Cryonics Company Charges a Monthly Subscription Fee (Plus Your Life Insurance Payout)

“To date, about 500 people have been put in cryogenic stasis after legal death,” writes a Bloomberg Opinion technology columnist, “with the majority of them in the U.S.

“But a few thousand more, including Emil Kendziorra, are on waiting lists, wearing bracelets or necklaces with instructions for emergency responders. ”

Kendziorra, 36, runs Berlin-based Tomorrow Biostasis GmbH, one of the first cryonics businesses in Europe to join a market dominated by American firms organizations like The Alcor Life Extension Foundation and The Cryonics Institute. The former cancer doctor has several hundred people on his firm’s waiting list. They skew to their late 30s, male and tend to work in technology. Patients can choose to have their entire body preserved and held upside down in a four-person dewars, a thermos-like aluminum vat filled with liquid nitrogen, or just preserve their brain, which is cheaper.

Kendziorra says cryopreservation overall has become less expensive over the past few decades on an inflation-adjusted basis, a claim that he bases on historic prices published by his peers, who he says are making a collective effort to bring down costs. That could be critical to shifting cryonics from a fringe pursuit to something a little more mainstream, especially since it is no longer just for billionaires like PayPal Inc. co-founder Peter Thiel (who has reportedly signed up with Alcor). Kendziorra, for instance, has made cryonics just another monthly subscription by capitalizing on insurance, he told me during a Twitter Spaces discussion on cryonics last month. His customers pay a 25-euro ($26.54) monthly fee to Tomorrow Biostasis, and they also make the company the beneficiary of a minimum 100,000-euro life insurance payout upon their legal death. Kendziorra says that covers the full cost of cryonics including the biggest outlay: maintenance over the next century or so.

All told, most of his customers are paying about 50 euros a month for both the company’s subscription fee and the life insurance policy for the option of a long sleep at death. Of course, most companies don’t survive for more than a century, so Tomorrow Biostasis also partners with a non-profit group in Switzerland to carry out the storage of customers on its behalf…. The domain itself is largely funded by wealthy individuals including CEOs of tech companies, angel investors and scientists, Kendziorra says, adding that for them to invest in his own firm, their primary motivation shouldn’t be “monetary” but rather to help further the field.

The mechanics all sound sensible, but that still leaves the question of whether cryonics will work, medically speaking. Doctors and scientists have used words like quackery, pseudoscience and outright fraud to describe the field. Clive Cohen, a neuroscientist from Kings College London, has called it a “hopeless aspiration that reveals an appalling ignorance of biology.” The Association of Cryobiology has compared it to turning a hamburger back into a cow.

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Patients Wrongly Told They’ve Got Cancer In SMS Snafu

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Register: Askern Medical Practice, a general practitioner surgery based in Doncaster, UK, managed to muddle its Christmas holiday message to patients by texting them they’d been diagnosed with “aggressive lung cancer with metastases.” The message went out to patients of the medical facility — there are reportedly about 8,000 of them — on December 23, 2022. It asked patients to fill out a DS1500 form, which is used to help terminal patients expedite access to benefits because they may not have time for the usual bureaucratic delay.

About an hour after thoroughly alarming recipients of the not-so-glad tidings, the medical facility reportedly apologized in a follow-up text message. “Please accept our sincere apologies for the previous text message sent,” the message reads, as reported by the BBC. “This has been sent in error. Our message to you should have read, ‘We wish you a very merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.’ In case of emergency please contact NHS 111.” On Tuesday, the surgery took its apology public via its Facebook page. The surgery characterized the errant text message as both an administrative error and a computer-related error, without clarifying just how the mistake occurred. “While no data was breached, we can confirm an admin staff error was made, for which we apologized immediately upon becoming aware,” Askern Medical Practice said in its post. “We would like to once again apologize sincerely to all patients for the distress caused. We take patient communication, confidentiality and data protection very seriously.”

“We also pride in looking after our patients,” the medical facility’s apology continued. “We would like to reassure all our patients that the text message was a mistake (it was an internal patient supportive task amongst admin staff to act upon) and not related to you as a patient in any way. This was an isolated computer-related error for which we are extremely regretful, and steps are being taken to prevent a reoccurrence.”

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Teenager’s Incurable Cancer Cleared With Revolutionary DNA-Editing Technique

“A teenage girl’s incurable cancer has been cleared from her body,” reports the BBC, “in the first use of a revolutionary new type of medicine….”

Doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital used “base editing” to perform a feat of biological engineering to build her a new living drug. Six months later the cancer is undetectable, but Alyssa is still being monitored in case it comes back.

Alyssa, who is 13 and from Leicester, was diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in May last year…. Her cancer was aggressive. Chemotherapy, and then a bone-marrow transplant, were unable to rid it from her body…. The team at Great Ormond Street used a technology called base editing, which was invented only six years ago [which] allows scientists to zoom to a precise part of the genetic code and then alter the molecular structure of just one base, converting it into another and changing the genetic instructions. The large team of doctors and scientists used this tool to engineer a new type of T-cell that was capable of hunting down and killing Alyssa’s cancerous T-cells….

After a month, Alyssa was in remission and was given a second bone-marrow transplant to regrow her immune system…. Alyssa is just the first of 10 people to be given the drug as part of a clinical trial.
Her mother said that a year ago she’d been dreading Christmas, “thinking this is our last with her”. But it wasn’t.

And the BBC adds that applying the technology to cancer “only scratches the surface of what base editing could achieve…. There are already trials of base editing under way in sickle-cell disease, as well as high cholesterol that runs in families and the blood disorder beta-thalassemia.”

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FDA Approves Most Expensive Drug Ever, a $3.5 Million-per-Dose Gene Therapy For Hemophilia B

U.S. health regulators this week approved the first gene therapy for hemophilia, a $3.5 million one-time treatment for the blood-clotting disorder. From a report: The Food and Drug Administration cleared Hemgenix, an IV treatment for adults with hemophilia B, the less common form of the genetic disorder which primarily affects men. Currently, patients receive frequent, expensive IVs of a protein that helps blood clot and prevent bleeding. Drugmaker CSL Behring, based in Pennsylvania, announced the $3.5 million price tag shortly after the FDA approval, saying its drug would ultimately reduce health care costs because patients would have fewer bleeding incidents and need fewer clotting treatments.

According to a study cited by the National Library of Medicine, the price makes Hemgenix the most expensive medicine in the world, easily topping Novartis’ Zolgensma gene therapy for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), which costs right around $2 million per dose and is also a single-dose medicine. Like most medicines in the U.S., most of the cost of the new treatment will be paid by insurers, not patients, including private plans and government programs. After decades of research, gene therapies have begun reshaping the treatment of cancers and rare inheritable diseases with medicines that can modify or correct mutations embedded in people’s genetic code. Hemgenix is the first such treatment for hemophilia and several other drugmakers are working on gene therapies for the more common form of the disorder, hemophilia A.

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Psychedelic Mushroom Dose Can Treat Stubborn Depression, Trial Suggests

The Washington Post reports:

Psilocybin, the active hallucinogen found in psychedelic mushrooms — also known as “magic mushrooms” — can effectively alleviate a severe bout of depression when administered in a single dose and combined with talk therapy, a new clinical study found.

Adults with depression who were administered a single 25-miligram dose of psilocybin were more likely to experience significant improvements in their mental health — both immediately and for up to three months — than others who were randomly assigned smaller doses of the same drug, said the peer-reviewed study, which was published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine….

The trial’s findings could be an encouraging sign for the 16 million Americans estimated each year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to have depression, many of whom struggle to find treatments that work for them. Its authors hope the study — which was relatively small, with just 79 participants receiving the 25 mg dose — will pave the way for eventual regulatory approval of psilocybin by the Food and Drug Administration for use as a drug against depression….

Notwithstanding the headaches, nausea and dizziness reported by many as adverse side effects, most of the adults enjoyed the experience.
The Post got an interesting reponse from James Rucker, a consultant psychiatrist at King’s College London who worked on the trial. He said there’s something about the psychedelic experience that leads to a rapid resolution of depression symptoms, adding “We don’t really know what that is at the moment, but it’s very different to standard antidepressants….”

“What people forget about psychedelics is that they were being used as medicines prior to 1971 when they essentially got caught up in the drugs war,” Rucker added. “We’re just picking up the baton of history.”

Thanks to Slashdot reader Shmoodling for submitting the story.

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‘Science Has a Nasty Photoshopping Problem’

Dr. Bik is a microbiologist who has worked at Stanford University and for the Dutch National Institute for Health who is “blessed” with “what I’m told is a better-than-average ability to spot repeating patterns,” according to their new Op-Ed in the New York Times.

In 2014 they’d spotted the same photo “being used in two different papers to represent results from three entirely different experiments….”

Although this was eight years ago, I distinctly recall how angry it made me. This was cheating, pure and simple. By editing an image to produce a desired result, a scientist can manufacture proof for a favored hypothesis, or create a signal out of noise. Scientists must rely on and build on one another’s work. Cheating is a transgression against everything that science should be. If scientific papers contain errors or — much worse — fraudulent data and fabricated imagery, other researchers are likely to waste time and grant money chasing theories based on made-up results…..

But were those duplicated images just an isolated case? With little clue about how big this would get, I began searching for suspicious figures in biomedical journals…. By day I went to my job in a lab at Stanford University, but I was soon spending every evening and most weekends looking for suspicious images. In 2016, I published an analysis of 20,621 peer-reviewed papers, discovering problematic images in no fewer than one in 25. Half of these appeared to have been manipulated deliberately — rotated, flipped, stretched or otherwise photoshopped. With a sense of unease about how much bad science might be in journals, I quit my full-time job in 2019 so that I could devote myself to finding and reporting more cases of scientific fraud.

Using my pattern-matching eyes and lots of caffeine, I have analyzed more than 100,000 papers since 2014 and found apparent image duplication in 4,800 and similar evidence of error, cheating or other ethical problems in an additional 1,700. I’ve reported 2,500 of these to their journals’ editors and — after learning the hard way that journals often do not respond to these cases — posted many of those papers along with 3,500 more to PubPeer, a website where scientific literature is discussed in public….

Unfortunately, many scientific journals and academic institutions are slow to respond to evidence of image manipulation — if they take action at all. So far, my work has resulted in 956 corrections and 923 retractions, but a majority of the papers I have reported to the journals remain unaddressed.

Manipulated images “raise questions about an entire line of research, which means potentially millions of dollars of wasted grant money and years of false hope for patients.” Part of the problem is that despite “peer review” at scientific journals, “peer review is unpaid and undervalued, and the system is based on a trusting, non-adversarial relationship. Peer review is not set up to detect fraud.”

But there’s other problems.

Most of my fellow detectives remain anonymous, operating under pseudonyms such as Smut Clyde or Cheshire. Criticizing other scientists’ work is often not well received, and concerns about negative career consequences can prevent scientists from speaking out. Image problems I have reported under my full name have resulted in hateful messages, angry videos on social media sites and two lawsuit threats….

Things could be about to get even worse. Artificial intelligence might help detect duplicated data in research, but it can also be used to generate fake data. It is easy nowadays to produce fabricated photos or videos of events that never happened, and A.I.-generated images might have already started to poison the scientific literature. As A.I. technology develops, it will become significantly harder to distinguish fake from real.

Science needs to get serious about research fraud.
Among their proposed solutions? “Journals should pay the data detectives who find fatal errors or misconduct in published papers, similar to how tech companies pay bounties to computer security experts who find bugs in software.”

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Vaccines to Treat Cancer Possible by 2030, Say BioNTech Founders

Ugur Sahin and and Özlem Türeci. The BBC calls them “the husband and wife team behind one of the most successful Covid vaccines” — the couple who co-founded the German biotech company BioNTech in 2008, “exploring new technology involving messenger RNA to treat cancer.”

And though they partnered with Pfizer to ues the same approach for their Covid vaccine, “Now the doctors are hopeful it could lead to new treatments for melanoma, bowel cancer and other tumour types.”

BioNTech has several trials in progress, including one where patients are given a personalised vaccine, to prompt their immune system to attack their disease. The mRNA technology being used works by sending an instruction or blueprint to cells to produce an antigen or protein. In Covid this antigen is part of the spike protein of the virus. In cancer it would be a marker on the surface of tumour cells. This teaches the immune system to recognise and target affected cells for destruction.

Speaking on the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg, Prof Tureci said: “mRNA acts as a blueprint and allows you to tell the body to produce the drug or the vaccine… and when you use mRNA as a vaccine, the mRNA is a blueprint for the ‘wanted poster’ of the enemy — in this case cancer antigens which distinguish cancer cells from normal cells.”

Harnessing the power of mRNA to produce vaccines was unproven until Covid. But the success of mRNA vaccines in the pandemic has encouraged scientists working with the technology in cancer.

The Guardian notes that the couple said cancer-targetting vaccines could be available “before 2030”, though Özlem Türeci warns that “As scientists we are always hesitant to say we will have a cure for cancer. We have a number of breakthroughs and we will continue to work on them.”

BioNTech was working on mRNA cancer vaccines before the pandemic struck but the firm pivoted to produce Covid vaccines in the face of the global emergency. The firm now has several cancer vaccines in clinical trials.

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Breakthrough: Air Pollution/Cancer Research Challenges the Science on Tumors

“Scientists have uncovered how air pollution causes lung cancer,” reports the Guardian, “in groundbreaking research that promises to rewrite our understanding of the disease.”

The BBC is calling it “a discovery that completely transforms our understanding of how tumours arise.”

The team at the Francis Crick Institute in London showed that rather than causing damage, air pollution was waking up old damaged cells. One of the world’s leading experts, Prof Charles Swanton, said the breakthrough marked a “new era”. And it may now be possible to develop drugs that stop cancers forming.

The findings could explain how hundreds of cancer-causing substances act on the body. The classical view of cancer starts with a healthy cell. It acquires more and more mutations in its genetic code, or DNA, until it reaches a tipping point. Then it becomes a cancer and grows uncontrollably…. The researchers have produced evidence of a different idea. The damage is already there in our cell’s DNA, picked up as we grow and age, but something needs to pull the trigger that actually makes it cancerous….

Around one in every 600,000 cells in the lungs of a 50-year-old already contains potentially cancerous mutations. These are acquired as we age but appear completely healthy until they are activated by the chemical alarm and become cancerous. Crucially, the researchers were able to stop cancers forming in mice exposed to air pollution by using a drug that blocks the alarm signal.
The results are a double breakthrough, both for understanding the impact of air pollution and the fundamentals of how we get cancer.

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