Nobuhiro Hosoki Interviews Robert Kane Pappas for

July 22, 2010

Nobuhiro Hosoki interviewed Robert Kane Pappas in New York City on July 15th. 

[The following is an excerpt from the interview which was originally posted on]

To Age or Not To Age

Coverage by Nobuhiro Hosoki

Story : Is it possible to live forever? In this documentary, filmmaker Robert Kane Pappas explores the possibility of staving off old age and, as a result, the onset of disease. Some scientists claim the genes that control aging can be altered to give us more time on Earth – quality time in which we could be both happy and healthy. But what would be the moral implications of such experiments, and who would benefit from these potential medical breakthroughs?

 Interview Director Robert Kane Pappas

 Q: I try to gather the story in Japan, and because there’s a lot of work that I’m not familiar with, so in order to get the story I started looking up those medications that were prescribed, but there’s not much information in Japan to put a story together. It might take some time to get to another country but it’s really interesting. How did you decide to get into it?

 (Robert Kane Pappas): I am a film director; I’m not a scientist. The picture before this, my last picture, I made a movie on the structure and methodology of the news media and it’s affect on politics. My last couple of pictures, I pick a subject that interests me, something I see, and then if it passes the smell test I spend those couple of years making that picture. So one day I read the front page story of the “New York Times” science section; it was about calorie restriction and its effect on the lifespan of monkeys.

 There are scientists at Harvard and MIT who are looking at the genes behind this calorie restriction and it’s affect on health and lifespan. Two days later they amplified on the story, the “Times” again, the front page of the main section said there was something in red wine they had found that seemed to influence these genes. But in the story the lead scientist, David Sinclair, the lead Harvard scientist, admitted that he’s taking resveratol and that half his lab was taking it, his parents, his wife. And these scientists are not crazy people; they’re very conservative by training and by temperament.

 So I said this is very unusual, this is very strange for them to be saying I’m not only testing it on animals and humans, I’m going to start taking it. This to me said something a little odd was up here. So then I started researching it, I went and tried to interview the scientists, I called Dr. Guarente’s office and I said I’m a film director, you can look me up, could I interview you? He said “Well, read my book first.” So I had to kind of prove myself a little, and then I started interviewing him, and then I interviewed some of the people in his lab, and then I said is there someone else I should speak to? And then he showed me someone else and then I called someone else, and that person said well go talk to this person, and three years later I made a movie on these scientists and their research.

 Q: You probably won’t be able to answer this question, but how about the government that’s funding this research in universities or in colleges right now?

 (Robert Kane Papas): Lenny(Doctor. Leonard Guarente) told me that even at his high level only seven or eight percent of the grant proposals are funded. That means 92 or 93 percent aren’t. I think that there are probably a lot of disease doctors who want funding for my disease, or this doctor is studying this disease, whereas, these guys are going at aging, which used to be something of fiction; Ponce de Leon or they myths in the history. SO I think it used to not have the credibility. But these are the top scientists of the world that are working on it right now. The Nobel for biology this year was in this field; Elizabeth Blackburn. She discovered Telomeres, or has been working with Telomeres.

 Q: I’ve been looking up Telomeres but it’s not in the dictionary. 

(Robert Kane Papas) : It’s not in the dictionary. A lot of this is really cutting edge stuff. And how the government funds I think is really going to be a big issue.

 Q: I guess it’s because of the aging process these diseases actually progress. Like you guys said, I think it really tied into it. So once they convince those elements to the government, I’m pretty sure that in the future, maybe five or 10 years, they might probably get more funding.

(Robert Kane Papas): And it’s possible other countries will be going ahead. At MIT and Harvard that brings the best in the world. By the way, Lenny Guarente’s lab, of the 17 scientists in his lab, which is probably the most renounced lab, I think 12 are from foreign countries. The best in the world come there. But then from there how does it funnel out? Different countries may go ahead; if they fund the research better who knows? I don’t know.

Q: Maybe also the healthcare system might be involved. Compared to the United States, the health care systems in other countries have better delivery.

 (Robert Kane Papas): So how it’s going to develop is up in the air. The bureaucracies have the tendency to status-quo. I think these drugs could be, we could be talking hundreds of billions of dollars, so whenever there’s that much money around trouble can ensue. I think the basic science, once you put together the fact that evolution doesn’t particularly care about lifespan, and all their techniques to go so much faster in their research, I think putting those two together made me as a filmmaker think that we could be on the verge of something completely different for humanity.

And that is really a big deal because they’re not doing experiments; they’re designing experiments now to reverse aging. This is not going to stop. They are at the beginning of this, they are not at the end of this. This is the first act and it’s really a big deal. This is some very strange stuff going on here around the world. Remember that there used to be three or four labs 20 years ago; there are 400 now, at least.

 Q: When you look at the people in their 40s or 50s, 50 years ago it didn’t look like that. But right now a 40 or 50 years old looks like they’re in their 30s or something. It’s so much different from a few decades ago.

 (Robert Kane Papas): This could be really, really basic. This could be the biggest thing that’s ever happened to humanity, actually.

 Q: Yeah it could be. Talk about the side effects that they might have if they can actually stop aging or live longer.

 (Robert Kane Papas): I don’t think we know. I think that it will be slow. First of all, if you can keep people healthy you can start to reallocate resources. But I think that if you live longer, especially now that they’re looking at when you delay aging you also delay the deterioration mentally. I would say that you are not thinking the way you thought when you were 10, that you developed intellectually.

 If your mental process is intact you could become much brighter. It’s quite possible that you would think completely differently if you lived a lot longer. Conceptually, consciously; your sense of time would probably be radically different, because when you’re five years old or six years old a month is forever. Many things will change; I don’t think we know what they will do. But I think that when people say you can’t change human nature, or history always repeats itself, I think that a lot of that is based on how long we live.

 I think you would think of the environment a lot differently if you were going to be around. And George Bernard Shaw, who I quote in the movie, had this thing called “Back to Methuselah,” this play, and he spelt that if humans live to 300 years we would change radically, our politics would change radically, that we would be thinking a little bit more long term, we wouldn’t be like “I have mine, screw everybody else.”

 So you could see there would be possible changes in human nature. It’s funny that there’s another Great Depression 80 years after the last one. It’s like the historical memory; no one was around and they’re doing the same thing again. It makes everyone think like can we ever not make the same mistakes? It could be that it’s tied to our age; how long people live.

 Q: That could be mentally change how you deal with society.

 (Robert Kane Papas): Yeah, or your career. If you live longer you could have more than one career. It wouldn’t be that okay you’ve made your decision that’s it.

 Q: And the retirement age might be in the 80s or 70s or whatever.

 (Robert Kane Papas): That could change. So I think all that is up for grabs. He’s very conservative, Lenny. He’s a very conservative scientist.

For the full interview with Robert Kane Pappas click here.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jean Crandal July 23, 2010 at 2:42 pm

nice interview, but human nature is what it is……selfish.

Stephanie Butler July 23, 2010 at 2:58 pm

Actually, the above comment was written by Stephanie Pappas Butler….it is my opinion that we are all flawed. And in the end, we focus on us really and where we are going after here and now. As we age, we think more and more about what we want and how this and that effects our own world. Even if people live longer, they will still focus on themselves primarily.

Now, here is an actual comment by Robert’s (my mother)…Jean Crandall…..

it was a good interview. you expressed yourself clearly. now lets see what happe;ns”.

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