Mark Hamalainen, the MitoSENS fellow: blogterview on life extension

Mark HamalainenMark 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.

7 thoughts on “Mark Hamalainen, the MitoSENS fellow: blogterview on life extension

  1. Ever since I know you Attila, you not only have spread the word acting as a messenger, but also simply generated very thoughtprovoking discussions among friends and acquantainces about life extension. I think that may work better in the long run than approaching the issue with a forceful campaign for it. Las time when I talked to my mum about LE, it turned out that the furthest she went regarding medical advances, was to have a cure against diabetes, but it hasn’t even occurred to her in her wildest dreams that we may as well start thinking about life extension. So now she has a new seed for thinking. I think it is something to start with.

  2. Mark,

    Great interview. I totally agree with almost every point you make.

    On the question of CR and supplements, you raise some great issues and may very well be correct. Here is how I view the situation to make my own decisions.

    On the issue of supplements, in the very broad sense they will either:
    1. Help us live a bit healthier, longer in the hopes of reaching the promises of SENS.
    2. Do nothing except waste our money.
    3. Do harm to us and waste our money.

    What each of us needs to do is to evaluate the research to the best of our ability and make a rational decision based on our conclustions and personal financial situation.

    I’ve concluded that #3 is unlikely if you take high-quality supplements combined with a good diet and take them in balance according to the best known research to date. I follow the regiment of the Life Extension Foundation which – their annoying product marketing notwithstanding – does a reasonably good job of educating the layman on the best approach to supplementation. But I acknowledge that this is a risk.

    I’m also willing to take the chance on #2 given my personal situation. So with this evaluation I’ve conlcuded that choice #1 is the best option for me and I choose to take supplements.

    On the topic of CR, I apply similar logic. After reading everything I can find on the subject and carefully following the research and experiences of other CR practitioners, I’ve decided to follow “mild CR”.

    Altough I don’t track my daily caloric intake anymore, I try to eat the best-quality food I can find and still keep my weight about 7-10 pounds lower than when I was in college. This isn’t that hard for me given my level of activity. Based on the results of my blood tests this change is having benefits to my long-term health.

    I’m hopefully that this approach to CR will add a few healthy years to my life, lower my risk for some diseases of aging, and yet still allow me to lead a normal life, play sports, and have great relationships. And occasionally indulge in a bit of chocolate. 😉

    Thanks for the great interview.

  3. Kevin

    “I’ve concluded that #3 is unlikely if you take high-quality supplements combined with a good diet and take them in balance according to the best known research to date.”

    I think our positions are not far off, moderate supplementation of high quality vitamins is unlikely to do harm. I take 2 tablets of AOR Ortho-Core and 1 of fish oil each day. However, I don’t consider this a method of life extension, just a defense against the poor quality of british food ;). I also worry about people who take dozen’s of supplements a day (or even just the full 9 tablets/day of Ortho-Core that is recommended), as in this case your option #3 seems almost garanteed.

    As for CR, have you read this paper? Moderate CR is quite unlikely to harm, and can reasonably be predicted to improve health. But if the predicted effect of full CR in humans is already so little, moderate CR doesn’t seem worth the time/effort/loss of enjoyment of good (but calorie rich) foods.

  4. Mark,

    Yep, I’m familiar with de Grey’s position and the many responses. I am – as are you – trying to make the best personal decision I can based on reasonable conclusions drawn from the facts.

    In any case, all of my efforts are analogous to bailing water from a slowly sinking ship. SENS is the real answer, and on behalf of myself and the rest of the 6B aging people I want to thank you for your commitment to MitoSENS.

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