My next 20+ years towards a moonshot.
Two hundred years ago, the average human life span was ≈40. A century ago, it was 55. Now, it’s right around 80 (1).
Today, if someone dies at the age of 55, it is considered a tragedy, and everyone agrees that they went “before their time”.
Dying at the age of 85+, on the other hand, is considered “normal” (except for when family/friends are affected). It shouldn’t be! In cases like this, it’s important to remember that “Normal” does not equal “Good”. While sometimes correlated, history has shown us over and over how they are not.
For me personally, dying at 85 is and always was as unacceptable as dying at a younger age.
Changing that, has been my motivation since I was 18 years old. I went on to study medicine to make an impact on human longevity. My goal was not only to increase health span (i.e. people living and staying healthy until their time of death) but to increase maximum life span while maintaining a high quality of life. The goal would be to ultimately archive what is called “longevity escape velocity”, whereby we would first extend life span by a few years, then during those extra years, extend life by a few additional years, until eventually we gain more than one extra year per year (2).
After graduation and finalising my doctoral thesis in cancer research, I went on to run tech companies in Berlin (with some crypto on the side) to build a war chest.
While successful, they were never my life’s passion. I always kept an eye open for opportunities in the longevity space that fit my skill set.
Now the time has come to make that switch and get involved full-time.
Progress in longevity
The longevity community has made significant progress over the last decade, growing more professional, attracting considerable amounts of funding and producing the first seriously compelling results. But despite these advances made in recent years, progress will likely not be fast or more precisely, fast enough for a lot of people alive today. While significant health span extension seems to be achievable and can be observed (3), the extension of maximum life span seems to be significantly less likely.
While I cant’t get into the full details here, as this would go beyond the scope of this text, here is a brief summary of arguments:
- It is likely that we are close to the top of a hype cycle regarding life extension, which usually (actually by definition) leads to overoptimism.
- Biology turns out to be way more complex the more we learn about it.
Just remember, the “war on cancer” started in 1971 and the NCI Director’s Challenge in 2003 which set out to “eliminate the suffering and death from cancer, and to do so by 2015”. But cancer, of course, is still a leading cause of death (4). There are too many examples like this to count. Of course, we have more technology and tools (ML, deep sequencing, …) than ever before, but so did the people who made predictions in the past. And they were just as intelligent as those who are optimistic today, so what’s fundamentally different this time around? Why is the optimism about big and tangible longevity breakthroughs that will extend maximum life span warranted? In the end, I don’t think it is.
- Clinical testing will be even more difficult and expensive since the ideal end point (maximum life span) will, in most cases, require long follow-up periods. Due to that, surrogate parameters such as methylation clocks (5) will need be used, but this isn’t ideal by any means.
- A large percentage of the efforts presented and sold as “longevity research” might not help to increase maximum life span at all, or only do so very indirectly. For example, while research targeting osteoarthritis might be translated by using the underlying mechanism, it only has indirect effects on maximum life span. Translating results adds another layer of complexity. And it leads to the overestimation of the size of the sector.
- Increasing maximum life span is considerably more complex than curing single diseases, and we’re not even good at that — even with significantly more funding.
Finally, it’s important to note that I direly hope I am wrong! I hope that in 10 or 20 years I need to admit that I was overly pessimistic. If longevity-extending technology becomes available, I’m happy either way.
But unfortunately, I don’t think this will be the case any time soon.
Biostasis as a more tangible solution
Based on all of this, I decided to dedicate myself to the only alternative I know. Biostasis.
Here’s a brief introduction: Biostasis (in this case) is the concept of preserving the human body, especially the brain and its connectome (i.e. the sum of all connections that make you you) without the loss of information. By employing very low temperatures and special cryoprotective agents, this stops all biological degradation processes and enables the possibility of resuscitation in the future once advanced enough technology is available. At a time when currently fatal diseases are curable and human life span is significantly longer with high quality of life. For a detailed write-up of the concept and one implantation of biostasis, see this WaitButWay article (6).
To most people, this sounds like science fiction. And by some definitions it currently is. But it is important to consider that 20 or even 10 years before the very first heart transplantation, it would have been considered science fiction as well. Now it is a common medical procedure that no one would want to miss.
As a matter of fact, for most of history, what is science fiction today is cutting edge science tomorrow and a common, standard procedure the day after.
So why is biostasis more likely than quick breakthroughs in longevity research?
Again, this could be discussed at length, but it too would go beyond the scope, so here are a few high-level arguments:
- Most importantly, the degree of complexity is likely smaller (by order(s) of magnitude?). To achieve an adequate preservation of the brain and connectome, we do not need to understand all the complexity of biology — we are “just” required to preserve the cellular (and sub-cellular) structures.
- Testing is comparatively easy. One reason being that a good part of the process is based on physics, which is more easily transferable between animals and human (Some restrictions apply.)
- Once preservation is done, time is not an issue anymore, as biological degradation is fully stopped for all intents and purposes. So the “resuscitation part“ can be done in the near, far or very far future.
- Less funding is required, as research and regulation is simpler. Part of the process can possibly be done with more advanced and cheaper (in relative terms) technology in the future.
This is what I plan to do:
- Dedicate the next 20 (or more) years to this field. This won’t be a quick win but a long climb.
- Build a professional and scalable organisation with four main areas of activity: non-profit research, operative biostasis service provider, outreach/communication/advocacy, and very long-term asset management and governance. The first step has been made, I co-founded a non-profit research foundation in Switzerland (ebf.foundation) with five others with backgrounds in venture capital, biology, and technology, all of whom have a deep dedication to the space. The first seven-figure amount has been raised and 2020 will be the starting point for a long journey. Edit: The operative company “Tomorrow Biostasis” is now live as well, see www.tomorrowbiostasis.com for more information.
- Research, research and more research. This will never stop.
- Whatever is required to make this happen.
I have three main motivations for this: 1) I want to see us building a better world. With longer lifespans, we’d be incentivized to treat people and the world with a more long-term mindset. The stigma for old age will be reduced. And we wouldn’t have to permanently say goodbye to our loved ones ever again. 2) It’s an unacceptable tragedy that a large number of humans die (very) early without any chance. For example, more than half a million (12) children under the age of 5 die every year just due to cancer. 3) I very much like living! I don’t believe “an end” is required to give value to life. And to be honest, I’m afraid of death and non-existence.
All three of them being strong drivers of motivation.
In the end, I’ll dedicate everything I have to give to solve this problem!
A few more points
→ Does it “work”?
Preservation and resuscitation currently works in certain model organisms such as worms (7).
While hundreds of humans have been preserved, none have been resuscitated yet. In fact, resuscitation hasn’t been attempted yet as it is obvious that more advanced future technology is required. In a way, as of now, biostasis is a educated bet on future technology — it has been called “the best of bad options”.
→ Where is the science currently?
As mentioned, preservation and resuscitation currently works in certain model animals (8). Individual organs can be preserved (9) and the connectome can arguably be preserved (10)
While this is a good basis and ”proof of principle”, significantly more research is need!
→ What are the current problems?
As with any new technology, there are fundamental, high-level problems and devil-in-the-details problems. For example: How can we preserve the connectome sufficiently well? How can we reduce toxicity of the process? How will resuscitation work in general and in detail?
The good thing is that for preservation, the high-level problems are relatively well understood. For resuscitation, more fundamental work is required (but as mentioned, time is not much of an issue here).
→ Why would someone want to be around in the (far) future?
This questions is very difficult to answer in a general way, as it is a very personal issue. For me, the answers are: I like life. I would like to continue living as long as possible. I’m afraid of death.
→ Is this for rich people only?
Unfortunately, every new technology is relatively expensive in the very beginning. Currently, most people finance their contracts via term life insurance (approximately 10–50 Euro / month, mostly depending on age and health). On the other hand, biostasis costs should drop significantly with scale. It’s one of my highest priorities to make it affordable for any budget.
→ Aren’t climate change, poverty, infections diseases, et cetera, more “important”?
While you could argue that on some scales they are, I believe that it is extremely important to do the thing that drives you intrinsically. For me this is biostasis.
→ Won’t this lead to overpopulation or a strain on resources?
As of 2020, there are about 3.000 people with biostasis contracts worldwide with a very small growth rate. While I hope this will change in the future, even an increase by two, three, or even four orders of magnitude will not lead to a relevant increase in the larger picture. And if the current prediction of population growth holds true, then the world population will level off around 11 billion. See this overview by Pew Research (11).
→ I have more questions/want to talk; how to get in contact?
Please do, happy to talk more. E-Mail works best (see Linkedin).
→Want to help in some capacity?
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