SENS, the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence, is the only presently plausible road to the prevention and cure of all age-related disease that could be accomplished in a short enough period of time to save most of those reading this today. It is a repair-based approach to treating the causes of aging, taking the present scientific consensus on the fundamental cellular and molecular differences between old and young tissue, and providing detailed plans to produce treatments capable of reverting or working around all of them. Given funding of a hundred million dollars a year, functional rejuvenation treatments following the SENS proposals could be demonstrated in mice a mere decade from now. The chief problem at this time is that we stand a long way away from that level of funding.
This is not to point out a lack of success: far from it. The existence of the SENS Research Foundation and its present $5 million yearly budget is just one of the visible signs of fifteen years of hard work and advocacy to bring a vision into reality. Fifteen years ago there was no SENS research and the scientific community was largely unwilling to talk about treating aging in public, for fear of endangering their ability to obtain grants. Yet today this is a line of research now widely supported within the scientific community, and researchers are far more willing now to talk about treating aging. Progress towards meaningful rejuvenation treatments is progressing more rapidly today than it ever has. These are still the early years in a longer process of decades, however, and we have barely started to climb the funding mountain, and barely started to build the aging research community of tomorrow.
Large-scale funding for rejuvenation research in the SENS model will happen eventually. No other faction in the research community is proposing or working on anything that can possibly be as effective as repair of damage in aging tissue. So over the course of time SENS will inevitably take over the research community mainstream simply by virtue of the fact that it will produce meaningful results in early stage work while other approaches to treating aging will continue to fail miserably on that count. The pressing question is how long it will take, give that the clock is ticking for all of us. In helping SENS move faster we are quite literally running for our lives.
Here is a recent article on the work of the SENS Research Foundation, and while all publicity is good publicity, I'm forced to note that is somewhat annoying to see the 2005 SENS challenge given so much of a focus, while only passing mention is given to the fact that the SENS Research Foundation is now an organization with scientific programs running in numerous noted laboratories in the US and Europe, as well as a scientific advisory board that includes well-known luminaries in the fields of genetics, tissue engineering, and other fields relevant to aging research. The decade old debate as to whether or not SENS is serious science was had and done and the skeptics lost because they were wrong. End of story, and way past time to move on.
To Aubrey de Grey, the body is a machine. Just as a restored classic car can celebrate its hundredth birthday in peak condition, in the future, we'll maintain our bodies' cellular components to stave off the diseases of old age and live longer, healthier lives.
Dr. de Grey is cofounder and Chief Science Officer of the SENS Research Foundation and faculty at Singularity University's November Exponential Medicine conference - an event exploring the healthcare impact of technologies like low-cost genomic sequencing, artificial intelligence, synthetic biology, gene therapy, and more. Recently speaking to participants in Singularity University's graduate studies program, de Grey said the greatest challenge in aging research today is less of a technical nature, more a misguided focus in the mainstream.
Most approaches to age-related disease aim to manage symptoms. They have contributed to longer life expectancy and eased complications, but because treatments interfere with the body's finely tuned systems, they can have nasty side effects and are ultimately powerless (even with advances) to reverse age-related illness. Why? "Aging is a side effect of being alive in the first place," says de Grey.
Metabolic processes drive the day-to-day business of living, but they also inevitably cause cellular damage. The body's range of self-repair mechanisms don't take care of everything. Eventually, a lifetime of accumulated damage causes the familiar signs of aging like "thinning skin, cloudy eyes, muscles sapped of strength, heart disease, and cognitive decline." Negligible senescence is a term used to describe certain animals that don't display symptoms of aging. De Grey believes we can use biotechnology to engineer negligible senescence in humans, and he cofounded the SENS Research Foundation to lead the way.