X-Message-Number: 20467
From: "Mark Plus" <>
Subject: Wired.com: "A Few Ways to Win Mortality War"
Date: Wed, 20 Nov 2002 17:24:44 -0800

A Few Ways to Win Mortality War  By Kristen Philipkoski
Story location: http://www.wired.com/news/medtech/0,1286,56476,00.html

02:00 AM Nov. 20, 2002 PT

NEWPORT BEACH, California -- People who want to live forever are often 
pegged as narcissists, heretics or just plain crazy.

But about 200 people bent on immortality who did not appear to be crazy, 
narcissistic or sacrilegious (well, maybe a little) gathered in Newport 
Beach, California, over the weekend for Alcor's Extreme Life Extension 

Discussions among leading researchers in nanotechnology, cloning and 
artificial intelligence focused on much more than cryonics, the process of 
freezing the body in liquid nitrogen after death to be later reanimated. 
Cryonics is basically a backup plan if technology doesn't obliterate 
mortality first.

About 1,000 people pay Alcor $400 a year and have named Alcor as their life 
insurance beneficiary to cover the cost of freezing just the head for 
$50,000 or the entire body for $120,000.

Here's what experts say could one day lead to immortality.

Cloning: Michael West, chief executive of Advanced Cell Technology, the 
company that has become famous for claiming to clone human embryos, was the 
celebrity of the conference.

Well-respected in the medical "establishment," West also shares an interest 
with the Alcor crowd. He told the audience that cloning technology can 
replace failing organs and aging cells with young healthy ones.

The trick is to get stem cell therapies to work.

Stem cells -- very young cells that have the ability to become any cell in 
the body -- are a promising treatment for many diseases. The problem is they 
might be rejected as foreign by a patient's immune system. To avoid that, 
researchers hope to create cloned embryos from the patient's own body. No 
one knows if that will eliminate the problem, but West's company's work may 
prove it is the solution, one way or the other.

Some people call stem cell harvesting murder, which baffles West, who claims 
he hates to kill an ant.

"I'm a sucker for life," he said.

His work is a baby step towards immortality.

"Life is naturally immortal," West said. "Of course, it can fail, but it 
doesn't have to fail."

Nutrition: Ray Kurzweil hopes to extend his life with a strict diet, 
exercise and 150 supplements a day. While not trained as a doctor, 
Kurzweil's track record in other areas of science and technology is 
impressive. He's a pioneer in optical character recognition, music synthesis 
and speech recognition.

When doctors diagnosed him with type 2 diabetes 19 years ago, he came up 
with his own treatment, basically eliminating sugars and most carbohydrates 
from his diet. Kurzweil is writing a book on his longevity health plan with 
Dr. Terry Grossman called A Short Guide to a Long Life. They're also 
developing a line of food products that Kurzweil says will taste as good as 
regular cake and other carbohydrate-rich treats, but will be very low in 
carbs, sugar and salt.

His goal is to stay alive long enough so that advances in nanotechnology and 
therapeutic cloning techniques can extend human life into the triple digits.

"If we can all hang in there another 10 years, we may all be able to 
experience the remarkable future ahead," he said.

Other researchers extolled radical changes in diet as a way to extend life, 
particularly calorie restriction. Of course, living on a fraction of the 
calories a typical American consumes is easier said than done. The good news 
is scientists are working on the pill.

Stephen Spindler, professor of biochemistry at the University of California 
at Riverside and chief science officer at Biomarker Pharmaceuticals, 
described one approach, which is to make a drug that fools the body into 
thinking it's taking in far fewer calories, no matter what the person eats. 
With fewer calories, the body behaves as if it's much younger.

Spindler based his work on a study of undernourished residents of Okinawa in 
the 1970s. Despite a low caloric intake, a large number of them lived to be 
100 or older. A study of the centenarians showed they also had lower rates 
of many diseases, including Alzheimer's and many types of cancer. The study 
lead to the book The Okinawa Program: How the World's Longest-Lived People 
Achieve Everlasting Health -- And How You Can Too.

Until Spindler and the other scientists develop the magic pill, however, 
eating fewer calories seems to be the only way to achieve the same results.

Nanotechnology: Despite a lack of encouraging advances in their field, 
nanotechnology experts don't lack enthusiasm, including Robert Freitas, a 
scientist at Zyvex and a research fellow at the Institute for Molecular 

Freitas described two nanotechnologies he believes are first in line to 
stave off death:

Respirocytes are artificial red blood cells -- nano machines -- that Freitas 
sees as an emergency treatment that technicians could, for example, inject 
into a patient who has suffered smoke inhalation.

With an injection of just 5 cc's of respirocytes, he said, someone could run 
a 5-minute mile (12 mph) for 12 minutes without taking a breath.

Microbivores, artificial white blood cells, would eat pathogens, then digest 
and excrete them. A microbivore could work 1,000 times faster than a real 
white blood cell, ingesting the pathogen in 30 seconds and expelling it 
within about an hour (normally it takes weeks).

But these microscopic machines would have to cross the blood-brain barrier 
before they could work -- a sticky issue Freitas hasn't solved yet but 
expects to tackle soon.

"Death is an outrage!" he said. "Let's do something about it."

Kourosh Karimkhany contributed to this report.

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