As I mentioned a little while back, biomedical gerontologist and healthy life extension advocate Aubrey de Grey presented at the recent TED2006 conference. TED is very much a zero-press zone, given its central role as a form of meet, greet and networking event for movers, shakers and the wealthy. You can't keep bloggers down, however, since a increasing number of them are movers, shakers and the wealthy: Ethan Zuckerman kindly reported on de Grey's presentation in his blog for the benefit of the vast mass of humanity without a TED2006 pass:
Introducing Aubrey De Gray, Chris Anderson does something a bit unusual, making it clear that De Gray is an extremely controversial thinker, sometimes dismissed as being unscientific. He goes on to explain that DeGray believes that people could live to be a thousand years old.
De Gray slightly corrects this impression. What he wants to do is not keep frail people alive for a thousand years - he wants to restore people to "increased vitality and robustness". Humans will face the choice of ending their lives earlier, or facing a "permanently low risk of dying soon".
How do you make a car last for 50 years? Either you can build it like a tank, or you can take very good care of it. When cared for and repaired by enthusiasts, cars can last indefiniately. Vintage cars die because people don't care about them.
De Gray is interested in an "engineering approach". It suggests letting metabolism "lay down damage", then correcting it with a variety of techniques. He lists a set of different techiques to combat basic cellular damage, arguing that many of these techniques are "right around the corner" - in trials in mice, possibly usable in humans in 10 years. Hence, this isn't a "research" project, but a "development" project.
De Gray tells us "I want to get middle-aged mice to live three times as long as they otherwise would." This means a 10 year project that he's now attempting to raise funding for.
This is a presentation that long-term readers are fairly familiar with by now - hopefully the TED attendees gained a greater exposure to and appreciation of these ideas. The important part of the event for healthy life extension research was taking place behind the scenes: networking and building support amongst the philanthropic community is essential groundwork to funding research infrastructure to extend our healthy life spans. As Zuckerman perceptively points out, this is far more a matter of development than a matter of research.