The Rejuvenation Research Advocacy of Aubrey de Grey

This is a decent article under an irrelevant linkbait title, which is about the best you can expect from the Huffington Post. The author takes a look at the public advocacy of Aubrey de Grey, which in conjunction with coordinating the ongoing scientific programs of SENS Research Foundation keeps him quite busy. Perhaps the point to take away from this is that change and progress never happens as fast as we want it to, but it is happening nonetheless:

Almost every week, Aubrey de Grey gives a speech to an audience somewhere in the world. The Oxford-educated researcher walks to the stage, makes a few small jokes, and then tells his listeners about his quest to extend human life by ridding the world of age-related diseases. Over the years, he has become a seasoned speaker. He's mildly provocative and sometimes ironic, but always sharp and convincing. He is now the most familiar face on the conference circuit on the topic of regenerative medicine.

The best way to understand de Grey's vision is to understand his definition of aging: "The life-long accumulation of damage to the tissues, cells, and molecules of the body that occurs as an intrinsic side effect of the body's normal operation." A human body can tolerate some damage, but too much causes diseases. While you cannot eliminate aging from the body entirely, de Grey is convinced that there are ways for medicine to intervene. He proposes regenerative medicine, a process of replacing or regenerating human cells and eliminating all deadly cellular processes along the way.

It all sounds like a science-fiction movie, but de Grey didn't find his ideas in one of those. "They are a pain in the ass and make my life much harder," he says. "Certainly, these movies entrench the misconceptions people have. The movies that are made are movies that are made to sell, and those movies pander to people's preconceptions." And de Grey doesn't like the preconceptions of most people.

The public he usually stands in front of is not really that interested in the scientific processes behind regenerative therapy. They care more about the moral implications and the societal impact of his research. So they ask questions about overpopulation, about clashing generations, about dictators living forever, about people who want to commit suicide, about God and about nature. De Grey is always prepared and has an answer for each of them. "It's been a very long time since I got a question that I haven't heard before," he explains. "My answers have been getting a bit more aggressive over the years, a bit more impatient, but I've always seen it as part of the job."

De Grey is noticing a shift in the general attitude toward regenerative therapy. "Definitely things are getting easier - not nearly quick enough, but the whole tone of this conversation is now very different than it was 10 years ago. Back then you couldn't really have these discussions. People called me controversial, a maverick. Now people ask you questions with an expectation that you actually will be able to teach them something." Still, most people don't seem to like thinking about living forever. "There are a lot of things that people don't like to think about. People don't like to think about getting old and getting sick either. They pretend it's not going to happen, until it does."



"De Grey is now 51. He's probably too old to profit from the regenerative research he promotes."

There's the can-do spirit!

Posted by: Serge at July 11th, 2014 2:31 PM

Having watched a few of Mr. de Grey's presentations, I find him to be a compelling and articulate speaker. But so what? He is a specialist in a type of biological research - and I find it easy to believe in his enthusiasm and expertise in those issues - but he is not a Ph.D nor recognized expert in ethics, sociology, economics, etc., that I am aware of. So, unfortunately, many of his talks come across, at least to me, as infomercials. That may appeal to many, sway a few, and reel in a handful. Fielding questions beyond his specific expertise for which he has canned, but not necessarily untrue, answers. There is a fine line between advocacy and truism preaching. This may be the reality of gathering small streams of funding and creating a type of awareness, but it may conflict with the pure, but possibly socially-questionable, goal of creating a solution in as little time as possible - free of government oversight, funding scarcity, and research expertise drought - treatments for a small group only, funded by billionaire with specific requirements.
So, here's my question to you, Mr. de Grey: "If you could find a solution to ageing in 20 years in utter secrecy, but have it limited to yourself and 50 others not chosen by you, until another 30 years had passed before any widespread distribution was allowed (and funded) - as compared to your current rate of development, when it will likely be 30 - 50 years down the road with limited ability to distribute even then, would you be willing to work under those conditions?"
Often, and more frequently than we would like to admit, the ends may need to justify the means. You may need to ask yourself in such an unequal and conflicting society, how can we best help the masses? Certainly, not with the Al Gore approach: trying to appeal to our common sense, future welfare, and societal duty. Follow Madison Avenue - more likely with our innate selfishness, anxieties, and flaws.

Posted by: Jer at July 11th, 2014 7:13 PM

Aubrey de Grey was educated at Cambridge, not Oxford, pretty serious blunder in the first paragraph of the article.

As for your comments Jer they are unoriginal as well as irrelevant. The hypothetical scenario you describe will never exist because all of De Grey's ideas exist in the public domain as well as the vast majority of research done by the SENS Research Foundation.

Second the approach promoted by de Grey is a divide and conquer approach so it's not one single thing that needs to be researched and developed to reverse the accumulation of damage and reverse aging. This means you couldn't keep that information private because the expanding horizon of defeating something like ALzheimer's would lead to the defeat of the next disease such as Parkinson's and so on. This means the SENS end will be achieved whether we want it to or not, the only thing that changes is the time frames.

Finally a lot of these things are researched at present outside the SENS research organization and those treatments/drugs that are closest to being released are intended to large segments of the world's population, take monoclonal antibodies like Solanezumab or drugs developed by Prothena or TauRx, not to mention stem cell and cancer researchers. The SENS research foundation exists to develop the preliminary research of things being neglected so private and public institutions can see the value in it and take off.

Posted by: Michael at July 12th, 2014 10:41 PM
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