Aubrey de Grey on the SENS Challenge Result

Biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey comments on the recent SENS Challenge results in the latest Longevity Meme newsletter:

MIT Technology Review's 'SENS Challenge' is an invitation to mainstream gerontologists, with a $20,000 incentive, to compose a denunciation of SENS powerful enough to convince an independent expert panel that discussing SENS in detail - let alone funding it - is unwarranted.

The Technology Review received three submissions that were all rejected by the panel. Given the eminence of the panel in both biology and technology - and of the submitters in biogerontology - a popular conclusion is that it was singularly unwise of some of my colleagues in gerontology to be quite so outspoken in their opinions of SENS given how poorly they had in fact studied it. A second conclusion is that there was merit on both sides, since the panel were certainly not convinced that SENS would succeed.

I concur with the first conclusion, but sharply disagree with the second. My view is the exact opposite: that the detail of SENS is what makes it feasible. Hence a panel who came in with essentially no knowledge of SENS and studied it only quite briefly would be almost certain to doubt its feasibility. That they accept its admissibility as a credible topic of discussion *despite* harbouring such doubts makes their refutation of the position of my more intemperate critics even stronger.

However, it is not my purpose to be in any way triumphalist. I feel that no time should be spent flagellating my colleagues with the SENS Challenge's demonstration that their judgement in signing up to a denunciation of SENS was unduly hasty and short-sighted. Everyone makes mistakes; and the best course, here as always, is to learn from them but not to dwell on them. There are, to be sure, a rump of genuine SENS opponents (as opposed to skeptics) who have nailed their colours so firmly to that mast that they may have no choice but to bluster on to oblivion. The field in general is not so narrow-minded as to ignore the view of minds so eminent as the SENS Challenge panel, however. There is much work to be done to implement SENS, and the time to focus on that work is now.


The forward impetus towards meaningful healthy life extension research - as exemplified by the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) approach - is echoed in the mission of the Paul F. Glenn Laboratories for the Biological Mechanisms of Aging and the intent behind the Longevity Dividend proposal. Both are recent developments that I cannot see having happened even as recently as five years ago.

A sea change is in the making. Each new day in which the science and ethics of SENS are successfully championed and defended shifts the conversative mainstream of gerontology towards this productive position: that we could be moving towards the defeat of age-related frailty, suffering and death far more rapidly and directly than is the case today.

Onwards, indeed!

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