As we near the Biostasis2022 Conference, Tomorrow Bio wants to introduce you to key figures in the field of cryonics, biostasis, and longevity research. Today, Tomorrow Bio introduces you to University of Liverpool Prof. Dr. João Pedro de Magalhães.
Originally from Porto, Portugal, Dr. de Magalhães questioned the limitations of the human lifespan even as a child.
“Everyone dies and we must do something about it."
This curiosity at a young age inspired him to learn about the aging process. At the time he was in elementary school, studying the biology of aging wasn’t a thing yet. For Dr. de Magalhães, it was just the opportunity he needed; the chance to change the longevity of the human lifespan.
He graduated from Escola Superior de Biotecnologia in 1999 with a degree in microbiology. After working as an intern for the UnIGENe research group, he eventually pursued his own scientific interests regarding understanding aging and longevity. He joined the Aging and Stress Group at the University of Namur in Belgium. From 1999 to 2004, he worked on studying molecular mechanisms of cellular senescence and response to oxidative stress. In addition to this, he also worked on researching evolutionary models of aging, and analyses of gene networks.
This research would inspire Dr. de Magalhães to pursue a postdoctoral position at Harvard Medical School in Boston. There, he focused his studies on opportunities related to genome sequencing. Upon completing his degree in 2008, he joined University of Liverpool’s School of Biology as a lecturer. He continues to research the biology of aging. At the core of his research is the desire to help people live healthier and longer lives by utilizing the science of aging.
One of his most substantial contributions to longevity research is Human Aging Genomic Resources (HAGR). It is a collection of online resources centered around studying the biology of human aging. The collection contains two key databases: GenAge and AnAge. GenAge is focused on genes related to human aging. The aim is to provide the most complete and comprehensive database of genes related to human aging. Meanwhile, the AnAge database is focused on providing explanations as to the process of aging across multiple organisms. This allows for comparative studies across species regarding the biology of aging. It is one of the most comprehensive collections of information related to genetic studies of human aging.
His work was also essential to the Integrative Genomics of Aging Group. Their research on cancer-resistant mammals, specifically the genome sequencing of the naked mole rat, capuchin monkey, and bowhead whale, garnered him and his organization attention. Their study was published in major scientific journals and magazines, as well as receiving attention from news outlets including the BBC, CNN and the Washington Post.
Currently, in addition to being a lecturer, he is the Chief Scientific Officer of YouthBio Therapeutics, a US based biotech company focused on longevity. He also runs Magellan Science Ltd, a consultancy company focused on developing gene therapies and longevity science.
Dr. de Magalhães has written multiple essays explaining his philosophy. These essays range from transhumanism, to the theory of identity, and the impact of technology on the ‘soul’. He also writes about the role of nanotechnologies, and how, if concentrated and utilized by one person, it could affect civil liberties in the future.
Ultimately, for Dr. de Magalhães, there are both positives and negatives to new technologies. He believes that rational thinking and knowledge are essential to achieve peace and prosperity in society. He advocates that scientists must work towards educating people about new emerging technologies such as cloning, stem cell research, nanotechnology, and genetics. This is because, fundamentally, technology is critical to shaping the human condition.
Dr. de Magalhães interest in cryonics grew from his belief that this is one of the few possible alternatives to “eternal oblivion”, or death. This medical procedure provides people a possibility for a life in the future. While this possibility, in his opinion, is currently still low due to the limited research in cryopreservation, and cryobiology. Aspects to consider, such as molecular damage and cellular survival in cryogenic temperatures, are still not fully understood and require further study. In addition, compared to other aspects of longevity such as age-related diseases, human cryopreservation is still underfunded and has limited capacity.
There are a couple of reasons I find biostasis to be a fascinating topic. Firstly, it is a very unexplored area of research, and therefore there is a lot of potential for major discoveries and advances. Secondly, human biostasis would be absolutely revolutionary; it would change society and medicine in ways not witnessed since the discovery of antibiotics. Therefore this combination of huge potential and scope to make important discoveries in the near future make me very excited about the field.
I can’t say I have done research on cryonics. I am a biologist and my work on cryobiology has focused on molecules, genes and cells, as well as small animals. So I wouldn’t say I have worked in cryonics. But we have done research in cryopreservation, namely at the level of studying mechanisms of cryoprotectant toxicity and deriving molecular signatures of cryoprotectants that could be useful to develop toxicity neutralizers and safer combinations of cryoprotectants.
I think eliminating cryoprotectant toxicity would be my choice. If we could use high concentrations of cryoprotectants for longer times, as is necessary for organ and whole organisms, this would’ve solved the major hurdle in applying biostasis to human beings. There would be still remaining challenges, but everything would be much easier from then on.
Recently I've been busy relocating my lab from Liverpool to Birmingham, so we are still in a stage of starting up and recruiting. But I guess I’m excited about developing computational and machine learning methods that allow us to predict the best combinations of cryoprotectants and best formulations for safe and efficient cryopreservation. In other words, the combination of life and computer sciences to advance cryobiology.
Unfortunately I will not be able to attend in person, so I will miss the always excellent in-person interactions of previous years. But I look forward to seeing updates on various research and project going on around the world of cryobiology. It’s a small and budding field, so small advances can have a big long-term impact.
Clearly Tomorrow has brought in a professional and science-based approach to cryonics, which is very much welcomed. Cryonics is unfortunately a field that struggles in terms of reputation, due to past errors, so enterprises like Tomorrow can help cryonics become more reputed and ultimately lead to a greater acceptance of a process that can have such a massive medical impact.
Dr. de Magalhães has presented in past Biostasis conferences in 2020 and 2021. The primary subject of his presentations has been about the future of cryonics, and how the sector can progress forward through innovative marketing and outreach.
To better understand cryopreservation and cryobiology, in Biostasis2020 he shared how he experimented on cryopreserving Drosophila larva, tiny fruit flies commonly used in genetics and biology. This experiment involved utilizing a permeabilization solution, and assessing the rate of survival of larva to cryoprotectants that are used in cryoprotection.
In addition, he talked about the state of research in the UK. He highlighted that UK cryonics needs to foster interest in this field, as well as improving public relations to fix cryonic’s reputation.
This need to make the field more reputable to the world was central in his presentation at Biostasis2021. Aging research and cryonics has, in the past, been given a bad reputation by mainstream sources. For his presentation, Dr. de Magalhães discussed medical advances in geroscience and their potential to aid and advance cryonics. This is critical if scientists and cryonicists hope to make human cryopreservation more mainstream as a technology and service.
We hope to see Dr. de Magalhães at Biostasis2022. Tomorrow Bio is keen to learn more about his continued research and his efforts to promote studies in cryonics, cryopreservation, and longevity.
If you want to learn more about the key figures in the field, check out Tomorrow Bio Insight. We have a series of interviews with figures in the sector, along with information about all things cryonics. Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram, Discord, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Youtube for updates on Tomorrow Bio!