A Book-Length Interview with Aubrey de Grey

Here I'll point out a long discussion with Aubrey de Grey of the SENS Research Foundation that is packaged and sold as a book. This is a most interesting, and I think worthwhile, way for an author or journalist to approach the long-form interview process. Like many other new approaches this wouldn't have been financially viable a few decades ago, and is in and of itself a small example of the sort of freedom, choice, and innovation that can occur when costs fall and barriers to entry crumble. At the present time, we can hope that the same things that have already happened to the publishing industry will also come to pass for the edifice of medical research and development: an explosion of greater participation, experimentation, and creation. These two areas of human endeavor couldn't be more different in their details, but in both cases the costs of participation are falling dramatically.

Aubrey de Grey needs little introduction for the long-time readers here. Something more than fifteen years ago he took it upon himself, as an outsider to the field at the time, to alternately kick and persuade the aging research community into working towards the treatment of aging. When he surveyed the field, he saw plenty of evidence to show that aging is caused by a small variety of forms of cell and tissue damage. Yet that evidence was largely ignored in the formulation of research strategy, while scientific discussion the treatment of aging in public was a threat to career and funding, and the vast majority of aging research was nothing more than a process of gathering data. Fast forward to today, however, and this situation has been turned around. Arguments among scientists are now over how exactly aging should be treated in order to prevent disease and extend healthy life, and researchers can speak in public and publish their thoughts on that goal without any fear of losing their ability to raise funding or advance their careers.

This was achieved through considerable effort by a network of advocates within and beyond the research community, and few would argue that de Grey was anything other than one of the most important of these figures. He now leads the scientific and funding efforts of the SENS Research Foundation, an organization that, along with its parent non-profit the Methuselah Foundation, has accomplished a great deal in moving the vision of rejuvenation therapies closer to reality. Clearing senescent cells as a way to treat aging, for example, was dismissed by many in the research community a decade ago despite the strong evidence for its role in age-related degeneration. Today, however, therapies to clear senescent cells from old tissues have been demonstrated to improve health and extend life in rodent studies, the research non-profit Major Mouse Testing Program is crowdfunding further studies, and two startup companies, Oisin Biotechnologies and UNITY Biotechnology, are working on bringing these treatments to the clinic. The world is changing, and we shouldn't lose sight of those who worked hard to make this the case.

Advancing Conversations: Aubrey de Grey - Advocate For An Indefinite Human Lifespan

Advancing Conversations is a line of interview books documenting conversations with artists, authors, philosophers, economists, scientists, and activists whose works are aimed at the future and at progress. The biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey, as the world's pre-eminent longevity advocate, is nothing if not future oriented. De Grey is the founder of the SENS Research Foundation, an organization developing medical interventions to repair the damage the body does to itself over time. Stated more directly, Aubrey de Grey and his organization aim to defeat aging.

Douglas Lain: I thought I'd start our conversation with a joke from Louis CK. Louis says that when you're forty and you go to the doctor, they don't try to fix anything anymore. Once you get over forty they don't try to fix you, they just say "Yeah, that starts to happen." Is this really a general attitude that people have, that there is any truth to this joke?

Aubrey de Grey: Yes. There is an enormous amount of truth in it. And I think we need to distinguish here a little bit between the medical progression - doctors and other people in the medical world - as against the rest of the world. The medical progression have the enormous problem, which we need to sympathize with, that they have a certain range of tools to work with, to help people to be healthier and to restore people to health, but those tools are very limited in their efficacy. In particular they're extremely limited with regard to what they can do for people who are getting old. Ultimately, your average doctor just has to work with what they have, and a lot of that involves management of expectations. That's really all the Louis CK is saying there. Right?

Of course, that doesn't say anything about what might happen in the future. What might be possible in terms of maintenance or restoration of youthful good health with medicines that haven't yet been developed. But, that is not what doctors are supposed to be interested in. Doctors are all about doing their best with the tools that are already available.

Now contrast that with the situation that the general public has. The general public are not providing care, they are the recipient of medical care. And they are the people who should be thinking about the potential improvement in that medical care that might arise from further advances, from progress in the laboratory. It's kind of beholden on the public and therefore policy makers and opinion formers and so on ... to actually drive this, to actually deliver the funding and general resources that are required to allow people like SENS Research Foundation to move forward and create therapies that don't yet exist. Once those therapies do exist, of course they enter the universe of tools that your doctor can actually prescribe, can actually administer. But until that time, it's not the problem of the doctors. It's not their fault.


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