The views expressed by the
presenter are for the purposes of debate and do not necessarily represent his
own opinions, nor are they intended to represent in any way the opinions or
other views of the AGHE. Prepared and presented by
Donald J. Mulcare.
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On March 26, 2000, “Bio2000” (The International Biotechnology Conference) opened in Boston, Massachusetts. In the keynote presentation, the actor and advocate for the treatment of spinal injuries, Christopher Reeve, asked the assembly: “Please, help me walk again.” (“Bio2000” - http://www.uppity-disability.net/bio2000.html)
Would you say no to Christopher Reeve? Would you say no to a child seeking relief from cystic fibrosis or a family member with an HIV infection or a distinguished colleague in the most productive years of her or his life who is showing the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease? Fortunately, the international biotechnology community continues to say, “Yes, we will help.”
Biotechnology and stem cell research are here to stay. Each day, news reports remind us that this aspect of science and technology is capable of solving the problems of famine, plague, pestilence and even some forms of war, such as bio-terrorism. Reuters News Service (2002), reported that “Britain’s scientists received a green light…to clone human embryos for research and set up the world’s first embryonic cell bank. An influential House of Lords committee ruled that (therapeutic) embryo cloning…should be allowed to proceed under strict conditions.” Stem cell research enjoys bipartisan support in the Congress of the United States because it offers potential solutions to life threatening problems for people of every age, nationality and economic status. The World Health Organization (Chapman et al., 1999) - http://www.aaas.org/spp/dspp/sfrl/projects/stem/report.pdf) has ruled that biotech treatments including the products of stem cell research should be available to all on the basis of need rather than their ability to pay.
We should expect and welcome solutions to previously insoluble medical problems such as the need for replacement organs and the arrest of serious diseases. Cell culturing technology has demonstrated its ability to amplify the growth of needed cells on a matrix that shapes them into organs, for example the external portion of the ear of a young boy. (Hydrogels) Although persons receiving therapy involving their own cells have no fear of immunological incompatibility, in fact many successful cell transplant therapies have crossed species lines with dramatic benefits and a minimum of side effects. A recent evening news report (CBS, 2002 - http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2002/02/13/eveningnews/Main329284.shtml) demonstrated the benefits of porcine implants into the skull of a person suffering Parkinson’s disease.
As biotechnology and the therapeutic use of stem cells begins to help individuals and then groups of people throughout the world they will soon the affect average life span of the world by reducing the premature loss of life. Concomitantly, it will improve quality of life for persons of all ages. Some might argue that these life-saving treatments will reduce the mortality rate and lead to a larger, older and more dependent population. This argument fails to account for several important trends: 1) Promotion of longevity can reduce consumption of resources and keep the human population within the Earth’s carrying capacity. 2) Over consumption of resources harms both those who consume too much and those who are deprived of resources.
There is also a low-tech approach to life extension. It is widely practiced by persons in third world countries and by many health conscious individuals in developed countries. It consists of exercise, such as walking and bicycle riding. The low-tech longevity diet is rich in fiber but sparse in calories and animal fat. Dennis Burkitt (1971) has demonstrated that this life style and diet combination has reduced colon cancer in Africa relative to the rates in developed countries. Where this diet and life style is practiced, it has decreased the rates of obesity, atherosclerosis, heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, tooth decay, hiatal hernia and most of the other life-shorting and disabling conditions common in developed nations where the calorie and fat rich diets and sedentary life style prevail. (Rowe & Kahn, 1987 & 1998).
Kilama (1998) has indicated that with the growth of large cities in Africa and the assumption of a “western” life style that the health advantages enjoyed by rural Africans are absent among metropolitan Africans. Unfortunately both groups of Africans must deal with HIV, malaria and other parasitic diseases. The Gates Foundation (Cowley, 2002) has recently given hundreds of millions of dollars to an effort to find presumably high tech solutions to these problems giving hope that the recommendations of the World Health Organization for equity (Chapman, 1999) - http://www.aaas.org/spp/dspp/sfrl/projects/stem/report.pdf) may be fulfilled. UNAIDS (2001) reports that 940,000 residents of the North America carry HIV/AIDS (about 0.33%). Of the 43 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, one has an infection rate of 35.8%. Two have a rate greater than 25%. Four countries have a rate of at least 19% and 15 countries have a rate of HIV/AIDS between 4% and 15%. HIV/AIDS is cosmopolitan. It will increase mortality and stabilize population growth but the combination of high tech solutions to HIV/AIDS and other problems and the resumption of the traditional life style including diet and exercise could promote exceptional longevity in Africa and serve as a model or the rest of the world.
Unfortunately, instead of a global adoption of a healthy life style and diet, the widespread assimilation of the Western diet and life style has come into vogue, with devastating consequences. A recent review in Nature (Zimmet, Alberti and Shaw, 2001) has described the global and social implications of the diabetes epidemic in these terms. The authors project a 23-24% growth in the rate of diabetes in the US & Canada and Western Europe & 33% in Australia. The most shocking data come from South America, Africa and Asia with increases of 44%, 50% and 57% respectively. In most of the world Type I diabetes is usually the most prevalent serious medical problem among children, but in Japan Type II diabetes has eclipsed Type I. (Zimmet, Alberti and Shaw, 2001)
Zimmet et al. (2001) reported that the Chinese people who live outside of The People’s Republic of China experience as high a rate of diabetes as other Asian groups. The rate of diabetes inside The People’s Republic of China is remarkably low at 2% however; the rate of diabetes twenty years ago was only 1%. Bélanger (1999) reports that the Chinese people are physically fit. They rely on manpower rather than horsepower on the job. They commute by walking and bicycle riding rather than by private automobiles. He writes that most apartment building lack elevators. Hundreds of stairs must be climbed to reach an average flat. There is almost no beef or dairy products in the Peoples Republic of China but rice is consumed at ever meal, with vegetables, fish, chicken or pork. Bélanger (1999) commented that Western style fast food chains including Mc Donald’s, Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Dunkin’ Donuts, and the Australian company Chicken Treat have proliferated at an amazing rate. There were 30 Mc Donald’s in Beijing in 1997. This number increased to more than 100 in 2001 (Bélanger, personal communication). Popkin has commented that the Western diet and life-style have influenced most of the world. “Its globalization of what we eat and how we act.” (Smith, 2002).
The United States leads in the consumption of the world’s resources and serves as a model for other nations. The University of Michigan Center for Sustainability (http://css.snre.umich.edu/5 Sustainability_ind.htm)has noted that the 273.6 million residents of the United States represent 4.5% of the world’s population. However, they consume 24.6% of the world’s energy, 33.3% of the world’s production (10 metric tons/person/year) and generate 23.6% of the world’s greenhouse gases.
Sandy Bauers, originally published in the Philadelphia Inquirer (1990) (http://www.angelfire.com/nj2/TheUnderground/update3.html) has estimated that in one day an average person in the United States consumes as much as
3 Japanese or
6 Mexicans or
14 Chinese or
38 Indians or
168 Bangalis or
The excessive consumption of calories and creature comforts have deprived the poor of the world of these resources, leading to their higher mortality while it launched a syndrome of obesity, atherosclerosis, diabetes and stress related behaviors, reducing the life span of the consumers. Alternatively, the low-tech approach to longevity reduces consumption of calories, petroleum products, automobiles, and most consumer goods as well as pollution. It harmonizes with nature and offers a low stress; community based social structure that conserves natural resources and the environment while advancing technology, the economy and human development.
This very model is already in place at the many employee-friendly, campus based, high-tech corporations, including the corporations with the highest employee satisfaction and productivity. Computer technology has promoted working at home and distance education, which reduce the necessity of long commutes to work and school. A cutback in the consumption of resources and the control of pollution would mitigate the effects of any population increase due to the extension of life span. Excessive consumption is unhealthy for those who consume and unjust to those who are at an economic disadvantage. Reduced consumption by the rich would benefit both rich and poor
Clearly, the extension of human longevity using both biotechnology and healthy life style practices is a benefit to humanity. It is harmonious with a clean and natural environment. It is economically viable and it can be achieved by ethical means.
It might be argued in opposition that “Who would voluntarily reduce their consumer-based life-style and live as if they were residents of a developing country?"
1) An excessive consumer could be altruistic when she or he realizes that excessive consumption is lethal to one’s health and deprives other people of their share of the world’s resources. The consumers need not impoverish themselves. Perhaps they could all replace their SUVs with a hybrid car that gets 80 MPGs. The consumers cold give up the rat race when they realize that they no longer need to consume to be “cool.” The slower pace will add years to their lives.
2) During times of shortage such as a drought, depression or war the current elders of the USA experienced food shortages, rationing, meatless Tuesdays, religious fasts and abstinence from meat and other foods, all in the name of a higher cause or out of necessity. In fact these imposed shortages were actually healthier in as much as they reduced the consumption of meat and butter. The rationing of tires and gasoline promoted healthy exercise. There is ample evidence of the healthfulness of the depression and wartime measures as seen in the photographs taken of the crowds in Times Square in New York City at the end of World War II. They show a lean and healthy population, the envy of many a health/diet planner.
3) Caloric restriction has increased life span in animals at the same time they consumed less food. A less extreme approach to diet could have a similar effect: a longer life for the practitioners and more food to share with those who in need.
One could suggest that the expectations of the World Health Organization (Chapman et al., 1999 - http://www.aaas.org/spp/dspp/sfrl/projects/stem/report.pdf)do not take into consideration the current response of the pharmaceutical companies who are withholding treatments for the 28.1 million HIV/AIDS victims in Africa.
In response, the generosity of the Gates Foundation offers an array of solutions for HIV/AIDS, malaria and a host of other African medical problems. This is an example of the altruism that is possible and the benefits of sharing between the developed and the developing nations.
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Prepared and presented by Donald J. Mulcare.
Copyright 2002: Donald J. Mulcare, PhD, Biology Department, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, DMulcare@UMassD.Edu .