Aubrey de Grey on Recent Progress and Future Economics in Rejuvenation Research

Today I'll point out a couple of recent technology press articles in which Aubrey de Grey of the SENS Research Foundation discusses recent progress and a few aspects of the expected near future of rejuvenation therapies. Money, as ever, occupies a large portion of the picture. Funding the right lines of research is critical to progress in medical technology, and the road towards human rejuvenation, towards creating the envisaged therapies capable of repairing the molecular damage that causes aging and age-related disease, is no exception to this rule. Funding, persuasion, public support, and public attention are all intertwined, however. The potential for meaningful progress towards rejuvenation therapies has existed since at least the 1990s, yet has only just started in earnest these past few years. Progress has been incremental and slow, the funding very thin on the ground. This is because little attention was given to aging research, and in a public space dominated by the flim-flam of the "anti-aging" industry, legitimate longevity science simply wasn't taken seriously. To bootstrap a new movement, which is exactly what has taken place for the SENS approach to rejuvenation research over the past decade, you really have to dig in to the ways in which persuasion, publicity, and the availability of funding all depend upon one another. There is a reason that bootstrapping is hard and takes time when starting out with little in the way of either support or resources.

The scientific and advocacy communities have come a long way since I started following the research and writing on the topic. It is easy to forget just how fringe was the idea of undertaking serious efforts to rejuvenate humans ten to fifteen years ago, and how much of a struggle it was to raise even a million dollars over a period of some years to get started on small scientific projects. For all that there remains a lot to accomplish and a long way to go yet towards the goal of the first comprehensive suite of rejuvenation treatments, it is tremendously empowering to see that all the past efforts - the years of hard work for few immediate gains at the outset of the bootstrapping process - have come to something. The wheel is turning and speeding, more people are joining the community and helping out, and there are actual SENS rejuvenation technologies in trials and startup companies, with the likelihood of more to come in the next few years. This is still only the beginning of the story. But for those of us who were striving to get the wheel to move at all some years ago, it is a rewarding time to be in the field.

Aubrey de Grey: Aging Research "Moves on Almost Every Week"

It's an exciting time to be working in ageing research. New findings are coming thick and fast, and although eliminating the process in humans is still some way away, studies regularly confirm what some have suspected for decades: that the mechanisms of ageing can be treated. "It's an amazingly gratifying field to be part of," says biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey, chief science officer and founder of SENS Research Foundation, the leading organisation tackling ageing. "It moves on almost every week at the moment."

At the start of February, for example, a study was published that had hugely significant findings for the field. "There was a big announcement in Nature showing that if you eliminate a certain type of cell from mice, then they live quite a bit longer. Even if you do that elimination rather late; in other words when they're already in middle age." For those following the field, this was exciting news, but for de Grey, it was concrete proof that ageing can be combated. "That's the kind of thing that I've been promoting for a long time, and it's been coming but it's been pretty tricky to actually demonstrate directly. This was really completely unequivocal proof of concept," he says. "So of course it motivates lots of work to identify ways to do the same thing in human beings. These kinds of things are happening all the time now."

Funding for ageing research is forever in short supply. SENS is always asking for donations, and there is always more research to be done than there is money to fund it. However, this is starting to improve, both for SENS and for other institutions engaging in this field of research. In particular, the investment community has shown growing interest in ageing research. February's breakthrough findings were funded by private investors, and SENS, too, is spinning out some of its research into companies. The growing involvement of private investors is, according to de Grey, evidence of the changing perceptions of ageing research. "Not only is the science moving forward, but the appreciation of the science within the investor community is also moving forward. And that is absolutely critical to what we can expect to see in the future."

Reversing old age won't just be for rich people, says visionary biologist

Living longer "is the thing that's going to matter the most to people, Aubrey de Grey says, comparing it to the "It's the economy, stupid," tagline that Bill Clinton used on his road to the White House in 1992. "Ultimately, this is what people are going to vote for," he says. "If it's not available to everybody, then a party that has a manifest commitment to making it for everybody is going to get elected."

Then there are the economics of aging. "At the moment, when people get sick, it's incredibly expensive," de Gray says. "Probably 90% of the medical budget of the industrialized world goes to the diseases and disabilities of old age one way or another. That's trillions and trillions of dollars. If we can stop people from going that way by only spending billions of dollars, it's a big net win."

Additionally, if people can stay able bodied into their 80s, 90s, and beyond, then they can keep contributing their wealth to society, he says. Adding to collective wealth rather than drawing from it - which is why the "graying" of countries like Japan puts so much stress on an economy. "Therapies will pay for themselves in no time at all. and that means from a government's point of view, even the government of a really tax-averse country like the USA, it would be economically suicidal not to frontload the investment to ensure that everyone got these therapies as soon as possible." So living longer wouldn't just be a luxury good; it would be, to borrow from Bill Gates, a global public good.

In many ways the instinctive opinions that people hold on the economics of rejuvenation therapies are just as strange as their instinctive opinions on the desirability of rejuvenation and longer healthy lives. Many people say that they don't want to live a long time, and indeed don't want to live any longer than their parents. Similarly, most people will tell you - without really thinking about it - that longevity therapies would be enormously expensive and only available for the wealthy. This is actually far from the case.

Quite distinct from de Grey's points above, there is the fact that SENS rejuvenation therapies will be largely a matter of mass-produced infusions of small molecule drugs, enzymes, and gene therapies, the same treatment for everyone, given by a bored clinician in a brief visit once every few years. Some may be one-time treatments, such as autologous expression of mitochondrial DNA, leaving you set for life. The first senescent cell clearance treatments presently under clinical development consist of drug combinations and a gene therapy approach. Analogous treatments today, such as the biologics used to treat autoimmunity, or simple stem cell transplants, run to a few thousand per dose even in the dysfunctional US medical system. The economics of production, competition, and scale for medicine of this nature, in which all of the complexity is baked into the manufacturing process, are very different from those of enormously expensive treatments such as organ replacement and other challenging surgeries that require dedicated specialists and long periods of aftercare. Yet people continue to think that longevity therapies will be enormously expensive and reserved for the wealthy, and it seems hard to sway them from this opinion with mere logic.


Sadly the idea that this is only for the rich is pandemic not only in the general public but in transhumanist circles. I have found some of the worst spreaders of this negative idea comes from people supposedly supporting the field. Our experience in MMTP has been to encounter this attitude despite all the signs indicating it is not the case.

Posted by: Steve Hill at March 15th, 2016 7:32 AM

Really, Steve? What are those transhumanists' arguments, then?

Posted by: Nico at March 15th, 2016 1:55 PM

Thanks for the post on this Reason.

I hope very much there is at least 1 if not more bonafide rejuvenation treatments come to the general public within 10 years or sooner. First, I personally will need it to get further down the road. Also, it will propel this concept into the mainstream that much further.

Posted by: Robert Church at March 15th, 2016 6:12 PM

Robert, I don't know if a decade will be enough of a time for the first genuine treatments to arrive, but what's quite likely is that this timeframe will be sufficient for advanced health monitoring solutions to be commercialised; such as Calico's "cancer-detecting dust" currently in development.

Those could help improve the lifespan, simply by making nowadays' medicine more efficient through earlier treatments.

Posted by: Nico at March 16th, 2016 12:04 PM

Hmm, I had thought that clearing out SENS cells is nearly in clinical studies.

Also, I would think we can expect nanobots to be arriving onto the medical scene within a decade and they ought to take care of some chronic diseases such and cancer and heart problems.

I would also have to believe that with stronger computers (AI) and whole genome basically at nearly $1K per body, we would be fast tracking more medical info than we know what to do with. (big data)

Finally, for some of us, using medical tourism may be necessary if we don't want to wait for the FDA to get off their fat you know what.

So I am (maybe too) optimistic for big changes over the next 10 years. But I see alot of synergy from many areas that can/is being applied to the medical scene. Maybe I read too much of Ray K. optimistic books?

Posted by: Robert Church at March 17th, 2016 1:00 AM

Robert Senolytics is developing well with Oisin and Unity biotech moving into clinical testing, I personally feel senolytics will arrive in short order.

Our lab is investigating ABT-199 as a senolytic and we start fundraising on in April. Come and support us and check out our website

Posted by: Steve Hill at March 17th, 2016 7:19 AM

Steve H,

I love hearing about new rejuvenation treatments getting closer to market. It gives me (and I assume, others) hope for the near future. Thank you for the reply and info.

Hopefully the possible rejuvenation medical treatments will expand exponentially over the next 10-20 years (or sooner).

Posted by: Robert Church at March 17th, 2016 12:36 PM

I completely agree about the synergies between related technologies, Robert, which will make exponential progress possible in the medical field.

Posted by: Nico at March 17th, 2016 3:56 PM

This is all well and good. And I love it for who doesn't want to live longer as long as you can keep your mobility? But trying to as any "regular" doctor about it and all you get is raised eyebrows, a pat on the head and an aspirin and sent home. And that's just "asking" at the hospital. If you not there for some catastrophic accident or ailment they look at you like your crazy. i KNOW about time constraints and alll and haven't tried interrupting any surgeries or anything like that (lol) but have tried to ask a few Drs. sitting in their offices and don't usually get much of an answer. It seems just scientists believe in it. Not "practicing" doctors.

Posted by: Raven at July 26th, 2016 10:33 PM

If you have doubts about the effectiveness of the use of Metformin, a prescription drug, along
with a short list of medicinal substances that seem to make it work better, check out my photographs on facebook. My internist at the VA clinic referred to me as his real life "Benjamin Button" patient! In six months, I was able to lose 46 pounds,while ending 19 years of diagnosed type 2 diabetes. 3 years ago, the VA doctors urged me to have quad bypass, open heart surgery...I refused, and instead asked for vascular carotid artery surgery. That was a great success,& now, 3 year later will be having the opposite side of the carotids opened up with a procedureby VA/UCLA surgeons. In the interim I have had my vision greatly improved by effective eye surgery, which helps me to feel far younger than I otherwise would. I work out twice daily with a 10 lb. weight, doing 600 to 700 arm curls. I can walk super fast, and climb
easily to the 6th to 7th floor of office building with being winded. I weigh 176 and am 6'1.5".
I have no cavities, lots of hair, and will be 76 in April 2017. Wake up seniors,you can turn
your life prospects around, just read about metformin, quercetin, USDA's ptero-pure, which has
been tested with human subjects at U of Mississippi (Oxford Pharma School) Resveratrol, & the
precursor to NAD+. I know I look, move, & feel years younger than I did over the last 20 years.
It sure feels good to give away all your clothes, especially belts.Get evaluated by a good doctor to take metformin, then check out the other substances...& buy a 10 pound hand weight...
Good luck, & aspire to thrive for an extra decade or two.

Posted by: Allan Silliphant at August 19th, 2016 4:52 AM

Since my August update, I have added the Vitamin E component,tocotrienols, as a second senolitic substance to help the quercetin, in stimulating the apoptosis of endothial artery lining cells.This natural ability of the young & middle aged, seems to trail of when a person passes through their early sixties. I'm 75.5 y.o. I'm scheduled to have left carotid-endarterectomy, with no intubation on or about December 14, of this year. Hopefully, this will balance the hemodynamics between my cleared, right carotids, the arteries at the back of the neck which have no stenosis,& the planned surgical clean out of the plaque, calcium accumulated gruck at the bifracation point. Many authorities now suspect that hypo-perfusion of the arteries in the brain are significant contributors to Alzheimers. Killing off some of the senescent cells with apoptosis, may help to make the neck arteries less moribund. There MAY BE a chance to improve the overall health to the blood supply "plumbing" with this less dangerous procedure than with the older, "full-intubation" approach. A. deGray talks about doing serious maintenance of the body through bio-chemical & "perhaps" modern surgical efforts. I'm willing to try this, as it might help my brain health as well as warding off stroke. Of course, I'm still taking metformin extended release medicine, as well as niagen (for NAD+ restoration) ptero-pure (pterstilbene) & optimized trans-resveratrol, both from Life Extension & other sources. I welcome your good wishes & prayers for the surgical procedure. I'm
still doing 750 curls a day with a 9 lb. weight & keeping body weight stable, down 46 lbs.

Posted by: Allan Silliphant at November 1st, 2016 7:33 AM

Regarding the mice which had their senescent cells cleared; what did they eventually die of? Was there a clear shift to a particular final cause of death?
I've seen somewhere that senescent cells suppress tumours ( perhaps by increasing general inflammation ). So, I'm wondering if this purging of senescent cells might give a temporary boost to health, but increase the risk of tumours proliferating later.

Posted by: Luc at March 11th, 2017 2:13 AM

Post a comment; thoughtful, considered opinions are valued. New comments can be edited for a few minutes following submission. Comments incorporating ad hominem attacks, advertising, and other forms of inappropriate behavior are likely to be deleted.

Note that there is a comment feed for those who like to keep up with conversations.