Video: "This house wants to defeat ageing entirely"

As promised, video has been posted of the recent Oxford University Science Society public debate between Aubrey de Grey of the SENS Foundation and Colin Blakemore, former head of the Medical Research Council. Formal debates in science and medicine, sponsored by academic societies, are a long-standing tradition in England: in the history of the sciences many of the important inflection points and transitions between eras of knowledge were marked by public debates held between the worthies of the time. The debates do not in and of themselves determine anything: they are a reflection of ongoing matters of interest and the clash of strategies or theories that currently engage the scientific community. Thus it should be taken as a promising sign that awareness of SENS-style rejuvenation biotechnology is at a level at which such debates are held and well-attended.

Rejuvenation through medical technology is in our future, and factions within the scientific and medical development communities are forming and polarizing around opinions on plausibility, how to construct therapies for aging, and just how urgent it is to take action on this issue. Much of the ongoing debate within the scientific community is invisible to the world at large - but make no mistake, it is taking place, and has been for the better part of a decade. When it comes to aging and what to do about it, the research community of today is a radically different place from the research community of the first years of this century.

The video below is divided into two parts: the debate in the first part, and then the audience question and answer session following in the second part.

Aubrey de Grey will propose the motion 'This house wants to defeat ageing entirely' and Professor Colin Blakemore will be opposing. The debate will be chaired and moderated by Professor Sir Richard Peto. This debate will address whether it is feasible and appropriate to consider ageing as a target of decisive medical intervention, raising the possibility of substantial extension of human lifespan.

Aubrey de Grey is currently Chief Science Officer of SENS Foundation, a biomedical research charity that aims to develop, promote, and ensure widespread access to rejuvenation biotechnologies that address the diseases and disabilities of ageing. SENS Foundation aims to bring ageing under comprehensive medical control. Its research agenda consists of the application of regenerative medicine to ageing - not merely slowing the ageing clock, but resetting it to early adulthood.

Colin Blakemore is Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Oxford Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences. He is an expert in vision, development of the brain and neurodegenerative disease. He is active in communication of science and is president and adviser to several charities concerned with brain disorders. Prof. Blakemore was formerly Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council, the UK's largest public funder of biomedical research.


Good post - anytime there is video of Aubrey I try to watch it. He is the preeminent visionary in regenerative medicine no question.

Why is it so blooming difficult to convince others - even a tiny percentage of the people you know - that defeating aging is a good thing. You would think it would be a no brainer. At times it is very discouraging.

Posted by: Dan C at April 30th, 2012 7:06 PM

I hope everyone watches this video in full - having attended it myself as an longevity activist, I left the opponent convinced that they would not be possible. If you refer to the comments of 'HR' on the 'Aubrey de Grey to Debate Colin Blakemore' post you will see why, and you will also see by watching this video.

Posted by: Leon at May 1st, 2012 5:08 AM

Leon - you're being obscure here. Are you saying you were swayed against longevity research? If so, I can only say it's a bitter shame.

Posted by: Ranjit Suresh at May 1st, 2012 9:03 AM

Leon, I watched the debate before I saw your comment, and I must say the conclusion I reached was the opposite of yours. I'm also quite staggered that both you and HR claim to have gone in as longevity activists and then been converted to the other side by Blakemore, because as stimulating as the debate was I can't say I noticed anything new or startling in it on either side.

The one powerful point that Blakemore made was about the length of time it's taking to conquer Huntingdon's Disease. That sort of example might well give some people pause for thought about the timescales Aubrey de Grey suggests as reasonable, but it tells us absolutely nothing about the longer-term feasibility or indeed desirability of the goal. Much of the rest of what Blakemore said was literally irrelevant - as Aubrey pointed out, it's distinctly peculiar that Blakemore spent such a large portion of his opening remarks trying to rubbish strategies for defeating aging that Aubrey isn't actually proposing. I think at one point he even said "I know Aubrey isn't saying this, but...", which kind of gave the game away.

To take up a point from the earlier thread, it's quite clear from the video that the majority against the motion was nowhere near as high as 80-20. It was also a bit silly to accuse someone of lying for giving the percentage for 'undecideds', because those were the pre-debate figures read out during the introduction - again, it's there on the video.

Posted by: James Kelly at May 1st, 2012 3:00 PM

I too am having difficulty seeing exactly what HR and Leon found so compelling in Blakemore's arguments. Indeed, Blakemore never actually provided any new insight as to why the SENS approach won't work, but instead chose to focus on failed, unrelated approaches. Also, much of what Blakemore espoused were blatant ad-hominem attacks, which was quite unprofessional in my opinion.

Posted by: Michael at May 1st, 2012 5:58 PM

One of the big problems is priorities, we could continue as usual, spending 1000's of billions on using outdated 20th century medicine.....we spend 1000's of billions on maintaining the worlds war machine (vast $$ into war R&R....most of the worlds supercomputers are built to support R&D on nuke bomb design/explosion/bomb fusion simulations/bomb life servicing issues, military material research, the worlds biggest laser is used for nuke explosion/trigger simulations/military materials R&D...the list goes on and on...we could be using these machines and creative people to explore the nanosciences/biosciences for longevity and health progress.

Vast world-wide militaries use the competition between each other (feedback loop) to justify each others existence, Reagen/USSR cold war in the 1980's sucked up trillions that could have been used to sequence the geneome years before is was done, we could have funded advance nanotech/biotech years ago.

3% to 5% of your population go onto being the engineers/scientists/inventors that push the boundaries, how many of these people have been killed in the countless wars of the last 1500 years? (Craig Venter, who spearheaded the human geneome effort was a young medic in the Vietnam war...if he had not made it out of that war, would history be different now?)

Carle Segan said that we would be easily be at the level of the 24th century Star Trek if we had simply stopped wasting $$$ and people in the art of war 1500 years ago (he said this in the early 1980's....since then, we have wasted many 1000's of billions of dollars in wars/War R&R/machines, armies since then.

WWW2 showed us that we could do massive projects would have taken decades in peacetime, the computer, radar, the atomic bomb, code theory (creating, breaking), all of these projects employed vast amount of people WORKING TOGETHER, these people (engineers, scientists, inventors, any type of creative persons) were from all sorts of unrelated backgrounds working together....this is the model we need today in longevity research, new minds (from many fields, amatures, anybody who wants to help), people unencumbered by the dogma of a given field, the dogma of funding agencies/industry.

China zoomed ahead of the western because they had no big, bloated military industrial complex sucking up vast amounts of money/creative resources....if we wan to defeat aging, we must seriously cut of the worlds militaries (a tax?) and divert some of this money into longevity R&D now.

Posted by: gary at May 2nd, 2012 1:50 PM

Gary,you are totally correct. That is why it is absurd that many in the anti-aging movement take an anti-state view of the world, expecting the market to provide enough capital to sufficiently fund it. Most of them are libertarians, with an irrational hatred for the state - ironically, the state is the only social organ that can adequately fund this research.

Posted by: HR at May 3rd, 2012 12:18 AM

I find it a little disturbing that there has been absolutely no debate on the feasibility of developing human cryopreservation as a way to prolong life and postpone degradation to a point where mature antiaging therapies can be employed.

Cryonics itself is a different topic (i.e. should we do the best we can with current tech under conditions of uncertainty, etc.) so I'm *not* suggesting we get into that (although I am in favor of it). Rather, the thing is, for all I know it may be *easier* to achieve *reversible* (in other words quite distinct from cryonics as we know it) cryopreservation of individuals than it is to successfully treat aging to the point of reaching actuarial escape velocity in the near future.

If HR and Leon now consider curing aging to be desirable but unfeasible, I wonder if it is the case that they feel the same way about the prospect of damage-free human cryopreservation.

Posted by: Luke Parrish at May 3rd, 2012 7:28 PM

I agree completely, Luke. I have thought about the issue of cryopreservation, and why nobody seems to be pursuing it. To me it seems plausible that it would be easier to cryopreserve someone without damage than it would be to address the 7 causes of aging, at least in the foreseeable future. If I had a few hundred million to burn, this is exactly what I would fund. One could simply go to sleep for months or years at a time, wake up for a week or so to rebuild muscle and catch up on the news, then go back to sleep. Depending on the degree of metabolic slowing down, it might be possible to get an extra couple of decades, which might be crucial for some people.
Do you think that the SENS people have considered this already? Does anyone know why there seems to be a lack of this kind of initiative?

Posted by: Dee at May 4th, 2012 12:20 PM

I watched both videos in full and was taken aback at how borderline moronic Colin Blakemore came off. He did not get into any kind of detail to try to refute the specifics of the SENS program but instead spent the bulk of his time trying to insult and denigrate Aubrey. I wish they had gotten into the science much more comprehensively.

As fas as the wider potential social problems, those issues are going to have to be addressed eventually anyway. Large gains in longevity ARE going to eventually happen, whether it is 25 years from now or 200, they WILL happen. The ridiculous 'pension' argument should be a giant wakeup call to all those statists out there that a public system is always doomed to fail. The ONLY solution is that people simply take care of their own finances, as it should be.

As far as other issues like energy supply, food, water, depletion of resources - I'm sure in the year 1700 when the worldwide population was 600 million people, a character like Blakemore would have been apoplectic at the thought of a world with 7 BILLION people a few hundred years later. He would never have understood how the free market could end up providing so much. Not only is food and energy and other resources abundant, billions have lifted themselves out of poverty, and quality of life has improved dramatically by any measure.

The world has plenty of resources and I would very much like to enjoy my time here for as long as possible, keep at it Aubrey!

Posted by: Alex at May 4th, 2012 2:31 PM

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