Now I start to answer my blogterview questions concerning life extension. Here is the first:
1. What is the story of your life extension commitment? since the age of 15. I started my first offline diary at that age with a sentence something like this: I have eventually find the aim and meaning of my life which is the extension of human life, understanding the aging process and eliminating aging-related problems. The key for that is in mitochondrial DNA mutations, which must be reversed, here is an idea how..followed by some childish argumentoid how to repair them. And I have a sharp memory about the formulation of the argument that led me to this “aim” conclusion: I, A.Cs. would like to become a good scientist, but I need 50 years for biology, 50 years for physics, 50 years for mathematics and so on…and the only way to achieve this is not concurrently but consecutively, so I need more time, a lot much more than my evolutionarily fixed biology allows me to expect. (Of course today, if I had the chance to live as long as I can, I would prefer to become a little more than a pure scientist, say 50 years for web technology, 15 years for journalism, 15 years for travelling, 20 years for playing go …any way I can fully develop my own capacities, abilities let it be mental, physical, or moral. The list is mildly determined by Zeitgeist.) Next thought was to extend the range of this possibility to family members, friends…and people all over the world, because everybody has the right to live as long as they can. Oh yeah, this business is about eliminating ageing, get enough time to explore individuality and has nothing to do with eliminating death once and for all. I don’t want to become a wholly immortal person, and my motivation was not exactly the childhood fear of death and dying.
In the early 90s, when I was a school boy, the most exciting buzzword in life sciences was molecular biology, not stem cell resesarch nor whole genomes or omics or system biology. My definite professional motivation traces its roots back to a Scientific American article with the name (for me it was in Hungarian) Sense and nonsense DNA. The basics of molecular biology (replication-transcription-translation) were crystal clear and well established and conceivable at the first sight for a teen, and the aesthetic simplicity behind it was amazingly attractive. So I decided to become not a medical doctor but a molecular biologist.
Other enlightening early effects were The Problems of biology by John-Maynard Smith and the The Sefish Gene by Richard Dawkins. Theses books strucked me by their argumentative forces, the former one gave me a nice definition of life and a broad change-time-evolution perspective while Dawkins’ book taught me that there are many levels of selection and broader consequences of biology than previously thought.
No wonder, my biologist degree was on mitochondrial DNA (promoter) mutations and human ageing, which in the nineties seemed to me the best accessible professional way to life extension. The mitochondrial theory of aging (which is closely related the earlier free radical theory of aging) says that oxidative damages in the mitochondria, specially in the mitochondrial DNA lead to down-regulated and disfunctional oxidative phosphorylation protein production, which eventually energetically destabilize the tissues and organs and result in a functional decline and reduced integrity through the process called aging.
But when in the 1998, November 6 Science I read Thomson et al. landmark paper Embryonic Stem Cell Lines Derived from Human Blastocysts and got acquainted with the concept of a stem cell and the 2 main properties, renewability and differentiation potential, I instantly realized the these livings could be the most important contributors in technologically possible indefinite life extension. As I see almost every biological phenomena and biotechnological inventions from the life extension point of view, I found the most compelling argument as follows, repeated on this blog many times: The aim of regenerative medicine is to regenerate all tissues and organs of the human body with the help of stem cells’ regenerative potential. Theoretically if all tissues and organs of an adult body were regenerated once, then it could be regenerated two and eventually n times. This technological possibility is called partial immortalization and systemic regenerative medicine is the key to it. I will explicate the concept of it in details (after all, the main drive behind this blog is precisely this) while answering question 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?
It was clear, that I have to meet stem cells later. The only problem was that in 1998-99 in Hungary (or in Europe) it would be a little bit difficult to start a PhD on human embryonic stem cells.
So before being able to switch to stem cell biology, and after having completed my biology MD degree, I delved into philosophy first, because I thought that in order to get a comprehensive picture on aging we have to understand the definiens of it, which is time. But for that approach I have to use the conceptual, analytical method of philosophy, not experimental science. Truth to be told the real gain from philosophy was not solving the problem of time – philosophy is not always conceptual problem solving – but my thesis on The philosophical problems of biotechnology and regenerative medicine. Of course the essay’s topic was no other then the thought experiment of partial immortalization and some of its interesting consequences. Much of this work was published here earlier.
Having accumulated enough philosophy, I switched back into real (not meta) science, and to stem cells, and this project is my present one. I found a beautiful topic, the most exciting scientific puzzle I’ve ever met, which interconnects my 2 former biological research fields: stem cells and mitochondria. Although it is not existing as a separate field backed by academic grants I call it mitochondrial stem cell biology and would like to immerse into it irrespectively to life extension. It is now a pure scientific interest of mine.
Being 32 I have a 17-year experience thinking and experimenting about the topic of indefinite life extension and I will pursue further.
As a stem cell researcher and life extension supporter, who feels responsible for raising awareness in the importance of human beings’ increased capacity to live a long and healthy life, it is an extra challenge to find a subtle balance between the two identities: the ‘researcher’ is scientifically accepted, mainstream, while the ‘supporter’ is not standard in scientific circles, which are not necessarily open to the support of a novel movement. Nonetheless, I cannot but hope that we are living in an age when this type of strong social commitment will not diminish the true scientific value of research results, and the mixture of the 2 identities can confirm each other.
to be continued…