Biosingularity’s Derya Unutmaz: a T cell expert on life extension

deryaAs many other heavyweight bloggers Derya Unutmaz has an A life and a B life. His A life is focusing on the molecular machinery of T cell activation, differentiation, survival and its explotation by HIV as he is an Associate Professor at Department of Microbiology at New York School of Medicine. Briefly, he is an immunologist researcher. In his B life he edits Biosingularity, which – according to the subtitle – is a weblog on advances in biological systems. It gives an uptodate and detailed review of the current biological research from a very broad range on a quality level rare in the blogosphere. As in the case of lucky science bloggers, Unutmaz’s A life motivates his B life and vice versa. I am now pleased to report that he was kind enough to answer some life extension questions as he is really supportive of that topic (emphasis added by me). Fortunately the degrees of freedom in the blog genre is higher than in mainstream journalism, so although I realized that my old questions (they were sent in last October) are not enough, the answers were so deep, that I publish them now, and set some other questions later. I am really happy to share my point of view with Professor Unutmaz concerning the role of systemic regenerative medicine in indefinite or big-scale life extension. I’d like offer his words for every life extensionist:The most important thing to remember though is to filter the hype from truth and solid science while both raising the awareness about the possibility of human life extension and also brain storming about the ideas on how to do this best.”

1. What is the story of your life extension commitment? The story of my commitment to life extension began as I became passionate about biology and science while I was still a kid. I realized then, (about 25-30 years ago) the technology was going to keep advancing and started to think why we could not come to a point when we have the knowledge to treat all diseases, and then why not stop aging? During medical school as I learned more about the physiology and pathology I realized the complexity of biological systems. It seemed intractable but at the same time biology followed rules, it wasn’t something magical that we can not conquer. I decided my life long commitment was going to be try to figure out how biological systems worked and how we can eventually master them to a point where we can reprogram our biology.

Early 90s I read a book that changed my view of the technological advances, The age of intelligent machines by Ray Kurzweil. Even before the days of Internet Ray was predicting how the technology was advancing at an exponential rate and this was going to be a very exciting time for those who are lucky to be alive. Since then I have been a very firm believer that this incredible technological advance will allow us to decode biological systems and eventually the problem of aging, which will also lead to unprecedented life extension.

2. Is it a commitment for moderate or maximum life extension?

My commitment is for maximum life extension, I see no reason why this can not be achieved within the next 50 years.

3. What is your favourite argument supporting human life extension?

What really surprises me is that one has to make an argument about this. As a medical doctor I am trained to save human lives, regardless what age you are as long as you are committed to living. In a way it is really paradoxical the most precious thing in the world for many of is human life, we go into incredible extremes not to let people die.

So my argument is the following: Let’s say in 20-30 years from now we are able to treat all major diseases and your mother reached 100 years of age and probably won’t live more than a year or two. Imagine that someone figured out how to extend her life another 10 years. If she wants to live with good health for another 10 years would you not do everything to have her that choice? Then let’s say when she is 110 years old, another technology allows her to live further 10 years to 120, with the same argument will you or anyone have the right to say no she lived enough we should let her die! You can extend this argument indefinitely and I find it hard for anyone to argue against it. Many bring the argument that this would have social disruptions and stress the world so on, but then the same argument could have been made 100 years ago when the average human lived about 40 years less.

The point is not live forever, the purpose of all medical science is to give people chance to live from things they die if they want to continue living, including those that kill you because your body ages. I am going to be blunt and say that it is nonsense that we have to make an argument for life!

4.-5. What kind of moderate life extension technologies have the chance to become successful, and when? What is the most probable technological draft of maximum life extension, which technology or discipline has the biggest chance to reach it earliest?

I don’t think caloric restriction is practical and is simply too much against the evolutionary pressures that it would not be pleasant or worth the effort, especially because we do not know how much it will impact life extension. However, you can change your diet and everyone should. You can eat extremely well and completely program your biology with what what we know today. I think with supplementation of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents such as omega-3 fatty acids, it is very possible to delay most of the inflammatory and cardiovascular diseases and potentially avoid majority of cancers. This does not mean you will not age or eventually have no disease, but the chances of that happening will be greatly delayed perhaps between 10-20 years. I think if everyone changed their dietary habits today, we could easily add about 10 years to average human life span with a snap of finger, not to mention saving a fortune in medical expenses.

Second biggest impact will be targeted or customized medical interventions. A great example of this is the cancer drug Gleevec that has a molecular and highly specific cancer target (a signaling molecule that goes aberrant). I think nanotech and gene therapy as well as much improved technologies such as RNA interference, and rational drug design coupled with systems biology approaches will allow us to decode the precise molecular mechanisms of each disease and precisely target those with minimal side effects.

I think with second phase we will be able to control most of the chronic diseases that kill majority of humans in developed countries. In the third phase I foresee major regenerative medicine capabilities that will allow us serious perform tissue engineering and replacement as well as cellular replenishment in the body. This is really essential to extend life beyond 100-110, which is probably is the maximum we can achieve by treating diseases.

Beyond that is anyones wild guess. Sure cyber and genetic enhancements and total body rejevunation and even things that are currently absolute science fiction such as downloading your brain as a backup will all probably happen.

6. When?

Treating or controlling indefinitely all chronic deadly human diseases should be achievable within the next 25-30 years, by then average human life expectancy will be around 100 (dramatic increase from today of 80). I anticipate continuous body regeneration soon after that within the next 40 years. This is likely to extend average lifespan to about 110-120. By the way these are fairly conservative estimates, we may achieve these even earlier.

Once we achieve biosingularity, a point when we can completely reprogram and regenerate and design from scratch novel biological systems, we should have achieved not only indefinite life span but also began reversal of aging. I anticipate around mid of this century people will look back to now, as we have do for those who lived hundred of years ago, and feel sorry how little control we had on the faith of our lives.

7. What can blogs do for LE?

My purpose in starting biosingularity was to share the incredible advances in biology and medicine and that considering life extension as a possibility now is no longer a pipe dream or in the realm of quackery of hopeless search of fountain of youth. We are really at a point where technology is beginning to change so fast that we can begin to “feel’ the impact in our short lives.

I think your Partial immortalization blog is one that I like very much and follow closely. You are both raising the awareness about the possibility of human life extension and also brain storming about the ideas on how to do this best. I think that’s as good as we can do as blogger for LE 🙂

The most important thing to remember though is to filter the hype from truth and solid science. Unfortunately it is very easy to exploit hope of living. We will get there but only through hard work of vigorous science and experimentation. I personally try my best to sift through many advances and try to pick the ones that I feel have good scientific basis and could have an impact.

Thanks for the opportunity for this interview.

/Professor Unutmaz: Thank you very much for your answers. I am flattered and motivated to pursue further./


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