give up one of those major things, like building sperm, you will see great increases in lifespan.”

Aubrey de Grey clearly disagreed with Michael Rose and noted that the absence of natural selection does not mean the absence of accumulation of damage.

Many more technical arguments like this were exchanged, but at the end of the panel it became clear that there is no real consensus about what aging is and what would be the most efficient way to stop or reverse it.

Conclusion

In all, Alcor’s 40th anniversary conference was an enjoyable weekend for old and new Alcor members alike. The agenda was well-planned and the quality of speakers and presentations was very high. From the science of cryopreservation to the implications of neural network research on cryonics to strategies for preserving your assets as well as yourself, no stone was left unturned and no question unasked. We may not always have the answers, but with meetings like Alcor-40 stimulating discussion and ideas we can better determine where to look for them.

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