The British Science Festival will be held in Newcastle a few weeks from now. One of the events has Aubrey de Grey of the SENS Research Foundation, advocate and coordinator for rejuvenation research, debating Tom Kirkwood, one of the leading figures in the mainstream faction of the aging research community who think that there isn't much hope for rapid progress to rejuvenation. Those researchers see the best available path forward as one of modestly slowing aging through replication of known metabolic or genetic alterations associated with natural variations in longevity, such as those involved in the response to calorie restriction - but even this will be a long time in realization, a slow grind towards incremental improvements.
I agree with the viewpoint that attempts to safely slow aging in humans will be very hard indeed. Success requires a much greater understanding of metabolism and aging than presently exists, and it's not unreasonable to suggest that decades and many billions of dollars lie between us and even the first prototype drugs to slightly slow aging. However, slowing aging by altering genes and metabolism is not the only approach that can be taken - indeed it's probably the worst of viable scientific approaches to extending healthy life. It's exceedingly costly, produces marginal results, and therapies that can slow ongoing aging are of little to no use for people who are already old and frail.
In this Kirkwood represents the old mainstream of standardized drug discovery and marginal, unambitious process in medicine. De Grey represents the disruptive future of medical technology, his SENS vision and ongoing research being one of a number of entirely new paradigms for health and aging that are winning over an increasing fraction of the research community. The times are changing, and every new wave of development is met by skepticism from those in the mature industries it will replace. We should aim for rejuvenation through periodic repair of cellular damage: it will like take no longer, will quite possibly be cheaper than trying alter ourselves to slow aging, and will be very beneficial for people who are already old when these therapies are introduced.
EVENT: Life Without Ageing - Two contrasting visions of an ageing world DATE: Monday 9th September TIME: 13.00 - 14.30 VENUE: Fine Art Building Lecture Theatre, Newcastle, UK
Is a cure for ageing within reach in our own lifetimes?
Biomedical gerontologist Dr Aubrey de Grey, Chief Science Officer of the SENS Research Foundation will be joining Professor Tom Kirkwood CBE, Associate Dean for Ageing at Newcastle University to debate a 'Life Without Ageing'. In this event, chaired by Dr Sir Tom Shakespeare, Aubrey de Grey will suggest that a "cure" for ageing is within reach in our own lifetimes, while Tom Kirkwood will argue that such a goal is not only unrealistic but distorts what should be the real research priorities of an ageing world.
Dr de Grey's research proposes that eliminating ageing as a cause of debilitation and death in mankind can be achieved within just a few decades through his proposed 'Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence'; a term coined by De Grey in his first book The Mitochondrial Free Radical Theory. Countering this is Professor Kirkwood, a former BBC Reith Lecturer, whose research is around healthy ageing and improving life in old age by looking at the prevention of age associated factors, such as frailty, disability and age related disease, and by helping to change society's attitudes towards ageing.
The tantalising idea of living forever is as old as humanity, but can modern science really hope to consign the ageing process to history? Life Without Ageing promises to be a fascinating insight into modern day ageing research and the opposing visions of an ageing world. At the end of the debate the floor will be opened, giving the audience opportunity to put questions to the speakers and take part in what should be a lively discussion.
If you take a careful look at the festival site page for the debate, you'll see that it's possible to submit questions for the speakers. If you intend to go in person, it looks like registration is required, but it's otherwise a free event.