Direct and Useful Observations from the Founder of Halcyon Molecular

Via Next Big Future, some thoughts from William Andregg, CEO and founder of Halcyon Molecular:

Question: How do your views on longevity and life extension compare with those of Aubrey de Grey and Ray Kurzweil?

Answer: Parts of SENS urgently should be funded and tested. That being said, I work on sequencing and not on SENS, because our approach to curing aging is first to turn biology into an information science - actually getting to untangling the morass of metabolism that SENS does an end run around. I believe we can get to a complete mechanistic understanding of human biology in only a few decades, which is a timeline more like Kurzweil’s. On the other hand, if SENS were being vigorously pursued today, it might save millions of lives before the total understanding approach avails us. It is good to have multiple bets.

As for Kurzweil, maybe this isn’t fair, and I’d like to hear his thoughts on it, but I’m afraid his books demotivate people who would otherwise contribute to the cause, maybe by giving the impression to some that the Singularity is not only coming, but actually inevitable. Eat right, exercise, take these pills, and don’t worry - those smart hardworking scientists over there will solve everything for you. In contrast, a great thing about Aubrey as a leader is that he harangues people to actually get off their asses and make a contribution.

We might not survive the next twenty years. We may never cure aging. There is nothing inevitable about our success. Everyone who is talented enough to make a contribution should be trying to help, on all fronts, by any ethical means, like it’s life and death - because it is.

Which is well said. The future is what we make it to be - if we sit back and make nothing of it, then we will all suffer horribly, become frail, and die from the same causes and at the same ages as our parents. It is a stark choice: the potential of lives of centuries of good health on the one side, and the certainty of the abyss upon the other.

As I have been known to mention here and there, SENS and related repair-based strategies for reversing aging are the direct and fastest path to the defeat of age-related suffering, frailty and death. Other roads in the life sciences will get there in the end, but that end will arrive decades too late to help those of us in middle age who are reading this today. If we collectively fail to soon build SENS into a research community to rival institutional cancer science in scope and ambition, then many, many millions of lives will be lost as a consequence - our own a few drops amidst the tide. Fifty million deaths each year, repeated for every year that rejuvenation therapies remain unrealized.


Even if we create the perfect metabolic system (e.g. synthetic biology), SENS therapies will still be needed by those whose bodies have accumulated enough damage that their bodies cannot spontaneously self-correct. SENS is needed no matter what.

Posted by: kurt9 at December 7th, 2010 6:50 PM

I'm not sure I agree with him that having a full mechanistic description will be useful for aging. Aging results from side effects and errors, not the intended functioning of the system. To undo these errors is going to require specialized chemical or nanotech agents, a problem which is mostly independent of the details of metabolism. Of course, knowing all the pathways can help control the side effects of any therapies, but this is a secondary concern since there are no therapies now.

I do agree that Kurzweil's approach is not so helpful. In his vision, aging is all conflated with the AI singularity and his very dubious fantasies about humans harnessing the power of a star and spreading throughout the universe, etc etc. If he would stop talking about all that, and devote his energy to SENS, maybe he would have a chance to live to see some of it happen.

Posted by: William Nelson at December 8th, 2010 9:20 AM

Advanced synthetic biology could go beyond anything done in nature, it should not only further enhance metabolism, but it should also be usable to design machinery to sequester and export molecular garbage on a large scale throughout the body.

Suppose I have a hand with tons of accumulated molecular garbage, a very sloppy disposal mechanism would be to have the entire hand fall off and the construction of a brand new hand where the old one was. Of course this is only an example of sloppy export, more advanced in-situ collection of garbage and either repairing(via SENS-like mechanisms) or export of said garbage could very likely be implemented.

Posted by: Flash Program at December 8th, 2010 3:00 PM

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