The First Person to Live to 150 Has Already Been Born

Wagering on the proposition that the person who will first reach 150 years of age is already alive is no wager at all, really. It's a very safe bet that at some point in the next century the medical technologies needed for significant human rejuvenation will be developed. The risky bet is on whether it will happen soon enough for those of us in mid-life now - that will take much more advocacy, public enthusiasm, and rapid growth in research funding than has so far emerged.

Here is an interview with Aubrey de Grey of the SENS Research Foundation at Forbes:

[Forbes]: Please comment on the myth of aging how how we need not accept it as "just part of getting old".

[de Grey]: It's always been a mystery to me why this isn't totally obvious to everyone. Do we let cars fall apart when they get old? - yes in general, but not if we really want them not to - that's why we have 50 year old VW Beetles driving around, and even vintage cars. It's bizarre that people don't see that the exact same thing is true of the machine we call the human body, just that that machine is a lot more complicated so the development of sufficiently comprehensive preventative maintenance is a lot more challenging.

[Forbes]: Could you briefly explain the nature of free radicals and the role in aging?

[de Grey]: Free radicals come in a lot of flavours, and a number of them are created by the body. Some of them are good for us, but others are harmful, because they react with and damage molecules that we need for survival, such as our DNA. The body has a massive array of defences against these problems, which can be grouped into four categories - tricks to minimise the rate at which these toxic free radicals come into existence in the first place, enzymes and compounds that react harmlessly with them before they can react harmfully with something else, chemical tricks that make the harmful reactions happen less easily, and systems that repair the resulting damage after it's occurred - but those tricks are not completely comprehensive, so some damage still occurs and accumulates throughout life. We'd like to stop that happening, and we could theoretically do it by enhancing to perfection any one (or more) of those four types of defence. My view is that the last one, repairing damage post hoc, is the most practical. Eliminating free radical production would involve completely redesigning aspects of our metabolism, especially the way we use oxygen to extract energy from food. It would also have the problem that even the bad free radicals are also good in some ways, so we actually need them around somewhat; this is also the problem with perfecting the elimination of free radicals via harmless reactions. Ramifying our cells so that the reactions just don't occur is also tantamount to completely redesigning the body, So we're left with perfecting repair.

[Forbes]: The digital health and quantified self movement are increasingly gaining steam. Do you see this an a critical step forward in the quest for longevity?

[de Grey]: Not really, no. It's valuable, but only temporarily. That's because all personalised medicine is only valuable temporarily, while the treatments for such-and-such a condition are only modestly effective and can thereby be made more effective by being tuned to the specifics of the patient. We don't have personalised polio vaccines, because we don't need them - the same vaccine just works perfectly, on everyone.

[Forbes]: Does the wait for "extensive data" and "controlled trials" adversely impact innovation in aging research?

[de Grey]: Yes, but it adversely impacts innovation across all medical research. There's a huge need for greater creativity in the regulatory process, and that's coming: "adaptive licensing" is a big theme in that area right now.



A few months ago at a lesswrong meetup, DeGrey's name was mentioned, and it effectively started a short round of vicious naysaying about how his ideas were all wrong and things were hugely more complicated than he makes them out to be. I did not immediately respond; it took me a while to understand what was happening and why.

Later, I realized that the people at the meetup had completely misunderstood both DeGrey and his work. They had focused on his technical content, as technical people are wont to do. However, the technical content is not DeGrey's biggest contribution.

His biggest contribution is PR. Pretty much by his hand alone is this topic being dragged into visibility. His institute contributes to some amount of fundamental research, but a lot of the funds go to conferences and proletyzing. Every dollar the foundation spends forcing public awareness results in many, many more dollars down the line, and gets us to the comprehensive regenerative medicine point faster.

In short, far from being flawed and irrational, he's probably done close to the optimally rational thing, to the benefit of all of us. It's just that few people realize it.

It was a strange realization.

Posted by: Dennis Towne at February 4th, 2013 3:33 PM

@Dennis Towne: 60% of SENS Research Foundation's budget went to funding research programs in 2011, and under 20% for conferences and outreach. You can look up the exact amounts in the yearly reports available at their website.

As to naysayers at lesswrong meetups - how many of those are life scientists with a good grasp of the parts of the field relevant to SENS and aging, I wonder?

Posted by: Reason at February 4th, 2013 3:52 PM

The Good Force be with you!

Yes, I am going to live more than 150 years old or to be alive forever!

Live forever & prosper!

Posted by: Immortal Melvin M. Lusterio at February 5th, 2013 2:01 PM

@Reason: As far as I know, zero percent of the lesswrongers were life scientists as you describe.

Regarding SENS, at the level that they're funding it, and given what they're funding, I'd still call most of it PR. They're picking things that they think can show progress ASAP, and pushing the agenda by showing their work. By reducing risk in those fields and providing something for others to build on, they lower the barrier to entry.

At any rate, my intent was to say that SENS is trying very hard to optimize for maximum long-haul progress, which depends on getting bigger resources involved than what SENS currently commands.

Posted by: Dennis Towne at February 5th, 2013 4:45 PM

Sure hope i am in those who will live that long. ( born in 1983 )
I live a pretty healthy life, but that can't help for long...

Science will free us from the shackles of biology !

Posted by: Zap at April 17th, 2013 1:22 PM

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