Engaging the Elephant: the SENS Research Foundation on the Need for Debate on Rejuvenation Research

The latest newsletter from the SENS Research Foundation turned up in my in-box today, and includes some interesting thoughts on advocacy. The SENS Research Foundation remains one of the best and most effective of organizations dedicated to bringing about the creation of therapies capable of greatly extending the healthy human life span - in fact, therapies capable in principle of rejuvenation, turning back the clock by repairing the forms of cell and tissue damage that cause aging. Other organizations, like Calico, are investing vastly more money, but since they aren't funding the right sort of scientific programs, they may as well not exist. Their only value lies in the fact that they may, later, choose to adopt approaches based on repair of cell and tissue damage that SENS-funded and SENS-encouraged research groups demonstrate to be effective, such as senescent cell clearance.

It is frustrating to see such potential sitting right at the sideline, flirting with doing something useful yet not crossing that line, but that is sadly the way things work in longevity science. The overwhelming majority of funding and effort is devoted to metabolic tinkering - such as work on calorie restriction mimetics - that cannot possibly produce meaningful gains in human life span, while programs that can in principle produce indefinite healthy life spans must struggle to gain even a small amount of funding.

The SENS approach of damage repair to reverse aging rather than metabolic manipulation to slow aging is nonetheless slowly gaining ground in this challenge for support and adoption. This is illustrated by, among other things, the fact that there is now more than one venture funded company working on aspects of SENS rejuvenation biotechnology. Nonetheless, there is still a long way to go towards the goal of the mass adoption of SENS research and development goals by a large swathe of the research community, and the goal of the same public support for the defeat of aging as there is for the defeat of cancer. Advocacy for this cause remains very important and very much needed.

SENS Research Foundation Newsletter, February 22, 2016

On January 19, 2016, Intelligence Squared hosted a debate on the motion: "Lifespans Are Long Enough". Arguing for the motion were Ian Ground, a Philosopher and Lecturer at the University of Newcastle, and Paul Root Wolpe, Director, Emory Center for Ethics. Arguing against the motion were Aubrey de Grey, Chief Science Officer of SENS Research Foundation, and Brian Kennedy, CEO and President of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging.

At SENS Research Foundation, we know that the tragic lack of funding for damage-repair-oriented research into these conditions is in part due to simple lack of awareness, which is why one major goal of SENS Research Foundation's outreach program is to increase global awareness of the potential of our approach. We also know that the vast majority of humanity is on our side when it comes to changing the way the world researches and treats age-related disease. The amount of time and money already going into attempts to mitigate diseases like Alzheimer's speaks volumes here. Anyone who has watched the deterioration of a beloved family member, or had to address caregiving needs for a person suffering from dementia, or seen the sadness and frustration of a loved one losing one ability after another as every life activity becomes a source of pain would jump at the chance to provide genuine relief for age-related maladies to those they care about.

That said, some people still maintain an abstract objection to the very notion of living beyond what they consider a 'natural' lifespan. This puts a damper on their enthusiasm for programs like SENS Research Foundation's, which, if successful, could result in more people living longer as an incidental effect of the rejuvenation biotechnologies that protect them from sickness and frailty. Some individuals are uncomfortable with this scenario. We want to reach these people too, and perhaps introduce them to points of view they may not have considered before, in the hopes they might come to see that we all ultimately want the same thing: a world with the least possible amount of needless suffering.

This recent Intelligence Squared debate in particular did a great job of engaging the 'elephant in the room' we often contend with in our attempts to communicate our mission and goals to a wider audience, i.e., the fact that fixing age-related disease will necessarily mean fewer people 'dying of old age'. More to the point, longer healthspan may be inextricable from longer lifespan due to simple biological realities.

It is up to each person to determine their position on this matter, but from the standpoint of our work, SENS Research Foundation maintains that it is an ethical imperative to prevent the undeniable suffering caused by age-related disease. We don't expect to cure disease through debate, but participating in these events can be a great way to introduce people to new perspectives - perhaps even ones that change their minds and encourage them to support our research. Speaking of supporting our research, remember that as a 501(c)(3) public charity, SRF depends on you to help enable critical research, as well as our education and outreach programs. Please consider making a generous contribution today.

Comments

"Their only value lies in the fact that they may, later, choose to adopt approaches based on repair of cell and tissue damage".
Well, that and advancing basic biology knowledge.

Posted by: Nico at February 22nd, 2016 11:12 PM

The fact that Aubrey's team won the debate at intelligence squared is encouraging, and I hope they keep getting similar results with larger audiences in future debates.

On the SENS newsletter, there's a link for another debate coming up that caught my eye, and here's the title:

"Technology, medicine and the manipulation of mitochondria have enabled humans to survive trauma, conquer disease, reproduce beyond the menopause and live beyond the frontier of our traditional fourscore years and ten. But what could, or should, be the limitations of the human body? Will the laws of physics and nature intercede, or will we have to write our own? Senescence expert Aubrey de Grey is joined by sociologist Steve Fuller, philosopher and physician Raymond Tallis and Prof Dominic Wilkinson, Director of Medical Ethics at the Oxford Uehiro Centre, to debate questions that have been submitted by our audience and others around the world through the #sevenagesdebate."

For some reason, seeing things like "what should be the limit" kind of aggravate me. No one should have a say in that when it comes to anyone else. But it seems like people on the philosophy side of things(Ian Ground in the intelligence squared debate comes to mind) are always quick to try. I know I'm reading into that statement a bit much, but when people say things about how long others should be able to live it bothers me. Maybe it's just me though.

Anyway, yeah. Hopefully this will continue to get more positive attention, and the funding we're looking for.

Posted by: Ham at February 23rd, 2016 10:52 AM

@Ham

I agree with you, just because people can find meaning in death, does not mean they have to.

Posted by: Eric at February 23rd, 2016 4:37 PM

Yep. I don't subscribe to the meaning in death theory, but that's just me personally. I don't push my thoughts on others. But then you have people like Francis Fukuyama who thinks the government has a right to tell you when to die.

Posted by: Ham at February 23rd, 2016 5:25 PM

To be fair, Ham, the question begins with a "what could be"; hinting at biological limits rather than social ones. So there's room for us to push our views. And the could/should interrogation is standard in any kind of debates anyway.

Posted by: Nico at February 24th, 2016 3:18 AM

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