Recent Attention Given to SENS Rejuvenation Research

Gathering support for any cause in medical research is a slow process of bootstrapping. This is just as much the case for research into extending human life as for any other form of medical technology. Treatments and capabilities presently taken for granted were all bootstrapped at some point in the past, and the pioneers all had to climb the cliffs of skepticism and inertia. No matter how beneficial, new ideas and technologies are resisted and ignored at first. People don't like change.

Funds raised is one way to measure support for research, and another is the amount of time and energy people put into writing on the topic. In both cases SENS rejuvenation research - and even the broader and less promising efforts to work on enhancing human longevity - has a long way to go to reach the enthusiastic levels of support enjoyed by the stem cell or cancer research communities. Rejuvenation research will ultimately have to rise to those heights to achieve clinical application and widespread availability of treatments, but it is quite possible that demonstrations of rejuvenation in mice will precede that point by decades.

So attention, discussion, and writing is important. I'm always pleased to see new faces talking about SENS and other aspects of longevity science, and look forward to the day on which I don't recognize the origin of most of what I read online about rejuvenation biotechnology and the broader field of longevity science.

The scientific pursuit of eternal youth

"I resolve to not get any older." This may seem like a somewhat outlandish New Year's resolution, a desire more grounded in the realm of science fiction than science itself. But a growing group working in the field of biogerontology would argue that it is not. I was able to get an update on the state of the science at a session organized by Dr. Aubrey de Grey, Chief Scientific Officer of the anti-aging organization SENS (Strategic Engineering Negligible Senesence) Research Foundation, last month at the World Stem Cell Summit in San Diego.

Dr. de Grey was careful to make an important distinction about this vein of research and addressed what is known as the "Tithonus Error" - an assumption that postponing aging would extend ill-health rather than health span. In the Greek legend, Tithonus was granted immortality by Zeus at the bequest of his Titan lover and kidnapper, Eos, who in an unfortunate twist forgot to ask for Tithonus' eternal youth, cursing him to living forever in a "loathsome old age...unable to move nor lift his limbs". This public misconception thus mistakes the goal of biogerontology to extend the unhealthy phase of our life rather than the healthy. The therapeutic goal is to shift the balance between how much of our lives are lived as healthy and productive members of society and delay or prevent the onset of age-related disorders such as cancer, cardiovascular disorders and neurodegenerative disease (to name a few).

Dr. de Grey recently examined the state of messaging related to biogerontology and expounded upon the risks in promising too much in the field, lessons that have certainly been learnt in the field of stem cell research and gene therapy. It is clear from the highly accomplished scientific advisory board of SENS Research Foundation that there is considerable conceptual backing behind their goals, but a clear takeaway from the session was that they have only recently begun to enter the area of realistically achieving their goals and meeting expectations.

Do You Want To Live To Be 1,000? Better Listen Real Hard To Aubrey de Grey.

Q: What do you mean when you say ageing is no longer immutable?

A: I don't say that: I say that we are in striking distance of making it no longer immutable. What that means is that we have a good chance of developing, in the next few decades, medicines that can not only slow down the accumulation of the damage of ageing but actually repair that damage, thereby greatly postponing the disease and disability that it causes.

Q: Do you still believe the "first person to live to 1,000 is already alive"?

A: Yes I do, with high probability (note that I've only ever said "probably"). The same logic I always set out - that the first-generation rejuvenation therapies which we may well have within a couple of decades will only extend healthy life by maybe 30 years, but that that will be enough to let us figure out what to do next to re-rejuvenate the same people 30 years later, etc - is still valid.

Q: You said in a recent talk that ageing is the world's "most important problem". Is it more important than all of the problems we face (of which overpopulation, pollution, energy shortage, climate crisis, mass species extinction, desertification, ocean acidification, overfishing, general scientific illiteracy and human nature itself are but a few) which threaten the quality of our life? And why?

A: Yes, obviously it's more important than any other problem. How is any other problem even a problem at all, if you're already dead? The right way of thinking about this is that defeating ageing will give us a proper perspective on the long-term importance of other problems.

Q: What is your retort to those who say extending life is "unnatural"?

A: I simply point out that by the same token one can say that all medicine - or even all technology, all the way back to fire and the wheel - is unnatural. Or, conversely, that it is natural for humans to seek to create the unnatural as ways to improve their quality of life, and unnatural for humans to submit to living with nature as they find it.

Q: Finally, are you optimistic about the future?

A: I don't like the word "optimistic" because so many people interpret it to mean "over-optimistic". I'm realistic about the future: I have a more optimistic view than many other people, but only for very rational reasons based on actual data.


I hope very much that with the Genome being deciphered and with that, that our biological make-up is now considered to be converteded into digital info. Thus, (per Ray K.) we should be able to expotential increase this knowledge and exploit it. So, I believe this should mean we are at the knee of the curve and that Ray's optimism becomes reasonable.

Or maybe I am overly optimistic:)

Posted by: Robert Church at January 24th, 2014 8:38 PM

I think if SENS or someone else can get a repair/maintenance therapy working in regular mice, then there will be growing interest. I read somewhere that Darren Baker and co at the Mayo clinic said they were approached by individuals and companies interested in developing a treatment for scenscent cells after they published their research in progeria mice.

Of course their treatment was just a proof of principal involving germline genetic engineering not applicable in people. But if that Spanish group trying to do the same thing with nanoparticles adapted from cancer therapy can get similar results in regular mice then there could be a bit more funding and interest in this area.

I do wonder if the Spanish group published a result similar to that of Bakers but in regular mice with nanoparitcles - how long it would be before a stage 1 clinical trial in humans?

Posted by: Jim at January 25th, 2014 3:31 AM

I agree that the clearance of senescent cells seems like the most viable and exciting near-term damage clearance strategy of those that SENS advocates, and have also been wondering about further research from the the Spanish lab that developed those selectively-opening(and apparently biocompatible)gated nanoparticles. Reason, do you know of any more news on that front?

Posted by: gheme at January 25th, 2014 11:47 PM

@gheme: Not at this time, no.

Posted by: Reason at January 26th, 2014 8:55 AM

Hopefully the Spanish group have funding to continue their experiments. Darren Baker's group at the Mayo clinic wanted to repeat their experiment, but in normal non progeria mice. They got turned down for funding from the NIH! But luckily the Glen foundation stepped in and gave them $3 million to carry out the research.

I can't remember where I read this right now. Apologies if it was somewhere else on Fightaging.

Posted by: Jim at January 26th, 2014 10:03 AM

Reason, will you comment the recent negative findings in the 25 year CR study on primates on this blog? I would be very interested.

Posted by: cosmicalstorm at January 26th, 2014 10:36 AM

Edit: I take that comment back. The website had a fake date. It was the study from Aug 2012.

Posted by: cosmicalstorm at January 26th, 2014 10:43 AM

DAVID: URGENT ? I do not know the ramifications of trying to give hope to someone's caretaker/loved ones, on how to help someone who is brain dead like that black teen age girl in the news whose family does not want to pull the plug on her life. There may be no hope. I am not knowledgeable enough to determine that but I figure you likely are. Here is my question to you. Do you think there is anything ALCOR could offer in way of hope that might 1) be of help to her family in trying to 'keep hope for her alive'? 2) If there is anything, can you see a possibility for national publicity coming to ALCOR in rendering a proposal to them?

Posted by: Jim E. Mel at January 26th, 2014 3:25 PM

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