X-Message-Number: 20451
From: "Mark Plus" <>
Subject: "There's no gray area in anti-aging ranks"
Date: Sun, 17 Nov 2002 09:01:43 -0800


Sunday, November 17, 2002

There's no gray area in anti-aging ranks
Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm 264? is rally cry
The Orange County Register

NEWPORT BEACH   The first step toward immortality, according to Page 41 of 
"The Baby Boomers' Guide to Living Forever," is:

Don't die.

This may seem obvious. But if anti-aging enthusiasts agree on anything, it's 
that if they can just survive the next few decades, they'll live forever.

By 2029 (according to one scientist), we'll have tiny machines in our bodies 
that will repair all diseases. By 2040 (according to another), doctors will 
have extended the duration of fertility and pushed the limits of mortality. 
By 2080 (says a third), only guns, car accidents or one too many lonely 
Sunday afternoons will kill us.

Hence, the not-dying part. This weekend in Newport Beach, at the 5th annual 
Extreme Life Extension Conference, a bunch of A-list scientists are gathered 
to discuss a B-movie idea: living long enough to live forever. They've been 
brought here by the Alcor Foundation, an Arizona company famous for deep- 
freezing baseball Hall of Famer Ted Williams' head. Because if one idea 
doesn't work, there's always living like a popsicle for the next 80 years.

In every conference speech, be it by an award-winning geneticist or pulp 
scientist, the message was clear: goodbye midlife crisis.

"Obviously there's a great deal of optimism," Ralph Merkle, an Alcor board 
member, said Saturday after listening to another speaker promise that 
immortality is "just around the corner." "Technological change is 
accelerating - this is all making sense."

Interest is accelerating as well, if only because baby boomers have entered 
the dark side of 50 without an escape plan. The attitude, summed up by Terry 
Grossman, the Orange County doctor who wrote the "Guide to Living Forever," 
is: "The Baby Boomer Generation will either be the first generation to 
experience the wonders of quasi-immortality, or simply the last generation 
to live out our lives and die the old-fashioned way."

Once, they never trusted anyone over 30. Now they want to be 300.

Just how will the retirement age change to 265? Well, for starters, 
immortality may be a biological possibility, says Michael Rose, a professor 
of evolutionary biology at UCI.

About a decade ago, researchers discovered that insects actually stopped 
aging after a certain point. The same is true for humans, Rose says. If you 
live to be 90, "the death rate stops increasing," natural decay stalls, and 
you have a better chance to live to, say, 110.

The problem is, after three decades of rapid aging, the quality of life at 
90 isn't very good. The human body is frail and vulnerable to disease and 
injury. So Rose has experimented with fruit flies, man aging to increase the 
age at which the insect can reproduce and live a healthy, active life. He's 
had fruit flies buzzing around after a month, which, in human terms, is like 
a 150-year-old salsa dancer.

Rose is sticking to insects; he isn't interested in human life extension. 
But plenty of Ponce de Leons are encouraged by his research. They hope that 
through drugs, diet and gene therapy, they can live well into their 90s and 
then just tread water in the Fountain of Youth.

To get there, some anti-aging devotees try to rid themselves of "free 
radicals," the toxins found in tobacco, alcohol and fatty foods. That way 
they can live long, very boring, lives.

Others put their faith in the burgeoning field of nanotechnology, machines 
so tiny they can live inside human cells, where they can perform noninvasive 
surgery and correct the effects of aging. Proponents call this 
"singularity," when man and machine become one.

For those who just can't wait - or enjoy free radicals - there is cryonics, 
putting your body in deep-freeze until it can be reawakened after scientists 
perfect the fat-free Twinkie. "I don't think they're doing anything more 
than producing frozen corpses," Rose says.

But Merkle says it's too early to judge cryonics, just as it's too early to 
judge any of the promises of immortality.

"We're doing clinical trials. Does it allow us to revive someone in the 
future so they can live forever? We're conducting an experiment to see if 
that happens," Merkle says, then smiles. "The question is do you want to be 
in the experiment or in the control group?"

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