Ariel VA Feinerman is a researcher in bioengineering, medicine, and physics. Living and working in Saint Petersburg, Russia, she spends her time advancing the human condition through bringing radical fields of transhumanism into the public sphere. She is the author of a course of lectures called ‘Rejuvenation Biotechnology: Engineering approach’ and writes a popular blog in Russian and English where she releases news about rejuvenation biotechnology and takes interviews from people from in her field. She is also the author of a surreal mystic novel called The Gaze, which explores themes of immortality and psychosis. Since I am now running for President as an independent candidate and have a growing support base of transhumanists in radical life extension, I decided to ask Ariel about her work so I could gain insight into the field.
Rachel Haywire: You’ve spoken to me about hibernetics before. Tell the readers of Trigger Warning what you have told me.
Ariel Feinerman: Hibernetics is a science discipline that studies a special state and processes which has various names such as suspended animation (SA), hibernation, or torpor; depending on the details of such processes. It is dedicated to explaining natural processes on both the physiological and molecular levels in organisms like bats, lemurs, and arctic squirrels. Then it furthers this knowledge in order to put humans in suspended animation. Since I could not find any special name for this research area, I decided to name it accordingly.
RH: Why is hibernetics so important, and how it is connected to human life?
AF: The main goal of these studies is to allow humans to be able to hibernate. Though suspended animation itself does not prolong active life and may be considered rather an ‘escape of death’ than a ‘fight to death’, it can be used as lifesaving technology in many cases. When an organism is in suspended animation all its metabolic processes are very slow, including any pathology and ageing. Suspended animation is something that already exists in nature, and may save human lives in the near future.
RH: What is difference between cryonics and hibernetics?
AF: Unlike cryonics, which deals with legally dead human bodies, hibernetics studies slowing down the ageing processes in living organisms. Metabolic processes are still going on, just very slowly. It is very important that you do not wait until someone dies to put him into hibernation, because it works only for people who are still alive. Moreover, you can put your patient into hibernation and wake him up at any time!
Brian Wowk, one of the pioneers in cryobiology, says: ‘Suspended animation is distinct from cryonics because it does not require this “benefit of the doubt” concerning future technology. It is something that immediately and demonstrably works. The medical use of suspended animation will still require optimism that diseases can be cured.’
RH: Break down suspended animation for people who are just becoming familiar with these ideas.
AF: We know many mammalian species and even a few primates who can undergo SA for 5 months. Their core body temperature drops from normal to ~ 5 Celsius. Their energy metabolism drops to 5% from normal. They are not legally dead – they are alive, have heartbeats and are breathing – while very slowly. Such an idea is already working in nature. Study shows that in human for every one Celsius drop in core body temperature, cellular metabolism slows by 5–7%.
If we can slow down our metabolism by 10 times then one year of SA will be equivalent to one month of normal life. Of course, special feeding and excreting are required, but energy intake will be 10 times lower. Using this cycle, in one year of SA and one month of rehabilitation we can ‘shrink’ 11 years of SA in just 2 years of normal life. However, it should be proven by research.
Even targeted temperature management which works only up to 30 Celsius has been shown to have many promises in treating neurological disorders.
RH: What was it that got you into hibernetics? Did you have a specific experience that made you believe this was the way forward?
AF: Well, I was thirteen when I have lost my belief in afterlife. It was a big shock for me. I am sure every child experiences this shock eventually. To disappear – what could be scarier! For several years I thought of how to cope with that, so I began to learn how to prolong human life.
When I was eighteen I began to explore various areas of research: bioengineering, cyborgisation, bionics, nanomachines. Unluckily, all of them were merely science fiction when it came to prolonging human life. SENS was in their infancy and hibernation looked like only one real option.
Luckily, now the situation has been changed: SENS as rejuvenation biotechnology has reached their tipping point and become an advanced and respected area of research. Even though many bioengineers who follow the damage repair approach prefer not to say that they work on SENS, actually they do work on SENS! The first rejuvenation panel is proposed to enter human clinical trials in just five years. However, it may take 20 years before we fully defeat ageing and reach our longevity escape velocity. Many life threatening ageing pathologies are still incurable. This is where hibernetics comes to the scene.
Just imagine a man in his 50 years who encounters Parkinson – we can put him in SA for 11 or 22 years and he will be biologically only 52 or 54 when we can cure him. I firmly believe that in 10 to 20 years we can cure Parkinson and other neurodegenerative pathologies, given the pace of progress in bioengineering. It is very important is that he will not be in SA continuously for 20 years. Hibernation has to be interrupted each year for one month of rehabilitation when physicians can check their health and make decisions based on whether they will prolong hibernation or treat the patient with newly therapy.
Even when we fully defeat ageing, SA will be useful in long term space flights. Remember, that first manned mission to Mars is planned for 2027!
RH: Are there any challenges involved in suspended animation and hibernetics?
AF: Yes. Since neither humans nor their close species can hibernate, there are many challenges we need to overcome in order to allow people to experience deep hibernation safely. One of the problems is that a human suffers from cardiac arrest when his core body temperature drops below 25 Celsius. This means that people who encounter hypothermia do not breath and do not have a heartbeat. The others are blood clogging because of slow blood flow, risk of fungi or bacterial infection because of an insufficient immune response, risk of brain damage because of low temperature, and so on.
The full list of challenges and possible solutions can be found in NASA Report, last update in 2017. Yeah, NASA explores hibernation as an option for long term space flights, however, they concentrate on light hibernation which only slightly decreases core body temperature and does not aim to significantly slow ageing if any.
Despite all this, the fact that some mammalian species undergo a very deep hibernation in nature give us clues that it may be possible for humans as well.
RH: Do you conduct your own research in this field?
AF: Unfortunately, no. This is a very expensive area; we have no such money. We make preliminary theoretical work only. We concentrate on more ‘mainstream’ work in rejuvenation biotechnology; we build a small international research group and have begun research on lipofuscin, a type of ‘intracellular junk’ which accumulates in our cells, especially long-lived ones, such as muscle cells and neurons, as we age.
Lipofuscin is one of the SENS primary types of molecular damage, as it is connected with many ageing pathologies from neurodegeneration to chronic inflammation. We choose lipofuscin because as of now there are no research groups working on it in the world. Our main goal is to make an enzyme therapy that can break lipofuscin.
Also, we begin yet another project – a panel of ageing biomarkers after SENS, and our goal here is to measure levels of primary types of damage rather than various indirect ones. We are looking for investors.
RH: Interesting! What kind of investors do you mean?
AF: We are looking for wise venture types and collaborators who share our values. This is not so easy because biomedical engineering is very different from other areas, for example, such as programming and engineering. It usually takes a long time and a lot of money before your project can become commercially successful. Not to mention the very expensive equipment, reagents, labs, and carefully trained personnel.
Sometimes you realise that your initial direction of research was wrong and that you have to start from the beginning. No one can say how much time and money a project will take. All numbers we can say to our investors are guesses based on our own experiences. This is unpleasant truth many people in the area prefer to ignore. I think every investor in biomedical engineering has to remember this and be prepared for it.
Most investors are spoilt by the Web programming market, where you can hire a few students for a marginal salary who will write you new Instagram in several months. Bioengineering does not work this way. You have to invest much money into the company if you wish to get working therapy. $4 million in three years is a minimal price in the USA. Unluckily, most investors are interested in low-hanging fruits only; they wish to make the company public as soon as possible and sell it to Big Pharma. They are not interested in working on therapy. When we hear such a speech, we know this is not the investor for us.
RH: Are there other groups who work in hibernetics?
There are several laboratories in the USA. For example, there was Mark Roth’s Laboratory in the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center; there is the University of Pittsburgh’s Safar Centre for Resuscitation Research, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh. There is Kenneth B. Storey Laboratory in Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. There was a research program in ESA in Europe but it seems to have closed. There is there NASA programme that I mentioned earlier.
The number of projects aimed to deal with this problem is insufficient for such a complex challenge. Moreover, almost all of this research is about using torpor in emergency cases, and not about long hibernation for slowing down ageing. Unfortunately, hibernetics is very neglected area of research, while still very promising.
I am sure we can create a technology for induced human hibernation in 5 to 10 years, giving enough funding, if it is possible in principle. When I say ‘in principle’ I mean ‘by using currently available technology or technology that may be invented in the near future’. In general human hibernation is, of course, possible, as it does not conflict with any laws of physics.
I believe that a Human Hibernation Project or Initiative as an analogue to Human Genome Project or Human Brain Project should be created to get attention of biomedical organisations, media sources and researchers. We welcome agencies like DARPA, ARPA-E, and NASA as well as private companies like SpaceX to work on such Initiatives.
RH: Can you name other neglected while promising areas of research?
AF: Surely! Nanotechnology, for example. I mean nanotechnology in its initial sense, pioneered by Richard Feynman (There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom) in sixties and Eric Drexler (Engines of Creation) in eighties, which imply micro / nanomachines, molecular nanotechnology, atomically precise manufacturing. What is now referred to as nanotechnology is merely advanced material science.
Remember, fucking nanopaticles is not nanotechnology! Some people make fucking nanopaticles by burning iron in high temperature flame and call this nanotechnology! What a shame!
RH: If these areas are so promising then why do only a few researchers work in them?
AF: Because most people – researchers are not exceptions – are either stupids or cowards!
The first reason is that for many years these areas of research were merely science fiction. Even now, when we can begin to implement them, most researchers do not believe in their feasibility.
The second reason is that all these research areas are in a ‘grey zone’ – there is much ambiguity and uncertainty in them. Even the few researchers who believe in their feasibility do not ask for grants for such research ‘because of reputation’ while grants committees will not approve them ‘because of reputation’. Since few people have enough courage to work in a ‘grey zone’, we are in a sort of loop.
The third reason comes from the two above – we have few experts who have enough experience to write a clear research plan, who at the same time are being respectful enough to justify this research and change mainstream opinion.
This will change. The problem is how many people will die before this change. Remember, that rejuvenation biotechnology was in the same obscurity only ten years ago (however, 400 million people have died from ageing in these years). Most researchers have no opinion of their own, as they follow mainstream opinion. If the mainstream now looks for senolitycs, they also look for senolytics; if the mainstream begins to make nanomachines, they also will begin to make nanomachines. Even though these researchers now publicly claim that nanomachines are impossible in principle.
RH: How do you feel about medical regulation?
This regulation is a plague of biomedical research! Especially in Europe, UK, and the USA. The irony is that these countries make 95% of all biomedical research. Some folks calculated that bringing new therapy to the USA market now costs $2 billion and 15 years on average. Even though ‘on average’ cannot tell us the whole picture and as you know some new therapies like immunotherapies or gene therapies for life threatening conditions were approved in ‘merely’ five years, these numbers are scary.
The first issue is that these rules were written (and make some sense) for the therapies based on small molecules, whose behaviour and whose side effects are really hard to predict. Unlike them, SENS bioengineering therapies can be designed to be metabolically inert – because they just eliminate the key damage, they do not need to interfere with metabolism, so it is much easier than usual to avoid side effects and interactions with other therapies. They just eliminate the key damage, which means they are easier to develop and test – and much safer. They can be safely brought to the clinic after Phase II clinical trials.
The second (much more important) issue is that none wants to take responsibility for patient’s health and life. Regulators, bioengineers, physicians, all of them prefer patients to die from their pathology rather than from the therapy. This is because in our broken system if patient who will die anyway dies from pathology, this is considered to be normal; however, if patient dies from any therapy, all people from the regulation and clinical chain can be charged. So for them is much safer to do nothing than do anything. They cannot be charged when millions of people die because they do not approve new experimental therapy. So they are not interested in bringing new therapies to the clinic! This is much scarier.
I prefer patient who will die anyway to die from experimental therapy, because a) we at least try to cure him, and he has a chance to survive, b) the chance of death from carefully designed therapy is small, and c) even if he dies, his death will not be useless, because we can carefully research his case to improve our therapy.
Luckily, people like Liz Parrish via her company BioViva make a viable alternative to the usual regulatory path now. In the near future medical tourism will become the main way how new experimental therapies reach people.
‘There are over 40 countries that don’t regulate medical devices, procedures, or medicine. Most of these countries would probably welcome becoming the home of embryo editing and gene therapies.’ – Dr Josiah Zayner owner of The Odin bioengineering company and former NASA bioengineer, says in The Science Behind the CRISPR Babies Lulu and Nana
By the way, there are even more countries with weak medical regulation, like Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Mexico or many Asian countries where much easier to get approval for new experimental therapy. Fast-track approval in Japan, for example, which allows for emerging treatments to be used so long as they have been proven safe, with only hints of their effectiveness.
Just remember – FDA bureaucrats do not care about your life. They care only about their own butts! You know what is the most funny? Instead of being happy for their Japanese colleagues they use such respectful magazines like Nature to blame them for moving ‘too fast’! Just imagine, millions of people die from conditions we can already cure, and one of few countries which has enough resources to work on them makes such therapies illegal! Meanwhile, clinical trials’ bottleneck is so narrow that many therapies will not see their patients for many more years. Shame on Nature for publishing such crap!
You know, I grew up on American films, American books, American comics, American culture, and I love America so much. I cannot believe that such things happen in the same country that has sent people to the Moon!
Risk is part of our life. We can’t help risking if we wish to move forward. As Liz Parrish says: ‘No risk, no gain. Medicine cannot progress if no one is prepared to take a risk. This applies as much to investors as to patients.’
RH: Some people have accused proponents of radical life extension of being selfish. What would you say that?
AF: I can’t see any problem here. The reason does not count – only results counts. If we can help ourselves then we can help everybody. Why does someone worry about our reasons – whether we work because we wish to prolong our own lives or because we wish to help people prolong theirs – if we have the same result?
Maybe someone thinks that being selfish is wrong, but they must remember – we are alive only because our ancestors were selfish enough to survive. Andy Warhol was right. ‘You are selfish!’ – So what. ‘It’s unnatural!’ – So what. ‘Inequality!’ – So what. ‘Overpopulation!’ – So what. People really ain’t interested in answers, because answers do exist from the beginning of the century. So the best way to answer them is to say ‘so what’.
I am extremely selfish! So what.
RH: What do you do when you are not working on radical life extension?
AF: While we promote radical life extension, we do not work on radical life extension. I believe there is no such thing as ‘work on life extension’ (if you do not count various gerontological crap like gene manipulation in flies). We work on human health. We begin to work on therapies that remove damage from the human organism, making people healthier. But if someone becomes healthier, then he will live longer. Life extension is just a side effect of being healthier, so we usually don’t need to do special things to live longer – rejuvenation biotechnology gives you life extension for free! Of course, you can think about radical life extension as of the consequence of rejuvenation biotechnology.
While this is true for rejuvenation biotechnology, this may or may not be true for ‘non-biological’ research. Currently, only rejuvenation biotechnology can prolong human life (indefinitely in principle) in the near future. If you wish to summarise technologies like bionics, or cyborgisation, nanotechnology, (which may cause life extension) you may call them ‘human enhancement’.
Revenons à nos moutons. When I ain’t working on human enhancement, I think about human enhancement! Yeah, this is main goal of my life. Two years ago I encountered a series of head and neck traumas, and since that I permanently live in anxiety and pain attacks. I regularly take MRI scans of my brain, neck, and arteries using Doppler ultrasonography and electroencephalography. They do not show any organic or functional changes, and physicians cannot explain my symptoms. I hope to live long enough to see new therapy that will cure the cause of my symptoms and return me to normal life.
Before the traumas, my hobbies were nature photography, hiking, and the Japanese sword martial art Kenjutsu. I remember this fantastic feeling of the steel katana in my hands, as if it is a live creature!
When I feel satisfactory I learn linear algebra, quantum mechanics, and molecular virology. I write film scripts and fiction novels. I also like video games very much, especially first-person shooters. They give me the feeling of full life. My favourite games are Unreal II: The Awakening, TimeShift, Doom 3, Painkiller, Hard Reset, Wolfenstein series, BloodRayne series, Crysis series, Deus Ex series, and Borderlands series.
RH: Anything else you would like to share with the readers of Trigger Warning?
We live in the very exciting era, The Era of Very Rapid Progress in science and technology – an era when many things which were merely a science fiction only five years ago are common now, and things that are no more than a science fiction now will be common in next five years. At the same time we live in The Era of Great Uncertainty – an era when our small everyday life decisions may have a huge impact on next several decades of life. One step to the right – and we may defeat ageing in twenty years. One step to the left – and the whole research area will stagnate for another twenty years. (like it was in the case of glucosepane research)
New rejuvenation medicine is still very young and fragile as the first spring flower after dry and cold winter. In these days it especially needs our support! Even in such relatively advanced fields like stem cell or cancer research, there are grey underfunded and under-researched areas we need to care of.
Of course, you wish to know the time frames – when will we defeat ageing? You wish to know, will you personally benefit? No one knows. There will be no more time frames. Enough! They give you an illusion that some clever guy will do all the work needed, while you just relax and wait when he finishes and suddenly you ‘live long enough to live forever’. But he won’t! It is too big and too ambiguous project for one person. Now you know – your future only in your hands. It is not ‘live long enough’ but ‘work long enough’! I emphasize that scientific and technological progress is a function of efforts – not of the time. The only way to get rid of painful uncertainty and get to the definitive answer is to support meaningful rejuvenation research now.
If you are a researcher yourself, you can spend your time and money on the meaningful repair-based approach which will produce working rejuvenation therapies in the foreseeable future. If you are a businessman – donate money to SENS Research Foundation and their allies – Methuselah Foundation, Forever Healthy Foundation, Life Extension Advocacy Foundation or directly support research groups. Invest in the associated rejuvenation companies or start your own. If you are a celebrity, use your fame to give attention to the problem and such research. If you are an ordinary person, well, you can encourage your more influential friends and do almost the same – just scale your abilities!
Some of you may ask: is it real? I hope we gave you enough evidence. Yes, of course, it’s real. Mover, it’s already happening! The right question, however: is it happening fast enough to help us currently living adult persons? There answer here is probably no. Of course, there may (and likely will) be many unexpected breakthroughs, but we should not rely on probability and scientific serendipity when we are talking about human lives, especially our own) We should rely on well-written plans, a reasonable budget, and our efforts.
We can speed up the process though! All we need to do is what Dr. Aubrey de Grey said many times before and what I have just said above – unite against our main enemy and help researchers. But will we? Although, people rarely think and behave rationally I prefer to be cautiously optimistic. See you on Mars! Also, do not forget to vote Rachel Haywire for President!
Rachel Haywire is the Founder of Trigger Warning and your hostess for the new insurrection. She is a futurist, author, musician, and CEO of Avant Design. Currently, she is running for President of the United States as an independent candidate.