Aubrey de Grey of the SENS Research Foundation will be answering your questions in the /r/futurology subreddit later this week, on Thursday December 7th 2017 at 2PM PST / 10PM GMT. There is a stickied post up now to collect questions in advance for the Ask Me Anything (AMA) post that will go up on Thursday, largely as a service for those who might not be able to be online at the time. For this audience, de Grey needs little introduction - he has spent the last fifteen years energetically pushing the research community into paying greater attention to the most plausible, high-value lines of development likely to result in rejuvenation therapies. It is hard to overstate just how influential de Grey and his allies have been in changing the culture of the research community over this time, and in raising the odds of functional rejuvenation therapies coming to pass soon enough to matter to you and I.
So, if you have things you'd like to know regarding the progress of the past couple of years, and the ventures being lined up for the next couple of years, then this is your chance. As matters are moving into the realm of startup companies and other for-profit development in a number of areas relevant to SENS rejuvenation research, the current state of progress can become harder to follow. Biotech startups tend to be much less noisy about their work in comparison to research groups, at least for the first few years, something that is typically forced upon them by regulatory concerns.
On the topic of the work of the de Grey and the SENS Research Foundation, I thought I'd point out a couple of items published online recently. The first detail-free article results from one of de Grey's numerous conference appearances, this one being the latest Virtual Futures event, and demonstrates that the logical consequences of functional rejuvenation technologies continue to make an attractive lure for the publicity industry. If the research and medical communities can move at a sufficient pace in improving the outcome of rejuvenation therapies over time, then even if the first rejuvenation therapies are comparatively poor, the end result is people who live in good health for a very, very long time. The second item is an extended version of the article by de Grey published at the MIT Technology Review recently, and is worth reading even if you're quite familiar with the SENS vision for rejuvenation through repair of cell and tissue damage.
Through his foundation, de Grey is working to solve seven types of aging damage that he believes are the key to a breakthrough. These are tissue atrophy, cancerous cells, mitochondrial mutations, death-resistant cells, extracellular matrix stiffening, extracellular aggregates, and intracellular aggregates. It may sound like a complex salad of jargon, but de Grey claims that because science has an understanding of how to fix all these damages, aging can end for good. "It unequivocally causes far more suffering than anything else that we have to experience, and contrary to the impression that most of humanity has forced itself into, it's indeed a problem which is amenable through technological intervention."
In the future, de Grey imagines humans will develop rejuvenation clinics to regularly combat these seven issues and send people on their way. These clinics may stay in the realm of the super-rich for a short time, but de Grey believes that a movement will very quickly form to bring these technologies to the general public. "It will become impossible to get elected unless you have a manifesto commitment to have a real war on ageing. Not only in getting the therapy developed as quickly as possible, but also putting in place the infrastructure."
The goal of bringing aging under comprehensive medical control is probably humanity's oldest dream - and it is certainly humanity's foremost problem today. However, our progress toward it is lamentably slight. The history of our attempts to control aging can be summarized as a sequence of mis-steps: of misguided approaches that never had a chance of succeeding. They can each be summarized in a single word: disease, design, and deprivation. And the worst of it is that they have not even been sequential: the earlier ones have survived the arrival of the later ones.
The "aging as disease" false dawn, otherwise known as geriatric medicine, rests on the assumption that the diseases of old age are inherently amenable to the same kind of medical assault as the most prevalent diseases of youth, that is, infections. They are not. The "aging as design" false dawn emerged a century or so ago with the proposal that aging serves an evolutionary purpose. It gave rise in the early twentieth century to an approach that relies upon the idea that the genes determining the variation between species are rather few in number, and thus that it is realistic to seek to tweak those of a given species (such as Homo sapiens) so as to extend its healthy lifespan. Does the "aging as design" basis for the pursuit of medical postponement of age-related ill health actually make sense? Is it even remotely compatible with what we know about aging? Again, the painfully obvious answer is no. And yet, just as with geriatric medicine, faith in the existence of some elusive "magic bullet" has persisted in the minds of a depressing number of biologists.
By the third false dawn of "deprivation" I refer, as I hope you have guessed, to calorie restriction (CR), an intervention that was shown as early as the 1930s to extend the lives of mice and rats by as much as fifty percent. To this day, biomedical gerontology research is hugely dominated by the quest for better ways to emulate the effect of calorie restriction by genetic - or, more recently, pharmacological - means. Why is this a third false dawn? Because its true biomedical potential is, and has long been, obviously almost nil. The performance of CR itself varies inversely with the non-CR longevity of the species: longer-lived species derive much less benefit as a proportion of their lifespan, and in fact not much more benefit in absolute time. This should have been expected, since the selective pressure giving rise to the pathways that mediate the response to CR arises from the frequency of famines, which is independent of the lifespan of the organisms experiencing those famines.
But this century, step by painfully small step, things are changing. I first introduced the rejuvenation biotechnology approach to combating aging called SENS, the "Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence", about fifteen years ago. Since first proposed in 2002, marked progress has been made in every relevant area of research. SENS is a hugely radical departure from prior themes of biomedical gerontology, involving the bona fide reversal of aging rather than its mere retardation. By virtue of a painstaking process of mutual education between the fields of biogerontology and regenerative medicine, it has now risen to the status of an acknowledged viable option for the eventual medical control of aging. I believe that its credibility will continue to rise as the underlying technology of regenerative medicine progresses.