Video: Aubrey de Grey at TEDxSalford

As I'm sure you all know by now, we'd be languishing a lot further away from the goal of human rejuvenation if not for Aubrey de Grey and the network of people within and without the research community who have joined in to help push longevity science towards respectability and plausibility. Today a great deal more funding is going towards lines of work that contribute materially to halting and reversing degenerative aging than was the case a decade ago. For that we can thank the efforts of de Grey, the Methuselah Foundation staff, the SENS Research Foundation staff, numerous allied researchers, and thousands of volunteers and donors. This work and support has helped create a great change in the research and funding environment, and made radical life extension something that is discussed seriously in far more communities.

Yet there is still a great deal of work to be done. The great change in society and attitudes towards aging has only just started; most people still accept aging and death as set in stone, and even oppose efforts to treat aging as the medical condition it is. The next stage ahead is one in which the average fellow in the street has the same perception of aging as he does of cancer, and supports efforts to do something about it just as strongly. Only then will truly massive funding for the defeat of aging arrive from the traditional sources. Until then, we continue to bootstrap support and funding, year by year.

Aubrey de Grey is a prolific speaker, and gives many presentations in any given year. I'm pointing out this recently uploaded video of a presentation given by de Grey last year because one of the slides caught my eye. It provides the following information on yearly budgets for research institutions:

Even though 90% of US deaths and at least 80% of US medical costs are caused by aging:

National Institutes of Health budget ($M): ~30,000
National Institute of Aging budget: ~1,000
Division of Aging Biology budget: ~150
Spent on translational research (max): ~10
SENS Research Foundation budget: ~5

There is something to think about. On the one hand this is a reminder of just how far removed funding priorities are from the sensible goal of dealing with aging. On the other hand, you can see that this is a field of research in which small foundations funded by philanthropy can make a large difference to the current rate of progress, given that very little funding goes to the most promising programs. When looking at these numbers it is also worth noting that public funds, for which it is comparatively easy to obtain good data, are thought to make up a little over a third of overall medical research. It is very unclear as to the breakdown of private medical research funding when it comes to work relevant to aging, however. Perhaps it is similar, perhaps not.

A true maverick, Aubrey de Grey challenges the most basic assumption underlying the human condition - that aging is inevitable. He argues instead that aging is a disease - one that can be cured if it's approached as "an engineering problem." His plan calls for identifying all the components that cause human tissue to age, and designing remedies for each of them - forestalling disease and eventually pushing back death.

He has developed a possibly comprehensive plan for such repair, termed Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS), which breaks the aging problem down into seven major classes of damage and identifies detailed approaches to addressing each one. A key aspect of SENS is that it can potentially extend healthy lifespan without limit, even though these repair only needs to approach perfection rapidly enough to keep the overall level of damage below pathogenic levels. With his astonishingly long beard, wiry frame and penchant for bold and cutting proclamations, de Grey is a magnet for controversy. A computer scientist, self-taught biogerontologist and researcher, he has co-authored journal articles with some of the most respected scientists in the field.


I really hope that Aubrey doesn't die in 20 years time at the age of 70 still beseeching people for money... any money...

He himself has estimated that if aging is comprehensively repaired in a mouse, it would unlock lots of funding and would take perhaps 15 years to be replicated in humans. So he has 5 years to produce that mouse (or 15 years if he lives till 80).

This is going to be a closely run thing (for him and everyone over the age of 40).

Posted by: Jim at April 5th, 2014 2:32 PM


And what happens if he fails? He dies, and you die, along with everyone else who has ever lived. That's the fact of life. You were never promised immortality. You have lived your life, and you don't get any do-overs, no backsies. Deal with it.

Posted by: Smartperson at April 5th, 2014 5:28 PM

You deal with it too, Smartperson. You deal with it too.
Aubrey has estimated his own chances of making it to be 50/50. He will probably reach at least 80 rather than just 70 though.

Posted by: Guest at April 6th, 2014 9:19 AM

I doubt that will be a problem in twenty years, Jim. These ideas have been growing mindshare and funding rapidly for a while now, and as the first pieces of research start to make their way to practice, you'll see a lot of drug company money come online. A good example of this will be drugs to help clean up inter- and intra-cellular junk; the closer the 7KC and A2E projects come to proof of concept, the more likely that research money will be allocated there. Things like Alzheimers research are already touching those fields, with lots of money trying to remove the plaques that build up.

It's also worth mentioning that several of these areas already have substantial funding behind them. Stem cell and cancer research really don't need much help from SENS, other than for blue sky ideas. It's not that there's no money, it's just that the big institutions haven't realized the potential of the other areas yet.

Posted by: Dennis Towne at April 6th, 2014 3:28 PM

This really needs one of the therapies that may get tested in mice to extend their lifespans by 20% or more. And for that therapy to be applicable in humans.

That 7KC removing enzyme could be useful. But aren't three pharma majors looking at antibodies to LDL right now? So it could well be redundant pretty soon.

Hopefully Dean Barkers group finds that removing senescent cells in mice extends their lifespan, and that Spanish group finds that their nanoparticles work just as well.

Posted by: Jim at April 7th, 2014 4:49 AM

Using antibodies to reduce LDL would simply be a case of more of the same - the old doomed strategy of reducing the amount of cholesterol in the blood, which is really only delaying the inevitable. Cholesterol is essential to life, and there's only so much you can reduce it by, and whatever small amount is in the blood will contribute to the production of oxidised cholesterol derivatives. And even if you could reduce it to zero, it would do nothing about all the oxidised cholesterol already there. Removing LDL with antibodies is just a fancier version of what the pharma companies are doing now. In contrast, actually destroying otherwise unmetabolisable cholesterol derivatives will eliminate any need to be concerned about blood cholesterol levels, making all the cholesterol lowering drugs pointless.

Posted by: Arcanyn at April 8th, 2014 5:14 AM

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