Aging is Emphatically Not an Inescapable Destiny

An interview with Aubrey de Grey of the SENS Research Foundation in Tendencias21, a Spanish publication. The occasion is the publication of a Spanish language edition of Ending Aging:

[Tendencias21]: Do you think that aging and death are not an inescapable destiny of human being?

[Aubrey de Grey]: What is this thing "aging and death" in the question? It is very instructive that there is so much fatalism about aging that people consider aging to be synonymous with death. Death - from any cause, including causes that are related to how long ago you were born and also causes that are not - is not what I am working to avert. I am working to avert aging, i.e. the ill-health that is currently an inescapable consequence of being alive for a long time. And yes, I think that aging is emphatically NOT an inescapable thing - I am sure that it will eventually be defeated with medicine.

[Tendencias21]: What are the steps or progress made so far by the science that could prolong human life and improve its quality, despite the passage of time?

[Aubrey de Grey]: All the therapies that we need for the control of aging are within reach. In some cases, such as stem cell therapies to replace cells that die and are not automatically replaced by cell division, we are very close - clinical trials are already in progress. In other cases we are still working with mice, or even just cells in a dish, but even there we have a clear way forward to the development of medicine for people.

[Tendencias21]: Do you believe that, in the not too distant future, we could avoid the ballast of the degenerative diseases associated with aging?

[Aubrey de Grey]: Yes I do. I think we have at least a 50% chance of developing truly comprehensive rejuvenation medicine within 25 years, just so long as the early-stage, proof-of-concept research that is going on right now is adequately funded.



de Grey has been saying that we have a 50% chance for developing rejuvenation medicine within 25 years since 2003. Has there been absolutely zero progress in the field during the last decade? If so, it is totally unreasonable to expect anything to happen over the next quarter of a century, unless all the world's billionaires decide to donate half of their fortune to serious anti-aging research NOW. Or perhaps he should revise his line to "we have a 50% chance for developing rejuvenation medicine within 20-25 years". This would increase his credibility with people who have been following rejuvenation research for a while.

Posted by: Barbara T. at February 20th, 2013 1:30 AM

Yes, it could be one reason why no billionaires is coming in as he has been talking about the same time frame over a decade. Which is a problem. After a decade of progress, we are still 25 years away.

And it will always be 25 years away. It is as if we have 0 progress at all. And to always mention about the accelerating pace and the many promising research that we have, why are we still always 25 years away? If so, then not much hope can be expected we this kind of mindset.

It is always about give me this billion of dollars to have progress or else we would have 0 progress.

If we did really have progress then stop preaching about 25 years away again after a decade. The sound of it doesn't even make sense.

Posted by: Jason at February 20th, 2013 2:13 AM

I am not convinced. He is asking for a budget of 100 million USD per year. The NIH allocates about 10 million USD per year to pure anti-aging research (plus an additional 3,46 billion for research into the diseases of the elderly, which I will disregard here for argument's sake).

But of course the NHI is not on its own, and pure anti-aging research is also being funded in the US privately, as well as in the rest of the world by both private donors and national governments. Even according to a conservative estimate, there must be at least 50 million USD per year devoted to pure anti-aging research globally, hence 50% of de Grey's top-up request. If 1.5 billion USD can reverse aging in 25 years, there is no way that 10 years of research funded at one third of the required budget would have zero impact on this estimate.

If he wants people to part with their money he must acknowledge some progress, which is why I suggested a more flexible, revised timeline of 20-25 years in my post above. At this stage, whether he is disproved (or hopefully proven right) after 20, 21 or 25 years matters absolutely nothing to his reputation, so he might as well do some calculations and offer some proof of progress to potential investors.

Posted by: Barbara T. at February 20th, 2013 6:00 AM

Yes, I think Barbara sums this nicely as well. How can we say we have 0 progress in the past decade and yet we still have a chance within 25 years?

Millions have been donated, and yet progress is 0? So millions of dollars has gone to waste?
How is this going to be able to convince anyone that this is viable? What happen to the donation that has lead us to 0 progress thus far?

We need to start evaluating why after a decade the progress is slow. If we keep on doing this and telling the rest it's still 25 years away with 0 progress even though millions has been donated is definitely not persuasive to the wealthy.

Posted by: Jason at February 20th, 2013 6:16 AM

@Barbara T: The vast majority of what you call "anti-aging" research funding goes towards such things as reverse engineering calorie restriction or other ways to slow aging by manipulating metabolism. You might look at what goes on at the Glenn Laboratories for representative examples. That work has no relevance to SENS, or rejuvenation, or extending human life meaningfully in the next few decades.

Outside of stem cell research, work that directly advances the SENS agenda and is not funded by the SENS Research Foundation is pretty thin on the ground - certainly not rising to the level of tens of millions a year.

As to what the SENS Research Foundation itself has achieved with its budget so far, you should read the yearly reports - they go into some detail.

Posted by: Reason at February 20th, 2013 6:21 AM

Why all the negative comments? Obviously the progress isn't absolute zero. In the early stages of research, progress is slow. If the estimated period for success is 25 years, then don't expect much in the first 15 to 20 years. Think back to the human genome project.

Difficult to imagine a billionaire who can't comprehend the exponential aspects of a research project. Sooner or later the Ayn Rand worshippers will realize that meager research results are not the reason why billionaires aren't investing. Game theory demonstrates that obsession blinds the obsessed to a priori values...and for the profit obsessed, that apparently includes life itself.

Turning to a small prosperous government looking to corner a field that gives it huge economic and political advantages that could make it a kind of superpower might provide a more successful avenue for financing.

Posted by: manorborn at February 26th, 2013 8:52 PM

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