Aging is a Medical Problem that Should be Addressed

Aubrey de Grey of the SENS Research Foundation is the advocate and scientist at the center of a diverse network of people and organizations who, collectively, are changing the world when it comes to aging, medicine, and research. It wasn't so very long ago that the research community and its associated sources of funding were hostile towards any effort to consider the treatment of aging as a medical condition. Decades were lost to a scientific culture whose leading members wanted to distance themselves from "anti-aging" snake oil at any cost - including the sacrifice of any real possibility of progress. Change has come but slowly, and required outsiders such as de Grey to enter the research field and raise hell until the existing factions and establishments were forced to acknowledge the potential to extend healthy life and reverse the progression of age-related conditions. Younger researchers now benefit from a field in which they can build a better world, applying biotechnology to the causes of aging in order to alleviate this greatest cause of suffering and death. This field is no longer the poorly regarded backwater it once was, thanks to people like de Grey and his allies, but now one of the most exciting areas of modern life science research, the seed that will blossom into a vast and enormously beneficial industry in the years ahead.

Yet this is a transformation still in progress. The first battles have been won, the first rejuvenation therapies after the SENS vision of damage repair - those involving clearance of senescent cells - are well on their way to the clinic. But the majority of research programs and funding sources remain slow to change course. Funding for aging research remains minimal in comparison to funding for other areas of medicine. Where there is funding, it is still largely directed towards initiatives that cannot possibly do more than slightly slow aging, or merely patch over the symptoms of aging, as little attention is given to the cell and tissue damage that is the root cause of all age-related disease, dsyfunction, and death. Longevity science is a field in which the greatest challenge is not the discovery of great swathes of new information about aging, but rather to persuade the research community to make proper use of what is already known, and then fund that work sufficiently. All of the necessary classes of therapy needed for rejuvenation can be constructed based on the knowledge of twenty years ago; the development plans are set out in some detail. Yet all too much of the field remains focused on continued exploration of the details of aging as it operates in the absence of intervention.

This is where we come in. Our philanthropic support of organizations such as the Methuselah Foundation and SENS Research Foundation helps to move the research forward. Our investment in and support of startup companies working on SENS technologies helps to push meaningful therapies for aging closer towards the clinic. The growth and legitimacy of SENS and SENS-like rejuvenation research is something that our broader community has bootstrapped from an idea to its present state. We have succeeded to no small degree! There is much to do yet, however. Our ability to attract support to the most important lines of research and development has increased greatly in recent years, and will continue to soar as SENS approaches such as senescent cell clearance are proven out in trials and animal studies. Now is not the time to rest upon our laurels: so make a point to tell someone you know about the field of rejuvenation research, and that the promising therapies currently in development are the result of donations wisely made in past years. The more people who know today, the more supporters will join us in the years ahead, and this is far more a challenge of persuasion than a challenge of science at this stage.

Science Isn't The Reason That Humans Can't Live Forever

If humanity were to appoint a general in our war against aging, Aubrey de Grey would likely earn the honor. The British author and biomedical gerontologist has been on the front line for years, researching ways to free the world of age-related disease and, ultimately, extend human life indefinitely. From the SENS Research Foundation Research Center (SRF-RC) in Mountain View, CA, foundation scientists conduct proof-of-concept research with the goal of addressing the problems caused by aging. They focus on repairing damage to the body at the molecular level, and their work is helping advance the field of rejuvenation biotechnology.

SRF-RC teams are currently focusing on two equally complex-sounding research projects, one centered on allotopic expression (a way to bypass the harmful effects of age-caused mitochondrial mutations) and the other on telomerase-independent telomere elongation (a little-researched process by which some cancer cells overcome mortality). Either project could lead to major breakthroughs in anti-aging treatments, but as de Grey explains, the path to immortality doesn't just run through the science lab. While the research being conducted at the SRF-RC is far from simple, de Grey claims DNA mutations and cancer cells aren't the biggest hurdles to anti-aging breakthroughs: "The most difficult aspect of fighting age-related diseases is raising the money to actually fund the research." The nature of most science research is exploratory. Researchers don't know that what they're working on is going to yield the results they expect, and even if it does, turning basic research into income is no easy task. To support their work, most have to rely on funding from outside sources, such as government grants, educational institutions, or private companies.

"It's still an incredibly hard sell," de Grey claims. "We have very limited resources. We only have about 4 million dollars a year to spend, and so we spent it very judiciously." That money isn't going to just the two in-house projects, either. The SENS Research Foundation funds anti-aging research at institutions across the globe and provides grants and internships for students, so raising money to support those endeavors is key to continued success in its fight against aging. The benefits of ending the problem of aging would be tremendous. Not only would we be living longer, we'd be living healthier for longer.

Essential to raising money for anti-aging research is ensuring that those with the funds understands why it's worth the investment - a not-so-easy task given current misconceptions about aging. In 2015, eight major aging-focused organizations, released a report detailing what they call the many "notable gaps" that exist between expert perspectives on aging and the public's perception of the process. If the public isn't well informed on aging, it's even less knowledgeable about anti-aging. Fifty-eight percent of respondents in a 2013 Pew Research study said they had never even heard of radical life extension before. When asked if they would undergo treatments that would allow them to live to the age of 120 or older, the majority of those surveyed said they would not, and 51 percent thought such treatments would be "bad for society."

"There is still a huge amount of resistance to the logic that aging is bad for you and that it's a medical problem that needs to be addressed," explains de Grey. "It's really, really extraordinary to me that it's so hard to get this through to people, but that is the way it is. Aging is not mysterious. We understand it pretty well. It's not even a phenomenon of biology. It's more a phenomenon of physics. Any machine with moving parts is going to damage itself ... and the result is inevitably going to be that eventually the machine fails. It's the same for the human body as it is for a car, for example, and if we think about it that way, it becomes pretty easy to actually see what to do about it."

Comments

Yes, I really don't know why it's so hard to convince people that we know enough about aging. Aubrey's definition of aging is a very good one. I always translate it to: Aging is the difference between young and old tissue you can see under a microscope. Why does that work? Well, because modern microscopes can see every single molecule being pumped around by the living cell.

https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/chemistry/laureates/2014/press.html

That means there's really no type of aging possible that can hide from view. Even if SENS missed something: It doesn't take much more than a single look to see it.

Posted by: Matthias F at June 20th, 2017 11:36 PM

""There is still a huge amount of resistance to the logic that aging is bad for you and that it's a medical problem that needs to be addressed," explains de Grey. "It's really, really extraordinary to me that it's so hard to get this through to people, but that is the way it is.""

That was the bit that jumped out at me. Despite a lot of effort I have failed to convert any of my friends or even nuclear family to supporting anti aging research in any way over the past 18 months.

Talking - doesn't work, it just gets boring too fast for the listener.
Text blog articles (like this blog) - don't work, no on reads linked articles sent to them.
Charity fund raising - doesn't work, I had a hard time even getting a close friend to share my fund raiser on social media as she thought "it was weird".
Videos - don't work. I shared those SENS animated videos to no effect.

Part of the problem at least is that it is a technical subject, and you just can't explain it fast enough to hold peoples attention before you are nagging. There are loads of other problems, but that one seemed to pop up most in face to face attempts.

I thought about infographics in the past, but they might just wash over my friends and family like everything else.

Posted by: Jim at June 21st, 2017 3:28 AM

Jim: Maybe, after all, this will never be mainstream until philantropy is no longer needed. But nevertheless you don't need to convince everyone. A couple of days ago I followed a link from here to the FAQ section on the history of SENS, and I was surprised to discover that the first big donation to SENS-like research ($1 million to the Mprize) came from a reader of this blog, that remains anonymous to this day. And he came here from the usual misleading press coverage of SENS:

https://www.fightaging.org/archives/2005/11/1-million-donat-1/

So yes, 99.9% of people will not be convinced, but there is a 0.1% that can be convinced, and that will suffice.

Posted by: Antonio at June 21st, 2017 4:14 AM

I've been carefully choosing how I present anti-aging to different people. For some that won't listen to anything other than big brand names I'll just talk about Mayo Clinic's senescent cell clearance research. For animal lovers I'll use the Dog Aging Project. I get good response with Unity Biotechnology's youtube video for those who are inclined to watch something 20 minutes long. Some I'll give used copies of Ending Aging that I buy from Amazon and others who I think have a more open mind I'll just talk about SENS in all of its full glory.

Sometimes we have to be all things to all people. If they don't believe right away at least seeds are planted, and down the road they'll hear it again somewhere else and maybe think "I've heard that before! Maybe there's something to this."

Posted by: Corbin at June 21st, 2017 12:00 PM

Ok, just saw this goog blog article on this over at leafscience.org: http://www.leafscience.org/effective-advocacy/

"One of these principles is that learning requires active, conscious participation. This means that students will seek and absorb information if they are interested, or they will ignore it if they do not see any personal benefit in it. We must offer people what they really want and we should do this at the very beginning of the conversation.

So what do most people want? It's life extension right?

Wrong! Studies show that when people are asked "how long would you like to live?" with no other conditions specified, people added around 5 to 10 years to the average life expectancy for their country and that was it [1-4]. Why is this? Well it's all about the basics."

Posted by: Jim at June 22nd, 2017 4:04 AM

Spot on Jim

Most people I speak to, particularly if they are older individuals, can't wait for better treatments for age related diseases, but don't want to hear about life extension.

For younger people, perhaps an appeal for the health of their parents and grandparents?

Posted by: Mark at June 22nd, 2017 6:16 AM

For middle aged people 35-55y anti-aging can still be sold as a purely cosmetic thing. Some people even die from heart attack at 50.

I also believe holidays on a cruise liner coupled with an anti-aging treatment could be a nice gift for your parent's wedding anniversary. The cruise covers the travel expenses and costs for hospitalization and medical stuff. Medical regulations don't apply in the open sea, so this could be available much sooner. And it's also much more fun than spending some weeks in some overseas hospital.

So why not? I could easily sell a couple of those if they worked and were available.

Posted by: Matthias F at June 22nd, 2017 8:13 AM

Matthias F: The problem with that approach is that those treatments don't exist yet, so it's pointless to offer them on a cruise liner or whatever to obtain funding. What we are discussing is how to fund the *development* of those not-yet-existent treatments.

Posted by: Antonio at June 22nd, 2017 9:24 AM

@Antonio
But these two problems are related in at least two ways:
1. The therapies will not enter the market all at the same time. You can sell those that are available to fund those that aren't.
2. Selling some idea includes the same problems you have like when you try to sell the final product. There are only some more on top of it.

And it seems I'm using a different kind of approach to advocacy than others, because the two most common objections I get are:
1. I don't care if 100000 people die each day. I have more important stuff to do.
2. I don't believe that will work. They are working on cancer and aids for decades now and got nowhere.

So from my point of view it would be much easier to convince people if there was something to sell.

Posted by: Matthias F at June 22nd, 2017 11:22 AM

1. That doesn't change the fact that we don't have any therapy now and will not have any for serveral years. Not even Unity has entered phase I trials yet.

2. Not at all. There is nothing in common between trying to convince people to donate to (not buy) research and trying to sell a non-existent product to people. Not withstanding that the second one is a fraud.

"2. I don't believe that will work. They are working on cancer and aids for decades now and got nowhere."

Yeah, and the best way to counteract that complaint is selling snake oil in a cruise liner...

Posted by: Antonio at June 22nd, 2017 12:28 PM

> Not even Unity has entered phase I trials yet.

Of course not, but they will soon. And there's a large amount of time between finished phase I trials and a senolytic anti-aging treatment for everybody. This time can be shortened.

> Yeah, and the best way to counteract that complaint is selling snake oil in a cruise liner...

You lost me there. Unity is not working on snake oil, do they? I think you want to raise funds for real science, too. I have nothing to sell. So what kind of fraud treatment are you talking about?

Posted by: Matthias F at June 22nd, 2017 1:11 PM

"You lost me there. Unity is not working on snake oil, do they?"

I was talking about your cruise liner idea for funding.

Posted by: Antonio at June 22nd, 2017 2:35 PM

> I was talking about your cruise liner idea for funding.

I see. But the idea is not to sell snake oil. The idea is to use the first available treatment to fund the others. The cruise liner is a shortcut to circumvent some problems with regulations and cost structures. Could save 5-10 years on the way to the market. Or do you see any problems there?

Posted by: Matthias F at June 22nd, 2017 8:37 PM

Yes, as I said, the first problem is that we don't have any treatment yet and will not have any for some years. And we are discussing how to fund research now.

Posted by: Antonio at June 23rd, 2017 1:55 AM

So what's wrong with trying to solve the first problem? Unity will have passed phase I trials in a year or two - the drugs they're using are well characterized so that shouldn't be a problem. That means safety won't be a problem either and there's certainly some interest for such a treatment there. Someone could license it and sell it. Now where exactly is the problem with that?

Posted by: Matthias F at June 23rd, 2017 3:30 AM

There's nothing wrong with trying to solve the first problem. What's wrong is that your solution doesn't solve it.

No, you can't license and sell something that has only passed phase I. And good luck trying that a research institution like SRF or the Buck accepts money obtained that way (at the very least, there is a possibility that they could be charged by money laundering).

Posted by: Antonio at June 23rd, 2017 4:18 AM

> No, you can't license and sell something that has only passed phase I

Why not? There's no law you'd break in the open sea. Certainly not US or EU law. And I'm not talking about ripping off people either. They'd knew exactly what they get.

Posted by: Matthias F at June 23rd, 2017 4:38 AM

But we're talking about medical regulations not fishing rights. The ship doesn't have to stay in the open sea. You're only doing (and probably selling) the treatment there. As a precedent you can buy duty free stuff on fisherboats and take it home. No problem there.

Posted by: Matthias F at June 23rd, 2017 7:41 AM

"But we're talking about medical regulations not fishing rights."

It's not only about fishing rights. It's also about, for example, drug trafficking (article 108) or unauthorized broadcasting of radio or television (article 109).

"The ship doesn't have to stay in the open sea."

And you will be arrested when you reach national waters.

BTW, apart from international law, the ship would be subject to the laws of the country where it was registered. If it has not been registered anywhere, and thus have no flag, any warship can legally board it (article 110).

And, in addition, you will have all the other problems I said, SRF will not accept your money, etc.

Posted by: Antonio at June 23rd, 2017 11:56 AM

> It's also about, for example, drug trafficking (article 108)

But these are no narcotics, so article 108 doesn't apply either. If I'm checked at the border with personal medication in my pocket nobody cares. And a ship pharmacy certainly has the right to buy e.g. Dasatinib in the amounts needed. A ship's doctor has the right to prescribe it if necessary.

> BTW, apart from international law, the ship would be subject to the laws of the country where it was registered.

I agree. One has to choose carefully there.

> And, in addition, you will have all the other problems I said, SRF will not accept your money, etc.

Yeah, that would be a big problem for a fundraiser.

Posted by: Matthias F at June 23rd, 2017 2:04 PM

It seems to me that raising funds for aging research is not perceived in any way differently than raising funds for other causes, and maybe even worse. To change this the anti-aging community and entities like SENS have to come up with a product or device that actually does something, something that is visible and that matters to most people. Erase one wrinkle, restore the color of one gray hair, make one 65 year old woman fertile again and I would say way to go anti-aging, you are really onto something, where do I send that check! But not until then.

Posted by: Andrius Baskys at June 25th, 2017 8:23 PM

Post a comment; thoughtful, considered opinions are valued. 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.