The 2009 SENS Conference
Once a year I try to attend at least one biogerontology conference. Although I attend biogerontology conferences out of personal interest, and at my own expense, they are the most fruitful grounds for promoting cryonics I have found, and this is especially true of SENS conferences.
I have missed none of the four SENS conferences that have been held at Cambridge University. “SENS” is Dr. Aubrey de Grey’s “Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence.”
SENS conferences attract scientists who are eager for science to achieve rejuvenation, and who have a strong belief that science has the capacity to do so. Not surprisingly, such people are often receptive to the idea that future science may be capable of reanimating humans who have been well cryopreserved.
Recently I have heard regret expressed about the aging of the cryonics community and the absence of a next generation of cryonics activists to replace the current ones. My experiences at the 2009 SENS conference dispelled much of my concern about this.
I took about a hundred CI brochures, but these were quickly taken by the 290 SENS conference attendees. I was continually approached by young scientists and researchers who were eager to meet me and who said they would make cryonics arrangements when they got out of graduate school and could afford to do so. Insofar as many of the attendees were Europeans, I was often asked whether the shipping delays to the United States would make cryonics not worth doing, and whether there were any plans by the Cryonics Institute to create a storage facility in Europe. (I was told about a group wanting to establish a storage facility in Switzerland, but I did not get any details. Apparently it is not a project with serious hope of success in the near future.)
I was astounded when a British student approached me and said that he would be devoting all of his graduate school work to the problem of cryoprotectant toxicity. He had already gotten Dr. Fahy to send him a copy of “Cryoprotectant toxicity neutralization,” a new paper to be published in an upcoming issue of CRYOBIOLOGY. The student is in the process of collecting other cryobiology publications that address the subject. I directed him to a relevant webpage in the cryonics section of my www.benbest.com website.
A number of people from KrioRus were at the conference, notably Igor Artyuhov, who is their technical guru. The group also does life extension research. Igor showed me their poster showing extended lifespan of mice administered heat-shock protein through nose-drops. I was interviewed by a journalist who writes for the Russian edition of SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN.
I had met Nick Mayer, a Terasem employee, at the previous SENS conference, and Nick introduced himself to me again at this meeting. Nick manages “cyberbiological systems”, specifically a website that is being used like an on-line personal diary. As Nick described it to me, the website would be useful to store personal information that could be used to help in the reconstruction of someone who has been reanimated from cryopreservation. But when I looked at his website, it appears to be a project for reconstructing people from their diaries alone — without any saved biological material.
To my surprise, one of the presenters, Dr. Gunther Kletetschka, had a poster and an oral presentation dealing with eliminating the cracking problem in cryonics.
Cracking of vitrified tissue at cryogenic temperatures is a consequence of the fact that external cooling causes superficial tissue to contract more than deep tissue (thermal conductivity is low). Dr. Kletetschka’s approach is based on the idea that if a cryonics patient were perfused with a solution containing gadolinium (nanoparticles would be best), an entire vitrified brain could be cooled uniformly by the magnetocaloric effect.
From a practical point of view, his sample size was apparently very small, and he did his testing on ice rather than vitrified tissue. I had many other criticisms of his approach, which I attempted to discuss with him in a constructive, supportive manner. He was interested in what I had to say, and was very receptive. Insofar as he is so enthusiastic about doing cryonics-related research, and insofar as he lives in Maryland (not so far from Michigan) I suggested that he attend the CI Annual General Meeting on Sunday, September 27. He expressed an interest in doing so.
A European student told me that his mother is a stroke victim, but that he has not been able to induce her to consider cryonics. Having experienced the debilitating effects of stroke she is worried that faulty reanimation procedures would bring her back into an even more debilitated condition. I suggested asking her to assess the probability of that happening and how bad the downside would matter if the probability is small. I think that in the context of all of the other repairs that would be essential to cryonics working that it is unlikely that all such defects would not be fixed.
A middle-aged European woman wanted to speak with me about how to convince her husband that cryonics is a good idea. The couple are both religious, but she thinks “heaven can wait” because she enjoys life here on earth and she would like to share earthly life for a very long time with her husband. I gave her many arguments against the claim that cryonics is against religion, including the one concerning refusing a lifesaving medical treatment being equivalent to suicide (a sin).
I was reminded of the Depressed Metabolism posting about the “hostile wife phenomenon” in cryonics: It occurs to me that when a male spouse is interested in cryonics, but his wife is not, that he can go ahead and make the arrangements. A financially dependent woman (as this woman is), less often has that option. I have also often seen cases of women interested in cryonics, but who dropped the interest when it became clear that their spouse would not join them in cryostasis. They would rather not live if they cannot be with their husbands. It reminds me of studies of working couples that show that a wife is much more likely to quit her job to follow her husband in a career change that involves moving — whereas the opposite happens much less frequently.
I won’t say much about the SENS conference itself, but I had lots of meetings and discussions that taught me a lot about biogerontology issues. I was particularly interested in discussing my recent article “Nuclear DNA Damage as a Direct Cause of Aging” which had been published in Rejuvenation Research, because it is a direct challenge to one of the tenets of SENS (that nuclear DNA damage only matters for cancer).
Not only was I able to have two private sessions in which I discussed the matter with Aubrey de Grey, but I was able to eat breakfast several times with Vera Gorbunova and her husband Andrei Seluanov, two DNA repair experts who were attending the conference. Vera and Andrei have written the only other review (other than my own) supporting the thesis that nuclear DNA repair capability declines with age.
I had cited that review in my own review. Vera had sat across from me at my first breakfast by chance. She had read my review and told me that she agreed with it. Most of the times that I went for a meal I was very pleased by at least one person randomly sitting near me, and had an interesting and productive discussion with them on a matter of interest. I discussed my cryonics alarm system problems with a woman who is getting a PhD in biomedical engineering.
I was very surprised and pleased to meet Kristen Fortney at the conference. Kristen is a University of Toronto student who attended some of our cryonics meetings in Toronto. She was a physics student and was planning to do graduate work in quantum physics. At the conference she told me she had changed to a PhD program focused on computational work with the human genome, focused on anti-aging strategies. She wrote a blog of the conference as it progressed on the Ouroboros academic blog for aging research.