Mark Hamalainen is a young PhD student at Cambridge University at the mitochondrion lab of Ian Holt. Mark received a Bachelor of Science Honours degree in biochemistry and computing from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. He also had research training as a visiting scholar at the California Institute of Technology and the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University. Mark’s research project is MitoSENS, the artificial transfer of mitochondrial genes to the nucleus in order to defend mitohondrial DNA from the high mutation rate. The technical difficulties of such a project are characterized in this article. The idea generator behind is Aubrey de Grey. I met Mark yesterday at the Eagle Pub and we had a very nice conversation on life extension technologies, strategies and philosophies.
1. What is the story of your life extension commitment? From a very early age (before I can even remember for myself, my family has informed me indirectly), I’ve had a strong fear of death and love of life. Later on, I discovered science fiction and realized that other people had ideas about overcoming death. In high school I began investigating how close science was to implementing life
extension, first in popular non-fiction books, then in scientific journals. This search inevitibly led me to the work of Aubrey de Grey, and shortly thereafter I became involved with SENS research for the Methuselah Foundation.
2. Is it a commitment for moderate or maximum life extension? Maximum. Though I prefer the term ‘indefinite’.
3. What is your favourite argument supporting human life extension? That it is good to be alive today, so why not tomorrow? I could write a book on all the things I’d like to do that 1 lifetime isn’t enough for. I can understand how it is culturally advantageous (or at least inevitable) to come up with justifications for aging being ok when there is no prospect of intervention. But to maintain those beliefs when intervention is foreseeable is irrational. Any pro-death argument is vastly out of proportion with the horrible reality of aging: the gradual decay of your body that cummulates in the ceasing of your existence.
4. What kind of moderate life extension technologies have the chance to become successful, and when? Beyond using common sense in your diet and lifestyle, continual improvements in conventional medicine are going to help us reach our natural maximum lifespan, though I’m not sure if that meets your definition of LE. If you mean things like calorie restriction and supplements, I’m not holding my breath… CR might work in the extremely artificial conditions that lab mice live in, but in the real world CR is more likely to compromise your immune function due to a low body temperature and cause you to die earlier than you would have. I’m not convinced that supplements can make much improvement over a healthy balanced diet, and in some cases they are quite likely to be harmful. For example, overdoses of one compound can saturate an uptake mechanism and prevent other vitamins from being properly absorbed.
Maximum LE will be achieved gradually through rejuvenation therapies like those proposed in SENS. So you could say that the first SENS-like therapies will bring moderate extension.
As for when, that is entirely dependent on funding, which is dependent on convincing the right people (those with money) that LE is possible and that they can benefit from it.
5. What is the most probable technological draft of maximum life extension, which technology or discipline has the biggest chance to reach it earliest? When? SENS. One of the first aspects of SENS to make it to a human therapy may be enhancing the lysosomes of macrophages to prevent foam cell formation in atherosclerosis. As for when it will happen, see above.
6. What could be the most critical points of a maximum life extension technology? An engineering approach to repair and reversal of age associated damage rather than the traditional attempts to slow damage rates down.
7. What can blogs, wikis and other websites do for LE? Spread the idea that LE is feasible within our lifetimes. It is suprisingly easy to counter pro-death arguments. Raise money for LE research.
8. What can You do for life extension? Don’t dismiss LE as outlandish or undesireable without investigating the issues. Donate to the Methuselah Foundation. Tell your friends.