Aubrey de Grey at the MIT Club of Northern California

SENS Foundation co-founder Aubrey de Grey recently presented at a meeting of the MIT Club of Northern California, and a two-part video record of the event was uploaded for those of us too distant in time and space to be there:

Join us for a fascinating discussion with Dr. Aubrey de Grey, Chief Science officer of the SENS Foundation (SENS stands for "Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senscence"), on the topic of "Regenerative Medicine Against Aging."

Dr. de Grey has been a provocative and polarizing figure in the scientific and medical communities' dialogue on the topic of life extension, and the approaches that will
lead to dramatic increases in quantity and quality of life.

According to Dr. de Grey, "the first human who will live up to 1,000 years is probably already alive now, and might even be today between 50 and 60 years old."

You might look back into the archives for an explanation of the 1,000 year life span: this is an estimated life expectancy for someone who does not age to death, thanks to a rolling series of advances in rejuvenation medicine that eventually add more than a year of additional life with each passing year of research and development. If you examine mortality rates due to other causes projected out over time, you see that an effectively ageless person will live for at least a millennium under the mortality rates of today, not considering any future reductions in the rate of death by accident thanks to advances across the board in technology.


I pretty much agree with the idea of improving maintenance recommended by sens. While I do believe that most of sens should offer benefits, I do not believe that some of its solutions are necessary(e.g. the way it deals with cancer), and I also believe vast lifespan extension is possible even without implementing some of sens recommended solutions... though it is always good to be very thorough in one's solutions just to be safe.

My main example is whales, they have both long lived high metabolic activity cells(neurons according to some neuron metabolic activity is similar all the way from rodent to primate, so it is likely to be similar in whales) some of the cells might even have some of the highest metabolism known(e.g. the largest motorneurons, if i'm not mistaken), as well as highly replicative cells(gastrointestinal lining).

On top of that these creatures are high on the food chain, and require vast amounts of food and water consuming lots of carcinogens along with such vast volumes of matter over their lifespan. Some substances are biocummulative and toxic, and they should also have lots of such in them. Yet they have over a thousand fold the number of cells of humans, and despite all this they don't seem to have become extinct from cancer. Even with the vast output of carcinogens man has thrown out into the ocean during the past century the whales have not become extinct.

Now if you look at what nature does when it increases size e.g.
("We have one copy of a gatekeeper gene called TP53, for example. Elephants–which are at a greater risk for cancer–have a dozen copies of the same gene."-The Mere Existence of Whales,discovermagazine, the loom blog)

We see that nature seems to be tweaking existing machinery to deal with cancer( and other causes of increased mortality or aging), obviously the increase in p53 is accompanied by other gene tweaks elsewhere to compensate.

While it could be argued that overall metabolism is generally lower in larger organisms, it seems some tissues do have to maintain similar metabolic or cell division rates(neurons, gastrointestinal lining), if i'm not mistaken. If these larger creatures did not proportionally reduced aging in these tissues the critical failure of the tissue would limit lifespan.

At least for cancer while going about a 1,000,000 fold increase in protection, the sens approach has not been taken by nature. And that is what we have to look at in my opinion, what aspects of sens are truly critical in these tissues. What's happened with mitochondrial DNA, what about neurons how can they seemingly last over 200 years at such high metabolic rates, what happens with molecular damage, junk accumulation,etc?

It may very well be that some aspects are not that critical, for example if we found transfer of remaining mitochondrial genes to nuclear dna was not performed, we'd know that this one of the most difficult aspects would not be critical. And if it has taken place, we would know which genes are a priority or if all are a priority.

Another quote from the same source
("But such an undertaking would have to overcome a lot of inertia in the world of cancer research. Cancer biologists don’t look to big animals as models to study–which is one reason there’s not a single fully-sequenced genome of a whale or a dolphin for scientists to look at. For most cancer researchers, mice are the animals of choice.
But if we want to find inspiration for cancer-fighting medicines, mice are the last animal we’d want to consider. It’s like learning how to play baseball from a bench-cooler at a Little League game, when Willie Mays is waiting to dispense his wisdom."-The Mere Existence of Whales,discovermagazine, the loom blog)

and a quote from a comment on that page
("A question about cancer rates in blue whales. I read a book published in the 70′s – the hey day of factory whaling – and it commented that cancers in blue whales were rare – or non- existent. This data was derived from biologists examining the carcasses of blue whales as they were processed. - Pallbearer")

I honestly do wander what is this vast inertia in cancer research, this is a highly promising avenue for research, and in my opinion it should be something put on priority for the war against cancer.

Posted by: Darian Smith at October 27th, 2011 1:13 PM

Dr. de Gray has very interesting and provocative ideas about the aging process many of which are accepted and documented in the scientific literature and are not controversial. However, Dr. De Gray seems to have narrowed down the processes of aging and senescence into a catchy "the seven sins", for which he also has corresponding solutions, which for lack of a better term make sense to his usual audience of non-scientists. Some of the suggestions like cell therapy are not new and as he admitted have met with limited success such as in the treatment of degenerative diseases such as Parkinson's etc. However Dr. de Gray glosses over these daunting tasks which have been accompanied more by failure in the past as being right around the corner. The other contributions from his own lane in which he cultivates special bacteria which eat up morbidity causing cholesterol he extrapolates as the templates upon which future human equivalents will be constructed and then injected into people either as genes or perhaps proteins and lo and behold cholesterol and the causes of diseases such as Alzheimers will be removed by these smart proteins. Whereas it is not an absolute certainty that such therapy will fail, but the likelihood of bacterial genes or bacterial protein like molecules will be used in the future to remove cellular junk and then lo and behold there will be no Alzheimers or heart attacks is at this moment more like a pipe dream than a plausible reality. The human body is made up of thousands of genes that are responsible for the incredible machinery of the human body, however these genes also carry the messages for various diseases and also limit the survival of the individual as part of an overall natural plan called evolution. Dr. de Gray promises that there will be people living today who in spite of all the odds, natural and environmental etc will be made to live to be 1000 years or even defy mortality and live forever. This is more of a messianic promise to the gullible rather than a statement of scientific fact based on solid scientific research even if Dr. de Gray without a doubt is a scientist, but one whose own mortality of less than a millennium may turn out to be a very entertaining anecdote in the history of the molecular search for the fountain of youth.

Posted by: Abebe Haregewoin at October 30th, 2011 10:28 PM

Post a comment; thoughtful, considered opinions are valued. New comments can be edited for a few minutes following submission. Comments incorporating ad hominem attacks, advertising, and other forms of inappropriate behavior are likely to be deleted.

Note that there is a comment feed for those who like to keep up with conversations.