July 11, 2009

L'Chaim, monkeys!

Monkey under controlThis has been a nice week for life extension research, with the Nature paper
Rapamycin fed late in life extends lifespan in genetically heterogeneous mice by Harrison et al. (free News and Views) showing that the immunosuppressant boosts lifespan in middle aged mice, and Science countering with Caloric Restriction Delays Disease Onset and Mortality in Rhesus Monkeys by Colman et al. showing that in a longitudinal intervention study rhesus monkeys do seem to benefit from caloric restriction.

As a result, I was interviewed in TV4 Nyhetsmorgon (in Swedish) together with the author Regina Lund and biologist Martin L Olsson. Not the deepest discussion possible, but a nice start of the day.

An interesting issue that came up: Regina and me agreed life extension would be good because it would favor long-term planning. She had a buddhist perspective where we always get reincarnated new chances, but longer lives would give us more time to express them. As I see it, a longer life leads to better chances of karma catching up with people through normal, non-supernatural causality. And of course, plain self-interest means that a long lived person has a stronger interest in the future.

Dagens Nyheter hada an article by Per Snaprud that appeared to criticise the monkey experiment on ethical grounds. He quotes Mats Spångberg, chief veterinarian at the Swedish Institute for Infectious Disease Control who doubts the experiment would have been approved in Sweden. The only use of monkeys in Swedish research is AIDS vaccine research. The article concludes by stating that the virus kills 2 million people every year, 270,000 of whose are children.

But ageing kills 100,000 people worldwide each day directly or indirectly. 100% of humans and monkeys are "infected".

It might be factually true that caloric restriction monkey experiments are unlikely to be approved in Sweden, but ethically it seems to me that the case for the experiment is strong. The need for understanding and limiting the ravages of ageing is enormous when measured in lives lost (not to mention suffering and loss of human capital). The persistent hunger likely experienced by the monkeys is presumably not too different from what monkeys would experience in the wild where food access is haphazard. If the monkeys in the CR experiment have lives worth living - which seems to be the case - the extension of these lives adds value. This is true even if the quality is somewhat lowered by hunger compared to ad libitum fed monkeys; it seems unlikely that the value of the longer life and reduction of illness can be completely offset by plain hunger.

Posted by Anders3 at July 11, 2009 12:02 AM