A short history of vaccines

This is for a new chapter in the book How to Live Forever (available on Amazon as eBook or print copy).

Before vaccination was invented, a method of immunising a person from smallpox was to take small samples of the disease, directly infect the person, and hope that the body learned to cure itself before the infection learned to kill the person.

In China, the method used was slightly smarter, but more uninviting. They would take the scabs of a person infected with the disease, dry the scabs, grind them up, then blow the dust up the nostril of the person to be variolated.

In a way, this is like the primitive method a lot of people still use today, where when a parent’s child has chickenpox, they will hold a party for the child and invite the neighbours around, the thought being that if the child catches chickenpox early, then when it is cured, they will never catch it again, and will be inoculated against more dangerous diseases such as shingles.

In 1796, doctor Edward Jenner performed an experiment which caught public opinion. In a procedure that would have people up in arms today, he took some pus from a cowpox pustule on a milk-maid and inserted it into his gardener’s son’s arm through a small cut, deliberately trying to infect the 8-year-old boy with a dying cowpox virus (pus is the immune system basically drowning an invading particle), the idea being that a dying or dead virus might be just as good as the living thing for training purposes, and will be heavily weakened already.

Over the next few days and weeks, he subjected the boy to increasing challenges from various poxes, none of which took hold.

In celebration of the success of the experiment, the cow from which the cowpox was gotten was killed, skinned, and the skin was hung on the wall of the St George’s Medical School Library, where it still hangs.

By experimentation he was able to show that cowpox and smallpox can both be vaccinated against from the same vaccination, and more importantly that the vaccination does not need to come directly from the source (the cow), but can be grown in a lab.

10 years later, he was given a grant of £10,000 from the king (worth £918,403.60 in 2017), and 5 years later, another £20,000 (worth £1,836,807.21 in 2017) after vaccination was confirmed by the Royal College of Physicians to really work.

Smallpox has existed since at least 10,000 BCE. During the 18th century, it was responsible for about 400,000 deaths every year, and for a full third of all blindnesses. It has been estimated that about 500,000,000 people died of smallpox during the 20th century.

But, because of Edward Jenner’s experiment, we no longer die of smallpox. The disease was completely wiped out in 1979. Vaccinations work.

How To Live Forever published on Amazon

I was going to wait for another few months before publishing, but as I haven’t made a lot of changes to the book in the last few months, I thought I’d better just release it.

So, I’ve published the book, “How to Live Forever – through science, medicine, and philosophy” on Amazon’s Kindle store. I prefer Google’s PlayBooks for my own reading, but when I went to upload the book there, Google apparently don’t want any new authors or something – there was a message saying that no new “partners” could submit their work.

To prepare the book, I wrote a script that takes the website database and converts it into one long HTML file, and imported that through Calibre to create an ePub file, which Amazon accepted for the eBook version.

I’m still working my way through the requirements for the print version. When that’s done, I’m sure there will be updates to push back to the eBook version!

Progress on the workshop/lab

I mentioned last month that I’m starting work building a lab for (eventually!) protein synthesis of FOXO4-DRI to reduce senescent cell build-up and NMN to promote NAD+ production in cells, etc. There’s no point writing a book on how to live forever if you’re not going to get working on the answers yourself!

Because I’m working completely on my own, and have no experience in construction, this is taking longer than I thought!

I have the foundation 95% completed now. The structural parts (the load-bearing bits) are completed. I just need to fill in some gaps in the foundation wall, then add some plastic damp proof coursing between the wall and the wood of the workshop floor, then I can start on the frame of the thing.

The plan with this is to start off with some simple things – a 3D printer and some electronics, and use those as a base from which to build up a proper lab, one tool at a time, building as many as possible from scratch.

Critics might say (and they do…) that the only way to do good work is with good tools, but they appear to forget that everything we see today was built from the ground up using nothing much more than a rock hitting another rock. You use bad tools to make better tools. I am doing the same.

I was asked why I didn’t just get some people in to do the building for me. Partly, it’s cost, but it’s mostly because I want the satisfaction of knowing exactly where every nail and knothole is, and I want to design every aspect of the building to my own specifications.

I have had to learn a lot along the way so far – how to do mortaring, how to drain an accidental pool (siphoning through a hose. muddy water doesn’t taste nice 😉 ), how water travels through concrete.

I’m still learning some things, like how to connect two pieces of wood together. Nails and nail plates appear to be the solution.

This weekend, I start on the frame of the build. I think that will go up very quickly.

Releasing the book on PlayStore

My book (How to Live Forever) has been sitting on the front end of the website for months now, The original plan was to try pull people in to see if I could figure out from their behaviour what chapters need fleshing out or rewriting.

I’ve actually avoided adding new chapters (a chapter on vaccination, for example) because I was waiting for readership data.

A recap for those that don’t know the book: it’s an overview of what we know about what kills us, along with bleeding-edge solutions to those problems. I cover information such as using the surface based body shape index to calculate ideal weight and waist size (here’s my SBSI calculator), FOXO4-DRI for killing senescent cells, and even philosophical solutions such as the mathematical universe and quantum immortality.

I think I’m going to kickstart this by releasing the book on the Google Playstore for about €1. If I put it up there for free, people might download it, but won’t feel tempted to read it, but if they have to actually pay for it, they may feel the need to justify that payment by actually reading it.

I will include links in the book back to the website, so people can look for more uptodate versions of each chapter (medicine evolves!).

To get started on this, I’ve been looking for automated HTML to book-format PDF or eBook translation scripts. I could simply copy/paste the entire book into an eBook editor and clean up the formatting by hand, but I want to eventually be able to provide bi-monthly updates to the Playstore version, so it needs to be automated.

Luckily, I’ve been planning for this since the beginning, so the book is written in a logical format that can easily be extracted from the database.

There are actually very few books called “how to live forever” which literally are about how to live forever. Most of those I’ve found online are novels or religious diatribes. I feel like there will be little competition here.

The cover – I’m not an arty person, so I think I’ll do something plain. I like the cover of Yuval Noah Harari’s “Homo Deus”, which is plain black with red wording. I might go for something similar but with a textured background.

Telomere lengthening as a treatment for Progeria

Telomeres are end-caps that keep your DNA from fraying. Over the years, they get smaller and smaller, until they’re so small the cells go into senescence mode and stop splitting.

When a cell is in senescence mode, it refuses to die, and instead just hangs around giving out inflammation-inducing proteins. Senescent cells are useful for helping healing wounds, but other than that, they’re a nuisance.

A study by John P. Cooke and associates found that telomeres in progeria sufferers tend to shorten much quicker than usual. This leads to very quick aging of the body, and usually death by age 15 or so.

In normal cells, telomeres cause death by aging by about age 120 (the Hayflick limit). The observation that telomere shortening is highly linked to aging in progeria makes that all the more obvious.

There has been speculation that telomere lengthening would help improve life-span, but very little evidence in humans, because we live so long compared to lab animals.

In 2015, Elizabeth Parrish, head of the company Bioviva, became the first person to undergo a telomere-lengthening treatment, and follow-up tests showed that she had indeed lengthened them by 9%, but there was nothing noticeable to show that the treatment had any positive effect.

The study done by Cooke showed that extending telomeres in progeria sufferers has an almost immediate effect, with a decrease in senescence-related beta-galactosidase staining, and reduced secretion of inflammatory cytokines. In Elizabeth’s case, it is possible she just had not reached the age where those would be measurable.

Telomere extension is one of the most important treatments that we will need to get into local clinics. It’s great to see it making some proper traction!

is the universe a mathematical structure?

Quantum physics can predict the behaviour of particles and energy to an extraordinary degree. Quantum Electrodynamics, for example, predicts a value for the electromagnetic fine structure constant which is so accurate that we have not been able to find a difference between the predicted value and the real value despite measuring to 14 decimal points (the measurements are difficult!)

The point of this is that the result of the most precise measurements we have ever made can be predicted using some math, without needing to do the actual measurement.

This is because the universe is mathematical in nature. There is nothing in the universe which we don’t have a formula for.

A co-worker retorted “what about the soul?” Treating that like the serious question she intended it to be, even thoughts and so-called “free will” can be predicted using math. Thoughts are determined by processes in the brain involving chemistry and electricity; both of which are well understood and predictable.

We have artificial neural networks which work similar to the brain. While they sometimes do things that we don’t immediately understand and which look like thought, we can examine the weights and synapses of the network and break every thought and decision right down to the 1s and 0s that they’re made of.

Just because we don’t understand how something works, doesn’t mean that it’s magic. The brain is not magic. Each tiny part of the brain works in very precise and predictable ways, and the thoughts and decisions that we call “free will” emerge from the billions of neural firings that happen every second (13 billion per second! There are 86,000,000,000 neurons in the brain, and they all fire on average about .15 times per second).

Everything that happens in the universe is predictable by math.

Even the universe itself, devoid of all matter and energy, is still a mathematical structure. Why are there exactly three space dimensions? An answer can be found in a theory called “Causal Dynamic Triangulation“, which describes how exactly three dimensions of space can arise from a set of mathematical rules involving triangles. The theory is more accepted than the alternative highly-regarded “loop quantum gravity” theory, because it produces exact measurements between points (impossible in LQG), and because it describes space both for Planck-scale measurements (the smallest possible), and for astronomical scales as well.

The fact that everything in the universe is predictable with math, even space itself, allows the possibility that you can create a single equation that predicts absolutely everything that can happen.

And if you run that calculation? You would be able to pick a precise date and time, and tell exactly what the state of the universe is on that time (or at least, you would know the most likely layout – quantum mechanics is very precise but also fuzzy).

This is regardless of so-called “free will”. Everything is predictable, including thoughts, if you have enough starting information.

It gets weird now: if everything, including thoughts, can be predicted using a single (probably very complex) formula or algorithm, then how do you know that you are real?

I mean, if everything you do is simply a result of an algorithm following its steps one by one, as physics shows us, then are you anything more than just a bunch of variables in that algorithm?

And if so, then is there a difference between the algorithm running for real in some super-computer somewhere, as people like Elon Musk suggest, or running in potential simply because every mathematical algorithm that can exist must have results whether the algorithm is run or not?

Personally, I’m in the latter camp for a number of reasons:
1. If the universe is running in a super-computer somewhere, is the super computer real or running inside a simulation of its own?
2. The eternal question “why is there something rather than nothing” is solved forever if there really is nothing and everything we see is simply a shared simulation running in potential but not in “reality”.
3. It also helps explain another related issue – is there exactly one universe? No, there are infinite universes, for each possible result of this universal algorithm, and every single one of them “exists” is a result, even if they are not “real”.
4. What is reality? When he heard the idea that nothing is “real” and that reality is subjective (immaterialism), Samuel Johnson famously kicked a rock hard and shouted “I refute it thus!”. However, that’s not a refutation – in a universe where you and I share a hallucination, everything in that hallucination is real to us, whether the objects are objectively real or not.

A very welcome bonus to the idea that the universe is mathematical in nature, is the possibility that it leads to personal immortality, through the idea of quantum immortality.

sunscreen as a Multiple Sclerosis cure

I wrote recently about Multiple Sclerosis (MS), and how a British scientist, Dr Su Metcalfe of LifNano, had come up with method that can potentially cure it completely.

Another scientist, Hector DeLuca in the US, has discovered that two ingredients of sunscreen, homosalate and octisalate, can halt MS in its tracks

MS is a disease which is prevalent in countries which are far from the equator, leading scientists to believe that it is related to vitamin D deficiency, so it is counter-intuitive that a substance that is intended to prevent sunlight (in particular, ultraviolet rays) from hitting the skin, should turn out to be beneficial.

He and his colleagues were studying the effect of ultraviolet light on mice which had a rodent version of MS. In particular, light at 300-315 nanometres. The experiment was designed such that light was shone onto the backs of mice that had been shaved to allow the light to reach the skin easier. Some of the mice had sunscreen applied to lessen the effect. Some mice had neither light nor sunscreen, and some mice had sunscreen but no light.

It was expected that the ultraviolet light would help lessen the MS. But it was found instead that the greatest effect was visible in mice that had the sunscreen applied, even if no ultraviolet light was applied to them.

After experimentation, it was found that the ingredients causing the effect were homosalate and octisalate.

Dr DeLuca suspects that the reason the drugs work is that they suppress the creation of cyclooxygenase, which is found in MS lesions.

Read more about cures for MS in my book, How To Live Forever.

quantum immortality and old age

The idea behind quantum immortality is that there are infinite universes, and everything that can happen, happens in at least one of those universes. Thus, if you were to fall from a building, for example, then you would, in at least on of those universes, land in a bush or tree, or get blown onto a canopy, etc.

The scenarios described in quantum immortality usually only cover drastic events, though, where the “decision” between live and die is obvious. A gun fires, a bomb explodes, you fall from a building, etc.

But old age is not quite as obvious as that. It’s a lot more gradual.

Having said, that, though, maybe old age is the same?

When we say that someone died of old age, what comes to mind is that someone gradually declined until either they just stopped breathing, or their heart stopped.

Those are definitive moments that, if we’re talking about old age degeneration, and not something traumatic, has no obvious cause and is random in nature. Will the heart stop now, or in a minute? Will this be the last breath? It’s impossible to predict, making this ideal for quantum immortality.

You see, with quantum immortality, the fact that something is random means that it will happen in some universes, and won’t happen in others.

So, in many universes, the person that’s lying on the bed dies this hour. In some others, in a few hours, and in even rarer universes, the person lasts the day and is still hanging on tomorrow.

Quantum immortality relies on there being a universe for every possibility. Not just most. Every. So, if there is a random chance that the person will survive the day, even if the chance is one in billions, then it will definitely happen.

And because every death has some cause behind it, even if we don’t yet know what the cause is, the person that is dying on the bed just has to last long enough for the cause to be found and its cure applied.

Quantum immortality guarantees that the person will survive long enough, even if it’s tens (or hundreds!) of years. Luckily, though, we are living in very interesting times, and all causes of death are being discovered and cured, with new cures available almost every week.

With quantum immortality, old age is not to be feared – it just means you’ll be sick for a while until the cure for aging (*cough*senolytics*cough*) is found.

If you want to read more, read the chapters on Quantum Immortality in my “how to live forever” book.

longevity escape velocity

The main part of this website is the book, “how to live forever“, and even as it was written, I kept changing my mind about what the “thrust” of the thing was – is it simply a list of diseases? Is there a central premise? Does a step-by-step instruction set even exist?

I believe that I have the premise now (and will need to rewrite parts of the book now…), which is based around “longevity escape velocity” (note to self: good chapter name)

In the past hundred years, life expectancy at birth has increased in parts of the world from about 64.75 years in 1928, to 89.5 years today. The “life expectancy at birth” is the age at which actuarial calculations predict that humans will die, based on current conditions and past performance.

64.75 to 89.5 is an increase of about 25 years in one century. 25 extra years that a person might live.

While that sounds like a lot (25 years is almost half again of 60 years), it’s not enough to guarantee immortality.

Even if we repeat the trick this century, and tack on an extra 25.25 years to the expected 89.5 years (that a person in Monaco might expect to live), we still have an expected age at death of only 114.75.

As I pointed out in that previous post, though, life expectancy predictions are usually pessimistic, because they rely on the technology of the time, and cannot predict accurately what the future will bring.

The biggest change that we have made in the last few years is one that has not yet filtered down to the world’s clinics – instead of treating old age as a simple winding down and inevitable end to the body, we are now beginning to treat it as a disease that can be treated and cured.

The full “cure” for old age is not likely to appear for a very long time, but that does not matter, as we can concentrate on the more accessible “longevity escape velocity” as a near-term goal.

So what does “longevity escape velocity” mean?

Let’s say that every year, we discover how to let the average person live an extra half year, the current average age of death is 80, and you are 40. How long do you think it will be before you die (on average)? When you are 80 the average age of death will be 100. When you’re 100, the average age of death will be 110. When 110, 115. When 115, 117.5. On average, people will still die by 120, despite the progress.

This is because half a year is /less than/ one year.

But let’s say we discovered how to add on 1.5 years to the average lifespan every year, the current average age of death is 80, and you are 40.

When you are 80, the average expected age of death will be 120. When you are 120, it will be 210. Instead of being almost guaranteed dead at 120, you are now middle-aged!

Even if we have not discovered a total and final cure for old age, if you are 120 and have an extra 90 years to live /at that moment/, you are almost certain to find yet another way to push back that final curtain further, even if it’s not forever.

We are already discovering how to do these things.

The current accepted biological limit to human life is 126 years, because of something called the “Hayflick” limit, which is caused by telomeres shortening on DNA every time it replicates itself. But we have already found ways to lengthen this. Elizabeth Parrish, CEO of BioViva, became the first person to extend telomeres, extending her own by 9%, which equates to between 14 and 20 years extra, bringing her potential lifespan up to 140+ years.

It might even be possible to repeat the same treatment, so she has potentially worked around the Hayflick limit permanently.

This gives us all an extra few years of life to work on whatever the next issue is.

Aging is caused by a lot of different things happening to the cells of the body. Telomere shortening is just one.

Another is that your mitochondria lose the ability to absorb oxygen and convert it to energy as the years go on. By fixing this, we gain another few years. David Sinclair’s research with NAD+ addresses this issue.

Then there are senescent cells – cells which have reached their “end of life”, and yet stick around, taking up space that would be better used by younger cells, and giving out inflammation proteins. We can now selectively kill these cells with FOXO4-DRI and UBX0101 drugs.

All of these are treatments that add on multiple years to your life. And these have all been announced only in the last five years.

It might not be possible to predict the future accurately, but I’m fairly sure it will be a long one!

what is the maximum lifespan of the human body?

It’s amusing to watch people predict things and then see their predictions fall flat almost before the words leave their mouths.

In 1928, Louis Dublin used US life tables to predict an “ultimate figure of 64.75“, saying that it was impossible for a human to live longer than that without the intervention of “radical innovations or fantastic evolutionary change in our physiological make-up, such as we have no reason to assume”.

He was not aware that at that very moment, non-Māori women of New Zealand had a life expectancy of 74.9 years – more than 10 years more than Dublin thought was possible (see Life Expectancy table here).

8 years later, in 1936, Dublin worked with Alfred Lotka on a reassessment, taking New Zealand’s data into account, and predicted a new limit, 69.93. in 1941, only five years later, women in Iceland broke that limit

Undeterred, he tried again, predicting a life expectancy limit of 70.8 years in 1941. Only five years later it was reported that women were reaching into their 80s in Norway.

The error with this kind of prediction, which people keep on doing over and over, is that it is based on information available on how long we lived in the past, but doesn’t take into account that we are always discovering new ways to live longer.

In 1990, S. Jay Olshansky predicted that “it seems highly unlikely that life expectancy at birth will exceed the age of 85“. In 2002, the life expectancy of Japanese females at birth was 85.2 years.

The country with the current highest life expectancy at birth is Monaco, with an expected life expectancy of 89.5 years.

It should be noted that “life expectancy” is not a limit on mortality. It doesn’t state for a fact, that people will not live longer than that. All it says is that this is the age at which most people are expected to die. There will be outliers that live well beyond that, and accidents where people die before that.

But, the fact that the number keeps on increasing, no matter what the experts say, shows that the human race is (very) gradually winning the fight against mortality.

More recent limits are based not on the past indicators of how long people have lived, but on limitations imposed on the human body by biology itself.

A recent prediction is that the biological limit for human longevity is 126 years old, based on the Hayflick limit, which limits how long a human cell can keep replicating itself, because the telomeres at the end of the DNA shorten each time, until the cells stop replicating and go into senescent mode instead.

But, there is now a treatment that can lengthen telomeres, showing that yet again, the naysayers who put limits on what is possible, are consistently low-reaching. And even for those cells that have passed their Hayflick limits, we have senolytics designed for killing senescent cells.

The future is optimistic. We are pushing our mortality further and further into the future. Read more about how we are learning to solve these problems in my book on how to live forever.