This post is about a race between two exponentially-accelerating complexes of processes which I will refer to here as death-stalker and life-prolonger. I am very concerned about how this race will go in the coming few years, for my life will depend on that.
The death-stalker complex includes all those biological changes that exponentially raise the probability of death with advancing age, making sure that every human being is gone by 123. The death-stalker complex is evolutionarily determined and up to this point we see no clear way around it. Death-stalker makes no exceptions. Death-stalker is complicated and thorough, involving age-related changes in the expression of thousands of genes. Each of the 14 major theories of aging and six candidate theories of aging laid out in my treatise is an aspect of death-stalker. Death-stalker works through many mechanisms to kill older people. Cancers, cardiovascular diseases, neurological and muscular degeneration, deadly falls, loss of hearing, eyesight, memory and balance – all are aspects of death-stalker. Sooner or later he gets everybody and he will surely get me eventually. At my age of 80, death-stalker is normally kicking in with full force, each year drastically raising the probability that I will contract a deadly cancer, cardiovascular problem, a debilitating fall or something else that will soon kill me. So, I am very impatient. Death-stalker is near my door.
My game with death-stalker is to play to live two, three or more times longer than the normal maximum lifespan of 123. This entails not defeating him but forcing him to bend the rules he has had for humans during our entire history. If I can win this concession from death-stalker, it will only be possible with the assistance of life-prolonger.
On the other side of the scale is the life-prolonger complex, an amorphous collection of contexts, situations, developments and matters which increase the probability of my life and the lives of others becoming ever-longer. Included in the life-prolonger complex are:
a. The contexts of the possibility of eliminating many diseases and radical extensions of lifespans, contexts which affect individual behavior and which give rise to research and activities directed towards making those possibilities real,
b. Health-supporting changes in the basic behavior patterns in large population segments, an example being great reduction in smoking and, hopefully in the near future, reduction in obesity,
c. Improvements in the physical, public health, medical and commercial environments, including extensive health education programs, improved nutrition and sanitation, inoculation programs, a massive health establishment, the popularity of health clubs, and the availability and sale of health supplements.
d. Massive government, foundation and NGO investments in health care and health care research.
Health care in the US today represents roughly 18% of GDP.
In the May 2009 blog entry I argued that social evolution requires that people live longer – and is in fact leading to longer and longer life spans. The above kinds of changes along with a possible evolution in the human epigenome have been leading to a rise in life expectancy in advanced societies every year. See the blog posts Average US life expectancy up 73 days in one year and Ever-increasing longevity– is epigenomics involved?
These developments may well help me get to over 100, but not to 235 which has been my age target for a number of years now. However, there are other life-prolonger factors which exhibit exponential acceleration in growth and are likely to lead to flowering of new anti aging technology, as outlined in my blog post Factors that drive Giuliano’s Law. These include improvements in life sciences R&D technology and technological infrastructure, increase in scientific knowledge related to longevity drawing from multiple disciplines, evolution in personal behavior and individuals assuming direct responsibility for both life extension and health.
Because I am so aware of the death-stalker complex and because I monitor anti-aging science developments on a daily basis, positive changes in the life-prolonger complex seem to be progressing only at a slow creep while the death-stalker process is proceeding at its usual inexorable rate. Further, it is easy for me to lose sight of who is working on life-prolonger for me, where and how. And how effectively? The good folk in my HMO are helping a lot in the short term, but they have no notion of how to get me over the 123 year hump. It seems that unless life-prolonger speeds up a lot, I am not going to make it.
Viewed over the 20 month period since I generated the first online version of my treatise ANTI-AGING FIREWALLS THE SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY OF LONGEVITY, however, a tremendous amount has happened in the life-prolonger complex qualifying as exponentially-accelerating progress. A single measure that I report on in this blog is genome sequencing, particularly the cost and time for sequencing of entire human or disease genomes.
I have reported before on gene testing, in May 2009, Consumer Genomics and Individual DNA testing. Genetic testing is quite different from genome sequencing. The former involves scanning a few dozen, hundreds or even thousands of genes for variations. Genetic testing is typically done to check for the probable efficacy of a drug, to predict susceptibilities to certain cancers, or to provide consumers with personal gene information using a service like 23 and me. Genome sequencing is far more comprehensive, looking at the entire genome of an individual consisting of about 3 billion base pairs of DNA. It requires 46 separate chromosome sequences in order to represent the complete genome of a human individual. Again, the objective is to identify evolutionary and mutational differences from what is expected in a normal human genome like small deletions and insertions, SNPs, multiple copies of genes, interchromosomal translocation events, mutations, gene mislocations, etc. Here are some benchmark points:
· For over 30 years there has been continuous improvement in the technology of sequencing, lowering of its cost and improvement of its accuracy. There have been multiple generations of DNA sequencing technology(ref).
· Between 1994 and 2004 the cost of sequencing dropped a hundredfold.
· The cost for sequencing the genome of a single individual in 2004 was about $10 million dollars(ref). At that time the goal was to reduce the cost to $100,000 in 5 years(ref). The goal was exceeded, the cost in mid-2009 being around $50,000.
· Today the cost of sequencing the genome of a single individual has dropped to the $6,000 range and is expected to drop to $1,000 in less than another year.
From the latest issue of Gen: “GEN News Highlights — Life Technologies reports that it is $5,000 away from reaching the hallowed ground of the $1,000 genome. The company has introduced the Applied Biosystems SOLiD™ 4 Sequencing System, which generates up to 100 gigabases of mappable sequence data per run at a cost of $6,000 per genome. Illumina would be another contender in this race, with its HiSeq2000, generating data at $10,000 per genome.”
· With a continuation of the present trend I expect costs of sequencing an entire human genome to come down to around $100 by 2015, making whole-genome sequencing a routine health-supporting process for everyone with health care.
· The same economics apply to sequencing the entire genomes of cancer cells and other organisms, making available vast databases of comparative genomic information.
Having everyone’s genome sequenced and on-file will serve the cause of longevity in multiple ways. Included in these are creation of immense databases that will assist:
· in clarifying the functions of genes and gene regulation throughout the genome,
· Understanding variations in the DNA sequences among individuals and determining what they mean. Understanding small differences may help predict a person’s risk of particular diseases and response to certain medications. For example, see the discussion in the blog post CETP gene longevity variants,
· Developing treatment protocols related to drug selections, therapy selections for certain cancers and other medical conditions that differentially depend on a patient’s genomic profile,
· Understanding the 3-dimensional structures of proteins and identifying their functions (see the blog post Protein origami and aging),
· Exploring how DNA and proteins interact with one another and with the environment to create complex living systems (See the blog post The new omics and longevity research)
· Understanding the epigenomic factors that are involved in aging and possible anti-aging epigenomic interventions, and
· Using this knowledge to develop and apply genome-based strategies for lifestyle interventions for longevity and the early detection, diagnosis, and treatment of diseases. (The blog post Genes discussed or mentioned in this blog provides links to a number of relevant discussions in this blog.)
Researching the above discussion led me to an example of who is out there working on life-prolonger for me, namely the good folk at Life Technologies, the ones out to bring the cost of whole-genome scanning down to $1,000 this year. From the Life Technologies website “Life Technologies (NASDAQ: LIFE) is a global biotechnology tools company dedicated to improving the human condition. — Our systems, consumables and services enable researchers to accelerate scientific exploration, driving to discoveries and developments that make life even better. — Life Technologies customers do their work across the biological spectrum, working to advance personalized medicine, regenerative science, molecular diagnostics, agricultural and environmental research, and 21st century forensics. The company had sales of more than $3 billion, employs approximately 9,500 people, has a presence in more than 100 countries, and possesses a rapidly growing intellectual property estate of approximately 3,600 patents and exclusive licenses. Life Technologies was created by the combination of Invitrogen Corporation and Applied Biosystems Inc.”
Wow, they are part of life-prolonger even if I never met any of them, and they are getting breakthrough results.There are hundreds of more biotech companies out there working on various aspects of life-prolonger for me, representing hundreds of billions of dollars in economic activity and utilizing incredible computer and brainpower on my behalf. Add in the university and hospital researchers, the government labs, the pharma company labs. The results being produced in many cases represent exponential change, not just linear change. That’s life-prolonger, getting stronger and meaner every day. Watch out death-stalker, you are going to have to share the stage when it comes to calling the life-and-death shots. And, death-stalker, I do recognize that it is more comfortable for most people to call you by your usual name, aging.