As I mentioned last week, I’m multitasking while I finish a book on tech advances and their investing implications. Last Friday, you saw an excerpt of my book manuscript called “What’s Next, Part 1: The Rise of Biocomputing.” This week, we look deeper into the so-called tech singularity and investigate life-extension therapies.
Last week, I explained again why I don’t think that the true singularity is some variation of the “Skynet malevolent artificial intelligence” story. Rather, I defer to John von Neumann, who coined the term to describe accelerating technological progress beyond which the consequences are beyond our capacity to predict. This, I believe, is true, but I think it’s generally a good thing.
As I said, modern economics has failed to adequately address or measure standard-of-living issues. We know implicitly that life has transformed in this generation simply by looking at the things that modern people, even those designated as “poor,” enjoy. In America, you can be officially living under the poverty line while owning a smartphone, a used car safer and faster than those owned by the richest people only a generation ago, a widescreen television, a microwave, and high-speed Internet access capable of delivering the whole of human art and knowledge.
Most important, we’re living much longer than ever before. A generation ago, the poor were hungry. Today, they’re more likely to be obese than the general population, which struggles not to consume the calories that have been in dangerously short supply throughout nearly all of human history. It’s hard to measure, but we have already entered into an age of abundance.
Personally, I think the most important abundance that has come about due to accelerating technological progress is time. We get to live far longer on average. Without life, who cares about yachts, jewels, overpriced wine or whatever else it is that only the rich are supposed to have?
Already, increased lifespans have caught Western nations unprepared for the rapidly growing population of older people. Historically high debt levels are fueled mostly by the cost of providing government services to an exploding older population. That’s the downside of a very high-class problem.
Health spans will continue to increase in an exponential manner. This, I believe, is the true singularity.
Moreover, I think it’s already happened. We don’t have to wait for transformational healthcare breakthroughs to be discovered. They already exist, though we’re waiting for them to be recognized, implemented, and in some cases approved by government. Some of these breakthroughs are so obvious we don’t notice them.
Vitamin D is perhaps the best example. Modern biotech tools have led to a complete rethinking of this steroidal regulator of nutrients. The community that spent much of its life warning about exposure to the sun, however, seems reticent to admit that they have inadvertently killed millions of people by recommending 25-hydroxyvitamin D blood levels that are clearly deficient.
There has, in fact, been a bloody fight between the old consensus and researchers on the cutting edge. Fortunately, the new consensus seems to be winning. Increasingly, we see studies covered in the popular media about the benefits of D levels much higher than those currently recommended by federal authorities in regard to cancer, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, and even childbirth. If you haven’t caught up with the research yet, I think the best place to start is UC San Diego’s GrassRootsHealth. If you have high melanin levels in your skin, you should be particularly concerned, because darker skin slows synthesis of vitamin D from sunshine, which is the major source for too many people.
The most interesting recent development on the vitamin D research front, by the way, comes out of Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute. Researchers working with the estimable Bruce N. Ames believe vitamin D regulates the enzyme that converts tryptophan into serotonin, a neurotransmitter believed to help regulate moods and facilitate long-term thinking. When serotonin is blocked, we see people acting on impulse without consideration of the long-term impacts of their actions.
this article emphasizes.
So what will it mean for society to have most people’s vitamin D blood levels raised to optimal levels?
Obviously, we would see reductions in major diseases as well as their costs, but I think the best way to think about this is in terms of lifespans.
We may never have the kind of data on vitamin D and lifespans that will convince those who are predisposed to disbelieve the new research. This is because it’s extremely difficult to do longevity studies on humans. First, our lifespans are too long. A study would have to run nearly the length of the average life to be meaningful. Most people wouldn’t participate in double-blind controlled studies lasting for decades. Moreover, it would have to control exposure to sun, which would be extremely difficult and inconvenient.
Nevertheless, I think sufficient evidence exists to predict that widespread supplementation of vitamin D would have an immediate and profound impact on health spans and healthcare costs. Based on my own conversations with some of the people leading this research, the answer seems to be that optimal vitamin D blood levels translate into about 10% longer lives than those who are seriously deficient. Because some people are already supplementing vitamin D to some degree, I suspect there would be an increase in average lifespans of about five years.
It’s difficult to comprehend what a demographic change of this magnitude would do to our healthcare and Social Security systems, which are already strained. Clearly, people would have to invest earlier or work later in their lives. Vitamin D, however, is just the tip of the iceberg.
A study published December 18, 2014, in PLOS Genetics has attracted significant media attention. Texas A&M University biochemist Michael Polymenis and associates tested the common over-the-counter painkiller ibuprofen on a number of lower-order animals, including roundworms and houseflies. The outcome, which explains articles such as this one, was an increase of 10-17% in lifespans using the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID).
I’m pretty sure that we’ll see an increase in ibuprofen sales as a result of these stories. Despite prior research showing that ibuprofen suppresses inflammation and lowers risk of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other age-related neurodegenerative diseases, I’m not convinced that ibuprofen will have comparable effects on humans.
I am convinced, however, that anatabine citrate will have this sort of impact on human lifespans. I get questions from people on a regular basis about the alkaloid, so I discuss what I know.
Rock Creek Pharmaceuticals has filed a clinical trial application (CTA) in the UK, as this press release relates. In a recent presentation, which you can watch here after free registration, CEO Dr. Michael Mullen said that the United Kingdom’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) had asked for some minor additional information, but he expects to begin Phase 1 safety trials in this quarter. Personally, by the way, I would move to the UK if that were the only way to get anatabine citrate, and I know a lot of other people who feel the same.
If you watch the linked presentation, you’ll notice that video doesn’t appear of the multiple sclerosis mice that recovered due to anatabine citrate because of the format of the webcast. I’ve seen this video, however. You’ll also have to manually change slides, but you should watch the presentation if you’ve never heard the entire anatabine citrate story. There aren’t many stories this big in modern medicine. I also recommend emphatically that you watch Dr. Fiona Crawford’s presentation at the New College of Florida about traumatic brain injury and the effects of anatabine citrate. Interestingly, this same data was presented at a neurological conference, provoking the FDA to demand that Anatabloc, the over-the-counter version of anatabine citrate, be taken off the market. She also explains why scientists are so interested in neutraceuticals. Keep in mind that Crawford is one of the key scientists behind the discovery of the amyloid role in Alzheimer’s. She’s also published an incredible number of articles accepted by top journals.
I spoke (a few days ago) to someone whose life was changed by anatabine citrate, specifically through amelioration of arthritis. She contacted Rock Creek Pharmaceuticals, which told her how to contact the FDA, which responded with the paperwork needed for compassionate-use distribution. She will need to find an MD willing to recommend use of the drug candidate. I haven’t yet heard confirmation from the company that it will distribute anatabine citrate through this kind of program, but I think those who want access should contact Rock Creek Pharmaceuticals.
I also recommend that you follow the mounting academic evidence supporting the efficacy of the nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide plus (NAD+) precursors, as I’ve previously written here. The two with the most research are nicotinamide riboside (Niagen) and oxaloacetate (benaGene).
All of these compounds, including dietary vitamin D, have the potential to significantly reduce healthcare costs in ways that legislation cannot. As you know, healthcare costs rise for most people as they age, so an older population therefore has higher medical costs—at least given the current state of medical science. As the population ages, demand for advanced healthcare services necessarily increases.
The only long-term solution is better health care capable of extending health spans and lowering the rate and cost of major diseases that are currently driving national debts globally. The technologies to do so exist now, and more of them will come online in the next few years. Soon to follow is radical regenerative medicine, which has the potential to extend life even further by returning cells and organs to full youthful health.
Increasingly, it appears that the solution to our health and budget problems is being held up by a regulatory system that is so utterly antiquated, it has become the primary obstacle to the biotechnologies that could reduce medical costs. People complain incessantly about the cost of drugs, but few understand that the major component of new drug costs is not research and development. Usually, it’s the costs associated with FDA-mandated clinical trials. A Forbes estimate put the cost to the pharmaceutical industry at $4 billion for every approved drug. Others say it’s only about $1.5 billion, but the difference isn’t that significant.
There are people in the FDA, however, who know that things have to change. Past FDA Chairman Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach is one of many important voices calling for the elimination of Phase 2 and 3 clinical trials. This isn’t a new idea. I spent much of my earlier life working with academics, including Milton Friedman, who have shown through rigorous research that the result of dramatic simplification of the drug approval process would be much less suffering and death, rather than the catastrophe predicted by some. Japan, as you know, has already done away with Phase 2 and 3 trials for the field of stem-cell medicine.
Japan’s deregulatory impulse is not a blip. Japan is simply further into the demographic transformation than we are, losing a quarter-million in population every year. So the Japanese have faced facts. They understand that they can no longer allow bureaucracies to control the rate of scientific progress. The same will happen here.
Editor, Transformational Technology Alert
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