An Online Chat With Aubrey de Grey and S. Jay Olshansky

Science recently hosted a live chat event with researchers Aubrey de Grey and S. Jay Olshansky, public figures who have debated their views on longevity science a number of times over the last seven years or so. The logs and viewer comments from the event remain available for those interested in viewing the discussion, but note that it takes a little while for the widget containing them to load.

Live Chat: The Science of Antiaging

Jennifer Couzin-Frankel: And here's a question from Roy: Does the paper titled "Clearance of p16 positive senescent cells delays ageing-associate disorder" published in Nature January, 2011, prove the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS's) validity, i.e. extend lifespan by remediating damage? If so, are their other examples of experimental validation of SENS in animal models?

Aubrey: Roy: that paper is a great proof of concept for one component of SENS, the benefits of removing "death-resistant" cells. The experiment didn't show life extension, but it wasn't expected to, because to do that you have to fix all the things that limit lifespan, not just one of them. Yes, there are various other examples, such as the elimination of amyloid in mouse models of Alzheimer's and the introduction of stem cells (or the stimulation of their division) in various tissues. We'll see more of this soon, that's for sure.


Jennifer Couzin-Frankel: An interesting question from Morten: Why do you want to live longer (as I understand it at least de Grey is after living longer)? What can't you accomplish in a life time?

Aubrey: Morten: this is the most insidious misunderstanding of the work that I and other biomedical gerontologists do. We are NOT working to extend life for the sake of extending life. We are working to postpone the ill-health of old age, which will probably have the side-effect of extending life, but it's no more than that, a side-effect. I personally have no idea how long I want to live, [any] more than I have an opinion on what time I want to go to the toilet next Sunday. In both cases I know I'm going to have better information nearer the time, so it's idiotic to even think about it. However, I can tell you that I have at least 1000 years of backlog already (books to read, films to se...) - don't you? If not, why not?

S. Jay Olshansky: Morton. The goal of research in this area in my view is not to extend life. The goal is to extend healthy life. If we live longer, I consider that a bonus. However, I would encourage you to be asking the same question of those now working to combat heart disease, cancer, and stroke, and those who experience these conditions. Why [do] we all want to live longer? I believe what we are talking about here are interventions that enable us to live our lives healthy for as long as possible.


Comment From Guest: Couldn't you guys be focusing on pain control, quality-of-life and ending poverty and depression in the elderly?

S. Jay Olshansky: [Think] about this for a moment. In 1900 life expectancy at birth was about 45. Now it's about 80 for women and 76 for men. We gained 30 years of life -- most healthy. Wasn't that worth it? It's hard to imagine the goal of extending healthy life as being harmful in any way -- it would enable people to remain working longer if they want, or retire healthier for a longer time period. Health also begets wealth for individuals and populations. Goodness -- why are we working so hard to combat heart disease and cancer then?

There's a lot more there to look through; you should certainly read the whole thing.


Olshansky is simply a skeptic (erring on the side of pessimism) and it doesn't help rejuvenation research at all, even if he is right about a thing or two. You won't get funding by saying that you can realistically expect very little. I'm not a big fan of clearly far-fetched predictions that Ray Kurzweil seems to offer, but the field of rejuvenative medicine needs to be filled with optimistic people in order to flourish. And I think that no one should underestimate the future progress of a field by looking at its past.

Posted by: Nick at January 28th, 2012 11:05 AM

What is accomplished in a given lifetime is,sadly, a result of the length of that life, not the other way around - the derision of the average person towards the idea of living longer is disheartening, and it's especially prevalent in those that believe life is divided into discrete stages, with a strict set of behaviors and "life goals" for each. Rubbish.

I want more life because life is experience, life can bring joy and life brings POSSIBILITY. Is that a concept so hard to grasp? There is no way I could perform even one percentile point of what I want out of my life within a standard lifetime.

I want to experience the growth of the human race, the far reaches of technology, I want to be an integral part of what makes humanity so vibrant with life - I most certainly don't desire to bring children to the world and live vicariously through them while my body becomes a fragile mass of meat and cracked bones; the fact that the same fate would await them is even more terrifying.

Is this so hard to understand? Do people want this little out of life? It is not enough, not when more - so much more! - is close enough to taste it.

Aubrey's timid public statements about "side effects" don't fill me with hope either. We need advocates, we need to get out there the cost of dying. I don't know if fear is the right words, but we need some catalyst to raise awareness.


Posted by: Emiliano at January 28th, 2012 2:34 PM

Thanks for posting this. It is an interesting interview. The SENS Foundation is doing great work. Hopefully they will be successful sooner, rather than later. (:

Posted by: Michael White at February 3rd, 2012 3:45 AM
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